October by Day

October
by Day

 

Disclaimer: This is an uber story so I don´t need any which is nice for a change cuz they´re so tiresome to write. There´ll be both sex and hurt feelings in this one.
Copyright (c) 1999 by Day
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Part 1

Episode 1

 
We met a Friday in October, in the beginning of the first really cold month. September had been surprisingly but pleasantly warm and I remember feeling slightly startled when I stepped outside that day and felt cold, having to zip up my jacket for the first time in many months. It was a few hours past noon and I had just finished at the office, deciding to go home early after having worked late for weeks. But as I stepped outside, I didn´t feel like driving home to an empty apartment and somehow found myself walking away from the parking lot, down the street.

At that time, I pretended I didn´t know where I was going, but of course, deep inside, I knew exactly where I was heading. I had walked past the place many times, never daring to go inside, both out of fear what might happen or, I suppose, what might not happen. What compelled me to go inside that particular day, I´ll never know, but I´ll always be grateful that I did. Otherwise, I wouldn´t have met her.

The Stage was a small, cosy cafe/bar and in spite of not having any stage at all, or any other place to perform, if one doesn´t count the bar as a stage for various performances, it´s a nice place with friendly and relaxed people. Gay people to be exact, both sexes. Straight people go there too with their gay friends or just to drink the Stage´s famous coffees, but the main clientele is gay men and women looking for a place to relax and be themselves without having to worry about being hit on if not interested. That was one of the reasons I dared to go in there, I wasn´t sure how I´d react if anybody tried to pick me up, and to be honest, I wasn´t sure how I´d react if nobody tried either. In spite of my twenty-seven years, I had little experience with, as it was in this case, the same sex. I´d had a few fumbling encounters during college, but fear had always held me back, either fear of being found out or fear of being hurt. It had been a couple of years since I had been with a woman, not that I had been living a chaste life ever since college, far from it, I had my share of men, but as people in my situation probably know, it hadn´t quite been the same, hadn´t quite been enough. Sure, they were sweet and gentle, perfect gentlemen, intelligent and funny, and I cared for them, a lot, but I was never in love. So it was with a feeling of both excitement and nervousness, I opened the door to the Stage and went inside.

When you walk inside the Stage, the bar is to the left, together with a huge mirror going all the way from one end to the another, thus ensuing that the various patrons at the tables to the right in the room, never have to worry about not being able to see themselves for a second. The mirror is probably the only thing I don´t like about the place, since it makes me feel rather self-conscious being able to see myself constantly, drinking or eating. People tell me I´m pretty, some even say beautiful and when I´m feeling good and self-confident, I know that I´m not bad looking, but that doesn´t mean you feel that way in general. It´s sufficient to say that I don´t, or didn´t. She changed that. Looking into her eyes, seeing the adoration and love has helped me think more of myself, and one day, I might even see myself the way she does.

While we´re at it, I suppose, I might as well tell you how I look, to get it over with so to speak. I´ve short blond hair, green eyes and a pale complexion that during the summer stubbornly refuses to tan and insists on taking on a shade of red instead, no matter how much sunblock I splash on my skin. My built is slender and feminine and my height is about 5.3-5.4 depending on my shoes. As most short people, I´ve always wanted to be taller, but since wishing things don´t necessarily make them happen, I´ve resigned myself to my fate and try to take pleasure in the fact that I never have to duck when entering places.

The Stage was relatively deserted, I had entered between the two busiest periods, after lunch and before the pre-dinner crowd arrived, so I had no trouble getting to the bar where the friendly, but professional bartender supplied me with the club soda I asked for. She gave me a little smile and for a moment, I feared she was going to ask what a nice girl like me was doing in a place like this, but she didn´t and just resumed polishing glass like she didn´t have a care in the world. Feeling way too exposed sitting alone at the bar, I turned around and eyed the tables before me. Three were occupied with both men and women talking amiably with each other, laughing and gesturing loudly. Two other tables were occupied with a gay couple from each sex and around the last occupied table sat three women who, in spite of it only being around 3 p.m., had several empty bottles and glasses in front of them and judging from the laughter, it wasn´t just lemonade they had been drinking.

I made my way past the taken tables and sat down at the corner table, slightly away from the rest, providing me with a clear view of the entire place. Low, non-distinct music started to flow from the speakers in the corners as I sat and fiddled with my glass, wondering what the hell I was doing there and how soon I could get up and leave without being too conspicuous.

I had just finished my drink and was about to get up when, in the periphery of my vision, I saw the door open and a figure step inside. I know, I´m probably not the most objective person in this case, but to this day I swear that all talk faded and all eyes followed her as she casually strode over to the bar and sat down on one of the chairs. The bartender, who had managed to pull her attention away from her polishing, approached the new customer with something resembling a predatory grin, not bothering to hide her frank appraisal of the stranger´s body.

“Hey, gorgeous. What can I serve you with?” The remark was followed by an even wider grin and I found myself getting irritated on behalf of the newcomer, but she didn´t seem to mind or care and just smiled briefly in return.

“I´ll have a gin and tonic, a double, please.”

“Coming right up,” the bartender spoke with considerable more enthusiasm than when she received my order, but I can´t say that I blamed her. The stranger was gorgeous. It was a simple as that. Short, pitch black hair stopping just short of her shoulders and a tanned, almost bronze skin which I in that instant was ready to kill for. She was wearing a grey shirt tucked into khaki trousers, a black leather jacket and black leather shoes. When she turned her head slightly to study the area behind her, I couldn´t help but notice the prominent cheekbones and the casual grace in which she moved, but these thoughts perished the moment I was caught up in the most intense, blue eyes I´d ever seen. I felt my heart skip a beat and parted my lips as if to say something, but in that same instant the moment was over and she returned her attention to the bartender who´d just brought her the drink.

For a moment I just sat there, feeling my heart pound furiously in my chest, my mouth suddenly dry. The stranger at the bar seemed oblivious to the several pairs of eyes at her back as she sipped her drink and pulled out a paperback from her left pocket and started to read. I strained to see the title, but was unable to, partly because my attention kept drifting back to her eyes, wanting her to look at me again and partly because, one of the women from the table closest to me, the one with all the bottles, chose that moment to approach the stranger, effectively obstructing my view of the black-haired woman.

Not woman, girl, my mind instantly corrected. She can hardly be more than twenty, she´s almost achild, for Christ´s sake. Get a grip.

But another part of my mind refused to pay any attention to the first, as I desperately tried to follow the conversation at the bar without appearing like I was. I saw the woman casually, (casually, yeah right!) put her hand on the girl´s arm, just above the elbow and lean forward as if saying something very important only meant for the two of them to hear. I saw the blue gaze focus on the hand on her arm, then slowly return to the arm´s owner. I could swear her eyes darkened just a little before she shook her head and said something to the other woman, something I of course wasn´t able to hear, no matter how much I wanted to.

The woman spoke again and I was tempted to shout, “Move away from her! Can´t you see she´s not interested!” But of course, I didn´t and thus saved myself a lot of embarrassment, although when I told her about it later, she smiled and said she would wish I had done just that. But back then, I could only sit paralysed on my chair and watch the exchange at the bar, feeling strangely powerless and helpless, like something was being taken away from me, something that was meant for me and me alone.

I let out a sigh of relief as the woman finally relented and returned to her table with a small shrug, but just as my heart rate returned to normal, I saw to my dismay one of the woman´s friends rise from the table and walk towards the bar, her intent clearly written in her eyes. I knew it was silly, but I felt rather homicidal at that moment and although I tried to pretend, I was just upset on behalf of the girl, I knew it wasn´t true. The woman, a brunette, seductively sat down beside the stranger and leaned forward whispering something. The black-haired girl who had resumed her reading after her first pursuer left, looked up again, casually studying the reclining woman next to her. I held my breath, terrified that I would see just the slightest spark of interest in the blue eyes, but nothing appeared and the friendly, but distanced look remained. As the brunette leaned even closer, practically whispering into an ear, of which God would have been proud to have created, I saw the girl sigh and gesture at the book momentarily lying on the bar beside her, then smile and shake her head.

The brunette sat back a little, then smiled herself and patted the leather clad shoulder gently and walked back to her table. As she passed me, I´m sure I heard her say, “that one couldn´t blame a girl for trying.” I had just started to relax again and was about to pick up on my close study of the stranger when, to my great annoyance, I saw the third woman at the table make a move to stand up. To this day, I don´t know what went through my head, but suddenly I found myself walking away from my table, practically cutting in in front of the other woman, before sitting down on the chair beside the girl. My heart was pounding furiously again and I didn´t dare look to my left and instead stared at the mirror, seeing a slightly flushed and nervous looking woman stare right back at me.

I threw a glance at the reflection of the women at the table behind me and was shocked when the woman I´d just outrun, raised her glass in silent recognition, an amused smile playing on her lips. I immediately looked away, down at the smooth wood of the bar and a few seconds went by before I dared to look up again and into the mirror. My gaze darted to the left and the girl chose that moment to look up and our eyes met in the mirror. It was a strange feeling watching her in the mirror, knowing she was within arm´s reach, but I still wasn´t brave enough to turn around to face her. All too soon it was over. She gave me a pleasant smile, one you would give any stranger, and resumed her reading. Something inside me screamed that it was now or never and with courage, I till then didn´t know I possessed, I turned around.

“It must be a very captivating book since you prefer it to the company of not one, but two beautiful women.”

Immediately after the sentence had left my mouth I was horrified that I´d had the nerve to say that, but also strangely proud. I´d never been very good at small-talk or pick-up lines and although I at that moment, wished I was anywhere but there, I felt it wasn´t the worst attempt I could have made. The girl looked up, her blue eyes unreadable. Without a word, she slipped in a bookmark and showed me the cover.

“Keats,” she spoke softly and I felt a shiver run down my back from the low, smooth tone of her voice. “Selected poems.”

I gathered myself, deciding that since I´d made it this far, I might as well try to move on from there. If I screwed up, I could always excuse myself and run.

“Do you always bring poetry with you?” I asked, hoping it sounded casual, yet interested.

She gave me a crooked smile which I later learned was a trademark of hers, “Nah, I just like to show off in bars.”

I felt a smile emerge on my lips and she smiled again in return before reaching for her drink. When she noticed it was empty, she gestured for the bartender who instantly materialised in front of her, another wide smile on her face.

“Yes, gorgeous? What can I do for you?”

The girl ignored the endearment and just pointed at her glass, “I´ll have another one of these.” She looked at me questioningly and I realized she was waiting for me to voice my order.

“Uh, I´ll have…” I suddenly didn´t want to order another club soda, but then I felt silly. I was a grown woman and shouldn´t let others dictate what I drank, so I just smiled and said, “I´ll have a club soda, please.”

The bartender nodded and walked away to get our drinks. I looked back at the girl and noticed she was looking at me curiously, but the moment our eyes met, the expression was replaced by the now familiar friendly, but distanced look. We sat in silence until the bartender returned with our drinks, and the black-haired girl raised her glass in a silent toast and took a few healthy gulps before putting the glass back down.

She watched me take a sip or two from of the water and as I looked into her eyes, I noticed a slightly mischievous twinkle appear, “Thanks for rescuing me,” she whispered conspiratorially and I must have looked as confused as I felt because she indicated the table behind us with her head. “From them…” She smiled and I couldn´t stop myself from returning it. “I didn´t think people still did that.”

“Did what?”

“Rescued maidens in distress,” she smirked and took another gulp from the glass.

“Oh, you´re hardly a maiden and you were hardly in distress,” I heard myself say and instantly felt myself blush. The girl had the grace not to notice and looked away for a few seconds.

“Nah, guess you got a point there,” she then drawled and looked back at me again, “but it´s nice nonetheless.”

I didn´t know what to say so I did the only think I could think of; I smiled and she returned it gradually and I couldn´t help but notice how the smile lit up her face, making her features even more striking. We sat together in a comfortable silence, sipping our drinks. I was desperately trying to think of something clever or just remotely interesting to say whereas she looked like she was far, far away, the blue eyes even more distant than before.

“What´s your name?”

Okay, it might not be clever, but at least it´s a natural thing to ask and she didn´t seem to mind as her gaze slowly focused on my face again.

“Teresa, people call me Terri.”

She raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Oh, my name´s Sarah, people call me…Sarah.”

She chuckled quietly, “Nice to meet you, Sarah.”

“Likewise,” I replied instinctively and I saw her smile briefly while finishing her drink. She pushed the glass away and rummaged through the pockets in her trousers and pulled out various notes and coins. She picked one and tossed it on the bar before taking her book and putting it back into her jacket. Suddenly I felt desperate. She was about to leave and if I didn´t do anything, I would most likely never see her again and for some reason that thought terrified me more than the thought that I might embarrass myself completely in front of her.

“What are you doing tonight?”

I was surprised by my bluntness, but not ashamed. At least if it didn´t work, I could say I gave it my best shot, that I tried. The blue eyes contemplated me for a long time and I felt both warm and cold under the close scrutiny.

“Well…” She spoke slowly, clearly still making up her mind as she went. “I had something planned, but nothing that can´t wait till later. Why? Do you have anything in mind?”

And there it was. The opportunity for me to retreat and pull back with some kind of polite excuse and hurry home with my dignity more or less still intact, or I could continue this game I´d instigated myself and ask a total stranger, a girl who I´d known for less than an hour out for a date. I didn´t have to think twice.

“I thought we could… I don´t know, perhaps do something…together…”

As the blue eyes continued to stare at me, I felt my confidence melt, but I was unable to look away.

She bit her lip thoughtfully. “I was thinking about going to the planetarium tonight, catch a show or something, you know, one of the omnimax films. You can come if you want to.”

Her voice was casual and her posture relaxed and maybe it was just in imagination, but I was sure, I heard her hold her breath, waiting.

“I´d like that,” I said. “I haven´t been to the planetarium for years.”

“It´s a good place, they show some great films. I like it when they make it seem like you´re flying…it´s a nice feeling.”

As I looked into her eyes, I knew exactly what she meant.

“What time?”

“Uh…” She reached inside her leather jacket and pulled out a brochure. “The one, I wanted to see starts at 9 p.m.. It´s about Egypt. Is that okay with you?”

I wasn´t sure whether she meant the time or the film, but I couldn´t care less. “That´s fine.” I paused, feeling strangely brave again. “We could meet a quarter to nine outside the planetarium?”

“Sure,” she shrugged. “I´ll be there.”

She started to rise, but I reached out and put a hand on her arm, “Perhaps, I should get your phone number, just in case something comes up. I don´t want you to wait for me in vain.”

By now, the careful, self-conscious and suburban part of my mind had thrown in the towel and wasn´t the least shocked by this audacity. Apparently, Terri wasn´t either as she just smiled another one of those crooked smiles.

“Well, we wouldn´t want that, would we?”

She took a napkin from the bar and looked around for something to write with. I took a pen from my shirt pocket and handed it to her. She studied it closely, “Sarah Marie Kingston, Bachelor of Laws,” she read slowly before scribbling down her number. “Nice.”

I smiled, suddenly feeling self-conscious again. “It was a graduation present from my father. He´s a lawyer too.”

She nodded and handed me back the pen together with the napkin, “You´ll probably get my answering machine if you call, but just speak anyway and wait a little. Sometimes, I just don´t feel like talking to people.”

I wondered if that meant that she would pick up if she heard it was me, but I was finally running out of bravado and decided to keep that one to myself. She stood up, but instead of leaving, studied me again with those beautiful blue eyes of hers.

“Perhaps…” She spoke slowly, “Perhaps, I should get your number too, you know, just in case.”

I couldn´t keep the smile from my face as I took another napkin and wrote down my number. She looked at the number for a brief moment as if memorizing it, then she looked back at me.

“See you tonight then.”

“Yes, see you.”

Without saying another word, she turned and walked out of the bar and I couldn´t help but stare after the lean, graceful body even long after Terri had disappeared out of my sight.
Episode 2

I arrived at the planetarium at exactly 8:43 p.m.. To be honest, I had parked in the parking lot a few blocks away around 8:15pm, but I´d forced myself to wait in the car, not wanting to wait outside for more than half an hour in case she didn´t show up.

On my way home from the bar, the more rational part of my brain had kicked in again and the last couple of hours I had spent respectively going through my closet to find something appropriate to wear, (what does one wear in a planetarium anyway?) or standing in front of the mirror, staring in disbelief at the woman reflected there.

What the hell do you think you´re doing? Have you lost your mind? You´re about to go on a date with a girl who´s at least six or seven years your junior, subtract a year or two and she would be a teenager! A girl you know absolutely nothing about except that she likes Keats and gin & tonic… And omnimax films, the romantic, daydreaming part of my brain added helpfully. Yeah, you´re as close as you could get! The rational part sneered.

After having stared at myself for about five minutes, I decided to finish dressing and stop watching reruns of “The Wonder Years,” the constant commentary obviously affecting my life in a less than constructive way.

So here I was, outside the enormous grey building that housed the planetarium, waiting for my date to show up. Okay, I admit I wasn´t sure it was a real date, after all, she had been planning to go there anyway, but some part of me liked the idea of considering this a date, and after a brief struggle with myself, I decided to leave it at that. I mean, even if it didn´t work out, if we had an awful time together it would still be a date, a bad date, but a date nonetheless and since it had been much longer than I cared to remember when I was last on one of those things, my ego and I compromised and called it a date.

When the clock ticked close to 8:55 p.m., I was feeling very silly and very stupid. Perhaps Terri was right now sitting with her friends, telling them about this lawyer who first came to her rescue then tried to pick her up herself. I was just about to leave when I heard running footsteps behind me and turned to see Terri run towards me. Again I was mesmerised by her graceful movements and had to force myself not to stare directly at her body as she stopped in front of me, slightly out of breath, but not much. She gave me an apologetically smile and I instantly forgave her for being late.

“Sorry,” she breathed. “The bus was late and then the bridge was up. I had to run all the way from the station.”

“No problem, I tend to arrive a little late myself most times.”

Which of course was a lie, I´m more punctual than Father Time and always have been, but already I was feeling the need to make Terri feel good, make her happy. A need that was to grow stronger and stronger as time went by. She smiled and looked towards the entrance.

“We better go in. This place actually starts the films on time.”

“No trailers, huh?”

“Exactly,” she replied as she, to my great delight, placed her hand on my lower back and gently guided me through the doors. She removed her hand the moment we were inside and my body instantly felt the loss while my mind was swimming with warm, pleasant sensations.

She strode over to the box office, (or whatever you call it in a planetarium) and asked for two tickets. The young man selling the tickets was obviously having a hard time concentrating on his task, instead letting his eyes roam Terri´s body which caused him to give her the wrong change twice, and although I was aware that nobody else knew that Terri wasn´t just my friend, but my date, I felt strangely proud as I watched her make her way back to me, rolling her eyes.

“Geez. Some people need to get a life.”

I chuckled quietly as I followed her through the corridor which led to the auditorium, wondering if Terri knew I was one of the people who needed to get a life. I was having a hard time not to stare her, not just her body, although it was pleasant enough to look at for itself, but all of her. The way she moved, the way she would give me a casual grin while telling me something that amused her, the way she kept brushing black strands away from her eyes or behind her ears, or the entire way in which she carried herself. So confident, so relaxed, like she had never had to worry about anything in her life and didn´t care about what people might think, but only what she thought herself.

As she stopped to show another young man our tickets and waited for me to walk into the darkened room before her, I realized I was jealous. Jealous, not so much of her looks, but of the air around her. The quiet self-assurance that seemed to emanate from every pore. As we walked along the side of the huge auditorium, slowly bringing us closer and closer to the ceiling above us, I thought about how you attained a confidence like that. Whether it was something you were born with or something you developed yourself. I was about to step down an aisle when I heard Terri´s voice in my ear.

“It´s better if we go a little higher, otherwise we´ll have to crane our necks all the time.”

I nodded and moved a couple of rows further up, acutely aware of Terri´s presence just behind me. She was taller than me, but not that much and since I´d been used to looking up at people all my life, I didn´t really notice.

“Here,” I felt her hand on my lower back again. “This should do.”

I stepped down the aisle, somehow managing not to step on the feet of the elderly couple taking up all the space between the seats, and walked as far away from them as I could get before sitting down. Terri slumped down in the seat beside me, sighing contentedly and took off her leather jacket to reveal a black shirt tucked into a just as black pair of jeans.

She turned her head and I was vividly reminded why the cinema was a favourite place for couples to go; you get to sit together close, very close, in the dark. She gave me a small smile for no apparent reason and leaned back in her seat to look up at the enormous dome-shaped ceiling above us. I on the other hand leaned forward to look down, coming to the conclusion that a planetarium wasn´t a place you should go if you were afraid of heights. Luckily, I wasn´t and even if I had been, nothing could have compelled me to leave the dark girl sitting close beside me, her right arm resting on the elbow-rest separating the two seats.

As the lights dimmed, I leaned closer, for the first time inhaling the intoxicating scent that was Terri, “How much for the ticket?”

“Hmm…?” She answered absently, her gazed already focused on the star filled sky that had suddenly appeared above us.

“The ticket… How much do I owe you?”

“Oh…” The blue eyes returned to my face and I could swear she frowned for a second. “Nothing, this one´s on me.”

I knew I shouldn´t, but call it some self-sufficient feministic streak or just an old fear of owing people anything, whatever it was, I opened my mouth to protest.

“It´s okay,” she interrupted before I could get going, “you´ll just get the next one.” Then she made herself comfortable in her seat again and looked back up, blue eyes intently taking in the sight of the flowing Nile.

When I think back to the film we saw that night, I´m sure it was very interesting, very enlightening and beautifully made, I know Terri loved it, but all I remember is my mind going over one sentence again and again.

The next one… The next one… The next one…
It was a few minutes after 10 as we walked out of the planetarium and out on the street. Not surprisingly it was already dark outside, and I must say that the stars above us were just as beautiful as those we had just spent the last five minutes watching inside while getting a crash course in astronomy.

Terri zipped up her jacket and hugged herself, shifting her weight from one foot to another. She glanced up at the sky, her warm breath leaving clouds of steam around her face, “It´s gotten cold real fast.”

“Yeah,” I replied, trying to ignore my cold feet. “I was surprised myself today that I actually had to close my jacket. I haven´t done that for quite some time.”

She nodded and looked down at the ground. “I like the cold, it clears my head. Makes me feel alive again.”

She spoke so softly that I wasn´t sure whether she was talking to me, the pavement or herself and instead of thinking of an answer, I started to consider my options. I didn´t want the night to be over. I didn´t want to say goodbye to Terri, not before I knew for certain that I would see her again. As if reading my thoughts she looked up.

“Now what?” She hugged herself a little tighter. “Although I like the cold, it doesn´t mean I feel like getting friendly with pneumonia tonight.”

And what would you like to get friendly with tonight? The ever existent voice in my head shouted. Are you interested in a boring, old lawyer who doesn´t have a life and who hasn´t had a decent lay for years?

Of course that wasn´t what I said when I finally opened my mouth to speak, after having had to chase some rather vivid images of Terri naked in my bed from my mind.

“We could go for a drink somewhere?”

I could immediately spot the reluctance on her face as she checked her watch.

“Well…” She looked back at me. “It´s not that I wouldn´t want a drink, but…” She paused, searching for the words. “But I don´t think I´m up for a bar or a club right now. I think I´ve been around enough people for today.”

I looked at her curiously, “Don´t you like to be around people?” She shrugged, giving me a slightly embarrassed smile. “I´m not much of a people´s person. I mean, I like company, but not all the time and usually only when I feel like it.”

“And you don´t feel like it now?” I asked, feeling my heart break into a thousand tiny pieces. Terri shrugged again, tapping her right boot against the pavement in some internal rhythm only she could hear. “We could go for a walk? Walk around a little?”

If she had been looking at me, she would have seen the world´s biggest grin appear on my face.

“Sure, I´d like that.”

She glanced at me briefly as if deciding whether I was serious or not, then nodded and indicated with her hand the direction she wanted to go. We walked in silence side by side down the street, past closed shops and darkened windows. At first I searched my mind for something to say, but then I noticed that Terri seemed to be more than content with just walking and not talking.

I have a tendency to become nervous when people don´t talk, always feeling I have to say something to keep the conversation going, fill out the gaps, but that night I rebelled against my awkwardness and managed to relax and just enjoy the cold fresh air and Terri´s quiet, but comforting company.

We walked for almost an hour and were both starting to feel the chill in our bones as we ended up in front of the now closed planetarium again. Terri looked at her watch.

“I have to go now or I won´t catch my bus.”

“Do you always go by bus?” I asked, not because I was terribly interested in her commuting habits, but because I desperately wanted her to stay just a little longer before walking out of my life, perhaps for good.

“Nah, usually I walk or go by bike. I live within walking distance to practically everything that might interest me, and most times it´s faster to walk.”

She checked her watch again, but seemed reluctant to leave, almost lingering… waiting.

“What do you do?” She arched an eyebrow. “I mean do you study or work or…” I let the last part hang in the air, giving her the possibility to change the subject if she wanted to.

“I study history and literature at the university. Or at least I do officially…” She grinned, “I must confess I haven´t actually been there as much as I should.”

“Why not?”

Her answer had surprised me. Terri seemed like a very intelligent and determined young woman and I wondered what would keep someone like her away from the university.

She shrugged, her grin fading. “I don´t know… guess I´m a lazy bastard or something like that.”

“It doesn´t interest you?”

“Well… yes, it does, but so does a lot of other things and sometimes I have to prioritise.” The crooked grin returned, “Although, I seem to prioritise the things I like over the things I dislike quite frequently.”

“What do you like?” I asked, feeling like a damn game show master who couldn´t shut up.

She smiled, almost shyly. “I like to write.”

“Write? You mean prose, novels and so?”

“Uh huh, although I haven´t actually written a novel yet. I´m working on one, but it won´t be finished for quite awhile. I´ve written a lot of short stories, though.”

“Are you any good?” I wanted to kick myself hard for asking that, but Terri didn´t take offence. Her eyes just became thoughtful for a moment, distant. “I think so…” She spoke slowly. “I hope so.”

She looked at her watch, frowning. “I won´t make it to the station now.” She looked down the street without really seeing it, contemplating her situation.

“I can give you a lift home?”

Blue eyes returned to my face, “You don´t have to. I can get home on my own.” I gave her a reassuring smile, “I want to.”

And I did. More than anything I wanted spend more time with this black-haired girl, wanted to see where she lived, meet her friends. Somehow become involved in her life, become a part of her world, if only for a little while.

“Okay,” she spoke hesitantly. “It´s not far.”

“This way.” I gently put my hand on her arm, leading her with me. “My car´s only five minutes from here.”

If she wondered why I hadn´t parked in the parking spaces belonging to the planetarium, she didn´t say so.

We drove in silence through the city, the streets still being rather crowded, but it was after all Friday, and as I reminded myself, some people did have a life. I glanced at the proud profile beside me and felt a warm tingling inside. Perhaps, just perhaps, I would have a life too. Terri turned to look at me, but I didn´t manage to read the expression on her face before she looked back out of the window.

Soon, much too soon for my taste, we drove down a road surrounded by several apartment buildings both left and right. She pointed towards at redbrick building further ahead, “That one´s mine.”

I parked the car and as I turned off the engine, I heard the sound of at least five different kinds of music, coming from at least five different parties. I turned to look at Terri and she smiled wryly, “It tends to get a little loud out here, it´s not too bad now though. It´s worse after the exams, when everybody´s done for the year, then you might as well stay up and enjoy yourself because there´s no sense in going to bed in that noise.”

I had gotten the distinct feeling that Terri was a person who liked silence so I looked at her in surprise, “How do you stand it? I´d go crazy if I couldn´t get any peace and quiet when I needed it.”

She shrugged, “You get used to it. It´s only when it´s really bad that you notice. Besides it can be a lot of fun, too. You start in one end and the next morning you can have been to twenty different parties all over the place.” She looked out of the window. “It´s okay.”

I nodded to myself, trying to remember what it was like when I was a student, but to my dismay couldn´t really pinpoint the feeling. It wasn´t like it was that long ago I had attended students´ parties and danced till four in the morning. I shot a glance at Terri, wondering if she danced. The dark head turned and I looked into the blue eyes that once again took my breath away.

“How old are you, Terri?” I asked softly.

“I´ll be twenty-one next month.”

She searched my face, trying to gauge my reaction, but I was looking straight ahead, studying the dark building with the many illuminated windows looming above me. “I´ll be twenty-eight in February,” I then said, not knowing why I did it, or if I wanted a response from her.

I could tell from the low creaking of leather that she shifted slightly in her seat, turning her body towards me, “Do you want to come up?”

It was the last thing, I had expected her to say, but as I turned around to face her, I felt my heart start working overtime, causing my blood to race through my veins and my mouth went dry. I knew I should smile and decline graciously, but as I looked into the expectant blue eyes, you might as well have told me to stop breathing and before I knew what was happening, I felt myself nod. She gave me a gentle smile and opened the door.

“Let´s go.”
Episode 3

She put her hand into her right pocket and pulled out a set of keys, finding the one she wanted without difficulties in the dim light. She unlocked the door and then another that appeared immediately afterwards, pushing it open and holding it for me to step inside. I walked into a hall that instantly reminded me of a hospital at night or a school during the holidays with its harsh impersonal colours and empty and deserted feel. Terri followed my gaze around and waited until my eyes came to rest on her.

“I don´t know why they insist of painting this place in all the colours of the rainbow, it´s enough to make one´s eyes hurt.”

I smiled, “Maybe they´re getting a discount at some paint dealer, buying all his surplus stock.”

“Maybe.”

She started to walk down the hall, past an enormous gathering of orange mailboxes and to a lift, sporting a yellow door and a purple frame.

She raised an eyebrow good-humouredly when she saw the look on my face, “After awhile you don´t notice.”

She pressed the only button there and after a few seconds opened the door for me, again waiting for me to step in before her. Inside she pressed three and only a short moment later we arrived at the third floor. This time she stepped out first and walked down a long narrow corridor with several green doors on either side.

“Is everybody here studying?”

“Most,” she answered without looking back. “You have to be enrolled at some place of higher education to live here and if you don´t pass your exams you have to go.”

“Shouldn´t you be studying at bit more then?”

“Probably.”

I could hear the smile in her voice as I followed her down the corridor and although I could´t see it, I felt compelled to smile myself. I watched the strong back in front of me, the casual movement of the long legs and the elegant fingers absently playing with the keys and I had to swallow, suddenly feeling very nervous. Was the reason Terri had asked me to come up, the reason I thought it was? The one I wanted it to be? Or was she just in the mood for coffee and conversation?

You know she doesn´t talk much, my mind interjected. And she didn´t ask you up for coffee, did she?

I swallowed again, wondering if Terri would think less of me if I turned on my heels and ran, but before I had the chance to do anything, she stopped and inserted a key into the last door to the left of the corridor. She unlocked the door, but before she opened it, turned to look at me.

“It might be a bit messy in there. I wasn´t expecting company tonight.”

I could only nod, not sure if I should be pleased by her last remark or not. She opened the door and stepped inside, leaving the door wide open for me to follow. I stepped into a very small, narrow corridor with something resembling a kitchen to the right, not more than a sink and two hotplates with some cupboards above, and directly afterwards a door leading into what appeared to be a small bathroom. I soon realized that nothing was sacred, the bathroom door and the door separating the tiny corridor from the main room being painted in a screaming yellow.

I closed the door behind me and continued ahead, stopping in the doorway to take in the sight of Terri´s room. And that´s what it was. It was only a single room, but large enough to be comfortable and with small windows making up the entire outer wall supplying me with a brief view of another redbrick building just opposite this one before Terri walked over and closed the blinds, leaving the room in darkness.

I could hear her move around and a warm, orange glow filled the room as she switched on the lamp on her desk that was placed directly in front of the window. Still standing in the doorway, I looked to the right and saw a bed taking up the space of the entire wall and corner. My eyes rested briefly on the carelessly tossed around covers and pillows, then I forced myself to look away and study the rest of the room. Two bookcases not only filled, but stuffed with books were at either side of her desk, close to the window, which had forced Terri to practically lean in over her desk when she drew the blinds, and I silently added another thing to my mental list of Terri´s attributes.

Nice arse.

Getting my thoughts back on track, I looked at the table pushed up against the right wall, almost completely covered with CDs, books and various papers and magazines. A chair had edged itself in between the table and the right bookcase and I noticed Terri hastily remove a few books and a t-shirt before sitting down. I felt her eyes on me as my gaze went to the left side of the room, my eyes widening and I heard her chuckle.

“What can I say, I like music.”

I studied the huge collection of CDs before me and then my gaze moved on to the TV and VCR before stopping at the bookcase fronting the left wall.

“Where´s your stereo?”

She pointed at something under the table and I leaned down to look, “One has to be creative when living like this,” the voice was warm and relaxed. “I got most of my videotapes in my closet and the rest of my books are under my bed.”

I straightened up and looked at her. She gave me an enigmatic smile, “Sometimes it can be a real bitch to find something, I keep forgetting where I put it.”

I nodded in acknowledgement, my eyes for the first time straying higher, up the walls.

“You like R.E.M.?”

“Gee,” she smirked. “Whatever makes you think that?”

The walls were decorated wherever humanly possible with huge posters of the band, some displaying the original four and others the now three remaining members of the group.

“You prefer them?”

She nodded, “Yeah, I like a lot of music, sometimes I think it´s easier to ask what I dont like, but R.E.M….” She spoke the word slowly, almost tasting it. “R.E.M. are my favourites.”

“They have made some great songs,” I replied helpfully and she laughed out loud.

“Please! You don´t want to get me started. I can go on all night.”

I´d hope so.

Before I could banish the treacherous thought from my mind, I felt myself blush and was grateful for the soft, orange glow that only partially illuminated the room, although I doubted that anything escaped the intense blue eyes I could feel at my back as I stepped over to the CD collection and kneeled down.

“Tori Amos, too, huh?”

“Yeah, a friend recommended her to me once and I´ve been hooked ever since.”

I let my eyes roam the hundreds and hundreds of CDs, finding everything from Bach and Edith Piaf to P.J. Harvey.

“You were right. You do have a rather versatile taste when it comes to music.”

I turned around to find her still watching me.

“I like to keep my options open,” she replied slowly and I could feel a shiver run down my back. There was that sultry voice from the bar again. I stood motionless before her, feeling how her eyes slowly ran up and down my body without haste or impatience. I could swear she licked her lips as our eyes met again and a languid smile appeared on her face.

“Have you satisfied your curiosity now?”

I know my eyebrows must have disappeared up behind my bangs and I saw her smile broaden.

“The CDs. Have you finished looking at the CDs?”

I could only nod mutely as she slowly rose from the chair, taking a few steps forward.

“Do you want to hear anything?”

I must have looked like one big question mark and I must admit I didn´t really feel capable of thinking straight at that moment, my entire body crying out for the girl who was standing so close, but still keeping her distance.

“Music. Do you want to listen to some music?”

“Do you?”

Terri seemed to contemplate the question for a moment, her eyes darting away from my face to her CDs. “I guess a bit of Loreena McKennitt wouldn´t hurt,” she then mumbled, more to herself than to me. “She´s always good for creating a mood.”

She knelt down and expert fingers immediately found the CD she was looking for. I watched Terri disappear under the table and had to smile at the picture of her longs legs peeking out while the rest of her was hidden beneath the tabletop, and I felt how the tension in my body began to ease. A low, caressing and haunting tune filled the room as Terri appeared again, almost jumping back up. Instead of saying anything, she closed her eyes and swayed gently to the music for a moment, her lips silently voicing the lyrics, before she opened up her eyes and focused on me again. A content, almost happy smile showed on her face and I stepped forward until out bodies were practically touching.

“Kiss me, Terri,” I whispered quietly and she smiled again then leaned down to meet my lips.

When our lips met, I felt a jolt of electricity run through my body and I had to put my hands on her shoulders to steady myself. I felt her arms go round my waist and soon afterwards she deepened the kiss, gently teasing my lips with her tongue and I willingly opened my mouth to let her in. The arms around me tightened as she hungrily explored my mouth, leaving me both breathless and dizzy from desire. My body was responding to Terri and to Terri´s touch in a way I had never experienced before, in a way I hadn´t thought possible.

When she finally drew away to study my face, I felt her absence as an almost physical ache and I reached up to pull her head back down. She looked slightly surprised, but didn´t resist as I brought our faces together and kissed her, trying to communicate through that single kiss what kind of sensations she was creating in my heart and in my body. When we finally had to come up for air, we rested out foreheads against each other, both breathing shallow and fast.

“Whoa…” Terri murmured softly. “That was…something.”

I could only smile and tightened my grip around her neck.

Yes, that was indeed something.

“Perhaps you should take this off.”

She made a vague gesture that could imply anything from my jacket to my trousers, and I hesitantly started to unzip the first. She took a step back and tilted her head slightly, watching my every move. As the jacket fell to the floor and my hands slowly reached for the buttons of my blouse, I started to feel self-conscious again and even the dim light in Terri´s room felt like a spotlight focused directly on me.

The four buttons were soon history and I was very much aware that Terri now had a generous view of my cleavage, and I looked up nervously. She gave me an encouraging look, herself looking focused, but otherwise fully relaxed like she had complete strangers undress in her room on a regular basis, or maybe it was because she wasn´t the one stripping.

Shoes and nylons were next and then my hands went to the fly of my jeans where they lingered briefly before unzipping. I pushed the fabric down my hips and tried to appear casual as the cool air of the room engulfed my bare legs. As I stepped out of the jeans and bent down to pick them up, I could feel Terri´s gaze on me and instantly the chill room wasn´t a problem, my body creating enough heat to manage just fine on its own.

