'' Challenges.''




The characters below are all mine, mine, mine and yes mine. The locations mentioned are also mine in some cases, whereas I cannot claim the discovery of others. Mostly they come from my warped imagination and I control their strings. If you'd like them to resemble a certain bard and warrior who am I to deny you your fantasies. The characters below were first created in my stories '' Choices.'' & ''Chances.'' and it may help to understand this tale better if you read them first.

EEK! The legal thingy...Das Boring bit.

I must now warn you that this story contains relationships between women. There are a few kisses and hugs and references to the loving act and you might get lucky in this one where there is more, who knows. Also I may revert to the use of the 'F' word, please forgive I have an Irish mother and a mouth in potty training J So if you are under age or find the above distasteful, please move on to something more suitable.


The muse of creativity I again bow down to and offer my first born or a cookie, as for the muse of spelling and grammar I think I got it now so stop hexing me... As always this is for the fans that sent feedback and asked me not to leave Kathleen out in the cold and to stop teasing and get to it! Although I really didn't know it would become such an epic my bard sure loves to tease... Grin.

With that said, grab the popcorn, dip the lights and take the phone off the hook annnnnnnnnd........ '' ACTION! ''


I looked up at the sky as I stepped off flight 342 and smiled as the breeze hit my face. It's funny returning to the place of your birth, it's as if every part of your being recognizes the sounds and smells and inwardly breathes a joyous sigh at returning home. To anyone else visiting they probably would miss the distinctive copper taste to the air, or the way the sky would hide shades of color above the neon glow of lights. But that is where I am, home. I really hadn't noticed how much I had missed it until the cabin door opened and I stepped onto the descending ladder. I had packed light, and my luggage was virtually the rucksack I now pulled onto my back as I walked down the tunnel to customs. I had taken my courage in my hands two days ago and acted on it before I could talk myself out of it. When you are twenty thousand feet in the air and your courage goes there really isn't anywhere to run to.

I cleared the terminal at NYC without any problems, now I found myself on the sidewalk wondering what my first move should be. That was the problem, I really hadn't thought this out at all. I wanted to find answers and the one place that held them was back here in New York. I decided the best plan was to go home for a while and think, at least that way I would have somewhere to be while I sorted it all out in my head. So that was just what I did, my parents were glad to see me in their own way, they gave the right responses when I showed them my award, but as I thought they didn't seem all that bothered.

The first night I settled into the room I had grown up in and grown out of, I simply didn't belong there anymore, but for now it would serve as a means to an end. I could put up with my mother asking about men I had seen, and even my father's constant list of job opportunities in the area, which of course weren't anything to do with photography. To them my gaydom and my photography were just phases I would grow out of, and they made sure every day to tell me that fact. Yes I could put up with all that, and the condescending remarks, because deep down inside I heard my heart and soul sigh, knowing that I was but a car ride away from Carrie again.

Everything had happened so fast within me, my friendship with Jane was now in a place that caused her pain and I found it hard to accept that. I wanted to call her and talk but I knew I was the last person she wanted to hear from. I had left a message on her machine telling her I was going to New York to find the truth... I had thought she would have called me back but I wasn't really surprised that she hadn't. How could she, she had told me she was in love with me and I had broken her heart by telling her we were friends. I understood that some things you can't go back from, when that line is crossed it becomes awkward and painful. Understanding it didn't mean I liked it.

God why did things always have to get complicated? Well that really was my outline on the history of my life, complication from beginning to end, especially my love life. I had no control now over the pain Jane had and lived with each day, but I did have a chance to ease my own on the issue of Carrie.

I spent four days at my parents' house virtually hiding there. Each time I made any plan to find out about Carrie I chickened out. It had gotten to the point I would start sweating just by picking up the phone to call the last friend in New York to find out where she was and what had happened to her over the last year and a half. I of course knew that she was still working at the Uni, Alice had let slip that little tidbit knowing it would hit home. One of the things I knew I would have to handle soon was Alice herself, I was not looking forward to it. She had all the ammo to hurt me, I had no defense around her because everything she said was truth, I was a coward and I had withheld things, there was no going back from that. But my main shield to her was Carrie and the love I never did betray.

By the end of the week I was nowhere, other than getting very annoyed with my parents taking over my life again. And my self pity was getting to the point even I was getting sick of it. I made my mind up on the Saturday morning, I knew I wanted to see Carrie but I also knew I was nowhere near prepared to talk to her. I had questions yes, but none of them were in any form of order, I knew if I saw her I would stand there babbling like an idiot.

But I had to see her.

The seeing her part was actually the easiest one, I knew Carrie was a creature of habit and every Saturday morning she would go to her mother's grave, I hoped that was one thing that hadn't changed in her life.


When I left I was already stressed beyond belief, I took my father's car and headed out to the cemetery. I parked outside and walked into the vast area that was the resting place of so many souls. The wind was cold now as the last of the summer was leaving, all the trees around were tinged with rusted orange and browns. Looking at my watch I knew I had at least ten minutes to wait so I took up my position on the far side of Carrie's mother's grave, I was half hidden in foliage that fenced the area. I stamped my feet to try and get some warmth into my body for having stood so long, with nervous glances to my watch, I realized she was late. I was about to give up after an hour had passed, believing that maybe I didn't know my Carrie as well as I thought I did.

When I saw the silver car enter the gateway my eyes followed as it snaked its way through the rows of headstones until it parked and I inhaled sharply as I watched Carrie step out. Everything came back, my whole body buzzed, I didn't know I was holding my breath until small stars started specking my vision as I watched her go to the back seat and take out the flowers. I exhaled then drew in a ragged breath. My eyes knew her, my heart knew her but most of all I felt my soul look up from the abyss and cry out in recognition.

