It was a vision to remember if for no other reason than posterity’s sake. A very tipsy - no, drunken was a more appropriate description – Cassie was lying on her back under the dining room table, chatting away to herself and waving her hands impatiently in the air, as though conducting a reluctant orchestra.
What made the image that much more interesting to Shannon, who leaned against the doorframe watching her friend, was that Cassie was a control freak, especially as it concerned her appearance or behavior. If she remembered this night, she would be mortified for years to come. Shannon filed it away for future, best-friend-torture ammunition.
“Whatcha doin’ down there?”
“Working out a few things in my head.” The words were slurred but comprehensible.
“Yeah? How come you’re in here and not out with the rest of the gang?”
“I told you I’m thinking!” Cassie’s eyes rolled in embellished exasperation. “There’s too much noise out there to think.”
Shannon grinned. “Come out and join me.”
“I’m not done yet.” Cassie patted the carpet next to her. “C’mere. Talk to me.”
Shannon was willing to do anything for Cassie, even lie on the floor under a table in the middle of a party. In her dreams, Cassie was hers, and it had been that way since they met in junior high. The infatuation had not diminished in the years of separation during college. Shannon had almost turned down the academic scholarship, but ironically, it was Cassie who convinced her to leave by finally finding the “boy of her dreams” at the tail end of a virginal high school career. Cassie was straight, and no matter how much Shannon willed it otherwise, her best friend would always remain considerably left of center on the Kinsey scale. So no one would ever know of Shannon’s desire, of the way Cassie’s blue-green eyes made her knees turn to water, or of the way Cassie’s smile made Shannon want to kiss her breathless.
Shannon shook her head, helpless as usual in the face of Cassie’s request, got down on her hands and knees and started crawling under the table.
“Ouch! Shit!” Shannon reached for the top of her head where it had connected with the wooden edge, and promptly smacked her funny bone against the table leg. “Dammit! Cass, I’m too tall to be freakin’ crawling around down here with you.”
“Get down here, you wimp.” Cassie smacked the floor next to her.
Shannon muttered something obscene, then performed a maneuver worthy of a gymnast to get her long body twisted around and laying on the carpet next to Cassie. “There. Happy now?”
“Oh, quit grousing. You haven’t changed a bit, have you?”
“What the hell does that mean?”
Cassie laughed at Shannon’s expression. “I mean, you big old grump, that if there was something to bitch about, you were the one to do it. That hasn’t changed since high school.”
“I don’t bitch. I just call it like it is. And lying down here under a dining room table in the middle of a party is stupid.”
Cassie punched Shannon in the arm. “It is not stupid. Don’t call me stupid, you big, stupid lug.”
The frown on Cassie’s face made Shannon laugh out loud. “You’re drunk. And you’re going to hate yourself in the morning. Remember that hangover from prom?”
“I refuse to remember that. I think this is the most I’ve drunk since then though. How long is that? Six years, right?”
“God, we’re getting old.”
“Speak for yourself, blondie. I’m still young and vibrant and sexy.” Shannon flashed a wicked smile.
Cassie rolled her head to the side and looked into her best friend’s ocean blue eyes. “You’re right. You haven’t changed a lick since the ninth grade. You’ve left the rest of us to age.” She turned away. “I hate you.”
“Don’t say that kind of stuff to your best pal. Be nice.” Shannon couldn’t tell Cassie how kind the years had been to her, how the stunning teenager she had fallen for had turned into a radiantly beautiful woman. Her secret would be revealed. “Cass, you haven’t aged at all. And remember, you were the one who got all the guy’s attention in school, not me.”
“You were just too tall. You intimidated them, but that didn’t stop them from ogling your ass as soon as your back was turned.” Cassie moved onto her side and gazed pensively at her friend. “You didn’t care much about getting attention, did you?”
Shannon glanced at the blonde, surprised at the odd question. “No, not really. It didn’t matter too much.”
“It mattered to all the other girls.”
“What did? That I didn’t care about getting attention?”
“No. Don’t confuse me. I’ve had too much to drink.” As if to punctuate the point, Cassie took another healthy sip from the half full rocks glass next to her. “And it’s only because I’ve been drinking that I’m going to pursue this. And it’s only because I’m going to pursue this that I’ve been drinking so much.” She moved up onto her elbows, and then downed the rest of the drink in one large swallow.
“Ok. You’re being freakishly un-Cassie-like now. What the hell are you talking about?” Shannon’s instincts were kicking in, anticipating that whatever was coming was not good.
“I knew you’d come looking for me tonight.”
“Yeah. So? You were drinking. I wanted t…”
“No, Shannon. I knew you’d come looking for me. You always do.” Cassie looked away. “You always have. Ever since I’ve known you.”
Shannon didn’t know how to respond. Cassie’s strange words as well as her rare use of Shannon’s full name left the tall woman with a cold dread spreading in her belly. Her grip on the empty beer bottle in her hand tightened.
“You never wanted the boy’s attention, did you?” Cassie looked up and held her in an unwavering gaze. “You’ve always liked girls, haven’t you?”
If she had been able to breathe, Shannon would have choked on the shocking bluntness of the question. As it was, she was frozen in place, unable to believe that this was her Cassie, asking her outright if she was a lesbian.
Eventually, tiny showers of light began flashing before her eyes and she realized that she needed oxygen. She gasped and then began to choke. She curled her body, rolled onto her side and cracked her knee into the table leg. In agony, she rolled back and smacked her temple against Cassie’s shoulder.