“Leave them,” Terri spoke in a tone so husky, I almost didn´t recognize her voice, but I dropped the trousers and straightened up. As I stood before her, a virtual stranger, in only a blouse and panties, the part of my mind that hadn´t already gone out the window, tried to tell me it was not too late. That I could still pick up my clothes and leave and everything would turn back to normal, but the moment I met her eyes I knew I was lost. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn´t be able to walk away and some distant part of me whispered that my life would never be the same.

I allowed myself to fall into the dark blue depths of her eyes, and maybe she saw the surrender reflected in my own, maybe she knew victory was at hand. No matter what, she smiled slightly and I felt her gaze almost as a caress as it moved from my face to my blouse. I obeyed the silent request and the blouse joined the rest of the discarded clothes on the floor. When I dared to meet her eyes again, my breath caught as I saw desire there for the first time. The thought that Terri liked what she saw, that she desired me, my body, made me feel powerful in a way I never had before and it must have showed on my face, because Terri suddenly smiled.

“Beautiful,” she said, her eyes never leaving my face.

It was all the encouragement I needed and with an ease that should have shocked me, but didn´t, I stripped the last two pieces of clothing from my body and stood in front of her naked. Terri sighed deeply as she took in the sight of my nude body and another smile appeared on her face.

“If you´re not careful, I´ll never let you out of here again.”

“And that would be a bad thing?” I asked, suddenly feeling brave.

I could see my words startled her a little and for the briefest of seconds I saw her withdraw into herself and her eyes become distant, then she was back.

“Maybe not,” she drawled and then without further ado or ceremony she stripped, and before I knew what had happened I was lying on the bed with my hands in her hair and my mouth eagerly tasting hers.

I had expected, I would be the one who couldn´t wait, the one who couldn´t slow down, but to my surprise, Terri seemed to be just as impatient as me, if not more and the way she tried to touch all of me at once, to claim me with hands, mouth and tongue all too soon pushed me over the edge and as my body fell spent and exhausted back on the bed, I gave her an embarrassed smile, feeling like I should apologize to her. But Terri just moved to lie down beside me and let out a contented sigh as she snuggled closer, resting her head on my shoulder while her right arm was possessively placed around my waist.

Within minutes she was asleep whereas I lay awake for hours, trying to come to grip with the events of the last twenty-four hours and with the fact that I was lying in the bed of a girl who had taken over my heart and soul without even having to try. As I kissed the dark head, still resting comfortably on my shoulder, I knew I´d just given my heart away and a part of me wondered if one day, I would get it back and if I did, whether the damage done to it wouldn´t be too great to ever fully repair.
Episode 4

I woke the next morning by the sound of Terri turning off the shower just on the other side of the wall. I listened to her move around in the bathroom for a moment before I sat up on the bed, draping the covers over my nakedness.

The digital numbers on the VCR showed it was almost half past eleven and I was surprised I had managed to sleep for so long. Of course I´d been through a rather vigorous workout the night before guided by an enthusiastic Terri, but sleeping for the first time in a strange place has always been difficult for me, and still is, except this time.

I decided not to think too much about it, but instead figure out what to do next. What was expected from me? Did Terri want me to get dressed and leave before she came out of the bathroom, or did she want me to stay? My heart knew exactly what it hoped the answer would be, and my inborn insecurity waged a great war against the part of me that couldn´t forget the way Terri had held me during the night.

I was just about to get up and collect my clothes from the floor when I heard the door to the bathroom open, and Terri came into the room followed by a big cloud of steam. Without really looking at me, she wedged herself between the desk and the bookcase, opening the blinds a little and then a window. She turned to look at me, leaning against the desk and the expression on her face was relaxed, if a little distanced and I didn´t know what to make out of it.

“Morning. Slept well?”

“Morning,” I replied, trying to sound more confident than I felt. “Yes, I slept great.”

She nodded in acknowledgement then picked up a pen from the desk and started to swirl it between her fingers. Although I felt my heart protest violently, I came to the decision that I might as well find out where I stood. Whether Terri was only searching for a polite way to tell me to get lost, or if she just wasn´t much of a morning person.

“So… Now what?” It wasn´t the most eloquent approach, but it was all I could think of at that moment.

I could almost sense it as her attention returned to me and some of the distance in the blue gaze disappeared.

“Perhaps you should get dressed.”

If she had plunged a knife into my heart it couldn´t have hurt more and I cursed myself inwardly as I reached down for my clothes, feeling my eyes tear up the moment my hair hid my face.

“And then perhaps we should get some breakfast or something.”

I looked down at the floor just long enough for her to wonder and as I leaned up again, she looked at me curiously.

“You okay?”

There was a worry in her voice that caused my heart to dance in a way that would have made Ally McBeal jealous, and I know the smile that appeared on my face must have been blinding because her brow furrowed slightly and then she grinned.

“I hope you´re hungry, ‘cos I´m starving.”

I nodded, not quite trusting my voice.

“I suppose you want to take a shower before we eat?”

By now I was in fully control of my voice again, “Yes.”

She walked past me and out to the tiny corridor and I noticed for the first time two closets opposite the kitchen. Terri opened one of them and rummaged around inside.

“I got socks and underwear you can use.” A tanned arm appeared and tossed the objects on the bed beside me. “I got a shirt too or a t-shirt if you want that instead. The shirt might be a little big for you, but you can always roll up the sleeves.” This time a dark head appeared and looked at me questioningly.

“A shirt will be fine, thank you.”

She disappeared into the closet again without a word before returning with a white cotton shirt. “Will this do?”

I nodded and stepped closer still with the covers around me, trying to read the discrete text on the shirt´s left pocket.

“When they discover the centre of the universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to discover they are not it,” Terri read out loud when she noticed where I was looking. “A friend made this for me, she knew I liked the quotation.”

I looked at her and smiled, “You would, wouldn´t you?”

She smirked a little and gently pushed me towards the bathroom. “Get moving, I´m hungry.”

I was just about to enter when a thought struck me and I stepped over to stand in the doorway to Terri´s room. She was sitting cross legged on the floor with a book, but looked up as she heard me approach.

I smiled a little sheepishly when the blue eyes met mine.

“You know… I don´t even know your surname…”

“Oh,” she looked a little surprised. “It´s Cavanagh, Teresa Cavanagh.”

“Thank you,” I grinned. “That´s always nice to know.”

She raised an eyebrow then grinned herself. “Yeah, I guess.”

She resumed her reading and I used the opportunity to just drink in the sight of her on the floor. She looked totally at ease and relaxed, dressed in faded blue jeans and grey t-shirt, the black hair still damp and slightly tousled and I had to stop myself from going over and wrap my arms around her, knowing if I did, I would never want to let go.

I have never showered and dressed so fast in my life.

Less than ten minutes later, we stepped out into the corridor and Terri got out her key to lock the door. She had informed me that she didn´t have any food in the house and that her eating habits might be a little unusual, but suggested we went out for breakfast somewhere or buy something and bring it back. I had asked her what she wanted and she had scratched her cheek and told me she felt like having tacos.

“Tacos? For breakfast?”

“Uh huh.”

“You´re kidding, right?”

“No, I like tacos and I feel like having some now, but of course if you want something else that´s okay. I´m flexible.”

She had looked at me with those gorgeous blue eyes and soon I found myself walking down the corridor behind her on the way to get some tacos. Just before we reached the lift, I heard a door open and a voice call out.

“Terri!”

Terri turned slowly, “Yeah?”

The voice belonged to a girl with fiery red hair and a pretty smile. She looked like she had just gotten out of bed and stifled a yawn before speaking again.

“I thought I heard you come out.” She stepped a little closer and came to a halt just next to me, her eyes still on Terri. “Where were you last night? We waited for almost an hour.”

“No, you didn´t,” she smirked. “Ten minutes maybe, but not an hour.”

“Hahaha,” the red-haired girl replied in a teasing, but friendly voice. “That´s not the point. The point is we did wait for you. You said you´d be there.”

“No, I didn´t. I said I might be there.”

The girl tilted her head, looked at Terri then sighed good-naturedly. “Whatever you say, Terri, whatever you say.” Then for the first time she turned her attention to me and gave me an odd smile. “I don´t believe we´ve met.”

Terri raised her hand and gestured carelessly from the redhead to me, “Alison, this is Sarah. Sarah, this is Alison.”

The girl smiled again, but the expression in her eyes didn´t quite match the smile. “Nice to meet you, Sarah. You´re Terri´s latest friend?”

I heard Terri inhale sharply behind me, but before she could speak, I smiled and said pleasantly, “No, Terri´s my latest friend.” For a moment Alison looked puzzled, then she gave me another sweet smile, “Nice shirt. Terri´s got one just like it.”

“It´s a small world,” Terri drawled from behind us. “Come on, let´s go. I´m hungry.”

I gave Alison a brief nod then turned to meet up with Terri who was waiting in front of the lift.

“Terri?” It was the redhead again.

“Yes?” The impatience in Terri´s voice was clear, but apparently the girl was used to it and she didn´t seem put off.

“Dean wanted me to tell you that the party starts at eight tonight.”

“I know,” Terri replied and opened the door to the lift. “I think he´s managed to tell me that about ten times already.”

“Well, he just wants you to be there, that´s all.” Alison leaned against the wall next to her door. “You are gonna be there, aren´t you?”

“Yeah, sure. I told him I would.”

“Good.” I could hear the smile in Alison´s voice even without seeing it. “I´ll see you tonight then.”

As the doors closed behind us, I looked at Terri, “Don´t you want to go?”

She shrugged and muttered something I couldn´t decipher. We exited the lift and Terri made a brief detour to her mailbox to see if anything interesting had arrived, before we headed outside.

“You still up for tacos?”

“Yes,” I grinned. “I might as well live a little on the wild side today.”

“Okay, tacos it is then,” she said and started to walk down the road. “I know this place that´s quite good and it´s not so expensive so lots of students go there.”

I caught up with her, “Don´t think about that, Terri. It´s my turn to pay, remember?”

She stopped and looked at me. “Yeah, I know but…”

“But what?”

“Well…” She seemed suddenly uncomfortable. “I mean, you stayed at my place last night, you´re…you´re kinda my guest and that makes me your host…” She faltered as if that explained everything.

I had to control a strong urge not to just jump into her arms and kiss her senseless, that´s how cute she looked, but I stopped myself and just smiled, “Your guest, huh?”

She nodded, “Yeah.”

“Okay, tell you what. You´ll be my host for now, but then you got to give me an opportunity to make it up to you sometime.”

It wasn´t exactly subtle, but it wasn´t direct either. In one sentence, I had just told Terri that I wanted to see her again and that I would leave it up to her to decide if it was going to happen. She looked away, a gesture I by now knew meant she needed to think.

“Make it up to me, you say…” She spoke slowly and returned her gaze to me. “Do you have anything in mind?”

I let out a breath, I didn´t know I had been holding, “Dinner, my place, Sunday. Does that sound fair?”

“Hmm,” Terri smirked. “That depends on what you serve.”

“I´m a great cook, I can tell you. I´ve never had any complaints before.”

She looked into my eyes for a long time and I let her, somehow knowing she was searching for something and desperately hoping that whatever she found, it would be to her liking.

“Well…in that case…” She drew out the words and then a smile appeared on her face. “Besides I´m a student and a student never turns down a free meal. I´d be kicked out of university if they heard.”

“Well, we wouldn´t want that, would we?” I replied as we started to walk down the road again.

After a quiet, but comfortable breakfast of tacos and milk, (Terri hadn´t been kidding when she said she had unusual eating habits) she walked me back to my car.

I took my time finding my keys, trying to postpone my departure for as long as possible. I knew in my heart that from the moment I stepped into my car to the moment I saw her again on Sunday, the only thing on my mind would be Terri. What she was doing, what she was thinking, who she was with and whether she felt the same way about me as I felt about her.

And how do you feel? The annoying little voice in my head asked. I ignored it and finally held the right key in my hand. Terri had been standing quietly a few steps away while she waited for me to get ready and as I looked up, I couldn´t read the expression on her face. I wondered if it would be okay to kiss her. She hadn´t kissed me or touched me in any way the entire morning, or made any other indication that we were anything more than friends and not two people who had made passionately love just the night before.

As I looked at her, I felt more confused that I had before in my entire life. Terri was one walking contradiction and I had no idea of what I was to her in that moment. What we were or weren´t to each other. One minute she would give me a gentle, almost affectionate smile that would make my heart melt, the next she would be lost in thought and withdraw from me for no apparent reason, hardly acknowledging my presence. I had noticed several times during breakfast that she simply wasn´t there, that her eyes were distant, almost unfocused and not until I had spoken her name three times or more, she would return and give me another enigmatic smile.

The thoughts must have been reflected on my face because she suddenly frowned.

“You okay? You seemed a little distant there for a moment.”

I had to smile at her remark. “No, I´m fine, just thinking.”

“Oh, okay…” She relaxed again, her gaze not directly on my face, but not quite away either.

“Wait…before I forget.” I opened my purse and took out a small notebook. “You´ll need to know my address.”

“Yeah, that probably wouldn´t hurt.”

She stepped closer and looked over my shoulder as I quickly wrote down my address on an empty page, before tearing it off and handing it to Terri who took it, and without looking at it put it into her pocket, then stepped away again.

“I´ll wash your shirt and your other clothes when I get home so they´ll be ready for you on Sunday.”

“Sure, no hurry,” she said. I won´t be running out of things to wear right away.”

We stood in front of each other in silence for a few seconds.

“So… 7:30, my place, Sunday?”

“I´ll be there.”

We fell silent again, but before it could become awkward, Terri suddenly closed the distance between us and gave me a chaste kiss on the cheek before moving away again just as swiftly. She then smiled briefly and turned around to walk away.

“Terri?”

She turned to face me again, “Yes?”

“Do you really think you can leave me like that?”

“What?” She looked genuinely concerned that she might have offended me. “What do you mean?”

“This.” I stepped over to her and wrapped my arms around her neck, pulled her head down and kissed her hungrily. I felt her stiffen for just a second then she relaxed and returned my kiss with equal passion. When I finally released her, I could see both amusement and desire in the blue eyes.

“Isn´t this way better?” I asked, feeling rather flushed and out of breath myself.

“Oh yeah,” she grinned, “much better. A girl could get used to this.”

I reached up and touched her cheek, “I´d hope so.” Then I gave her a quick kiss on the mouth and practically jumped into my car, not daring to look at her. Shortly afterwards as I looked into the rear-view mirror, driving down the road, I saw Terri standing on the same spot where I´d left her, her hand touching her cheek and an unreadable expression on her face.
Episode 5

I was feeling so full of energy that I actually took the stairs instead of the lift to my apartment, and it wasn´t till I turned the corner and was met with the sight of a fuming best friend waiting outside my door that some of the cheerfulness left me.

“Oh shit!”

Paige gave me her most sarcastic smile, “Oh shit? Is that all you have to say, Sarah? I waited for you at Labelle´s for forty-five minutes and then when you didn´t answer your phone either, I rushed over here wondering whether you lay dead in the bathroom or something else that would qualify as an acceptable excuse.” She stepped aside so I could unlock my door. “Obviously you aren´t dead so it better be good whatever it was that kept you away this morning.”

She followed me into the apartment and kicked the door shut with her heel, crossed her arms and looked at me expectantly.

“Well…?”

Paige and I had known each other for about three years. We met when one of the lawyers in my firm was handling her divorce and we quickly became friends, and every Saturday morning whenever possible we would meet at Labelle´s for brunch and then a bit of mindless shopping afterwards.

As I sank down on a kitchen chair and kicked off my shoes, I could feel her accusing gaze on me, but I didn´t take it too seriously. Paige had always loved to be melodramatic and tended to exaggerate everything, but she always returned to her usual friendly self pretty fast and I don´t think I had ever seen her really upset. This time wasn´t an exception as she suddenly stepped closer, an intrigued look on her face.

“That´s not your shirt,” she stated and looked at me suspiciously. “I know your entire wardrobe and that one´s not yours.”

Slowly a big grin showed on her face and before I could say or do anything, she walked over and looked into the plastic bag I had carelessly put on the kitchen table. She triumphantly pulled out my blouse and bra and showed them to me.

“Well, well, well… What do we have here?”

Her grin broadened as I made a futile attempt to get the pieces of clothing back from her, “Paige, don´t be silly. I…” I stopped, suddenly realizing I didn´t know what to say.

Her brown eyes twinkled as she graciously put the clothes back into the back and then made herself comfortable on the kitchen table. She leaned closer and studied my face and I was helpless to stop a blush which only caused her to laugh out loud.

“So that´s what was so important that you forgot our date this morning. You had sex last night, you lucky devil!” She gave me a teasing smile. “In that case you´re forgiven, but only because I have no life of my own. I want all the details! Tell me everything or I might have to reconsider my forgiveness.”

“Well…” I squirmed under her close scrutiny, but couldn´t help being affected by her mood, and besides, I was feeling a strong urge to tell the entire world about this fantastic thing that had happened to me. I was about to speak when the mischievous look on Paige´s face suddenly faded and she looked almost hurt.

“Why haven´t you mentioned that you were seeing someone? I always tell you all about my dates. Okay, I admit they´re horrible most of them, but I still tell you about them.”

“Oh, it´s not like that, Paige,” I hurried to say. “You know I wouldn´t keep something like that from you. It´s just, well…” I gave her a smile. “This is rather new to me, too.”

She looked a little doubtful, “How new?”

I blushed, “Well… We… we met… um… yesterday.”

“What?” Paiged asked incredulously. “You jumped into bed with someone you´d only known for a day?”

“Hey,” I said indignantly. “I´m a grown woman, I can do what I want.”

Paige was still looking slightly stunned, but she reached out and squeezed my hand. “I´m not questioning your virtue, Sarah, far from it. I mean, it´s not like I haven´t done that myself, but that´s exactly the point. I´m the kind of person who does stuff like that and you´re…you´re…”

“Yeees…” I said, giving her a see-if-you-can-get-yourself-out-of-this-one look.

“Not,” she finished meekly then shook her head. “Wow, this guy must be quite something to blow you off your feet like that. This calls for a celebration.”

She jumped off the kitchen table and fetched two glasses, then looked inside the fridge. “No white wine?”

“Second shelve, but Paige I think you should-”

“I know, I know,” she interrupted, “it´s way too early for wine and your neighbours would be horrified if they knew, but…” She returned to the kitchen table and sat down on a chair beside me, “This is a special occasion and besides, if I get you drunk it´ll be easier to get all the juicy details.”

She filled the glasses and gave me an encouraging look. “So spill it!”

“Well…”

“No! Wait, wait! First we have to make a toast.” She adapted a serious expression and raised her glass, “To…being swept off one´s feet!”

“To being swept off one´s feet,” I repeated dutifully.

“And to great sex!”

“Paige!”

“Well,” she smirked. “Am I wrong about that part?”

I could only give her a silly grin and she grinned wickedly in return, then turned slightly more serious.

“Okay, now you got to tell me everything.”

She looked at me expectantly, but I was suddenly overwhelmed by the entire situation and my own feelings and could only look at her helplessly. For a moment she looked at me strangely, then she gave me a sympathetic smile. “I´ll ask, you answer. Okay?”

I nodded gratefully.

She rolled up her sleeves as if preparing for a boxing match and started to roll her head back and forth to loosen up her muscles.

“Paigeeeee…”

“Okay, okay,” she grinned. “I just had to warm up. It´s not everyday that my best friend comes home and tells me she´s spent the night with a total stranger. I didn´t want to strain anything.” She grinned again, “Okay, I´ll be serious. So, what´s the name of this superhuman who managed to break through your defences so easily?”

“Terri, Terri Cavanagh.”

“Terri Cavanagh, ” she repeated. “Well that sounds nice enough. Where did you meet?”

I paused, knowing what Paige would ask next. “We met in a bar, the Stage to be exact.”

“The Stage?” She frowned. “But isn´t that a-”

“Terri´s a girl, Paige. Her real name´s Teresa.”

“Oh…” Paige stared at me for a moment then looked away. “I see…” She took a big gulp from her glass.

We were silent for a few minutes.

“Are you shocked?” I asked quietly.

“No… no.” She looked back at me and gave me a little smile. “No, I´m just… surprised, that´s all. I mean, I know you said you liked women once, but we were both drunk so I didn´t really take it seriously.”

I smiled, not knowing what else to do. “I was serious, Paige. I´m sorry that I didn´t make it more clear, but you know me, I´ve never been very comfortable talking about my personal life and I didn´t think… I mean, at that time I had more or less decided that I liked being single and independent.” I gave her another pale smile. “I never thought it would become an issue, I never thought I´d be attracted enough to someone, be it a man or a woman, that I would… would…”

A look of understanding crossed Paige´s face. “You really got it bad, don´t you?”

“Yes, it´s so…so… I´ve never felt this way before,” I almost whispered. “I didn´t know it could be like this.”

Paige reached out and took my hand, “I´m happy for you, Sarah. I really am. The look on your face right now is enough to make me jealous. This Terri, she must be very special to make you feel like this.”

“She is.” I looked into my best friend´s brown eyes and saw nothing but affection mixed concern. “So this… I mean, it doesn´t change anything between us, does it?”

“Hey,” Paige smiled. “What do you take me for? You´re my friend no matter who you have in your bed.” She pointed a finger at me, “As long as it isn´t George Clooney because he´s spoken for already.”

“Oh,” I returned her smile, feeling both happy and relieved. “Does he know that?”

“Not yet, but he will.” She became serious and raised her glass. “To you, Sarah, and your happiness.”

We touched glasses.

“And I hope Terri knows how lucky she is or I´ll personally have to go kick her arse.”

“I hope so too,” I said quietly and finished my wine.

I spent the rest of the day being grilled by Paige about every little detail, and then spent most of the night fretting over what to make for dinner the next evening. I felt reasonably sure that Terri could eat almost anything, but I desperately wanted to make something special and original, and only just managed to stop myself from calling my grandmother and ask for a recipe.

Surprisingly enough, the hours until Terri should arrive passed quickly, but being on the phone for two hours with Paige telling her not to drop by unexpectedly Sunday night to see for herself what all the fuss was about, and the time I spent going through my closet to find out what to wear might have had something to do with that.

When my watch showed 7:45 p.m., I had to force myself not to open my door and stare down the hallway to see if Terri was on her way. I knew I was being silly and was also quite surprised about my own reaction, but I was helpless to do anything about it. I was feeling like a teenager going through her first crush and in a way I was. I have always been a rather balanced and calm person, but in the last twenty-four hours I had had more mood swings than a woman in her menopause, feeling deliriously happy one moment, fantasizing about a future with Terri and in the next I would be full of doubt and insecurity, cursing myself for believing that Terri would even show up. Nobody had ever affected me like this before and if that wasn´t enough to tell me how bad I had it, the triple somersault my heart made the moment the doorbell rang was proof enough.

I straightened the pretty, but not too classy skirt I had decided to wear, took a deep breath and opened the door. Terri was standing a few steps away from my doorway, looking a little hesitant.

“Hi,” she smiled briefly. “Sorry, I´m late. Something came up.”

“Hey, no problem.” I stepped aside and she walked inside. “I´m just glad you made it.”

She took off her leather jacket then looked at her shoes. “Want me to take these off?”

“No, keep them on.”

As she turned around to put her jacket on a hanger, I shamelessly used the opportunity to study the tight white t-shirt she was wearing that didn´t leave much to the imagination, and the black jeans that seemed to be painted on her.

“Hope I didn´t spoil dinner.”

“Oh, uh, no,” I replied and managed not to blush in spite of the fact that Terri had turned around again and must have caught me staring. “It´s still in the oven. Why don´t you make yourself comfortable and I´ll check on things in the kitchen.”

“Okay.”

She walked left into the living room and I went right into the kitchen. The dinner was just about ready and I used the last couple of minutes to drink a glass of wine to steady my nerves, before heading into the living room with the food. Terri was standing over by my desk, looking at the photographs placed there as she heard me come in.

“Need a hand?”

“No.” I put the dish down on the already laid table and lit two candles. “I got it all covered. Hope you´re hungry.”

“Always.” Terri stepped closer and sniffed the air. “That smells good. What is it?”

“Trout.” I turned to look at her. “You do like fish, don´t you?”

“Oh yeah,” she grinned. “Love it.”

We sat down at the table and I started to pour the wine.

“I like fishing, too.”

“Oh?” I said and handed her a glass.

“Yeah, I used to go out fishing with my dad when I was younger. We would be gone for hours and most times we didn´t catch that much, but it was fun nonetheless.” She took a sip of her wine and licked her lips appreciatively, “Ah, that´s nice. Much better that the vinegar I´m usually served.”

We started to eat and little by little, Terri appeared to be more at ease and became less monosyllabic, and she readily answered all the questions I had in my overwhelming desire to know more about her.

“So you´re not raised in the city?”

“Nah, I was born in a very, and I mean, very, little town that won´t mean a thing to you if I say its name. I moved to the city to study the moment I got the chance.”

“Didn´t you like it there?”

“Sure, it was an okay place to grow up. Lots of kids to play with, lots of nature and so, but when you got older you found out that there really wasn´t anything to do.” She took another bite, “This is good. You were right, you are a good cook.”

I smiled at the compliment, but wasn´t about to abandon my quest for knowledge so soon. “And your parents? Do they still live there?”

“Uh huh,” she nodded. “My mum´s got a medical practice there and my dad works in a hospital about 25 miles away.”

“I take it they´re both doctors?”

“Yes,” she grinned. “And to make it even worse my older brother is studying medicine as well. So much for creativity, but then again, my brother has never been a very imaginative person, so I guess it makes sense in the end.”

“In contrast to you, I suppose?”

Blue eyes looked into mine for a moment then Terri smiled a little, “Yeah, you could say that.”

She seemed to drift off for a moment, lost in thoughts or memories, but only for a couple of seconds.

“So…my turn to play twenty questions. I know you´re a lawyer and your dad´s a lawyer too, but that´s it.” She pushed her empty plate away and refilled our glasses. “Tell me something about yourself, Sarah.”

She leaned back in her chair and waited for me to begin. The wine was starting to affect me which was why I dared to say the thing I did, “I like the way you say my name. You make it sound so…so sensuous, like a caress.”

“Oh…” Terri grinned a little and I think she might even have blushed, but she recovered quickly. “Well, that´s… that´s good I hope.”

“Oh yes,” I gave her suggestive smile. “Very good.”

As I looked into her eyes, I felt my pulse quicken and suddenly the relaxed dinner atmosphere had become quite tense, then Terri broke eye contact and I started to breathe normally again.

“So… Now I know you like the way I say your name.” She returned her gaze to me, “Anything else I should know?”

“Oh well, there isn´t much to tell really. I was born in the suburbs, my father is a lawyer as you know, my mother is librarian. I have a younger sister who´s married and has one daughter who´s absolutely adorable. Hmm…” I searched my mind. “I think that´s sort of it.”

Terri looked at me, “Can I ask you something personal?”

“Sure,” I replied, sounding more confident than I felt. “I won´t have to answer it, will I?”

“No,” she smiled briefly. “You don´t have to.”

She drank some more wine and by the way she fidgeted with her glass I realized she was nervous. The sight released a wave of mixed emotions inside of me. One part being glad that Terri wasn´t so cool about the entire situation as she appeared to be, and the other part was worried that I might not like the reason why she was feeling nervous.

“Umm…” She stared at the wine in her glass. “It´s all very nice, the dinner and everything and I was wondering…”

“Yes?” I asked and swallowed lightly. “You were wondering…?”

“Well,” she still wouldn´t look at me. “I was wondering if that meant that you might, I don´t know, maybe wanted to…”

“Yes, Terri?” I spoke softly and finally she looked up and met my eyes.

“That you might wanted to meet again sometime?”

I was unable to stop myself from asking the next question, “Would you like to meet again, Terri?”

As I looked into the blue eyes, I saw how the nervousness disappeared and was replaced by a confident, almost daring expression, “Yes, I would.” Her voice was just as daring as the look in her eyes.

“Well then,” I stood up. “In that case I´ll have to inform you,” I stepped around the table and stopped in front of her. “That that can most certainly be…” I took her hand and pulled her up to stand beside me. “Arranged.”

“Oh…” Was all she managed to say before I pulled her down for a kiss.
Part 2

Episode 6

When the alarm roughly pulled me from my sleep Monday morning, Terri had left already. For a moment I felt a powerful stab of panic until I found her hastily scribbled note on the kitchen table.

Hi,
I´ve got morning classes today and I have to leave now if I don´t want to be late.

I guess I should have woken you up and said properly goodbye, but you looked so peaceful that I decided to let you sleep.
Thanks for dinner last night, it was great.

Call you later.

Terri

I sighed and went into the bathroom. This wasn´t quite the way I had wanted to say goodbye to Terri, especially not after the night we had just spent together. This time Terri had taken her time and had shown an almost devilish delight in bringing me as close as possible only to pull back and start all over, leaving my body desperate and aching. And when she finally did allow me my release, she barely waited for the shudders to subside before she was over me again.

“Terri, please… You have to give me time to catch my breath.”

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No. Yes, well… Give me a minute.” I smiled and touched her face, tracing a cheekbone. “I´m not as young as you are, remember?”

“I wouldn´t call you old.” Terri grinned mischievously and started to kiss my shoulder. “In fact, I would call you anything but old.”

As she started to move downwards, I put my hand on her head, “Please, Terri. Are you trying to kill me?”

She looked up, her blue eyes twinkling. “No, I can´t say that´s what´s on my mind right now.” She sighed melodramatically, “But if I´ve worn you out already…”

She looked so smug that in spite of the practically liquid feeling in my body, I suddenly found new strength, rolled her over and started to ravish her. And I was tremendously pleased with myself when later it was Terri´s turn to beg for mercy.

I showered and dressed, wanting nothing else but to go back to bed. However, the fact that Terri wasn´t there helped and after a healthy breakfast, I had worked up quite an appetite, I grabbed my briefcase and went to work.

I spent the rest of the day walking and talking in my own little rose coloured world, intoxicated by my feelings, and it must showed on my face because even my less than perceptive boss stopped and asked me if I had changed my makeup or something like that. When I ensured him I hadn´t changed anything, he shrugged a little, then claimed that there was something different about me and asked if I´d had something done to my hair.

My thoughts kept drifting back to one subject, namely Terri, and I had a hard time concentration with fragments of conversations and images from last night continually entering my head to distract me.

“Turn over, I want to see something.”

Terri willingly rolled onto her stomach and I leaned over to check if I had really seen what I thought I did, not quite trusting my own judgement on the matter since I had been in a rather heated state when I first saw it. But I had been right. On her left shoulder blade was a small tattoo, not more than two words woven intricately together.

“Forever Permanent,” I read and placed a kiss there before Terri turned around to face me.

“Yeah, I was in a mood that day and before I knew what had happened, I was sporting a tattoo.”

“Oh, and what kind of mood was that?”

“Well,” she grinned a little. “A melancholic, melodramatic, depressive and frustrated kind of mood. I must have been listening to too much Tori Amos that day. She always does that to me.”

I propped myself up on one elbow, “Does it stand for anything? I mean, was it…inspired by anybody besides Tori Amos?”

I knew I was being unreasonable, but I desperately wanted the answer to be no. I didn´t want to know that there had been other people in Terri´s life. I wanted to be the only one who´d ever had the privilege of sharing a bed with the beautiful girl beside me.

“Nah, it´s not inspired by anyone but me.” She looked at me, “Nobody´s ever inspired me enough to have me get a tattoo.”

“Oh…” I know I must have smiled and to cover it up, I reached out and touched a small scar on her left bicep. “Where´s that from?”

“That?” She glanced at her arm. “That´s from an arrow.”

“An arrow?” I repeated in disbelief.

“Uh huh,” she nodded. “My cousin and I used to play with swords and bows and stuff like that all the time, and sometimes we´d get a little carried away.” She smiled, almost proudly. “It went right through my jacket and my sweater. Bled like hell.”

I gave her a look, then continued, “I take it this in another result of the two of you…getting carried away?” I pointed to another, slightly larger scar on her thigh.

“Yes,” she touched the pale scar gently. “A knife.”

“Jesus, Terri.” I shook my head. “Didn´t your parents try to stop you?”

“Well,” she grinned a little sheepishly. “We didn´t always tell them what we were running around doing all day. Some things we found best not to tell.”

“Yeah, I can imagine.”

I sat up and enjoyed the sight of Terri sprawled on the bed beside me for a second, before putting a finger on a quite jagged scar just below her right knee. “And this?”

“Oh,” she smiled a little. “That´s not quite as dramatic as the rest. A bit embarrassing actually. I was sitting on my bike, not riding or anything, just sitting still, and then suddenly I lost my balance and fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Unfortunately, my right leg got tangled into some barbed wire that was lying around.” She shrugged, “Took me awhile to remove it.”

“Ouch, ” I squirmed in sympathy. “That must have hurt.”

“Yeah, it wasn´t pleasant, but I´ve got a pretty high tolerance for pain so…”

She opened her arms and I happily scooted back and rested my head on her chest.

“Jason, that´s my cousin´s name, Jason and I used to compete all the time about who could stand the most pain before giving up. You know, putting a hand close to a candle, touching nettles, holding ice…stuff like that.”

“It´s a wonder you survived your childhood.” I kissed her collarbone, “But I must say I´m glad you did.”

I heard the laughter rumble in her chest as she gently started to stroke my hair.

“Yeah, I guess. Jason and I were very competitive. Not just with that, but also who could run the fastest, who was the best ballplayer, who could eat the most cherries. Everything actually.”

I raised my head and looked at her, “Your brother never did anything like that?”

“No, Alan was more into Lego and then later computers. I mean, we played football and so, but he never cared for our more…adventurous games.”

I smiled, picturing a young blue eyed girl running around with a sword while her brother was inside playing with bricks.

Terri returned my smile for a moment then became more serious. “You don´t think I´m totally crazy, do you?”

“No, Terri.” I kissed her deeply before continuing. “I think you´re just perfect.”
I rushed home to see if there was a message on my machine from Terri, but to my great disappointment there wasn´t. And neither was there the next day or the next day again. Finally Thursday night, I couldn´t take it any longer, swallowed my pride and gingerly dialled her number.

I was so certain that I would get her answering machine that I almost dropped the receiver when I heard someone pick up and a sleepy voice mumbled, “Yeah?”

“Uh, Terri? It´s Sarah.”

“Oh, hey…”I heard her stifle a yawn and clear her throat.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, sure. Just had a late night, that´s all. So, what´s up?”

I suddenly realized I had no idea what to say and I was painfully aware of the long silence that followed.

“Sarah? You still there?”

“Yes, sorry, I just…” I faltered, but then managed to pull myself together. “I´m sorry if I woke you up.”

“Nah, that´s okay. I was just about to get up anyway.”

I looked at my watch. It was close to eight and I couldn´t help but wonder what Terri had been doing the night before. I steeled myself and took a deep breath, deciding I might as well get it over with.

“You said you´d call, but since it´s been awhile, I just wanted to know if everything was…was okay?”

“Oh…” Her voice sounded slightly surprised. “Well, everything´s fine.”

Then why haven´t you called me! my mind shouted, while my mouth chose a more subtle approach.

“Well…that´s good. I was worried that…that something might have happened.” I paused again, took another deep breath and cursed myself for being such a coward.

“Sarah?”

I was so wrapped up in my own misery and my inability to phrase a coherent sentence that it took me a few seconds before I realized that Terri had spoken my name.

“Yes?”

There was silence for a moment then, “I was gonna call you, you know.”

“You were?”

Her words did manage to reassure me to some extent, but still a small flicker of doubt ignited inside of me, and she must have heard it in my voice.

“Yes, I was. I mean, I guess I should have called earlier, but I´ve just… I´ve had a lot of stuff hanging over my head lately.” She paused, “I´m sorry that I worried you, I didn´t mean to.”

I felt relief wash over me and I decided it was time to stop running in circles and get to the point.

“It´s okay, Terri. After all, you didn´t promise to call the next day. I guess, I just got little insecure after awhile. I was afraid you might have changed your mind about the whole thing.”

“If I´d changed my mind I would have told you,” she spoke earnestly. “I don´t like people who play games and I don´t do that myself either.”

I smiled although she couldn´t see it, “I´m glad to hear that.”

We were both silent for a moment.

“Okay, before this turns into a shouting contest,” I could hear Terri chuckle quietly at the other end. “I was wondering if you had any plans for Friday?”

“Uh…” I had no difficulties picturing the tentative look in the blue eyes. “Well, I´ve sorta promised to be somewhere.”

“I see…”

“I swear if I could get out of it I would. I´d much rather be with you.” The sincerity in her voice warmed my very soul. “Don´t sweat it, Terri. I don´t want you to change your plans because of me. What about Sunday then?”

“Oh…”

“No good either?” I laughed in spite of the frustration I was feeling. “No, not really.” She paused, “But what about Saturday? I´m not doing anything then.”

“Well…” This time it was my turn to hesitate. “I usually spend Saturdays with Paige, she´s my best friend, and since I kinda left her hanging last week, I think I ought to make it up to her somehow…”

“Oh, okay.” Terri´s voice seemed to become a little distanced. “I don´t want you to get into trouble with your friend.”

“Tell you what?” I said, briefly wondering if the idea that had just formed in my head would sound just as good when spoken out loud. “Why don´t you meet up with Paige and me at Labelle´s for brunch Saturday?”

I could almost her the hesitation in her voice, “Well, don´t you think Paige wants to be alone with you? I mean, since you missed her last week?”

I wondered if I should tell her that Paige had called me almost every night to hear how my love life was developing, and was more than keen to finally meet the mysterious Terri. Somehow I didn´t think that would persuade Terri to come, so I wisely decided on a different approach.

“I´m sure she wouldn´t mind, in fact, I know she wouldn´t mind. Paige is a really nice person and besides…” Subconsciously the tone of my voice dropped slightly, “I´d really like to see you again.”

“Really?” Terri grinned a little, “Well, that´s nice to know.” She let out a deep sigh as if facing an enormous challenge. “Okay, why not. If you´re sure Paige won´t mind then I guess it couldn´t hurt.”