She hadn't changed, her long black hair stirred as the breeze took it into its exhale, I felt the smile tug at my mouth as she absently tucked a lock back behind her ear. I drew back into the coverage as she neared, her strides were steady and long and the black leather coat hugged her just as it always did in an embrace that highlighted her tall figure. I couldn't see her eyes they were shaded with dark glasses, but I could see her lips and I covered the whimper in my throat as I remembered what they could do to me and how they tasted so sweet and soft, yet at times strong and wanting. I lowered my tear filled eyes, closing them as I tried to get my emotions under control. I knew it would be bad but I had no idea how much just seeing her would hit me, now I knew every part of me hurt with longing.

I watched her again as she knelt by the grave, as she cleared the old flowers replacing them with new, the same every time, Lilies, the flower of never forgetting. She stayed and talked for a while, I couldn't hear the words they were lost on the wind, but I knew what they were. Lovingly she touched the words on the headstone. I couldn't see the tears I knew were in her eyes, but I could see the pain on her face. I sighed away the part of me that wanted to just run over and envelop her in my arms as I used to do. Then finally she rose, dipped slightly and kissed the cold marble and headed back to the car. For a moment she stopped, her head changing direction as she looked around the whole area, I stepped right back into the bush behind me. Then she shrugged pulling her collar higher to the now increasing wind, got into her car and drove away.

After about five minutes I stepped back into view, moving to the grave I smiled down. Just before I headed back to my car I kissed my hand and laid it on the place Carrie's lips had touched. Then I left, with something new burning inside me, the flame of wanting her back.

Seeing her had left me in turmoil inside, I found myself silently weeping alone at night for no other reason than I could. A plan was formulating inside me, I needed an ally. I chose the one person who hadn't treated me like dirt. Sharon Wallace was one of my first friends when I had met Carrie, in a way she became my confidant about my feelings inside, and helped me face the fact I was in love and to go for it. When everything had turned to shit in my life, Sharon had been away, and by the time she had returned to New York I had already left. After calling her and listening to her berate me over leaving without a word, she agreed to meet me for lunch.

I chose a place well away from anywhere anyone would know me and I sat waiting. As always, Sharon entered with her usual bubbling manner, she screamed my name from the entrance of the bar. I jumped and every eye in the room went first to her then me, after I had untangled myself from her embrace we sat.

She looked me up and down, her brown eyes narrowed at me. '' So?''

I sipped the seltzer then looked up. '' Um...''

She crossed her arms. '' So why the hell haven't you contacted me before? And where the hell have you been?''

I gulped, suddenly feeling like the biggest heel on the planet for letting her worry. '' I'm sorry I should have let you know I was ok Shay. I've been living in D.C.''

She punched me in the arm.'' Oh shut up. I'm not talking about that, and don't think using my nickname is going to get you out of my doghouse.. Hell I knew you were alive, your name has been plastered all over the news you know.''

I felt myself blush. '' Yea.''

She took a long drink then sighed, moving her chair around so that now she was next to me, her tone softening.

'' I'm talking about what happened you idiot, sure I'm mad at you for not calling me after... But for god's sake Kath you should have known I'd have flown back. I mean the first thing I knew something had happened between you and Carrie was me returning to work and the local gossip in the temp pool spills the beans on it all.''

I nodded my head. ''Yea.''

She snorted. '' Oh for god's sake stop that, it's me here and I'm not going to accept the strong silent treatment, what the hell happened?''

I couldn't help the smile.

She glared at me. '' What the hell are you smiling at?''

''I'd forgotten how many times you could say for god's sake in one sentence.''

Her glare stayed for a moment then she let out a long burst of laughter, she relaxed immediately and gave me a hug. Pulling back, she left her hand on top of mine. '' Smartass.I've missed you.''

I grinned at her, realizing I had missed her too. '' What do you know?''

Her smile faltered for a moment. '' Well I know what happened in the point of gossip, that you screwed Alice and then Carrie walked in on you two...''

As I moved to defend myself she raised her hand.

'' Oh hush, I know you didn't so no need to explain that part... What I don't get here is why the hell it happened, I mean with Alice of all people for crying out loud. That woman is a snake on legs.''

I inhaled, relaxing again, glad that I didn't have to explain myself. '' Yea and then some.''

She smiled at me, then took a long drink of her wine. '' So I'm guessing by your presence here you're here to fell the dragon and claim the princess.''

I grinned at her, sometimes I loved the way she could phrase things. '' I'm going to try, but I need your help here Shay...''

She nodded again, her eyes sparkling. '' Do I get to hold your coat while you wipe the floor with Miss Alice?''

I laughed. '' That's later, what I need now is to know some things. I've been out of the NY loop for over a year.''

'' Ok? Like what?'' her voice dropped as if suddenly we could be overheard.

'' Carrie?''

She stiffened slightly and sat back. '' Oh.''

I knew as her eyes avoided mine that what Alice had told me was true. '' Is she back with Shannon?''

Sharon exhaled. '' Look, I haven't kept in contact with Carrie at all, we had a kind of falling out.''

My eyes narrowed. '' What sort of falling out?''

She brushed her hair back. '' When I got back and heard what had happened I went to see her, I cornered her at work and, well I kinda went guns blazing...''

Her eyes met mine. '' I couldn't believe her Kath, that she chose Alice's lies over you... and well I told her so. We haven't spoken since.''

I just nodded my head and smiled at her, I was glad I had had one friend who had fought on my side. '' Thanks.''

She looked up at me surprised. '' For what?''

'' Caring.''

She shrugged it off, but I noticed the regret in her eyes that she hadn't been able to do more.

'' Anyway Kath, she wouldn't listen. So I don't know how much I can help you with things about her.''

'' Just answer the question, is she back with Shannon?''

She didn't speak for a moment then slowly she nodded her head. '' Yea.''

I felt it again somewhere deep inside, that feeling of ache that thudded along with my heartbeat.

'' How long?'' I heard myself speak but I didn't recognize my voice, it was dry and low.

'' I'm not sure Kath, honest I'm not, all I know is I found out about six months ago they were living together... I'm sorry.''

I just nodded, I took a long drink and for minutes nothing was said.

'' Ok I'll tell you what I do know ok?''

I nodded, but I really wasn't listening or looking at her, all I saw in front of me was Carrie with Shannon.

