Part 6 - See disclaimers in Part 1, and a special thanks goes to Susan M. for providing wonderful advice and guidance in the field of grief counseling. Thanks for taking the time, Susan. Greatly appreciated.

"I had a great time, Lana."

"So did I. It was wonderful."

"And thanks for breakfast. She's cute, and she can cook."

"I wouldn't exactly call waffles cooking, but thanks for the compliment."

"As long as it tastes good, and involves a stove, I call it cooking."

The blonde laughed and wrapped her arms around Rae's neck. "I take it you won't be cooking dinner for me anytime soon."

"Uh, no. My dinner dates comprise of paying someone else to do the cooking and the cleaning. I'm not what you'd call domestically inclined." The tall woman looked a little disheveled, wearing yesterday's clothes that had lay in a crumpled heap on the floor all night. She checked her watch. "Anyway, I gotta get going. I have to go for a run."

"I hate to think I didn't help you expend at least some energy last night, and this morning."

"That energy comes from a different source, babe." Rae caressed a smooth cheek. "The running is a necessary guilt diverter."

"I see." Lana leaned back and appraised the well developed body. "I can tell you that I certainly appreciate the results of that guilt."

"Ok, keep that sweet talk up, and I'll be tempted to postpone the run."

"Really? Hmmm, ok, what if I do this too?" She ran her fingertips lightly over the cotton that concealed firm breasts, unrestrained by Rae's bra, which was stuffed in the pocket of her jeans. Smiling at the immediate response, Lana leaned forward and kissed soft lips.

"Grrrr. I have to go, Lana, as tempting as this is."

Reluctant to let this stunning woman out of her sight before knowing when she would see her again, Lana feigned a pout. "Are you going out tonight?"

A little alarm rang in the back of Rae's mind. One thing that sent her packing in the opposite direction at a dead run was feeling claimed, especially after one night of sex, no matter how good it was. "Um, yeah. I have a date with some leathermen."

"Oh." Lana tried to hide her reaction, but not quickly enough, which caused Rae to grin wickedly.

"You didn't guess that I dabble a bit on the edge?"

"Um, no. I suppose not."

"I'm just kidding." Well, not really. "A friend of mine is in a leather contest at Chaps tonight and I told him I'd check it out. I might stop at The Rose later, but I'm not sure yet."

"Ok, here." Lana pulled a business card out of a small drawer in the hallway telephone table, and wrote her home number on the back. "I'll be at the gym until 10. And the number here is on the back. If you decide to go, give me a buzz. If you'd like, I mean." The blonde suddenly felt self-conscious as she handed the card over, realizing instantly that she had crossed that invisible boundary of familiarity, given that she didn't even know this woman's last name. She was also smart enough to recognize the minute signs of subtle withdrawal displayed by her guest, and wished she could take back the last 20 seconds.

Rae gazed at the young woman with an unreadable expression, wishing that for once, this awkward "morning after the night before" phase could be avoided. Just once, she wanted the woman she chose for the evening to accept it for what it was - a mutual interest acted upon - instead of a prelude to an inevitable progression towards a relationship that wouldn't last, because there was no opportunity to actually like each other before finding yourselves arguing over laundry.

"Look, I'm sorry, that was a bit presumptuous. You don't have to say anything. Just know that I'd like to see you again if you're interested, ok?"

Hmmm, the girl may have potential after all. "Ok, I'll be in touch." Rae waved the card as she headed to the door. "Thanks again for breakfast this morning... and dessert last night."

"You're welcome. And it was my pleasure, believe me." Lana struck a seductive pose and winked. "Don't be a stranger."

Rae laughed and shook her head. Halfway out the door, she called back. "Please tell me before I look at this card that it isn't Turner."

The blonde grinned. "No, but close. Turcotte. And yours?"


"Have a great day, Ms. Crenshaw. I might see you later."

"Ok. Ciao."


When the door clicked shut, Lana slumped against the wall, and blew out a breath that ruffled the hair hanging in her face. "Shit! Why do I always fall for the gorgeous, bad girls who only want to fuck?" She pulled herself up and headed for the bathroom to get ready for work.