“That´s great,” I smiled broadly. “Then let´s meet at eleven at Labelle´s. You know where it is?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Okay, then…” I didn´t quite know what to say next. “Well, then… I´ll see you Saturday.”

“Yeah, till Saturday.”

“Till Saturday. Bye Terri.

“Bye.”

The moment I hung up, I wondered if this had been such a good idea after all. Paige could be rather… direct when she wanted to and I wasn´t sure how Terri would react, but then I sighed and slumped down on the couch. I might as well get it over with. I cared a lot about Paige and in the relatively short time I had known Terri, I had started to care, not only a little, but a great deal about her, and I wanted two of the most important people in my life to meet. I didn´t necessarily want them to become best buddies, but I at least wanted them to know each other and hopefully they would get along. I turned on the TV and watched another rerun of “The Wonder Years.”
Episode 7

Saturday found Paige and me sitting at the best window table inside Labelle´s waiting for Terri to arrive. When I had informed Paige about the new development, she had given me a wicked grin, “Ah, finally I get to see wonderwoman. This is going to be so much fun.”

“Paige…”

“Hey,” she smiled innocently. “I´ll be on my best behaviour, I promise.”

We had settled for coffee to start with and waited for Terri before ordering anything else. Paige was already on her second cup and she positively radiated a mixture of energy and cheerfulness which was frankly quite unnerving.

“So,” she looked at me conspiratorially. “Is there anything I should know before she comes? Is there anything you don´t want me to ask?”

“Paige,” I gave her a warning look. “You promised.”

“Oh, I´ll be good,” she grinned. “I just enjoy making you nervous.”

I smiled a little warily, but before I could say anything something outside the window caught Paige´s attention.

“Don´t tell me…that´s Terri, right?”

I instantly followed her gaze and saw Terri stride towards us.

“Yes, that´s Terri.”

“Wow…” Paige said. “You weren´t exaggerating, she is gorgeous.”

I couldn´t keep the proud smile from my face, “She is, isn´t she?”

Paige leaned closer, practically pressing her nose against the window. “Seems to be having a bit of an attitude, though,” she said more to herself than to me.

I watched as Terri crossed the street and was spellbound by the daring, almost challenging expression in her eyes every time someone would look at her. It was a look that said, `come and get me,´ and as Paige moved away from the window again, I heard her say softly, “I think you´re in for quite a ride there.”

Terri opened the door and looked around. The moment our eyes met, her features softened and she smiled briefly, then her gaze moved on to Paige and her expression became guarded. She hesitated for a second then walked determinedly to our table.

“Hi.”

“Hi, Terri.” I rose and put my hand on her arm. “Terri Cavanagh, meet Paige Hanson. Paige, this is Terri.”

“Ah, so you´re the one who´s been driving Sarah to distraction lately.”

She rose as well and they shook hands.

“Yeah, well…” Terri looked at little uncertain then smiled. “Nice to meet you, Paige. Sorry, I kept Sarah away from you last Saturday.”

“Oh, that´s quite all right,” Paige smirked. “I can hardly blame her for wanting to spend time with a tall, dark and beautiful stranger instead of lil´ ol´ me.”

I gave Paige a look and then I couldn´t control myself any longer and pulled Terri down for a kiss. I think that we both must have been rather enthusiastic about seeing each other again because when we finally broke apart, Paige eyes were wide open and she was shooting glances at the tables around us.

“Gee, get a room, will ya´.”

I just grinned, not bothering to wonder where my natural modesty and self-consciousness had gone, and sat down followed by Terri who took the chair beside me.

The waiter arrived shortly afterwards and Paige and I ordered our usual while Terri just shrugged and said she would have the same. The moment the young man left, Paige´s eyes locked onto Terri and she smiled broadly.

“So… Terri… Sarah tells me you´re a student?”

Terri nodded, her attention focused on something outside the window, “Yes. History and literature.”

“Is it interesting?” Paige continued, apparently determined to get Terri talking.

Terri turned her head and looked at her, “Some of it.” Then she looked back out of the window.

Paige raised her eyebrows and gave me slightly sceptical look and I started to wonder if this hadn´t been a mistake after all. Terri seemed less than eager to talk and her attitude was, if not hostile, then very distant.

“So, this is your first year?” Paige asked, trying once more to begin a conversation with Terri.

“Second,” Terri answered absently, still looking out of the window.

Paige gave me another look then rose from the table, “If you´ll excuse me, ladies, I´ll just go… powder my nose.”

As she passed me, she leaned down and whispered into my ear, “This relationship isn´t based on talking, is it?” She grinned and before I could say anything she had disappeared out into the ladies room. I looked at Terri who had turned away from the window and was staring at her hands.

“Terri?”

She looked up.

“Are you all right?”

She smiled a little sheepishly, “Yeah, I´m fine. I just…” She sighed, “I´m sorry, just give me a sec and I´ll be fine.”

I couldn´t help but feel worried as she looked out of the window, the expression on her face was thoughtful, almost melancholic and I wondered if something had happened to her since we last spoke. Before I could ask she looked at me again and smiled, “I´ll do better now, I promise.”

And she did. From the moment Paige returned and to the moment we said goodbye, Terri was charming, friendly and talkative. Well, as talkative as someone like Terri could be. She answered the countless questions Paige had about the most trivial things, and even had the patience to ask Paige about her job and then spend the next half an hour hearing about the wonderful world of marketing and public relations without looking bored.

She made us laugh several times and often I caught myself just sitting and staring at her while she was making some point to Paige, enjoying the fire in her eyes when she was contradicted and the amused twinkle whenever she was proven right or Paige ran out of steam.

After brunch we walked outside and stood in front of each other, all a bit unsure of what to do next. Usually Paige and I would throw ourselves into the Saturday afternoon shopping madness, and then head home to her place to cook dinner and watch old horror films, but a part of me was more than reluctant to say goodbye to Terri. I did have the decency, however, to feel slightly guilty towards Paige, but to my surprise she asked Terri whether she wanted to join us in the awaiting shopping frenzy.

“Nah,” Terri grimaced a little. “I don´t think I´m really in the mood for that.” She smiled briefly, “I usually develop rather aggressive tendencies after having been pushed and elbowed and stepped on by elderly women, mothers with children and teenagers one time too many.” She looked at me, “I won´t be much fun to have around so I think the two of you should… enjoy this together without me.”

I stepped closer and put my hand on her arm.

“You sure?”

She grinned, “Oh yes. Trust me.”

“Okay, then.” I turned and gave Paige a meaningful look. She just smiled innocently, but then relented.

“I´ll go start the car. It was nice to meet you, Terri.”

“Likewise.”

“Okay, see you at the car, Sarah. Don´t take too long,” she grinned and walked away.

I looked at Terri who opened her arms a little and I immediately stepped closer, wrapping my arms around her. She sighed quietly as she put her arms around my waist and rested her chin on my hair, “She was nice.”

“Yes,” I smiled against Terri´s chest. “Paige can be all real pain sometimes, but I wouldn´t want to be without her for a second.”

“It´s good to have friends like that,” Terri spoke softly.

There was a wistful tone to her voice and I raised my head to look at her. “Don´t you have any friends like that?”

She hesitated a little, “Not really.”

“Why not?” I asked, knowing that in spite of Terri´s reserved nature, her looks alone would be enough to ensure that people would want to be around her.

She shrugged, “It takes too much effort to make friends like that and usually in the end you find out that they aren´t like you expected them to be. I don´t need that, I manage just fine on my own.”

I looked at her incredulously, “Are you serious?”

“Yes.” I could feel her grip around me loosen a little. “I like to be alone. Actually, I prefer it to being with people.”

I moved away from her and crossed my arms. “So what is all this about, then?”

“What do you mean?” She looked at me a little warily.

“This! Us!” I gestured helplessly. “If you prefer to be alone then why are you here? Why aren´t you away somewhere where you don´t have to bother with talking to people, or pretend that you like them when you´d much rather be on your own?”

“You wanted me to be here,” she replied defensively. “This wasn´t my idea, remember?”

“So, you´re just doing this as a favour, is that what you´re saying?” I was both confused and hurt and it was making me angry. “You felt you owed me to come?”

She didn´t answer just looked at me. Then she shook her head in resignation, muttered something I couldn´t hear and started to walk away.

What just happened? My disbelieving mind shouted. It´s not supposed to be like this!

“Terri…”

“What?”

She didn´t turn around and I had no problem detecting the hostility in her voice.

I searched my mind for something to say and then it hit me. “Why did you come?

She turned around, her face blank and her eyes unreadable. “I thought you wanted me to come?”

“I did, Terri.” I stepped closer. “I really did, but that doesn´t answer my question.”

She looked away and spoke quietly, “Yes, it does.”

“Sorry?”

“I said, yes, it does.”

I was now standing right in front of her and she slowly returned her gaze to me. “You came because I wanted you to?”

“It sounded really important to you.” I could see she had to struggle not to break eye contact. “I thought it´d make you happy.”

“You thought it´d make me happy?” I repeated, trying to understand exactly what it was Terri was saying.

“Yes.”

I felt a lump in my throat and wasn´t sure whether I felt like laughing or crying. Terri eyed me warily and suddenly I had to smile. This time I was the one to open my arms and after a moment´s hesitation, she accepted the invitation.

I held her tightly, “Let´s start all over again. Terri, thanks for coming, it meant a lot to me.”

“No problem,” I heard her mumble against my hair. “Paige seems like a really nice person.”

I leaned back and looked into her eyes, “Better?”

She smiled, “Much better.”

I gave her a quick kiss on the mouth, “Let´s not do this again, deal?”

She bent her head and kissed me more thoroughly. “Deal.”

During the next couple of weeks, Terri and I would meet up various places and spend time together so far our schedules allowed it. Often I would invite her over for dinner or she would ask me to come along to yet another museum with archaeological artefacts which had caught her fancy. Not all of the exhibitions appealed to me, but the faraway and dreamy look on Terri´s face whenever she studied something of a particular interest to her was worth it all, and to be frank, I couldn´t care less where we were as long as we were there together.

We never spoke about the future or where our relationship was heading, although I often was tempted to, but Terri never brought the subject up or even indicated that she was thinking along those lines at all. I knew she liked me and enjoyed being around me, but that was all. She was more open and easygoing than she had been in the beginning, but from time to time she would get one of her unexplainable moods and become distant. When that happened she would usually leave as soon as possible or I would find some reason to cut the date short, knowing when Terri felt like this she wanted to be alone and that she would never say it herself.

Why she had those moods or what triggered them I didn´t know, but I respected her wish for solitude every time even though I was confused and sometimes hurt by it. By then I had fallen hopelessly in love with her and was willing to do whatever it took to keep her in my life, even if it meant spending several days apart for no apparent reason other than Terri wanted to be on her own. She never said directly when she didn´t want to be with me, but she would become so edgy and distant, or if talking on the phone, her voice would almost ooze reluctance that I had no difficulties gauging her state of mind. But when she was in a good mood, she more than made up for her strange behaviour and was attentive, charming and funny, and I felt a little more in love every time.

The day I really realized how I felt was a Monday evening when Terri had dropped by unexpectedly which in itself was unusual because Terri never did that, but I had been more than happy to see her and invited her in despite the fact that I still had some paperwork to do. When she learned that I had to work she offered to leave, but I told her to stay put and make herself comfortable while I went through the last file. To my surprise she agreed without hesitation and later when I looked up, I saw her sitting on the floor leaning against the couch watching an old Monty Phyton film.

During the next hour I kept glancing at her as she sat there, chuckling quietly or laughing out loud which was always followed by an apologetic look and a smile at me, when she thought the reason why I looked at her was because she had disturbed me in my work.

At one time when I glanced up at her again, I was suddenly filled with such peacefulness and happiness that I involuntarily smiled. Terri was sitting barefooted on the floor in my living room, her face relaxed and content and in that moment I realized I never wanted to be without her again. I loved her, it was as simple as that, and her presence alone was enough to make me feel happy and complete.

Without a second thought, I put my pen down, rose from the desk and walked over to her. She looked at me questioningly, but I just smiled and sat down beside her. I leaned in close and she put her arm around me, and we watched the rest of the film together in silence.

“There´s a new exhibition with sculptures from the Pre-Hellenistic Age starting next week. If you want, we could go see it togther?”

“I know.” Terri raised her head from my shoulder and looked at me, “And I´d really like to see it, but I can´t.”

She moved up to kiss me and I was momentarily distracted, but before she could move further, I made her look at me again.

“Why not? I know you love that period.”

“Yeah, I do.” She sighed and rolled onto her side. “But I´m going home for a couple of days next week. My parents want to throw me this big birthday thing and I don´t think I can get out of it.”

“Oh,” I said intrigued and propped myself up on one elbow. “It´s your birthday next week?”

“Yeah,” she gently pushed me back down and started to nibble on an earlobe. “The eleventh.”

“Hmm.” I closed my eyes briefly, enjoying the feeling of Terri´s lips. “When do you leave?”

“Tuesday.” She mumbled, placing small kisses down my jaw. “My birthday´s Monday, but I have to hand in a paper that day, so I won´t leave until Tuesday.”

“That´s great,” I replied and before Terri knew what had happened she was on her back with me on top. “Then I get to celebrate you as well.”

“I think you´re doing a pretty good job of celebrating me right now,” she grinned and tried to lean up and capture my lips, but I dodged her and gave her a big smile instead.

“You´re not getting out of this one, Terri Cavanagh. I´m going to make you the best birthday dinner you´ve ever had and give you the best massage North of the Equator.” I gave her a quick kiss, “I´m gonna spoil you senseless.”

Amusement showed in the blue eyes. “Spoil me senseless, you say?” She gave me a crooked grin, “I like the sound of that. I think I could-”

“Shh,” I put a finger on her lips. “Enough talking.”

We were just about to reach the point of no return when a sudden pounding on the door interrupted us.

“Terri? Terri, I know you´re in there. Please open, I need to talk.”

“Ah, Christ!” Terri reached out to catch my still moving hands. She sighed deeply and slowly untangled herself from me and the sheets and sat up. “What do you want, Alison? I´m kinda busy right now.”

“Terri, please. It´s important, I need to talk to you.”

“Look, Alison,” Terri rose from the bed and walked to the door, speaking through it. “Can´t it wait? I´ll come by later, I promise.”

“Please, Terri,” Alison´s voice was almost pleading and it sounded like she was crying. “I don´t know who else to talk to. Please let me in.”

“Alison, I… I…” Terri cursed quietly. “I´m having company, I can´t just…”

There was silence for a moment, then the redhead spoke again, her voice slightly hostile, “Oh, I see. Well, I´m sorry to bother you, Terri. Please, don´t let me get in your way, I just thought we were friends, that´s all.”

I could hear her turn on her heals and run down the corridor, shortly followed by the sound of a door slamming shut.

“Oh, damn it!” Terri appeared again and started to get dressed.

“Terri?” I asked hesitantly and sat up on the bed.

“I need to go see her, Sarah,” she answered without looking at me. “I´m sorry.”

“No, no, it´s okay.” I looked at her a little uncertainly. “Do you want me to leave?”

She stopped dressing and gave me a tired smile. “No. I don´t want you to leave, but I really don´t know how long this is going to take, so it´ll probably be better if you do.” She pulled a t-shirt over her head then walked over to the bed and kissed me briefly. “I´m sorry.” Then she walked out of the room, “Just lock the door behind you,” and she was gone.

I sat motionless on the bed for a moment, trying to gather my thoughts before I slowly got up and started to dress. As I walked past Alison´s door, I couldn´t help but stop for a minute to listen, but no sounds were heard from the room. I sighed and went home.
Episode 8

I was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on what was hopefully going to be the birthday dinner of the century when the doorbell rang. I glanced at my watch in surprise and frowned a little. It was only half past six and Terri wasn´t supposed to arrive for another hour, but if there was something I had learned during our time together, it was that Terri was a lot of things, but punctual wasn´t one of them. Although she used to be more late than early.

Oh well, it didn´t matter, I was happy to see her just the same, so I quickly washed my hands, headed for the door and stared directly into my younger sister´s face.

“Hi, Sarah,” Emma began cheerfully and made her way past me and into my apartment. “Um, something smells good.”

She continued forward and poked her head into the kitchen, hazel eyes briefly studying the controlled chaos then she came back into the living room, “Aren´t you going to close the door, sis? You´re letting all the heat out.”

I grinned sheepishly and managed to regain my equilibrium fast enough to shut the door before turning around to face her, “What an unexpected surprise, Emma,” I said, smiling a tad nervously. “What are you doing here?”

She regarded me curiously, “I´m here to discuss the planning of mum and dad´s wedding anniversary next month.” Her brow furrowed and she let out an exasperated sigh, “Don´t tell me you´ve forgotten, Sarah? I left the office early just to get here.”

I grimaced in embarrassment, “Um well, actually…”

“Sarah…” My sister sighed loudly and shook her head a little then looked back at me. “Well, if you aren´t too busy now, we might as well get it over with.” She looked at me meaningfully, “It´s not like I´m too crazy about having to do this either. Especially not with Christmas coming up, I have enough to take care of as it is already.”

Before Emma could launch into her usual you´ve-no-idea-how-hard-it-is-to-combine-a-career-with-being-a-mother-and-wife-speech, I stepped over and put my hand on her arm, giving her my most apologetic smile, “I´m so sorry, Em. It totally escaped my mind.” I began to gently usher her towards the door, “Tell you what, why don´t I take care of the whole thing, and if you have a spare moment then you´re welcome to help.” I smiled and reached for the door handle, “I know how busy you are around Christmas and I really don´t want you to handle more than absolutely necessary.”

“Whoa waitaminute!” My sister exclaimed and refused to budge one more inch towards the door. “What´s going on here? Since when do you volunteer to plan a family arrangement? It´s hard enough to get you to come to one in the first place, and now you´re offering to take care of it all by yourself.” She gave me an amused smile and placed her hand on my forehead, “Hmm, a bit warm, but not enough to have a fever.”

She grew serious and regarded me speculatively for a few seconds, “You wouldn´t happen to be expecting company tonight, would you?”

There was nothing but innocent and faintly amused curiosity in her voice and I was unable to hide a small grin as I shrugged noncommittally.

“Well, well,” she crossed her arms, taking on her Spanish Inquisition expression which had always worked so well on me in the past, and I knew I would be lucky if I got her out of the door without revealing everything from my bank account number to my shoe size and then of course the little matter regarding Terri. Not that she didn´t know the two first ones already.

“So, anyone I know? Someone from work perhaps?” She scratched her chin and regarded the ceiling thoughtfully, smiling openly at my discomfort, “A client…?”

“No, no and no,” I sighed and tried to look at my watch without Emma noticing which of course failed. “Please, Em, can´t we talk about this later? I´m in the middle of preparing dinner as you might have noticed, and I really don´t think my pots and pans should be left alone for much longer.” I gave her an ingratiating smile, “You don´t want to ruin my date before it´s begun, do you?”

She returned my smile and patted my arm good-naturedly, “Okay, Sarah, I´ll let you off the hook for now, but…” She pointed a finger at me, “Don´t think this is the end of this. I can´t remember when you last had a date, not to say had someone over for dinner and I want to hear all about him.” She poked me in the chest and grinned mischievously, “And I mean everything.”

I regarded my sister silently for a moment, wishing we had been closer as children, wishing I had been more open with her, wishing that I had at least given her the chance to understand who I was and get used to the idea before she was presented with a six foot tall living and breathing proof. I gave her a small smile and nodded, “Sure, I´ll tell you all about it later.”

She smiled in satisfaction and gave me a quick hug whispering into my ear, “Go get him, girl,” then she opened the door and stepped outside.

“Give my love to Ellie and Richard, will you?”

“Shall do,” she replied halfway down the hallway, turned to give me a small wave and then disappeared around the corner. I stared after her for a second then I exhaled slowly and closed the door. I had a dinner to rescue.

“My sister came by earlier.”

“Oh,” Terri looked up briefly from her plate before she returned her attention to the chicken.

I waited for her to say something more, but nothing came forward and I continued myself instead, “We were supposed to have been planning my parents´ anniversary next month.” I took a sip of white vine, “Emma wasn´t too pleased I can tell you.”

“I can imagine,” Terri chuckled quietly. “If your family gatherings are anything like ours, then a slow death in hell is much to be preferred.”

“That bad?” I regarded her carefully, curious as to how serious she was, but she only shrugged and let the question linger unanswered between us. “Does that mean,” I began, wondering whether this was a good thing to ask, “that you´re not looking forward to going home tomorrow?”

Terri shrugged again and poured us some more wine before answering, “It´s okay. I mean it´s nice to see my parents once in a while and Alan will be there too, it´s just…” She sighed deeply, “I have to be so damn sociable every time I visit them.”

“And you´d much rather be locked up in your room the entire stay?”

She gave me a sheepish smile, “Yup.” I grinned and shook my head, touching my glass against hers.

Later when I was busy in the kitchen cleaning up, Terri came up behind me and put her arms around my waist. She nuzzled her face into my hair and I could feel her inhale deeply as her arms tightened around me.

“Do you have to do that now?” A low sultry voice asked and as the question was emphasized by warm lips on my neck, I involuntarily leaned back into the warmth behind me.

“Well… Strictly speaking, I should at least rinse some of this or…”

“Or?” Terri´s tongue had found my earlobe and I was momentarily distracted.

“Or it´ll be impossible to get just remotely clean again.”

Her hands slipped under my shirt and I could feel her smile against my skin as she kissed her way back down to my neck, “And that would be really bad because…?”

“Uh… well,” I turned in her arms and gave her a happy smile, “When you put it like that…”

“I thought you´d see it my way,” she drawled, giving me a crooked grin in return while her hands drew slow patterns on my back under my shirt. “Besides…” She leaned down and kissed the corner of my mouth, “I seem to recall you saying something about a massage…” She kissed the tip of my nose, “Or am I wrong?”

“Oh, no,” I whispered heatedly, running my hands through her hair. “You got it all right, but if you don´t stop touching me like that, it´ll be awhile before you get your massage.”

“Mmm?” Her mouth paused a hair´s breadth away from my lips. “And I ask again… that would be bad because…?”

“Terri?”

“Yes?” She moved away a little, but I stopped her. “You talk too much.” She barely had time to laugh before I pulled her down for a kiss which I was determined to make last all night.

I woke up early the next morning, disappointed to find the bed empty, but then heard a small sound from the kitchen and I quickly got up, donned a robe and walked out of the bedroom. Terri was just putting the last plate into the cupboard when she heard me and turned around, a slightly embarrassed smile on her face.

“Sorry, didn´t mean to wake you.”

I let my eyes wander over the spotless kitchen. Not a dirty pot or pan in sight. “Terri,” I said mildly disapproving, “you didn´t have to do that.”

“It´s okay. I woke up early anyway, couldn´t sleep…” She trailed off then stepped past me out into the living room. “I have to go now or I´ll miss my flight.”

“Terri…” She turned around and I walked over and put my arms around her. “That was very nice of you, thank you.” I leaned up and kissed her lips gently.

“Well,” she said, grinning a little uncomfortably, “I can actually be a really nice person sometimes.” She caressed my cheek with her thumb, “Just don´t tell anybody.”

“Oh, you´re more than nice, Terri,” I blurted out. “You have no idea what you…” I immediately stopped myself, but had already felt Terri tense in my arms. She didn´t move away, but as I looked into her eyes, I was devastated to see the suddenly reserved expression and I cursed myself for my forwardness. “You´re more than nice, Terri,” I repeated earnestly, “and don´t let anybody tell you otherwise.”

She looked at me for a long time then her features visibly softened and she said quietly, “Thanks, Sarah.” Then she kissed me briefly on the lips, took her jacket from the hanger and left. As I went into the bathroom to turn on the shower, I couldn´t shake the gnawing feeling that I had just seen the last of Terri Cavanagh.
Episode 9

Terri had been characteristically vague as to when she would return from visiting her parents, but as a “couple of days” turned into a week and I still hadn´t heard from her, I began to worry. I knew it was useless and that worrying about her wouldn´t bring her back faster, or put an end to the uneasy feeling I´d had in the pit of my stomach ever since she left, but I was helpless to do anything about it. I missed her terribly and not knowing exactly where she was or how she was doing was driving me crazy which ultimately was doing its best to drive Paige crazy as well.

“Why don´t you just call her?” She exasperated after I had failed to comment on something she said for the third time. “You got her number, don´t you?”

“Yes, but…” I squirmed uncomfortably on the coach. “Terri´s very… she doesn´t… Oh,” I sighed helplessly, “I don´t want her to think I´m too pushy or demanding or anything like that. If I call her, she might get the wrong idea.”

“The wrong idea about what?” Paige looked at me incredulously. “That you care about her? That you worry when you don´t hear from her for days?” She shook her head as she looked into my eyes, “You´re right, Sarah, God forbid that she ever got that impression.”

I gave her a pale smile, “I know it sounds strange, but Terri… Terri… Oh, I don´t know. She likes her freedom, I guess. She doesn´t like to feel obligated.”

Paige studied me closely for a moment, absently chewing on her lower lip. “How long is it you´ve been seeing each other?”

“Close to two months,” I answered quietly, “that is if we´re actually still seeing each other. It´s been awhile now.” I tried to smile nonchalantly, knowing that I failed miserably and Paige patted my hand affectionately.

“In all that time…” She began hesitantly. “Have you ever… discussed or talked about,” she gestured in the air, “-this thing, or whatever it is you´ve got going… or don´t,” she added softly, trying to be as gentle as possible. “I mean have the two of you ever-.”

“Discussed feelings?” I interrupted and Paige nodded. “No, we haven´t. I´m not even sure that the word is part of Terri´s vocabulary.” I sighed then continued when I noticed Paige´s questioning expression. “I know she likes me and that she likes to be around me, just…”

“-Not all the time,” she finished for me and I wrapped my arms around myself and nodded, feeling worse than ever after having all my doubts and insecurities brought out into the open where I couldn´t hide from them.

“She… she likes to be alone a lot. It´s in her nature and I understand that, I respect that. We all need some time for ourselves once in awhile, I´d just wish that… that…” I faltered, running a hand through my hair in frustration. “Sometimes I ask myself what it is she wants with me. If she´s just killing time or if she really cares about me. If she considers this, it, or whatever you want to call it, something that might lead to something more or if she´s just waiting for something, or someone, better to come along.”

Paige moved a little closer and looked at me seriously, “You don´t really believe that´s what she´s doing, do you? That she´s just using you to get laid because if you do, then I´d suggest you end this right now and stop worrying this instant, because then she isn´t worth it.” Paige put her hand on my shoulder for emphasis, “You deserve the real thing, Sarah, and I´ll be damned if I´m going to stand by and watch my best friend fall apart over an emotionally immature arsehole.” She gazed directly into my eyes, “Is that clear, Sarah. I won´t let her hurt you.”

I was surprised, but also deeply moved by Paige´s emotional outburst and I gave her a warm smile, “Thank you, Paige. That means a lot to me to hear you say that, but…” I sighed deeply, suddenly feeling very, very tired, “I don´t really believe that Terri´s just using me as… as a way of spending excess energy.” I grinned a little. “She told me once that she didn´t play games and I believe her. She wouldn´t do anything like that.”

“Well, then…” Paige looked slightly doubtful, but I could tell she wanted to believe me. “What is it all about then? Why does she act the way she does, why doesn´t she say anything or call you?”

“I don´t know,” I whispered slowly. “I really don´t know.”

Two more days passed with no word from Terri and although I was reluctant to call, I soon found myself with the receiver in my left hand while the right was lingering hesitantly in the air a few inches above the numbers waiting to be dialled. As I stood there frozen to the spot, I honestly didn´t know what to expect or what I wanted. Some part of me hoped that I would get no answer, that Terri wasn´t home and that that was the reason why she hadn´t called, while another part didn´t give a damn as long as I got to hear her voice again, telling me she was all right.

Why should you care? A small voice objected in my head. It´s not like she does. It´s obvious, she doesn´t feel the way you do. So why bother? Why don´t you just write it off as an interesting experiment that failed and move on?

“Because I love her,” I said out loud to the empty apartment. “I can´t give up yet. I won´t.”

With renewed determination I steeled myself and dialled her number and on the fourth ring it was picked up, “Hello?”

For a second my mind went blank then I cleared my throat and spoke, “Uh, Terri, is she there?”

“Who is this?” The female voice at the other end asked formally and I touched my cheek absently, wondering why it sounded so familiar.

“This is Sarah, Sarah Kingston, I´m a friend of Terri´s.”

There was silence for a moment then the voice spoke again, “Oh yeah, Sarah. I remember you.” She paused a little then continued, “No, sorry, Terri isn´t here.”

“Do you know when she´ll be back?” I asked as I realized I was talking to the redhead I´d met after the first night Terri and I had spent together. What was her name again…? Alison?

“No, I don´t, but if you want I can leave her a message that you called?”

“Uh… No, that´s okay. I´ll try later.”

“Suit yourself,” the girl replied then waited for me to finish the conversation. “Is there anything else?”

Yes, tell me what you´re doing in Terri´s room? And is it really true that she isn´t there?

“No… No, that was all. Well… goodbye then.”

“Bye.”

She hung up and I stared at the receiver for a few seconds before following her example. Then I walked out into the kitchen and opened the fridge, cursing softly when I remembered I´d forgotten to buy a new bottle of wine after Paige´s last visit.

I debated briefly with myself whether it was worth the effort defying the November cold and head out to the nearest 7/11 to get some, but I quickly came to the conclusion that doing something would be better than staying inside all evening with way too much time on my hands to brood. Thus I grabbed my keys and jacket and went outside, doing my best not to think about anything I didn´t want to.

Four hours and a bottle of wine later, I was lying in bed trying to sleep when the doorbell rang. On unsteady legs, I walked out to the door, looked through the peep-hole and stared directly into the slightly contorted face of Terri.
Episode 10

For a few seconds I just looked at her through the peep-hole, a variety of emotions, everything from relief to anger, rushing through me, then I collected myself and opened the door.

“Hey…” Terri shifted uneasily on her feet. “I know it´s late, but I just… I just wanted to…” She trailed off when she noticed my expression. “I´m… I´m sorry, I´ll come back later.”

She turned to walk away and for a moment I stared at her retreating back, but before she could turn the corner I found my voice, “Terri, wait!”

She stopped, hesitating slightly before turning around to face me. I took a step back into my apartment, “Please come in.” She looked at me, blue eyes carefully searching my face, then without a word she closed the distance between us and walked inside. I closed the door quietly behind her, inhaled slowly and turned around.

Terri looked tired and haggard, her normally tan complexion pale and she positively radiated nervous tension as her gaze aimlessly darted around the living room, seeing everything without really noticing it. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her. Where she had been, when she had returned and why I hadn´t heard from her, but as I took in the sight of the restless and unconscious clenching of her fists, I heard myself ask instead, “Terri? Are you all right”

She nodded, “Yes, yes I´m fine.” Her reply came fast and unconvincingly and I slowly reached out to touch her arm. She stared at my hand for a moment then looked back at my face.

“Terri?” I asked again. “What´s wrong?”

All my mixed emotions from before had turned into concern and worry, and I knew that no matter how much I wanted to know what was going on, I´d have to get Terri to calm down and relax before I asked her any further questions.

“Come out into the kitchen,” I said softly. “I´ll make some coffee.”

It seemed like my last sentence finally penetrated the haze in Terri´s mind and she shook her head, “No, I don´t want coffee.”

“Well, what do you want?” I asked patiently, and was surprised by the sudden determination I saw emerge in Terri´s eyes. Instead of answering, she abruptly moved closer, cupped my chin in her hands and began to kiss me demandingly. I was so surprised that I first remained absolutely still, but then instincts took over and I kissed her back ferociously, my hands already around her neck, pulling her closer. My body was eagerly responding to the sensations racing wildly through me, threatening to rob me of all thought, but as Terri´s hands searched out the buttons of my pyjamas, my mind regained a fragment of control and I managed to reach down and catch them in my own.

“Wait… Terri… I don´t think we…” I gasped and then faltered as I looked into stormy blue eyes and heard the single word from her lips which broke through all my defences and made all my objections seem insignificant and silly. “Please,” she whispered, her hands twitching lightly inside mine. “Please,” she repeated. “I… I need you, Sarah.”

She must have seen the answer on my face because I don´t remember saying anything out loud as she began to kiss me again. This time gentler and slower, but I could still sense an almost desperate urgency in her and although it worried me, her need for me was exciting as hell, and as we sank to the floor intertwined, I don´t think I could have stopped myself from giving into that urgency even if my life had depended on it.

In no time we were both naked, clothes thrown carelessly all over the living room. I´d vaguely heard the low thud when Terri´s jeans sent an empty mug flying from the coffee table, but the thought had barely registered in my mind before it was effectively driven away by the much more important feel of Terri´s warm skin against mine, her body settling heavily on top of me.

Tongues battled for control in my mouth and I surrendered willingly, forgetting everything else the moment I felt Terri´s thigh press against me. I returned the pressure and swallowed her gasp before she abandoned my lips and moved downward, concentrating all her energy on my breasts instead.

From then on it all went very fast and soon I found myself cradled in her arms, my body still shuddering with the aftershocks of physical ecstasy. When I had regained my breath, I tried to lean up to kiss her lips, but the arms holding me close refused to ease their hold on me and I was barely able to move.

“Terri?” I whispered hoarsely against her chest. “I want to touch you, I need you, too.”

If possible the arms around me tightened even more and I felt my body move in rhythm with Terri´s as she tried to get her ragged breathing under control. “Terri?” I raised my head as much as possible trying to make eye contact. Her eyes were distant and stared straight ahead without seeing anything, but then she blinked a few times and slowly returned her attention to me and as our eyes finally met, she smiled affectionately and I was almost weak with relief.

Whatever it was that had disrupted Terri´s normally calm appearance, whatever it was that had managed to throw her off balance, I felt certain that we would find a way to work it out. I was determined to help her no matter what, and as I felt myself slowly be drawn into the now relaxed blue gaze, I knew deep inside that I didn´t really have a say in this matter, that it wasn´t important what my mind told me I should do as my heart had already made the decision for me.

“Terri? Terri, are you awake?”

After a bit of coaxing, I had managed to persuade Terri to abandon the floor for my bedroom, claiming that although it felt comfortable enough right now, it would be an entirely different picture when we woke up the next morning. She had relented, but not before she had made love to me again, almost succeeding in making me forget why it was I wanted to move in the first place.

“I´m awake,” Terri mumbled sleepily behind me, tightening her arm around my waist, but I could feel her hot breath against my neck as she yawned and knew she had been close to falling asleep. I wasn´t sure what to ask her, whether I should ask her anything right now and risk spoiling the cosy and relaxed feeling we were currently both basking in, and as my thoughts drifted back to the warm firm body pressed up against me, I selfishly decided that whatever it was, it could wait, unless of course, Terri brought it up herself.

As if reading my mind, Terri stirred slightly behind me and I caught myself holding my breath, but instead of saying anything she snuggled closer and let out a quiet and contented sigh. Her hand began to draw small circles on my stomach and for a few more moments we lay in silence then Terri whispered so softly it almost escaped my hearing, “I´ve missed you, Sarah.”

I couldn´t help myself and turned around to face her. “You have?” She nodded, smiling a bit hesitantly, “Yes.” Her gaze darted away from my face, focusing on something behind me, “I thought about you while I was home… a lot.”

I couldn´t stop the smile that appeared on my face and I didn´t care to. Instead I reached out and touched her cheek, bringing her attention back to me, “I´ve missed you, too.”

I couldn´t quite read the expression on her face as she looked into my eyes, “Really?” There was a peculiar edge to her voice that puzzled me, but I decided not to think about it and just smiled at her, “Really.” I took a deep breath, “You see… I love you, Terri…”

Part 3

Episode 11

She stared at me and I could tell from the movement of her throat that she was swallowing hard, then her gaze dropped to the sheets. I held my breath while waiting for her to say something, but seconds ticked by without a word from the motionless girl beside me.

“Terri…?” She sat up and draped the covers over her shoulders. “Terri, did you hear me?” I knew she had, but I didn´t know what else to say to get a response from her.

“Yeah, I heard you.” She was still staring down at the sheets.

I sat up as well, keeping just enough distance to prevent our bodies from touching. I could feel the heat radiate from her and smell the scent of our earlier activities on her skin, and in that moment I wanted nothing more than take her into my arms and never let go.

“Terri, I´m sorry,” I said quietly, both angry at myself for spoiling the mood and angry at Terri for making me feel I had to apologize for loving her. “I never… I didn´t mean to-.”

“No, no it´s okay.” She glanced at me briefly before looking away. “You just surprised me, that´s all. I… I wasn´t expecting it”

“I surprised you?” She shrugged and I decided to try out a different approach. “Well, next time I´ll make sure to tell you in advance when I intend to make a declaration of love, that way you´ll have time to prepare yourself.”

Terri gave me a small grin like I had hoped she would and she raised a hand to remove a few damp strands from her forehead, “Nah, that might be overdoing it a little, even for me.”

I wasn´t exactly sure to what part of the sentence she was referring, the preparation time or the fact that I´d tell her I loved her again, but decided to let it pass and just hope she had meant it the way I wanted her to.

We were silent for a minute and I could see she was deep in thought and I couldn´t help but wonder what it was she was thinking about and what it meant. Then suddenly she focused on me, an uncomfortable, almost awkward expression on her face, “Thank you.” She leaned over to give me a quick kiss before moving back. “That… That was a nice thing you said.”

I tried to hide my disappointment and hurt, cursing inwardly for doing this to myself, something I really didn´t need right now and managed to put a smile on my face and answer calmly, “You´re welcome… anytime.”