'' She disappeared off the planet for a while, after, well you know. I still don't know where she went for sure. But........''

She paused. ''When she came back. Even though I went for her Kath, I could see she wasn't the woman she was......'' her words drifted off as she remembered the day.

'' She's still teaching at the Uni and as I said six months ago I found out she was back living with Shannon. I was at a party at Louise's, you remember Louise don't you?''

I nodded.

'' Well she walked in bold as brass with Shannon by her side, Tiffany told me they were back living together. I wasn't too happy about it and I left, I actually remember cutting them both dead and..'' she coughed lightly

'' I um..... I'm sure I threw a drink into someone's face.''

I looked up at her and she bent her head quickly to hide the embarrassment.

I nodded again, I felt her looking at me, finally I turned my head. '' Did she go to Shannon, Shay? At the beginning?''

She knew what I was asking, '' I don't know for sure Kath, but yea I think she did.''

I let out the soft moan. It suddenly came into place why I couldn't find her, the one place I didn't look was at Shannon's. Not one part of me thought that she would go running to the ex lover that had broken her trust and heart.

'' Thanks.''

'' Oh god Kath, I'm so sorry.'' Her hand grabbed mine in a steel grip.

I lowered my head and fought back the damn tears that now seemed to have a will of their own. Sniffing, I sat back. '' It's ok, wasn't you. I set out to find the truth and I knew I wasn't going to like most of it. I was hoping though.... ya know.''

She smiled sadly at me. '' I know babe.. I know. So what are you going to do now?''

I squared my shoulders. '' Find the rest of the truth...no matter what.''

Then I began to ask my questions in earnest, there were things I needed to know first before I made my next move.

After the lunch, and a vow to Sharon that I would keep in touch, I returned home. My parents were out for the night on one of their catholic drives and I spent the early evening just sitting in the rocker by the big bay window. As I looked out onto the street I was suddenly transported back to my youth, a lonely child that would read everything and get lost in the fantasy, which of course led my memories straight on to Carrie and the reality. The reality was she had moved on, she was with Shannon, for whatever reason that was, it was Carrie's choice. I suddenly felt huge doubts creep into my certainty of getting her back, maybe she didn't want that? Maybe it was best to fade away again and let her get on with her life. I only had one argument to weigh against those questions. I couldn't get on with my life until I knew.

Sharon had helped me fill in some of the time that had passed. Carrie had returned to the Uni after two months away, she was still teaching English lit and had been promoted within her section. Shannon and her had been seen as a couple out and about after the fourth month. Many of Carrie's friends had deserted her when she hooked up with Shannon again. I knew the ones that had long before Sharon had told me. They didn't like her treatment of Carrie anymore than I did. The most important information she gave me was Carrie's new address, it was an apartment on the Lower East Side, and Shannon owned it. It gave me the explanation of why I couldn't trace her after she disappeared that night. But now it gave me a place to contact if I wanted to, but a part of me never wanted to cross that threshold into a place that she and Shannon were a part of.

My thoughts had controlled me as I sat there and it was only when the porch lights went on I realized I had been sitting in the dark for hours. I didn't want to talk to my parents, so as they fumbled with keys I quietly slipped up to my room. After a short time sleep claimed me again, but instead of images of Carrie as I faded into the oblivion, I now had snapshots of her and Shannon flash printing onto my already tortured soul.

When the nightmare woke me, dawn's light was streaming in my window. Rubbing the images from my brain I moved to the bathroom to wash away the sweat that lingered on my skin. I could hear my mother downstairs and I knew at some point I would have to face her and tell her the reason I had returned to NY. But more than that I realized soon I would have to actually face Carrie.

I dressed early that morning and slipped out through the back of the house and starting walking. I stopped at the corner deli knowing it opened early and got myself coffee and Danish and moved to the park. Sitting while I ate I went over in my mind the next step. It all came down to the same one, Carrie. She held the answers to my questions, now I had to try and get her to see me, she had made it quite plain she didn't want to. Did I hijack her when she was at work, hoping that the place would limit the outburst from her? Did I send a note asking to be heard? Or did I just go to places and follow her in hope it would look like an unplanned meeting and hope that that was the way to get her to talk. I knew full well the last option just made me look like a stalker, while the other ones always gave her a way to say no and to walk away.

I tossed the last of the Danish to the ducks as they waddled onto the pathway, watching them bicker and clamber for the remains. Rising, I brushed the flecks of pastry from my jacket, I always met the dangers of my work head on and with Jane's words echoing, I decided it was time to face my demons. I was finally tired of running away and hiding like some whipped pup, I hailed a cab and headed for her apartment.

The cab had let me out on the corner, it was only when I looked at my watch did I see it was still only 7 am on a Sunday morning, the street around me was almost deserted except for the paper guy on the corner. I could feel my bravery wavering now, knowing full well when I rang at her door that I would be waking her from sleep, a sleep she would be sharing with Shannon next to her. I knew I couldn't handle seeing that. Part of me wanted to leave and run again, and even the stronger part of me was wavering at having to face that. So I did the next best thing, I took a seat on the steps opposite her building and waited, for what, I didn't know.

After an hour my feet had given up trying to get warm and my fingers were beginning to disown me, I was just about to give up and go home yet again with my tail between my legs when I saw the door opposite open. I tensed, I recognized Shannon straight away, she was dressed in a jog suit and heading to the left of me, to where I knew the park was. I knew this was the chance I had been waiting for, making sure she was out of sight, I headed to the door. I didn't want to ring her apartment bell knowing that would give Carrie an option to leave me out in the cold, so I pressed every other one on the panel. Various voices answered down in question, but finally I heard the door beep. Pushing it open I stepped inside, thanking the fact that someone was always expecting someone. I decided against the elevator, instead I took the stairs up the three floors, welcoming the pumping of blood through my cold body. When I opened the fire door onto her floor I was feeling very warm from the climb and the thought of actually seeing her again. I found myself standing outside her door, just standing there. My heart was going mad inside my chest and I felt the rest of me buzzing at being so close to her. Swallowing I raised my fist and knocked. It seemed like eons before I heard her voice.

