Lois Cloarec Hart
My thanks as always to my wonderful beta readers, Betty, Carol, and Mom. Special thanks to Day, who not only works her editorial magic on my writing, but who also provided the inspiration for this story one cold November day as we strolled in Centennial Park and read bricks.
Thank you, my love, for everything.
If you would like to comment on this story, I can be reached at: email@example.com
“...and this is Torie Khadimi, reporting from Baghdad.”
Torie waited for the all-clear signal from her cameraman before she turned to address the woman she had been interviewing, but the Iraqi had darted away.
“Twitchy bit, ain’t she?” The cameraman shook his head sadly as he popped open the trunk of the dilapidated white Volvo.
Torie watched the heavily veiled woman scuttling down the narrow lane, glancing fearfully from side to side. “She’s got a right to be, Kenny. It took a lot of courage for her to appear on camera with us.”
Kenny loaded his gear back into the trunk, quietly closed the lid, and inhaled deeply on his cigarette. “I wasn’t being critical, Tor. Hell, I’ll be the first one to drink a toast to those with the guts to actually get out and vote on Election Day. Personally, I’ll be wearing my flak jacket, my Kevlar underwear, and my lucky rabbit’s foot while we’re doing our coverage on the 30th. But for now, we’ve got five whole days off, and the bars of London await us. We may be a week late, but we can still see the New Year in with style.”
“Actually, Kenny, I wanted to talk to you about that.” Torie looked around quickly, alert, as always, for any signs of danger. “But not here. Let’s get back to the hotel. I finally caught up with Yuri last night, and he gave me the bottle he smuggled back for us.”
Kenny’s bewhiskered face lit up with a wide smile. “Now you’re talking! Is it the good stuff?”
“Would you care?”
Torie laughed as they got into their car. “Well, Yuri swears that it’s so authentic that it was made in the shadow of the Kremlin, but in any case, I’ve got it stashed in my laundry bag waiting for us.”
All conversation stopped then as two pairs of vigilant eyes watched the road in front of them for IEDs. The improvised explosive devices had become one of the Iraqi insurgency’s most effective weapons, and the experienced BBC news team had become adept at avoiding all suspicious debris along the roadside. It wasn’t a guarantee of their safety. Just the previous week, a French journalist had fallen victim to a rocket propelled grenade, but then, fresh on the scene, he had made the tactical error of accepting a ride from some Jordanian businessmen in a shiny, new Land Rover, virtually painting crosshairs on himself. Their own network had offered Torie and Kenny a similar vehicle months earlier when they had arrived in-country, but being veterans of conflicts from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, they had declined, and found a much less conspicuous means of transport.
“You know what I’m looking forward to most back in London, luv?”
Torie pointed out a small pile of debris ahead on their left, and Kenny grimly gunned the engine, shooting past the potential danger as far to their side of the road as he could get. Safely past, they both let out gusts of air, and Torie gave a shaky chuckle.
“Let’s see—what would you be looking forward to the most… A cold beer in one hand and a blonde in the other?”
“Nah, that’d be you, Tor. What I’m most looking forward to is driving from point A to point B in the most direct and expeditious manner. I swear I know every goddamned back street and seedy alley in this fuckin’ city now.”
Torie understood her cameraman’s grumbling. It was tiresome ensuring their routes about Baghdad never became predictable, but it had kept them safe for all the harrowing months they had spent in Iraq. “I’m sure Liam’s widow wishes he had been half as careful, Kenny.”
The cameraman glanced at her quickly. “Too right, poor bugger. Thank God there was no video. Sharon would’ve gone outta her mind.”
Liam O’Brian had been one of Torie’s predecessors. He had gotten careless in his daily routine, and fallen victim to a brazen daylight abduction in the early days of the insurgency. His headless body had been found on the banks of the Tigris twelve hours later.
Torie heaved a sigh of relief as their small hotel came into view. They had eschewed the more prominent hotels where many of the international press stayed, preferring instead the shabby anonymity of their current home-away-from-home, which was well away from any obvious targets of opportunity for either side of the conflict.
Once the Volvo was parked, they grabbed the camera equipment out of the trunk and scampered up the exterior stairs to the second floor. Being able to avoid the lobby as they came and went was another attraction of the old hotel, and one they made good use of.
“Meet me in my room in ten?”
Kenny nodded and disappeared into his room with the equipment. Torie went down the hall to her room, pleased to see that the lock had remained intact for another day. Once inside, she retrieved the unopened bottle of vodka Yuri had brought back from Moscow, and set it up on the table with two relatively clean glasses and a fresh pack of Kenny’s favourite brand of cigarettes. She wasn’t looking forward to the conversation she was about to have with her longtime friend and cameraman, and hoped the potent alcohol would soften the blow of her announcement.
After an abbreviated clean-up, she took time to make a quick call to her producer. He confirmed that he had received the additional footage for the series of reports she had been filing on women who were running for Parliament in the end of the month elections despite the objections of fundamentalist clerics. It had taken a week to coax the Shiite woman to appear on camera today, even veiled, and Torie was emotionally weary from dealing with both the candidate’s fears and her own.
Kenny’s familiar knock sounded at the door, and she let him in. His eyes lit up as he saw the bottle. “Oh, Torie, luv, you sure know the way to a man’s heart—even if you aren’t interested in that particular organ.”
“Or any others you’d be sporting, buddy. Go on. Help yourself. I just have to finish this call.”
Kenny laughed and, ignoring his colleague, cracked open the seal. Pouring with a liberal hand, he filled the two glasses then held his own up to the light, smiling in delight. “Yuri, old pal, I owe you one.” He tilted the glass to his lips and took a deep swallow. “Keeerist! Now there’s a burn for you!”
Torie ended her call, and watched her friend slump into his chair with a contented sigh. He nudged the other glass across the table and beckoned her over before he opened the pack and took a cigarette.
“I’m not waiting for you, luv. Best join me while you can. Our flight leaves in six hours, and I plan to be stinkin’ drunk when they pour me into my seat.”
Taking her seat, Torie picked up her glass, but only turned it nervously in her fingers. “About that...” She looked up to see the cameraman watching her keenly over the rim of his glass. “I’m not going to London, Kenny. I’ve booked a flight to Atlanta, and I won’t be rejoining you until about four hours before we’re due to fly back here.”
“So, the ladies will just have to make do with just me this time. No problem. I could do without the competition anyway.” He gave her the mischievous grin she had come to cherish. “So, you going to see your old man?”
She took a deep breath, and braced herself for the hard part. “Maybe...if there’s time. Kenny, the thing is—this isn’t just social. I’ve got a job interview scheduled with CNN on Monday.”
“No bloody way! Torie, what the hell are you thinking?”
She couldn’t meet her friend’s shocked stare. “They’ve made me a really good offer, Ken. I’d be hosting my own daily international affairs show, and it pays twice as much as the Beeb could ever cough up, not to mention that I wouldn’t have to comb gunpowder out of my hair every night.”
“A talking head. You’d be a fuckin’ talking head! Torie, those are the people we make fun of. We’re journalists, you and me. We go after the news—wherever, whenever, however. That isn’t you, Tor. You know it isn’t!”
Torie stared into her glass and absently swirled the vodka around. “I’d get to see my dad and his family a lot more. Bob Luther and Channing are both at UGA now, and I haven’t even seen my brothers play football since they were snot-nosed rugrats. Plus, it’s not that far to pop up to Montreal to see Mom and Ayad.”
Kenny snorted derisively and filled his glass again. “That’s bullshit, Torie, and we both know it. I know you love your family—both of them. Hell, I love my old ma too, but they’re the ones we drop back in on when we have to leave the field for a few days. You’d go fuckin’ nuts if you had to see them all the time, just like I would.” He eyed her speculatively. “C’mon on, what’s the real reason?”
Torie countered defensively, “Maybe I’m just sick of dodging bombs and getting my ass shot at. Have you forgotten what happened in Jerusalem?”
“That was almost two years ago, and we both healed up just fine.”
“Tell me you don’t still have nightmares about it!”
It was Kenny’s turn to drop his eyes, but all he would concede was a half-hearted, “Now and then...maybe.”
“She was what...fifteen at the most? While we drank our wine and watched her walk past us, we even joked that she looked like a cheerleader. And then she blew up herself and twenty other kids, and we stopped joking.” Torie leaned forward urgently. “Maybe I just want to get back to a world where babies don’t go around blowing up other babies. Maybe I’m just tired of it all, Kenny.”
“Of course you’re tired, Tor. Christ, I’m tired too! Don’t you think I know that you called London to tell ’em we needed a break for a few days? But a week outta this hellhole, and we’ll both be itching to get back.”
“Will we?” Torie looked at him sadly. “You know, I’ve been thinking about Liam and Sharon a lot lately.”
That earned her a stern frown. “You know better than that, Tor. You can’t keep your edge if you let the fear too far inside.”
She shook her head. “No, you don’t understand. I’m not dwelling on Liam losing his head—I’ve been thinking about Sharon, and how she felt when she got the news. And I’ve been thinking that if one of these days our luck runs out—who will grieve for us, Kenny?”
“Well, shit! We both got lots of friends and family. It’s not like no one would give a damn if we disappeared off the face of the earth.”
