The group continued for nearly another hour and a half, after my cheek had quit bleeding and Iíd introduced myself. Bev was very good at her job and managed to redirect everyoneís attention away from Max and I. Several times I could feel the quick, and not so quick, glances in our direction. Still, all in all, the focus was primarily shifted back to the entire group, as we learned more about one another.
Joannie Crenshaw had only been divorced from her bully of a husband for a few months and remained terrified he would return. Her ten year old son, Timmy, was so angry all the time that he was having problems in school. The well-meaning teacher had suggested that, perhaps, he needed to spend more time with his father. This brought on a lively conversation as nearly everyone in the circle guessed correctly -without Joannie saying a word- that said teacher was of the male persuasion.
Pat Thomas was mentally beating herself black and blue for being, in her words, " a total and complete fool". She blamed herself entirely for not knowing sooner that her husband was being unfaithful. What was worse, she blamed herself FOR the infidelity. Pat was doing what lots of women in her position do. She was taking full responsibility for everything. The trouble was, she was also taking the BLAME for everything...and every one.
"Iím sorry," I hesitated. "I know Iím only visiting and I donít know you but this is NOT your fault." I looked over at Bev, almost asking permission to continue.
"No, thatís fine, Gillian. Go on. Tell us what youíre thinking or feeling. Thatís what we do in this room. As long as itís intended to support, encourage or uplift someone, it will be welcome here. As for you only visiting, I think I speak for everyone when I tell you that we hope that will change." Bev reached over, patted my right knee and smiled.
Looking around the room, I was amazed to discover the others were extending smiles as well. That was when my brain and senses collided and I became aware of the warm hand still resting on my left knee. Almost afraid to let my eyes wander to itís ownerís face, I swallowed. Closing my eyes for only a moment, I ran my tongue across the still tender inner cheek and commanded myself not to faint. Drawing in a breath of courage, I slowly raised my eyes to find Max looking right at me. She smiled. ëDamn. How does she do that?í I asked myself. My heart rate had nearly tripled and only milliseconds had passed.
"As I was saying," Bev smoothly saved the day. "Gillian, we all welcome both you and your comments. Did you have something else you wanted to say to Pat?"
I made a mental note to send this woman a dozen, no two dozen roses, first thing tomorrow.
"Yes. Well, I just think there were two people in that marriage and only one of them unzipped his fly and broke his vows."
Pat, Annie, Bev and Tammy burst into laughter. Max and Tammy applauded. Applauded! Criminy, had I managed to say something right? I guessed so because the worried brow on Patís face actually relaxed right before all our eyes.
"Oh my, that felt good. Thank you, Gillian." Pat said as she wiped the laughing tears from a face that seemed years younger than it had only an hour before. "Iíve always blamed myself for things whether it was really my fault or not. You certainly put things in perspective. For more than twenty years I have been a faithful partner in this marriage. Now the marriage is over and I donít know where to go from here. I guess the truth is, I just plain feel lost."
Annie spoke up. "I know what you mean, Pat. Iíve never been married but I know all about feeling lost."
The silent tears that slipped from Annieís face made my heart ache. I squeezed her hand and hoped my eyes would be enough encouragement for her to continue. It was.
"My brother was the only family I had left. We were twins and.." Annie stopped to look in the direction of my gasp.
A truck had just knocked me on my metaphoric ass. Blinking, I tried to catch my breath. "Annie. I had no idea. Archie and you were twins? My gods. That must be awful. Iíve heard what a tremendous bond twins have. I am so sorry."
A pale hand wiped at the stray tears. "Hey", Annie said, "donít worry about it. No one at work knew. Archie and I..yeah, we were close all right. When we were kids, Mom used to say we were so close she could swat both our behinds with only one hand. And she had small hands."
That garnered a snicker around the room.
"Well...when Archie was killed by that drunk driver, I knew it before the hospital even called. I felt him slip away. It was as if a warm wave washed over my soul and I could feel him standing next to me. When the phone rang and the nurse told me who she was, well, I knew he was gone. It was the oddest feeling. My mind knew he was gone but my heart still felt him standing there next to me. Sometimes I still feel that way. So, why do I feel so....so horribly alone?"
We all knew she neither expected nor wanted an answer. It was a good thing because no one in the room had one.
"Annie? I...I nnnnever had a bbbrother but.." Tammy was so shy that saying anything at all was a struggle for her. Still, she battled on as she searched for words. " I d d do know wwwhat itís lllike to bbbe alllone."
My heart leaped into my chest and did a little dance when I saw Maxís free arm reach out and grasp the seat of Tammyís chair, dragging it alongside her own. Tammy looked like a stunned child. Emotions darted across the young face, one making way for the next, in rapid succession. Surprise made way for fear, which was followed by wonder, which was replaced by question, which seemed to settle into child-like awe. I found my own left hand placing itself onto the one Max still had warming my thigh. Tammy only smiled.