'' Hello?''

I knew she was checking the peephole so I had deliberately stood just off to the side of it.

'' Hello? Who's there?''

I knew now this was the time to either face her or turn and leave forever, I took a deep breath then squared my shoulders and stepped into the line of peephole, making sure my face was tilted up in full view.

'' Carrie, its Kathleen, I'd like to talk to you.''

I was sure I heard a gasp coming from behind the wood in front of me, but then silence. I made my voice stronger, although my throat was dry as a bone. '' Carrie, can I talk to you please?''

'' Go away.''

I couldn't help the wince of hurt at hearing her reply but I stayed firm.

'' No... not this time. Please Carrie I need to talk to you.''

I jumped as her fist hit the other side of the door.

'' No... Get away from me Kathleen. I have nothing to say and there is nothing I want to hear.''

I felt my anger begin to boil. '' No you wait one god damn minute, I want to talk to you, you never gave me that chance before. I need to know things here, what the hell are you doing back with Shannon?''

I waited, then I heard the chain being lowered and the door swung inward, to leave me face to face with blazing blue eyes and one pissed off ex lover. I still stood my ground.

'' What the hell business is it of yours who the hell I'm with, the day you fucked Alice broke that claim Kathleen.''

Her beauty right then nearly was my undoing, her eyes were wild and her hair was matching it and suddenly I was the lover that had done wrong again. But this time I wasn't going to back down. I didn't want this to be angry, I didn't want this to spiral into a battle, but right then and there I knew I had to fight for her, even if it meant at first I was fighting with her.

'' I didn't fuck Alice, Carrie. I thought after a year and half you would have come to your senses and had seen that.''

She blinked for a moment, staring at me as if some part of her was surprised I still denied the claim. Then she noticed that all the doors on the landing had cracked open and neighbors were moving, looking to the sound of raised voices. She looked at me and I knew she had to make a decision. As she stepped back for one moment I felt my insides drop expecting the door to be slammed in my face, instead she held it open.

'' Get IN here.''

I didn't need to be asked twice, I was in and no sooner than I was the door was slammed shut enough to rattle both the walls and me. She stormed off to the kitchen and poured herself a coffee, then coming back she sat looking up at me.

'' So tell me why I should believe you now, after I saw you flat on your back with a naked student rubbing herself up and down on you? Remember those parts Kathleen?''

I nodded, lowering my gaze, but I couldn't miss the fact her hands were shaking as she held the cup. '' Yea I remember Carrie.''

I could still see the anger pulsating in her eyes and I knew no part of the Carrie I loved was with me in this room. This was the hurt Carrie, the one who had been betrayed, it didn't matter that in truth it wasn't true, to her it was. I still had my head down but I could feel her watching me, when I did look up for a moment I caught a look of regret in her eyes, which was quickly covered.

'' Go on Kath, tell me what you came here to say?''

I took a long breath. '' Can I tell it all or will you shoot me down in flames before I even start again.''

She put down her cup then sat back crossing both her arms and legs. '' I won't interrupt.''

She hadn't offered me a seat so I didn't take one, in fact I welcomed the freedom to pace. I ran my hands through my hair then I turned and faced her. I began my tale of how Alice had tried to seduce me and the mistakes I made about not telling her about it, I told everything with truth and honesty and I opened my heart and soul in hope that she would see the truth in my eyes. When I had finished she still just sat there staring at me.

'' Is that it?''

I felt the words hit my hope in the chest, suddenly feeling very tired about it all. '' Yea... Carrie that's it.''

At any moment I expected her to grab my arm and throw me out of the apartment, instead she rose and moved to the kitchen and came back handing me a coffee.

'' SIT.''

I did so.

Then she was the one pacing, her whole body was a mass of electricity, she would stop for a moment and glare at me then start her pacing again. I sipped my coffee wondering what the hell was happening, part of me was daring to hope that this time she was believing me, while the other part was telling me to run before she could get something to beat me to death with.

I nearly choked on the coffee when she strided right up to me, looking down. I raised my eyes up to her.

'' You said you wrote to me?''

I nodded.

'' Where did you send it?''

I looked at her in question. '' At first I sent it to the house, then later I sent it to the Uni, I knew they would redirect to you.''

I didn't mention the fact that I now knew where they would have been sent to.

She shook her head, then began pacing again. Then again she swung back to aim at me, this time I had to move back onto the couch. '' You're lying.''

'' Carrie, I swear to god I never slept with Alice.''

Her hand rose. '' I'm not talking about that I'm talking about the letters.''

I blinked at her. '' What?''

'' You never sent the letters Kathleen, I never got any of them except for the three you sent from Egypt.. You're lying now get out.''

I couldn't get her words accepted into my brain, she was calling me a liar over letters.

'' Wait, wait... What do you mean you never got them, I wrote every day for nearly a week, sometimes twice a damn day. I gave them in at the Uni... Carrie, if you remember I wasn't allowed on the fucking premises after you and Alice ordered it. I couldn't find you all I had was the letters to make you see. Why the fuck would I lie about goddamn letters for Christ sake.''

She swung around at me again, her arms going up, showing that she too was frustrated.

'' How the hell do I know... Don't you think I wanted to hear from you? Don't you think I prayed and hoped you would explain everything to me and tell me that what I saw wasn't true, that every single rumor and tale about how you spent time behind my back was nothing but lies? I heard nothing Kathleen nothing! All I got was people telling me Alice's story of how you and her......''

Her voice stopped as the hurt started to surface again, when she had her emotions under control she looked at me again.

'' Friend after friend came up with longer versions of Alice's story, and believe me they became very explicit in their telling. All I got from you was silence and then you left, and Alice was there every damn day backing up her side of things of how you fucked her under the Sahara stars...''

I winced at the ice in her voice but I didn't speak, I knew she hadn't finished yet.

'' Even after that night I found you together I waited for some explanation, I waited in god damn agony Kathleen and all I got was silence. Yes I ran away, yes I hid, but I knew you would know how to contact me, you always did.''