“No, Kenny—I’m not saying no one would notice us gone or miss us, I’m saying who would mourn us the way Sharon will mourn for Liam the rest of her life. Who in our lives is so deeply connected to either of us, that it would tear their hearts out to lose us?”
He leaned back, looking troubled. “I get what you’re saying, but don’t you think in our line of business that that’s a good thing? Look how hard it is to get anyone to take our places when they rotate us out. Those guys may want the challenge. They may jump at being part of the biggest story on earth at the moment, but as soon as their wives or girlfriends hear that they’re even thinking about coming to Baghdad, they put the kibosh on it. You and I are lucky, Tor. No strings, no ball and chain, nothing holding us back from going where we want to go.”
She regarded him somberly. “Don’t you think that’s sort of sad, Kenny?”
“Hell, no! That’s why we get the choice assignments, cuz we can pick up at a moment’s notice and go.”
“And when we get too old, what then? What’s left? Do we live out our years alone, with nothing but memories of ancient history to keep us warm at night?” Torie reached across the table and touched Kenny’s hand. “Don’t you ever long for some semblance of a normal life?”
She saw the instant of hesitation, then the minute shake of his head, as if he were rejecting his own doubts. “Normal ain’t meant for you and me, Tor. We thrive on the adrenaline, and you know it. We’d go stark raving mad if we had to go into an office five days a week.”
“Would we? Right now that sounds pretty good. Sleep in clean sheets, shower in the morning, dress up in some nice clothes with impractical shoes, drive into work without worrying that you might get blown up along the way, go out for lunch in a nice, civilized restaurant instead of grabbing a hunk of burned mystery meat on the run...the chance to maybe meet someone and settle down. Doesn’t some part of you want that, Kenny? Don’t you want love in your life?”
“Love? I don’t think either of us is exactly hurting in that department.”
Torie shook her head and sipped her vodka. “That’s not love, Kenny. That’s just scratching an itch, then forgetting about it until the next time the urge raises its bloody head.” Kenny stared at her, and she could see the understanding dawning in his eyes.
He gave a low whistle. “That’s what this is all about—some woman? Who is she, Tor? Is she waiting for you in Atlanta?”
She scowled at him. “You’re missing the point. I’m just talking about normalcy in a general way.”
“Uh uh. The hell you are. There’s some bit that finally got her claws into you—though when you had the time for it, beats me. C’mon, give it up. Who’s the bit, and what kind of a spell has she cast that you’d think of giving up what you were born to do?”
“For God’s sake, Kenny, there’s no woman! Look, I’m not getting any younger, and if I don’t take this opportunity now, it may not ever come again. You know we on-air women come with a ‘best before’ date, and I’m fast approaching mine.”
“Shit, you can’t be more than thirty. And there’s not a damn thing wrong with your looks, even if you aren’t a blue-eyed blonde.”
“Gee, thanks. And I’m thirty-two.”
“You’re also one of the best in the business, so what are you worried about? Sure, you’ll have to go off air eventually, but so what? You’ll move on to producing, or writing a column or something. You’ve got news in your blood, and being a talking head isn’t going to satisfy you for long. That I can guarantee you. I still say there’s a woman involved, and I’m not letting you out of this room until I find out the whole story.”
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“Not until now.”
Kenny gave her a smug grin and, frustrated, Torie tossed back the contents of her glass, gasping at the unrelenting burn. She slammed the glass down and glared at her old friend. “You are one aggravating son of a bitch, you know that?”
“But you love me.”
“Do not! Do not! Do not!” She jumped out of her chair and stormed over to the window, turning her back on her infuriating friend. He was silent for a long time, and it annoyed her even more that he knew her well enough to leave her alone while she worked things out.
Finally, Torie heard a slightly slurred, “Do too” and, unable to stop a laugh, she turned to see him regarding her with bleary affection as he stubbed out his butt. Shaking her head, she returned to the table and the vodka that was rapidly diminishing.
“Alright, you miserable excuse for camel driver—you win.”
He grinned triumphantly. “So tell me, and don’t be giving me no Reader’s Digest version. I want the whole story—especially the good bits.”
She shot him a sardonic look. “There aren’t any ‘good’ bits, Kenny.”
He blinked at her in confusion. “What? Whaddaya mean, no good bits? Is there a woman or not?”
“Well yes, and no, but—look, let me start at the beginning.”
“A most excellent place to start.” Kenny refilled their glasses and sat back expectantly.
Torie sighed deeply and tried to decide how to convince her old friend that this was the right decision, even as she wrestled with her own doubts. “From the beginning, eh? How much do you remember about my past?”
“Just that your old man is a Yank who knocked up your mum when he was in Canada on holiday. He went back home, she had you, and they both eventually married other people. You’ve got two half-brothers with really weird names in Atlanta, and a half-sister and half-brother in Montreal, with equally weird names. So, how’m I doing?”
“Crass, but concise. At least you have the basics. Dad always stayed in touch, and according to Mom, never missed a child support payment. They’re still on pretty good terms even now. Anyway, when I was five, they decided that I was old enough to start spending summers with him in Georgia, so they shipped me down.”
Kenny frowned. “Seems awful young to me, him being a stranger and all.”
“He wasn’t a complete stranger. He’d come visit two or three times a year, and he was always very good to me. Mind you, it was a little confusing after Mom married Ayad and he adopted me. For a while, I wasn’t sure who my real father was. Anyway, the first time I went south, I was scared to death. It was terribly hot, I didn’t know anyone, and Dad was away at work all day in the city. Dad didn’t meet Cynthia for a few more years, so it was just him and me, the housekeeper, Mrs. Paine, and her daughter, Tambre.”
“I looked it up once. It means great joy.” Torie didn’t realize she was smiling until she caught Kenny’s amused, knowing glance. She flicked a cigarette at him in annoyance, but he caught it expertly and lit up. “Anyway, Tambre was only a year older than me, but she had a highly developed sense of responsibility, even then. I’m not sure if her mom told her to take care of me or she decided on her own, but she took me right under her wing. I was so grateful to have a friend, and I adored everything about her.”
“Yes, and how I envied her the colour of her skin. I’d try all summer to tan as close to her gorgeous shade of brown as I could, but of course, being a Scottish Canadian paleface, even with hours and hours in the sun, I never came close.”
“You ever have problems?”
“Yeah, you know—white kid, black kid, Deep South and all that.”
Torie shrugged. “There were some stupid boys that hassled us sometimes, but nothing that Tambre couldn’t handle. My dad loved that I had a best friend there because it made me eager to come back every summer. And she was so smart, and so determined. Right from the start, she was intent on becoming the first person in her family to go on to higher education, and she did. But the summers were always ours, and we were inseparable.”
Kenny leered comically at her through the smoke that wreathed his face. “Soooooo...was she your first?”
Torie shook her head at him in exasperation. “It always comes back to sex with you, doesn’t it?”
“Hey, Ms. Kettle, don’t be calling me Mr. Pot. You’re no slouch with the ladies yourself.”
“I’ve never so much as kissed her, Kenny, but in a way, she was my first.”
“It was the summer of ’96. I had a couple of weeks vacation from my job, and Atlanta was hosting the Olympics. We’d been excited about the whole thing ever since Atlanta won the bid to host the games. My dad had gotten us all tickets for various events, and even bought bricks for the whole family.”
“He bought...bricks?” Kenny stared at her in puzzlement.
“Yeah. You see, before Atlanta hosted the Olympics, there was this area downtown that was mostly empty lots and abandoned buildings, so they transformed it into this big, beautiful park—Centennial Olympic Park. And part of the landscaping was putting in wide, brick pathways. People could sponsor a brick and put their name on it and where they came from, or some kind of message, or a memorial, or whatever. Dad bought bricks for him and Cynthia, and for each of his three kids, and he told us we could put what we wanted on them. Well, for years my family had been calling Tambre and me, TnT, so I had T*N*T put on my brick.”
“Awww, that’s so sweet!” Kenny paused in the middle of filling his glass. “Hey, wait a minute! Wasn’t that the park where the bomb went off during the Olympics?”
“It was. Tambre and I were there in the park at the time.”
“Jesus! So Jerusalem wasn’t your first time.”
“No, but I was further away from the blast that night. I often wonder...”
She trailed off and fell silent, as Kenny watched her closely. Finally he called to her softly. “Hey,Tor, where’d ya go? You’ve got that thousand mile stare going.”
Torie shook herself and blinked. “What was I saying?”
“You said you often wonder, and then you stopped. You wonder what?”
“If things would be different now if the bomb hadn’t gone off just then. My life changed that night, Kenny.”
“I was twenty-four, Tambre was twenty-five. She had finished university and was working as an IT systems manager for a big Atlanta company. I’d finished too, but I was having second thoughts about my career choice. When I first decided on journalism, I thought it would be so exciting, but by ’96 I felt like nothing more than a glorified obit writer in Toronto where I’d been working. I was seriously thinking of quitting and going back to school for something else.”
“Okay, but what about you and Tambre? Were you dating?”
Torie laughed, and shook her head. “I can’t speak for her, but I know I didn’t even consider the possibility. I wasn’t even out to myself, and frankly I’d been living like a nun. Tambre had dated a few guys, but there was no one serious, and she always gave me priority when I made it back down south.”
“Both pretty clueless, huh?”
