Susan groggily tried to lift her head, but found it felt like a cannon ball coupled with the searing ache that punctuated every movement. “Christ I’m dying.” She felt the sandpaper effect that having too much to drink invoked, as her tongue moved over her front teeth and she felt the furry residue of the night’s effect. Totally gross!
One eye finally managed to open and she tried to remember how she’d gotten to bed - it was a total blank. The last thing she recalled made her groan loudly. “Oooooohhhhhh, I can’t believe it.” She grabbed her head as the action caused instant pain. Helen Tobias looking down on me full of superiority, as I have my head thrust in the toilet bowl. I’m never going to live that down. Her brain reminded her that it was Helen who was the guilty party not her, she’d never called. Yeah why should I care!
Her bravado was short-lived however, as she opened her other eye and glanced slowly around the room. Nothing is familiar, nothing at all. Where the hell am I? Don’t tell me I’m in another living hell like the last time or has my life for the past five years been a dream?
A faint noise in the distance sounded like someone talking, but she couldn’t be certain it wasn’t a radio or TV. Crap I did something stupid I’ve gone home with someone and I can’t remember a damn thing. Her mind shuffled the deck of who she’d spent most of the night talking to and the only one who came vividly to mind that had remotely had any interest in her was a slinky blonde. “Ok, I can live with that.” P lease God don’t let it be a man. I know I was stupid but please take pity on me. I was otherwise diverted. Damn you Helen Tobias, this is your fault.
In spite of the headache and the feeling of nausea that crippled her every move Susan slid out of bed. For a split second she was fearful that she was naked - she wasn’t. The only items removed were her shoes and outer jacket. Her eyes moved toward heaven and she silently thanked God for small mercies. She walked cautiously to the door and did what any one would - put her ear to the door. She listened for anything that might mean she wouldn’t be able to leave without anyone noticing.
That droning noise of voices was definitely mechanical. Ok a quick getaway would be good but what if it was a friend who had taken pity on her state and had helped her out. There’s only one thing for me to do. She mustered all her energy reserves, opened the door and headed in the direction of the voices. “Hi that was some party wasn’t it? I need the bathroom can you…”
Susan wished she’d done reconnaissance first before entering the room. What she had thought was the TV or radio was in fact three people talking. Wishing the floor would swallow her up she stood there as the three pairs of eyes turned to her with differing expressions in them. “I’ll just go ok, thanks for the bed for the night.” Oh shit did I really say that! With what she was sure was the reddest face ever, she stumbled out of the room and headed for the door she hoped was the exit.
Just as she was about to make her getaway, a cool voice stopped her. “You look like you need breakfast and…a hangover cure. Besides, are you going to walk home? I have your purse.”
It had to be her didn’t it? Fate is being rather cruel. Susan stared at Helen Tobias. She looks peachy.You wouldn’t even know she’d been out drinking. Was she? How the hell would I know?
Mustering up all her inner fortitude, and it wasn’t much, Susan quietly replied, “I’ll take the purse and get out of your hair. Thanks for helping me out last night.”
Helen didn’t immediately reply but went back to the other room. Seconds later the two men she’d been speaking to passed Susan with a smile and a good-day before leaving them alone.
“You didn’t need to send them away. I’m sorry I am such a nuisance.” Susan felt that surge of energy finally falter and leave her feeling lethargic. She automatically clutched the nearest object - a pedestal holding an alabaster stature of a mermaid.
It rocked precariously and Susan felt foolish when Helen walked up and steadied it while muttering, “Fitting. Please Susan, I’ve made breakfast have some and then go home by all means if that’s what you want. The bathroom is through that door.” The she pointed to the door opposite them. “The kitchen is through there when you’re done.”
It was the words if that’s what you want that held Susan’s interest. She involuntarily nodded and headed for the safety of the bathroom. Five minutes later after using the facilities to wash her face and brush her teeth wither finger, she could smell the aroma of fresh coffee and something else. Is that bacon?
Susan followed her nose to the kitchen and saw Helen at the stove. The woman waved her over to a small bistro table in the room and ten minutes later Susan was devouring bacon, eggs and hash browns. The coffee had perked her up along with a terrible tasting concoction that Helen had administered to alleviate her throbbing temples.
Helen sat down and began to eat giving Susan a wry smile as she bit into a piece of burnt toast.
Susan for the first time gave Helen a careful appraisal noting the dark circles under her eyes and the gaunt lines etched into her face. Those aren’t from one late night but from many. I wonder if she even thought of me in those three months since…Don’t be ridiculous, she can call on anyone she wants and you’re nothing more than a nobody to her Susan.
“Something wrong with the food? I made sure I didn’t burn the rest of the meal.” Helen gave her a faint smile as she chewed on a piece of bacon.