From the look in her eyes, I could tell that my small performance hadn´t been convincing and an expression of pain and weariness flickered across Terri´s face. “I´m sorry,” she spoke hoarsely. “That wasn´t what you wanted to hear, was it?”

It wasn´t a real question, but more a statement of fact and I reached out to put my hand on her thigh, feeling strangely comforted by the small contact with her skin. “It doesn´t matter what I want to hear, Terri. I didn´t tell you this just so I could hear you declare your undying love and devotion for me in return.” I smiled, first hesitantly then more confidently when I saw the smile mirrored on Terri´s face, and she absently reached down to place her hand on mine, starting to play idly with my fingers.

“No, I… I guess you didn´t,” she gave me a small smile. “I´ll try to be more responsive the next time.” Terri sighed and lay back down on the bed. “It´s just… I´ve had a really stupid week and I wasn´t…” She trailed off, reaching down to take my hand in hers and bring it up to her face to study our intertwined fingers.

I was about to use the opportunity to ask Terri about her visit home when I found myself enthralled by the fascinated, almost incredulous expression on her face as she watched our joined hands. There was a quiet wonder in her eyes which warmed me from the inside, making me feel almost sinfully lucky and blessed, but at the same time the look also filled me with an overwhelming sense of sadness I couldn´t quite explain and a fierce protectiveness which caused me to squeeze her hand just enough for her to shift her gaze to me.

“Sarah…?” Terri looked up at me a little puzzled. “Are you all right? You… you look a little…” She faltered as if she didn´t know how to proceed or whether it would be welcomed.

“Terri?” I asked quietly, surprised by the sudden calm I was feeling. “Have you ever had anybody say I love you before?”

She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out and I noticed a slight tightening of her jaw as she looked at me, her brow beginning to furrow. “Why do you ask me that?” I detected both annoyance and a hint of defensiveness in her tone, but wasn´t willing to back down just yet. “Of course, I have,” she continued when it became clear to her that I wasn´t going to speak. “Everybody has.” She let go of my hand and sat up again. “It´s no big deal.”

She got out of bed and looked for her clothes, but stopped when she remembered they were scattered all over the living room floor.

“Terri, look, I didn´t-”

“No, you look!” She stared at me and I could see she was angry. “Just because I don´t get all mushy when you tell me something like that, it doesn´t mean that I haven´t heard it before.” Her gaze searched my bedroom quickly for something to cover herself with, but when she couldn´t find anything suitable, she gave up and just stood in front of me naked. “I have, plenty of times, but have you considered that I might not want to hear stuff like that, that I don´t care for it.”

She turned on her heels and disappeared out of the bedroom, leaving me to stare at the open door in confusion. Then I sighed and pulled the covers up around my shoulders and quietly stepped out of the bedroom, mentally preparing myself for doing a bit of damage control without really knowing the reason why.

Terri was buttoning her jeans when I came in, but didn´t raise her head when she heard me approach and instead found her t-shirt and pulled it over her head and then looked around for her boots.

“Under the couch,” I said and wasn´t quite able to keep the amusement out of my voice. The entire thing was so grotesque that I didn´t know whether to laugh or cry and watching Terri kneel down and reach in under the couch to get her boots wasn´t improving the situation.

“Thanks,” she replied gruffly and I could tell by her stiff shoulders as she turned her back to me and began to tie her boots that laughing probably wasn´t the wisest approach if I ever wanted to see Terri again. Which I did, desperately. However, I was determined not to just give in and smooth everything out without a proper explanation from Terri so I sat down on the couch and waited for her to turn around.

“So…” I said slowly when she couldn´t put it off any longer and finally turned around to face me. “You don´t like people telling they love you?”

Terri seemed slightly taken aback by my directness and her mouth moved soundlessly a few times, searching for a response that wouldn´t come then she shrugged and just as I´d expected avoided my eyes.

“Does it…” I began, an idea forming in my head. “Does it make you… uncomfortable?” The question caused her to glance at me briefly and I knew I was on the right track. I rose from the couch and she unconsciously took a step back. “It makes you feel awkward, doesn´t it?” I moved closer, a small part of me feeling like a predator closing in on its small helpless prey. “You think it´s embarrassing? A show of… weakness? Vulnerability?” I was standing only inches away from her now and had no problems feeling the nervous tension in her as she looked at me, appearing to be captivated by my words and unable to look away.

“I just don´t like it,” she spoke quietly, a raw and hoarse quality to her voice. Her gaze strayed to my hand as I curled my fingers gently around her left bicep and I felt the muscle twitch in response. “It doesn´t matter why, I don´t even know why. It´s just the way it is… It´s always been that way.”

I slowly ran my hand up and down her arm, trying to soothe the hard muscle into relaxing. For a moment we both looked at my hand then I more felt than heard Terri sigh quietly. I lifted my head to look into half lidded eyes focusing pensively on me.

“What is it you want from me, Sarah?” When I didn´t answer she reached out and gently touched my face, caressing my cheek with her thumb and continued quietly, “Why did you approach me back at the bar?”

I closed my eyes briefly, enjoying the tender touch before meeting her eyes again, “For the same reason that you didn´t turn me down.”

If she was surprised by my answer she didn´t show it. “Are you sure about that?”

I stilled my hand on her arm, trying to read the look in her eyes, “I don´t know. You tell me, Terri. Why did you agree to meet me later?”

She was silent for a long time as her thumb continued to stroke my cheek although I doubt she was even aware that she was doing it. I could see the familiar withdrawn and remote expression in the blue eyes and although her gaze was resting on my face, I had the unsettling feeling that she was looking right through me. Suddenly she blinked and I could almost feel her presence return.

“I liked the way you looked at me,” she said softly, her voice quiet and calm as she looked into my eyes. “You looked at me like… like…” She faltered briefly then smiled at me, “And I thought you were cute.”

Her eyes studied the length of my body leisurely and I blushed involuntarily from the frank and openly appreciative gaze. She gave me a languid smile and spoke throatily, “Very cute…”

“Really…?” I rasped, hoping I wasn´t showing too openly the effect her voice was having on me.

“Oh yeah…”

Terri´s confidence had returned and I could practically feel how she got her previously disarrayed emotions under control, relying on her skills of seduction to give her the upper hand. My breath quickened as she tilted my face up and I whispered emphatically, doing my best not to be distracted by the warmth breath on my skin, “This isn´t over…”

“Hmmm…?” Terri mumbled noncommittally, placing small kisses down the line of my jaw while her free arm went around my waist, subtly but efficiently pulling me against her.

I knew I had to stop her before she went any further or I wouldn´t be able to control my own raging hormones no matter how much my mind thought we needed to talk and get to the bottom of this. “Terri… wait…” I breathed and placed a hand on each side of her face, gently but firmly pushing her away. I was about to continue when my eyes met hers and that was my undoing. As I was caught up in vibrant blue eyes darkened with passion and desire, my body resolutely grabbed the reins from my mind, not giving a damn about talking or sorting things out.

It can wait, was my last rational thought before Terri read the surrender in my eyes and with a knowing smile grabbed my hand, practically dragging me back to the bedroom.

Talking´s overrated anyway…
Episode 12

The next morning I had the pleasure of waking up to the sound of Terri being violently sick in the bathroom, and if I´d ever wondered whether I possessed any nurturing or protective instincts, I needed to wonder no more. The moment I saw Terri´s feverish face and glassy eyes, they all kicked in with a vengeance and after she had washed her face, rinsed her mouth and then gulped down a bit of water, I insisted on her going straight back to bed and stay there till she was feeling better. Terri being Terri protested, saying that she had classes to attend, places to be, things to do, but she was really too tired and too sick to put up much of a fight, and I just tucked her back into bed, smiling affectionately and indulgently at all her objections feeling very much like a mother must in such a situation. Or at least the way I would imagine a mother would feel.

I hated to leave, but I was already late for work as it was and Terri assured me she would manage to be sick just fine on her own, so after I had placed a plastic bin at the bed, brought her several magazines, a glass of orange juice and fluffed her pillows all the while Terri studied me with a bemused but nonetheless friendly expression, I finally left my apartment, mentally wondering whether it´d be possible for me to get off from work earlier today. If I could somehow get my secretary to reschedule a meeting or two. Not that I worried or anything. Terri was more than capable of being alone and didn´t need me to fuss over her, but I just felt more comfortable with the thought or her being alone… with me around.

However, as it often goes, that particular day turned out to be one of the busiest my firm had had for weeks, with two major new clients both having problems with harassment lawsuits filed against them and it was almost eight before I put the key into the door to my apartment, surprised to find it already unlocked.

Frowning I stepped inside, only to find my sister sitting on the couch drinking a glass of what appeared to be something a little more potent than apple juice. The Johnny Walker bottle on the coffee table confirmed my suspicion as did my sister´s face when she took a sip before turning her head to look at me.

She just stared at me and I gave her a tired smile as I closed the door behind me and slowly placed my briefcase on the floor. “Hi Em,” I began, all sorts of things rushing through my head and I glanced at the closed bedroom door. “What are you doing here?”

My sister didn´t answer, but rose from the couch and I couldn´t help but swallow when I noticed her eyes darting to the bedroom door as well before they came back to rest on me.

“There´s a woman in your bed, Sarah,” she then spoke softly and the expression on her face was so comical that I almost had to laugh. Almost.

“Yes,” I answered slowly, not really knowing what else to say. “I know.”

For some reason my sister seemed surprised by this. Like she had expected me to come home and be just as startled as she to find someone sleeping in my bed. I could see that Emma didn´t know what to say, but that she most certainly wanted to say something. However, she didn´t speak and I used the opportunity to take off my coat and shoes, feeling Emma´s eyes at my back all the time.

“Her name´s Terri,” I spoke as I turned around to face her. “She´s a friend of mine.”

My sister nodded to herself, absorbing the information then our eyes met again and I couldn´t read the expression on her face, “What´s she doing in your bed? Naked?”

The last word held just a hint of an accusatory edge and I felt a small spark of anger ignite in the pit of my stomach, but I chose to ignore it for now, feeling that Emma deserved at least some kind of explanation.

“She´s not feeling well, I think it´s the flu or something.”

“Then why is she here?” My sister continued and I still wasn´t able to tell what was going on in her head. “If she´s sick then why isn´t she home, in her own bed?”

I looked at my sister for a moment and then with a calmness that surprised even myself said, “Because she spent the night here and I didn´t want her to go home this morning feeling like this.”

Confusion and puzzlement clouded my sister´s eyes for a moment then she frowned and I could see the first hints of understanding appear on her face. “She spent the night? In your bed?”

I nodded, waiting for the inevitable.

“And…” Emma hesitated, suddenly looking very awkward. “And where did you sleep?”

“Where do you think?” I replied quietly, inwardly cursing myself for having Emma find out like this. I had planned to tell her, soon, but that it would be this soon I hadn´t quite expected. However, the truth was out and a part of me was relieved that I wouldn´t have to lie to her anymore, while another part was frozen, waiting with bated breath for her reaction.

My sister and I had never discussed the topic of homosexuality, or heterosexuality for that matter, and I had no idea how she would react, although I was reasonably sure that she wouldn´t run screaming for the door.

And she didn´t. She straightened up a little and looked me square in the eye, “You slept together?”

I nodded, absently wondering whether Emma had always been this slow or if she was in some kind of shock that would explain her lack of comprehension. It appeared like she still wasn´t seeing the whole picture. Maybe it was all too hard to believe or maybe she thought she had misunderstood the entire thing and I didn´t really feel I could blame her, then suddenly she blushed and said slowly, “You mean… like… you were… having… sex?”

This time I had to smile and I was relieved to see a tentative smile mirrored on my sister´s furiously blushing face. “Yes,” I cleared my throat, trying not to appear too amused, “I think that would be the term usually applied.”

“Oh…” Emma sank down on the couch then her eyes fell on the glass with whisky and she reached out and took a big gulp. “I see…” She was silent for a moment then gazed at me like she had never seen me before, “So you´re…”

“Gay,” I supplied gently, sitting down on the couch beside her. “I´m gay, Emma, and Terri is my lover.”

“So you…” My sister said slowly, more to herself than to me. “So you´re… sleeping with her…”

I sighed, now certain that she was in some kind of shock and I was just glad that my admission hadn´t given her a heart attack. Although with the way things were going that was probably just around the corner. “Yes, Em, I think we´ve established that fact already.”

“For how long?” She asked quietly, her eyes locked on the glass in her hands. I frowned slightly, “For how long we´ve been sleeping together?” I was getting a little annoyed now and didn´t bother to hide it, “Really, Emma, I don´t think that´s any of your business.”

“No,” she hurried to say, “I didn´t mean that.” She turned her head and when our gazes met, I saw nothing but confusion and a little hurt in her eyes. “I meant for how long have you…” She gestured helplessly and I couldn´t help but feel sorry for her. “…have you been gay?”

I gave her a small smile, trying to convey a thousand things through that simple gesture. That I was sorry I hadn´t told her sooner, that I was even more sorry that I had lied to her and that no matter who I chose to have in my bed I was still her sister and that our relationship wouldn´t change because of that. Unless of course she couldn´t deal with it.

The last thought had come from out of nowhere and hurt more that I had imagined it could, but I pushed it aside and managed to smile at her again, my eyes never leaving her face as I searched for any hints of disgust or anger, “I´ve been gay all my life, Em, that´s usually the way it works, but I guess what you mean is for how long I´ve known?”

She nodded mutely, but didn´t break eye contact and I took that as a good sign.

“I guess I´ve always known, more or less,” I sighed, having had the exact same conversation with Paige when she first found out. “But I wasn´t completely sure until I was about sixteen and I didn´t act upon it before I´d left home for college. And yes…” I continued, forestalling her next questions. “I know, I´ve dated guys, had boyfriends, in the past and I thought they were nice, but I was never in love with them. And no, mum and dad don´t know. Nobody does except Paige and now you… and then Terri of course,” I added, not able to stop the smile that appeared on my face just from saying her name.

“Terri…” My sister repeated, testing the word, then she leaned back in the couch and looked at me for a few moments before speaking. “Why didn´t you tell me?”

“I was going to,” I began, but Emma held up her hand to stop me. “That wasn´t what I was asking either, Sarah. Why didn´t you tell me?”

“I…I…” I faltered, suddenly not knowing what to say, but as I looked into me sister´s questioning eyes, seeing her need to understand, that she was trying to wrap her mind around the concept and maybe feeling that after twenty-five years she didn´t know her older sister at all, I knew I had to try to explain… something.

“I was afraid, I guess. I didn´t know how you´d react and maybe I was a coward. I thought that as long as I kept it to myself nobody would get hurt and I wouldn´t have to deal with telling mum and dad, and I never…” I paused, then continued. “I´ve never felt the need to tell people before, I´ve never met someone who I wanted the world to know about… To bring home and meet the parents, so to speak,” I added with a small smile.

“But that´s changed?”

I blinked, surprised by the direct question then I felt a smile creep onto my face, “Yeah, I guess it has.”

“Whoa…” My sister exhaled softly, but before she could say anything else, we heard the sound of a door opening and we both looked toward the bedroom.

Terri was standing in the doorway, wearing nothing but a pair of black silk boxers and a grey sweatshirt I´d bought a couple of sizes too big, meant for cold winter nights, but which fitted Terri perfectly. Her hair was tousled and she was still too pale, but to me it was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. She squinted a little against the light and I had the feeling she´d just woken up, then she looked at us, her gaze lingering briefly on Emma before coming to rest on me.

“Hey…” She began hesitantly. “I thought I heard something.” As she spoke her eyes darted away from me and focused solely on Emma who was staring, and quite openly for that. Terri raised an eyebrow, but didn´t say anything as my sister´s eyes travelled up the length of her body, starting at the bare feet, moving up long tanned legs, to a narrow waist and past the muscled arms crossed in front of her chest and finally stopped as she was caught up in a slightly sceptical, but not hostile blue gaze.

“Terri,” I said, rising from the couch. “This is my sister, Emma Richardson. Em, this is Terri Cavanagh.”

“Hi,” Terri nodded, studying my sister who smiled faintly and nodded in return.

“How are you feeling?” Until then I´d been able to restrain myself, but now I stepped over to her and placed a hand on her forehead. She was still warm and the fever hadn´t disappeared, but her skin felt cooler than it had this morning.

Terri wrinkled her nose in amusement, but didn´t comment and instead cleared her throat speaking hoarsely, “I´m tired, got a terrible headache, but otherwise I´m fine.”

“You should go back to bed,” I said, noticing the light sheen of sweat on her skin. “Sleep a little more.”

“Yeah, I guess. I just wanted something to drink. Got any more orange juice?”

I smiled, “Sure, coming right up.” And before she could protest, I went into the kitchen, leaving her alone in the living room with my sister.

Episode 13

I was moving around quietly in the kitchen, anxious to hear if anything was said in the living room and intent on coming to the rescue if needed. Whose rescue, though, I wasn´t certain.

I had just opened the fridge and was about to get a glass when I heard my sister speak in a slightly hesitant voice, “So… You´re not feeling well?”

I rolled my eyes, but couldn´t help but smile. At least she was trying.

“No,” Terri answered and I could easily detect the bemusement in her tone. “It´s probably the flu or something.”

“Probably,” Emma agreed wholeheartedly, “there´s been a lot of that around lately.”

“Maybe.” I could hear from the low creaking that Terri had sat down on the couch.

I knew it was limited how much time I could justify using pouring a glass of orange juice, but I really wanted to give them a moment alone together, give them a chance to, if not to get to know each other better, then at least get used to each other.

“Em!” I called out from the kitchen. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Yes, sure,” she answered. “And before I forget, I´ve got the guest list for mum and dad´s anniversary with me. I´d like you to look it over to see if I´ve left anyone out.”

I poked my head out of the door, “I thought I was to do the planning. Didn´t we agree on that last time?”

My sister gave me a look, “I may not know everything that´s going on in your life, Sarah, but I do know you and I doubt mum would appreciate it if you confused the dates again.”

“Hey!” I protested indignantly. “That only happened once and I´ve apologized to her at least a hundred times.”

“Yeah,” Emma grinned wickedly. “And if I know mum right you´ll be doing it at least for a hundred times more.”

I was about to speak when my eyes fell on Terri who was watching me with amusement on her face, “You forgot your parents´ anniversary?”

“Well,” I began sheepishly, shooting a glare at Emma. “Actually it wasn´t their anniversary, but my mother´s fiftieth birthday last year. I showed up a day late.”

“Ouch,” Terri commented, grinning a little. “I bet you´re still paying for that.”

“You´ve no idea,” I smiled at her and disappeared back into the kitchen.

Filling a kettle with water, I heard my sister ask, “So, Terri, what do you do? You look a bit young to be working in Sarah´s firm.”

I groaned silently. How subtle.

“I don´t,” Terri answered readily and I was relieved to hear there was no hint of defensiveness in her tone. “I´m still in school.”

“Oh…” Emma said slowly. “Sorry, I just assumed you met at the firm. Sarah doesn´t go out much and-.”

I didn´t hear the last part because I was too busy grinding my teeth. If I weren´t careful Emma would have disclosed all my faults and shortcomings to Terri before the water had had time to boil.

“We met at a bar,” I then heard Terri speak and there was something about her tone that made me a tad uneasy. “I was just sitting there, minding my own business, when your sister came up to the bar and started sweet talking me. I never had a chance naturally, and she swept me off my feet with those beautiful eyes and that gorgeous body of hers, and later that night she got me into bed without as much as having to ask, and if I wasn´t an atheist I would´ve sworn I died and went to heaven that night….” She paused for dramatic effect while I was busy picking up my jaw from the floor. “…Several times.”

A stunned silence followed and I had no problems picturing the expression on my sister´s face, or Terri´s for that matter. The slightly smirking and smug look she got whenever she had succeeded in pulling my leg, something I´d realized she enjoyed immensely and something I didn´t really mind that much. Still recalling fondly chasing a laughing Terri down the beach one late evening after she had convinced me that back home she was the local knife throwing champion, something that for some reason had seemed quite plausible to me and if it hadn´t been for her being unable to contain her grin, I would never have known otherwise. Afterwards, I did make her pay, though, several times, but somehow I don´t think she minded that either.

“Oh…” I heard my sister exclaim softly. “I see… Well, isn´t that… nice…”

I decided to give my version of our first meeting while the water was boiling and grabbed the glass of orange juice walking out of the kitchen to hand it to Terri before looking at my sister, “Don´t listen to her, Em, she´s just joking, it was nothing like that and I did no such thing.”

“Oh?” Terri gave me an innocent look, smirking lightly. “Are you saying you didn´t make me go to heaven that night? Really, Sarah, if that´s the case then I think I didn´t make a good enough job of showing my appreciation afterwards.”

Terri´s grin broadened as my sister blushed furiously and studied her hands like they were the most interesting things she had ever seen. I just gave Terri a look, promising she was going to pay for this, then disappeared back into the kitchen before all the water had turned into steam.

“Well, I guess I should get back to bed,” Terri said, rising from couch. “I still feel a bit fuzzy around the edges.”

“Of course, don´t let me keep you.” I could hear Em rise from the couch as well as I poured boiling water into two mugs. “It was nice to meet you, Terri, I hope you´ll get well soon.”

“Likewise, and thanks. Being sick isn´t one of my favourite pastimes.”

“I know, it´s awful. Ellie, that´s my daughter, had the flu, too, a couple of days ago and there really isn´t anything you can do except waiting for it to pass.”

“Yeah, I know,” Terri replied then called out to me, “I´m going back to bed for an hour or so, Sarah, if I fall asleep could you wake me up? I have a few things I need to take care of back home.”

“No problem,” I answered, secretly wishing that she didn´t have to go and that she would stay the night instead of going back to her place where there wouldn´t be anyone to look out for her. Although… maybe there would. Maybe this Alison who in some way seemed to be part of Terri´s life would take care of her.

Somehow I didn´t particular like that idea and pushed the thought away. I wasn´t going to get worked up over nothing. Considering Terri´s self-reliance and love of solitude, I should be happy that she had some people in her life at all. I´d just wish I knew in what way and what they meant to her.

Okay, get a grip, Sarah. You´re not a teenager anymore. If there was something to tell, Terri would tell you, you know that. She said herself that she doesn´t play games so why worry over nothing? She´s here with you, isn´t she? If she didn´t want to be with you, she wouldn´t be here. It´s as simple as that… Right? Right!

I suddenly realized I had been staring into one of the steaming mugs like it was the most fascinating sight I´d ever seen, and only when I turned around did I see my sister standing in the doorway, a curious expression on her face.

“Sarah? Are you all right?”

“Yeah,” I smiled, “just zoomed out there for a moment.”

“Oh…” Emma replied, but didn´t comment further and instead gestured at the mugs. “Tea done?”

“Yes, let´s bring it into the living room and then I´ll have a look at that guest list.”

We did as I suggested and sat down on the couch. Emma handed me the list and I quickly looked it over, not recognizing half of the names on it, but suspecting it had to be some of my parents´ friends and possibly bridge partners.”

“Well, the list looks fine to me,” I sighed and leaned back into the couch. “But I must confess I´m not actually looking forward to this. I hate having to sit at a table for hours, doing nothing but eating and small talking to people who seem to know everything about me whereas I hardly know their names, much less how they´re connected to mum and dad.” I took as sip of my tea, giving Em my most pitiful look, but my sister wasn´t moved and just sighed in exasperation.

“Oh, come on, Sarah, it´s not going to be that bad and you could always invite Terri if you think it´ll be too boring.”

We both realized at the same time what it was she had suggested and for a moment neither of us moved as we regarded each other carefully. Then Emma cleared her throat and began hesitantly, “Well, I mean… you could, you know… You´ll have to tell mum and dad sooner or later anyway.”

“Yeah,” I said without much conviction, “but I doubt their anniversary will be the best time to choose to come out.”

“Probably,” my sister acknowledged and then gave me a wicked grin. “But boy, would it give us something to talk about.”

I couldn´t help but grin myself, picturing the shocked expressions of several close relatives, then I grew serious. “I know I have to come clean, Em, but… I don´t know, it´s just so hard. I don´t know how they´ll react at all. I mean, we´ve never discussed something like this when we were living at home. I have no idea how they feel about this topic. I… I don´t want them…” I trailed off and my sister gave me a brief smile, understanding showing in her eyes.

“They´re not going to hate you, Sarah. No matter what, you´re their daughter and they´ll accept you regardless of how you choose to live your life.”

“Do you really believe that?” I asked, desperately needing assurance.

“Yes,” Emma replied vehemently as she reached out and took my hand. “I think it´ll all go much smoother than you think. I mean, I didn´t freak out, did I? And at least you won´t have mum bugging you about grandchildren anymore.”

I gave her a pale smile, not feeling the same conviction she did, but praying that she was right. Silence fell between us as we drank our tea, both lost in thought until I couldn´t remain quiet any longer.

“So… what do you think? Of… of this? Of Terri?”

Emma took her time, emptying the mug and putting in down on the coffee table before exhaling slowly, “I think I´ll need a little time to digest it all, Sarah. Don´t get me wrong,” she hurried to say as she noticed the look on my face. “I don´t… I don´t have any problems with you being gay and Terri seems like a really nice girl, I just need…” She sighed, a small resigned smile showing on her lips, “I just need to get used to the idea that I don´t know my older sister as well as I thought I did, and that apparently we aren´t as close as I believed we were.”

I could see the hurt in her eyes and gave the hand still holding mine a gentle squeeze. “I´m sorry, Em,” I whispered. “It wasn´t that I didn´t trust you or thought you couldn´t handle it, it´s just… I… I tend to keep things to myself, especially when they´re very personal, you know that. It´s just the way I am.”

“I know,” she whispered in response. “I´d just wish you´d told me sooner.” She paused and looked away, “I feel like such a fool, all the times I asked if you were seeing someone or-.”

“Hey,” I interrupted softly, waiting for her to meet my eyes again. “If anybody should feel like a fool it´s me for not having the guts to tell you the truth and just go on pretending I was something I wasn´t.” I looked at her earnestly, “I´m so sorry for not telling you, Emma, and I promise I won´t keep anything like this from you again. Can you forgive me?”

“Of course. Don´t worry about it,” Em answered, giving me a tiny grin. “I guess if the situation had been reversed I might have acted the same way.”

I let out a deep breath, feeling relief wash over me and then reached out to give my sister a much deserved hug which she readily returned.

“Tell me one thing, Sarah,” Em asked some time later as she put on her coat, getting ready to leave after we had talked about everything and anything for almost an hour. Something we had never really done before and something I had relished and enjoyed more than I ever thought I would.

“If it weren´t for Terri, would you have told me? I mean, if you hadn´t met her, there wouldn´t have been any reason for you to say something. You could just have gone on like always and nobody would´ve been the wiser.”

I looked into my sister´s eyes for a long time, deciding to tell her the truth even if it would hurt her. “If it weren´t for Terri, I most likely wouldn´t have told you. I´m sure I would have said something, eventually, but meeting her most certainly speeded up the process a little.” I smiled dryly, “I guess that´s what you get for having you sister water your plants one week and never have the key returned.”

“Exactly,” my sister smirked, “And don´t expect to get it back anytime soon, not when dropping by unexpectedly has such interesting results.” She smiled and gave me a hug, keeping her hands on my upper arms as she pulled back, the expression on her face sincere and honest, “I hope everything works out for you, Sarah, and I still think you should bring Terri along to mum and dad´s anniversary, just as a friend, let them get to know her.” She released my arms and reached for the door, “It can´t hurt.”

I squirmed a little, trying to picture Terri´s face if I asked her. “I´ll think about it,” I then replied when I realized Emma was expecting an answer. “I can´t promise anything, but I´ll think about it.”

“Okay, you do that.” Em opened the door and stepped outside. We said our goodbyes and she was about to leave, but then she suddenly turned around to face me, a distinctly mischievous look on her face, “Oh yeah, before I forget. Thumbs up, Sarah, you certainly know how to pick ´em. If I weren´t straight and happily married I´d go for her myself.” She lowered her voice and glanced around her before whispering conspiratorially, “Your girlfriend is absolutely gorgeous, sis. I mean, just those legs… yummy.”

“Emma!” I exclaimed, shocked and pleased at the same time, but then I grinned, revelling in the feeling of happiness and giddiness that was coursing through me. “You´re not supposed to notice, much less comment, on my girlfriend´s legs, or any other part of her anatomy for that matter. That´s reserved for me and me only.”

“Oh yeah,” my sister laughed as she walked down the hallway towards the lift. “In that case, I´d suggest you get yourself another girlfriend, Sarah, because with the way Terri looks she´s bound to be mentioned and noticed wherever she is.”

The doors to the lift opened and she steeped inside, and just before she disappeared from my view I heard her call out, “You better keep an eye on her, Sarah, or else somebody will try to steal her away from you!”

For a moment I stared down the empty hallway, my sister´s words still echoing in my ears. They had been spoken in jest and she hadn´t meant them to be taken seriously, but in truth they´d hit much closer to home than I dared admit even to myself. So it was in a somewhat more sombre mood, I went back inside and continued towards the bedroom to wake up Terri.
Episode 14

I hadn´t really planned to ask her. Because if I didn´t, she wouldn´t have to think up an excuse why she couldn´t come, or knowing Terri, simply say straight out she wasn´t interested in going which was bound to make us both feel rather awkward. Besides, I wasn´t exactly sure what was on her mind since my less than fortunate declaration of love, and I had come to the conclusion it was better not to push it and instead wait and see what happened.

Naturally, I did no such thing.

It was around 10 p.m. Friday night and Terri had persuaded me to come with her and check out this new club that was opening in the city. Actually, I had a lot of work to catch up with and had, being rather noble and mature if I should say so myself, suggested her to go alone. However, the disappointed look on her face told me louder than any words that that wasn´t something she was really interested in doing, so I relented, but not before casually asking as we put on our coats whether she was interested in coming with me to my parents´ anniversary.

To my utter shock, instead of beginning to shift on her feet or start stuttering out some explanation, she just glanced at me as we walked down the hallway and asked what date the celebration was going to be. Somehow I managed to regain my composure and told her, and she shrugged, gave me a little smile and said, “Sure, I got time then.”

Thus, without any ado, something I´d been thinking about quite a lot was settled as easily as if I´d asked her to come for a walk in the park, and as we stepped into the lift and Terri pushed the appropriate button, I couldn´t help but wonder whether I would ever fully get to understand her and what exactly went on in that unpredictable and enigmatic mind of hers.

I belong to an almost frightfully wholesome family with no dark secrets or skeletons in the closet… Well, expect for me that is, but that´s another matter.

My parents have been married for twenty-nine years and I only remember them raising their voices and fighting twice, what about I can´t recall so it can´t have been that important. My sister and I had a secure and loving childhood with my father reading us bedtimes stories every night before we went to sleep, and my mother working part time until we were old enough to be home alone after school.

We spent our summer holidays in Europe, mainly Italy and later Ireland, being dragged to one historical monument or church after another, smiling tiredly to the ever existing camera. They helped us with our homework in the evenings, made lunch for us to bring to school every morning and drove us to tennis training, piano lessons or whatever had caught our fancies without a complaint. All in all a very normal and idyllic childhood, and yet, as I sat in the car driving down the road where I first scraped my knee roller-skating, I would´ve done anything to be able to turn the car and go somewhere else, far, far away.

It´s funny that you can love someone so dearly, but not really desire to be in the same room with them for any longer period of time. Or maybe it´s just me.

“You okay?”

I glanced briefly at Terri who was looking at me questioningly and gave her a little smile, “Yeah, just thinking.”

“What about?”

I sighed, “Oh, this and that. About my being an awful daughter because I´d much rather be going somewhere else with you than to my parents´ wedding anniversary. And why it is I hate family gatherings like these when everybody in my family is perfectly friendly and normal.”

Terri shrugged, “Maybe they´re too friendly and normal?”

I smiled again as I slowed down, pulling up to the curb outside my parents´ house. “Maybe they are.”

I turned off the engine and pulled out the key before looking back at Terri who was eyeing the house and the many cars in and around the driveway nervously, “Getting second thoughts?”

“No,” she shook her head lightly and gave me a slightly unconvincing smile. “I´m sure it´ll be nice… Tell me again what it was I shouldn´t do while we´re there.”

I reached out and took her hand into mine, quickly making sure nobody was watching us from the house. “Well… let´s see… No kissing, no holding hands, no touching that goes beyond friendship and no telling people how incredible I am in bed,” I finished with a teasing smile.

Terri arched an eyebrow and grinned crookedly, “Well, you are.” Then she gave me a mock pout, “You know, with all these things I can´t do, I´m suddenly not so sure this is going to be so nice. What if I´m standing next to you and suddenly get this insane craving,” she leaned closer until our faces were only inches apart, her breath warm against my skin “to get friendly with you in a way that goes beyond friendship?” She brushed her lips against mine and I didn´t have the willpower to pull back, nor did I care to, “Way, way beyond friendship?”

“Then,” I whispered, desperately wishing we had more time and the car´s windows were tinted enough to hide us from any prying eyes that might be around, “then you better make sure you´re at least ten feet away from me the entire evening, or this celebration will turn into an event that everybody there will remember for the rest of their lives.”

“Hmm…” The tip of Terri´s tongue was gently grazing my lips. “I think I like the sound of that. I always aim to leave a lasting impression.”

“You don´t say.” I placed a quick kiss on her nose then pulled away and opened the car door before things got out of hand. Terri sighed melodramatically, but got out of the car as well and side by side we walked towards the house.

A few yards before we had reached the door it was opened and my father stepped outside, looking very handsome wearing a dark suit and a brilliant smile. “Hey sweetie!” He pulled me into a quick hug then released me, “So, how´s my favourite lawyer doing? It´s been so long since we last heard from you.”

There was no reproach in his voice just plain joy of seeing me again and I gave him a warm smile, “I know, Dad, and I´m sorry. But you know what it´s like.”

“Yeah,” he answered with a quiet sigh, running a hand through his greying hair. “I sure do.” Then his eyes moved past me to Terri who was standing a short distance away, regarding us impassively, “And you must be… Terri… right?”

She nodded and shook the hand he was offering, “Yes, that would be me, sir, and congratulations to you and your wife. Twenty-nine years, that´s quite an accomplishment nowadays.”

“Oh yes, I know, but we´ve always been very stubborn in our family. Won´t tolerate defeat,” my father smiled, studying Terri closely and I could tell from experience that something had aroused his interest, but that he didn´t know quite what it was yet. I just hoped that he wouldn´t find out until after we´d left.

“But let´s get you inside, it´s freezing out here. Your mother´s in the kitchen, Sarah,” he continued as we stepped inside and took off our coats. I know she´d like to talk to you before the rest of the guests arrive.”

I was about to object and it must have showed on my face because he gave me a friendly but firm look which send me right back to puberty, “Sarah Marie, go see your mother. I´ll take care of your friend here in the meantime. Give her a tour of the house.” And with that he disappeared into the living room. Terri gave me an amused look then went right after him.

I sighed and went out into the kitchen where my, as always immaculately dressed, mother was busy supervising that everything was coming along the way it should. We only had a few minutes to catch up before Emma and Richard arrived with Ellie and from that moment on people kept arriving, and I spent the next 30 minutes welcoming cousins, nephews and nieces, aunts and uncles, co-workers and neighbours plus several other people I had no idea who were, but apparently all knew who I was and greeted my heartily as if we were old friends.

Finally everyone had arrived and had taken residence in the living room, occupying all available space, and I had to settle for leaning against the wall beside the door, watching the big group of people who made up my family.

In a way it was still strange to see my cousins who I had played with as a kid, stand around looking both grown up and mature, some of them having small children of their own. It was almost as strange as the time I went home for Christmas one year, and for the first time noticed that my father´s hair was thinning and that his beard was no longer black but grey. I couldn´t help but wonder whether my parents had felt the same thing. Whether they had looked at me one day and noticed that I was no longer a little girl, but a grown woman with a life of her own.

“Penny for your thoughts.”

“Hi Em,” I smiled at my sister who had come to stand beside me. “I´m just thinking about how fast time passes and how quickly everything changes.”

“Uh, that sounds serious. Have a drink.”

She handed me a glass and I took a small sip from the chilled wine.

“Yeah, probably too serious for the occasion…”

We regarded the people before us in silence for a few minutes, half listening to the sound of laughter and talking, then Emma turned to me, “I see you took my advice. About Terri,” she added as she noticed the confusion on my face. “To be honest, I didn´t think you would.”

I grinned lightly, “Neither did I, but she seems to be enjoying herself.”

“Yeah,” my sister agreed absently, watching Terri. “She and dad seem to have hit it off rather well.”

“Seems like it.”

I watched thoughtfully as my smiling father was showing Terri his considerable collection of books, pulling one book out from the shelves after the other, enthusiastically explaining about authors and first editions with Terri listening attentively, occasionally nodding or asking a question which promptly brought out another big smile on my father´s face.

“Ahh…” Emma commented with a little smile or her own, “I think dad´s found a kindred spirit, someone to play with. Tell me, does Terri like soccer and Monty Python, too?”

“As a matter of fact she does and she´s also a fan of Bob Dylan,” I replied, frowning lightly. “That´s it! I´ll never get to see her again. Who should´ve thought I´d lose my girlfriend to my father?”

However, Em wasn´t paying attention to what I was saying, “Aww, isn´t that cute? He´s showing her his Charles Dickens collection. I can´t remember when he last did that to someone he hasn´t known for a decade or two. You know,” she turned to me, “except for one minor detail Terri would be dad´s dream of a son-in-law coming true. He´s never been able to discuss literature or music with Richard, and I don´t think he ever quite forgave him for falling asleep while watching Italy vs. Brazil during the 1994 World Cup.”

“Mmm,” I replied mindlessly, not really sure what I should think about this sudden and unexpected bonding between my father and Terri. As if feeling my gaze upon them they both looked up from the book they were currently studying and both gave me an affectionate smile before returning their attention to the book.