“About ourselves and each other—yeah, I guess we were. Anyway, that night we were wandering around just enjoying the people, and sights, and the music. We’d been playing in the Fountain of Rings to cool off, and decided to wander down to where a huge crowd of people were listening to a band play. As we walked over to the stage area, we passed a waterfall with a bunch of big shrubs and bushes, and saw this couple that was standing back in the shadows necking. They were really into each other, and I remember thinking they’d better find a room somewhere pretty soon, or they were going to be arrested for public indecency. I think it hit us at the same moment when we realized it was two women. We both stopped short and just stared. I don’t even know how long we watched them, but then I looked at Tambre, and she looked at me. I remember wondering if she could ever feel like that about me, and it was the first time I accepted that that was exactly the way I felt about her. I’d always known I loved her, but now I understood that I also wanted to be her lover.”
“So what happened? Did you kiss her?”
Torie shook her head. “I remember we took one step toward each other, then all hell broke loose.”
“The bomb went off?”
“Yes, and it was insane. Tambre and I were close enough that we were knocked off our feet, though we just had minor injuries. The truly scary part was the way people stampeded. I thought they were going to run right over us, and I remember Tambre trying to pull me up and out of the way. Then it was like... Kenny, do you remember that village in Afghanistan?”
“You mean when we were doing that post-Taliban story?”
“Yeah, that one.”
Kenny laid one hand over hers and squeezed it. “I thought we were dead meat when those bastards showed up and started screaming at us through their beards, but damned if you didn’t talk our way out of it. I thought you must have ice-water in your veins, because I was literally shaking in my boots looking at the long knives they were brandishing. I was sure they were going to cut our fuckin’ heads off!”
“Well, that’s what happened that night in the park, too. It’s nothing I control, but it’s like a whole other self kicks in during a tight situation. I told Tambre to get home, then I ran toward the centre of the uproar. I didn’t know it at the time, but there had been an advance warning, and the cops and bomb-squad were trying to clear people out of the area. A lot of them went down when the bomb went off. Those left standing were in overdrive because they were afraid there was a second bomb. But as quickly as I got a grasp on what was happening, I backed off, grabbed my cellphone, and called Toronto. I’d done an internship with the CBC, and I knew the guy on the desk who answered. I gave him a full report, and he told me to stay right where I was. Before I knew it, a CBC camera crew who had been filming in the park showed up and I was on-air, giving my eyewitness account. I didn’t even realize until later that I had blood on my face.”
Kenny nodded knowingly. “They didn’t tell you because it made for a more dramatic shot.”
“You got it. Anyway, apparently my piece was widely seen at home, and by the next morning I got a call instructing me to file a series of follow-up reports. It was the beginning of all this. Within a year I’d been hired by the BBC, and you know the rest.”
“But I don’t know what happened with Tambre. Did she get home alright that night?”
“She didn’t go home when I told her to. She followed me and watched me do the report. I was so swept up in it all, I didn’t even know she was there. When it was over, she came over to me and wiped my face clean. I told her I couldn’t leave, and she said she knew that. Then she gave me a hug and left.”
“So you realize you love her, and that maybe she’s feeling the same about you—and you just...what? Walk away?”
“Technically, she walked away, but yes, what had just happened between us sort of got lost in the excitement. As thrilled as I was by the realization that I was in love with her, and as bad as I felt for the woman who was killed, when I was doing that first on-camera report, it was the most exhilarating thing I’d ever experienced!”
Kenny laughed. “You were definitely a virgin.”
Torie looked at him wryly. “In so many senses of the word. And you know what the irony is? To this day, I’ve never come out to her...or either of my families, for that matter.
“What would be the point? Mom converted to Islam a few years after she married Ayad, and Dad is a diehard Southern Baptist. Do you really think either of my families would be thrilled to hear I was gay?”
“Your mum’s a Muslim and your old man’s a Baptist? What the hell does that make you?”
Torie laughed. “A cheerful pagan, because they were both so respectful of not trampling on the other’s faith, thank God! Besides, not only would I not want to upset them, it’s not exactly like I have a steady partner to take home to meet the folks, so why bother? Hell, Mrs. Paine almost had a heart attack when Tambre brought her girlfriend home to meet her. They didn’t speak for almost a year after that, and I know my dad is highly uncomfortable being around Tambre now, even though he was practically a de facto father to her when we were growing up.”
“That’s a damned shame.” Kenny shook his head in dismay. “But I guess that night in the park sorta opened up your eyes, and there was no going back for you.”
“Exactly. On the personal side, I started looking at women in a whole different way, and on the professional side, that night was what I’d thought journalism would be like when I first graduated. I knew I had to be in the thick of things, and for the first time in my life, I was absolutely driven to achieve a goal.”
“And you did so in fine style, but that’s exactly what I’ve been telling you, Tor. You’re not made to sit in an office. You need this excitement, even with, or maybe because of the bombs and bullets.”
Torie shrugged, but didn’t deny it.
“Then why, luv? Have you been in contact with Tambre lately? Is she waiting for you back in Atlanta? Is this an irresistible urge to catch the one that got away or something?”
“Actually, Kenny, Tambre has been in a serious relationship for almost five years now. I don’t really know a lot about Rashida. With me running around the globe, we mostly only exchange the odd card now and then, and Tambre doesn’t say much about her partner.”
“So, Tambre isn’t the one pulling you back to Atlanta?”
“Not exactly. It’s more the idea of a Tambre—the feeling that I want what we might’ve had if I’d stayed. It’s been growing in me for a couple of years now—the loneliness, the absence of that certain someone, the sense that maybe I’m missing out on something really vital. I want the love that Liam found with Sharon. I’m never going to have that when I’m not in one place long enough to really get to know a woman. I have to give it a shot, and when CNN made me the offer, it seemed like a godsend. I’ve got friends and family in the area, so that would make the transition easier.”
“So you’re just gonna to stay in one place and look for your mystery woman.”
Torie heard the sadness in her friend’s flat statement. “Why don’t you come with me, Kenny? I know they’d jump at a chance to hire a cameraman with your qualifications, and then we could still work together.”
Kenny shook his head, drained his glass one last time, and stood up. “It’s not for me, Tor.” He walked unsteadily to the door, but before he opened it, Torie heard him say softly, “It’s not for you either, luv, but you’ll have to find that out for yourself.”
Torie leaned against the window of her suite, staring out at the grey, misty weather. The rain had lightened considerably since her arrival in Atlanta the previous evening, but it still made the city of her summers look unfamiliar. The lush greenness, the thick, humid air, the sunshine that drained and exalted at the same time—all these were absent on this dreary January day, and she was reminded that she had never seen her second home in the winter. It made her feel uncomfortably disorientated, and she pushed away, turning back into the room.
Her interview wasn’t until the following morning. She had already checked in with her father, turning down his offer of accommodations since the network had put her up in the Embassy Suites, five minutes from their offices. However, she made arrangements to meet him for lunch after the interview. Now she had the rest of Sunday to kill and was feeling hemmed in, despite the lovely room into which she had been booked.
Grabbing her raincoat, Torie left the room, an uneasy urgency driving her outside despite the inclement weather. Kenny’s last words haunted her, and over and over she reviewed her reasons for even taking the interview. They had seemed sound at the time, but she couldn’t escape a feeling that her cameraman was right—that she would never be completely happy with a desk job. Yet equally strong was the instinct that the right someone—even if it couldn’t be Tambre—was out there for her, if she could just slow down long enough to find her. The internal impasse was maddening, and she hoped some exercise would restore her equanimity.
Torie smiled as she exited the hotel. Centennial Park, almost devoid of people in the cool, drizzly day, was directly across the street. She hadn’t been back to the park since the summer of ’96, and now she felt herself drawn to the site of her epiphany. She walked swiftly at first, then slowed down as she entered the park and encountered the first engraved bricks of the commemorative pathway.
Ambling along with her head down, Torie read names, dates, places, and personal messages. One brief moment from thousands of lives had been captured in the red bricks, and she wondered if those who had memorialized their loved ones still honoured their memories, if the children whose births had been recorded were now lively middle-schoolers, and if the marriages that had so proudly been announced were still intact.
Bet a lot of folks should’ve bought two bricks—one for their wedding date and another for the date they divorced.
Despite the cynical nature of her thoughts, Torie chuckled, and suddenly she wanted to find her brick. She stopped for a moment and closed her eyes, trying to picture where the brick had been inlaid. Big sections of bricks were marked sequentially, but she couldn’t remember what numbered block had held their family bricks. She had a vague memory of their bricks being located on the far side of the park, not too far from a gate that led out to a busy city street, so she slowly worked her way across the park, reading carefully as she went.
Intent on her search, Torie ignored the few other stragglers who passed her by, though she did stop for a moment to enjoy the water ballet of the huge Fountain of Rings at the top of the park. She smiled to see the Canadian flag flapping on the column that signaled the Montreal Games of ’76. It pleased her to see again her hometown recognized among the many flags that signified the hosts of all the summer Olympics.
Reminding herself of her quest, Torie tilted her gaze down again and thoroughly scanned the bricks as she slowly traversed the wide pathway that ran north through the park. She found herself pausing to read about schools, and military service, and personal achievements of all sorts. It was a tapestry of humanity, set out in the signature colour of red Georgia clay. It was utterly fascinating, and she completely lost track of time.