“No, I mean yes that is I’m sorry I was miles away. The food is wonderful thank you.” It was true and she was having breakfast with the woman she loved who didn’t love her. This is creating havoc with my senses
“Hmm, miles as in a person or place?”
Susan heard a slightly inquisitive note in Helen’s tone. “You actually.”
The inquisitive expression increased and as Susan watched she felt her pulse pound as Helen’s head tilted to one side. God but I love you. Why don’t you love me?
“Me?” Helen said as she touched her chest. “Tell me more? I had the impression last night that you’d rather have drinks with the devil than me.” A sardonic slant of her lips accompanying the words. It was more of a frown creasing her brow as she waited for the explanation.
With a sigh Susan looked directly at Helen and felt her breath catch as their eyes scorched each other. In a whisper she said, “I’d had a long day.” Yeah a long three months waiting for you is more like. “You look tired, and I don’t mean from last night. You look like either you don’t sleep or you haven’t for a very long time.”
Helen’s eyebrows quirked upwards and she picked up another piece of toast only to drop it on her plate as she gave Susan her full attention. “You’re right of course…I don’t sleep…there is the odd exception of course.”
Susan was surprised at the easy admission. She expected Helen to deny it. “Is there a specific reason?”
Helen didn’t answer immediately. ”Eat your breakfast and I’ll show you.”
+ + +
It was a rather un-nerving prospect eating opposite the woman you loved and yet didn’t love you. That, and she hadn’t even mentioned, never-mind apologized for, not calling after their night of passion together. Does she even remember it happened? Or worse, did she mark it down in her little black book, as, don’t go there again.
Courage was one thing Susan knew she had even if the outcome might not be what she either expected or wanted. This she needed to know, more than even finding the man who had kidnapped her years earlier and left her for dead in the ocean. God I feel like I’m drowning here more than I did back then. If that’s the power of love do I really want it in my life? Chin up, with a determined expression in her eyes, she boldly blurted out, “You never called me after that night…why?”
Helen lifted her head to the challenging words, her eyes captured Susan’s and didn’t falter. She replaced the coffee cup she had in her hand and linked her fingers together. A serious expression flooded her face. In the low sultry voice, exciting Susan’s nerve endings, she said, “I recall saying I would contact you when I’d finished my assignment. I finished it this morning.” She held up her hands and waved at the fact that Susan was with her. “I guess this is better than a call…your being here.”
Astonished at the explanation, Susan gave her a disbelieving shake of the head. “That was over three months ago. You’re just making excuses.”
At that point, she noted that Helen removed her gaze and Susan felt a deep sense of bereavement. When Helen looked up again there was bleakness in her eyes that Susan would never have associated with the supremely confident woman.
“What’s an excuse exactly? Should I assume that my calling you today had we not met again last night would have been unwelcome?”
“Yes!” Susan replied angrily. Shit, think before you speak Susan. Now how do you take it back?
Susan was about to recant her words when Helen stood up and took her breakfast dishes to the kitchen counter. “Good to know where I stand. Have you finished? I’ll call a cab for you.”
Just like that she dismisses me like some errant school girl. Her bravado lasted no longer than her thoughts as she watched the woman’s back. Don’t you know you idiot woman that I love you? I told you so by my actions, why can’t you see through the smokescreen and realize how hurt I was that it’s been so long since I’ve seen you. “I thought you wanted to show me something after breakfast?”
Helen turned and Susan saw a sardonic look in her eyes matched by an equally scornful twist of the lips. “I left it too late and it no longer has any meaning. I’ll call that cab.”
Fifteen minutes later, Susan was in a state of shock as the taxi sped toward her lonely apartment. Her life was in shreds as the tears she’d been holding more for her own self esteem at Helen’s home now trickled down her cheeks.
I think I just blew the only chance I had of happiness!
+ + +
Paul strummed on the table annoying Susan as she collected her coat and purse. It was the night of the first showing of his work at the gallery and his nerves showed. He’d spent the best part of the last month working on the exhibit, after his two month tour of South Africa, now he was ready for his first ever solo gallery performance.
Susan frowned. “I still don’t know why you wanted me to come with you Paul. I thought Ade would be the one you asked.”
“I told you Sue, Ade and I had a fight. She said hell would freeze over before she would see me again. Besides, I recall asking you before I asked her. You wouldn’t want me to go on my own now would you?”
Susan shook at her head at the pet lip performance he gave her. “You know I wouldn’t. Let’s go. You do remember that I’m going away later so I can’t party with you after the showing.”
Paul’s expression fell at the information. “I don’t understand you Sue. Why go out to the middle of nowhere and in god knows what conditions, looking around for old fossils.” He winked. “You’ll see more than enough of them tonight believe me.”
She chuckled at his gentle teasing. He doesn’t know I’m finally going back and set my mind at rest about Zea. “Let’s go star of the show. Old fossils indeed, next thing I know you’ll be placing me in that category.”