Cassie rubbed her arm while watching her best friend writhe in pain. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
The two women lay in silence, staring at the underside of the oak table. Shannon had contemplated a number of responses to Cassie’s abrupt declaration, but she couldn’t bring herself to confirm or deny the statement. She wasn’t going to lie, but she didn’t relish being forced to defend the way she lived her life, especially given Cassie’s current state of intoxication. Shannon found it sad that Cassie couldn’t approach her about this without getting completely inebriated first.
Shannon sighed, then muttered, “My knee is fucking killing me.”
Cassie looked over. “That’s the one you injured skiing, right?”
“Why now? I’ve always believed you never wanted to know.”
“You’re right. I didn’t. I didn’t want my best friend to be a lesbian. I wanted us to marry two great men and have great kids and live next door to each other in great homes for the rest of our happily ever after lives. And you fucked up my dream by having a crush on me instead of Greg Tremaine, who, I will add, would have walked to the ends of the earth for you.”
“Yeah well, fuck you and your dreams, Cass. It’s not like I set out to wreck your life by loving you.”
Cassie slid her hand across the carpet seeking Shannon’s. She entwined their fingers and squeezed gently. “I know.”
“You still didn’t answer me. Why now?”
“Because Shan, I realized I’m in love, and if I had it my way, we’d already be married.”
Blood rushed to Shannon’s head, making her ears ring, and she felt her heart miss a beat. On an intellectual level, she knew this day would eventually come, but on an emotional level, Cassie was still her girl. She closed her eyes and forced herself to calm as she accepted the inevitable.
“Marc’s a lucky guy.”
Cassie smiled. “And I’m a lucky woman.”
“Thanks Shan. I wish you sounded happier for me.”
“I am happy for you, Cass. It’s just that… it’s… oh hell, it’s just that I feel like a part of my life is ending and I don’t want it to. When I came back here, I wanted to pick up where we left off. Best friends, hanging out, having a good time.”
“Shan, we’re adults. We can’t live in teenaged suspension for the rest of our lives.”
“Well, shit, Cass. I know that. I just thought we’d have one more good go around at it, you know? Before the real world completely took over.”
Cassie rolled over and propped up on her elbow, letting go of Shannon’s hand. “I know.” Her voice was soft with understanding. “But deep down, you know it wouldn’t have changed anything. As much as I care about you and always will, I would have never loved you… that way.”
“Yeah. I know.”
Both women looked at each and silently pledged that the friendship they had shared for years would always exist.
“Listen Shan, the girls and I were talking before you got back home. You remember Mary McNaughty?”
“Naughty Mary? Sure.”
“It’s Mary Williams now, but anyway, she and her husband have this great RV. We thought we’d borrow it and go away for a camping weekend. Just the girls and one big party. What do you think?”
“Mary, of course. Lisa Nichols, Pat Morrow, Stacey Krane, Kathy Harmon, me and my sister. And you, hopefully.”
“Your sister is in town?”
“Yeah. She got back two months ago. You’ve never met her, have you?”
“No I haven’t.”
“She’s a good egg. We’ve gotten a little closer since she came home and she loves a party. You’ll like her. So will you go?”
Shannon thought about it for a moment. She realized in hindsight that spending time at college away from Cassie was the best choice she could have made. Despite her desire to come home to everything as it was before she left, she knew realistically that it would never happen. Cassie had moved on with her life, and now Shannon would have to do the same.
“Yeah. I’ll go.”
Years from now, Shannon would remember this exact moment as the time when she finally cast loose the single fantasy of her youth.
“Still driving these matchbox toys, huh?”
“Shut up, beanstalk.”
“Oh, that’s mature.”
“Just get your long ass in the car so we won’t be late.”
Shannon eased herself into the passenger side of the two-seater sports coupe, then turned and grinned at the blonde. “I had forgotten how bitchy you are in the morning. Is Marc aware of this nasty trait of yours?”
Cassie slugged Shannon in the bicep. Hard.
“Ow! Shit, Cass! Keep your bony hands to yourself!” Shannon cringed in pain.
Shannon’s retort died on her lips as she looked with wide eyes at her friend. “I can’t believe you called me that.”
“Because you should never call a lesbian a pussy.”
“Because it has a totally different connotation in dyke language.”
“So what? I could have called you twat. Or snatch.”
“Forget it. Just drive.”
Cassie laughed as she pulled away from the curb and sped off in the direction of her sister’s apartment.
They drove for a while in the pre-dawn silence, enjoying the evolution of their friendship over the weeks since the party. There were no more secrets; the tension that had always lurked beneath the surface had disappeared. As much as Shannon felt the loss, she felt the relief that much more. Her life had taken on a macabre existence since she met Cassie, pining away as she was for a woman who would never be hers, planning her life around an unattainable dream. Since the encounter at the party, she and Cassie had talked a lot, and she felt freer, which contributed greatly to her sense of well being. Seeing Cassie and Marc so happy together had made a huge difference as well.
Shannon sighed and leaned back into the cushioned seat, feeling as content as she could ever remember. Camping this weekend would be fun.
“Cass, I cannot believe I’ve known you for this long and yet, I’ve never met Emma. How is that possible?”
“I don’t know.” The tone had an edge that wasn’t all early morning grumpiness. “Who cares? You’re going to meet her as soon as I turn this corner.”
“You need coffee, don’t you?”
“Shut up, stalk. We’re here.”
Cassie pulled in tight to the curb in front of a huge old Stick house badly in need of a paint job. She got out of the car and Shannon followed suit, shaking her long legs and rearranging her jeans. The door to the RV that was parked in the driveway swung open, and a slightly younger version of Cassie stepped out and waved.