Then, there it was—her family’s section. There was the brick recording the names of Stephen and Cynthia Harlan, along with their hometown of Canton, GA. Her brother, Channing’s was equally simple, just his name and birth date. She grinned as she read Bob Luther’s, with its ‘Go Dawgs, Go.’ Her youngest brother had been an avid UGA football fan almost from birth.
And there was hers. Torie knelt to trace the letters with her fingers. T*N*T, Forever Friends. Lost in contemplation, she didn’t realize she wasn’t alone until a voice sounded behind her.
“Did I ever tell you how touched I was that you chose that inscription?”
Stunned, Torie looked up to find Tambre smiling down at her, her gentle black eyes filled with tears.
The woman offered her hand, and Torie stared at it for a second before allowing herself to be pulled to her feet. The women faced each other unmoving, until Tambre awkwardly leaned forward and gave Torie a quick hug.
Saddened by the stiffness, Torie flashed back on the countless times they had flung themselves into each other’s arms with boisterous exuberance at the start of their annual summer reunions. “Tam? How did you know—how did you find me? ”
“Your dad told my mom, who mentioned it to me last night.” Tambre pointed to a bench nestled by a large, overhanging tree. “I’ve been sitting there, trying to work up my nerve to go look you up in your hotel. Then I saw you come into the park, and I’ve been watching you read the bricks. I knew you’d work your way down here—to our brick.”
Torie stared at her in amazement, her brain automatically cataloguing the changes since she had last seen Tambre four years earlier. The other woman was no longer as thin as she had been in their youth, laugh lines were making their appearance around her eyes, and a stray silver hair or two could be seen in her short-cropped hair, but Torie thought she had never looked better. The mist had formed diamonds in her old friend’s hair, and she almost reached out to touch them before she caught herself. “It’s so wonderful to see you again, Tam. Do you have time for a visit? Can I buy you a drink? We could go back to the hotel. They’ve got a nice lounge there.”
“That sounds good, Torie. Lead on.”
Torie almost pinched herself, as they turned to walk back to the hotel together. It was a surreal feeling, walking beside Tambre again, yet at the same time, the most natural feeling in the world. On the short walk, they exchanged pleasantries about the weather and their families, and once they had settled into a booth in the bar and ordered drinks, Torie asked politely, “So, how is Rashida?”
Tambre’s gaze dropped to the tabletop and she appeared to be finding the coasters utterly fascinating reading. “Actually, we’re having some problems, and I’m back living with my mom for now. That’s how I knew that you were in town.”
Tambre looked up, and Torie saw the sadness in her eyes. It made her feel small for the exultant leap her heart took when she heard the news. “I’m so sorry, Tam. I didn’t realize...”
Tambre shrugged and gave her a small smile. “How could you? I didn’t even tell my mother how bad things had gotten until the day I asked her if I could move back in for a while, and it’s not like you and I talk often.”
“Or ever,” Torie said softly. Impulsively she reached across the table and touched her friend’s hand. “I really am sorry, Tam. I never meant to neglect our friendship. I just...sometimes it’s hard. I end up in the most god awful places, and my whole focus is on getting the story of the day. I’ve gotten rather single-minded in my old age, and sometimes I forget what’s really important in life.”
“It’s okay, Torie. I know things could never stay as they were when we were younger. People grow up; people move on. It’s inevitable.” She hesitated as the waiter brought them their drinks and accepted Torie’s payment. Then, raising her glass, she saluted the journalist. “I really am very proud of you, you know. I love it when I get to see you on the BBC World News on PBS. It makes me feel...connected still, I guess—like you’re still in my life. It just about drives Rashida crazy because I even tape all the broadcasts, just in case one of your stories is featured.” Her eyes dropped again. “Guess that won’t be a problem anymore.”
Torie was torn between delight that Tambre still cared enough to keep tabs on her, and sadness at her friend’s obvious distress. “Hey, do you want to talk about it?”
That elicited a smile from Tambre. “Talk about role reversal. Usually I was the one coaxing you to talk. You were the most close-mouthed child I’d ever met.”
“That’s just because I was so in awe of you. You were the most serious, grown-up child I’d ever met, and I was sure that one day you were going to wake up and realize that you were wasting your time with this scrawny little Canadian who had no idea what grits and okra were, and had never even tasted cornbread or collard greens.”
Tambre laughed. “Well, I had no idea what poutine or tourtiere or falafels with tahini sauce were, either, so we both had our horizons broadened.”
“We really did, didn’t we? But you’re evading the issue, Tam. Do you want to tell me what happened with you and Rashida? Granted it’s been a number of years since we’ve really talked, but at the time you seemed certain that she was the one.”
“I was, wasn’t I?” Tambre’s voice was soft and reflective as she looked past Torie with a faraway gaze. “Funny how we can be so certain about something or someone, but then the unexpected happens and we’re left wondering exactly how things went so wrong.”
Torie had the distinct feeling that her friend wasn’t just referring to her estrangement from Rashida. Confused, she sipped her drink and waited silently until Tambre pulled herself out of her reverie with an apologetic grin.
“Sorry. Wool-gathering there. Anyway, I suppose the cliché answer to your question is that we just found we had different and incompatible life goals, and when we couldn’t reconcile them, we came to a parting of the ways.”
Torie didn’t want to pry, but Tambre’s non-answer had spurred her curiosity. “Was it mutual?”
“No, not really. She says she still loves me, and she’ll wait while I work things out.”
“Do you still love her?”
“No. I mean, yes, I do still love her. I just don’t think I ever loved her enough, or maybe not in the right way.” Tambre blew out an exasperated breath. “Look, can we talk about something else? Tell me what you’ve been up to. The last report I saw from you was out of Baghdad. Are you still on assignment there?”
Torie allowed her old friend’s diversionary tactic for the moment. “I am. Kenny and I are doing a series of reports on the run-up to the election at the end of the month.”
“Then I’m surprised to see you here. It’s not like you to not be in the thick of the action, and from what I read, things are really hopping over there.”
“They are, but it’s been incredibly intense. We can barely get out of Baghdad now because of security concerns, and it isn’t much safer within the city. There are rumours coming out of some of the Sunni areas about two thousand dollar bounties on reporters’ heads. It’s frustrating as hell, and a lot of my colleagues won’t even venture out of the Green Zone for fear of being killed or kidnapped.
“Where the U.S. military headquarters are. It’s so heavily guarded that you wouldn’t think a mouse could sneak in, but even it isn’t one hundred percent safe. This is our third time being rotated in since the war began. Normally we’d have been out again in no more than eight weeks, but with the election coming up, we asked to stay. Kenny and I have been doing features and backgrounders for the last couple of months, and there’s another crew covering the day to day news. When Kenny just about bashed an arrogant Sunni cleric over the head with his camera about ten days ago, I knew we needed a time out. I made a couple of calls and got us five days out of country before we have to be back.”
“Kenny’s your cameraman, right?”
“And my best bud.” Torie couldn’t help a big grin at the thought of her irrepressible friend. “We’ve been keeping each other safe and sane for almost five years now. He’s bloody brilliant at getting the shots that really tell the story, you know? But that man has an absolute talent for getting us into...and out of sticky situations.”
“It sounds like he’s pretty important to you.”
“God, yes! I can’t even begin to tell you how many times we’ve been there for each other. One time we were in Sri Lanka, and one of the Tamil leaders didn’t like a report we’d filed on his particular band of thugs so he sent a few of his followers to teach us a lesson. To this day, Kenny won’t tell me how he found out what was going down, but he woke me up and got me out of there with about two minutes to spare. When we finally went back the next day with an armed escort, they had totally destroyed my room and all my belongings, and left a machete plunged through my mattress as a rather pointed message. Our producer decided it was time for reassignment, and Kenny and I didn’t argue!”
“Are you two an item?”
“Kenny and me?” Torie blinked in disbelief, then remembered that Tambre didn’t know. “Uh, no...never. Tam, Kenny and I are—well, he’s like my big brother, you know? We’ve got a friendly competition—for lack of a better description—going on when it comes to the ladies. I don’t doubt when I pick him up at Heathrow, he’ll spend the whole flight to Baghdad bragging about his adventures with the London lovelies and lording it over me because I wasn’t there to compete with him.”
Torie was fascinated by the way Tambre was watching her. She could tell that she hadn’t really surprised her old friend with her casual revelation, but she thought she also detected a measure of relief in the dark eyes that regarded her so steadily.
“So, who’s ahead in this studly competition?”
Tambre’s tone was light and amused, and Torie was grateful that she wasn’t making a big deal out of the off-hand announcement.
“Well, he is, but then he had a ten year jump on me. Plus, given the places we’ve been working, it’s a lot easier for him, though he claims it’s easier for me since the local men never give me a second look when I’m hanging out with the women.”
Tambre smiled as she held up her hands in mock surrender. “That’s okay. You don’t have to tell me all the details.”
Torie grinned and signaled the waitress for another round. “All right, but you’re missing some good stories. Hey, did I tell you about the time that Kenny and I were in the Congo, and this sixteen-year-old rebel leader decided he didn’t want to do an interview with me—he wanted to add me to his harem instead.”
“Good God, Torie! How do you get yourself into these things?”
“Just following the story, Tam. Just following the story.” Torie was surprised to see sudden sadness cross her friend’s expressive face, and she wondered at its source. “Tam?”
Tambre shook her head, just as the waitress returned with the drinks. When Torie tried to pay again, she said, “No, this round is on me.”