He laughed heartily and kissed her cheek as they headed out the door. “That’s never going to happen, my dear friend, never.”
+ + +
Half an hour later, Susan stood alone in the main exhibition room. Paul gave her an apologetic glance before he was spirited away once he made an entrance. She smiled an understanding look in return. He deserves the accolades. Right, let’s see what’s on. Thumbing through the catalogue she was dumbfounded to see that Helen Tobias was taking second billing to Paul. That’s strange. I wonder why Paul didn’t mention Helen was showing tonight too. God I hope she’s not here. No, I want her to be here just to see her face before I leave. It will be a memory that I can take out each day and savor. She headed for the room that held Helen’s work.
The room swarmed with people and she found herself tagging along with a small group of foreigners and their tour. As each picture drew its own story Susan could felt the pain and heartache transmitted with each photograph. How could anyone look at these images and not feel the despair they hold?
The woman who was leading the small group stopped them besides a group of pictures detailing a village in Africa. Her next words had Susan rooted to the spot.” This is the place where her kidnappers took Ms. Tobias during her last assignment. Those were the pictures we saw just before this. For three months terrorists kept her captive demanding several million dollars for her safe return. On their way to pick up the ransom, a landmine killed them. Her whereabouts was unknown and Ms. Tobias took ill during that time which prevented her from leaving under her own steam. A traveling missionary rescued her…a truly romantic ending deserving of a movie don’t you think.”
The group laughed at the woman’s observations about the movie more than the enormity of what the photographer had gone through. They then moved on - Susan remained.
“I didn’t know…it wasn’t reported…if it had I would have known…why didn’t Paul tell me?” she whispered to no one. She moved so she could stand closer to the picture of Helen standing in the village. What she saw was a far away expression on a face with emaciated features. Her hand unconsciously drifted to touch the image of Helen. Why, why didn’t you tell me that was the reason?
A security office approached her. “Miss, please remove your hand from the exhibit. We don’t allow touching.”
The gruff voice had Susan’s head turning in his direction.
The guard must have noticed her bleak expression of distress and spoke in a less harsh tone. “Please move away.”
Susan mentally shook herself. “I’m sorry. It…they’re very good,” she said as she stepped back and drew in a deep breath.
The guard merely smiled politely and moved away to watch her from a discreet distance.
Susan felt as if her legs were lead. “ Is that what she wanted to show me…tell me? What a fool a stupid selfish fool I am,” she whispered.
When another mass of people surrounded her she felt claustrophobic. She pushed through the crowd and made her way to the foyer. Five minutes later she stood in the area assigned to smokers with a cup of foul tasting coffee from a machine in her hand. I’d murder for a drink right now. Smokers came and went and she stood there in the chilly air shivering but she resolutely remained. After she took all the bad coffee, cigarette smile and cold she could take she ventured back inside the building. I need to find Paul. He might miss me or at least wonder why I’m not around.
With the sheer determination of will power to overcome her emotional feelings she entered the main exhibit where Paul’s pictures took pride of place. She noticed that although the room was larger only a scattering of people were there as opposed to the Tobias Exhibition.
“Hey I thought you’d deserted me.” Paul came up next to her with a glow of happiness about him. ‘Look who came by,” he said as he pulled the petite woman at his side closer before touching her lips in a chaste kiss.
Susan grinned. “Adrienne! How wonderful you came.”
Adrienne smiled warmly, moving out of Paul’s hold to hug her. “Hi Susan, I couldn’t stay away. Have you seen everything yet?”
“I’m just going to engross myself in his work now. I checked out the other exhibit first.” Her quiet admission made the other two look at each other speculatively.
Paul had one of the most serious expressions Susan had ever seen on his face as he threaded his fingers in Adrienne’s. “She’s here Sue.”
Susan remained nonchalant. “Really I didn’t see her inside. Then again it was so crowded that I could hardly move.”
Adrienne broke the serious tone that was setting between them. “I’ll show you the exhibit Sue.”
Susan allowed the younger woman to drag her around the photos complete with explanations. Adrienne knew almost as much as Paul did about the photographs he’d taken. An hour later, Adrienne spied Paul. Susan took pity on the younger woman and said, “Go to him Ade, I’ll be fine. I need to go home soon anyway. I’m on vacation for three weeks starting tomorrow.”
Adrienne gave her a grateful smile and wished her a happy vacation then headed in Paul’s direction. A smile of satisfaction crossed Susan’s lips as she watched Paul draw the younger woman to his side as if she belonged there. They won’t miss me if I leave now.
As she walked out of the hall she cast her eyes to the other room, which held Helen Tobias’s work. He said she was here. Dare I chance it, find her, and attempt to apologize.