"Mmy fffamily hhhates mme. Ttthey wwish I wwould jjust go away."
I honestly thought Bev would say something to Tammy at that point. She didnít. I realized why later.
"Címon there Tam. Iím sure they donít hate you. And Iíd bet my Martin Acoustic they donít wish you would go away." Max had put her arm around the trembling womanís shoulders and was leaning toward her as she spoke.
"Yyes they ddo. They ssay I mmake them sick."
Max lit the room with a wide grin. "Been there, done that," she chuckled.
"Sure. You didnít think you were the only gay woman in the room didja? Címon now. Iíve made that no secret in this group. Iím sure Iíve mentioned that my family is none too happy about what they call my lifestyle."
"Wwell sure, but I ddidnít think they hated yyou."
"They donít hate me, Tammy. Just as I am certain your parents donít hate you."
Max hugged her. I shuddered. "No. They donít hate you, Tammy. They might hate what they see as a choice youíve made. Parents have a problem with that, sometimes. But to hate you they must be able to hate a part of themselves. Even the parents who go there...well, most donít stay there long. Itís not that easy to hate your own child, Tammy. In a weird kinda way, it might even be their way of showing you they love you."
Chestnut eyes softened and glistened with unshed tears. "Yyou think they llove me?"
"I sure do."
Bev chose this as her opportunity to say something. "I do too, Tammy. And, Max? You might want to run rapid replay on what you just said and apply it to your own family."
"Huh?" Max looked at Bev, almost stunned.
The low watt bulb of understanding flicked on in my brain. Bev wasnít overlooking Tammyís pain at all. She just knew there was someone else in the room who was better qualified to reach the timid young woman. And if in the reaching out some of her own demons came into the light, all the better. My respect for the patient moderator went up about five notches.
"Well, Max, you think about it. We need to clear out and let the next group have the room now. Gillian, I do hope you will join us again next week."
"Sure. I mean, yeah, I guess I could do that." I verbally stumbled.
Bev looked around the room at all the heads nodding in agreement and chuckled. "It seems unanimous, Gillian." The smiling leader looked directly at Max and then returned her gaze to me. "And I KNOW Max wants you to come back. Right, Max?"
The hand on my thigh tightened slightly. I looked to my left and was caught once again by those baby blues.
Max spoke. "Yeah. Um, sure. You are coming back, right?"
I could feel the warmth slowly crawling in both directions, outward from that strong hand, gripping my thigh like it would never let go. I swallowed. Hard. I could hear chairs being put back along the sides of the wall and good-byes being exchanged. Still, neither Max nor I had moved a hair. I knew I needed to say something but, for the life of me, I couldnít recall the question. Finally, I found my voice.
"Iím sorry, Max. What was the question?"
We both heard it at the same time. That musical, tinkling sound of immortal giggling.
"Did you hear that?" Max asked, leaning toward me.
"That giggling, you mean?" I was not about to admit to this walking vision that I talked to the Mistress of Dreams.
Max leaned in so close I could feel her breath on my neck. It was a sensation I could definitely get used to, even encourage.
"Yeah. Sounds like Mysti, to me."
I jerked my head, green staring into blue. "Holy Mother of God!!!"
Bev laughed and put a slender arm around each of us. "Ladies, we donít have time to run this scene again. Might I suggest you spend the rest of the evening sharing a cup of coffee or a late dinner or...whatever."
"Huh?" I was still trying to figure out if I had heard what I thought I heard.
Max slid a muscular arm around my waist, making me shudder again. She smiled, noticing the effect her innocent action had on me.
"Iíd like to learn more about your dream. And I am free. Would you like to have dinner and talk some more?" Max waited for my answer with all the patience of a child on Christmas morning.
Annie chose that moment to hand me my purse. "Gilly," she used that name I despised again. "Iím gonna catch a ride with Tammy. I think weíre gonna have dinner and gab a while. You donít mind, do ya?"
I shook my head gently. "No, Annie. You go ahead. And thanks for bringing me. You were right about it doing some good." I gave her a quick hug and she left.
"That mean youíre free to have dinner with me?"
"Patient, arenít we?" I teased.
"Ha. I bite my Tootsie Roll Pops too. You going to dinner with me or not?" she raised her left eyebrow and cocked her head slightly to the side.
"You know? Thatís real sexy. That eyebrow thing."
"Did it work?"
I laughed. "Guess so. Where do we eat?"
As we walked to the cars, the Dream
Mistress floated nearby. Mysti covered her own mouth tightly and giggled
again. "Well, I guess letting them see the eyes was a good idea, after
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