They were silent until the waitress gathered up the empties and departed, then Torie brought up something that had been niggling at her. “Tam, back in the park you said that you were sitting on the bench trying to work up your nerve to come see me.”
Tambre nodded, but refused to meet her gaze.
“Why? Why would you have to work up your nerve, Tam? Surely you must know that I’ll always be thrilled to see you.”
Tambre opened her mouth, then sighed and closed it without saying anything. Torie stubbornly waited her out, refusing to give the issue a pass. Her instincts, honed by years of interviewing recalcitrant subjects, told her this was important. She had almost finished her second drink before Tambre finally, reluctantly, spoke.
“I...hoped you’d be glad to see me, but...well, sometimes my mother will mention that you were in town for a few days, and you never even called me, so I wasn’t sure...”
It was Torie’s turn to study the coasters. She didn’t feel she should explain that seeing Tambre with Rashida would have been too painful for her to bear, so she had deliberately avoided them on her rare trips to see her father.
Tambre generously let her off the hook. “It’s been a long time, Torie. I wasn’t sure how much you’d changed since I last saw you other than on television.”
Torie sensed that the answer to many questions lay in this direction, so, pushing aside her guilt, she forced herself to pursue it further. “C’mon, Tam, we go back over a quarter of a century. Sure I’ve changed since we were kids. So have you. Like you said, it’s inevitable, right? But that doesn’t alter our friendship any, does it?” Torie was amazed to see Tambre actually squirm in her seat. “Tam, what’s going on?”
Tambre glanced around the lounge at the other customers, and Torie followed her gaze, wondering what she was thinking.
“You have a room upstairs, right?’’
“Can we...do you mind if we take this up there—away from all these people?”
“Sure. Let’s go.” Mildly nonplussed, Torie picked up her coat, slid out of the booth, and followed Tambre to the elevators.
They were quiet on the ride up to the fourth floor, and when they entered her room, Torie watched Tambre wander about, idly touching things as if to get her bearings. She took a seat cross-legged on the bed, as her friend ended up by the window, staring out.
“The rain has picked up again. It’s been on and off for over a week now. I swear we’re all going to end up with webbed feet if it doesn’t stop soon.”
“Mmm hmm.” Torie really had no interest in Atlanta’s meteorology, but she didn’t want to push Tam until she was ready to talk.
Tambre traced the path of a drop rolling down the outside of the window, and glanced over her shoulder at Torie. “Do you remember the summer that your dad had the pool put in?”
“Oh yeah! It was only half-dug when the rain started and never seemed to stop. We were so impatient that we were ready to start swimming in the water that had collected at the bottom of the excavation.”
Tambre laughed and turned to face Torie as she leaned on the windowsill. “As I recall, you did go for a premature swim that one day.”
“Hey, that was an accident. I just wanted to see how it was coming and I slipped in the muck.”
“The way you shot down that hill of dirt and into the water—I didn’t know whether to go in after you or run for help.”
“So you stood there and laughed at me.” Torie gave her a feigned scowl, even as she enjoyed the way Tambre was laughing at their shared memories.
“I couldn’t help it. You stood up at the bottom of the pit, and you were completely covered with red mud. It was the funniest thing I’d seen in my life.”
“Your mother didn’t think so when I came up to the back door. She made me stand out in the rain and hand over all my clothes. Then she dumped three buckets of water over my head before she’d let me in the house.”
“Thank heavens the rains finally stopped that night. I think your dad must’ve paid those workers double time just to get it done so we’d quit bothering him.”
Torie smirked at the memory of the way they had endlessly nagged her father. “Hey,
do you remember the swim teacher he hired for us?
“Oh, yes—Miss Hilde Graumann. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her!”
“God, wasn’t she a terror, though? I swear she was a refugee from the East German swim team. She could pick both of us up in one hand without even breaking a sweat.”
Tambre gave an exaggerated shudder. “I was terrified of her!”
“But we learned to swim pretty well by the end of the summer, didn’t we?”
“We had to. It was a matter of survival—and I’m not talking about us drowning either.”
They laughed together, and Torie leaned back on her arms, regarding Tambre affectionately. “So, aside from the very pleasurable stroll down memory lane, why the need to get away from the lounge, Tam? Why did you bring us up here?”
Tambre sighed softly and again avoided the direct question. “It was so easy back then, wasn’t it? We never thought past what we might do the next day, and the biggest problem in our life was Pernell Cordry trying to steal our money when we were going to the store for Cokes.”
“Geez, Pernell the Pig. I’d forgotten all about him. Whatever happened to him?”
“The last I heard, he was doing hard time for armed robbery.”
“How very appropriate, given that he started his apprenticeship so early. God, I hated him. I used to lie in bed at night fantasizing how we’d get back at him.”
“I used to fantasize about getting out of here—traveling the world, seeing all the places we read about in our books.” Tambre smiled wryly. “Montreal was as far as I ever got.”
“There’s nothing stopping you now, Tam.”
“Nothing but work, commitments, and a shared mortgage.” Tambre pushed away from the windowsill and walked over to sit cross-legged on the bed as Torie turned to face her. “Do you love it, Torie? The travel, I mean? I know you love your job. Do you like not knowing which country you’ll be in a month or even a week from now?”
Torie considered the question carefully. “I’m not sure there’s a hard and fast answer to that, Tam. I do love seeing new places, but you have to remember that I’m mostly sent to places that are in the midst of one kind of tragedy or another, whether it’s manmade or natural. So while the mountains of Afghanistan, the Congolese jungles, and the biblical sites of Israel and Iraq are all fascinating, I don’t really have a lot of time to sightsee. Some day when I’m old and retired, I’m going to sit down with my pictures and savour it all in retrospect.”
Tambre appeared to be listening avidly, and Torie studied her friend as she spoke, looking for clues to what was going on in her mind. “Are you happy, Tam?”
“Happy? I...guess so. I mean, I’m not happy about the mess with Rashida, and I feel terrible for hurting her. Sometimes when things got really bad between us, I’d daydream about leaving it all behind and seeing if you’d let me tag along with you for a while.” She laughed sheepishly and ducked her head. “But, um… Why do you ask?”
“Because I’m sensing something from you, and I don’t know what it is.” Torie shook her head in frustration. “I used to be able to read you so easily.” Tambre plucked nervously at the bedspread, until Torie laid a hand on her knee and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Tam, please tell me what’s wrong?”
Still avoiding her eyes, Tambre asked, “Do you remember that night in the park?”
Torie didn’t even have to clarify which night. “Of course, I do. I’ll never forget it.”
“Neither will I, though I’m not sure if our reasons are the same. Torie, when I watched you do that on-camera report, I knew...well, I guess I knew I’d lost you. I’d never seen you quite like that before. Even standing there with a bloody face, it was like you were incandescent when the camera was on you. You didn’t stumble, you didn’t show any fear or apprehension or even excitement—you were as cool as I’d ever seen you, as if you’d been waiting all your life just for that moment. But for me, it was like my world was upended again, for the second time that night.”
Torie held her breath. She knew they were on the verge of what she had been waiting for.
“Just before the explosion—Torie, do you remember the couple we saw in the shadows?”
“Funny, it was one o’clock in the morning, yet I could see so clearly. At least I thought... When we looked at each other, when I looked at you, I was so sure that you were feeling what I was.”
“What were you feeling, Tam?” Torie wanted nothing more than to wipe the look of insecurity off Tambre’s face, but she forced herself to wait. She had to be sure, about then...and now.
“Please forgive me if this isn’t what you want to hear...”
“Tell me, Tambre. What were you feeling?”
Tambre looked everywhere but at Torie, as the journalist watched her friend swallow nervously. Finally, her voice so low that Torie had to strain to hear, Tambre confessed.
“Love. I realized in that instant that I loved you—that I was in love with you.”
Torie wasn’t sure that she would have had the courage to make herself so vulnerable, and her heart soared at Tambre’s whispered disclosure even as she felt mean for pushing her friend even further. “And now, Tam? What do you feel now?”
Tambre shrugged helplessly, then met Torie’s intense gaze directly. “I still love you. I shouldn’t. I didn’t want to. It wasn’t fair to Rashida, but God help me, I’ve never stopped loving you. I’ve never stopped being haunted by what might’ve happened that night. That bomb going off took you away from me just as surely as the woman who was killed was taken from her family.”
It was Torie’s turn to acknowledge her own truth. She eased a little closer and took Tambre’s hands in her own. “I told Kenny I wasn’t coming back here to see you. I swore to him that I just wanted to look at my options, but I think I knew all along that wasn’t the whole truth. Tam, I love you too. I have all these years, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change. You’re not the only one haunted by that night.”
Tambre watched her with veiled hope. “Do you ever think that if we’d had time to touch each other, time to share that first kiss, then things might’ve turned out so differently, even if the bomb had gone off?”
“Yes.” Torie looked down at their joined hands and summoned her courage. “Tam, it’s never too late for a first kiss...is it?”
“No. It’s never too late.”
They stared at each other, neither moving, until finally Tambre leaned forward and Torie met her halfway.
Torie had often lulled herself to sleep imagining the first kiss between them. She had pictured it as a sizzling, bruising encounter, overwhelmed with the explosiveness of a long-denied desire—a kiss rapidly followed by a fiery consummation of their love.