Her feet decided for her and took her toward the exhibit door just as a stream of people flooded out making her move to the side. This is stupid I should go home.
Fate intervened when a portly man held the door open for her, “Busy night. What can you expect from this woman? Have you been to one of her exhibits before?”
Susan murmured, “Yes,” as she went ahead of him. He followed her like a lost sheep around the room until they came to the pictures of the village.
“I want to buy them, she won’t sell. She’s such a stubborn woman. There’s always a price and I’ll find hers.”
Susan felt angry on behalf of Helen. This man was belittling the message these pictures portrayed. “Perhaps they have more meaning to her than money. Not everyone can be bought.”
The man gave a shake of his head. “Everyone can, it’s just a matter of finding what’s important and voila you have your price.”
Disgusted at his arrogance she was about to respond when a hand touched her shoulder gently.
“Ah, Mr. Dreyfus, you don’t take no for an answer I see.”
Susan didn’t need to look up for she knew it was Helen - the voice woven like threads of silk through her soul.
“I do not Ms. Tobias, as you well know. Come now what is the price?” the portly man asked as he smiled warmly at the photographer.
“There isn’t a price…at least not from me. I don’t own them. Someone else does…it’s an early wedding present.”
The cheeks of the man puffed out and went a bright red. “You sold them, without an offer from me. Who? Who has bought them?”
Susan looked up fascinated as Helen laughed. It was the first time she’d actually heard a proper all out laugh from the woman. It sent every sense in her body on overload. She has the most infectious laugh I’ve ever heard in my life, she should laugh more often.
“I gave them away as a gift. I told you Ed they aren’t for sale. Why not look at the dominant display by my agents. If you’re interested I can be persuaded to part with them…but only to you.”
Susan heard the charm drip like butter from Helen’s lips as she placated the man before he laughed and shook his finger. “I’ll get them one day you can bank on it.”
Once the man left, Susan and Helen stood silently together. It was very much like the time at the bar when everyone else beamed out leaving them alone.
“Thank you for defending my…thank you.”
Susan replied automatically, “You’re welcome.”
They returned to their silent mode before Helen finally spoke. “I guess I’d better be going.”
Susan felt that it was up to her to salvage the relationship even if it was nothing more than a nodding acquaintance. “Who took the one with you in it?”
Helen gazed at the photo for a few moments then turned squarely to Susan. A smile of remembrance replayed on her features. “Simon, he’s a missionary. He remarked that he had to capture that particular look.”
Susan smiled slightly. “You appear far away and happy.”
Helen turned to Susan with an unfathomable intense look. “I was…on both counts.”
“I had no idea. Please believe me that I didn’t know what you went through. It wasn’t in the news, or TV or…I really didn’t know. Look, I know it will be inadequate, however I’m truly sorry about the last time we met…” Susan’s voice cracked with raw emotion.
Helen placed a finger to Susan’s lips as a wry expression crossed her face. “Hey, we all say and do things we don’t mean. There will always be another time.”
Two men headed in their direction and they looked like the men she had briefly seen at Helen’s apartment that fateful day. The men smiled warmly in her direction, as they inclined their heads towards a group at the table in the far corner of the room.
“Sorry to interrupt you Helen, but we need you to sign a few papers.”
With a regretful expression Helen faced Susan. “May I call you?”
Before she knew what she was saying she replied, “Yes, anytime.”
Helen smiled warmly as her finger fleeting touched Susan’s lips. “Thank you,” she said before allowing the men to lead her reluctantly to the other end of the room.
The encounter left Susan in a state of shock during the journey home. Much later in bed Susan realized that if Helen Tobias called her she wouldn’t be there. My god what do I do now.
+ + +
This is crazy, she’ll think I’m losing my mind…hell, I think I’m losing my mind. Nevertheless Susan continued with her feverish plan as her hand shook when she dialed Helen’s number.
The ringing tone seemed to take hours and when she heard that voice again she felt euphoric only to have it turn to disappointment as the answering machine kicked in. Susan declined the invitation to leave a message. Her heart sank to the depths of her booted feet.
The crisp night air sent a chill down her flimsily covered body. She’d chosen well for her feet but the rest of her was hardly dressed for standing in a cold doorway. Before she left her apartment she threw a thin raincoat over her nightdress. What the hell am I thinking? I need to be on a plane in a few hours and I’m here half way across town on a love struck fool’s errand. The street at that time of night was deathly quiet and though a part of her should have been afraid, the rest of her decided this was the only option she had. I’m not leaving without giving her an explanation.