Shannon was astounded by the likeness between the two. As she continued to walk towards the woman, Emma turned her gaze from her sister to Shannon, and Shannon’s world turned upside down. Her heart swelled and her lungs emptied as her surroundings morphed into a distorted blur. The only area of clarity was the short six or seven feet of sidewalk between her and Emma. The woman’s emerald eyes were two points of burning intensity focused completely on Shannon. They captured her with a gaze of pure wonder.
Hi. You’re Emma, Cassie’s sister.
Yes. And you’re Shannon, Cassie’s best friend.
Yes. Why haven’t we met before?
Perhaps we weren’t supposed to meet until now…
Cassie’s hand on her arm snapped Shannon out of the trance.
Emma headed towards the house. “Why don’t you guys go ahead and load your stuff into the RV, then we’ll move it so you can park the car in the driveway. Mary’s in the kitchen having coffee. I think it’s a touch too early for her.”
The twinkle in her eyes made Shannon’s body thrum.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Cassie asked after Emma had disappeared inside.
“You didn’t even say hello, for crissake! You were standing there like an idiot!”
“I did say hello! She answered me. We introduced ourselves!”
“Shan. You didn’t say anything, and neither did she. You just stared at each other.”
“But I… she…” Shannon gestured towards the house.
“Whatever. Forget it, twilight zone. Let’s get this stuff unloaded so I can get caffeine.”
Shannon turned slowly and followed Cassie back to the car. She still felt slightly disoriented and shook her head. She was sure she didn’t dream it. She and Emma had introduced themselves. She was certain of it.
It was a riotous trip to the campground. Once they’d all had their injection of caffeine, the women were boisterous and ready to party. Bloody Mary breakfasts were carefully poured and handed out, and Naughty Mary practically flew the RV so she could join the festivities that much sooner.
It seemed to Shannon that Emma knew her friends well enough to interact comfortably, so she watched her discreetly and maintained her distance. She wanted badly to talk with her, but their first conversation would not be amongst a crowd. Their eyes met a number of times, and an inviting smile always accompanied Emma’s glance. Shannon squirmed as her impatience to get out of the RV increased.
Finally they arrived. The campground had a winding series of roads that led to the shore of a glittering, clear lake, and Mary had scored a major coup by getting a double lot right next to the water, sheltered by tall, glorious pines.
Mary pulled the large vehicle into the horseshoe drive, expertly maneuvered it next to the electrical hookup, turned off the engine and spun around to face her passengers. “No men, no kids, let’s party, ladies!”
The women gave a great whoop and piled out the door, careful not to spill their most recent batch of breakfast drinks. Shannon was the last in line, and when she emerged, she stretched the kinks out of her six-foot length, reaching her arms high into the air. She looked like a giant next to the other women who ranged from average to below average height.
Mary, the shortest of them all at barely 5’1”, placed her hands on her ample hips and looked up at Shannon. “Holy crap, girl! You’ve been away so long I forgot how long you really are!”
The corner of Shannon’s mouth lifted in a smirk. “And I’d forgotten how much I love being taller than all you guys.”
Emma wandered up and gave her a once over from head to toe that left Shannon’s skin flushed and tingling. “I’d love to be as tall as you, Shannon.” Then she turned away and walked to the water’s edge.
Shannon wanted to follow her in the worst way. She couldn’t read this woman. Was she gay? That look she had just given felt like a major come on, but maybe it was completely innocent. And what the hell had happened back at Emma’s house? It was like a Vulcan mind meld or something. She wanted to know if Emma had felt it too.
Suddenly Cassie’s voice broke her preoccupation and Shannon realized that she had spent an entire morning thinking about a woman other than Cassie. That hadn’t happened since high school.
“Let’s go swimming!”
The women regressed ten years as they played in the clean, cool water. Shannon was the focus of attack since she was the hardest to dunk. Eventually she cried surrender as six bodies bore her down and under the water. She was laughing so hard, she practically drowned, so exhausted, she dragged herself out of the lake and onto the beach. She lay spread-eagled on the coarse sand, panting and still chuckling.
A shadow fell across her face and she opened her eyes.
“Hi. Did they wipe you out?
“They ganged up on me.”
“I saw that. It was entertaining.”
“Really? You weren’t the one getting drowned.”
“Oh, you looked like you were holding your own.”
Shannon shifted up on her elbow. “So, how come you aren’t swimming?”
“I’m not much for the water. However I love the beach.”
“A sun worshipper.”
“No, I just enjoy the tranquility.”
“It is nice, especially at night.”
“Yes.” Emma sat down and looked out at the rest of the group who were now relaxing and floating on their backs. She turned towards Shannon. “So how is it we haven’t crossed paths before now?”
“I don’t know. You were the one who said that we weren’t supposed to meet until now.”
Emma’s eyes widened. “You felt it too. I thought I had imagined it.”
“So did I. Cassie thought I was rude because I didn’t say anything to you. I tried to tell her.”
“My sister isn’t the most open-minded person in the world.”
Despite her intense attraction to this woman, Shannon felt compelled to defend Cassie. “She accepted me well enough even though it took her a while.”
“Yes, she did. However, to explain my comment, Cassie has a vision in her mind for every person who means anything to her. Because she wants to control everything, she gets upset when someone doesn’t conform to her idea about how they should live their life. It has caused some major friction between us in the past but we’ve moved on. She’s mellowed a bit and I’ve learned to accept that aspect of her personality.”
“You’re her sister. I think she only does it because she loves you.”
“You’re right. And even though she loves you, she was upset with you because the life you live didn’t fit with her plans.” Emma paused and searched Shannon’s eyes. “I finally meet the lesbian who’s been in love with my sister for how long now? Nine, ten years? That’s amazing to me. Didn’t you realize she was straight?”