Rae descended the stairs in the Wellesley apartment building two at a time, smiling, her mind on the events of the past twelve hours. The blonde had been a great lay, and hadn't pressed the issue of getting together again, which in Rae's opinion, actually made her that much more attractive. She was interesting, could carry on an intelligent, knowledgeable discussion, wasn't overly aggressive. Maybe there was some potential there. Rae was fairly certain the girl would show up at the bar tonight, but she had every right to do so. It was a public place, after all. The litmus test would be whether or not she could decipher the girl's reasons for being there - hunting for Rae, or just socializing.

"Fuck." As she approached her car, she could see the orange parking ticket tucked under her wiper blade, flapping in the cool morning breeze. "Oh well, at least they didn't tow the goddamn thing."

Evon grabbed her sketchpad, sling back beach chair, and thermal cup, filled to the brim with strong coffee, and locked the door behind her. She needed to get outside in the warm sunshine. The fitful nights full of dark dreams with screeching tires, as well as the struggle with her parents, had taken their toll. She was pale and slightly gaunt, her normal, healthy appearance disappearing beneath deep, black circles under her eyes. Spending time down on the lakeshore seemed to be a good way to help cleanse her mind and heart.

Her renewed interest in sketching had also been a good form of therapy. Evon had given it up when her career in dance ended, and after meeting Vic, and immersing herself in school, there just wasn't the time to spend. Since returning home, she found that drawing the handsome face etched so vividly in her mind helped keep her lost love close in her heart. Her drawings were quite good, certainly not saleable quality, but she managed to capture the essence of the subject, concentrating solely on the human form and face.

It was late morning, and she had a difficult time finding a parking space on the crowded boardwalk. Finally, after circling the block a few times, she pulled her champagne colored Camry LE into a recently vacated spot near the beach entrance. Evon mentally debated her people tolerance as she walked towards the lakeshore, and decided that, today, a spot very near the water would be worth the press of bodies surrounding her. She pulled the foldable chair from its carry bag, and set it up a few yards from the shoreline.

Settling in with the pad on her lap, she looked around for an appropriate subject she could observe with discretion. Far up on the east side of the water's edge, coming towards her, was a tall, dark haired figure running barefoot in the wet sand. Even from this distance, Evon could discern the easy, graceful motion of a natural athlete, and knew immediately that she wanted to capture the relaxed exertion of the glistening woman. She watched the loping figure for a moment, then set to work, outlining the lithe form with gentle, rounded strokes of her charcoal pencil. Working quickly in order to maintain the sense of distance in the picture, she glanced between the runner and her pad frequently, not realizing that she was making it quite obvious who she was drawing. As the individual drew nearer, Evon took in the sculpted body, and clicked a mental photograph so that she could fill in the details after she had passed by.

My God! She is stunning! I'd love to see her face without those sunglasses. She looks so intense.

Evon's pencil stopped in mid motion as the involuntary thought process entered her conscious mind. It was the first time since Vic's death that she had even given another woman more than a benign glance, let alone display an appreciation of esthetic beauty. She suddenly felt ill, almost nauseous, as a wave of shocking guilt roiled through her body. Disoriented, she stood up too quickly and stumbled, adding vertigo to the uncomfortable sensations she was already experiencing. She grabbed the chair and fumbled with her sketchpad, dropping the charcoal pencil in the sand. She pushed through the crowd, dragging the chair behind her, the need to get away overwhelming. When she reached her car, she threw the half folded chair, case and pad in the trunk, and frantically forced her way into the slow moving traffic.

Rae was enjoying her run, even though the beach was crowded. It was a beautiful day, and she lost herself in thought, about Lana, and seeing the boys that evening. It had been quite a while since she'd spent any time with her gay male friends. She was really looking forward to seeing them, especially the owners of the bar, Rob and Tory. They loved her, and treated her like one of the guys. More butch than half the men in there, she received a great many good-natured, joking requests to please take them home with her, or even to have their babies. It was a relaxed, fun atmosphere with no serious sexual tension, unlike the women's bar, and she decided to try to get over there more often.

Pounding along the wet sand, Rae felt the heat of the sun on her mostly exposed skin, and was thankful for the cool, lake breeze. She was sweating profusely, feeling trickles running down her shoulders, back and belly. The drops of water caught the sunlight, reflecting and dispersing the rays until she fairly shone in the late morning brilliance.