Her fingers dialed the number again and this time she did leave a falteringly message. “Look I know I said you can call anytime and of course you can…I’d like that. I …well the fact is I’m leaving town tomorrow morning around seven and won’t be back for a couple of weeks. I’m taking a vacation to find someone …well it’s arranged.” She drifted into silence. Why would Helen even bother to want to understand or stick around “Ok, well I just wanted you to know that I haven’t skipped town or anything that dramatic?” She shook her head at the ineffectual comment. “You know the really ridiculous thing is I’m outside your door and its one am…isn’t that crazy. Hopefully we’ll catch up when I’m back…bye.” This time she ended the call and closed her eyes at the truly superb fool she was making of herself.
Now what? You’re going to have to walk a few blocks to get a taxi. This was a dumb idea. She pulled the thin coat up as far as it would go to her neck and began to walk away.
Then amazingly, the door opened at such a force that it seemed to tear off its hinges. Helen stood in boxer shorts and sleeveless T-shirt with a profound expression tugging at the lines around her mouth before saying, “You only had to ring the bell.”
Those words sent Susan reeling. Why didn’t I think of that? After a few awkward moments she stammered out, “I would have of course…but you were probably asleep…or you might have had company…or…” then she held out the mystery package that Helen had seemingly no interest in collecting from her.
The warm smile Susan had witnessed at the exhibition now flooded Helen’s face. Helen reached out and pulled Susan’s unresisting body inside the recesses of the hall. “I’d have been shattered if you were here and I didn’t know. Besides I told you I don’t sleep.”
Susan beamed a happy smile. She whispered, “I’m glad I did.”
Helen shook her head then frowned. “Let’s find you something warm, you look frozen. What notion got into your head that made you come out at this time of night dressed like that? Please don’t tell me it was to bring me the parcel?”” With a hint of censure in her voice she waved her hand over Susan’s attire.
Ten minutes later, wrapped in a fleecy blanket and sipping on a hot steaming mug of chocolate, Susan felt the glow tingling through her body. God I can’t believe she listens to her answer machine at this time of night…who does a thing like that.She did say she didn’t sleep and tonight after seeing the display of her current work I can understand perfectly.
Susan watched the woman who was standing in the corner of the kitchen. Her lids hooded hiding any emotion from Susan’s gaze.
“Thanks for this I’m really sorry I woke you.”
“You didn’t. I told you before that I find it hard to sleep. The memories have a habit of replaying when you least want them to.”
She probably doesn’t want anyone to see she’s as vulnerable as the rest of us. Susan finally placed the half full mug of chocolate on the counter and walked over to where Helen stood. She reached out a hand to stroke the silky skin of Helen’s cheek, and she saw a bleak air take residence in her intelligent features. “Do you want to talk about it? Sometimes it helps especially to a stranger.” As she said the word stranger it hit her hard. I don’t want to be a stranger but that’s what you may think I am.
Helen’s hand came up capturing the smaller one against her skin she turned the palm bringing it to her lips kissing it reverently.
“You’re no stranger to me Susan Callahan. In fact, I’ve known you longer than you realize.”
The words appeared strained to Susan and she creased her brow in puzzlement. She felt any element of resolve melt as and in one unconscious movement she moved closer to the strong body that sent all her senses reeling. I really don’t care what happens next but I have to have her. Susan whispered, “You haunt my dreams Helen and all I want is your arms around me like that night in my apartment.”
There was a groan from Helen’s lips as she crushed hers to Susan’s. The exquisite sensual response of both their bodies so attuned that they had no need for words – their bodies said it all.
+ + +
Susan felt she should be tired after having spent the best part of the last five hours making love with Helen. She gloried in the encouragement of the strong loving arms holding her. This time she’d taken the lead and Helen’s body responded with rapture. It was heart-stopping when Helen reached her first orgasm that made tears trickle out from under the closed lids. Susan asked, “Did I hurt you.”
The response, “Perfect”
Now the overhead speaker announced her flight was boarding. She’d wanted to cancel the trip but at this late stage it was impossible and truth be told she needed to go. This was something that she must resolve if she was ever to move on with Helen. With leaden feet she walked toward the departure area.
Ten minutes later, she was walking inside the corridor to the belly of the aircraft. Her thoughts were in turmoil. She said she’d wait for me. Will she though, we’ve been at this point before. Lots of things can happen and do. What will happen if I come back and she’s left or moved onto another?
“Ok I can do this. Helen said to have faith and I will.”
The flight was unremarkable and she was thankful when the plane finally landed. A couple of hours later she was signing the register of the hotel she’d booked for the next couple of days.
Finding Zea was a long shot. But who said long shots don’t pay-off. “Are there any messages for me?” she asked.
The concierge shook his dark head. “Sorry Ms. Callahan. I shall call if there is anything?”
Susan sighed. Well I left her sleeping. A satisfied look crossed her face. And we did kind of tire each other out last night or was it today or even yesterday. Maybe she’ll keep me around if I can make her sleep. “Thanks.”