She spat the last part at me then turned away.

'' So don't lie about the fucking letters, leave me with some sense of dignity of not being that stupid.''

I felt the blood drain from my face as the realization of what she was saying hit and I suddenly got light headed. Before I knew it I was sitting again, trying to draw air into my lungs. I had just been gut punched by two things, one she had wanted to hear my side and the other that my letters had never reached her.

'' Kathleen?'' This time her tone wasn't angry, I heard the concern, but she still kept her distance from me.

'' Wa......ter. I need a glass of water.''

Out of the corner of my eye I saw her nod and head to the kitchen, returning and handing me the glass.

I drank it slowly and felt the dizziness ebb away, then I looked over to her.

'' You didn't get any of them?''

For a moment I saw the anger flash again into her eyes, then I watched her study my face and her eyes widened for a moment at what she saw there.

'' You really did send them...''

It wasn't a question it was a statement. I nodded anyway.

'' I...... I never got any of them Kathleen, none.''

I didn't know what to say anymore to her, my mission and plan were to get her to listen. I hadn't expected anything like this.

Finally she sat again, watching me warily. '' How many did you send to the Uni?''

I drank the last of the water, holding the glass in my hands for some sense of comfort. '' Twelve at least.''

She inhaled sharply, then she ran her hand back through her hair. I knew she was trying to think things out to come up with some sense of explanation.

Then there was silence.

I looked around the apartment for the first time and saw the truth, she was living there. I recognized some of her personal things spotted around the place. When I looked at her I knew she knew what I was thinking.

'' Yes I'm with Shannon.''

I nodded and lowered my gaze, I really couldn't find a reply to that.

'' Is this where you came after that night at the house?''

She shifted for a moment then drew her legs up under her dressing gown. '' Yes.''

I nodded again, again I didn't know what to say. '' And this is where you hid too?''


I let out the long breath I was holding, I forced the tears back behind the wall and I looked up at her. '' Why did you believe Alice over me Carrie, and why did you run to Shannon of all people?''

She exhaled for a moment and her eyes didn't meet mine. '' Does it matter anymore, it's past Kathleen can't you leave it there...''

'' No. To me it's not past it's still raw, it matters to me......... I need to know.''

She met my eyes. '' And what if I don't want to tell you? What then?''

'' Then I guess I'm leaving with no answers to the whys I have had ripping at me for the past two years until the point the only way I could shut them up was at a bottom of a bottle.''

I watched her pale, and I knew I had hurt her again. For a moment I thought she was going to leave it like that. When she finally did speak her voice was low and lost.

'' I didn't know where else to go. I called Shannon and she offered here.''

Her eyes went to the apartment. '' No strings just a place to be. I didn't know what to do.. I didn't know where to go Kathleen my world had just blown up in my face.... So I called her and she came and got me.''

I bit my tongue of the retort of '' I bet she did.'' I just nodded.

'' And Alice?''

She moved off the chair in one fell move, pacing again. '' I confronted you Kathleen remember, you came in the door with roses, remember that part, I asked you and you told me it was true...''

This time I was up, I felt the anger move past the part of me that saw reason.

'' I already told you I made a mistake that night, you know I thought you meant that I had kept what Alice was doing from you..... Jesus Christ. We're going around in circles here.''

I threw my arms up in frustration, the same frustration I felt those years ago, of not being heard.

'' That's another thing, why the hell didn't you tell me she kissed you, or for that matter why the hell didn't you mention the presents and the seduction she was trying? All of it Kathleen from the start was lies, and you knew how I felt about things being kept from me...You knew my past with those things, I expected better from you at least.''

I whirled around at her my eyes wide. '' Yea and look how much that stood up, within a day of finding out that I supposedly cheated on you, you had become my judge jury and executioner and moved back in with the slut who fucked around on you in the first place.''

The stinging blow to my face wasn't a surprise, I knew as soon as the words were out of my mouth it would be the only way she would react. I rubbed my face staring at her.

'' That's becoming a habit of yours Carrie, I got one of those that night remember, I didn't deserve it then and I don't deserve it now.''

The anger in her eyes dimmed and filled with shame at her actions, she exhaled. '' It wasn't like that Kathleen, I came to Shannon's because I truly didn't know where else to go, I didn't want you finding me, I had to think.''

Still rubbing my face I sat back down, the anger leaving me just as quickly as it left her. '' Yea I guess.''

Then silence followed again as my mind tried to take everything in.

'' What do you want from me Kathleen?''

The question surprised me, I thought for a moment. '' The truth, what I've always wanted.''

She pushed the other chair around to face me and sat. '' Ok then, truth. For the first time let's have all of it.''

I again didn't know what to say.

'' Well I guess I'll go first.... look at me Kathleen because right now I need to see your eyes.''

I met her eyes.

'' Did you fuck Alice?''

I winced at the use of the word spat at me. '' No Carrie I didn't.''

The whole time I answered, her blue eyes never stopped boring into mine.

'' Ever?''

I shook my head. '' Never Carrie, I would never have done that to you, to us, didn't you know how much I love you.''

For a moment she held her breath as she heard the use of the words, knowing I was still telling her I was in love with her. Her eyes closed for a moment, when they opened I saw the tears in the corner.

'' In truth Kathleen, no I didn't know how much you loved me, I thought I did but the moment I realized that you had lied to me....''

She stopped, clearing her throat for a moment then blinked the tears away.

'' I knew that you didn't. Otherwise you would have told me the whole truth.... everything including how bad Alice had gotten. You would have trusted me enough to trust you. I know that sounds strange after the way I reacted but that was after, when it was thrown in my face for fuck sake. How else was I supposed to react to that.''

I inhaled the sob in my chest then I looked up at her as realization dawned. '' You knew I hadn't slept with her didn't you.''

She nodded then let out a long heart felt sigh.

'' Yes, after I had calmed enough and thought it out I knew something was wrong with her story, I'm not stupid enough to fall for her angel act Kathleen, give me some credit. At the beginning yes I was, but I was hurt and angry. I didn't see anything straight back then.''