“Sarah?” I felt a small tug on my sleeve and I turned my head to look at my sister who was looking at me seriously. “Have you told Terri that mum and dad don´t know you´re gay?”

“Well, yes, of course. Why?”

“Well,” Em smiled briefly, “in that case I think you´d better tell her not to look at you like that or they might find out a helluva lot quicker than you´d want them to.”

“What do you mean?” I asked puzzled.

“The look she just gave you,” my sister whispered into my ear. “That was sooo not friendly. Ah, yes, there it is again. See for yourself and tell me if I´m wrong.”

I shook my head in exasperation, confident that Emma was imagining things, and glanced back at Terri who really was watching me. Instead of meeting her eyes, I studied her surreptitiously, doing my best to appear like my attention was anywhere but on her. My lips parted soundlessly and I exhaled slowly, my heart picking up a faster pace. Emma was right. The expression in Terri´s eyes was conveying so much more than friendship that I was completely overwhelmed and terribly unprepared for the flood of emotions rushing through me.

“You´re very lucky, Sarah,” I heard my sister say quietly beside me. “I don´t remember ever seeing such a look of utter adoration in Richard´s eyes.” She gave me shoulder a gentle squeeze, “I think you should hold onto this one.” Then she walked away leaving me alone at the wall.

In that moment Terri noticed I was watching her and for the briefest of seconds she appeared almost guilty about having been caught, but then she smiled tentatively and as I returned it tenfold, her own smile grew brighter and for a moment I was lost to the world, feeling how I was drowning in the blue depths of her eyes.

As we finally broke eye contact, it was like an almost physical connection had been severed and I was glad I was leaning against the wall for support. Then I noticed my father looking directly at me.

I froze and could only stare at him, my heart beating madly in my chest, but I refused to look away and although it took all my strength not to avert my eyes, I managed. I couldn´t read the blank expression on his face and for a moment I wondered whether I had overreacted and that he hadn´t seen anything unusual, but somehow, instinctively, I knew that he had witnessed the exchange between us and I knew he had to be speculating about what it meant. Then Emma returned and announced that dinner was ready and we all headed for the table.

The dinner went along peacefully. My father held a very moving speech for my mother and I found myself becoming all misty eyed watching the affection and devotion between my parents. Something I had always known was there, but had rarely seen expressed so openly. Emma and I made a speech together which, as intended, caused people to laugh several times and since I had been seated next to my all time favourite family member, my grandmother, the hours passed quickly and I had a much better time than I´d thought I would.

Actually, I began wondering why it was I had been dreading this anniversary so much when it really was very nice to see both my parents and the rest of the family again. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that Terri was having such a good time, talking amiably to my youngest cousin, Damien, a very handsome young man who was about Terri´s age.

Damien was pursuing a career in the Navy and I could tell he was enjoying having found such an interested audience in Terri, although, at one time I heard her express her dislike of handguns and praising the virtues of swords instead. They both found the imagery of the Navy supplying all their soldiers with swords very amusing and laughed out loud, drawing everybody´s attention to them.

They became the recipients of several indulgent smiles and I watched my mother lean over and whisper something to my aunt Catherine, Damien´s mother, who nodded and smiled before whispering something back. Suddenly, I was feeling much less cheerful than I had just a minute ago and as I looked back at Terri and Damien I felt just the tiniest pang of a something that might just have been jealousy or maybe worry. No matter what, it was a feeling I didn´t care to examine much closer if I could avoid it, but as I continued to study them it became obvious that they really were getting along great.

As I watched them so engrossed into their conversation that the food on their plates was getting cold, it hit me from out of nowhere that I didn´t know whether Terri was attracted to men as well as women.

I had never asked. Just assumed that she in intimate matters preferred the company of women like I did and considering the place we met, I had thought it a reasonable conclusion to make. Now I wasn´t so sure.

They made a gorgeous couple. Both tall and athletic, dark hair, beautifully chiselled features and sparkling vibrant eyes. From the laughter and the expression on their faces I could tell they were enjoying each other´s company and obviously had a lot to talk about and with I sickening feeling I realized that the only other person I´d seen Terri act so carefree and relaxed around was me. Me, whom she supposedly cared a great deal for. At least that was how I had chosen to interpret the things she whispered to me those late nights in bed after we had made love, when the room was dark, and our bodies sweaty and satiated, and she would snuggle close, burrowing her head in my hair and her arms drawing me tightly against her.

One night, when she thought I was asleep, she had stroked my hair for what must have been hours and softly whispered how beautiful I was and how happy she was to be there with me. I had chosen to continue pretending to sleep, somehow knowing that Terri would recoil emotionally if she discovered I was awake.

So I had remained still, my eyes closed as a wonderful sense of peacefulness and completeness engulfed my body. In that moment I was happy, all doubts and insecurities having temporarily left me, allowing me to enjoy the moment for what it was. A tender embrace between lovers and whether that was lovers in more than the physical sense, I had chosen not to speculate about. Just like I chose not to speculate and think about so many other things concerning Terri and our relationship.

That night had given me hope that one day I´d hear the words from Terri´s mouth I so desperately wanted to hear, but watching her now with Damien made me wonder whether I had just been fooling myself all along. Seeing things that simply weren´t there just because I wanted to.

I had known Terri for about three months now and we saw each other almost every day, but still there where times when Terri was distant and absentminded, times when she hardly seemed to notice I was around, or even worse, seemed slightly bothered by the fact that I was.

She always did her best to hide it, but I knew her so well by now that I could practically tell when the restlessness and almost desperate craving for solitude was about to take hold of her even before she did, and still, after all this time, she wouldn´t say anything, but just turned quiet and remote, her face a study of edgy tension.

I had tried various things to see if there was some way I could stop it from happening or make it disappear again, but had come up empty handed. When Terri was like that she wanted to be alone and my mind was beginning to accept that whereas my heart was having a slightly more difficult time dealing with what felt like a huge rejection.

I had asked her once what she did when she was alone, but she just shrugged saying that she didn´t really do anything and had gone on to talk about something else.

I had realized early on that that was Terri´s way of dealing with things she didn´t want to talk about. Shrug and change the subject or, which also happened quite frequently, she would stop talking altogether and begin kissing me instead, her hands finding their way under my clothing thus effectively changing the subject without speaking a word.

As it was, a lot of the time we were together was spent intertwined in bed, both relishing the pure physical pleasure we brought each other. There was a fierce sexual attraction between us that surpassed anything I had ever experienced before, but even though Terri left me both thoroughly satisfied and exhausted it wasn´t enough. I wanted more. I wanted her heart to be into it as well and I had actually started to believe it was. Otherwise I couldn´t explain the gentleness with which she would make love to me again after the most urgent needs had been satisfied.

And now I was watching her, openly flirt and being flirted with, directly before my eyes as if she had forgotten all about my existence.

Or maybe she just didn´t care.

Episode 15

After dinner and coffee, just long enough for the food to settle, furniture was pushed aside to signal the beginning of one of the most celebrated traditions in my family. Dancing. It never fails. Whether it´s a birthday celebration or a Christmas party, we always end up dancing one way or the other. The only time we restrain ourselves is at funerals when it probably wouldn´t be appropriate.

I have no idea how it started, but now it´s as much part of our family as our name and everybody from the youngest child, to the eldest man join in with the fun. All in their own rhythm of course which often makes it a quite hilarious experience to watch, but everybody has the grace not to laugh. Mainly because you never know when it´ll be you out there trying to keep up with uncle Henry doing the Twist, or what he imagines to be the Twist. Needless to say we have a lot of fun and even I have been known to thrown all restraints overboard and just go with it.

My mother used to dance the ballet as a child and she was very good at it, and you can still tell by the dignified way she sweeps over the floor, then again, everything my mothers does is done with dignity and grace. I can´t remember seeing her with a single hair astray or a less than perfect makeup. To me she has always seemed larger than life. Balancing work, motherhood and marriage without a complaint and always a smile. I know it can´t always have been easy, but she has never indicated or shown any signs of how much strain and pressure she undoubtedly must have been under at times.

She is petite, even smaller than me, and very slender. She seems almost frail with her pale complexion and thin dark blond hair, but under the surface is an iron will and a quick mind. I know she could have easily have become more than a librarian and sometimes I wonder why she didn´t. She loves her job and maybe that´s all she ever wanted, but I can´t tell for sure because she´s never spoken about it. In fact, my mother and I have rarely spoken about anything of significance.

Sure, we discuss politics and work, exchange opinions on books and plays, and I know she loves Italy and has a secret hanker for Barbara Cartland books, but otherwise I know very little about her.

As I watched her dance with my father that night, I realized I had never talked to my mother about things that really mattered to me. Problems at school, heartaches during puberty, exam stress or doubts about career choices, none of this had ever come up. Never. And I doubted it had been any different for Emma.

Suddenly the idea of ever getting the courage to tell her about Terry and my lifestyle seemed outlandish to say the least. Of course after tonight there might not be a reason to tell anymore.

An earlier question had been answered a little while ago. Terri did dance and she was pretty apt at it, too, and had somehow managed to drag the family´s only outcast when it came to dancing, Damien, out on the floor.

“Why so gloom?”

I turned and smiled at uncle Henry whose already ruddy complexion was even rosier than usual due to several ventures out on the dance floor. Before I had the chance to answer he grabbed my hand and started to pull me with him, “Whatever it is, it´s nothing a little song and dance with your favourite uncle won´t cure.”

He bowed courteously and I couldn´t help but smile and accepted his invitation although I hadn´t really felt like dancing. However, it was sure to make time pass faster and would able me to concentrate on something else. Emma had already discreetly informed me that I had been watching Terri and Damien with an expression that wasn´t quite in the range of an unconcerned friend.

She had been kind enough not to say anything else, but I could tell from the look on her face that she was aware of the reason to my unease. Hell, how couldn´t she be. To everybody else it had to look like Terri and Damien´s goofing around was the sign of a growing sympathy and attraction, and to be honest, it looked like that to me as well.

Caught up in my own misery and too occupied trying to match uncle Henry´s erratic steps to notice anything else, I was startled when I suddenly saw a hand tap my uncle on his shoulder and heard a familiar voice ask, “Mind if I cut in?”

Henry turned around to look at Terri who was standing there, smiling briefly when she caught my eye.

“Uh, sure, no problem,” my uncle replied a little uncertainly, but then smiled pleasantly. “Maybe you can put a smile on this one because I most certainly haven´t been able to. I´ll have to work on my technique.” He winked at me and then went out in the search of another victim.

Smiling, Terri took my hand into hers, but when I didn´t make any indication of moving closer she looked at me searchingly, her smile fading. “It´s okay to dance, isn´t it?” she asked quietly. “I mean, there´s nothing wrong with that, is there? Friends do dance occasionally.”

I looked at her, trying to suppress the feelings of exasperation and anger that threatened to take hold of me.

“Are you sure you want to dance with me?” I asked icily. “Won´t you much rather be dancing with Damien instead?” I know the words sounded more accusing than I had intended and I cursed myself for giving in to my insecurities.

Terri frowned and looked at me uncomprehendingly, “What do you mean? Of course I want to dance with you or I wouldn´t be here, would I?”

There was something about that seemingly innocent comment that just pissed me off and I was about to reply when I suddenly remembered where we were, and that the centre of my parents´ living room might not be the best place to be having this conversation. Not with all the eyes I could already feel upon us.

“I´m sorry, I´m not in the mood for a dance right now.”

And with that I left her standing on the dance floor and I had no difficulties picturing the confused expression on her face as I walked outside to get a bit of fresh air and clear my head.

I had been standing for about three minutes outside, shivering in the cold December night, before the front door quietly opened and Terri stepped outside. Without a word she handed me her jacket and after a moment´s hesitation I gratefully slipped it on, inhaling the scent of leather and Terri.

For minutes we were silent with me watching the snow covered lawn and Terri watching me. Then she cleared her throat and spoke softly, “What was all that about?”

I was too tired and too weary to make excuses or start beating about the bush so I just turned around to face her and asked, “Terri, are you attracted to Damien?”

She blinked, obviously not expecting the question or the approach. “Am I what?” she asked incredulously. “Why in the world would you ask me that?”

“Terri, you have been spending every single moment since you got here with him,” I began carefully and controlled, doing my best not to come across like some jealous and immature teenager. “And you obviously enjoy each other´s company.” A great deal, I added silently in my mind.

“I don´t know what you´re talking about.” By the sound of Terri´s voice and the hardening of her features I could tell she was getting annoyed. Or defensive. “I like him, that´s all. He reminds me of Jason.”

I looked into her eyes and said coldly, “I didn´t know that you and your cousin used to flirt with each other as well. When was that? Before or after he´d shoot you with an arrow?”

Terri stiffened, her eyes narrowing and her voice was strangely strained when she finally spoke, “You don´t know what you´re talking about, I wasn´t flirting with Damien.”

“Oh please,” I said, clearly feeling but for the time being not caring about the rapidly building tension between us. “You practically had my mother and my aunt discussing wedding plans. If that wasn´t flirting then I don´t know what is.”

Terri just stared at me, then she shook her head a little and made a resigned gesture with her hand, “Okay, if you say so.” We were both silent for a moment then she continued quietly, staring at her feet, “How can you think something like that, Sarah? Don´t you know me better than that?”

I reached out to tilt up her chin and was surprised by my own gentleness as I asked, “I don´t know, Terri. Do I?”

She looked into my eyes for a long time then I could see she made a decision. Without a word she sat down on the doorstep, ignoring the freezing snow and began to untie her right boot. Still without speaking she pulled it off and placed it beside her. I regarded her in silent bewilderment as she pulled off her sock as well and rolled up the leg of her trousers a few inches.

My mouth opened, but no words came out and Terri spoke softly, her voice even and calm, “I had it made yesterday after I left.”

It was small and simple, but I immediately saw what it was. On the smooth, tanned skin of Terri´s ankle was a delicate tattoo sporting my name.

“Oh my God,” I whispered and sank down on the doorstep beside her. “I can´t believe you did that.”

And I couldn´t. Here was a young woman who would rather die than discuss feelings and who had never made the smallest verbal indication of what her feelings for me might be, and here she was, having a tattoo with my name.

“You didn´t have to do that,” I said, still too stunned to do anything but whisper.

Terri shrugged, her gaze focused on anything but me, “I know. I wanted to.”

The moment was heavy with unspoken emotion and to lighten the mood and hopefully get my heart start beating again, I said lightly, “Been listening to a lot of Tori Amos lately?”

She looked up and gave me a small crooked grin, “Maybe.” Then she grew serious, “Do you mind? I mean, I… I can get it removed if… if you want me to.”

Instead of answering I gave her a brilliant smile and said, “I love you, Terri Cavanagh.”

Terri returned my smile and I could swear she blushed a little, but it was hard to tell in the darkness, “I know.”

We continued to look into each other´s eyes then Terri moistened her lips and said quietly, “I´m gonna kiss you now and I don´t care if anybody sees us.”

And in that moment I didn´t care either.
Part 4

Episode 16

“They put him down, and, excusing themselves to me, took away the cloak and the shield, for they had other bodies to fetch. He had been wounded between neck and shoulder; it was the bleeding that had killed him. He was so drained of blood that his flesh was not discoloured as one sees it in the dead, but like a clear yellow marble…”

I sighed quietly and closed my eyes, leaning back and snuggling closer to Terri. I felt her arms tighten subtly around me and I turned my head a little, resting it against her chest so I more felt than heard her low and melodic voice as she continued to read.

“…I was weak as a young child, in mind and body, and yet I could not weep. That is well, you may say; for when a Hellene dies commendably, even a woman ought to restrain her tears. I too from my first youth had been taught what is proper to be felt on such occasions; nor had I been ignorant that what I loved was mortal.”

She trailed off, but I had been so far away that it took me a few seconds before I realized she had stopped reading. Turning my head slightly to see why she had paused, I found myself caught up in a gaze so distant and dreamy that it was clear to me that wherever Terri was, it wasn´t in this century. Or this millennium for that matter.

Fascinated, I studied the expression in her eyes then she blinked and refocused on my face, a slightly sheepish smile creeping onto her lips.

“You´re a lost cause, you know that?” I said teasingly, taking the book from her motionless hands and placing in on the bed beside us. “All it takes is a pre-Hellenistic setting, a couple of Greeks and Spartans, a few swords and a moving love story and you´re sold.”

“I know,” she gave me a broad grin. “I´m so very easy, but you gotta admit it´s a wonderful book and probably as historical correct as you can get without actually having been there in person.”

“I´m not about to argue.” I turned in her arms so we were face to face then leaned up and began to nuzzle her neck. “How many times did you say you had read it before?”

“Uh…” I could tell Terri was getting distracted by my actions and feeling quite pleased with myself I began to work my way up to her earlobe. “Three, no… four times.” She tilted her head to the side to allow me better access. “And I keep discovering something new. It´s one of my all-time favourite books.”

“You don´t say,” I mumbled conversationally, gently but insistently pushing her down on the bed. “I think you got a secret hanker for beautiful young men in love.”

Terri laughed heartily, her hands coming to rest lightly on my lower back, “Yeah, as long as they´re in love with each other. Nah,” she grew serious and I raised my head to look into her eyes. “I just love a story that moves me. Whether it´s happy or sad doesn´t matter as long as I feel something.”

“Mmm…” I replied, positioning myself completely on top of her, my hands cupping her face. I leaned down and kissed her lips softly then whispered, “Did you feel that?”

She gave me a little smile, her hands beginning to wander ever so slowly over my back, “Hmm, well, I´m not sure. You might have to do it again… Just to make sure.”

“Just to make sure,” I repeated, returning her smile. “I think I can handle that.”

I kissed her again, this time in earnest and unsurprisingly the kiss soon turned more passionate and our hands began to roam eagerly. A small part of me was surprised that Terri so willingly allowed me to take charge, even letting me lead our kiss, something she usually loved to do, but she made no indication of taking over and literally just lay back and let me undress her, a decidedly hedonistic smile on her face as she watched my every move with interest.

I felt as excited as a child on Christmas morning unwrapping a much desired present, but somehow managed to take my time unbuttoning her jeans and tugging them down, having to give Terri a small nudge to get her to lift up so I could get them down her hips. Her shirt and bra were next and I spent a long time just kissing and caressing every new exposed patch of skin, enjoying the sudden increase in her breathing and the hands I felt in my hair as I worked my way down to her navel and then her boxers.

Originally, I had intended to continue in my languid and relaxed pace, thus making my pleasurable task last as long as possible. Then, as I began to trace the smooth skin above the waistband with the tip of my tongue, I caught just the faintest hint of Terri´s arousal and all thoughts of a slow approach flew out the window. Terri let out an amused yelp as I practically ripped the boxers from her body and I think she intended to say something, however, all coherent words died on her tongue as mine found its goal.

Moments later, and much too quickly for my tastes, I regretfully moved away from the now breathless girl, taking a deep breath myself to calm the fire in my blood that was threatening to get out of control. With a complacent smile, I sat back on my haunches, taking in and fully enjoying the sight of the beautiful body before me.

On its own volition my hand reached out, trailing a single finger over sweat covered skin, lingering briefly on the pale scars I had become so familiar with and to be honest had grown rather fond of. I heard Terri´s breath catch as my finger came to rest casually on the inside of her thigh and I looked up to see dark blue, almost violet eyes study me intently, then she smiled crookedly, indicating my hand with her head, “Enjoying yourself?”

I just raised my eyebrows innocently and resumed my exploration, this time using my entire hand instead of just one finger. Terri sighed deeply and closed her eyes, but just as I was about to reach my goal once more, she opened her eyes again and I heard her mumble quietly, “There´s something wrong with this picture.”

“Oh?” I began, but before I had the chance to proceed Terri lunged forward and flipped me onto my back, grinning triumphantly as she pinned my arms above my head.

“Damn… I knew it was too good to be true.” I sighed in good-natured exasperation, unable not to respond to Terri´s pleased smirk. “Do you have any idea how frustrating you can be sometimes?”

“I hate you, too, Sarah,” she replied smugly, manoeuvring slightly so she came to lie between my legs before leaning down to kiss me long and hard. “You´ve had your fun. Now it´s my turn,” she continued a little out of breath as we finally broke apart.

“No fair, you´re stronger than me,” I complained, attempting to flip her over as well without success which probably had something to do with the fact that I wasn´t trying too hard.

She just gave me another crooked grin, “Life isn´t fair, Sarah. Might as well take advantage of it.”

And then she proceeded to do just that.

I woke up early the next morning, but not early enough to catch Terri before she went out for her 5 mile run. An admirable habit she had taken a strong liking to in spite of the fact that it was freezing outside and the slippery pavement in my opinion was more than lethal.

I fully approved of her efforts to stay in shape, especially since I benefited from that shape all the time, but inwardly I missed waking up with her and had even begun to consider actually going with her just to get to spend some time with her before we both had to get on with our lives, working and studying respectively.

Or whatever it was Terri did during the day since I knew she still attended her classes less than frequently. She hadn´t said anything, but I could tell that she was starting to get nervous about her exams in January, but nonetheless it didn´t seem to motivate her to study harder.

Under all circumstances it was too late to go out running with her that day, so I padded out into the bathroom, quickly showering and dressing. As I exited the bathroom again I heard knocking on the door and assuming Terri had forgotten the key I went over to open it.

However, it wasn´t Terri, but a slim young woman with long blond hair and friendly green-grey eyes. She was wrapped in a thick coat and I could tell from her red cheeks that she had just arrived from outside. For a moment we both looked at each other in surprise then she gave a pleasant smile, “I´m sorry to show up unannounced, but is Terri here?”

“No,” I returned her smile and for some reason not quite known to myself stepped back so she could walk inside, but there was something about her that just screamed trust. “She´s out for a run, but should be back any moment.”

She didn´t seem to be surprised that I let her in, but just took off her coat before sitting down in the chair in front of the desk. I suddenly became aware of the crumbled sheets and a few telltale pieces of clothing belonging to Terri lying on the floor around the bed. Items she obviously hadn´t bothered to pick up yet

The blond woman caught my eye and gave me a slight smile, “I see Terri´s as untidy as ever.” She leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs at the ankles, “I´m Nicola McKay by the way. Alison´s older sister. She lives here, too, you might have met her?”

She looked at me inquiringly and I nodded, smoothing out the covers before sitting down on the bed, “I´m Sarah Kingston, a friend of Terri´s, and yes, Alison and I have bumped into each other a few times.”

And we had. Although Terri and I spent most nights we were together at my place, sometimes we would end up here and I´d had my share of early morning encounters with Alison whose mood changed from a friendly distance to a sullen silence when I greeted her. I still hadn´t figured out how she fitted into Terri´s life, especially since I for the life of me couldn´t understand what they could have in common; with Alison´s superficial and often infantile behaviour, and I wasn´t even sure they could be described friends.

As it was, I wasn´t even sure Terri liked her. She would always get this certain tired and weary expression on her face whenever Alison was involved, but nonetheless she always went to see her or check in on her occasionally when she hadn´t spoken to her for a while.

I had wondered whether it could be the result of a love affair gone sour, but if that was the case it still didn´t explain why Terri would drop everything she was doing to come to Alison´s aid. No matter whether the redhead was upset about her latest boyfriend, her parents, the world in general, or just short of cash.

It annoyed me, not because I was jealous or feared the competition, but because I couldn´t shake the feeling that Alison was taking advantage of Terri, and to make matters worse, I was convinced Terri was aware of it herself and deliberately chose not to do anything about it.

More than once I had been tempted to ask her why she didn´t just let Alison solve her own problems for a change, but for some reason I felt that the redhead and everything concerning her was off limits and I was still too insecure in our relationship to want a full-blown in-your-face confrontation which I suspected could turn very nasty. Terri hated to be demanded answers and only offered information in her own pace, or when she couldn´t keep something a secret any longer.

She didn´t do it to aggravate me on purpose, of that I was certain, it was just the way she was and probably always had been. She was the epitome of a certain thoughtless and careless absent-mindedness when it came to other people´s feelings, never considering that just because something didn´t bother or worry her, the rest of the world might not feel the same way. She never meant any harm, I knew that, too, but that of course didn´t mean I didn´t find it frustrating as hell.

I shook my head imperceptibly and focused back on Nicola who was studying me thoughtfully.

“Sarah… you said…?” Her brow furrowed and she bit her lip then an enlightening smile showed on her face. “Oh yeah! Now I know who you are. You´re the lawyer, right? Terri mentioned you the last time she was home.”

“Yeah, that´d be me.” I know I must have had quite a silly grin on my face at that moment, but I was so inordinately pleased that Terri had actually spoken about me to someone. Until then I wasn´t sure that anybody close to her knew about my existence, aside the casual friends she had in school and where she lived. “You know Terri from home?” I asked, curious to find out a little more about her and what she might else have said about me.

Nicola nodded, her eyes briefly studying Terri´s room before looking back at me, “Yes, I´ve known her since she was five. We lived only a few houses from each other and went to school together as well.”

I smiled, becoming more and more intrigued. “Really…?” I looked at her with interest and she must have read my mind because she started to laugh, “Still doesn´t talk much, does she? Another thing that hasn´t changed. All right,” she glanced at her watch, shifting in the chair, “what do you want to know? All her embarrassing childhood moments? There were quite a lot of those I can tell you.”

I laughed myself, “Yeah, I´m sure, but…” I paused for a moment, trying more or less successfully to suppress the feeling that I was somehow violating Terri´s privacy and that if I had any questions I should ask her and not an old friend. However, the problem was that Terri more than likely wouldn´t offer any real information and frankly I was beginning to feel a little… well, puzzled about her reluctance to talk about personal matters. “How…” I began hesitantly, “how was she as a child?”

“Oh,” Nicola smiled in recollection and I could almost see the memories pass before her eyes. “She was a real tomboy, but that can hardly surprise you.”

I shook my head and we shared a little knowing smile before she spoke again, “She would always rush headlong into trouble. She and Jason, her cousin, had to try everything at least once, no matter how dangerous or how stupid. They particularly loved to redo stuff Terri had read in a book or something they had watched on TV.” Nicola shook her head in mild exasperation, “I never thought they were going to survive that Bruce Lee marathon one of the channels was showing when they were ten or eleven. First Jason sprained his ankle and then Terri broke his arm. It was an accident of course and I think they were grounded for a month. Not that that prevented them from getting into trouble again, especially since they were both so damn competitive, wouldn´t back down from a challenge.”

She sighed and her eyes were distant for a few seconds then she gave me a faint smile, “Things came easy to her, she was good at sports and was a good student, that is, if the subject interested her, otherwise she would just stare out of the window and daydream.”

I had to laugh at that, “She still does that.”

Nicola nodded, smiling briefly, “I know.” She absently ran a hand through her hair, seemingly searching her mind for something to tell, then she looked directly at me, her words more hesitant, “She didn´t have many friends. Not because she couldn´t make friends…” she faltered and fell silent, a pondering expression on her face before she continued slowly, “She had Jason, occasionally me and then herself, that was all she needed. Other people would inevitably begin to tire her, get on her nerves and she would just leave.” She touched her cheek pensively, “Funny… Anyway, as we grew older, I don´t know, fifteen, sixteen, she and I began to spend more time together. She opened up a little, became more outgoing, although… I… I don´t think it ever came easy to her. It just wasn´t her thing.” Nicola sighed and smiled sadly, returning to the present and me, “And then of course the thing with Jason happened and Terri reversed to her old self with a vengeance.”

“The thing with Jason?” I repeated uncomprehendingly. “What do you mean? She hasn´t mentioned anything. In fact,” I frowned a little, “she hardly mentions him at all.”

Nicola stared at me, sadness and understanding slowly emerging in her eyes, then she nodded, more to herself than me, “No… No, she wouldn´t have.” She let out a long breath before speaking quietly, “Jason hanged himself when he was eighteen. Out in a forest where he and Terri used to play.”

“Why?” I asked, stunned by the information. “Why did he kill himself?”

She sighed wearily, “Nobody knows. He didn´t leave a note, or at least no note was ever found, and nobody had seen it coming. Everybody was in shock.”

I swallowed, then asked quietly, “How old was Terri?”

Nicola was silent for a long time before answering softly, “Seventeen.” She met my eyes, exhaling slowly, “And she was the one who found him. He´d used the rope from a swing they´d built together as kids.”

Author´s Note: The book Terri reads from is called “The Last of The Wine,” and is written by Mary Renault. It´s an absolutely wonderful book taking place in Ancient Greece in the time Socrates walked the streets of Athens, “corrupting” the youth with his words. Everybody who has the slightest interest in Greek history and how society functioned back then, or just wants to read a great and touching story about love and destiny should give it a try. I´m convinced you won´t be disappointed.

Episode 17

For a few seconds I remained quiet, absorbing everything Nicola had told me and then just as I had found my tongue again, the door behind us was opened and I heard Terri´s voice, “Hey, Sarah! Are you up? Damn, it´s cold outside! I should´ve stayed in bed. Perhaps next time I-.”

She stopped abruptly as her eyes fell on the woman sitting in front of her desk, then a big smile spread on her face and she exclaimed, “Nicola?! What the hell are you doing here?!”

Giving her a warm smile in return, Nicola rose from the chair and opened her arms slightly, “Polite as always, huh, Terri? Well, it´s nice to see you, too.”

I watched in amazement as Terri without hesitation accepted the silent invitation and stepped into Nicola´s arms, hugging her tightly, “Damn, that was a surprise! I had no idea you were in town. Alison hasn´t mentioned anything.”

“That´s because she doesn´t know,” Nicola said, ending the embrace, but keeping her hands on Terri´s upper arms. “It wasn´t planned, but suddenly I found myself in need of a little break from my studies and since I wasn´t sure you´d be home for Christmas, I decided I better pay you a visit while I had the chance.”

“Great,” Terri smiled happily. “That´s just great. It´s been forever since we last spent some time together. How long are you staying?”

“Oh, a couple of days. I´m planning on staying with Alison, if she´ll have me.” Nicola grinned slightly, “Somehow, she never seems to be too thrilled about having to share her room with her older sister.”

“Well, if there´s any trouble you can just sleep here,” Terri offered. “That won´t be a problem.” She turned to me as if suddenly remembering my presence, “Sarah, this is Nicola, an old friend. Nicola, that´s Sarah, my girlfriend. Remember I told you about her?”

Any irritation I might have felt over being ignored dissipated the second I heard Terri referring to me as her girlfriend. I know that the joy I felt was probably all out of proportions, that a mature, self-reliant woman shouldn´t get such a kick out of it, but that was the first time I had ever heard her use that term and I couldn´t stop myself from giving her an affectionate smile, barely resisting the temptation to go over and give her a hug.

Nicola noticed my expression, but didn´t comment and gave Terri a smile of her own, “We´ve met already. We spent a few minutes chatting before you showed up.”

“Oh…” For some reason that information seemed to surprise Terri, but then she just shrugged a little and said, “Well, in that case I hope you haven´t said too many embarrassing things about me.”

“Sarah´s still here, isn´t she?” Nicola replied with a small grin. “I didn´t scare her off.”

Terri raised an eyebrow, but grinned in return, “That´s only because you didn´t have the time, and speaking of time…” She glanced at her watch, “I´ll have to hurry if I want to shower before school.”

“Yeah, I´m sure your fellow students will appreciate that,” Nicola answered good-humouredly as she watched Terri unceremoniously pull the sweat-shirt over her head and toss it onto a chair. “Well, then I think I´ll say goodbye for now and see if Alison is home and then maybe we can meet later tonight? Do something?”

“Sure,” Terri answered and began to untie her shoes. “There´s this great new club that´s opened downtown. We can go there tonight.”

“Okay, that sounds like a plan,” Nicola replied, looking at her own watch. “I´ll see if Alison wants to come, too.” Then she gave me a nod and walked to the door, speaking over her shoulder, “It was nice meeting you, Sarah.”

“Likewise,” I answered as I watched her close the door behind her, feeling a little overwhelmed by everything that had taken place within the last five minutes.

It wasn´t just the story about Jason and how he had died that had surprised me, or the fact that Terri hadn´t said a word about it. Somehow that was to be expected, considering she never spoke about personal matters.

No, what really struck me was how Terri had reacted from the moment she had seen Nicola. I had never seen her so enthusiastic about another person before, or so open and… well, approachable. Just the simple fact that she had willingly given someone a hug was so unlike Terri that I was sure my jaw must have hit the floor as I witnessed it. The few friends I have seen her with had never come close to getting that reaction from her, and the only other person Terri didn´t seem to mind touching her was me.

Otherwise, she would always avoid situations where she would get into close physical contact with others, always preferring to walk or using her mountain bike instead when rush-hour made it impossible to go by bus or train without being trapped like sardines in a can.

Actually, sometimes her dislike for crowds was so outspoken that I had begun to wonder whether she was claustrophobic, but when I had asked her she had just looked at me curiously and asked me what I meant, so apparently that wasn´t the problem.

As I watched her slip out of the rest of her sweat soaked clothes, coming to stand deliciously naked before me, I decided to just add this new inconsistency to the long list of quirks and irregularities that was Terri. I would just have to take one day at a time instead and stop trying to figure her out. Something, I seriously doubted I would succeed in anyway.

As it was, every time I thought I knew what was going on in her head and believed I was able to predict what she would do next, she would do the opposite of what I had expected.

On a few occasions she had surprised me by offering small bits of information about her family and childhood, usually as a response to something I had said and never a direct question. However, at other times I would spend hours telling her about myself and my family, giving her the opportunity to do the same in return, but on these occasions she would always remain quiet, watching me with an interested, but enigmatic smile. She always paid attention to what I said and I had received the impression that she liked hearing about my past, but somehow it never prompted her to speak herself.

I also knew very little about what she did doing the day when she wasn´t in school or when we weren´t together. Occasionally I would catch a remark between her and Alison when they passed in the corridor that led me to believe that Terri was living a much more active life than I had first realized, but what exactly she did, she never said and I still hadn´t asked. Not quite knowing how to phrase the question without sounding either overly suspicious or frightfully insecure.

Not that I was any such thing mind you.

“Terri?”

She stopped in the door to the bathroom and looked back at me, “Yeah?”

Instead of answering I just walked over to her and loosely put my hands on her hips. She gave me a slightly puzzled smile, but then said, “You okay?”

I moved my hands up to wrap around her waist and leaned in to rest my head on her shoulder. She was completely naked after having stripped out of all her clothes and I sighed blissfully, enjoying the familiar scent of musk and the faintest hint of perfume.

Closing my eyes and letting all thoughts fly, I whispered quietly, “I love you, Terri. Meeting you has changed my life. You have no idea how happy you have made me these last couple of months.”

To be honest, I still don´t know where all those powerful words came from and why, and if I had had the time to think about it, I probably would have kept quiet in order not to freak her out, but at that time all I did was feel. Somehow, I wanted her to know how much she meant to me. Wanted her to know that I was there for her no matter what, and that she could trust me with anything she ever wanted to tell me.

I felt a hand under my chin and reluctantly I allowed her to tilt my head up, halfway afraid what I would see on her face. I was met with a brilliant and heartfelt smile that threatened to take my breath away and then she whispered, almost shyly, “You make me happy, too, Sarah. I know I´m not the most easy person to be with, but I´m so very happy that you´ve stuck with me all this time.”

I looked into her eyes, feeling a big lump form in my throat and then I pulled her into my arms, clinging to her as if my life depended on it. Being pressed up against her naked body played havoc with my senses, but what she said next abruptly chased all carnal thoughts from my mind. Burying her face in my hair, her arms holding me securely, I more felt than heard her say softly, “I think, I´m falling in love with you, Sarah.”

I felt her pulse pick up under my ear as I held my breath, afraid that the slightest movement would put an end to this fantasy I suddenly found myself in. This dream coming true.

“You´re such a remarkable woman,” I heard her continue slowly and I had no problems detecting the nervousness in her voice or the tension in her body. “Sometimes, I can´t help but wonder what you´re doing with someone like me. Why a sophisticated and successful woman who is so kind and giving, not to mention beautiful and sexy, would want to be with a poor, 21-year-old student who´s no idea what she wants from life.”

I heard the unspoken question in her voice and keeping my arms around her leaned back to meet her gaze. She gave me a small, tentative smile and I couldn´t quite shake the feeling that she seemed to be steeling herself for a possible rejection, and I hurried to give her a reassuring smile, trying to convey all my love for her through that simple gesture.

“Terri, if I am all those things you list, then only because of you. I have never felt particular beautiful or sexy before I met you and although it´s true my career is going well, it doesn´t even begin to compare with the joy I get from being with you.” I reached up and gently put my hand on her cheek, “Do you have any idea what you do to me, Terri? How you make me feel? How often I think of you when I should be thinking of something else?”

I moved up to kiss her lips lightly, easing away before she had the time to respond. I wasn´t quite done yet.

“I think about you all the time. I hear your voice, your laughter in my head, I see your smile and I imagine what you would do or say in almost any situation I´m in.” I paused for a moment, trying to get my frantically beating heart under control while I found myself getting caught up in wide open blue eyes alive with unrestricted emotion. “I love you, Terri. I love everything about you, even the things that infuriate me from time to time.”

I smiled again to let her know that she shouldn´t take my last statement too seriously.

“I love talking to you, Terri, and I love listening to you. I love the way my heart skips a bit every time I see you come walking towards me or when I hear your voice on the phone.” I leaned closer, looking intently at her and spoke softly, the tone of my voice dropping a few octaves, “I love being with you, Terri. I love being locked in an embrace with you, feeling your hot and sweaty body move with mine. I love running my hands over your skin, I love hearing you moan. Oh God,” I whispered breathlessly, getting carried away with my own words. “You have no idea what that does to me. Or how much pleasure watching you climax gives me.”

I watched her lick her lips, swallowing hard, her eyes riveted to my face and I could hear her breathing had increased.