When Susan stepped into the room the opulence surprised her. “I didn’t book anything special. What’s going on?” Her eyes cast around the room taking in the plush furnishings and the large bowl of fruit, along with the most beautiful orchids she’d ever seen. Wow, they really make you feel welcome here. She looked at her key card and scrunched her eyebrows. Surely this is wrong though they must have given me the wrong room.
Curiosity took over when she saw a pristine white envelope sticking out of the flowers. She gently pulled the card free from its holder expecting it to be from the hotel management. She gasped in surprise when she saw her name on it. Tearing the seal of the envelope she slipped out a card and was about to read the message when the phone rang.
She stepped to the table that held the phone and picked up the receiver. “Hello.”
The voice she would recognize forever washed over her. “Hello right back at you. You said call anytime, right?”
A slow smile of joy flowed onto Susan’s face and she chuckled. “Yes, anytime. How are you?”
“I’m very well. I slept like a baby for the first time in months thanks to you. How are you?”
Susan heard the slight inflection in the voice and knew without the full explanation what she meant. God I hope you’re thinking about last night too, because right now you’re making me horny just listening to your voice. “Anytime,” she said. “I’m very good too, in fact the only thing I’m upset about right now is the fact that you’re not here with me.”
Helen’s chuckle at the other end of the line made Susan wet. Her pulse increased as a mental picture of Helen smiling in her arms drifted into her mind.
A knock at the door caused Susan to sigh. “Give me a minute please, there’s someone at the door.” She placed the receiver on the table and quickly shot over to the door. She opened it hastily, hoping that whoever it was wouldn’t take too long.
Her hand automatically went to her mouth as she came face to face with Helen lounging against the doorjamb.
“Your wish is my command,” Helen quietly remarked.
Their eyes met and held in a timeless instant. Then Susan discarded her shock and threw herself into Helen’s arms. “My god I don’t believe it…you’re really here. How? Why? Oh, who cares?” She placed her arms around Helen’s neck and drew her in for a long passionate kiss.
They eventually came up for air and Helen smoothed the lines of joy on Susan’s face. She whispered, “We’d better go inside we don’t want to cause a scene do we.”
A thousand kisses later or so it seemed to Susan, they eventually managed to find a chair and Helen sat down in it bringing Susan onto her lap then cradling her head in her broader shoulder.
“How could I let you go? I’ve loved you since the first moment I saw you. This time I wasn’t going to let you leave me behind.”
Susan smiled into the shoulder and then kissed it tenderly as she chuckled. She thought about that day at the exhibit. There I was just a, nobody and you shocked the hell out of me by knowing my name. God don’t you know I’d never leave you behind it’s the other way around and that scares the hell out of me.
Helen turned Susan in her arms and gave her a quizzical expression. “You think it amusing? Is it the fact that I love you or that it was the first time I saw you?”
Susan stared into those eyes afraid she’s made another gaff - she hadn’t. Helen’s expression held a gentle teasing rather than a rebuke. Thank god for that. “I wasn’t laughing really, more my silly thoughts.” She kissed the lips waiting for a further explanation. When they broke apart, Susan continued. “To be honest I can’t believe that you love me, it’s like a miracle.” This time the kiss they shared lasted longer as their tongues intertwined wanting to be as close as possible. Then Susan breathlessly continued, “I was shocked actually when you knew my name at the exhibition. I thought Paul had told you. He received a grilling, but insisted he hadn’t. Was he telling me the truth or carrying out your anonymity wishes of his existence in your life…I’ve always wondered?”
Helen sighed and shook her head before moving slightly so that she could cradle Susan’s face in her hands. “He was telling the truth, though wishing him to keep me a secret in his life isn’t quite right either. I’ll take him to task for that another day.”
Tremulously Susan asked, “How did you know my name, I didn’t know anyone else there?”
Helen traced her finger down Susan’s cheek and then to the tip of her long straight nose. “I told you I’ve loved you since the day I first met you. That isn’t the case for you is it. You don’t remember me, do you? Or you wouldn’t be here in this place now.”
Startled and intensely curious, Susan moved slightly to disengage the hands that held her face. She stared hard into Helen’s features. Have we met before? No, surely I would have remembered her. From the first moment we met there’s been a sexual charge between us…it’s only happened to me once before and I….
A light went off in her head as she gasped, “Zea?”
A smile that lit up every feature in Helen’s face became Susan’s answer.
The image she had retained of the woman who had saved her life almost six years ago floated into her conscious mind. It was indistinct always has been. Yet the voice! If I really make an effort I could recognize…yeah and hindsight is a remarkable thing. This is too much to comprehend.If I dissect my emotional link to Zea and Helen it worked out to be the same thing - love.
Susan was unaware that she’d remained silent for a long period when a Helen quietly asked, “I take it you forgot about the woman called Zea until now.” The voice held a mixture of resignation and deep sadness.