'' When?'' my voice was showing the strain now of all the emotion.

'' When did I know?''

I slowly nodded.

'' I think I finally faced it about a year after... by then my anger had moved on and I looked back over everything. But I was already questioning my actions long before that....''

'' But....... But you still sold the house and wrote that letter telling me to leave you alone, why? Why I don't understand if you knew the truth?''

She let out a long exhausted sigh again and rubbed her temple. '' Because I wasn't sure of it Kathleen..... There was still one part of me that thought you had betrayed me, and you were nowhere around to kill that voice inside me. By the time I really realized that you were innocent of Alice, time had moved on.'' She suddenly looked up at me, her blues eyes locking onto mine.

'' And so had you.''

I just stared at her puzzled. '' I had?''

She hugged herself for a moment, her gaze going to the window briefly, then she met my eyes again. I almost cried out at the pain I saw there before it was covered again in the steel of ice blue..

'' Alice came last week and made sure to tell me that you had a new woman in your life, actually she really didn't have to fill me in on Jane Reynolds. Both your pictures were in a few select trashy newspapers as a couple, so I didn't see the point anymore of going over past wounds...... you had moved on and so after that did I.'

I sat back in shock, totally stunned by what she had just said. '' You...... you thought I was with Jane?''

She looked suddenly over to me, uncertainty on her face. '' Weren't you?''

I shook my head. '' No never, we were friends, she helped me get out of the pit I had dug for myself, Jesus Carrie no.''

She looked sideways at me for a moment trying to gauge if what I was saying was true. '' But she is in love with you right? I'm not that old that I don't recognize that in someone's eyes when they look at you...''

I lowered my eyes for a moment. '' Yes she is.'' Then I looked up suddenly. '' What do you mean when she looks at me?''

Carrie blushed slightly then took another deep felt breath as her eyes fell.

'' I came looking for you..... When I worked out finally in my head that you never would have slept with Alice I needed to know why you went silent and disappeared. I saw your interview on Close Up so I knew you were in D.C..... I went there.''

She swallowed deeply still not looking at me.

'' It was by accident believe it or not, seeing you two together. I flew down in June, after I had built up enough courage to face you. I had only been there one night when I was out with my niece and there you were, the pair of you, coming out of the cinema she was taking me to.''

Her face twisted slightly in the pain of remembering, then she held it high again, turning to meet my gaze, a bitter smile on her face.

'' Just one of those moments Kath where fate is a bitch and time runs out. I saw how she felt about you... So Alice coming to me only confirmed what I already knew.''

I tried to think back to that time, to see if part of me had sensed her being near me, but nothing came up. I looked up at her and watched a lone tear caress her cheek, all I could hear around me and inside was the fact that she had come looking to find the truth. But I also started to feel the anger building at the injustice of it all that once again she didn't think to ask me and had already judged me again.

'' And you thought that I had moved on that quickly.'' I felt the anger again pushing at me, this time it was aimed at her.

She shrugged and avoided my gaze. '' It looked that way yes.''

I stood up. '' Well fuck you Carrie Rebecca Carlton, fuck you. It may be easy for you to move on to the next woman and live life again..... Jane was and is a great friend who pulled my sorry arse back from the brink of destruction. I was on a one way course to hell before she grabbed me and held on to me for dear life........ I can't believe you...... Fuck YOU!''

I slammed down the glass and marched right to the door. I needed to get away from her, part of me was exploding inside and hurting to a point I didn't think it could anymore. She believed Alice again and she still didn't trust enough in my love for her that I wouldn't just move on. She was supposed to know me, I had to get away, I pulled the door open surprised that I didn't rip it from the frame and then I turned back to her.

'' Maybe I was wrong about you Carrie, I have spent the last two years defending you to people about how on earth you could take someone else's word over mine. Well maybe I should clear my eyes of this damn love I feel for you and get over it. Because looking around here it didn't take you long to make a bed somewhere else... Maybe it's time I started to face the truth of what you called love to me, maybe it's time I saw the real you. Because right now I don't believe you knew me at all................ I would have died for you Carrie, I would have died.''

I couldn't talk anymore, my sobs were closing my throat, so I slammed the door hard enough that three neighbors' doors opened. I kept my head high and I walked past them, when I got to the elevator I pulled my coat tight around me. When it pinged open I stepped back just in time, as Shannon's eyes grew wide as she virtually walked into me.

For a moment she just stared. '' What the fuck are you doing here?''

As she moved forward I grabbed her using the toned muscles of my smaller frame against her tall one to propel her backwards, only stopping when the metal wall of the lift hit her back and halted us, with my hand at her throat I had her full attention.

'' You listen to me you lying pile of shit, if I ever hear that you fucked around on her again or hurt her in any way, I will make sure that the parts that are found aren't big enough to be identified.''

The blood vessel at her temple was jumping along with her heartrate, she struggled at the vice lock at her throat, I let it drop, stepping back. She bent looking up at me with fear and anger as she backed away.

'' Who the hell are you to threaten me......... Jesus Christ.'' She coughed to clear the bruise I knew I had left on her throat.

I reached over calmly, fighting the urge to grab her again, pushing the elevator button well aware that everyone was looking into the tiny cubicle.

'' It wasn't a threat Shannon.......... Don't mess with her.''

Shannon quickly made her exit from the lift as the doors began to close. As I looked up my eyes met Carrie's, holding them until the sliding door cut into the view, well aware that the look on her face was pure shock.

I virtually ran from the building once I was free of the elevator. I didn't stop until both my legs and my lungs protested and made me stop, I wanted to run away again, I couldn't believe that above it all Carrie still thought I could move on from her so easily. I walked as I steamed, I don't know how I got to the harbor but I did, to a place that I hadn't been in nearly two years, the same place I went to that night when Carrie had disappeared on me.