“You feel so good against me, Terri,” I continued heatedly, feeling my own arousal beginning to soar in response to the rapidly growing desire in her eyes. “When I´m with you, when I hear you whisper my name and feel you inside me, I am connected to you in a way I have never known before. When we´re together I´m complete, not just when we make love, but in everything we do.”

The look of undisguised and unbridled lust on Terri´s face effectively made me forget any else I might have wanted to say, and for a long moment we just stared at each other, my hands resting on her shoulders, her arms around my waist.

“Sarah?” Terri then finally managed to choke out, her body taught as a bowstring, eager to unleash the hurricane building inside. “I´m not gonna make it to school on time now.”

“I´d hope not,” I husked, “because I´m not planning to make it to work on time either.”

My boss was pissed when I showed up three hours late for a meeting, as he had every right to be, and got even further upset when I all I did was smiling happily at him. However, I really couldn´t bring myself to give a damn.

That night we went to the much talked about club downtown and I was surprised to see that it wasn´t a gay club as I had halfway expected it to be, but a regular mainstream establishment filled with so-called “normal” people crowding the dance floor and occupying the space at the bar. The music was painfully loud, but it didn´t seem to bother Terri who had been even more taciturn than usual and I couldn´t help but wonder whether the ramifications of what she had told me, and what I had told her in return, had finally begun to dawn upon her.

However, she appeared to be in a good mood and had even, after several minutes of begging, allowed herself to be dragged out onto the dance floor by Alison who had decided to come with us.

As I sat in the darkened room, squinting against the fiercely colourful and rather schizophrenic light that would hit my face every other minute and watched Terri dance, I found myself speculating how everything would end.

It wasn´t that I was actually contemplating whether our relationship would end or how, but I thought about everything that had happened so far and what might happen in the future. Where we would be in a year from now. Whether we would be together.

With a shocking clarity, I realized that I didn´t want to live without her. That I didn´t want to wake up one day and not find her beside me, knowing that I never would again. I had come to a point where I couldn´t imagine my life without her, in spite of the ups and downs, and as the music continued to pound and the heat level rose mercilessly, I don´t think I have ever felt more out of control and vulnerable in my life. To be that emotionally dependent on another human being was completely foreign to me, and to be honest, quite frightening as well and I wondered if Terri felt just remotely the same.

However, before I could continue down that line of thought, Nicola leaned over and said something to me that I completely missed due to the loud music. She tried again, but I just shook my head and gave her a helpless smile. She grinned in return and gestured with her head towards the door and I realized she had asked if I wanted to get some fresh air. My head felt heavy after two hours in the suffocating and stuffed club so I nodded eagerly and we rose and slipped outside.

Outside, we walked a small distance down the pavement to get away from all the kids hanging around outside, and I gratefully inhaled the cool December air as Nicola lit a cigarette, inhaling just as enthusiastically.

For a few minutes we stood like that in silence, then Nicola turned to me and said quietly, “You know, Sarah, you seem like a very nice person and I´m glad Terri´s found you. You look good together.”

I didn´t really know what to say to that, so I just smiled and waited, somehow knowing there was more to come. She blew smoke out into the night then continued, “I don´t want you to take this the wrong way, Sarah, but maybe it would be better if you don´t bring up Jason yourself and wait for Terri to mention it herself.” She looked at me seriously, “It´s a bit of a sore spot for her and she doesn´t like to talk about it.”

All day I ha been wrecking my brain trying to decide whether I should say something or not, and if, how I should bring the subject up. I had gradually come to the conclusion that I would wait, let Terri decide the pace and wait for her to say something whenever she felt comfortable enough to do so. I told Nicola as much and she smiled at me and for a second I could swear I saw a softening of her features as she regarded me, but then it was gone and I wrote it off as a trick of the light.

She had been very friendly and easygoing around me all night and I had no reason to think that that wasn´t her true feelings. Then she said something that told me that I might not have been mistaken before, “I care about Terri a great deal, Sarah, and I really don´t want to see her hurt.”

I looked into her gentle eyes and spoke earnestly, “I care about her, too, Nicola, and the last thing I want to do is hurt her. I will do my best to make sure that never happens.”

She nodded, lighting another cigarette. I was beginning to feel a little more chilled than I felt comfortable with and was about to ask her if we should go back inside when she said softly, “Promise me that you´ll look out for her, Sarah. I used to do that, but I can´t anymore.” Her gaze met mine, “She needs someone to keep her grounded, she needs someone to lean on when things are going against her. She will be needing you help, Sarah, and she will never ask for it herself. You´ll have to offer it, even when you don´t think it´s welcomed.”

I regarded her in silence for a long moment, a little surprised, but also concerned by her words. I couldn´t help but feel that she spoke from experience and from a difficult, if not painfully, obtained knowledge and I was tempted to inquire about what she meant, but all I did was nod, “I´ll do what I can, Nicola, but Terri has to want me in her life, has to want my help, otherwise I´ll make no difference whatsoever.”

She acknowledged my words with a small smile and we fell silent, both losing ourselves in thought. Then, after what felt like several minutes of silence, I heard her speak quietly, and to me it sounded like she was merely thinking out loud, “It´s easy to love Terri, in spite of everything… There´s just something about her…” She faltered, but then continued slowly, “It´s more difficult having her love you.”

I turned to her, but couldn´t read the expression on her face.

“What do you mean?”

She sighed, her eyes distant and she was obviously lost in memories, “Once she´s let you into her heart, she wants everything in return. She wants, needs, everything you have to give and if you´re not capable of that…”

This time she trailed off and remained silent while I tried to understand what it was she was saying. Then from out of nowhere I heard myself ask softly, “What happened?”

She looked at me for a moment before she spoke quietly, her eyes clear and beautiful, but filled with sadness, “I broke her heart. She offered me all she had, but I wasn´t capable of returning it. God knows I tried.” Her gaze left my face and she stared straight ahead of her, the look on her face telling me that she was far, far away in her mind.

I swallowed as everything from compassion to jealousy rushed through me then I repeated carefully, “You broke her heart?”

I don´t think she heard me because instead of answering she said, “You know, when we were thirteen, maybe fourteen, I used to persuade her to practice French kissing with me.” She shook her head sadly, “I thought it was only a bit of fun, a way of preparing for things to come… little did I know that it meant so much more to her.”

I swallowed again, my throat suddenly very dry. Terri had never spoken about any past loves and now I began to realize why.

“Don´t get me wrong,” she hurried to say as she noticed the look on my face. “I did love her, I still do, she´s one of the most important persons in my life, but I… I don´t…” She stopped and I softly finished the sentence for her, “You don´t love her like that.”

She gave me a poignant smile, nodding slowly, “I should have realized it earlier, but I never did and when I finally began to understand what she felt it was too late.”

“What do you mean? What… what happened?” I asked, although I knew it was none of my business, but somehow I just had to know. Had to know anything that might make me understand Terri better.

She looked away again, an incredibly sad expression on her face as her eyes grew distant once more, “It was the day of Jason´s funeral. Terri left almost immediately after the service and I was worried about her, so I went out to look for her.” A smile flickered across her face, “I found her in the tree house they had spent the entire summer building six years ago. She always went there to think.”

Nicola exhaled deeply before continuing, “She was crying. I was completely shocked because I had never seen her cry before. Not once. Not even when she got tangled in some barbed wire and wouldn´t let me get someone to cut her free. She insisted on doing it herself.” She winced in recollection and I felt myself involuntarily doing the same, remembering the scar on Terri´s leg.

“She wasn´t too happy to see me, as I´m sure you can imagine.”

I nodded and we exchanged a faint smile.

“She wouldn´t let me hold her, tried to move away, but I can be just as stubborn as she when I have to,” Nicola smiled again, this time to herself. “I told her there was nothing wrong about feeling grief and that crying wasn´t something she should feel ashamed of. That Jason wouldn´t want her to keep everything bottled up.”

“How did she react?” I asked, almost under my breath, experiencing pain for a young seventeen-year-old whose world had been turned upside down without her even knowing why.

A bittersweet smile showed on Nicola´s face, “She kissed me.”

“She kissed you?”

“Yes.” She looked at me. “A real kiss, not one of friendship or gratitude. It was genuine and so were all the emotions I could detect behind it.”

I my licked my dry lips a few times then asked, “What did you do?”

She was silent for a long time before meeting my eyes and then spoke quietly, “I did something I have regretted every day since. I saw the pain and need in her eyes, how she was hurting and…” She sighed almost inaudibly, looking away, “And I let her make love to me. Right there, in a cold and draughty tree house, several feet above the ground.”

Our eyes met again and an expression of quiet sadness, but also love crossed her face as she said softly, “I let Terri be my first.”
Episode 18

“Oh…” I exhaled gradually, my mind involuntarily conjuring up images I didn´t know what to think of. “I see.”

Nicola gave me a somewhat rueful smile and said, “I´m sorry, it´s not really fair to you talking about this, is it? It´s just…” She sighed and reached into the pocket with her cigarettes, but then changed her mind and ran her hand through her long blond hair instead. “I´m sorry if I´ve made you uncomfortable.”

“No… No, it´s… it´s okay,” I smiled faintly, although truth be told I wasn´t sure what I was feeling. “It´s not like I thought I was the first woman in Terri´s life.” Nicola nodded, but didn´t answer and for a minute or two we stood in silence. Then after a brief, but furious internal debate, I ventured carefully, “How did you manage to remain friends?”

“Well…” Nicola bit her lip thoughtfully while she contemplated my question before speaking hesitantly, “Maybe because… because we were friends before… And Terri… Terri, she was… Oh, I don´t know,” she absently fingered with the sleeve of her blouse, and for a second I could swear I saw a flicker of guilt cross her face. Then suddenly she looked directly at me, seemingly reaching a decision, “It was mainly due to Terri. I mean, I really didn´t want to lose her friendship and I told her that much, but I also said that I would understand if she didn´t want to see me anymore.”

Nicola hugged herself and stared at the closed shops across the street and I noticed she had begun to shiver. “We didn´t see each other for a very long time, but then one day Terri came to visit me and asked if we could go for a walk. There she told me that she would like us to be friends again. I don´t think I´ve ever felt so relieved… You see… Sarah,” she turned to me again. “We´d had a really rough time, especially Terri, and it was mostly my fault. I couldn´t bear to disappoint her and I really tried to be everything she wanted me to be, but I couldn´t, and instead of just coming clean and telling her, I kept avoiding issue.”

She shook her head incredulously, “It was insane. I don´t know what the hell I was thinking. I thought that if I just behaved like always and kept treating her like a friend, then all these feelings she had for me would go away and everything would return to normal.” She shook her head again, “God, I was such an idiot!”

In my mind I had come to a similar conclusion, but I tried to refrain from condemning her. I knew only too well how tempting it could be to keep silent just to avoid hurting somebody´s feelings. It was a crime I was guilty of myself. However, in my experience it always backfired and ended up making everything worse and you´d wish to God you had told the truth sooner.

“For how long did…” I started to ask, then rephrased the question. “For how long were you together?”

“About three months,” Nicola answered, then laughed self-deprecatingly and without a trace of humour when she noticed the expression on my face. “Yes, I know, and the worst part is that Terri kept asking me to tell her what was wrong, what it was that was troubling me.” Nicola´s voice had become choked and she continued unsteadily, “She thought it was something she had done, that she had hurt me in some way, and all the time it was me hurting her. I would get into these terribly mood swings. I´d hurt her on purpose and push her away, all in the hopes that she´d get enough and leave me. But…” She took a deep breath to compose herself and looked at me with guilt written all over her face. “But she never did.”

“Why not?” I asked carefully, doing my outmost to keep my voice neutral and even, not wanting Nicola to know what I was tempted to do in that moment.

“Because she loved me,” she answered bitterly. “She loved me so much that she was willing to forgive everything I did. It was grotesque. She would do anything to make me happy and all I did in return was to make her utterly miserable. She put up with it for a long time and it wasn´t until toward the end that she began to lose her temper.” Nicola sighed and said desolately, “Terri can be extremely cruel when she´s provoked and she most certainly knows how to give as good as she gets. Not that I didn´t deserve it, but…” she trailed off, swallowing a few times.

“It sounds like it turned pretty nasty,” I commented noncommittally, keeping the edge from clouding my voice.

Nicola met my eyes then spoke quietly, “It did. I tried to cope, but eventually I reached the point when I couldn´t take it anymore. I knew I had to end it before everything had been destroyed between us and we ended up hating each other.”

“So you told her?” I asked gently, sympathizing with her in spite of everything since it was clear that she had really loved Terri, although in her own way.

Anguish showed on her face and she shook her head, “I tried, I really did, but Terri wouldn´t listen. She knew something was wrong, but she wouldn´t listen, and I guess I was somehow still trying to avoid the issue because I didn´t push it. Instead, I did the one thing I knew Terri wouldn´t be able to forgive.”

“You cheated on her,” I stated matter-of-factly, not even pausing to wonder how I knew. I just did.

She visibly winced, then nodded, “Yes.” Unable to hold my gaze she continued, her voice subdued, “I had just moved to another city and we had arranged that she was to come visit me once I was settled.”

Nicola paused for a few seconds then spoke pensively, “I don´t know if it was due to the fact that we hadn´t seen each other for awhile or whether it was because the scenery had changed, but for some reason we were getting along better than we had for a very long time. It felt almost like we were friends again and that all the bad things in between had never happened.” A distant smile flickered across her face, “I made her laugh again.”

“What happened then?” I asked calmly while my mind was racing. “Did you try to talk to her about it there?”

“Yes,” Nicola sighed tiredly. “I tried to bring it up that night, but… well…” she faltered and to me it looked like she was blushing slightly. “Terri… Terri, she… well… she wasn´t interested in talking. It… it was something else she wanted…”

“Oh…” I cleared my throat, not knowing what else to say. I decided to stay quiet and just listen, but then suddenly some of my not so friendly emotions toward her took over and I couldn´t stop myself from asking tersely, “So did you? Did you sleep with her?”

She shifted uncomfortably on her feet, looking away, and that was all the answer I needed.

“Jesus, Nicola! What the hell were you thinking? How could you do that when you wanted to break up with her?”

She flinched, almost as if I had hit her, shame and guilt showing clearly in her eyes. Her lips moved, but for a long time no words came out, then finally she met my gaze again and spoke meekly, “I know it was stupid. I know it was the worst possible thing to do, but Terri… Terri really wanted it, wanted me, and I just couldn´t say no.” Nicola straightened up and as she looked into my eyes I could tell that she was trying to regain her composure and when she spoke again, her voice was much firmer and controlled.

“I always tried to avoid intimacies in the past, Sarah. Don´t think I´m a complete arsehole, even I have my limits.” She rubbed her forehead resignedly, “It wasn´t that I didn´t like it as such, Terri´s a both passionate and tender lover, but I knew that she deserved the real thing and that sleeping with her was like betraying her. I didn´t want that.”

“But you still did,” I said coldly. “You slept with her even though you knew it wasn´t what you wanted. Even though you knew you weren´t gay and that you couldn´t love her the way she deserved.”

Again, she looked as if I had struck her, but her voice remained firm, “Yes, Sarah, I did. And trust me, I´m not proud of it. I really tried to keep our relationship as platonic as possible, but sometimes it was just easier to give in. It was easier to just let her touch me instead of telling her no and then hurt her when I couldn´t tell her why.”

“You mean when you wouldn´t tell her why. Because you were too much of a coward to tell her the truth.”

Anger flashed briefly in Nicola´s eyes, but then she acknowledged my words with a small nod, “Okay, Sarah, I guess I deserved that, but I want you to know something. I didn´t just react the way I did because I wanted to shun the conflict. For a long time I did try to make it work. I loved Terri and I was willing to see if perhaps I couldn´t love her the way she loved me. When I realized it wasn´t going to happen, I remained silent because I didn´t want to hurt her.”

She saw the expression on my face and raised a hand to stop me from speaking, “Yes, I know, that was wrong and I ended up making everything worse, but believe me, as selfish and frail as I may have been, I did it all out of love for Terri.” She smiled sadly, “I know it sounds rather twisted, but it´s still true.”

“I´m sure it is,” I said quietly, feeling how my anger dissipated little by little and was replaced with fatigue. “And I believe you loved her, but still… Nicola…” I shook my head slowly then added, “I hope you haven´t done anything like that since.”

“No,” she smiled weakly. “I´ve learned my lesson.”

“Good,” I responded softly with no real reproach in my voice and even managed to give her a small smile in return. “I´m glad to hear it.” Then after a few seconds of silence, and in spite of my better judgement, I heard myself ask, “So how did it end? Eventually? I mean, I assume you told her you´d been unfaithful while she stayed with you?”

“Yes,” Nicola whispered, her voice so low I almost missed it. “I told her the next day and I told her why. I told her everything… Strange…” She let out a hollow laugh. “For someone who hadn´t said anything for months, I sure was talkative that day.”

I exhaled slowly, then asked, “How did Terri react?”

Nicola looked away, “She left immediately. Without a word. Weeks passed before I saw her again.”

“Amazing you´re still friends after all that,” I commented absently, thinking about Terri, and Nicola nodded. “Yes, I know. I wouldn´t have blamed her if she never wanted to speak to me again, but for some reason-”

“Hey guys, what are you doing out here? It´s freezing!”

We both practically jumped and simultaneously turned to see Terri stand a few yards behind us, regarding us questioningly.

Nicola didn´t miss a beat, “It was getting too hot inside for our liking, so Sarah and I decided to get a bit of fresh air.”

“Yeah, it is pretty hot in there. I feel like I´m ten pounds lighter than when we arrived.” Terri stepped over to stand behind me, wrapping her arms around my waist. Resting her chin on my shoulder, she pulled me tight and whispered softly into my ear, “Want to go back in? I haven´t had the chance to dance with you all night.”

I leaned into her body, relishing the warmth she was offering and not really hearing Nicola as she excused herself and walked away. I covered Terri´s hands with my own and then turned my head to look at her, “You know I love you, don´t you?”

Terri frowned a little at the non sequitur, but then she smiled affectionately, her arms tightening around me, “Yes, I do.” She began to nuzzle my neck gently, our bodies swaying lightly to some internal rhythm of hers, “But please keep telling me.”

“Oh, I will,” I turned in her arms. “Until you get sick and tired of it.”

Terri looked at me, suddenly serious, “That´ll never happen, Sarah.” She smiled again, placing her hand against my cheek and stroking it gently with her thumb, “Never.”

Nicola stayed for two more days and then left. I didn´t see her again after the night at the club, I was busy at the office, and Terri was monopolizing most of Nicola´s time anyway. It hadn´t taken me long to realize that Terri still cared deeply for her former love, but how deep her feelings were exactly I didn´t care to examine closer. Okay, I did, but I didn´t know how to approach such a painful and personal subject, and then there was always the risk that I wouldn´t like the answers I got, so I decided to just forget about it. As much as that was possible, of course.

December turned out to be a terribly hectic period for me and I didn´t get to see Terri as much as I would have liked. Maybe it was due to some sort of winter depression combined with stress and exhaustion, but I when I finally had a spare moment I felt less than sociable and even Terri, who cherished solitude more than anything, began to comment on our lack of time together. Paige was sulking, too, feeling like I was neglecting her, my boss was being obnoxious for no particular reason, my parents were bothering me about spending Christmas with them and the entire Kingston clan, and as the 24th drew closer, all I wanted to do was to crawl under the covers in my bed and stay there until spring arrived.

“Come on, Sarah! It´s snowing, I want to go outside.”

“G´away, Terri. It´s Sunday morning, I´m not in the mood. If you want to play in the snow, then please do, I´m staying in bed.” I turned away from her, pulling the covers over my head.

“Ah, Sarah,” Terri cajoled, trying to pull the covers away, but I held on. “It´s almost Christmas, it´s a crime not to use the snow while it´s here. Come on, it´ll be fun.”

“Nope.” I burrowed deeper. “It´ll be cold, wet and slippery. I´ll end up getting a cold or break my leg falling on the pavement, I just know it.”

“Gee,” I could hear Terri say. “So much for Christmas Spirits. I guess someone didn´t get much sleep last night.”

“You should know,” I mumbled into the pillow, “you were there.”

I waited for her answer, but didn´t receive any. Instead I felt a brief breath of cold air as the covers were lifted and Terri dived in under them. “Ugh, you´re cold,” I complained good-humouredly as I felt her make her way up toward me under the covers. She took her time, pausing to place a few kisses and nibbles on various parts of my body on the way, and suddenly the cold wasn´t a problem anymore. At last she came up for air, removing a pillow I´d been hiding behind in the process. Grinning down at me, she tweaked my nose with her fingers, “You coming up?”

“Nope,” I said vehemently, unable to keep a smile from creeping onto my face. “Never.”

“Pleeeease?” She gave me one of her most effective puppy dog looks. “It´s really beautiful outside, you should see it.”

I smiled at her, “I think it´s really beautiful in here, too. If not more.” I moved up to give her a quick kiss which unsurprisingly became much longer and deeper than planned. Breaking the kiss, I looked into her eyes and asked softly, “When are you leaving?”

Terri appeared to resign herself to the fact that I wasn´t getting up and put her head down on my shoulder, sighing in contentment, “The 22nd.”

I absently began to stroke her hair, “Looking forward to spending Christmas at home?”

Terri sighed again, shrugging lightly, and I could hear the reluctance in her voice, “Sure, but Alan won´t be there. He´s in England with his girlfriend so it´ll just be me and my parents, plus some other family. I´ll be driven to madness within a week.” She kissed my shoulder, apparently dismissing the subject.

“Poor baby,” I laughed, enjoying the increasingly insistent attention Terri was bestowing on my skin. “Perhaps I should go with you, just in case you need rescuing from insanity.”

The kisses ceased and for a moment there was no movement, then Terri raised her head, studying me earnestly, “You would do that? Come home with me for Christmas?”

I had only spoken the words in jest since my parents would kill me if I didn´t show up for Christmas dinner, but when I noticed the look in Terri´s eyes, everything else became insignificant in comparison and I spoke sincerely, “Yes, if you´d want me to.”

Terri searched my face for a long time, her own face displaying a variety of emotions ranging from uncertainty to thoughtfulness, then she said quietly, “I´d like that.”

I knew my parents wouldn´t be pleased. I knew it would be hell, and expensive, to get a plane ticket this late, and I knew that going home with Terri to meet her parents might be more than both of us were ready for, but when I saw the gratitude in her eyes, I also knew that I didn´t give a damn. Terri wanted me to come, ergo I was coming. There would be time for regrets later.
Episode 19

Thinking back, I still remember the first time I met Terri´s parents like it were yesterday. I think it´s because by the time the cab pulled up outside the house, I had managed to drive myself into such a state of panic and nervousness that when I finally did meet them, it was a bit of a letdown after all that anxiety and worrying.

It´s funny, although I´ve known them for years now, our relationship is pretty much as the day we met, pleasant, reasonably casual and polite, but not much more, and the only thing that binds us together is Terri. I know that for quite some time they blamed me for all that happened, as I did myself, and that they wished their daughter had never laid her eyes on me. It wasn´t until Terri in unmistakably terms told them to cut it out or they would never see her again that they relented and began acknowledging my existence again.

Terri´s always been very protective of me that way. But all that´s in the past, or in the future, depending on your point of view and with that I´ll get back to my narrative. I´ll get to the other events soon enough.

The first thought that struck me as the door opened and I saw Terri´s mother for the first time, was how skittish she appeared. Her hands never stopped moving as she talked, her attention seemed to be focused on several things at once, and she barely had time to give Terri a hug before she turned to me, smiling warmly.

“You must be Sarah, right? I´m Fiona Cavanagh, Terri´s mother. So nice to see you. Did you have a pleasant flight? I can imagine it must have been crowded? It always is during the holidays.”

“It was,” I smiled hesitantly in return, feeling a little overwhelmed by her stream of words. “And yes, I´m Sarah, thank you for having me, Mrs. Cavanagh, I know it was on a rather short notice.”

“Nonsense!” She took my arm and led me inside. “I always enjoy meeting Terri´s friends. And let´s not be so formal, call me Fiona.”

“Okay,” I said a little bemused, glancing back at Terri who was still standing in the doorway, a suitcase in each hand. She didn´t notice that I was watching and her expression was for once completely unguarded and unveiled, and what I saw puzzled me enough to study her closer, momentarily ignoring Fiona´s cheerful chattering.

Terri was looking at her mother with something that, for the lack of a better word, I could only call ambivalence. There was love, adoration, in her eyes, no doubt about it, but also a clear frustration and, for the briefest of seconds, something that was disturbingly close to hatred. Then it was replaced with something I had no problem identifying as protectiveness as she stepped inside and with her heel pushed the door shut before going to her mother. Putting the suitcases down, she gently put a hand on her mother´s arm and spoke softly, “Mum, where´s Dad? He´s not still at the hospital, is he? I told him we´d come today.”

“I´m in here, Pippin!” A deep, male voice shouted from somewhere which I later learned was the kitchen. “Just getting coffee ready.”

Terri´s eyes lit up and she smiled while I stared at her in bewilderment, Pippin? and her smile grew even broader when a man appeared and in a few steps closed the distance between them, pulling his daughter into a bear-hug which Terri readily returned.

“It´s so good to see you, Pippin,” the tall, dark man who was the spitting image of Terri said affectionately. “I´m glad you could make it this time, we missed you last year.”

“Pippin?” I repeated pointedly and Terri glanced at me, giving me a slightly embarrassed grin. “Don´t ask.”

“Okay, I won´t,” I smiled, turning to look at Terri´s father who smiled back at me and reached out to shake my hand. “You must be Sarah, I´m Patrick. Nice of you to come.”

We shook hands and exchanged a few pleasantries then he went over to take the suitcases, but Terri beat him to it, giving him a small smirk, “I´ll do that, Dad. Don´t want your back to start acting up again now, do we?”

Her father just sighed good-naturedly, meeting my eyes, “See what I have to put up with? My own daughter becomes the lord of the manor every time she´s home.” He paused, grinning briefly, “It´s a good thing that what was left of my male ego was destroyed years ago when she began beating me at tennis.”

“I´ll give you a rematch any day, Dad, you know that,” Terri replied smugly over her shoulder as she began to ascend the stairs. “Just name the time and place and I´ll be there.”

“Living room, ten minutes, and coffee will be ready,” was her father´s unconcerned answer before disappearing back into the kitchen.

Terri´s mother shook her head indulgently, “They never grow up. Occasionally, I feel like I have three children instead of two.” She gave me a faint smile, then continued, “Terri will show you to the guestroom, it has its own bathroom so don´t worry about taking your time in the mornings. Besides, I´m the only one who rises early in this house. Everybody else, especially Terri, is impossible to get out of bed before ten.”

I was just about to agree with her when I suddenly stopped myself, remembering what Terri had told me before we left.

“They know about me, Sarah, I mean, that I´m gay and all, and they know who you are, but it´ll be better if we´re not too obvious about it. I mean, it´s not that they have a problem with it or anything like that, it´s just… Well, they´re not really comfortable with it either. We don´t really talk about it, you know.”

I had wanted to ask her what exactly the difference between `not having a problem with it´ and `not really comfortable or talking about it´ either was, but it had been only too obvious that the subject wasn´t something Terri wanted to discuss, and subsequently I had only nodded and promised I´d be on my best behaviour. Although to be honest, I wasn´t very comfortable with the concept and wasn´t sure how much I could, or couldn´t say. For instance how would they react if I said I loved their daughter? With an awkward silence or a kick out of the house?

Pushing the thoughts away to brood over later, I only nodded, smiled at Terri´s mother and then trailed after Terri up the stairs.

“Terri?”

“In here!”

I stopped and took a few steps back and poked my head inside the room I had just passed. Terri was standing in the middle of the room, looking around thoughtfully. Walking inside to join her, I looked around as well, “This yours?”

“Yeah,” Terri answered, giving me an absent smile before tossing her suitcase onto the bed placed up against the wall opposite the door. “This is my room.”

Leaving her to unpack, I let my eyes roam the room, taking in the sight of bookcases filled with books, the customary CDs on a shelf, and pictures and posters of both musicians and ancient monuments on the walls. There was a big closet next to the door with a dresser on the other side which, to my surprise, sported a small stuffed animal, a melancholic looking brown dog that showed obvious signs of wear and tear. Smiling inwardly, I turned around, glancing briefly at the ordered and tidy desk in front of the window, a clear sign that Terri wasn´t living at home anymore.

Everything in the room was kept in warm white and sandy colours, and as I stepped over to the window I had a clear view of the snow covered garden below me, and I couldn´t help but think that it must have been a nice place to grow up. At least it felt that way to me.

Noticing a guitar shoved unceremoniously into a corner, I walked over and picked it up then looked back at Terri who was sitting on the bed watching me, “Do you play?”

She shrugged, giving me a little smile, “Not very well, I´m afraid. I never had the patience to learn it properly and since I´m mostly self taught I never had anyone to make sure I kept it up.”

Nodding, I put the guitar back down then went over to sit beside her, “I´d like you to play something for me one day.”

Terri smiled almost shyly, putting her arm around me, “We´ll see. Maybe we´ll have some time later. Right now, I´d better show you to your room.”

However, neither of us made a move to get up and instead I just leaned in, resting my head on her shoulder. Feeling Terri begin to lightly stroke my hair, my eyes fell on the brown dog on the dresser again and fighting the fatigue that suddenly settled in my body I asked softly, “What´s her name?”

Terri followed my gaze and I heard her chuckle quietly, “Doggy, and it´s not a her, it´s a he.”

“Doggy?” I looked up at her and she gave me a somewhat embarrassed grin. “I was only two, had to keep it simple.”

Looking into her eyes, seeing the relaxed and peaceful expression, I was filled with a sudden urge to kiss her, but not knowing how it would be received I held back, nestling back against her shoulder.

“Sarah?” Terri´s husky voice made me look at her again. “It´s okay to kiss me when they´re not around.”

“I know,” I lied, feeling a bit sheepish that she had read me so easily. “I just didn´t want to make you uncomfortable.”

Slipping a hand around my neck, Terri gently pulled me closer, “You could never make me uncomfortable, Sarah.” She paused, looking away briefly before meeting my eyes once more, “I don´t want you to think I´m ashamed of you or anything, it´s just… my parents…”

“It´s okay, Terri,” I whispered, my hands coming to rest on her thighs before moving to slip around her waist. “I know parents can be tricky, we´ll just keep everything to a minimum while we´re here. It won´t be a problem.”

“A minimum?” Terri repeated and for second I could swear she was actually pouting. “Does that mean I don´t get to touch you for almost a week? Not at all?”

“That seems to be the only solution, doesn´t it?” I laughed, giving her a friendly squeeze. “Or what else did you have in mind since you don´t want your parents to witness it?”

“Well…” Terri leaned closer, her voice taking on the sultry tone that never ceased to make my skin tingle in anticipation. “I thought that perhaps I could sneak into your room late at night when everybody´s asleep, and then I´d spend the night with you.” She kissed me quickly on the nose, “It could work.” Her lips found mine and we exchanged a few languid kisses before she pulled away again, “We just have to be very, very quiet.”

“Terri, I´m not going to let you into my bed while we´re staying here,” I said with emphazis, trying to sound as stern as possible, knowing I failed big time. “Not with your parents sleeping next door. Besides,” I blushed furiously, trying to divert Terri´s attention, or more specific, her mouth, away from my neck, “even though I don´t exactly shout, I´m not exactly quiet in bed either.”

“Mmm-hmm,” Terri mumbled in reply, now nipping on my earlobe. “I know, and I happen to love that.”

If possible, I blushed even more than before, “I know you do, but Terri…” She was doing her best to distract me and it was working, especially since she had begun to use her hands as well. “I really think…”

“Terri! Sarah! What´s keeping you so long?! Your coffee´s getting cold.”

Muttering a very nasty curse, Terri reluctantly moved away from me. Rising from the bed, she extended her hand down and pulled me to my feet, giving me an extremely suggestive smile, “This is not over, Sarah. We´ll resume this discussion later.”

Then she ushered me out of the door and down the stairs before I had the chance to reply.

A few hours later, I found myself alone in the living room, Terri and her father being outside to fetch a few tons of wood for the fireplace and her mother having ushered me out of the kitchen, claiming that she had everything under control. Subsequently I used the opportunity to indulge into a favourite pastime for lovers everywhere: Studying embarrassing childhood pictures of your partner.

Patrick had already, completely ignoring a very menacing glare from Terri, promised to show me a selection of pictures that was sure to be able to be used for blackmail in the future. But that would have to wait until after dinner so in order to kill some time I wandered the living room, stopping to study the occasional photographs on walls and shelves.

Mainly, I was curious to see what Terri looked like as a little girl and also I was quite curious to see whether there were any pictures of Jason. Somehow, I felt that seeing Jason would help me to understand Terri better and perhaps supply me with any answers as to how I should deal with subject, if at all. I still hadn´t decided whether I should try to get Terri to say anything, or if it would be better to simply leave it in the past. After all, Terri seemed to have recovered just fine and although I would like to share any pain she might still have, I knew it probably wasn´t possible and that it was also highly unlikely that Terri would want me to, independent and reserved as she was. Besides, I had never been one of the people who believed that you must analyze and discuss everything. Sometimes silence isn´t that bad a thing.

After glancing briefly at wedding and graduation pictures, I came across a small black and white photograph showing a strikingly beautiful young boy perched precariously on a branch in the top of a very tall tree. The boy was apparently enjoying himself tremendously because in spite of being halfway hidden behind the leaves, you could still see the big toothless grin directed at the camera and his eyes twinkling with mischief.

I was about to move on when something about the eyes and the shape of the face caught my attention, and suddenly it hit me that the `boy´ I was looking at was none other than Terri. She seemed to be around the age of seven or eight and with the black hair so short it was impossible to tell at a first glance whether she was a boy or a girl. Fascinated, I stared at the picture for a long time, little by little taking in the sight of various cuts and abrasions on her knees and elbows, the dirty bare feet dangling carelessly in the air and the knife held firmly in one bronze hand.

Unable to contain a smile, I walked over to a desk in front of a window overlooking the now dark garden, and picked up the small picture of Terri and her brother I had spotted earlier in the day. It was a relatively new picture, only a year old or so, and Terri looked herself, her eyes having the same distant and pensive expression I had become so familiar with, and although she was looking directly into the camera it was clear that she wasn´t really seeing it. Beside her was Alan, his arm around her shoulder and a faint, indulgent smile on his lips.

Seeing them together, it was easy to tell they were related, but I doubted I would have made the connection if I had passed him on the street. Alan was good-looking, but where Terri was slender and fit, he was tall and thin, almost lanky. He had obviously inherited his father´s height and beautiful blue eyes, but that was all. The lighter skin and chestnut hair was definitely from his mother.

If I remembered correctly he was only four or five years Terri´s senior, but seeing them side by side made him appear much older, his entire being radiating a grown up severity and determination that seemed out of place for someone so young. Also in his eyes, I saw a sense of serenity, some kind of inner peace, that I had yet to witness in Terri.

Studying the siblings for a few minutes, I wondered absently how their mutual relationship had been when they were children and how it was now. The couple of times Terri had mentioned her brother, I hadn´t detected much emotion on her part. She wasn´t exactly indifferent about him, but just seemed to treat her brother like she did most people who weren´t currently in her presence. That is, by not giving them much thought at all.

Hearing the front door open, I was about to walk out to assist Terri and her father when my eyes caught the picture I had been secretly searching for. It was standing on a shelf between two rows of books in a dark corner of the living room, and if it hadn´t been for a brief flash of light reflecting the glass I would never have noticed it. Curious as hell I picked it up, instantly recognizing two of the three teenagers on the photograph.

The picture had been taken a bright summer day and all of them were dressed in shorts and t-shirts, squinting against the harsh sun. Terri was leaning against a tree, hands buried deep in her pockets and a slightly exasperated expression on her face. A very tan and very blond Nicola was standing next to her, a hand placed casually on Terri´s shoulder and an amused smile playing on her lips. However, the person who caught my attention was the young man seated at their feet.

Jason had curly brown hair and friendly hazel eyes that matched the confident and somewhat secretive smile on his face. A smile that gave you the impression that he knew something nobody else did, and that the knowledge was pleasing him. There was an almost feminine beauty to his face that contrasted nicely to his strong and well-toned body, and there was no doubt in my mind that he would have been able to turn quite some heads had he still been alive. Meeting his eyes, I felt like I was looking at a real life person and not an image printed on paper. Out of nowhere, an irrational wave of grief washed over me, leaving me feeling terribly sad that I had never met him and never would.

“It was taken the summer before he died.”

Terri´s low voice near my ear almost made me jump and I turned around to find her standing directly behind me. I didn´t pause to wonder how Terri knew I was aware of the circumstances of Jason´s death, or that I knew he was dead at all, because it was more than likely that Nicola had told her, and instead I just looked into her eyes and said quietly, “He was very beautiful.”

Terri nodded, her eyes on the photograph and not me, “He was.” She was silent for a few moments then took my hand, giving it a light tug, “Let´s go, dinner´s ready.”
Episode 20

I don´t know whether it was the long journey, the big dinner, or just the quiet reassurance of having Terri nearby, but that night I fell asleep almost instantly and didn´t wake up until the feeble winter daylight filtered in through the window the next morning.

In spite of my earlier objections, and my better judgement, I must confess to feeling a little disappointed that Terri apparently had changed her mind and decided not to come to my room during the night. However, as I reluctantly rolled over, trying to convince myself to get out of bed, I detected just the faintest hint of a very familiar scent from the spare pillow on the bed. A pillow that wore clear signs of having been used.

Finding it hard to believe that I could really sleep through Terri joining me in bed, I discreetly pulled her aside after breakfast to question her. She just gave me a sly grin, shrugged lightly and then went out to help her father with the huge tree he was trying to manoeuvre into the living room.