“Yes, I knew she was straight. I just… I thought…”
“You thought she might fall in love with you eventually?”
“No. Well, I… I didn’t…”
“Shannon, would you have been happy if Cassie had tried to make you straight?”
“Of course not!”
“Think about how Cassie has felt all these years, knowing that her best friend wishes she was something she isn’t.”
The statement hit Shannon hard. She hadn’t considered the situation from that perspective, and suddenly she understood why Cassie had been upset that she was gay.
“Did she ask you to talk to me about it?”
“Absolutely not. My sister is not the type who asks for anything.”
“You’re right about that.”
“I only said something because another perspective is helpful when you’re trying to sort out your head. And your heart. I know how much she cares about you. She was concerned about your friendship.”
“She’ll never lose my friendship. I’ll always love her.”
“I gathered that might be the case.”
They stilled for a while, contemplating the conversation. Shannon stole glances at Emma, admiring her sleek, feminine body. She was heavier than Cassie, more muscular and defined. Her face was fuller which gave her a more youthful appearance than her sister. She was gorgeous. Shannon felt a pleasant warmth flush her body and it made her twitch.
She cleared her throat. “So, what about you, Emma? Where have you been all these years?”
“Travelling mostly. I had to do the proverbial and cliched finding myself journey. Against the wishes of my entire family, of course.”
“So did you?”
“Find myself? Yes, I suppose so. As much as one can find herself at 23.”
“And what did you find out?”
Emma looked directly at Shannon, and again both women felt that odd connection they had experienced earlier.
“That’s an awfully personal question from someone I hardly know, don’t you think?”
“Sorry. You’re right.”
Emma smiled. “No need to apologize. I don’t mind really. The journey was… enlightening.”
“I won’t pry any further.”
Emma reached over and touched Shannon’s arm. The tall woman felt the touch all the way down to her toes. “Maybe we’ll have an opportunity to discuss it another time. It looks like we’re getting company.”
The girls were headed up the beach, apparently tired of the water for now. They ran over and shook like dogs, spraying Shannon and Emma.
“Let’s get some grub, ladies!” Mary yelled.
They gathered their towels and started back to the RV. Shannon lagged behind, still slightly unsettled by her time with Emma.
Cassie grabbed her hand. “Hey girl, you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“My sister didn’t bother you, did she? Talking with her can be a surreal experience sometimes. She’s great, but a little out there.”
“Not at all. She’s nice.”
“Okay. As long as you’re good.”
“I’m good. Let’s get some food. I’m starving.”
They took off running to catch up with the others.
The rest of the weekend was filled with laughter, reminiscing, and lots of partying. There wasn’t another chance for Shannon and Emma to talk alone, and it left Shannon feeling bereft.
When they arrived back at Emma’s house, everyone said their good-byes, but Shannon lingered.
“Come on, Shan! I have to get home. Marc’s waiting.” Cassie was already in the car with the engine running.
“Yeah, hang on a sec.” She jogged back over to Emma, but didn’t know exactly what she wanted to say. “Um, did you have a nice time?”
“Yes, I did. You?”
“Yeah, it was great. Listen, I’d like to finish that conversation we were having. You up for coffee sometime? Or dinner maybe?” Shannon cringed inwardly and couldn’t look Emma in the eye. She knew it sounded like she was proposing a date and she wasn’t sure what reaction she was going to get.
Emma smiled. “That would be nice. Cassie has my number. It was nice meeting you, Shannon. Take care.” She lifted her hand in a small wave and headed inside the house.
Shannon watched her go, relieved by the positive response, and then spun around, startled by the blaring of a horn right behind her.
“Come on, stalk! Let’s go!”
She hustled over and got in the car. Cassie took off, leaving a spray of gravel and a strip of rubber in her wake.
Cassie picked up the phone on the fourth ring, pissed that her heavy necking session with Marc was disturbed.
“Hey, it’s me. Did I interrupt something?”
“Yes. What’s up? Quick before we lose the mood.”
“Shit! Sorry. You’re not naked, are you?”
“Shan! What’s up?”
“Well, I haven’t seen you in a while and I was wondering if you wanted to go to the bonfire with me on Friday night.”
“That’s this weekend?”
“Same weekend every year, Cass.”
“Sorry hon. Marc and I are going out for dinner at this really great place. It was a bitch to get a reservation.” Carrie covered the mouthpiece with her hand and whispered. “Between you and me, I think he’s gonna pop the question.”
“Wow. That’s great, Cass.”
“Yeah, but don’t say anything, okay? I don’t want to jinx it.”
“I won’t.” Shannon rubbed the moisture from her eyes. “I’m really happy for you, Cass.”
“That means a lot to me, Shan. I wasn’t sure how you’d feel.”
“About my best girl getting away? I’ll live. All I ever wanted was for you to be happy, Cass. Really.”
“I know, babe. Thanks. I gotta run, okay?”
“Okay. Hey listen. Do you think your sister would like to go?”
“You want to go with Emma? Something I should know about?” Cassie’s tone was sharp.
Shannon hadn’t asked for Emma’s number before now, concerned that Cassie would have a problem with her pursuing any form of relationship with her sister.
“No, I just thought I’d ask her.”
“Why Emma? Why not Mary or Stacey?”
“I don’t know. Emma’s nice, that’s all.”
“She’s straight, Shan.”
“Fine! She’s straight! So are you and we’re best friends! Jesus, Cass!”
“Okay, okay. Sorry. Here.”
Cassie gave Shannon the number. “Tell her I said hi.”