Instead, their lips touched lightly, tentative in the encounter and delicate in their hesitancy. Torie was exquisitely aware that this was her childhood friend—a woman she had once known as intimately as she knew herself, but a woman that had become almost a stranger in the past four years. The way Tam caught her breath as their tongues touched and withdrew, the way her hand came up to touch Torie’s face, the way gentle fingers caressed the hair at her temple—all these were unfamiliar and profoundly exciting sensations. It was the merging of an old desire and a new rawness, and it almost swamped Torie with its intensity.
When she felt Tambre’s fingers begin to unbutton her shirt, Torie almost cried out in her relief. Awed by what was happening, she could not have taken any further initiative to save her life. It was Tam who finally broke their kiss, as she pushed Torie’s shirt and bra off her shoulders then eased her down on the bed. It was Tam who unbuttoned Torie’s pants and pushed them off. Torie simply moved at Tam’s unspoken direction until finally she lay naked, watching her old friend stand to remove her own clothes. And when Tam lowered herself to the bed and covered Torie’s body with her own, she arched into the sensation of flesh meeting flesh for the first time.
“God, Torie! I’ve wanted this for so long.” Tam’s movements became more feverish as she moved over Torie’s body. “I tried not to fantasize about you, I really tried, but all I could ever think about...” Her lips closed over one hardening nipple and the journalist moaned. The sound seemed to galvanize Tambre, and Torie heard her lover’s mumble as if from afar. “I’m sorry...I can’t wait...not any longer...”
Then Tambre seemed to be touching her everywhere at once, and Torie soared under her lover’s erotic artistry. And when she looked down to see Tam lying between her legs, dark, slender fingers holding her open for a long moment, her heart almost stopped with the need to feel her lover’s touch. The anticipation was nearly unbearable, so that when Tam finally lowered her mouth and entered her body with her fingers, Torie cried out in instant and explosive fulfillment.
Embarrassed at her own precipitation, Torie reached down, expecting Tambre to come up into her arms, but her lover merely stilled her fingers and tongue for a heartbeat, then slowly started to move again. Torie wanted to tell her that it was impossible, that she could never climax twice in such rapid succession, but then she realized that it was happening all over again and her eyes widened in astonishment.
The second time was deeper and more profound. As if in slow motion, Torie experienced each minute movement her lover made. She felt as if the secrets of her body, hidden even to herself, were being discovered and revealed with consummate ease. The cries of pleasure that Tambre drew so effortlessly from her lips both shocked and exhilarated Torie. And when the last cry ended and her body went limp with delicious fatigue, tears flowed unchecked down her face.
Tam drew herself up and took Torie into her arms, rocking her as if she were once again that scared, lonely child sent to a foreign home. And Torie rested, feeling safer and more loved than she had ever felt before.
Soon though, Torie’s desire to touch her lover superceded her emotional onslaught, and she began stroking Tambre’s back, softly running her hands from slim shoulders down to firm, rounded flesh and back up again. Tam undulated under her touch, and Torie could hear her breaths becoming rapid and raspy. Unwilling to leave her lover’s embrace, she slipped a hand between them and traced a path down the gentle curve of Tam’s belly until she felt the patch of short, coarse hairs crinkle under her touch.
Tambre shifted, opening to Torie’s touch and moaning as the journalist found what she sought in her lover’s soft, wet flesh. Entering Tam was like nothing Torie had ever experienced with any other woman. Much more than the physical sensation, it was the visceral sense of claiming this woman—of finally accepting the gift that had always been hers for the taking, if only she had opened her heart years ago. Holding her even tighter, Torie stroked Tam inside and out, her hand moving more quickly as her lover gasped out her pleas. And when she felt the convulsions around her fingers and heard Tam’s ecstatic cries, she understood why she had been driven to return. She knew that even had Tambre still been happily partnered, she would have sought her out, urgently seeking this possibility, no matter how remote it might have been.
She pushed the thought aside, unwilling to admit the selfish depth of her need even as she rolled Tambre on her back and began a closer exploration of her lover’s body. When Tam urged her to turn, she willingly gave in to her own hunger again, deeply grateful that their bodies fit together lengthwise so perfectly.
It seemed like endless hours before they finally slumped into a mutually boneless heap and crawled under the rumpled covers to rest, but the day’s grey light still had not disappeared. By the time they woke from an exhausted sleep, however, the room was dim, and Torie reached for the bedside lamp, drawing a mumbled protest from where Tam rested on her shoulder.
“Sorry, sweetheart. I just needed to see you,” Torie whispered as Tambre opened one eye and looked blearily at her. A smile slowly crossed her face, and Torie answered with an irrepressible grin of her own. “Hey, did I remember to tell you how much I love you?”
Tambre gave her a mischievous look. “Was that what you were mumbling from down there? I couldn’t actually understand the words.”
Laughing, Torie tickled her lover until Tambre begged for mercy. When they once again lay still in each other’s arms, Tam whispered, “I love you too, sweet woman.”
They lay in languid contentment, feeling no need for words as Tambre lightly traced her fingers over Torie’s body. She reached across her lover’s belly and under her side, touching the six inch scar that marred the journalist’s lower back. “How did you get this, love? I don’t remember it from when we were kids.”
“I got it a couple of years ago when Kenny and I were working in Jerusalem.”
Tambre pulled herself up and propped herself on her elbows as she studied Torie’s face. “What happened?”
Torie briefly contemplated brushing the question off—she had done so with previous lovers who had made the same inquiry—but she couldn’t do that this time. “We were sitting at an outdoor table in this popular market, having a late afternoon drink. It was over two years into the intifada, but Israeli security was everywhere, so we weren’t as cautious as we might’ve been. There was this teenaged girl who crossed the plaza about ten feet from us and went into a pizza place. She was pretty, dressed casually in jeans and a loose sweater—didn’t look any different than any of the kids who were hanging out there. The next thing we know, there’s this huge explosion from somewhere behind me. My back got sliced up by some flying glass, and Kenny got hit in the face with something that left a helluva scar on his jaw.”
“God! I’m so sorry, Torie.”
“Could’ve been worse.” Torie gave an involuntary shudder at the memories assailing her. “I remember lying on the ground and trying to get up to look for Kenny, but it hurt so damn much to move. I turned my head, and saw this leg—still in a sneaker—lying maybe four feet away. I couldn’t stop staring at it, until Kenny picked me up and started running for an ambulance. Of all the places we’ve gone, and all the things we’ve seen, that’s the one that wakes me up at night.”
Tambre buried her face in Torie’s neck and the journalist could feel her lover’s tears. “Shhhh, it’s okay. Please don’t cry. I shouldn’t have told you.”
“Yeah, but I could’ve just told you that some motorcycle mama caught me fooling around with her girlfriend and came after me with a switchblade. That makes a way better story.” Torie’s effort to comfort her lover worked, as Tambre chuckled a little and wiped at her eyes.
“So have you been the target of many outraged girlfriends?”
Relieved that her stark memory hadn’t completely ruined the afterglow, Torie teased, “Oh, you know—one or two, here and there.”
Tambre slid over to cover Torie, resting her chin on her hands so that she could look her lover in the eyes. “I’m guessing you’re a ‘girl in every port’ kinda woman, right?”
Reveling in the feel of Tam’s smooth, warm body against her own, Torie could only grin. “What can I say? I put on my foreign correspondent hat, stroll into some bar, and the women just fall at my feet.” She squeaked as Tambre pinched her nipple and glared at her. “Just kidding! Really! When I’m on the road, I’m all about the work, and once the work is done, it’s tea and cookies at eight, then into bed by nine—honest.”
“It’s that ‘into bed by nine’ I think I’m going to have to worry about.” Belying the sternness of her tone, Tambre gently licked the offended nipple.
Torie had begun to writhe slowly in concert with the mouth that was doing wondrous things to her breasts, when the delicious torture abruptly ended. About to complain, the journalist was stopped by the serious look on Tambre’s face.
“Sweetheart, for all that I tease you, I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to take over your life. What you do over there, when you’re working and all—I mean, Torie, I don’t expect you to take a vow of fidelity or chastity or anything. All I ask is that you stay in touch and come see me when you can. Maybe I can even come over there now and then when you’re not off in some war zone.”
Torie blinked in surprise. This wasn’t at all where she had expected their conversation to go. “Um, hon? It’ll all be moot if this interview works out tomorrow.”
It was Tambre’s turn to look surprised as she rolled off Torie’s body and sat up. “Interview? What are you talking about?”
Torie pushed herself into an upright position, leaning back against the headboard with the sheet pooling about her waist. “Didn’t your mom tell you why I was in Atlanta?”
“No. All she said was that you were here for a few days on a business trip. I assumed you were doing an interview or something.”
“Well, it is an interview, but I’m the one being interviewed. CNN has contacted me about the possibility of doing a daily international affairs show. If we can reach an agreement, I’ll be working—and living—here in Atlanta.”
Tambre’s eyes widened, and Torie couldn’t tell if she was more shocked or thrilled.
“Oh, my God! You’re going to live here! I can’t believe it! The best I was hoping for was to steal a few days with you now and then, take holidays together, and stay in contact the rest of the time by phone and e-mail.”
Torie held up a cautionary hand. “It’s not certain yet. There are some things I’m not completely comfortable with in their offer.”
“I understand.” Tambre took a deep breath. “This would be an awfully big change for you, and certainly not what you’ve been used to.”