“No! No you have it quite wrong. A part of me had fallen in love with Zea and I think…no I know that’s the reason why I never had any relationships until you came into my life. I even fought my feelings for you because I didn’t want to tarnish the image I had in my mind of the woman I’d put on a pedestal. In truth I don’t actually remember Zea’s physical features because I never saw them clearly. I’m as blind as a bat without my contacts or specs and I had neither. That’s the reason I’m here now. I left it a long time to resolve her effect on my life.” God I sound stupid. She’s going to regret saying she loves me now I know it.
“Ah, that explains it. I almost had a complex about not being more memorable to you. Didn’t anyone tell you that worshipping from afar brings only frustration and pain Susan? Why didn’t you contact me back then?”
Susan blew out a breath and closed her eyes before smiling gently. “I know,” said with a rueful nod. “But I wrote you and wanted to send back the money I’d borrowed, but you never replied or sent any kind of communication. Why?”
A shadow of sorrow appeared in Helen’s eyes. She replied, “Ah that explains it. A couple of weeks after you left…” she said with a hesitant shrug. “I became somewhat of a nomad traveling around the world.”
Susan saw the lips quiver in a remembered pain. It was so close she wanted to kiss it better. “Why didn’t Angela write me? She didn’t seem the type to ignore letters and I think she liked me?”
This time Susan heard a tremor in the voice and when she stared deep into those eyes she saw the welling of tears. “She did like you. Angela couldn’t…” there was a deep intake of breath before Helen continued. “She died a few days after you left. We always knew she didn’t have much time. There was a tumor on the brain… well you’re never prepared are you.”
Susan felt the anguish keenly as she hugged and placed gentle kisses all over Helen’s face. “I’m sorry, so very sorry.”
They sat together the strength of their love soothing over the sadness generated by the death of someone special.
Susan asked, “Zea, is that your middle name or something else?”
Helen’s voice was still thick with emotion but she managed a thin smile. “It was Angela’s nickname for me.”
“Yeah, what does it mean?” Susan returned the smile as they gazed into each other’s eyes.
Tilting her head slightly, Helen captured Susan’s intent gaze and she watched as the blue simmered like molten lava barely masking the ardor. “It means life giving…it’s apparently Greek.”
Susan felt completely absorbed with the mounting passion she saw reflected in Helen’s eyes. “Wow, that’s what I call a fitting name, because you certainly saved me,” she whispered.
A wry smile crossed Helen’s lips as she placed her forehead against Susan’s. She replied, “And you saved me.”
“I did how?” Oh god does she know what’s she’s doing to me right now. All, I want to do is tear off her clothes and make mad passionate love to her.
Helen’s lips twisted cynically. “Ok, I’ll tell you the story or at least the summary of my life. I was a spoiled child and ended up a spoiled and demanding adult. Even though I had this remarkable talent with a lens…” To Susan, she appeared to shrug away the memories before continuing. “…I didn’t care what I photographed. In fact, I spent the first five years around models and not because of the subject matter. Nope, not me, I was a selfish bitch and looked for ripe opportunities to bed them. I thought I was god’s gift to women and as conceited as that might sound, there were plenty to choose from.”
Susan sucked in a breath. Oh and she’s ended up with me and I hardly count myself as model material. “Then you met me?” It was barely a squeak.
Helen gave her a smile then kissed the tip of her nose. “Angela was my mother’s aunt. When she was diagnosed I was at a crossroads in my life, searching for something but I didn’t know what or where.” Helen’s eyes scanned the room briefly as if she looked for something and it wasn’t there. “She wouldn’t go into a hospital and she had no family except for me. I figured what the hell; why not take some time out. It became a turning point of my life. That old woman made me see what I’d been missing in life or at least what to look for.” Helen smiled down at Susan and kissed her tenderly. “Then you arrived, my little mermaid. You rocked the core of my world and I’ve never been the same since. Angela told me I was one of those who would probably fall in love at first sight and I did.” Then with a sheepish look she added, “I tried to see you once, after the trial. I was there in the background silently supporting you. I found some of those letters you sent they were in storage that’s why I knew where to look for you. Also Angela left you something in her will.”
This time Susan moved away and stared down into Helen’s face her own filled with surprise and dismay. “She did? You came to the trail? When did you try to see me, I don’t remember seeing you properly until the exhibition?” How could I possibly have met her and not remembered?
Helen let out a self-conscious laugh. “I called your lawyer friend for an interview. At the time it seemed a good way to get to know you and reveal my part in it all.”
“You saw Jillian? She never told me. Why? Surely she would have remembered you when you came to take the photos. ”
“She never met me Susan, I made a phone call.” Helen smoothed away the worry lines on her face. “Your friend told me you wanted nothing to do with the media. All you wanted to do was forget the whole mess and to get on with your life. I took that literally you see and thought she meant everything that happened.”