“I will. Good luck on Friday, Cass.”
“Thanks. Be good. Bye.”
Shannon hung up and blew out a breath, relieved that she had finally gotten the number, and nervous as hell about making the call to Emma.
“Hi. May I speak to Emma please?”
“This is Emma.”
“Hi. This is Shannon. How are you?”
“I’m fine, Shannon. It’s good to hear from you.”
“Thanks. I’m, uh, I’m calling about maybe getting together tomorrow night. I know it’s short notice, but there’s this bonfire that I go to down at the park.”
“Yes, I know the one.”
“Right. Normally Cassie and I go, but she’s having dinner with Marc…”
“And I’m sloppy seconds? You haven’t asked women out on dates much, have you?”
Shannon flushed completely scarlet. “Whoo, um, no, not much.”
“I can tell. A word of advice. Never tell the girl that you asked someone else first. In this case, I’ll forgive you because the other girl is my sister.”
“I’ll remember the advice. So, would you like to go?”
“You caught me on a free weekend. I’d love to go.”
“Terrific! I’ll swing by and pick you up. Is seven good?”
“I’ll be ready.”
“Great! See you tomorrow, Emma.”
“See you then.”
Shannon hung up the phone and wiped her sweaty hands on her jeans. “Holy shit.”
Her hand hadn’t reached the buzzer before the front door swung open.
“I saw the headlights in the drive. Come on in.”
Shannon opened the screen door and stepped inside. “Hi, Emma.”
“Hi. Good to see you again.”
“Same here.” Shannon stood in the hallway and glanced around the small apartment. “This is great. Very cozy.”
“Yes, I’m afraid it’s very graduate school cozy.”
“No really. I think people take up too much space in the world. This looks quite comfortable for one person.”
“It is. And I love the landlord. He’s like a grandfather to all the students. Wonderful man.”
“It’s a nice place. Are you ready to go?”
“Are we in a hurry? I thought maybe we’d have a glass of wine before we leave.”
“Go on in and sit down. I’ll get the wine.”
Shannon took off her coat and sat down on the couch. From the conversation on the phone yesterday to the offering of a drink tonight, it felt more and more like Emma was treating this like a real date. Yet Cassie had stated firmly that her sister was straight. Maybe it was Cassie’s wishful thinking.
Emma returned with two glasses of white wine and sat down next to Shannon on the couch. She offered a toast to new friends and they touched glasses.
Shannon took a sip. “Mmm. This is good.”
“Glad you like it. It’s from a small winery in California called Frog’s Leap. My favorite.”
The two women chatted for a while, small talk about school and work, families and television shows. The chemistry was immediate. They disagreed as comfortably as they laughed.
Shannon shifted so that she was facing Emma and placed her arm across the back of the short couch. She had to ask before her nerve deserted her completely. “Emma, are you seeing anyone? I noticed that you never brought it up.”
Emma leaned forward and placed her empty glass on the coffee table. She didn’t speak for a long moment, nor did she look at Shannon. Finally her shoulders straightened as though an internal debate had been decided. “Not anymore. His name is Charles and he’s the son of a friend of my father’s. My family thought we would make a good match, so we’ve gone out on a few dates. No chemistry, no spark, no desire, nothing. At least for me. I gave him the gentlest brush-off I could, and soon I’ll let my family know that he’s past history. They won’t be pleased. Nice guy, but not for me.”
“So what is it you’re looking for?”
Emma turned and gave Shannon a look that pierced her soul. “I’m looking for passion, romance, intense love and devotion. And amazing, shattering sex.”
“I see,” Shannon managed to croak.
“And who I love doesn’t matter to me as much as how I love and am loved. So in answer to the question you’ve been reluctant to ask, I’m not straight. I’m open, I suppose, but I have yet to meet a man who does a damn thing for me. I’ve never been with a woman, but I can imagine it would be wonderful. Is it?”
“Uhh, yes. It is. Amazing. Shattering even.” Shannon scrubbed her face. “Wow. I like how you answer questions. I’ll remember to prepare myself better next time.”
Emma smiled. “I didn’t give you fair warning, did I?”
“No, but I should have known. Cassie did.”
“Cassie. Warned you. About me.” The tone was not pleasant.
“It was nothing bad. She just mentioned that conversations with you are not typical fare.”
“Oh. Then I’ll take that as a compliment. I have no desire to be typical.”
“No, you aren’t. You’re interesting and intelligent and I very much like your point of view on many things.”
“Especially the shattering thing.”
The crimson color staining Shannon’s face and neck was instantaneous. The tips of her ears felt like they would simply melt off. She stood up and paced the small room until the heat subsided. Then she turned to Emma. “You. Are something else. Yes, especially the shattering thing. Now, we have a bonfire to go to.”
Emma laughed out loud, a lyrical, infectious laugh that made Shannon grin. “I’ll get my sweater.”
The drive to the park was an enjoyable torture trip for Shannon. Emma was relentless in her teasing now that she knew what set the other woman’s face aglow.
“Okay, we’re here. You have to stop teasing now and let me concentrate on finding a place to park. Otherwise I’m likely to run someone over and it’ll ruin our whole evening.” Shannon winked.
“Shannon, I have to say this first. You have the most incredibly gorgeous eyes I’ve ever seen. I mean I knew they were gorgeous. Cassie told me that herself. But those babies need to be seen up close and personal to be fully appreciated. I just wanted to be one of the many thousands of people I’m sure who have shared that with you.”