Torie nodded soberly as the memory of Kenny’s warning cast a renewed pall over her.
Tambre, watching her closely, frowned. “What is it, love? Is there a catch to all this?”
“Oh, it’s just… Nothing, really.”
“Something’s putting that melancholy look on your face. What’s the matter, Torie?”
The journalist studied her hands, unable to meet her lover’s quizzical eyes.
“Torie, please, what’s going on in that head of yours? Is there something you’re not telling me? Is this not something you’ve wanted?”
Dissimulation—even when well intentioned—had never been possible with this woman. From the time she had been five years old, Tambre had read her as easily as her favourite Wonder Woman comic books.
“It’s just something Kenny said before I left Baghdad. Nothing important, really.” Her downplaying wasn’t going to work, and Torie knew it the moment the words were out of her mouth.
For a split second, Torie thought of ignoring the simple command, but after all the years they had lost because of their lack of communication, she didn’t want to hide anything now.
“It really isn’t a big deal. Kenny just doesn’t think I should take this offer. He’s convinced that I could never be happy working in one place for a long time. He thinks I’ll go crazy without the adrenaline of the fieldwork.”
Tambre didn’t say anything, but Torie could tell she was mulling over the words, and she grew faintly alarmed. “Honey, it’s really nothing. We’ve been together a long time and he’s going to miss me. Kenny doesn’t know everything—”
“No...but he does know you.” Tambre looked at her solemnly. “Have you really thought this through, love?”
“Well, they approached me late last month and I’ve been pretty busy since, but it makes good sense. And with you here, with us...”
Tambre shook her head. “If you took me out of the equation, what would your decision be tomorrow?”
Torie shifted uncomfortably and pulled the sheet up to her chest. “I don’t know. There are a number of things to consider. I have to hear them out first, I guess. But you are part of the equation now, Tam! A big part. Maybe you weren’t the only reason I came back here, but being with you—that would make it worth staying.”
The troubled look on Tambre’s face scared Torie, and she listened to her lover’s next words with growing dread.
“You didn’t know Rashida and I had separated. You couldn’t have known that I’d approach you today. If you were thinking of taking this job, then I wasn’t a part of your considerations before.”
Torie couldn’t deny the flat statement. “Maybe not, but even if we could only have been friends again, I wanted you back in my life. It may not seem like it from my lack of communication, but I’ve really missed you. I can’t even begin to tell you how many lonely nights, in how many godforsaken hellholes that you’re all I could think about. And now that we’ve admitted how we feel about each other—God, I don’t want to be away from you!”
Tambre regarded her sadly. “Because what we’re feeling right now is a dream come true for both of us. What we did today; it was...incredible, Torie. Nobody has ever made me feel like you do. But how long would that last if you started to hate your job, if all you could think about was getting back out there with Kenny? Would you begin to resent me, grow bitter because I’d taken away the thing that meant the most to you? I think that would destroy me as surely as it would shatter our love.”
“No! None of that matters, Tam!” Torie could feel the fear growing more intense within her. Was she to lose her love so soon after finding it? “Look, I’m tired of living life from day to day, never being sure that Kenny and I will make it back to our hotel in one piece. I’m tired of interviewing idiots that think because I’m a woman I’m less than the dust under their feet. I’m tired of never staying in one place long enough to put down roots.”
“Roots can choke off life too, Torie.” The journalist hated the sadly resolute way Tambre was watching her. “Tell me, why do you think you got your job in the first place?”
Torie shrugged. “I don’t know. Being fluent in English, French, and Arabic probably helped.”
“Probably, but I suspect that they saw in you what I saw in you that night in the park, and I doubt they’ve ever been sorry they hired you.”
“Maybe not, but please, darling, can’t you see this could be for the best?”
“The best for me, maybe, but not for you. You forget that I’ve been watching you for years now, Torie. I see how much you love what you’re doing. I can’t be part of taking you away from that.”
Torie reached out, squeezing Tambre’s thigh urgently, trying to use their physical intimacy to shore up her argument. “You’re not taking me away! It’s my choice, love. This is what I want to do.”
There was silence, and Torie held her breath as she waited. Finally Tambre gently tugged the sheet away, fully exposing the journalist.
Torie’s heart sank as she saw the way her lover studied her. She had a suspicion that Tam was committing her nude body to memory, and she wracked her brain for the most persuasive argument she could come up with. But before she could say anything further, Tambre leaned over and kissed her—a long, deep, gentle kiss that tasted like farewell. Tears filled her eyes as her lover finally broke away and stood up, gathering her clothes from the floor where they had landed many hours ago.
“That’s it then? You’re going to leave? Just like that?”
Tambre didn’t turn around to look at her as she pulled her sweater over her head, but Torie could tell from her voice that she was crying. “I have to. I can’t be a part of your decision tomorrow. You have to make it without including me in your considerations, just as you would have if I hadn’t come to find you.”
Once fully dressed, Tambre turned to face her. Bitterly, Torie demanded, “So what are you going to do now? After this, after us…you can’t just go back to Rashida?”
“I don’t know. I do have to talk to her. It’s not fair to leave her hanging the way I have.”
“But it’s fair to leave me hanging?” Torie knew she should hold her tongue, but the pain shredding her heart demanded expression. “God damn it, Tambre! Was I just a way to pass a dull, rainy afternoon? A quick fuck and you’re out the door?”
“You know better than that!” Tam’s voice was equally sharp, then it softened. “It’s because I love you, Torie. I always have—I always will.” She waited, but Torie, glaring at her erstwhile lover, stubbornly refused to respond. Finally, Tambre turned away, picked up her coat, and slipped quietly out of the room.
Devastated, Torie stared at the door, wondering how the magical afternoon had suddenly turned so bleak. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. They were supposed to finally find each other, then live happily ever after.
What went so wrong, so fast?
Numbly she forced herself to get out of bed. She retrieved her cellphone from the pocket of her raincoat, and with trembling fingers dialed a number.
“Bloody hell! D’ya know what fuckin’ time it is?”
At the sound of the familiar voice, Torie started to cry. “Kenny?”
Seven months later: Washington, DC.
“…and the historic meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and their Israeli counterpart—Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, will take place in less than twenty four hours. All parties to the summit, which has been in the works for five months, are expressing cautious optimism, as the often- shaky ceasefire between the warring neighbours continues for an unprecedented sixth week. This is Torie Khadimi reporting live from Washington.”
Torie held still until Kenny gave her the signal, then she wearily rubbed her eyes. “God, I hate jumping seven time zones at once! What is it—three o’clock in the morning, Jerusalem time?”
Kenny yawned and nodded. “About that. But you have to admit, this is a pretty exciting assignment. We may be watching history in the making this next week.”
“Reaching an agreement is one thing, but keeping it is another. You know as well as I do that we’ll probably be back in the Middle East within the year, covering the third intifada.”
The cameraman stopped putting his equipment away and looked at Torie. “Christ, luv, when did you become such a pessimist?”
“It’s called realism, Kenny.”
His tone was distinctly unconvinced, but Torie was too tired to argue. All she wanted was to return to their hotel for a few hours of sleep before the official opening of the talks the following day.
“Want to go grab a beer and a bite, Tor?”
“No, thanks, Kenny. I think I’ll take a pass. I’ll just get a taxi back to our hotel and see you later.”
“Okay. Your loss, the local ladies gain.”
Torie couldn’t help laughing at Kenny’s Groucho Marx leer. She was grateful for his tenacious attempts to get them back on their old carefree footing. She was well aware that she had been something of a wet blanket since her precipitous return from Atlanta. He hadn’t pressed her when she told him tersely during their telephone conversation that she was going to cancel her meeting with the CNN executives and that was the last she wanted to say about the abortive trip. But once they had been reunited, she often caught him stealing glances at her when she would decline invitations to bars they had once frequented together, and she knew he was worried about her. It had gotten so bad that he had even slid an article about the latest generation of anti-depressants into her working notes, but she had crumpled it up without reading it. She knew she didn’t need pharmaceutical help. She had had what she needed, and somehow it had slipped through her grasp. There was no drug that would assuage the anguish that had consumed her since her return from Atlanta. Even work, once her staunch panacea, was no longer a dependable solace.
Seven months. I can’t believe she’s never written, never called, never even sent so much as a “hello” through Dad. She might as well have vanished from the face of the Earth. The familiar internal lament had been increasingly modified by bitter self-recriminations. Why didn’t I go after her? Why didn’t I tell her that I could make it work—that I could be happy in the new job? We should’ve talked about it! I should’ve made her see how much I needed her in my life. I just gave up...Why did I give up so easily?
She had turned to walk away, when Kenny called her back. “Hey, luv, I forgot to give you this.” He handed her a wrinkled envelope. “Harold brought it over with him from London. Apparently it’s been forwarded more times than our watches, and he decided since he was coming here anyway, he’d hand deliver it.”
Torie glanced at it curiously, seeing the various addresses scrawled on the front. She shook her head in amusement at seeing the list of places she and Kenny had traveled since they had left Iraq, then she froze as she saw the return address.
“You okay, Tor? You went a little pale there.”
Ignoring his concern, Torie tore open the envelope with trembling fingers. A piece of flimsy fell out, and she unfolded it to find a rubbing of their brick, the words clearly etched through the pencil strokes. Underneath, in Tambre’s unmistakable handwriting were the words: “We can make it forever, if you still want us to. I love you. T.”