One hour and many curses later, the tree was finally standing in a way that was acceptable to all, and I couldn´t help but smile when Patrick brushed off his hands and gave me a very self-satisfied smirk. It was a smirk practically identical to the one his daughter always gave me when feeling particularly pleased with herself. A small habit of hers, I simultaneously found both immensely endearing and annoying.

It struck me then, as it did when I first saw them together, how alike Terri and her father were. Not just in physical appearance, but in manner as well. They both more listened than spoke, had the same sense of humour which, quite frankly, was awful and both appeared to be completely at ease in each other´s company, often communicating with a look or a gesture instead of words. The only real contrast I noticed between them was that whereas Patrick seemed utterly calm, never letting anything affect him and always fully attentive to his surroundings, Terri would get into her customary silent moods and drift off, her eyes taking on their usual distant expression. Occasionally she would also become a little restless, start fidgeting, something that usually happened when her parents had been questioning her about her studies and her life outside school for too long.

As her mother mentioned her upcoming exams, Terri glanced at me quickly before answering that everything was fine and that she expected it all to go smoothly. Satisfied with the information, her parents then went on to talk about something else and for a split second, I had to wonder how well they really knew their daughter. To me it had been obvious from the start that Terri was lying through her teeth and was extremely uncomfortable with the entire line of conversation.

However, it wasn´t my place to say anything in front of her parents, so I made a mental note to ask her about it later when we were alone. If Terri was in some kind of trouble academically, I would like to know about it and see if I could help. The only thing was that I had a very strong inkling of what the problem might be and if that was the case, I couldn´t be of any assistance. The only person who could do something about low attendance and lack of interest was Terri.

Shortly after 5 p.m. it began to snow lightly and Terri asked me to come for a walk with her to, as she said, `avoid the incoming rush of relatives´. I readily agreed, anxious to spend some time alone with her away from any prying eyes.

It had been a lot harder than I had expected not to give in to my by now natural instinct to touch Terri whenever she was near, or just lean over and kiss her simply because I wanted to and because I could. I had also constantly been reminding myself to watch what I said, not wanting to let anything slip that would make anybody awkward or embarrassed. After having caught Fiona watching us intensely as Terri and I sat together on the couch, I had even started to censure my smiles, limiting them in numbers and strength to make sure nobody got the wrong impression. Or as it was in this case, the right one.

At one point Terri absently placed her hand on my thigh and I had detected a furtive glance exchanged between my hosts. Apparently, Terri had noticed it, too, because for a second I felt her stiffen, then she quickly moved her hand away, avoiding my eyes. But then she moved a few inches closer to me until our thighs were touching. Whether it was a gesture of reassurance directed at me or defiance directed at her parents, I couldn´t tell, but it warmed me nonetheless.

However, it also served to make me very angry that it had been necessary and I had to force myself to push the thought away. I couldn´t allow myself to think about it right now because if I did, I would only become even more angry and frustrated and that wouldn´t do any of us any good.

Some part of me realized then that sooner or later, Terri would have to sit down and have a serious talk with her parents so this unreal scenario of denial and pretence could come to an end. Patrick and Fiona both seemed like reasonable and open-minded people, and I couldn´t imagine them ever cutting Terri off if she insisted on being more obvious and open about her lifestyle.

Of course the same could be said of my parents and I hadn´t even had the nerve to tell them yet, so maybe I wasn´t the best person to offer advice.

Walking side by side, I was pondering the various ways my parents could react when I felt Terri´s hand slip into mine. I looked up and she gave me a small, but affectionate smile and I instantly pushed the dreary thoughts away to brood over later.

We walked down a snow-covered path surrounded by just as white fields around us, heading toward a forest a few miles ahead. The air was crystal clear, turning our breaths into tiny clouds of steam and the only sound was the crunching of snow beneath our feet.

Feeling very invigorated and happy, I held onto Terri´s hand a little tighter, “It´s beautiful out here, so very quiet.”

Terri nodded, her eyes taking in the fields around us for a second before turning to me, “Yeah, it´s nice and not a lot of people come here which makes it even better.”

“Ah, solitude!” I laughed, giving her a warm smile. “What would you do without it?”

Terri just smiled a bit sheepishly and didn´t answer. We continued in companionable silence until we reached the forest. There Terri hesitated as if she didn´t know where to go, but then she began to walk down a narrow path between the trees leading me behind her.

A few minutes later she stopped and pointed at something ahead of us, “Jason and I built that ten years ago.” I followed her gaze and saw an imaginative, but solidly looking tree house built in the branches of a tree at the edge of a small clearing. “It´s amazing it hasn´t fallen to pieces yet,” she continued reflectively, but I could detect a small note of pride in her voice. “Alan claimed it wouldn´t last through the winter.”

“Apparently he was wrong,” I answered and let go of her hand to step over to look up at the tree house eight or nine feet above me. It looked old and marked from the weather, but was obviously still in a good condition. “When was the last time you were here?”

“I don´t know,” Terri replied and came over to stand beside me. “A couple of years, I guess. I haven´t really…” she paused, then continued softly, her eyes resting on the tree house, “I haven´t really had a reason to go here for quite some time.”

“How do you get up?” I asked after a minute of having searched for some kind of robe ladder or steps.

“On the other side,” Terri spoke absently as she walked under the tree house, studying it from various angles. “The branches are low enough for you to reach and then crawl up. At least they were.”

She turned to look at me, but I had already gone to see for myself and found that the branches there were indeed low enough for even me to reach. Indecisively, I reached up and closed my hand around the first branch when Terri joined me and arching an eyebrow asked, “What are you doing? You don´t intend to climb up, do you?”

“Why not?” I smiled at her, inwardly deciding that I would at least give it a try. “It´ll be fun.”

“Sarah, it´s going to be dark soon,” Terri answered lightly exasperated. “And it´ll probably be cold and wet up there.”

“Ah, come on, Terri,” I said teasingly and began to cautiously climb up the tree. “Where´s your sense of adventure.”

“At home, in front of the fireplace,” she muttered in return, but nonetheless gave me a helping hand by directing me to the next available branch. Finally realizing I was determined and wasn´t going to change my mind, she let out a deep sigh then grabbed onto a branch herself, “If you continue straight ahead you´ll get to a hatch. It may be a bit tight, Jason was never any good at measuring, but if you give it a good shove it´ll open.”

I did as she said and the hatch opened enough for me to push it all the way open and crawl inside. Moving away from the opening in the floor to allow Terri room to get up, I studied the small room curiously. The walls and floor were all made out of wood and it was obvious that they had taken great care to make the boards fit together as good as possible. There were practically no cracks and the floor itself was surprisingly dry which made it a lot more comfortable to sit on than I had expected. Cold, but comfortable.

Poking her head in, Terri tried to give me a condescending look, but then grinned reluctantly as she pulled herself the rest of the way inside and slapped the hatch shut after her. “I can´t believe you made me do this. Aren´t you supposed to be the grown-up in this relationship?”

“Only when it suits me,” I answered, giving her a lopsided grin. “Got a problem with that?”

“Oh, no. No problems whatsoever,” Terri grinned in return and as she carefully scrambled over to sit beside me, doing her utmost to avoid hitting her head against the low ceiling in the process, I noticed a brief look in her eyes before it vanished. It was a look she usually got when she was having rather lecherous thoughts and I felt my heart begin to beat a little faster just thinking about it.

However, as I placed my hand on her left thigh, gently stroking her skin through the fabric of her trousers, she just looked at me briefly before reaching down to still my hand and then take it into hers.

“Terri?” I asked uncertainly, puzzled, and to be perfectly honest, a little hurt by her actions. “Terri, I know this is not the most ideal of places, but…” I trailed off, looking into unreadable blue eyes.

Giving me an almost apologetic smile, Terri said, “Sarah, don´t get me wrong, I really miss being with you, but I don´t think a tree house would be the appropriate place to do this.”

Why not? A small annoying voice spoke in my head. It was for you and Nicola, wasn´t it?

The thought made me frown, but Terri didn´t see it as she had apparently dismissed the subject and was staring out of the tree house´s only window, the expression on her face telling me that she was lost in thought.

Or memories?

Suddenly, an image of Terri and Nicola entwined on the floor flashed through my brain and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn´t make it go away. I pictured Terri touching and caressing Nicola the way she did me, and could almost hear her whisper the words into the blonde´s ear that were meant for me and nobody else.

Feeling my throat constrict, I closed my eyes, telling myself I was being ridiculous and immature. Again I tried to will the images to disappear, but instead they intensified and my eyes snapped open again, coming to rest on Terri who was still looking out of the tiny window and paid me no heed.

Till this day, I don´t know whether I was trying to reinstate some primeval claim of ownership, or if the forced physical separation between us had just become too much, but suddenly and without thought, I reached out to turn Terri´s face towards me. She barely had time to look surprised before I crushed my mouth against hers, thrusting my tongue inside. For the briefest of seconds, Terri was absolutely still, then she began to respond enthusiastically, but just as I thought victory was mine, she gently, but firmly pulled away.

Taking a few deep breaths, she spoke hoarsely, “Sarah, I really don´t think this is a good idea.” She paused for a moment before continuing awkwardly, “I don´t want to do this, not here.”

“What are you afraid of?” I asked and moved to face her. Searching her eyes, I added quietly “I just want to make love to you. That isn´t so bad, is it?”

“No,” Terri cleared her throat a few times, the blue eyes uncertain. “It´s just that… Maybe you should know something first…”

I shook my head, “I don´t need to know anything except this…” I began to slowly unzip my coat, the heated gaze travelling over my body chasing away any cold I might have felt. “Do you want me?”

She visibly swallowed, then nodded quickly, but still she didn´t make a move to reach for me and I continued to undress, enjoying the undivided attention Terri was bestowing on me. Looking down to unbutton my jeans, I heard Terri´s breath catch and I didn´t have to look to know that her eyes had gone dark with desire.

“Sarah…” Her voice was just as sultry and strained as I had expected it to be. “You don´t have to do this. I´m sure we can find some time alone somewhere else. I know a place…”

Whatever it was she had wanted to say slipped her mind the moment I relieved myself of my last piece of clothing, and instead she licked her lips and choked out, “Sarah, you´ll freeze to death.”

I smiled suggestively at her, “Well, you´ll just have to keep me warm then, won´t you?” Moving as close as possible, I slipped my arms around her neck. Pressing my body against her, I began to kiss my way from her throat to her ear where I whispered huskily, “I want you, Terri, and I want you now.”

Those words broke her last restraint and with a low growl, she sought out my lips hungrily, pushing me down onto my back and her hands eagerly finding my breasts.

“You drive me crazy, you know that…” she groaned into my ear before seeking out my lips once more. I didn´t attempt to answer, too caught up in trying to push the leather jacket down her shoulders and not to succumb to her insistent hands before I´d had my share as well.

Neither of us had the time to be gentle and we both knew that teasing was out of the question. And Terri didn´t disappoint me when she finally abandoned her onslaught on my breasts to settle between my legs, using her tongue and fingers to show just how much she had missed me.

I wasn´t about to do anything less and I knew if I didn´t do something she would start ravishing me again, so almost before I had managed to regain my breath and my body had stopped shuddering, I pulled her up and after exchanging a couple of deep, breathless kisses, rolled her over, covering her partially dressed body with mine. I hadn´t had the opportunity, nor the patience, to fully undress her earlier and didn´t want to waste any time doing it now, so I just nudged her legs apart before slipping my hand inside her trousers. Terri´s throaty groan told me, I had reached my destination and she spread her legs wider, arching up to meet me.

“Oh, God… Don´t stop! Don´t stop!” she gasped and I smiled before brushing her moist forehead with my lips. “Don´t worry, baby, I have no intention to.”

Stretching out beside her, I continued to move one hand inside her jeans while the other tenderly caressed her face, making her meet my eyes. Looking into dark blue eyes brimming with arousal and seeing lips halfway parted in silent pleasure, I lost all sense of time and space and knew nothing, wanted nothing, but the beautiful young woman writhing under my touch.

Leaning down, I softly kissed her lips, quickening the motion of my hand and I felt Terri´s breath grow shorter in response and she had to struggle to keep her eyes open. Recognizing the familiar signs, I whispered into her ear that she should close her eyes and let go, but she shook her head forcefully, refusing to break eye contact.

A little puzzled, I just smiled faintly and began to stroke her hair with my free hand. Staring intently into my eyes, Terri swallowed as she began to lose control of her body. A look I couldn´t decipher crossed her face and she reached up to gently touch my face. For a few timeless seconds, we looked at each other, then Terri gave me a smile so vulnerable and open that it almost broke my heart and whispered quietly, “I love you, Sarah.”

Completely frozen, I could only watch as Terri´s body began to shudder almost instantly after the softly spoken words, and hear her gasp breathlessly before finally closing her eyes in surrender. Long moments later she opened her eyes again, the peaceful expression on her face turning into concern, “Why are you crying?”

“I´m not,” I replied, smiling through the tears that for some reason insisted on falling. “I´m just very happy right now.”

“Oh…” Terri smiled tentatively. “Well, that´s good, isn´t it?”

“Very good,” I reached over and pulled her into my arms and she sighed in satisfaction, resting her head on my shoulder. “We´ll both get pneumonia if we don´t get some clothes on soon,” she then said a minute or two later, raising her head to look at me.

“Who cares?” I laughed, too happy and elated to care about such trivial things. However, the floor beneath me was becoming quite uncomfortable and suddenly I shivered involuntarily. Terri immediately sat up and ignoring my half-hearted protests began to search out my clothes before dressing herself. She finished a lot sooner than me and sat back on her heels to watch me as I slipped into the last of my clothing.

Meeting her gaze, I smiled and was about to say something, but somehow words deserted me and a slightly awkward silence fell between us. Then Terri resolutely moved forward and wrapped her arms around me and said earnestly, her eyes searching my face intently, “I did mean it, you know… What I said earlier…”

“I know,” I answered with feeling and was surprised to see a brief flicker of disappointment in her eyes. Nodding, Terri averted her gaze and was about to move away when I suddenly realized what the problem was and reached out to pull her back into my arms.

“Terri?” She looked up reluctantly. “In case I forgot to mention it, I love you, too. More than you´ll ever know.”

I could clearly see the joy my words gave her, even as she tried to appear nonchalant, but then a heartfelt smile slowly spread across her face and she tightened her arms around me before burying her face into my hair. Feeling strangely protective, I held her and stroked her for a long time and it wasn´t until we both had begun to shiver that we broke apart and made our way back to the house in silence.
Part 5

Episode 21

The rest of that night and most of the following day was spent in the living room, being sociable and talking to the arriving relatives. Not that they were that many, only four actually, but the mood grew decidedly boisterous and even Terri seemed to be having a good time talking to her uncle Sean, a quiet and friendly man whom I later learned was Jason´s father. Then there was his wife, Alice, who was Fiona´s sister, and the siblings were pretty similar in manner and temperament, both talkative and energetic, smiling to left and right when they walked through the rooms serving whatever they had produced in the kitchen.

Terri´s paternal grandparents were the last to arrive, both very reminiscent of their son and it was clear to me that Terri was very fond of them and she immediately dragged me over so I could meet them. They greeted me with a friendly smile and we spent the next few hours talking about this and that with Terri sitting quietly next to me, occasionally nodding or answering a direct question, but otherwise she remained silent, the expression on her face unusually relaxed and content.

I was feeling pretty good myself, enjoying the laughter and the pleasant atmosphere, and I came to the conclusion that going home with Terri had been the right thing to do after all, in spite of my own parents´ objections.

Thinking that thought suddenly made me remember I had promised to call and wish them a Merry Christmas, so I excused myself and Terri´s father directed me to his office where there was a phone I could use without having to shout in order to drown out the noise of talking people and “White Christmas” on the radio.

Dialling the number, the phone didn´t ring more than once before my father picked up.

“Kenneth Kingston speaking.”

“Hi, Dad,” I said warmly, surprised by the joy I felt from just hearing his voice. “It´s me.”

“Hi, sweetie,” my father responded just enthusiastically. “Glad you called, we were just about to go to dinner.”

I could hear my sister speak in the background and hear my mother say something in return and suddenly I couldn´t help but feel just a little homesick.

“So, how are things?” My father´s voice interrupted any further brooding and I shrugged although he couldn´t see it. “Oh, just fine. Terri´s parents are very nice and so is the rest of the family. I´ve just spent the last two hours talking with her grandparents without ever having to bring up the weather to fill out the gaps.”

“Well, isn´t that nice,” my father chuckled. “I´m glad you´re enjoying yourself.” He paused for a second, “That doesn´t mean you´re not missed here, though.”

“I know, Dad,” I sighed, absently studying the various folders and files on Patrick´s desk. “It´s just Terri asked and-.”

“Hey,” he interrupted gently, just in time to prevent me from building up too big a guilt complex, “don´t worry about it, sweetheart. You´re a grown woman, you´re entitled to spend Christmas wherever and with whomever you want. I just wanted to remind you that you´re always welcome here, Ellie misses her favourite aunt, you know.”

“I´m her only aunt,” I laughed. “I´d better be her favourite. Give her a big kiss from me and tell her I miss her, too.”

“I will. Everybody here says hi by the way.”

“Tell them hi back from me.”

We were silent for a moment, both thinking of something to say. My father broke the silence first, “So, how is Terri?”

I hesitated for just a second before answering, “She´s fine.”

I had meant to say more, but suddenly I realized that I didn´t know what and I was only too aware of the long silence that followed. Clearing his throat, my father spoke softly, “She seems like a nice young woman. I enjoyed talking to her the last time.”

My heart skipped a beat and my mouth suddenly felt very dry. It wasn´t so much the seemingly innocent comment that startled me, it was the way he had spoken it and I didn´t know what to make of it. The fact that I couldn´t see his face only made it worse.

Then, so quietly that I almost didn´t hear it, my father asked, his voice completely even and calm, “When were you going to tell me?”

This time my heart didn´t just skip a beat, it stopped beating altogether as all sorts of emotions rushed through me. “What do you mean?” I swallowed subconsciously, my brain frantically trying to come up with other reasons for his question than the one I suspected it to be. The one it had be. “When was I going to tell you what?”

I could hear my father inhale and then exhale slowly, “The truth about Terri.”

By now I knew it was over, but for some peculiar reason, I wasn´t ready to admit it to myself and just repeated, “What do you mean? What truth?”

My father didn´t answer right away and I could almost feel him think. He still had the opportunity to back down. He could change the subject and we could both go on pretending that nothing had changed, that everything was like it had always been. Even though we both knew differently.

“She´s not just your friend, is she? She´s your girlfriend, your lover, or whatever it´s called. Isn´t she?”

Finally, the moment I had waited for, and dreaded, my entire adult life had arrived and all I could do was to tighten my grip around the receiver, unable to form a single sentence.

“Sarah?” My father´s voice gradually penetrated the haze in my mind. “Sarah, are you there?”

For the briefest of seconds I considered denying what he had said. Considered feigning complete incomprehension. Considered laughing and telling him he was crazy, but one by one I discarded any other solutions but the truth.

“How did you know?” I was surprised by how controlled and composed my voice sounded.

“I know you, Sarah. I know you a lot better than you probably think.”

“Did Emma tell you?”

“Emma?” This time it was my father´s turn to be surprised. “Emma knows about this? And no, she hasn´t said anything… Emma? Emma knows?”

“Yeah,” I collapsed down onto the chair in front of the desk. “She came by one night, Terri was there.”

“Oh…”

We were silent again and I suspect we were both trying to find something to say. Something that would make this slightly awkward moment pass.

“Sarah…” I had expected my father to be the first to speak and he didn´t disappoint me. “I… I don´t want to get into this over the phone, especially not now, but I think it´s something we´ll have to talk about face to face. You, me and your mother.” He must have heard me sigh deeply because he added gently before I had the time to speak myself, “I´ll break the news to her, Sarah. Don´t worry about it. It´ll give her some time to get used to the idea and when you´re back again, we´ll sit down and have a talk. We´ll work it out, sweetie, your parents are not completely ignorant of the ways of the world.”

“I never thought you were,” I said quietly. “I just didn´t… well, I just didn´t know how you would react. I didn´t want to upset you.”

“That´s what children are for, Sarah, upsetting their parents,” my father spoke, his voice sounding tired but warm. “It´s all going to be fine, I promise you.”

We talked a little more, but the conversation was strained and hesitant, both of us thinking of other things and we soon said our goodbyes. After I had put the receiver down, it took me almost twenty minutes before I had gathered myself sufficiently to get up and leave the office. I headed directly for the bathroom, needing a bit of complete privacy to digest everything and to figure out what I thought of the sudden turn my life had taken. However, the guest bathroom was occupied so instead I went into the main bathroom, locking the door before sinking down onto the cool and hard edge of the tub.

With thoughts ranging from the ridiculous to the extreme, I stared blankly into the large mirror above the two sinks. So, finally, after years of pretending, ignoring, hiding and fretting – the cat had at last been let out of the bag. It was actually quite funny, at least I tried to persuade myself it was. My father hadn´t seemed too shocked, maybe a little surprised by having something confirmed that he had expected, but still didn´t quite believe possible, but not shocked.

Of course, knowing him, he wouldn´t say so even if he were.

My mother on the other hand…

Instantly, the thought of my mother´s reaction made me feel like an embarrassed and repentant fourteen-year-old having been caught smoking out of the window, and, out of nowhere, a dull, throbbing pain in the back of my head announced the beginnings of a headache.

Getting to my feet, I absently scanned the room for some kind of medicine cabinet that might contain aspirins, while the majority of my thoughts was focused on what was going to happen next. Would my parents pretend that nothing had changed? Would they be awkward or forced around me? Would they acknowledge Terri for what she was, or never mention her name?

There were so many possibilities to contemplate and my overactive imagination had already conjured up one too many unpleasant scenarios that I simply forced myself to stop. I wasn´t going to let worrying ruin my time here; especially since there was so much to be happy about.

Terri had said she loved me.

Granted, she had said it in a rather, well, emotional moment, but she had said it, and I had no reason to doubt her. And, surprising even myself, I didn´t.

Not once had I considered whether she had been sincere or just caught up in the moment. The look in her eyes when she told me, and her reaction afterwards when I didn´t return the sentiment right away, had spoken louder than any words could how serious she had been.

That thought alone was enough to make me smile broadly and all thoughts about parents and worst case scenarios momentarily left my mind. Terri loved me!

Smiling happily to no one but myself, I finally spotted something that looked like a medicine cabinet and without even pausing to consider whether it was the polite thing to do, I opened it.

Inside was enough anti-depressive medicine, including Prozac and several stronger remedies, to feed an army. An army of self-destructive, manic-depressive suicidal people.

For a long time I just stared at the many bottles containing pills of all sizes and colours, then I practically slammed the cabinet door shut, feeling very guilty as if I had intruded somewhere I had no right. Which I probably had.

Feeling almost like I was fleeing the scene of a crime, I hurried outside and somehow ended up inside Terri´s room where I collapsed down onto the bed. Those had been prescription medicine and the name on the labels had been Fiona Cavanagh. Terri´s mother was apparently taking anti-depressive medicine on a daily basis. Strong anti-depressive medicine to be exact.

I knew it was none of my business, but I simply couldn´t stop myself from wondering for how long it had been going on, and how serious it might be. Judging from the labels-

“Oh, hey, Sarah! So this is where you´ve been hiding, I´ve been looking for you. Dinner´s just about ready.”

Startled, I managed to refrain from stiffening too much and just turned my head to give Terri´s father what I hoped was a warm and innocent smile, “Ah, that sounds good. I´m starving.”

“Ah, that´s good. Fiona and my sister-in-law have been sweating over the stove all day.”

“I know,” I smiled again, recalling certain culinary “discussions” coming from the kitchen, and Fiona telling Terri to stop eating the Christmas tree decorations or she would have no appetite left for later.

Before I could say anything else, Patrick surprised me by going over to close the door, turning around to look at me almost apologetically, “Sarah, while I have the chance,” he paused, indecision showing clearly on his face. “Well, I just want to say that… that Fiona and I are both glad to have you here.” He trailed off once more before finishing awkwardly, “Terri´s clearly very fond of you and it´s easy to see why.”

I was silent for a moment, considering how to respond, but then I decided to just accept the compliment and leave it at that. “Thank you. And it´s mutual, I´m very fond of Terri, too.”

He gave me a tentative smile, “Yes, I can see that.” He hesitated then spoke slowly, almost as if he wasn´t sure whether he should speak at all, “Terri is my daughter, and I love her, but that doesn´t mean I´m blind to the fact that she can be a bit, well… difficult occasionally. She´s very introvert by nature, always has been, and usually prefers to be on her own, but with you…” He looked intensely at me, “With you it seems as if she´s opening up a little, and I´m really happy to see that.” It´s… it´s not good for her always to be alone, living in her own world. She needs to be around people from time to time. Whether she wants to or not.”

“Terri often prefers solitude,” I said eventually, after having struggled with my conscience that somehow felt we shouldn´t be having this conversation behind Terri´s back. But he was her father after all, and had known her a lot longer than I. “There´s nothing wrong with that.”

“No,” Patrick acknowledged and I thought I spotted several conflicting emotions cross his face. “Not as long as you don´t prefer your own world to the real one. Sometimes it seems a lot easier to live in…” he faltered, giving me a faint smile. “Terri has always had a lot of imagination. She could spend days thinking and daydreaming about some book she´d read.” He smiled again, this time more to himself than to me, “I still remember the time when Terri was eight and Alan told her a horror story, and she ended up not being able to sleep for days. She was afraid to close her eyes, but too embarrassed to let us know she had been frightened and we didn´t hear of it until much later. Alan, of course, thought it was hilarious, and I had to tell him not to do it again.”

He suddenly walked over to a bookcase and after a bit of rummaging pulled out an old notebook. Holding it almost reverently he said, “These are stories Terri wrote when she was fourteen-fifteen. Did you know that? That she likes to write?”

I nodded. Terri had mentioned briefly when we first began seeing each other that she enjoyed writing, and I knew she still did whenever she had the time, but she had never spoken of anything since, or showed me something she was working on. Actually, she seemed to be rather embarrassed by the whole thing.

“She´s good,” Patrick stated with obvious paternal pride. “All her teachers said so. She just doesn´t want to let us read anything.” Very familiar blue eyes turned to me, “I thought that perhaps…?”

“No,” I shook my head lightly. “I´ve never read anything either. I don´t think she wants me to.”

Her father sighed, putting the notebook back on the shelf, “I didn´t think so. I just hoped that maybe… Oh well, I´m sure she´d show us if she deemed it important.” He straightened up imperceptibly and walked to the door, “Well, let´s see if dinner´s ready, shall we?”
We had a nice and, to be awfully cliché, good old-fashioned Christmas dinner with so much food that we could have fed the entire population of the third world. Well, almost anyway. I did manage to feel a bit guilty about that, and just generally disgusted with myself for eating so much, but since everybody was doing the same and spirits were high, I quickly forgot about it.

Wine flowed freely and in great amounts, and the laughter and the talking became both loud and boisterous so I also managed to forget everything about anti-depressives and paternal talks – especially since the wine had made Terri lose some of her inhibitions, causing her to casually run her hand up and down my thigh, albeit under the table, whenever she felt like it. I was drunk enough to enjoy the attention, but still sober enough to worry about the distracting effect it was having on my thoughts, not to mention, body.

Later that night, Terri pulled me aside and we discretely retreated into her father´s office. There we spent a few minutes kissing with ever increasing passion before Terri finally pulled away.

“So…” she began hesitantly. “Are you enjoying yourself?”

“Very much,” I gave her a slightly lewd smile and was thrilled to discover a faint blush colour her cheeks.

“That´s not what I meant,” she said sternly, but I could tell she was pleased by my words. “I meant are you enjoying being here? With me?” she added softly, not quite looking at me.

I reached up to touch her face, making her meet my eyes, “I am, Terri, very much so. I think you have a nice family, and even if you didn´t, it wouldn´t matter as long as you´re here with me.”

Terri beamed at me and then pulled me into her arms. Holding me tightly, she whispered, “I´m glad you´re here with me, too. It´s given my parents something other than me to concentrate on. I think they really like you.”

That pleased me more than I had ever thought possible and I was just about to reply, when a sharp, somewhat frantic, voice sounded from outside; “Terri? Sarah? Are you in there?”

I could feel Terri stiffen, but she didn´t loosen her hold on me, “We´ll be right out, Mum. I just needed to talk to Sarah in private.”

For a long time there was silence, then, “Oh… okay, but don´t be too long, Terri. People are getting ready to leave and I want you to say goodbye to them first. It wouldn´t be polite if you didn´t.”

“Okay, Mum.” Terri´s voice suddenly sounded very tired. “I´ll be right there.”

For a moment I felt like everybody was holding their breaths, waiting. Me in Terri´s arms, Fiona outside the door, wanting us to come out, and Terri, waiting for her mother to leave before doing so. I don´t know how much time passed with the three of us standing like this, just waiting for the other to move, but then we heard Terri´s father call out for his wife and, after a brief hesitation, she left. However, not before she had rather urgently told Terri to come and say goodbye to her family.

When we couldn´t hear her steps anymore, Terri released me and exhaling slowly sank down onto a chair. Feeling my gaze upon her, she slowly looked up and said resignedly, “I don´t know how she does it. I´m not a kid anymore, it shouldn´t affect me like this, but every time she does something like that, every time when it´s all the stuff she doesn´t say that´s important, she manages to make me feel really bad. Bad about myself. I hate that!” Terri abruptly slammed her first into the nearest wall and I flinched in shock. “Why the fuck does she have to do that?! Why can´t she just leave me alone?!”

I stood helplessly watching this sudden explosion of rage, feelings I suspected had less to do with what had just occurred and more to do with previous hurts and confrontations.

“She´s just so damned good at it, you know.” Terri stared at the wall and then her fist where a bruise was already forming. “She always makes those fucking innocent remarks, and she knows it gets to me! She knows it! Even though she pretends she doesn´t and Dad… Dad, he always takes her side. He never tells her to leave me alone, even when she´s having one of her bad days, he just tells me to be patient and understanding. That´s not fucking fair!”

Terri raised her head to stare at me, her eyes wide open and wild. “It´s not fair, is it?” Her voice had turned into a pleading whisper and all the rage had left her.

Shocked and bewildered, I could only manage a low, “No, it´s not.” Not quite sure what I was agreeing to.

“Why does she want to make me unhappy?” The words were filled with bitterness and pain. “I just don´t understand it. Doesn´t she know-.” Terri stopped herself and looked away for a moment, and when our gazes finally met again, she was looking decidedly uncomfortable and embarrassed, “I´m sorry,” she said quickly, rising to her feet. “I didn´t mean to freak out like that. I´ve had too much to drink. I´m sorry.”

She tried to walk past me to the door, but I gently held her back. “Terri?” She wouldn´t look at me. “Terri, I don´t know exactly what´s going on here, or why you´re so upset, but I want you to know that I´m here for you. You can tell me anything… or not, if you prefer that. Just remember that I love you and want to help you, no matter what. Do you understand?”

She gazed at me slowly, looking more awkward and tense than ever, “I appreciate your concern, Sarah, but really, everything´s fine. I just overreacted, that´s all. There´s nothing to worry about.”

“Terri, people usually don´t punch the walls for no reason,” I pointed out gently, cringing inwardly as I saw the expression of anger cross her face.

“Well, maybe I do!” she retorted harshly, then instantly rushed to apologize. “I´m sorry. I know you´re just trying to be kind. I´m sorry…” she faltered as if not knowing what to say. “I´m sorry I snapped at you. I´m just… I´m just very tired.”

“Terri,” I began, but she carefully put a finger to my lips, speaking softly, “Sarah, nothing´s wrong, I swear. I´ve just got a few issues to deal with when it comes to my mother, but it´s nothing serious and nothing I can´t handle on my own. So please…” Her eyes practically beseeched me. “Can we go say goodbye now?”

I could tell from the look on her face that she desperately wanted to get off the subject and reluctantly I relented, allowing her to open the door and lead me outside.

The rest of the evening was spent chatting amiably to her parents, Terri acting like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Very early the next morning, too early for my taste, I was woken up, not by the alarm, but by Terri jumping onto the bed and then with excitement fit for a child whispering into my ear, “So… Where´s my present?”

“What makes you think I got you one?” I replied, giving her a mock look of disapproval. “Waking people up in the middle of the night is not the best way to earn any presents.”

“Oh,” Terri pouted, then gave me a wicked grin. “You usually don´t complain when I wake you up, and besides, it´s 6:30, that hardly qualifies as the middle of the night.”

“Close enough,” I muttered, attempting to pull the covers over my head when suddenly I noticed a small package lying on the covers next to Terri.

“Ah-ah,” Terri sing-songed teasingly, nudging the present out of reach just as I was about to lunge for it. “Me first! I´m the youngest. I´ve got less patience than you old people.”

I shot her a menacing look, whose effect was completely ruined by the huge smile I felt creep onto my face. “Under the bed,” I managed to say before Terri leapt off the covers to check underneath the bed, resurfacing a few seconds later with a big package in her arms.

Sitting down on the bed beside me, Terri gave me a light kiss before focusing all her attention on unwrapping the present. “I´ll be damned,” was all she could say as she pulled a black leather jacket from the debris of paper in her lap. I studied her face intently, anxiously trying to gauge her reaction. Terri had been less than communicative about what she wanted for Christmas, claiming that she didn´t really need anything, and I had been at a loss as what to give her until I noticed a big tear in her old jacket a few weeks ago.

“Wow,” Terri said finally, her fingers probing and feeling the leather as her eyes came to rest on me. “Sarah, this must have cost a fortune.”

It had, but I hadn´t cared. If Terri had asked for the moon I would have found a way to give it to her.

“Do you like it?” I asked, purposely ignoring her last comment.

“I love it!” Terri´s eyes left my face again and she stared at the jacket. Then suddenly she smiled, a brilliant and heartfelt smile, and leaned down to kiss me slowly and thoroughly. “And I love you, too,” she whispered quietly when we at last broke apart.

“Glad to hear it,” I replied, not sure what pleased me the most; her words or her reaction.

For a moment we just looked at each other then I gave Terri a questioning smile and she smiled sheepishly in return, “Oh right…” Reaching behind herself, she grabbed the small present, holding it uncertainly in her hands. “I… I hope you like it,” she spoke after a brief, but noticeable pause and she suddenly seemed very nervous. “I mean, it´s not that… I mean, maybe I should´ve found you something else, but I´m so very bad when it comes to decide what to give and I didn´t-.”

“Terri,” I interrupted gently, taking the present from her motionless hands. “You could´ve gotten me air in a box and I would still love it.”

Terri just smiled weakly, watching keenly as I began to remove the paper to reveal a small black box. A jewellery box to be exact.

For the briefest of seconds our eyes met, and I thought I saw Terri hold her breath, then I slowly opened the lid. A thin, delicate silver ring flashed up to greet me. With extreme care, I released it from its safe hold in the dark velvet and very slowly held it up to my face to study it closer. Inside the ring, a small inscription read, “Because I love you.”

Suddenly feeling a very thick lump in my throat, I looked at Terri who spoke hurriedly, “It´s not, I mean, it doesn´t… It´s just… as the inscription says… I´m not… I´m not asking you to marry me or anything.”

She smiled feebly, searching my face as intently as I had hers a few minutes prior. I gently slipped the ring onto the third finger of my right hand. It was a perfect fit.

“I checked the size of some of your other rings,” Terri said softly as I held my hand up, studying the ring from all angles. “I wanted to make sure it was the right one.” Our gazes locked. “Do you like it?”

“I love it,” I said quietly, subconsciously echoing Terri´s own words. “It´s so very beautiful.”

“You don´t have to wear it, “Terri continued as if I hadn´t spoken. “I just wanted to give you something that showed how important you are to me. You won´t have to wear it if you don´t want to.”

“Terri,” I said, looking into her eyes. “Why wouldn´t I want to wear it?”

“Well,” she mumbled uncertainly after what felt like several minutes of silence. “Some people just don´t like those kind of things. They think it´s too symbolic, that it means more than they´re comfortable with.”

“I´m not one of those people,” I said vehemently. “I love this ring, and I love what it symbolizes.”

Terri, whose eyes had strayed to the ring, now looked directly at me, “What do you think it symbolizes, Sarah?”

I met her gaze without wavering, “That you love me, Terri.”

For a second or two, her face showed no emotion at all, then she nodded solemnly, “Yes. That´s exactly what it means.” Then she smiled, her eyes distant and thoughtful, as she carefully removed all the paper and her jacket from the bed. I watched in silence as she stripped, throwing the few items of clothing she had been wearing to the floor. Then she slipped into bed with me, pulling the covers up over us both.

As she began to kiss my neck and her hands slowly and unhurriedly caressed my breasts, I whispered urgently, “Terri, did you lock the door?”

“Does it matter?” she spoke huskily against my skin and I shuddered involuntarily when I felt the tip of her tongue trace the soft curve of my earlobe.

“No… it doesn´t…”

And it didn´t matter either, a few hours later when during breakfast, I caught Fiona staring openly at the thin silver band that fitted so perfectly on my finger.
Episode 22

“Come on, Terri, play along, will you? It´s just for fun.”

“Sarah…” Terri poked her head out of the kitchen to give me a very exasperated look. “Those tests are just stupid, and besides, I´m in the middle of cooking if you haven´t noticed.”

“Oh, I have noticed, sweetheart, I have. And you´re doing so well,” I called out in my most angelic voice, which only caused Terri to roll her eyes and disappear back into the kitchen. Laughing, I continued, “We´ve already passed the `Is Your Partner a Romantic Test,´ and the `Ten Things You Should Know About Your Lover Test.´ If we ace the `Are You Compatible In Bed Test´ as well then there´s no doubt in my mind that we´re destined to be together. Forever.”

I could hear Terri snort out in the kitchen, but then, just as I had expected, she came to stand in the door, looking at me pensively. “Destined, you say…?”