I knew the liquor store on the corner would be open and I walked in. Within minutes I emerged with a bottle of Jack Daniels wrapped in brown paper. I went to the place under the pier where the storm wall met the iron workings, it was always deserted of people. I lent against the wall and slowly let my tired body slide down until I was sitting, the bottle resting between my legs. I wanted a drink so badly, I could almost taste it on my lips and throat.

I glanced around at the place I used to come as a child and weep away the angry words of my parents, where I would kick the stones until the anger left me when bullies at school would pick on me and make my life hell. I wanted to put my fist through the steel in front of me, but some sense within stopped me, knowing all I would do was break my hand. I looked down at the paper and I folded the top down until the top of the bottle was visible, I licked my lips. It would be so easy to open it and just drink enough to forget. I closed my eyes tilting my head back, how had it all gone so wrong? All I had wanted was Carrie back and in the end I had just raved at her. I knew the anger had been inside, but I had thought it was aimed at the injustice of it all, not at Carrie. I put my hand on the top and began to twist it, then I stopped and pulled the paper back over it, I dipped my head and let the tears come.

I was a failure at everything.

I didn't know I had fallen asleep until I woke up with my neck screaming at me and my legs in cramp, I looked up at the cry that had woken me and watched the gull dip again into the bay. Watching for a moment the skin of the water reflect the rainbow colors of petrol against the sun light. I shifted to try and get some circulation back into my limbs. I sensed more than heard someone approaching and I lent forward, groaning as my back protested, to look around the tide wall.

Carrie was walking along the small inlet, stepping over the long chains that acted like hurdles in front of her. She looked up and for a moment she paused, then a smile came to her face which quickly dropped when I leant back out of sight.

I felt my heart racing, finally she stepped into view.

'' I knew I'd find you here.. Well that's not true I went to your house first, your parents haven't changed.''

She'd meant the last part as a joke, but I wasn't in the mood for jokes.

'' What do you want?''

I saw her smile falter and then her eyes dropped to the bottle still between my legs. '' Have you opened it yet?''

I picked up a stone and threw it into the bay, rippling the petrol rainbow as it hit. '' No, not yet.''

She turned, her eyes moving over the bay line. I took the chance to study her profile, it really hadn't changed at all in two years, if anything reaching her late forties had only heightened her beauty. I noticed then that her eyes were red from tears. When she turned her head my face was already on the horizon and unreadable.

Finally she slid down the wall beside me and sat tucking her hands deep into her pockets as she got comfortable. '' I remember the first time you ran here, we had had a row over something totally stupid.. '' She looked at me as she tucked the loose strands of hair back behind her ear as the cold wind picked up.

I threw another stone into the water. '' Yea I remember.''

She took a long breath, turning her eyes away as she did. '' You're not going to make this easy are you?''

This time when I threw the stone my anger sent it clattering into the iron of the pier. '' Make what easy? I think you made yourself clear Carrie.''

When I moved to stand her hand grabbed mine. I felt two things then, first the anger that she dare touch me, but underneath it I felt my whole body remember her touch. My head snapped to her and for a moment her hold faltered.

'' To talk Kath... To talk. To get my chance of doing that. Something we didn't do in the first place that led us to this.''

I was about to shrug her off and grab my bottle and find a haven she didn't know about. That was until I saw her eyes, they were my eyes, the eyes I remembered, the ones that looked at me in love. I felt myself shift back to sit, unsure now of anything.

'' Ok talk...''

She looked away for a moment. '' I found something out after you left..''

I waited.

'' The letters...The ones you sent...'' she swallowed then looked at me, small tears in the corner of her eyes again. '' It was Shannon, she was the one who was picking up my mail from the Uni back then, she never passed them on.''

My jaw tensed and I knew my teeth were being ground together. '' Why?''

Carrie half shrugged, then wiped a tear off her cheek in anger. '' She thought she was doing the right thing is what she said.''

'' You asked her?''

She laughed bitterly and the anger jumped back into her eyes. '' Oh yes that all came out this morning, in between her raving about how dare you threaten her.... yes it all came out. She withheld everything you sent Kathleen, I never got any of them.''

She inhaled deeply before looking at me. '' She also sent the one to you telling you not to contact me again... She was there Kath. She saw how bad I was..... I guess she only wanted to help me and she thought she was.''

We sat silently for a moment as the wind stirred again across the inlet, her face was down her eyes almost vacant as she stared at her hands. Then she raised her head, turning tortured azure to me.

'' I didn't know you loved me you see, I thought I had misjudged that love, I let everything that was insecure about you rule what I did.''

'' Insecure? You were insecure about me?'' I asked in astonishment.

She nearly laughed at my expression until the sadness took her again.

'' You never did see it did you, that there were students falling over you, begging to be a conquest. You are so talented and so beautiful Kathleen, I was scared so many times you would wake up one morning and look at what we had and want something more.... God, I thanked god every day that I had you in my life, knowing that you would never hurt me or leave me, but under it all Kathleen I was just plain scared I'd lose you.''

I couldn't do anything but blink at her, she was the one that had the beauty, she was the one that held the talent, god she was the one that had women and men drooling at her feet.

I shook my head. '' No Carrie...... I'm sorry but no.''

She sighed sadly. '' You never looked at yourself except through your parents' eyes Kath. I wish once you had looked at yourself through mine.''

She turned her gaze to the horizon again and this time I really looked at her. How had I missed it that she was that insecure about loving me and trusting in that fact or that I loved her.

I swallowed. '' Do you believe that I love you now, that it's with everything?''

She didn't turn her head, but I watched as she closed her eyes and the movement sent tears running down both cheeks, then finally she nodded.

'' Yes I believe you did..... and I'm sorry I didn't see that then.''

Then she turned to face me, shifting her body so that she was kneeling in front of me.

'' When I heard about Alice all that came up Kath, all those nightmares of you leaving me, I didn't see the truth all I saw was the future I dreaded...... I shouldn't have believed her, god I knew what she was like, but that night when I faced you and you said yes, I didn't hear the explanation you tried to get through to me, I couldn't... Don't you see Kathleen I was being shown exactly what my worst nightmare was with you.... that I would lose you to someone else... When I saw you together all those voices inside that trusted and loved you were beaten to a pulp and the louder ones won.''