“Torie? What’s up, luv?”
Torie handed Kenny the drawing as she turned the envelope over to check the postmark, then groaned. “April! Jesus Christ! Why didn’t she just e-mail me?”
Kenny handed her back the drawing. “Bit hard to e-mail that, I’d say. I expect she was trying to send you a message, whoever ‘she’ is.”
He looked at her shrewdly. “Your childhood friend? The one you weren’t going to Atlanta to see?”
Torie nodded, giving him a chagrined look.
“And she’s why you cancelled CNN and why you’ve been dragging your ass around since January?”
“I haven’t been—”
“Bloody right you have! So I take it you had an encounter with the lady in question while you were Stateside.”
Torie blushed as memories of the encounter with Tambre instantly stimulated her mind and body.
Kenny whistled in admiration and amusement. “Damn, Tor, any woman who can turn you that shade has to be worth going back for.”
“I didn’t think she wanted me back. She said she couldn’t be part of my decision on the CNN job.”
“That all she said?”
“No. She said she loved me. She said she’d always love me.”
“And you interpreted that to mean that she wanted nothing to do with you ever again?”
Torie frowned at Kenny’s acerbic question. “What’s eating you? I thought you were happy that I chose not to take the job.”
“I was. But that doesn’t mean I wanted you to turn into a fuckin’ hermit, either.”
“She walked away from me, Kenny. For the second time, she made a solo decision about us, and I didn’t have one damned thing to say about it. What the hell was I supposed to do?” Torie heard the bitterness in her own voice, but it had been eating her up that maybe if she had just come up with the right words, she could have stopped Tambre from walking away again.
“Jesus, I don’t know. Maybe give her a call; maybe tell her that you turned down the job, but that you love her and want to work out a way to be with her? It is possible to be married and still do what we do, you know.”
“Hah! You tried it. It certainly never worked for you.”
“Bloody hell, woman! Don’t take me as an example. I married the shrew of Islington, and a fuckin’ saint couldn’t have made it work with that bitch!”
“But...she didn’t...she couldn’t have loved me as much...”
“Sounds to me like she loved you more than anything, Tor. Takes a pretty special woman to let you make the kind of decision you had to make without sticking her nose into it.” He gestured at the paper in her hand. “Besides, that doesn’t look to me like a woman who no longer loves you.”
She looked at him in despair. “It’s months old. What if she thought I just wasn’t interested any more?”
He laughed and shook his head at her. “This is just a guess, but whatever turned you that lovely shade of scarlet probably had the same effect on her. Go give her a call. Explain that you’ve been halfway around the globe since you last met, and you didn’t get the letter until now.”
“But nothing. What’ve you got to lose? Could you possibly be any more down in the dumps than you have been? Go find out one way or another, or I won’t be responsible for my actions!”
Torie shot him a wry glance. “I guess I haven’t been the easiest person to live with lately, eh?”
Kenny snorted. “An understatement of gargantuan proportions. Now, go call your lady. I’ve got business to attend to.”
She tucked the letter into her bag and pulled out her cellphone. “Good luck with your business, Kenny. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As she smiled at him and walked away, she heard him call after her, “Good luck with yours too, luv.”
Retrieving the only number she had listed for Tambre in her directory, Torie keyed it in, and waited impatiently for the ring. When an unfamiliar voice answered, she asked for Tam. She got a distinctly frosty tone in response.
“She doesn’t live here anymore.”
“Um, do you have another number for her?”
The line was disconnected, and Torie stared at her phone. Huh, if that’s Rashida, I’m guessing Tam ended things for good. Impatiently, she keyed in her father’s home number. Her stepmother answered the phone.
“Hi, Cynthia? It’s Torie.”
“Torie! How good to hear from you. Are you in the city?”
“No, I’m up in Washington on assignment. Look, I’m trying to track down Tambre, but the number I have for her is no good. Is she still living with her mother?”
“I don’t think so, Torie. I believe she moved out a few months ago. Would you like me to ask Mrs. Paine?”
“Would you?” Torie had reached the street, and waved down a cab. Climbing into the back seat, she gave the driver the name of her hotel, then waited restlessly for her stepmother to return.
“Torie? Mrs. Paine says that Tambre’s new number is 404-555-7194. Did you want to speak to your father while I’ve got you?”
“Tell him I’ll call him back later, would you?”
“Certainly. It was lovely talking to you again.”
“You too. Talk to you later. Bye.”
With mounting impatience, Torie keyed in the new number, then groaned as a machine picked up. When the beep signaled its readiness for a message, she abruptly hung up. She needed to speak directly to Tam. She had to make the woman understand that she did want forever, no matter how they had parted, and she didn’t want to take the chance of fumbling a mechanical message.
By the time the taxi reached the hotel, Torie had tried the number three more times, each time getting the identical response. Frustrated, but no longer weary, she paid the driver and strode into the lobby. She was almost to the elevators when she heard her name called. Spinning, she saw Tambre approaching her from across the foyer.
Shocked, she stood staring, clutching the phone as if it had magically made her lover appear. “Tam?”
“Hi. Guess you weren’t expecting to see me here.” Tambre’s expression was calm, but it was belied by a subtle shyness in her voice.
Mindful of their highly public location, Torie fought the instant, overwhelming desire to sweep Tam into her arms and hold her like she would never let her go again. “No, but— How did you know I was here?”
“I knew you’d been transferred out of Iraq not long after the elections, and your latest reports were from Israel, so I was pretty sure you’d turn up here at the summit.”
Torie was impressed. “Good detective work.” A slow smile crossed her face. “And the hotel? How did you know I was staying here?”
“A little hacking, a little bribery. It’s amazing what you can find out if you really want to.”
The elevator doors opened and a contingent of men in dark suits swarmed past them and headed for the hotel bar.
“Um, look—I think we’re blocking the way here. Do you want to come upstairs and talk?”
Tambre nodded, and followed Torie into the elevator. On their way to the seventh floor, Torie kept stealing glances at her companion, but Tam’s usual assurance had now evaporated, and she stared quietly at the floor. When they entered her room, it took all Torie’s self-control not to pull Tambre onto her bed and show her without words how much she had missed her, and how deeply she regretted letting her out of her life, but the woman appeared so skittish that she didn’t want to scare her off.
Suddenly understanding where her lover’s unusual reticence came from, Torie reached into her bag and pulled out the letter, extending it to Tambre. “I only just got this less than half an hour ago. Is it still…do you still feel like this?”
Tambre took the letter and stared at all the addresses on the front. “You only got this now?”
“I thought you didn’t want to talk to me. I thought—”
“Wrong. You thought wrong. If I’d gotten this when you sent it, I’d have called you immediately. Hell, I’d have caught the first flight back to your side, and you can stake your life that I’d have found some way to get assigned back to Atlanta! I’ve been trying to call you for the last half hour, but all I kept getting was the damned machine and I didn’t want to talk to it.”
Tambre gave her a dazed look. “You didn’t get it...”
Torie laughed. “No, love, I didn’t get it...but you came anyway?”
“I had to. I had to try again, even if you might slam the door in my face. I was so terribly afraid that you would—and I wouldn’t even have blamed you.” Tambre started to cry. “I went back the next day, you know. I wanted to tell you I was wrong. I wanted to beg you to stay...but they said you’d checked out the night before, and I knew then that you never even took the interview. I figured that meant that—”
Torie stepped closer and softly wiped Tam’s eyes with her fingers. “It meant that after you left, the job didn’t matter. I couldn’t stay, so I caught a red-eye back to London. Why didn’t you call me, or write, or anything?”
“I thought I’d blown it for good. You’d obviously made your decision, and somewhere in my selfish heart I knew it was the right one, so I tried to move on with my life.”
“But you sent our brick to me.”
Tambre shivered, and Torie wrapped the woman in a gentle, undemanding embrace. She felt, more than heard, a deep sigh as arms tightened around her waist, and Tam laid her head on her shoulder. They stood together quietly for a long time, as Torie gently rocked her lover and nuzzled her hair, then Tambre began to speak.
“Moving on wasn’t working, love. I ended things for good with Rashida, and even tried to date again, but all I could think about was you, and how damned stupid I’d been. I would’ve given anything—anything at all, to go back to that afternoon and change things. I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I was taking care of you...like I always had, but all I did was hurt us. Before we made love, I could handle not having you. But after that day...knowing the magic of being together...knowing that you loved me as much as I loved you—I couldn’t stop torturing myself. So one night, when I’d been sitting in my apartment drinking wine all by myself, I went to the park and made that tracing. I mailed it to you at your London office right away, before I could chicken out. When I never heard back, I just assumed...”
“I only just got it, Tam. I only just got it.”
The quiet repetition seemed to comfort the woman in her arms, and Torie whispered, “No more making unilateral decisions, okay, sweetheart? We’ve got some tough choices to make from now on, but if something affects both of us, we both decide, right?”
There was a strangled laugh and she felt Tambre nodding her head in agreement.
Torie felt an overwhelming relief that they hadn’t missed their second...or was it their third chance. Whatever it was, she was determined they weren’t going to fumble it this time. She was keenly aware that they were going to have to work hard and make compromises to make their relationship flourish, but that would come later. And when Tambre tilted her head, Torie accepted the invitation, letting everything else wash away in the second first kiss.
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