Her eyes were active behind the dark sunglasses, and as she neared the more crowded, middle section of the beach, she noticed a blonde woman looking either at her, or something over her shoulder, briefly and intently, then back at something in her lap. Growing closer, she realized that the woman was writing on a large pad. Closer yet, she was startled by a look approaching terror on the woman's face. She's beautiful, but Jesus! She looks like she's seen a ghost! Rae noticed the pallor of the blonde's face, and instantly felt an empathetic pang in her gut. She watched her gather up her things, stumbling and panic stricken, and leave quickly. She almost went after her, but instead slowed her steps until she was walking. She was bewildered by the blonde's hasty departure, and then a feeling of familiarity washed over her. Suddenly, an image of a blonde sitting on a hillside with a sketchpad on her lap entered her mind. That couldn't be the same one, could it? Quite a coincidence seeing her here, if that is her. She must have been drawing a picture of me, and then panicked, thinking I'd seen her. But why would she...?

Rae stood, hands on her hips, breathing deeply, and contemplated the blonde's behavior. Bizarre. Unable to come up with a plausible explanation beyond her initial guess, she turned to finish her run when she spotted the half buried, red barrel of a charcoal pencil. Flipping it out of the sand with the toe of her shoe, she grabbed it out of midair and read the gold lettering along the side. Wheaton's Art Supply, 1525 Victor Ave., Toronto. Hmmm, residential downtown. That's only about twenty minutes from me. 'Course it might not mean that's where she lives, but it's a good bet. She slipped the pencil into the waistband of her running shorts and headed home, sprinting the last quarter mile.

Evon lay on her back, staring at the ceiling in the darkened bedroom. Why do I feel this guilt so intensely that it makes me want to puke? I need help. Badly.

She reached over and flipped on the bedside light. Pulling the lavender colored business card out of the drawer, she reached for the phone.

The vision of bare butt cheeks framed by black leather made Rae chuckle quietly as she ascended the front steps of Chaps. Waiting in line to pay cover, she observed the seething mass of half naked men, and inhaled the strong scent of cologne, rubber and leather. She cut quite a figure herself - taller than half the guys and dressed innn leather from head to toe except for the white v-neck tank.

"Well, look at this! Get your gorgeous butt over here, girl, and put that money away! No calls, no cards, what's a boy to think? Where have you been?"

"Hey, Leonard. How are you?" Rae wrapped her arms around the tall, black man, who engulfed her in a huge bear hug. "It's so good to see you."

"Likewise, honey. And just as beautiful as ever, I see." The bouncer made a display of looking around and behind her. "Alone? Don't tell me some pretty little thing hasn't taken you off the market yet."

"Nope. Still haven't found my piece of the puzzle. But I like my independence, Leonard. You know that."

"Oh yes, I know. So you're here to see naked men get all hot and horny?"

Rae laughed. "Leonard, you're a trip. I promised Rick I'd come down and see his performance in the contest."

"Ah yes, Rick, that hunk. Put in a good word for me, baby, would you? I've been admiring his ass from afar so long, I know it better than my own."

"Ok, honey. I'll see what I can do. And I'll see you before I leave. Don't work too hard."

"Never. Enjoy the show."

Rae wound her way through the crowd, getting many welcoming hugs and kisses along the way. As expected, as soon as she slid into an empty space at the bar, a Corona with a lime appeared in the hand of the sweetest bartender Rae had ever met.

"It's on me, babe."

"Alan, you doll. How are you?" She leaned her long body across the counter, and gave the handsome man a hug and kiss. "Has anyone snatched you up yet? I remember how selective you are."

"Never better. And yes, I've joined the ranks of the unavailable. His name is Tim, and he's beautiful. You'd love him."

"Where is he? I have to meet him!"

"Unfortunately, he's working tonight. But... hey, any plans for the holiday weekend?"

"Nothing yet. Why, what's up?"

"I'm having a few of the guys over for a cookout and bonfire on the Saturday. Wanna come? You'll be the only woman there unless you bring a date though."

"And when has that ever stopped me? You know I feel more comfortable around you guys than I do around half the lesbians in town. I'll let you know, ok? Your place?"

"Yep, and don't worry about letting me know. Just show up if you can. I'd love to have you there."

"Ok, babe. I'll do my best. You'd better get back. I think your customers are getting thirsty."

"Yeah. Hey, don't leave without saying good-bye, ok?"

"I won't, handsome. And thanks for the beer."