I felt the truth in her words and for once I saw the truth in her agonized gaze on me, but it still didn't touch the anger inside me that she did it, that she went back to Shannon.

'' And what part of that nightmare meant you fell into Shannon's bed Carrie?''

She stiffened and sat back onto her legs. '' Loneliness..... the belief I didn't deserve anything better.''

I looked up at that, tilting my head as part of the anger stepped away a moment. '' You think you deserve a slut like that?''

'' Well don't I? I was back in her bed within six months Kathleen, doesn't one part of you think Shannon and I deserve each other.''

When I flinched her hand moved to my knee, resting there.

'' I'm sorry... I mean it I am sorry. You had gone Kath.... Don't you see, to me you had betrayed and left.. At least Shannon when she did it stayed around and begged for me to come back... I didn't want to be alone I needed her.''

I looked away to cover the pain I knew was shining there. '' Do you love her?''

She didn't even miss a heartbeat in her reply. '' No.''

I looked back at her in shock. '' Then why are you with her? How can you sell yourself out like that Carrie.......... Jesus.''

She moved away from me, resting on the tide wall. '' Believe it or not I'm not, for a while now we have been nothing but room mates...... it works for us. She goes out has her nights with anything going and comes back... She uses me to stay away from relationships, on my end I get cheap rent near the university and no hassle from anyone.''

My eyes shot over to her. '' Really?'' I watched her face as she answered.

'' Yea really, it may be hard to believe Kath but she has been a good friend through all of this, whatever her motives were... So your show of muscles in the hallway really weren't needed.''

I couldn't help answering the small smile on her mouth with one of my own, I scratched my temple suddenly feeling very sheepish. ''Oh.''

'' Yea oh...''

I felt the tightness in my body relax a little until she spoke again with a question.

'' So you and Jane were never lovers?''

My reply was just as fast as hers. '' No.''

She nodded then moved back next to me again. '' Did you want to be?''

'' No. I wasn't attracted to her in that way.'' I let out a long painful sigh as I remembered the hurt I had bestowed on Jane.

'' She fell in love with me that part is true, and I guess I did see it, but she never brought it up and I didn't because I knew I would have to hurt her.. and I did.''

Carrie didn't say anything, but I felt her hand take mine and all on its own I wrapped my fingers around hers. It still felt right.

'' I'm sorry for so many things Kath. I don't really know what to say to mend the things that happened..... I'm mad as hell at Shannon for hiding your letters and sending the other one to you. I won't be going back there except to collect my things.''

Her voice went suddenly wishful. '' Maybe if I had gotten them things might have been different, that we could have had this talk two years ago before time got in the way. But you can't build a life on maybes or wishes.''

I nodded, looking down at our hands entwined together. I had a choice to make again, I could feel it building inside but before I did I needed to know things.

'' Is there anyone in your life Carrie, I mean anyone that..... well you know?''

She tucked her hair out of her mouth, smiling at me, knowing what I was asking.

'' No Kath no one. You?''

I shook my head. '' No.''

I felt the chance of hope again this time gaining strength. I pulled her hand tighter to me making sure I had her full attention as I made my choice.

'' If you had gotten those letters Carrie, I mean all of them and in it you read everything I told you tonight, would you have kept me away like you did? Would you have believed others, would you have gone back to Shannon or would you have just let me go away and never followed? I need to know Carrie, the truth?''

Taking a long breath she closed her eyes and once again the tears were pushed free to run down her cheeks. When she opened them I saw all the pain and all the agony of the past years shining out. And shimmering under the azure blue, dancing like a fire, I finally saw the love again.

'' Kathleen if I had gotten them I would have held onto you and never ever ever have let you go......everrrrrrrrrrrrr.''

Her last words were almost lost in the sob that suddenly racked her. I pulled her to me, burying her face under my neck, feeling her arms clawing at me to get hold, her hands digging into my back as she held on with such strength I was sure I was going to show bruises. And my Carrie, the one I loved with everything, wept. And as she did I felt the anger and pain empty from me as each tear streamed down my own face.

Her words were stuttered onto my skin. '' God I'm so sorry......... I ne...VER stopped loving you Kath... Never.''

There it was, the words I had prayed to hear again. I couldn't stop the cry and sob that escaped from my throat, and her lips were on mine in a breath. Alice hadn't won, Shannon hadn't won, no one had. In a way every one of us had lost. Carrie and I had lost two years of love and much more. But none of those things really mattered anymore. I knew what mattered and she was back in my arms again, I grabbed her closer and I whispered it into her ear.

'' My Carrie, always my Carrie.''

I searched for her mouth like a woman lost in the desert searching for water to quench a never-ending thirst inside. The kiss that followed left me breathless and seeing stars, I didn't want to break from her mouth but I needed to breathe and I tore my lips away clinging to her.

'' I love you. Don't leave me again.''

I felt her inhaled sob and felt her shaking against me as she heard my words, and I heard her returning words of love begin to soothe over all the raw wounds. I felt her racing heart meet up and touch mine, then slowly as I held her I felt my soul move out from the darkness and meld back where it belonged with hers into the light. The healing between us wouldn't be easy nor would it be quick, but our first step happened on that little inlet where she came and found me. The one thing that cried louder that day was the scream inside both our hearts of hope and the chance to begin again.

But most of all I felt the pride and love spread through me, that we had survived the tests and the challenges of life and both won the biggest prize in the world. The realization that sometimes love does conquer all and the bad guys didn't always win.


 The End 

Wow and phew.....Now then I hope that answers all those questions from you all, cos when the bard writes she hunches and boy is my back sore. Anyone gonna offer a back rub to this weary writer? ... Grin

Ladyhawke124@hotmail.com. Come on now feed the bard I know you want to. J

http://www.academyofbards.org/authors/ladyhawke.html Click the link to the index of my other works exclusive to the academy.

'' Challenges '' by ladyhawke copyright k savage. 28/09/04