Susan felt the tears well up in her eyes. All those lost and lonely years when we could have been together. She murmured, “I longed to see you again, I never wanted to leave you that day…god I wish I’d known.”
Helen tilted her chin and smiled tenderly into her eyes, delicately kissing away the tears that trickled from the corner of her eyes. “We both still had a few lessons to learn – I certainly did. The woman I am today the woman who offers you her heart, isn’t the same woman you met six years ago Susan. That woman could never have appreciated the love you could offer me, she needed to learn why the mere fact that we breathe everyday is a gift not a given. I did that with the pictures I took and by the places I’ve been to and the people who’ve died around me. The woman called Zea with her couldn’t careless attitude was the ideal person to go to those places and dispassionately take those photos…at least at first.”
Susan wanted to scream out that her image of Zea was never that selfish - she didn’t. “That so called woman Zea saved my life. She certainly had redeeming qualities in my eyes.” Susan craned her neck and kissed Helen soundly.
“Ah, my love how precious this gift of love you offer is. Angela placed me on the path and you my darling were the beacon for which I was searching. I finally realized just how important it was to the rest of my life when I was captured in Africa and thought I’d never see you again.”
Susan felt honored by the heartfelt words. I guess we both had to go through our own kind of journey to get here. What now? “When we met at the exhibition why didn’t you identify yourself or even at the wedding?”
Helen gave Susan a thoughtful expression. “I wanted too, but I was afraid.”
“You, afraid, oh Helen you’re the most confident woman I’ve ever met,” Susan exclaimed in astonishment.
Helen kissed the top of Susan’s head and chuckled. “Well my love as you didn’t recognize me I was hardly in a confident position to blurt out that I was in love with you. Although looking at your adorable expression now I wish I had.”
Susan blushed slightly. “Now that’s a first, adorable isn’t usually a description associated with me.” She sighed heavily and dropped her gaze from Helen’s.
“What’s the matter Susan, was it something I said?”
“No, not you, it’s me. It took us six years to get to this point what happens next. Will you need to go away again on another assignment? You don’t exactly go to safe places in the world Helen and I don’t know what I’d do if you….”
Helen shook her head and cradled Susan close to her chest as she whispered into her hair. “No I don’t.”
Puzzled, Susan asked losing herself in the increased heartbeat she felt under her ear. “You don’t?”
Helen chuckled at her lover’s expression. “I’m not going anywhere unless you’re with me. I’ve cleared my schedule and I’m all yours for as long as you want me.”
Dumbfounded and awestruck in the same instant Susan mouthed, “You did? You have? You do? How did you manage that?”
Helen winked and kissed Susan passionately. In between kisses she mumbled, “I’m a very important person.” Lips locked for another kiss. “I can do what I want.” Tongues intertwined. “I also had the beach-house aired.” This time the kiss developed into a deeper longer exploration.
When they finally broke apart, Susan grinned in delight. “We’re going back to where it all started? Oh Helen I love you so very much.”
Helen laughed the sound making Susan’s temperature rise. “Yes we are. This time trust me it will all be pleasurable. We have a beach to ourselves along with the house…absolutely no one to bother us for as long as we want.”
Susan sighed in delight. “You think of everything.”
A pleasurable chuckle tickled Susan’s senses as Helen replied, “Oh, and incidentally, I know you love a mystery. I found an underwater cave just before I plucked you from the water that needs exploration. First though, I can think of a much better use of those investigative techniques.”
Helen picked up Susan and gently placed her on the bed. As she did she drew away slightly and rummaged for a few seconds in hold-hall. Drawing out a small oblong package and gave it to Susan, “from Angela.”
Susan pushed herself up on her elbows and peered at the package finally whispering, “isn’t this the package you left behind before?”
Helen grinned, “Yeah. Angela said I was to give you that package when the time was right. The time is right.”
Quickly, in eager anticipation, Susan unwrapped the parcel. Inside the bubble wrap an exquisite jewel box appeared. Opening the lid the melodious tune of “the very thought of you’ floated in the air between them. With a hand to her mouth and the gentle trickle of tears flowing down her cheeks Susan gave Helen a tremulous expression, as she plucked out a beautiful eternity ring nestled inside. “It’s beautiful and she left me the ring too?”
“Yes you are,” Helen lay over Susan and gently removed the jewel box laying it on the table. Deftly taking the ring from Susan’s enchanted grasp she slipped it on her finger. “Angela left me the ring for the one person in this world who means eternity to me, will you accept it?”
Susan’s delighted squeal of yes almost drowned out the music playing background. As the strain of the tune gradually faded it was replaced with the mounting passion of two women in love.
Susan’s last thought as passion engulfed them were, life doesn’t get any better than this. All my dreams have come true.
to the Academy