"Anytime. Have fun. Oh, the boys are over by the stage."

"Thanks. I'll head over there."

As she made her way towards the dance floor, she scanned the room looking for Rick. Not finding him, she assumed he was in the back, preparing himself for the show. She did find Rob and Tory, who were thrilled to see her there, and they chatted about the recent renovations to the club that Rae had been admiring. Eventually it was time for the show, and Rae found herself sitting at a front row table with a few old friends.

The first performer was a well built, good looking man dressed in boots, a studded cock strap, a leather bar vest, and a leatherman hat. He had a young man who looked no more than twenty-one, dressed in vinyl with a ball gag in his mouth, collared and leashed. It was a good performance, the Master/slave relationship presented to the sounds of a low, industrial beat. It was sexy, but not overtly so, and received a healthy round of applause.

Rick was third on stage, and Rae could tell that his workouts had intensified in preparation for the contest. The six-pack abs were tight and defined, as was the rest of his lean physique. The outfit was simply a pair of military boots and an extremely well made cock strap with a removable codpiece. He saw her as soon as he walked out, and gave her an exaggerated wink, causing the crowd to roar in approval. She grinned, and settled in for his number. Rick was a great dancer, and he teased the crowd with his seductive gyrations. At one point, he slid across the floor to Rae and straddled her outstretched legs, grinding the codpiece along one leather clad thigh. She reached down and slowly pulled open the corner snap of the piece, lingering for effect on the second snap, causing yet another roar from the audience. Laughing, he moved away and finished the dance. There was a thunderous round of applause, partially due to the interplay with Rae. She was pleased that her participation might help him get a top three finish.

The remaining performances were all quite good, and Rae had a great time. She laughed more than she had in a long time, and remembered why she had spent so much time there in the past. No dyke drama, no expectations, no games - all in all, a fun evening. Rick won second place, and proclaimed her his good luck charm. She winked and passed on a subtle hint that there might be a good looking bouncer nearby who'd like to help him celebrate his victory.

Rae left amidst hugs and kisses, and promises to return more frequently in the future.

The Rose was only five minutes from Chaps, and she decided to stop in for a drink.

"Oooo, mama! Been a long time since I've seen the leather goddess!" Dotty embraced her and slid her hands down over Rae's butt. "Mmm mmm."

"If it was anyone but you, I'd ask if you were on a suicide mission. You do realize that." Rae growled in the bouncer's ear.

"Oh yeah. But I can cop a feel and be safe because you like me. Your girl is here."

"Dotty, I don't have a girl, ok?"

"Yep, ok. Last time I saw her, she was at the far end of the bar."

"I'm sure I'll run into her, thanks."

"Oh, Cindy's been hovering like a bad odor too."

"Around Lana?"

"Yep, in fact... " The bouncer leaned over, found what she was looking for, and turned back to Rae. "Moving in for the kill right about now, I'd say."

"Jesus Christ. I wish the hell she'd do something to get herself barred from here."

"You're not the only one, babe. Better get over there and rescue your girl."

An exasperated sigh. "She's not mine, I said. She's free to do whatever the hell she pleases, and if she wants to get mixed up with that she devil, it's not my business."

"Rae, for Christ's sake! Ok, she's not yours, but you know as well as I do that she doesn't know the first thing about Cindy and her escapades. And it ain't professional for the staff to badmouth a patron, so I sure as hell can't say anything. Go save her ass from the bitch."

"You know, I had a great time at Chaps. I really don't need this aggravation tonight. I should have just gone home."

"Yes, but then you'd have missed my loving hands on your luscious ass. Go on. Go get a beer and stop this madness."

Rae smirked. "You sound like a fucking infomercial, Dotty. Go back to work."

"Aye, aye, captain. Let me know if you need any help saving the damsel in distress." She winked and sauntered off towards the patio.

Rae got a beer, and headed towards the two blondes.

"Hey Lana, you made it, I see. Cindy."

"Rae. We were having a private conversation, if you don't mind." The statement was made with an air of self satisfied superiority, but Rae detected the hint of uncertainty in her voice.

"Cindy, you must be desperately trying to impress. You've never been polite in the past when you've told me to piss off."

Lana had opened her mouth to say hello, but was shocked into silence by the obvious dislike between the two women.