Shannon didn’t say anything until she pulled the car into the parking space and cut the engine. “Thanks. You’re very distracting and beautiful yourself.” She smiled at the rosy pink color highlighting Emma’s cheeks. “Come on. Let’s at least get out of the car and look at the fire.”
It was a carnival atmosphere with food vendors and kid’s games during the day, but as dusk arrived, the main attraction was a massive bonfire that lit up the park like a beacon. The event was a local end-of-summer custom, a pre-Labor Day celebration that Shannon could remember attending practically every year of her life.
She and Emma wandered over to the roped area which kept the onlookers a safe distance from the flames. There was something about fire that lulled Shannon, that made her feel reflective, disembodied, primitive even. Perhaps it was its primal essence and longevity; perhaps it was the contradiction of warmth and danger. Shannon’s gaze became distant as she recalled how the fire seemed to her as a child, never changing, the same potent existence then as it was now.
Suddenly, through the fingers of flame, she found Emma’s eyes, brilliant green, staring at her and drawing her in. The gaze was so fierce, and the connection between them so palpable, that it blocked out the surrounding sounds until all she could hear was the crackling of the logs feeding the fire.
It was meant to be this way.
Yes, it was.
“Pardon me? Jenny, shush. This lady just asked me something. I’m sorry, miss, I didn’t hear you.”
Shannon looked at the large man holding the squirming toddler in his arms. “Excuse me?”
“Did you ask me something? I thought I heard you say something to me.”
“No, I was talking to my friend.”
The man looked around but didn’t see anyone near the tall woman.
“Okay, miss. Whatever you say. C’mon Jenny. Let’s go find mommy.” He walked away, but not before giving her a concerned look over his shoulder.
Shannon glanced to her left. Emma was gone. She immediately looked across the bonfire and found a mischievous smile directed her way. She smiled back and headed around the roped perimeter to the other side. “When did you sneak away?”
“When you skipped off to a different planet over there.”
“Fire does that to me. It’s like it has its own life.” Shannon took Emma’s hand and headed off towards the nature trails on the outer boundaries of the park. “Did you feel it that time too?”
Emma squeezed her hand. “Yes, I did. Does it scare you?”
“No. I’ve just never experienced anything remotely close to that. It doesn’t feel malevolent. It feels destined and reassuring, but I think we should keep it our own little secret, don’t you?”
Emma chuckled and leaned her head against Shannon’s shoulder. “We don’t have to tell anyone else.”
The noise of the crowd slowly diminished as the two women, hands still linked, walked further along the trail. When they were deep into the woods, Emma pulled Shannon to a stop and turned to face her, their bodies very close. “I think we need to talk about it though.”
The tall woman nodded, but all she really wanted to do was kiss the girl. As though reading her mind, Emma stood on tiptoes and gave her a chaste kiss on the lips. “Shannon, this thing we have between us is amazing. I’ve never felt anything like that with anyone else. If I could do it at will with anyone, I’d think I had superpowers, but I can’t. It’s just you.”
“Maybe we’re not really communicating with each other. Maybe we’re anticipating each other’s responses so it seems like we’re having a conversation.” Shannon looked hopeful.
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know either. The question is do we care? All I know is that I’m happy I finally found you, Emma.” Shannon wrapped her arms around the smaller woman and held her gently.
Emma reached inside Shannon’s coat and snuggled in, rubbing her hands up and down the long back. “Shannon?”
“I’d like you to take me home.”
“Yes. I’d like to go home, have another glass of wine with you, and see where the evening takes us.” The heartbeat under her ear quickened, and Emma smiled into the soft cotton when she felt the temperature of Shannon’s skin rise against her cheek. “I feel like I’ve known you forever.”
“Me too. Come on, let’s go.”
The drive back to the house was quiet except for the low volume from the soft rock radio station. Despite the suddenness of the situation with Emma, Shannon felt that this was, quite literally, meant to be. She had never been more certain of anything, and she could sense the confidence in the younger woman as well. They had found each other, and whatever consequences came of it would be dealt with later. Right now, all she wanted was to cocoon herself with Emma in the apartment for the rest of the weekend.
Emma unlocked the front door and went directly to the kitchen, shedding her sweater as she went. Shannon removed her coat and sat on the couch, exactly as she had an hour ago.
Reappearing from the kitchen, Emma handed her the glass of wine. The blonde smiled and sat down. “I’m getting a very strong sense of déjà vu.”
Shannon reached over and brushed a stray lock of hair away from Emma’s face. “Given this… understanding we seem to have of each other, adding déjà vu to the mix seems like just another perk.”
“Yeah, it does. It feels good and I’m all about the good stuff.”
“Then I hope you enjoy this.” Shannon leaned in and traced Emma’s lips with the tip of her tongue. She slid her fingers through the blonde hair and responding to the soft noises of approval she heard, moved her body closer and deepened the kiss.
After a moment, Emma pulled back far enough to pin Shannon with a look of pure desire. Her pupils were dilated and it felt as though Shannon could see through to her very thoughts. She had enough wits about her to take both wineglasses and put them on the table out of harm’s way, then she straddled Shannon’s lap and draped her arms around the broad shoulders. She touched her lips to Shannon’s and whispered. “I want to kiss you for a very long time. Is that okay?”
Her answer was a slight nod and a ravenous kiss that robbed her of coherent thought. She welcomed Shannon's tongue and the invasion sent a suffusion of heat throughout her entire body. Tightening her thighs around the long legs, she rotated her hips, seeking that extra bit of sensation that made her gasp in pleasure.