Rae set her beer on the bar, and before Cindy could respond, she held out her hand to Lana. "I really like this song. Would you dance with me?"

Saying nothing, the young blonde followed the taller woman onto the floor, leaving Cindy alone at the bar. Despite the fact that it was an upbeat dance mix, Rae took Lana into her arms and led her slowly around the floor.

"I know it's a fast song, but I want to talk to you for a minute, ok?"

"Do you hear me complaining?" The shorter woman placed her arms around Rae's neck and gave her a dazzling smile. "Talk away, gorgeous. I assume you're going to fill me in on that lovely bit of dialogue between you two."

"Yeah, sorry about that. There's a lot of history there that I won't bore you with, but suffice it to say I've had my share of problems with that one. Look, you're an adult and you can make your own decisions about who you spend time with, but I just wanted to warn you that Cindy is bad news. And I won't be the only one telling you that."

"You are right. I can and will make my own decisions, and I prefer to base my judgment of people on their own merits, not on what someone else says. At the same time, my judgment of you tells me that you're not the vindictive sort, so tell me why you think this woman is bad news, other than the fact that she obviously hates your guts."

"Yeah, well, at the risk of sounding completely arrogant, I think she hates me so much because I won't get involved with her, or at least that's what everyone tells me. Apparently, she's made that abundantly clear to whoever will listen. As a result, she does everything she can to interfere with my life down here. And she's spread quite a few half truths about me as well. God knows, I've done enough to cause talk, I don't need rumors and lies added to the pile. I was also involved in a pretty ugly  triangle with her at one point, which didn't help matters. Cindy has a vicious streak which shows prominently whenever she doesn't get her own way. I don't know what she's like with her friends, but then again, I've never met anyone who calls her a friend."

"Maybe that's her problem." Lana spoke softly. "Maybe she needs a friend. It's hard to be nice when no one is nice to you."

"Whatever. She's brought it on herself, as far as I'm concerned. But hey, do what you want. I'm just trying to give you a heads up, ok?"

"Ok. I appreciate the concern. Really. And I'm not interested in her sexually, if you were going to ask."

"Honestly, Lana, I wasn't going to ask. It's none of my business who you choose to sleep with."

Rae regretted the harshness of her words when she saw the cloud of mixed emotions pass over the blonde's face. But she had to be honest. There was no point in letting this girl think that there was a desire on her part to make this something permanent, at least not after one night together. And she certainly didn't intend to make this an exclusive dating situation either. Better to say something now than to wait until expectations ran too high. Her gut usually told her when she wanted to pursue something long-term. The fire in her belly just wouldn't be ignored when the potential for real love existed. With Lana, the fire was lit in her loins, but so far, hadn't traveled any further north.

The song ended, and Lana still had not responded. Rae recognized the hesitation for what it was. The signs were all there. She could tell the girl was afraid of saying something that would be considered too proprietary, or too intimate, given the circumstances.

Rae sighed inwardly. She cupped the girl's chin in her hand gently, and forced eye contact. "Lana, I had a fantastic time last night. And I wouldn't mind repeating it sometime, as long as you understand I'm not interested in an exclusive relationship right now. I'm sorry if what I said hurt you, and I certainly didn't mean to imply that I think you sleep around. I don't know much about you, and I don't want to make any assumptions."

Lana closed her eyes and gave a slight nod. "I know. And I appreciate your honesty. We just seem to get along really well, that's all. And I know it's no secret to you that I'm interested. Just don't be mean, ok?"

Rae's eyes hardened, and flashed in the dance floor light show. "Is that what she said to you? That I'm mean?"

"Yes," came the soft reply.

"You know what, you can choose to believe whatever you want. But I can assure you of one thing. I may be brutally honest sometimes, but I'm not mean. I would never deliberately hurt you, or anyone else. That's not my style." And with that, she pivoted away from Lana, and strode over to the bar to get her beer.

Cindy had been watching the exchange with glee, knowing that the doubts she planted in the young blonde's mind had worked. Rae was angry. She could tell by the set of those broad shoulders that she finally knew intimately, and longed for every night. "I had Rachel put your beer on ice, honey. I didn't know how long your little chat would take." The smile was sickeningly sweet, and completely lacking in sincerity.

"Do not fucking call me honey. You are a twisted bitch, and I'm not wasting my energy on your little games tonight. Leave Lana alone. She's far too nice to deal with your vicious behavior."