Shannon’s hands were roaming, massaging Emma’s tight bottom, traveling under her shirt and over the soft skin of her back and belly. When she felt Emma’s hips start to rock, she groaned, long and loud. “Let me take this off, baby, please.” She gripped the hem of Emma’s shirt, pulled it over her head and tossed it to the floor. Her attention was immediately drawn to the erect nipples straining against the sheer, pale blue fabric and her mouth watered. She ran her fingertips across the shoulders, the collarbone, the slope of a breast and then looked into Emma’s eyes. “You are so beautiful.”
Emma reached back and released the catch of her bra, then slid the straps off her shoulders. She cupped Shannon's cheeks in her hands and guided her towards a luscious nipple. “So are you.” She arched her back as the incredible sensations sparked across her flushed, naked skin.
Eventually, Shannon turned her attention to the other breast, then suddenly stood up, carrying Emma with her. She mumbled around the flesh, “Bed.”
“Down the hall to the left,” Emma gasped as she locked her legs around Shannon’s waist.
Shannon navigated her way to the room, tumbling them both onto the bed, her lips still latched onto Emma’s nipple. She lay on top of the smaller woman and slid a hip between her legs. As soon as Emma felt the pressure, she started to move. She rolled her hips faster, panting and holding the dark head tight to her breast. “Oh honey, don’t stop. Don’t stop. Just a little one. Come on now. Just a little one to take the edge off. Then you can have me any way you want.”
A low growl erupted from the tall woman’s throat as Emma’s words registered, and every hormone in her body shot directly to her groin. She eased away and replaced her hip with her hand, and felt the moist heat through Emma’s jeans.
The blonde continued to rock her hips, pushing up into the hand that held the power of her release. “Harder, please. Don’t make me beg for it. Come on.” She pulled Shannon’s head up and gave her a searing kiss. Her body began to tremble and her hands clutched at Shannon’s clothing. “Oh yeah, that’s it.” She drew a breath and held it. Her back arched as her release took over, quick and strong. “Oh yeah!” Strong arms held her tight as the aftershocks rippled through her small frame.
When Emma’s body finally relaxed, she kissed Shannon again and started tugging on her shirt. “Ah, that was sweet, honey. A perfect primer for the rest of the night. Let’s get these clothes off. I want to lick every inch of you right now.”
Ten seconds later, they were completely naked and Emma was voracious. She had Shannon on her back and made good on her promise to lick every part of her delicious body. She sucked on her lips and earlobes, marked the soft skin of her neck, and tugged and nipped at the ripe nipples. She bypassed Shannon’s center, making her groan in frustration, and savored every inch of the long, smooth legs. The inner thighs were left to last and by the time Emma reached Shannon’s center, the tall woman was drenched and writhing in ecstasy.
Emma took her time, staying away from the exposed bundle of nerves quivering and begging for attention. She relished every taste and every moan and wanted to prolong the pleasure as much as possible.
When Shannon was finally allowed her release, she climaxed so powerfully that she was almost rendered unconscious. Her body felt boneless, her muscles limp, and the only coherent thought she could muster was that she had been completely, entirely ravished by a rank amateur.
Emma climbed up and lay next to the jellied woman, satisfied that she had accomplished what she had set out to do – make her first time with a woman an experience neither would ever forget. Deep inside her conscious mind, she knew she wasn’t going to let this one get away. She placed her lips softly against Shannon’s ear and whispered. “You are so fucking sexy. I want to do that to you again.” Emma’s hand started wandering down the flat tummy.
Shannon’s sex twitched at the hot breath and enticing words, but knew that Emma would be peeling her off the ceiling if she touched her clit right now. She couldn’t even move her legs, afraid that a brush against the nerves would send her body into spasms. She intercepted the small hand before it had strayed too far. “I hate to say this, but you can’t. I won’t survive it. Honestly.”
“Come on honey. Please.”
“Believe me, I wish you could. But pleading isn’t going to work. My clit doesn’t have ears.”
“You are too, and I love your tongue. Give it here.”
Shannon gritted her teeth and rolled on top of Emma, ignoring the sparks firing from her center, and began to kiss the girl. This time it was she who made Emma wait until the begging became a breathless chant and Emma collapsed, crying, in her arms.
They made love throughout the evening and night, oblivious to hunger and thirst, and everything around them except each other.
The next morning when the front door burst open and Cassie stormed into the house, they were sitting at the kitchen table dressed in robes, feeding each other slices of orange.
“What the FUCK is going on here?” Cassie bellowed she when found them.
Shannon didn’t say anything, allowing Emma to handle the situation. She had almost jumped out of her skin when the door had exploded inward, but Emma’s hand on her arm and the tranquil look in her eyes calmed Shannon down.
Emma had anticipated her sister’s arrival. She had heard the distant ringing of the phone last night while she was making love to Shannon, and guessed that it was her sister who had been so concerned about her going on a ‘date’ with a lesbian. Cassie seemed to forget that the lesbian in question was her best friend.
“We’re having breakfast, Cassie. Would you like to join us? The coffee is fresh.” Emma’s voice was so serene, it caught her sister off guard.
Cassie’s answer was delivered in a flat monotone. “No. I don’t want breakfast. I want to know what it is I’m seeing here.”
Emma responded in the same tone. “If you must know, you’re seeing two consenting adult women having breakfast the morning after the night before. We’ve discovered that we thoroughly enjoy each other’s company. In every way.”
Cassie slammed her hand against the refrigerator door. “So what? You’re a fucking dyke now? Like her?”
“Jesus Christ, Cass!” Shannon was shocked. She had never guessed that Cassie was so fervently homophobic.
“Shut up, Shan! I told you she was straight, you damn traitor! So you go ahead and seduce your best friend’s little sister? What the fuck are you made of?”
The smack of Emma’s palm against the table rang like a gunshot. “Can it, Cassie! First of all, she did not seduce me. It was a completely mutual undertaking. Secondly, although I may be your little sister, I am an adult who can do whatever the hell she likes despite the watchful eye of her obsessive sibling! Thirdly, I seriously question whether Shannon was ever your best friend or if you just kept her around to feed your damn ego! And last, I’ve often wondered if your vehemence was a product of genuine concern for me or just plain jealousy!”
Emma stared Cassie down, breathing deeply after her tirade. Shannon didn’t speak a word, watching the two sisters, so alike yet so different. Emma’s voice was softer, almost pleading when she spoke again. “Shannon and I have decided to continue seeing each other. If it works out, we’ll be together a very long time. Be happy for me, Cassie. I may have found what I’ve been looking for.”
Cassie’s eyes flickered from her sister to Shannon and back, then her defiant stance collapsed and her shoulders sagged. “Fine.” She turned to leave. “Don’t call me. I’ll call you.”
The two women held hands as the footsteps receded down the hall and the front door closed.
Shannon dropped her head to the table. “Jesus, Emma. I am so sorry.”
“I don’t… I… you may have lost Cass because of me. I shouldn’t have…”
“You shouldn’t what? Shouldn’t have asked me out? Shouldn’t have made love to me? Shouldn’t be here? What Shannon? If you don’t want me, say so now before I fall for you harder if that's possible. Do you want to leave?”
“No! Absolutely not!” Shannon gripped Emma’s hands tightly and stared into the soulful eyes that had captured her, body and spirit, with one look. “No. I won’t give you up unless you tell me to go. But what about your sister?”
“Cassie will be fine. Eventually. When our mother died and we were so young, Cassie took on that role for my brothers and me. She and my Dad became so controlling, it was suffocating. I think they thought if they controlled our every move, we wouldn’t come to any harm. All they did was drive us away. We’ve given up fighting with them about it. They have to realize it for themselves. We can’t do it for them.”
“What’s with the sudden homophobia? I knew she didn’t like that I’m gay, but I never got the impression that she was so zealous about it.”
“I’m not sure where that comes from. Although when I was quite young, seven or eight, I think, she did catch me playing house, naked as a jaybird, with the neighbor kid.”
“Every kid does that.”
“Yeah, but my neighbor was a little girl and apparently we were having a grand old time together.”
“That’ll leave a scar.”
“Yeah. Cassie freaked. And she was just a kid herself. Anyway, that doesn’t excuse her behavior as an adult.”
“No, it doesn’t. And I still don’t really understand.”
“Me neither.” Emma smiled and ran a fingertip along Shannon’s jaw. “Maybe she’s just jealous. I would be. You were head over heels for her for a long time. Every now and then, she’d say something about it to me. She wasn’t comfortable with it, but I don’t think she wanted to give up the adoration either. You made her feel like a goddess sometimes.”
“To me, she was almost a goddess.”
“Did you really love her?”
“Yes, but I’ve realized that it wasn’t the type of love I thought it was. Most of it was infatuation, I think. I loved her as a friend though. I still do.”
“Don’t worry about her, Shannon. Right now she probably feels like she lost a sister, a best friend, and her biggest fan. She’ll come around.”
“I hope so.”
“It’ll be fine. Now come back to bed with me. I want to cuddle next to you while you tell me about everything important to you.”
Shannon couldn’t refuse the offer.
11 months later…
Shannon fumbled with the bag of groceries while trying to unlock the front door and grab her cellphone at the same time. “Shit.” The oranges went rolling down the hall. “Yeah. Hello.”
It took her a second to respond to the unexpected voice. “Yeah. Hey, Cass. Long time. Everything ok?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, it is. What are you doing next month?”
“Nothing in particular. Why?”
“I’d like you to be in my bridal party.”
Shannon smiled. “I’d love to.”
Cassie blew out a breath. “Great! I was afraid you’d say no.”
“Not in a million years. And definitely not when one of my best girls is getting married.”
“I haven’t heard that in a while.”
“Well, you should call more often.”
“That’s what Emma said when I talked to her this afternoon. She agreed to be my maid of honor, but she wasn’t sure if you’d be willing to wear a gown.”
“Only for you, baby. Only for you.”
Cassie laughed loud and true, and Shannon smiled at the beauty of it.
“So Marc is gonna make an honest woman of you, huh?”
“Yeah. I told him if he didn’t marry me, I was going off birth control.”
“Ha! Too soon for him to be a dad?”
“No, too soon for him to be celibate.”
“Well, that’s one way to make him see things your way.”
“Yeah, so how are things going between you and Emma?”
Shannon was surprised. She thought their relationship would be carefully ignored. “You really want to know?”
“Yes, I want to know! My little sister and best friend are doing the wild thing. I want to know about it.”
“It’s not just sex, Cassie, any more than it’s just sex between you and Marc. I love her with all my heart, just like you love Marc.”
“Emma said the same thing. It just seems so strange to me, how you can love another woman like that. But I’m trying.”
“Good. Keep trying. Emma and I will help. But Cass?”
“I won’t hide how I feel about Emma from anyone, so if the two of us at your wedding is going to create a problem, maybe you should find someone else.”
“You won’t have to hide. If anyone is uncomfortable, they can leave.”
“Wow. You’ve come a long way with this, haven’t you?”
“I had to. I missed you too much. Both of you. And Shan, you couldn’t hide the way you feel about each other anyway. The looks that pass between you two are like lightening on a wire. It’s like you guys communicate without words.”
Shannon laughed. “Ah Cass, you have no idea.”
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