"Oooo, I'm afraid of that mean streak in you, Rae. I just warned her about it, that's all. I mean, you would have told her yourself  eventually, right?"

Rae finished her beer, and slammed the bottle on the bar. "Fuck off, Cindy. You're a sadistic idiot."

Cindy noticed Lana coming up behind Rae. "That's not what you called me when I was writhing beneath you, honey." She smirked at the widening of the young blonde's eyes.

"Oh Jesus! Just shut up!" Rae felt her control slipping, and she turned away violently, slamming right into Lana and knocking her into a barstool. "Damn! Sorry! I didn't see you there." The control snapped back into place. "Are you ok? I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"No... no... I'm fine, honestly. Are you ok?" Lana admitted to herself that the fire in Rae's eyes had startled her. Frightened her a little, actually. She was having a hard time reconciling this woman with the one who had shared her bed the previous evening. They seemed worlds apart. And she slept with her?! What the hell is that all about?!

"Yeah, yeah." Rae mumbled. "I just let the goddamn bitch push my buttons, that's all. Listen, I'm taking off. Do you need a ride?"

"No, I have my car here. Are you sure you're ok? I'll walk out with you."

"Yes. I'm fine." Rae deliberately kept her frustration in check. She hated that question. "And stay if you want. I didn't mean to fuck up your evening."

"You didn't. Let's go."

Cindy smiled. "Ta ta, darlings. Don't do anything I wouldn't."

Rae ignored her, but Lana glanced back, looking into Cindy's eyes, and seeing a mix of malicious hatred and regret. She didn't have a clue what to think.

When the cool night breeze hit her face, Rae breathed deeply, calming herself down. She turned to Lana. "Where's your car?"

"Just up around the corner."

"Ok, good. It's on the way to mine."

"Rae, you're wound tighter than a spring. Why don't you just come back to my place and relax? No expectations, ok?"

"Thanks, but I'm just going to head home. I have a ton of crap to do tomorrow. But I appreciate the offer, and I'm sorry about that whole scene. I'm just so tired of her shit."

Lana was quiet for a moment. "Did you really sleep with her?"

Rae stopped walking and leaned her head back, closing her eyes. She heaved a mighty sigh. "Yes. I did. And it was one of the most singularly regrettable, asinine moments of my life. I can't even blame it on the beer, because I wasn't that drunk. One of these days, in a flash of insight, I'm sure the secret of why I did it will be revealed to me. Until then, no, I don't know why, so please don't ask. I keep trying to forget it ever happened, but she continues to remind me of it whenever it suits her purpose. And tonight, she wanted to make an ass of me in front of you."

"She didn't succeed, ok? We all make mistakes. Just wow! Some are bigger than others."

"Thanks." Rae's tone literally dripped with sarcasm.

"Sorry. But I think I see what you meant about her, and I agree with your assessment. I think she wants you. The look in her eyes when we left wasn't pretty. But she looked sad too, like she didn't want to act that way. Her behavior reminds me of a stalker type. You know, love and hatred warring with each other. You might want to be careful."

"I'm not afraid of her, Lana. She just irritates the shit out of me."

"Well, be careful anyway. If she's obsessed, then she's unpredictable. My parents had to have a guy arrested. He was obsessed with me in high school, and it was creepy. He showed up everywhere I went."

Rae conceded. "Ok, I'll watch out. Thanks again for believing me."

"It isn't hard to believe you. I was just a bit... startled... by your temper."

"I scared you, didn't I? Look, I'm really sorry. My temper is, well, legendary. I admit it, but it's under control, and I would never physically harm someone again unless they struck first. And even then, I don't strike out unless I'm forced into it. So don't worry. I'd never lay a finger on you."

Again? "Well, I hope that's not the case. I rather enjoy your fingers."

Rae laughed and let the tension dissipate. "Ok, then it's a closed subject, alright? Here's your car. Drive safely." She leaned down, and gave Lana a quick kiss. "I'll see you."

"Oh, alright." The disappointment was obvious, and Rae felt a twinge of guilt, having wrecked the girl's night out.

"Look, a friend of mine is having a cookout on the Saturday of the long weekend coming up. You interested? It'll be all guys, though. They're a good bunch, and I have a lot of fun with them."

"Sure, I'd love to go!" Lana was delighted, and a little too eager. "Glad you asked! I was trying to decide about going home, and now I have an excuse not to. Great!"

"Ok, I'll give you a call about it later."

Rae closed the driver's door as Lana settled herself, and watched as she drove away. Crenshaw, guilt is not a good thing to drive your behavior. I hope you don't regret this invitation. She got in her car, and drove around the city for a while with the top down, allowing the night breeze to clear her mind.

"You must be Evon. It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm so glad you called." The therapist, a heavyset woman in her late forties, held out her hand, and grasped Evon's gently. "Come on in and have a seat. Would you like coffee? Or water?"

"Water would be fine, thanks. I try to avoid coffee in the evenings. Keeps me awake."

Joanna Petrovski grinned. "Ah, it's one of my vices, I'm afraid. I wouldn't be able to get through the mounds of paperwork without it. I'll be right back. Look around and make yourself comfortable."

Evon walked slowly around the cluttered, lived-in office. Located on the second floor of an older business complex, it was nothing like Sharon's perfectly appointed suite, and she sensed already that she would feel far more comfortable here. This was a place where you could tuck your feet under you in a corner of the large sofa, and just talk. The numerous frames on the walls held degrees and certificates which proclaimed Dr. Petrovski more than qualified to handle the gamut of troubles  tossed her way. A small aquarium holding an abundance of colorful fish bubbled soothingly against the far wall, and a monstrous bookcase overflowed with texts, stacks of papers, self help books, and novels. Evon noticed a large pewter frame sitting on the edge of the slightly battered desk, and curiosity got the best of her. It was a family portrait that brought an involuntary smile to her face.

"Yes, that's my partner, Char. Short for Charlotte, which she hates. We just celebrated our twelfth anniversary together. The beautiful little girl is my niece Kelly, whom I adore."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to be so nosy." Evon felt slightly embarrassed.

"Not at all. I like all my friends and visitors to feel at home here. After all, I ask them all sorts of personal questions. The least I can do is let them know a bit about me."

Visitors. And friends. Not clients or patients. I think I'm actually going to enjoy this. Well, as much as can be expected for being in therapy. "Thank you, Joanna. I do feel at home." She accepted the glass of water, and sat on the corner of the sofa. Joanna joined her, sipping at the hot coffee, and keeping a respectable distance. She twisted around to face Evon, and smiled.

"So, you're a choreologist? I find that absolutely fascinating. How did you get involved in that profession?"

The hour flew by quickly. Without having to ask a single question that would fall into the psychoanalytic category, Joanna learned a great deal about Evon's background, and the struggle with her parents. She was very pleased with Evon's open attitude, and encouraged her monologue with gentle nods and smiles. The therapist had debated whether or not to reveal that she'd had a phone call from Sharon Getz, and was aware of the circumstances surrounding Evon's presence in her office. She elected not to say anything, sensing that the topic would come up when the young woman was ready to speak about it.

"I suppose I should fill you in on the reason I'm here." The statement was made with such deep sadness that Joanna considered ending the session before Evon could continue, a quick glance at the clock indicating that only five minutes remained in the hour.

"Let me interrupt you for just a second, Evon. I have to check something." The therapist moved around to her desk, and glanced at her appointment book. She was reluctant to end it here. The young woman obviously needed to continue. I can miss this lecture. Just one more academic debate on the morality of behavior altering drugs for children, and I already know my stance on that. She looked up from the calendar. "I'd like to keep going if you're up for it. I don't have anything scheduled until half past eight."

Evon looked up quickly, startled, and glanced at the clock. "My God! I feel like I've been here for ten minutes!"

A smile. "Yes, it goes by very fast, doesn't it? But I think it would be great if we continued on tonight for another session. There's a lot on your mind, and I think it would be helpful to verbalize it. You're doing extremely well filling in the details for me, and I'd like to hear more."

"Yes. I'd appreciate the extra time, I think."

"Excellent. I'll just grab another coffee. Would you like anything else?" Evon shook her head. "Ok, hold tight. I'll be right back."

As she awaited Joanna's return, Evon contemplated how to begin the story of her heart's awakening. It had been so easy to talk to this woman about everything else, even the chaos with her parents. She already felt better, and knew that speaking into a nonjudgmental, empathetic ear was the source of her relief. It was a luxury she hadn't known since leaving Denise in London, but back then, the pain was too new for both of them, too raw, to be discussed for any beneficial length of time. Long periods of sympathetic silence over the phone had only made her feel more anxious, so she had placed an emotional distance between herself and Denise, and had not spoken to her more than twice in the past year. It was wrong, she knew. But she wasn't ready to deal with someone who had been so very close to the source of all her grief.

"You look very pensive, Evon. Can you tell me what's on your mind?" Joanna settled on the couch once again, and gave her a warm smile. "I'm sensing a tough hour for you. It's ok though. It's amazing how healing it is to hear the words spoken out loud. Go on, start in the middle if you'd like. Wherever you feel comfortable. I can put the puzzle together, so don't fret about being coherent."

Her head bowed, Evon didn't say anything for a long moment. She was focused on the gold band still in place on her ring finger. Finally, she spoke quietly. "Joanna, do you love Char so much that it hurts? I mean, really hurts? Like every time you look at her, or think of her, your stomach clenches?"

"Yes, Evon. I do. I'm very lucky."

"I was lucky too, for a short time."

Although she couldn't see her face, Joanna saw the large tear that dropped onto Evon's folded hands. The therapist was well trained in the field of grief counseling, and was able to maintain the detached objectivity necessary to do her job, but this beautiful, vulnerable, young woman wore her pain like a cloak, and Joanna felt the tug on her heart. Her eyes glistened as she watched the girl struggle to keep her composure. "It's ok, Evon. Crying is part of the process of getting your life back."

"I know, but I'm so tired of the pain. I feel like my life ended in that street in London." In a quavering voice, she went on to describe the joy of her life with Vic, and the bone searing agony of her loss. She paused for long stretches when the sobs took her breath away. "But you know the worst part? The absolute worst part?"

"Tell me."

"I don't know if she could feel the pain, Joanna. She was so damaged. Her beautiful body, and her beautiful face. They were so damaged, and she waited to die until I could get to her. Until she could tell me that she loved me. And I can't bear the thought of her last moments in so much pain. She was cold, and afraid."

"She wasn't in any pain, Evon. I can assure you of that." Joanna reached out and grasped a small hand. "Her body protected her from feeling it. She just wanted to hold on to see you. The human mind is a remarkable thing. It protected her from the pain, and it allowed you to be calm and loving for her. And she loved you very, very much."

"Yes, she did. I've never felt love like that before. Part of me is numb now, and I'll never love someone like that again."

"We'll work through this pain, Evon. Don't expect to ever get over the loss. You loved her and you always will, but you will learn to how to live with it, and how to rejoin life, and how to love again."

"I don't feel like that's possible."

"It is, trust me. Can you trust me on that? You've already made it through the hardest part. You've survived the first year, intact, and I can tell that you haven't lost the capacity to love. You've started to sketch again. You're learning ways to cope, and that's the best sign of recovery. You're a very strong woman, Evon. What you went through was horrendous, something a weaker person may not have survived. But you have, so let's build on that."

"I scared myself a few days ago on the beach."

"What happened?"

"I saw this woman. I was sketching her, and when she came closer, I felt something. She was beautiful, and I felt attracted to her. I almost got sick. I felt like I was betraying Vic."

The therapist smiled. "Evon, the attraction you felt means that you're allowing yourself to feel happiness, and to appreciate  beauty in the world again. It's a big step forward. You will have many relapses into guilt and sadness, but that's part of your healing process. They will grow lesser in intensity, and eventually you'll feel strong enough to let yourself experience the pain without letting go of the happiness."

"I don't want to forget her."

"You'll never forget her, Evon, and you'll always feel the love she had for you. It will become something that you can draw strength from when you need it."

"I feel better now. I guess I've cried myself out." Evon took a deep breath. "And you have an appointment in a few minutes."

"Yes, I do. Would you like to come back again?"

"I think so. How about next week?"

"I can save an hour for you next Tuesday, same time. Will that work?"

"Yes. That would be great."

"Wonderful. Then I'll see you next Tuesday. And please, if you need to talk sooner than that, call me. I'll find an earlier time for you."

"Ok, thank you. Joanna?"

"Yes, Evon."

The therapist smiled as her young patient gave her a hug. "Thank you for listening."

"Thank you, hon, for letting me help."

Part 7
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