I gave her a little smile, “Destined.”

“Hmm…” She rubbed her cheek absently, inadvertently smearing a bit of flour over her skin. “Well, okay,” she sighed, then smiled lasciviously at me, “but I think we´re already pretty compatible.”

“You may think so,” I said, managing to look very solemn as I held up the magazine for her to see. “But until we´ve been officially approved by the Cosmopolitan experts, there´s no way we can know for sure. Who knows? Maybe we have been fooling ourselves all this time?”

“God forbid,” Terri shook her head, grinning lightly. “Okay, if you can quiz me while I´m cooking, then fine. I´ll bet we´re gonna pass with flying colours.”

She returned to the kitchen and I made myself comfortable on my couch, flipping through the magazine until I found the test in question. As I did so, my gaze fell on the delicate silver ring on my finger and I couldn´t help but smile. It had been almost a week since Terri had given it to me and it hadn´t been out of my sight since. I had even shown it to Paige who had been very impressed but also a little puzzled by the gift. She had tentatively asked me what it meant, and I could tell from her expression that she wasn´t sure what to think of it. I told her that it was just Terri´s way of showing she cared and Paige had nodded slowly, then said that she hadn´t thought Terri was the type to do such a thing. Feeling a little annoyed, I had been about to ask her what exactly she meant by that, but then the waiter had arrived with our food and my thoughts had drifted to other things.

It was only later when I arrived back at my apartment that I began to speculate what Paige´s impression of Terri was. They had met each other on a couple occasions, but usually with one of them either leaving or arriving and only a few words exchanged between them. I knew Paige mildly resented Terri for taking up so much of my time, but it wasn´t really to be taken personally and I had done my best to make time for her as well. Although, to be perfectly honest, I had been neglecting her, often choosing Terri´s company over hers.

That was one of the reasons I had come up with the perfect plan for New Year´s. We were going to celebrate at my place and I had invited both Paige and Terri, plus my sister and her husband, and I could already see myself moving gracefully among them, being the perfect hostess, offering canapés and champagne with a smile.

Unfortunately, it hadn´t been as easy to arrange as I had expected. Emma had had difficulties finding a babysitter for Ellie, Paige had suddenly found a guy she wanted to bring along, and Terri had out of the blue announced that she probably wouldn´t be in town New Year´s Eve. I had been disappointed, but kept silent. After all, we didn´t have to spend every single minute together.

Eventually I had more or less resigned myself to the fact that I would be welcoming the new year without having anybody to kiss when Terri suddenly changed her mind and declared that she would be home after all. She had informed me of her change of plans on the night I returned from the much-dreaded visit to my parents, the first visit since the revealing telephone conversation with my father. And later, after Terri had fallen asleep, I couldn´t help but wonder if that had been the reason for her decision.

“So…” Terri looked at me anxiously as I walked over to the fridge to pour myself a glass of white wine. “How did it go?”

I shrugged, not really in the mood for talking, “Okay, I guess. My father seems to be coping, my mother seems to be needing a little more time.”

Terri continued to watch me closely as I exited the kitchen and walked into the living room, heading directly for the couch. I sat down with a deep sigh, leaning my exhausted head against a cushion. Sighing again, I closed my eyes, absently hearing Terri approach.

“Um…” I could hear the uncertainty in her voice as she came to stand before me, but was too tired to open my eyes. “Everything… everything´s okay… isn´t it?”

“Yeah, it´ll be fine. They´ll both survive. It might take a while, but they´ll get used to it.”

For a moment there was silence, then Terri spoke hesitantly, “That´s… that´s good, but what I meant was…”

“Yes?” I could sense her nervousness and that finally prompted me to open my eyes. Terri was standing awkwardly before me and she wouldn´t quite meet my gaze.

“What I meant was… Is… is everything okay with… with us? I mean…” she faltered, then finished in a rush. “I mean, you haven´t changed your mind, have you? About… about this? About me…?”

I looked at her curiously, frowning slightly, “Changed my mind? What do you mean?”

“Well,” Terri shifted on her feet, her eyes focused on a spot just to the right of my face. “I just thought that maybe they sort of, I don´t know… Maybe that they…”

“Terri,” I put my glass down on the floor then rose from the couch. “You sound like you were afraid they would talk me out of loving you. That they would make me see the so-called error of my ways.” I stepped over to her and put my hands on her shoulders, “You don´t really believe that would be possible, do you?”

“No,” Terri smiled briefly, but I could feel the strong tension in her body and to reassure her, I leaned up and gave her a soft and loving kiss which she returned with an almost desperate urgency. When we broke apart, she buried her face in my hair, her arms holding me so tight that I could barely breathe. However, I let her, somehow knowing how much comfort Terri took in holding me like this, and although I was surprised by her sudden bout of insecurity, I knew her well enough not to take it lightly.

I had realized that sometimes, for whatever reason, Terri just seemed to have a stronger need to know she was loved and apparently this was one of them. And I was the last person in the world to deny her that assurance.

“I don´t ever want to live without you, Sarah,” she mumbled into my hair and her tone of voice was so serious I felt a shiver run down my back. “I´ve decided that I want to celebrate New Year´s with you instead of going away.”

“Are you sure?” I raised my head to look into her eyes and Terri gave me the first genuine smile of the evening. The heartfelt, affectionate one that always made my knees weak. “Yes, I´m sure.”

“Sarah? Aren´t you going to quiz me?”

“Oh, right.” Terri´s voice coming from the kitchen startled me out of my reverie and I shook my head lightly, surprised that I had allowed my thoughts to take me so far away. “The test…”

I made myself comfortable again then read out loud, “Okay, then… 1. You and your partner have just returned home from a good night out. As you get into bed you realize your partner is in a decidedly amorous mood whereas you are tired and just want to cuddle and then sleep. What do you do? A. Kindly tell your partner you are tired and just want to sleep? B. Try to distract your partner to avoid hurting their feelings and hope they will stop by themselves? C. Give in and let them continue in spite of the fact that you are not in the mood?”

For a long time there was no reaction, then Terri looked out of the kitchen door, a thoughtful expression on her face. Her brow furrowed subconsciously as she contemplated her possibilities for a moment, then suddenly she smiled wickedly, raising an eyebrow, “How tired are you exactly?”

“Terri,” I answered with a small grin, “that was not the question. The question was what you would do if your partner was in, and I quote, `a decidedly amorous mood´ and you weren´t.”

Terri wrinkled her nose, staring at me silently for a few seconds, then she smiled again, “I don´t think that has ever happened.” She turned quickly to check on something in the kitchen before looking back at me. “But if it should happen, then I guess my answer would depend on what you wanted to do.”

“Oh?” For some reason I could feel myself blushing lightly and judging from Terri´s pleased smirk, I could tell she had noticed it, too. “Is that so?”

“Yeah,” Terri nodded slowly, attempting to look very sage while a grin kept trying to creep onto her face. “I wouldn´t want you to lie awake all night, being all tense…”

“You wouldn´t?”

“Nope.” Terri slowly sauntered over to me, sitting down on the couch beside me. Leaning forward, she brushed a few strands of hair away from my ear before whispering, “I would want something like this instead…” She continued to speak huskily into my ear and suddenly I had the impression that the temperature in my living room had increased by at least fifty degrees.

“Ah…” I looked at her, feeling rather flushed when she finally moved away. Smiling a bit sheepishly, I said, “I don´t think we´re going to need this test after all. I think we´ll manage just fine on our own.”

Terri grinned crookedly, getting to her feet, “Somehow I think so, too.” Then she returned to the kitchen, leaving me to contemplate all the enticing images her words had created in my mind, giving me the very strong feeling that neither of us were going to get much sleep that night.

Two days later New Year´s Eve arrived and with it, my guests. Paige came first, introducing her latest date, a huge and muscular, but slightly dull-looking guy named Mike who immediately went over to switch on the TV. I gave Paige a look, but she just smiled and mouthed that he was cute. A few minutes later Emma arrived with Richard. Emma gave me a big hug while her husband looked around nervously, obviously searching for something. When Em went over to greet the others, Richard asked hesitantly, eyes still scanning the living room, “Is she here?”

I was momentarily at a loss as to who he could be referring to, but then the shoe dropped and I gave him a friendly smile, “No, Terri isn´t here yet, and Richard, don´t worry. She isn´t going to bite you.”

“Uh no, of course.” He smiled tentatively. “It´s just, I… I´ve never met anybody like… like her before. I don´t want to say something wrong.”

“Richard,” I looked pointedly at him, not the slightest annoyed by his awkwardness since he was one of the sweetest people I had ever met. A man who would rather die than hurt anybody´s feelings. “I´m just like her, remember? And you don´t have any problems talking to me, do you? Besides, you met her at mum and dad´s anniversary.”

He looked startled for a moment, then smiled, shaking his head lightly, “Yeah, you´re right, Sarah. I´m sorry, didn´t mean to be a jerk. It´s just still a bit new to me everything that´s happened. I´m just not sure how to react.”

“No problem,” I put my hand on his arm, guiding him over to the others. “Just be yourself, that usually works just fine.”

We spent the next couple of minutes talking and sipping wine. Mike was doing slightly more than sipping, but Paige seemed to be quite taken with him and I decided she could handle him if he got too drunk. Eventually Terri showed up, looking very sexy in tight black jeans and a body hugging black turtleneck I had bought her for her birthday. She came out into the living room and walked over to give me a kiss hello, but slowly came to a halt a few feet away from me, her eyes taking in the sight of the people around her, each of whom was watching her intently.

A look I couldn´t quite read crossed her face, then she smiled uncertainly, “Hi… Sorry, I´m late.” People nodded their greetings in return, but nobody spoke and they all continued to study her curiously. Terri began to look very uncomfortable, glancing at me, and I quickly stepped over to her, putting my arm around her waist. Leaning into her, I spoke cheerfully, “So, what about those Yankees?”

Everybody just stared at me like I was mad, then gradually they all began to smile and the tense atmosphere disappeared just as rapidly as it had arrived.

I got people to sit down and talk and then returned to the kitchen to make sure nothing was amiss and that everything was proceeding according to plan. With half an ear, I listened to Emma and Paige chat amiably while Richard was slowly trying to engage Terri in a conversation about soccer, despite the fact that he knew nothing whatsoever about the sport, but at least he made her laugh and for that I was grateful. What Mike was doing I couldn´t tell, but since I couldn´t hear his voice I assumed he had continued drinking.

It wasn´t that I had anything against him as such; he was probably a very nice guy once you got to know him – otherwise I couldn´t understand what Paige would be doing with him, but still there was something about him I didn´t quite like. Maybe it was the way he had watched Terri when she arrived, the brazen and upfront way he had checked her out without seemingly being concerned by either Paige´s or my presence.

Of course it wasn´t the first time I had noticed people giving Terri the once-over. It happened all the time when we went places but it had never bothered me before, mainly because Terri always seemed oblivious, her attention always focused entirely on me or something in her mind which practically meant a bomb could go off beside her and she wouldn´t notice. No, I didn´t mind Mike looking at her. What I minded was the way he did it. There had been appraisal in his eyes, but also, if not exactly contempt, then something disturbingly close to it. And what bothered me the most was that he hadn´t even made an attempt to hide it, not even when Terri stared right at him for a second or two before dismissing him and looking back at me.

To my great, but very pleasant, surprise, all my culinary attempts came through wonderfully, and everybody did their best to accommodate my orders that I wouldn´t tolerate any leftovers. We also consumed great amounts of various kinds of alcohol and while you can write hundreds of dissertations on the damaging effect of alcohol, it was nice to see Terri loosen up and become more relaxed around my other guests. She and Richard seemed to be getting along well and at one point, while I was putting a few plates away in the kitchen, she came out and informed me that she thought he was very nice and that they had talked about going to a soccer match together once the season started again. I was very pleased by that development, but managed to look neutral and just gave her a smile, saying it was a good idea and that it was sure to make my father very happy that Richard wasn´t a lost cause after all.

As midnight approached, we all gathered in the living room in front of the TV, waiting for the big moment to arrive while watching one of the countless New Year´s Eve shows with an obnoxiously cheerful host that gave everybody the impression he had to be on something a little stronger than coffee and champagne.

A few minutes to twelve the conversation came to a natural pause and I suddenly remembered the champagne and hurried out into the kitchen to prepare everything. Paige followed me to find the glasses and we were using the opportunity to catch up with each other when in the living room Mike without preamble chose that exact moment to speak. I couldn´t see him from where I was standing, but I had no difficulties guessing who it was he was addressing.

“So… you like to fuck women, do you?”

As you can imagine, the living room, and the kitchen I might add, grew deadly silent from the moment the remark had left Mike´s lips. I stared at Paige who just looked confused, then smiled weakly as if he had only said a bad joke. For a moment, I had no idea what to do, not having expected anything like this to happen. I suspect the anger hadn´t quite had the time to take hold of me yet and instead I felt strangely frozen and powerless, waiting for Terri´s answer.

Seconds ticked by very, very slowly with everybody present feeling uncomfortable and holding their breaths, then Terri spoke, her voice as dispassionate as if she was discussing the pros and cons of pocket protectors, “That´s not quite the way I´d put it, but yes, if you must know, I do prefer women.”

“Why?” Mike instantly countered, and I could tell from the sound of his voice that he was warming up to the topic. “You´re not bad looking, you could get a guy without problems. Why would you want to be with some girl when you could be with a real man? After all,” he sniggered, obviously finding something amusing, “there´s something only a man can give you.”

“Uh,” Richard chipped in, trying to divert everybody´s attention. “It´s almost twelve, does anybody have a New Year´s resolution for the new millennium they would like to share?”

“Yeah,” came Terri´s calm and unaffected answer and I could easily picture the look in her eyes, “not to be surrounded by impotent and repressed sissies who have to compensate for their own inadequacy by attacking others.”

“What did you call me!” I could hear Mike rise from the couch and from the answering creak of a chair knew Terri had done the same.

“I believe I called you an impotent sissy, but if that´s too hard for you to grasp then I´ll make sure to give it to you in writing. Then maybe you´ll be able to spell your way through it.”

Finally, a chilling but seething anger stirred me into action and I walked into the living room with Paige close behind me just in time to see Mike lunge for Terri, who deftly stepped back, easily avoiding his flailing arms.

“What the hell do you think you´re doing?!”

Everybody froze, turning to stare at me, Emma and Richard looking decidedly embarrassed and Mike just plain out stupid whereas Terri´s face was blank, but her eyes… her eyes were so cold that I faltered for a second before continuing.

“How dare you act like this in my home?! Who the fuck do you think you are to speak like this?! You got exactly ten seconds to get out of here before I throw you out myself!”

I did have enough presence of mind to know that if Mike decided to be difficult there was no way I could throw him out on my own, but Richard then resolutely walked over to stand beside me, arms crossed at the chest, his usually gentle eyes filled with anger.

“You heard her, buddy, get out of here. Now!”

Mike stared at us in disgust, his face flushed from alcohol and anger, then he rolled his eyes and strode to the door, speaking over his shoulder, “Are you coming?”

All eyes came to rest on Paige who looked very awkward and embarrassed, then she smiled apologetically at me before rushing after Mike, leaving the front door wide open. Just then, we all heard the clock strike twelve and we simultaneous looked to the TV to see fireworks and cheering people celebrate the new millennium. For a long moment we just stared blankly at the screen, nobody saying a word, then Richard sighed quietly, rubbing his forehead, “Well, there´s always next year.”

I couldn´t help but smile reluctantly, giving his arm a little squeeze. Then I turned to look at Terri, only to find that she wasn´t there. That she had left without any of us noticing it, closing the door behind her without a sound.

It seemed like I would be welcoming the new year without anybody to kiss after all.
Episode 23

Around noon the next day, I found myself knocking on Terri´s door. I had tried to call her a few times the night before, but there had been no answer and the machine hadn´t been on, so I couldn´t leave a message either. The remains of New Year´s Eve had been a subdued, but still pleasant, affair, and more than once I had wished Terri hadn´t left.

I wasn´t angry at her for leaving, nor was I feeling that upset over what had happened; it wasn´t the fist time I had encountered a jerk and it definitely wouldn´t be the last. I just wished that sometimes things weren´t so damn complicated.

I had come to realize that Terri could be quite sensitive about certain areas and, although she was fully entitled to be that way, I secretly hoped that she would eventually develop a thicker skin. It would make life so much easier for her. And me, too, for that matter – as selfish as that might seem.

“Who is it?” a tired voice called out from the behind the door when I knocked again and I answered quietly. “It´s me.”

For a second nothing moved, then I heard the sound of a body getting out of bed and bare feet coming towards me. Opening the door in boxers and t-shirt, Terri stood there, staring at me impassively for a moment, then without a word she stepped back into her room, leaving the door open for me to follow. Without exactly knowing why, I sighed deeply and then walked inside.

Terri was sitting on the bed with her back against the wall, her eyes disinterestedly watching an old black and white film on the TV with the volume turned down. The sheets were rumpled and her hair was tousled and matted, giving the impression she had only recently woken up. Sitting down on the edge of the bed, I studied her profile for a few seconds then said softly, “I´m sorry.”

Terri didn´t answer, but just shrugged, her eyes never leaving the TV.

“I didn´t know Mike was such an idiot. If I had I would have told Paige to leave him at home.”

Terri shrugged again, still without speaking, and I began to feel a little irritated. After all, it wasn´t me who had caused the trouble last night, and I wasn´t the one who had run away. Pushing the not very constructive feelings aside, I took a deep breath and said tiredly, “You didn´t have to go, you know. There was no reason to.”

“Maybe,” Terri finally answered, shrugging for a third time.

I waited for her to elaborate, but nothing came forward and I shook my head imperceptibly. Apparently this was as good as it was going to get. I decided to drop the subject and asked instead, “Where did you go? I tried to call you.”

“Out,” Terri replied curtly and I could detect a hint of annoyance in her tone.

Having had enough of this game, I reached out and firmly took the remote control from her fingers. She didn´t resist, but just watched in silence as I switched off the TV before turning back to her.

“Terri…” I began, waiting until she slowly turned her head to look at me. “I´d really appreciate it if you didn´t take off like that again. I know you got angry and so did I, but you must understand I worry when you disappear like that.”

Terri looked at me for a long time, her face blank and her eyes veiled, then she nodded lightly, “Okay.” She hesitated for a second then added quietly, “I didn´t mean to ruin the evening for you. I just got fed up.”

“No wonder.” I leaned over to give her a quick kiss on the lips to show there were no hard feelings. “He was an arsehole.”

“Yeah,” she smiled faintly, but there didn´t appear to be any real conviction behind it. “He was.”

Happy with the result, I moved closer and kissed her again. She pulled me into her arms and for the next few minutes we kissed without haste or frenzy, just enjoying each other´s company. Of course, as always, it gradually become more passionate and I could feel Terri´s heart beat faster against my palm on her chest. With gentle insistence, she attempted to push me down onto the bed, but I held my ground, having one more thing I needed to tell her before we got carried away with other matters.

“Terri… wait…” I knew she heard me because for a second the pressure against my shoulders ceased, but then her hands pushed down again, her lips attaching themselves resolutely to my neck.

“Terri… I mean it.” This time she let out a deep sigh, but obliged and moved a few feet away, wrapping her arms around her as if to make sure they didn´t wander of their own volition.

Raising an eyebrow, she looked at me impatiently, “Well?”

The quiet frustration in her voice almost made me smile, but I managed to suppress it since I had a very good idea of what she was feeling in that moment. As a matter of fact, the same feelings were racing through my body, all of them complaining loudly at my apparently compulsive need to talk whenever other, more important, tasks could be undertaken with my mouth.

“I know this isn´t the most ideal of times, but I wanted to ask you if you were doing anything next Saturday?”

“Why?” Terri asked, suddenly wary.

“Well,” I started out slowly, Terri´s attitude making me hesitate. “My… my parents would like to meet you.”

She stared at me, her face carefully neutral. “They have already met me.”

“Yes,” I shifted slightly on the bed, feeling more and more uncomfortable without exactly being able to pinpoint why. “But this time they would like to… well, to meet you for real… As my lover.”

The sentence lingered in the air between us for a couple of very long seconds, then Terri wrinkled her nose and said dismissively, “I can´t. I´m busy Saturday.”

“You are?” I was aware that I sounded a lot more disbelieving than I had wanted her to know, but for some reason I just didn´t believe her and it was evident in my voice. “With what?”

Terri´s eyes narrowed and she licked her lips quickly, but then her face became unreadable again and she said evenly, “I´m helping one of Alison´s friends to move. He´s got a lot of stuff that needs to be carried.”

“You´re helping one of Alison´s friends,” I repeated incredulously.

“Yes.”

“Why?” I asked, frowning lightly. “You don´t even like her, and you most certainly don´t owe her anything. On the contrary.”

Terri blinked in surprise, looking startled by my direct statement, but then she composed herself. “She asked me, I said yes. I´m not going to back out now.”

“Okay, okay… fair enough.” I didn´t really want to get into a stupid argument, especially not over Alison. “How about Sunday then? Do you think you can make that?”

Terri studied me silently for a minute or two, then she sighed and said wearily, “Look, Sarah… If it´s okay with you, I think I´ll pass on that one. I´m kinda tired of feeling like some exotic animal in a zoo everybody wants to stare at. Your parents already know me, can´t we just leave it at that?”

I know it wasn´t intended, but nonetheless her blunt words cut deeply. I turned away, unable, or unwilling, to look at her and see what might be written on her face. Instead my gaze fell on her right ankle, on the small tattoo imprinted onto the dark skin.

“You´re willing to get a tattoo with my name,” I spoke tonelessly and without any feeling of any kind. “But you won´t come to meet my parents…”

“I…” Terri´s voice was very tired, almost resigned. “I don´t know… It´s not that… Maybe… maybe one day, one day soon, but not this weekend, okay? I really am busy.”

I lifted my head and we looked into each other´s eyes. I could see some kind of conflict take place inside her, but I couldn´t tell its origins or what it meant. Trying one last time, I said gently, “My father likes you…”

Terri smiled reluctantly, “I like him, too.”

“It doesn´t have to be right away,” I continued, encouraged by Terri´s admission. “My birthday´s in February, if you like we could see them then. Somewhere neutral, perhaps.”

Terri regarded me pensively, then nodded briefly, “Yes, I think that´s better. I would prefer that. I´ll also have more time then, I´m pretty busy with finals as it is right now.”

“Right, that´s true. When is that by the way?”

Terri made a small careless gesture, leaned back against the wall and spoke indifferently, “In two weeks´ time.”

“Nervous?” I moved over to sit beside her.

She picked up a piece of fluff from the crumpled covers, staring at it for a second before flicking it away. “No.”

“So… You got everything covered?” I probed carefully, clearly seeing that Terri would like nothing more than for me to drop the subject.

“Yeah, sure,” she answered exasperated, the expression in her eyes boarding on hostile. “Everything´s fine.” She was silent for a moment, then said slowly and hesitantly, her gaze darting away and her fingers fidgeting with a conveniently placed pillow, “Look… Sarah… If you don´t mind I would like to be alone now. I didn´t get much sleep last night.”

I don´t know how, but somehow I managed to give off the impression that her words didn´t hurt me in the least. Rising from the bed, I looked down at her and spoke nonchalantly. “Of course, you look beat. I´ll leave you to get some rest.”

Terri nodded in acknowledgement, but didn´t meet my eyes. However, as I rushed to the door, desperate to get out, I could feel her gaze burn into my back and just as I put my hand on the door handle, she blurted out, her voice almost frantic, “I love you, Sarah!”

I paused, then replied, my words sounding strangely sorrowful even to my ears. “And I love you, Terri.”

Then I left. That night I more or less cried myself to sleep, and I couldn´t for the life of me understand why.
Episode 24

The next couple of days I remember as being some of the most miserable in my life. I got up in the mornings, went to work, spent time with Paige and my sister, but it all felt mechanical, like a routine I had to follow and not because I wanted to. Terri was never far from my mind, but I was reluctant to call her. I was tired of always being the one to reach out whenever we had a small disagreement, and I also felt that it was about time that Terri showed our relationship truly meant something to her, that she was willing to work for it and wasn´t just along for the ride.

Of course I was terrified by what my decision, based mainly on hurt feelings, might result in. That she might not get in contact with me at all. However, as tempted as I was sometimes to forget my pride and call her, I stayed firm and purposely ignored the phone whenever the need to see her became too strong.

I missed her terribly. I missed going to bed with her at nights and waking up with her in the mornings. I missed her smile and her laughter, her voice when she was telling me about something she loved, and the raise of an eyebrow and her indulgent sigh every time she realized I hadn´t been paying attention because I had been too caught up in watching the sparkle in her eyes instead.

I knew she was busy with her finals and I knew she was the type of person who preferred to let things rest and then forget everything about them rather than talk about it, but when the fifth day passed and I still hadn´t heard from her, I must confess my resolve not to call her began to waver.

Paige was being very supportive, if a little triumphant, but since she was still seeing Mike she knew better than to put Terri down, both because I informed her that I was very much aware of Terri´s shortcomings myself and because Mike wasn´t exactly something to brag about either.

“So we´re still on for Saturday?”

“Yes.” I made a quick note in the margin of the page I was scanning. “Of course.”

“Good.” I could hear Paige adjust her hold on the receiver before sighing and asking with feigned indifference, “Is Terri coming?”

I put my pen down on the desk and subconsciously straightened up in my chair, “I haven´t spoken to her, so I don´t think so. Why?”

“Well…” Although I couldn´t see her, I could easily picture the expression on Paige´s face. “I was thinking about bringing Mike…”

“You´re very welcome to bring him,” I said calmly, “but then I´m not coming.”

“Oh, c´mon, Sarah,” Paige whined, “he´s not that bad. I know he behaved like a jerk last time, but he was just drunk. He didn´t mean any of it.”

I sighed tiredly, glancing at my watch. Thank God it was almost 5 p.m. and then I had an entire weekend to look forward to. “That may be, Paige, but I honestly have no desire to see Mike again. If you like him, then fine, but don´t expect me to swoon over him as well.”

“Yeah? Well, if your girlfriend wasn´t so sensitive-.”

“Paige,” I interrupted quietly, the warning clear in my voice. “You don´t want to go there…”

Paige was silent for a moment, then she exhaled slowly, “I´m sorry, Sarah. I was out of line, it wasn´t Terri´s fault what happened.” She paused, then said, “You still haven´t heard from her, huh?”

“No.” I leaned back in my chair, debating with myself whether I should prop my feet up on my desk.

“Are you gonna call her?”

“No.”

“Sarah…” Paige exasperated. “Why not? I mean, I understand that you don´t want to be the one doing all the work, but you do love her, don´t you? And even though I´m not one of Terri´s biggest fans I do know how much she means to you, and you mean a lot to me, Sarah, I want you to be happy and if-.”

“Paige-” I began, intent on stopping her before she began fixing my love life over the phone. However, in that moment a knock sounded on the door and my secretary poked his head in, giving me a mildly disapproving look when he noticed my feet on the desk.

“There´s someone to see you,” he mouthed, then pointed at his watch and I nodded, gesturing that he could go home.

“I have to go now, Paige, I´ll call you tonight, okay?”

I conveniently overheard her protests and said goodbye, then looked up when I heard the door open and to my surprise saw Terri step inside my office.

“Hey…” She smiled fleetingly, uncertainly taking a few steps closer to the desk before stopping. “Your secretary said I could walk right in.”

“Hi.” I gave her a little surprised smile, quickly putting my feet back down on the floor. “Yes, I was just about to go home.”

“Oh…” Terri nodded, but didn´t say anything else, her eyes taking a slow tour of the office before coming back to rest on me.

For a long and tense moment we just looked at each other. I was consumed with conflicting emotions; one part of me being incredibly happy to see her again, another part very angry that it had taken her so long. And as my usually dormant stubborn streak hit big time, I vowed not to be the one to make the first move. Not this time.

I think Terri could sense my ambivalence because she shifted on her feet, drawing her jacket closer around her, then, so low I almost didn´t hear it, she said, “I´m sorry.”

“You´re sorry?” I repeated neutrally, wanting to hear more.

“Yeah…” she shifted again, looking down at the floor. “I know I didn´t, I mean, I didn´t…” she trailed off, then looked up, nervously meeting my eyes, “I´m sorry.”

I nodded, accepting her apology, just as I had known I would all along. However, I wasn´t quite done. “I haven´t seen or heard from you in five days, Terri…”

“I know.”

“I know you do,” I spoke quietly, then took a deep breath, stealing myself for the next question. “Look, Terri…” In spite of my determination, I faltered and to gain a little time I rose from the chair and began to rearrange some of the folders on my desk.

“Sarah?” I could easily hear the fear in Terri´s voice. “Is… is something wrong?”

I looked up reluctantly, gazing directly into wary and clouded blue eyes and feeling my throat constrict, I said hoarsely, “Look, Terri, I need to know where we are going with this. I need to know that this is what you really want.”

“What?” Her brow furrowed in incomprehension. “What do you mean?”

“Terri…” I perched myself on the edge of my desk, forcing myself not to break eye contact, no matter how tempting. “I realize we are very different and that´s a good thing, but… but there are certain things I want, need, from a relationship. I need to know we can talk about whatever might be bothering us. I need to know you won´t be running away from me or shutting me out every time we have a disagreement. I understand you have your ways of dealing with stuff, just like I have mine, but if we can´t be there for each other, help each other, then I don´t see much point in us being together.”

I exhaled inaudibly, watching Terri carefully and waiting for her reaction. Her brow was still furrowed as she contemplated my words, trying to understand what it was exactly I was saying, then suddenly she blanched, “You want to break up?!”

“No, no,” I hurried to reassure her, “that´s not what I meant. What I meant was that I need to hear from you that you´re willing to, well…” I sighed, running a hand through my hair as I searched for the proper words. “I want to know that you´re willing to put some effort into this as well. That… that it isn´t just me who thinks this is worth fighting for.”

“But…” Terri regarded me nervously, subconsciously taking a step back towards the door. “But I thought things were going well. I mean,” she countered abruptly, her voice growing defiant, “we have been together for more than four months. We most be doing something right.”

“Terri,” I sighed desolately, looking away. “There´s more to a relationship than sex. You have to be able to talk to each other as well.”

“But we do talk.” This time her voice sounded almost petulant and I looked back at her, speaking softly, “Not about things that really matter.”

I sighed again, then said evenly, ignoring the frantic protests my heart was shouting at me, “I love you, Terri, you know that, and I really want us to be together, but for us to be that I need something from you. I need to know I can depend on you, that you´re there for me, the way I try to always be there for you. And… and…” I had to clear my throat a few times before I could continue. “And if you can´t, or won´t, give me that, or at least give it a try, then… then I think it´s better for me to get out of this while I still can. I love you, Terri, but I have no desire to have my heart broken.”

As I spoke those words, I was painfully aware that it was probably already too late for that.

Terri was silent for a very long time, her gaze centred on the ground, then she whispered, “I don´t know if I can give you that, Sarah. I want to, but I don´t know if I can…”

“Will you at least try?” I slid down from the desk and walked over to stand before her. Reaching out to tilt up her face, I asked softly, “Will you at least do that for me?”

I knew my tone had become quite close to pleading, but I couldn´t help myself. Things had escalated so fast. I had never intended for it to go so far, but once I´d started I hadn´t been able to keep it inside anymore. I needed answers, I needed reassurance that this was something she wanted, too.

Terri looked at me, her eyes seeming almost afraid, then she nodded, “Yes.” Her gaze left my face again, “Yes…”

A tremendous relief washed over me and I pulled her into my arms, giving no thought to where we were or who might see us. “Thank you,” I whispered into her ear, soaking up the feel and scent of being with her again that I had missed so terribly. “Thank you…”

Terri didn´t answer, but only tightened her arms around me, an almost imperceptible tremor running through her body.

That night we went out for dinner, which Terri insisted on paying for, telling me she had gotten a job as a bartender in a bar downtown. It wasn´t a very grand or fancy place, she said, but the hours were flexible and the pay was reasonable, so all in all she was quite satisfied with it. I inquired how she found the time and she just shrugged and said it wasn´t so much of finding the time, but more of not having a choice. Her rent had just gone up and her financial situation had been tight as it was already, and there was no way she would ask her parents for help. Not because they wouldn´t help her out, but as a matter of principle. She wouldn´t ask for money unless she was in real trouble. I told her that if she ever found herself short of cash, she could always turn to me, but to that she only smiled, shook her head and said she would rather work a little harder than having to come to me.

After dinner, we went back to my place and settled down on the couch to watch TV, although we quickly lost interest in the movie and began to pay more attention to each other instead. Having spent a few moments exchanging a very satisfying round of kisses, Terri opted for some wine and went out into the kitchen to see what I had. She returned with two bottles of white wine and I pointed out that I couldn´t get too drunk because I had to meet up with Paige the next day. However, that didn´t stop Terri, who poured us both a generous glass and with a big grin handed me one, saying that she would make sure I got up in time.

“So…” Making myself comfortable on the floor, I leaned back against the couch, taking a sip of the wine. “When did you first know you were gay?”

Terri gave me a slightly surprised look over the brim of her glass, then grinned a little, “So we´re gonna have that conversation, are we?”

“No, no,” I shook my head, growing less cautious and taking a big swallow of the wine. “I´m just curious to hear when you first knew. Personally, I wouldn´t really admit it to myself until after I had left home.”

“Oh well,” Terri began, kicking her shoes off before emptying her glass. “I guess I´ve always known…” She was silent for a few seconds then turned her head to look at me, “It was the only thing that felt right, you know… I did like guys and so, but only as friends. I never had… well,” she grinned, more to herself than me, “I never had the desire to get to know them intimately.”

“So you´ve never been with a man?”

“Nah, well, I kissed one once, but I found that rather uninteresting.” She grinned again, “It was all I could do not to look at my watch to see when it was appropriate to stop.”

I had to laugh at that image, then leaned over to place a soft kiss on her lips, “You prefer this?”

Terri slowly ran her tongue over her lips, looking intently into my eyes, “Oh yeah.” She reached out to put a hand behind my neck, pulling me back to her lips. Her tongue instantly entered my mouth, but took its time to explore and slide against mine. Without breaking contact, she got to her knees, slipping her arms around me to pull me closer until our torsos were moulded together. Her hands slid down to grab my buttocks and she shifted on her knees, pulling me tight against her groin. I heard the unspoken request and began a slow grind against her, more feeling than hearing her moan of pleasure in my mouth as she returned the pressure.

My pulse was pounding in my ears and Terri´s breathing had become quite ragged when we finally broke apart, both in desperate need of air. Halting my movements, but keeping the contact between our bodies, I whispered throatily into her ear, “This is more like it, isn´t it?”

I could feel her swallow and it took a moment before she could answer, her voice low and husky, “It most certainly is.”

We remained glued together like this for a minute or two, then suddenly Terri pulled back, searching my face. Tracing my lips with her finger she asked quietly, “Can I stay the night?”

I kissed the tip of her finger before giving her a gentle smile, “Do you have to ask?”

She didn´t answer but kissed me soundly, then whispered, “Bedroom?”

“Bedroom,” I nodded in the affirmative, smiling faintly. “I don´t have your preference for floors.”

“Oh please,” Terri gave me a look of mock offence. “Look who´s talking. I seem to remember a couple of times when-.”

I silenced her with a kiss before getting to my feet, pulling her up with me. I was about to take her hand and lead the way when she stopped, giving me a slightly odd look.

“Yes?” I inquired, feeling rather amused by the expression on her face. “Did you change your mind?”

“Uh… no…” she mumbled, studying me intensely. “I… I just have to…” Without finishing the sentence she turned on her heels and walked over to the front door where she had carelessly deposited her bag. Lightly puzzled, I watched as she rummaged through the bag, then I shrugged and used the opportunity to bring the wine and the glasses out into the kitchen.

Putting the full bottle into the fridge and the empty in the trash, I heard the door into the bathroom close. At first I didn´t think much of it, then suddenly a thought struck and I sighed regretfully, knowing that the bedroom probably wouldn´t be used for much else than sleeping that night. Feeling just a little sorry for myself, I rinsed the glasses, absently wondering how it already could be that time of the month again.

Switching off the lights, I met Terri halfway as she came out of the bathroom, her eyes darting away the moment they met mine. “Hey…” I took hold of her hand, tugging her towards me before letting go. “It´s no big deal. I´m a bit tired anyway.”

A look of confusion crossed her face, then realization hit and even in the darkened corridor I could tell she was blushing, “Oh no, it wasn´t… I mean, it´s not…”

“Well?” I questioned patiently, waiting to hear the reason for her unusual behaviour. “What was it?”

“Well… I um… I…” she spoke awkwardly and I smiled in encouragement, surprised by how embarrassed she suddenly looked. Then with sudden resolution she took my hand, hesitated for just a second, then placed it firmly over her crotch. “This.”

“Oh…” I looked down to where my hand touched her. There was definitely more there than there had been a few minutes earlier. “I see…” Using my free hand, I got her to look up, giving her a suggestive smile to let her know I was very much in favour of her idea, “Been eating your vegetables, have you?”

My words made her blush again, but she seemed to have recovered from her embarrassment and just shrugged, grinning a little, “Yep. My mum always said I´d grow big and strong if I-”

“I´m pretty sure your mother never had this in mind,” I interrupted with a big grin, running my hand over the hardness I felt trapped inside Terri´s jeans. “Otherwise I´ll have to seriously reconsider my opinion of her.”

“True,” Terri agreed, then gave me a pointed look. “But let´s stop talking about my mother, okay? It´s putting me right out of the mood.”

“Uh, we wouldn´t want that, would we?”

“Nope,” she stated, then dragged me off to bed before I could say another word.

The next morning I woke to the annoying sound of the phone ringing and without waiting to hear who was on the line I said placidly, “I´m sorry, Paige. I overslept. Half an hour and I´ll be there.”

A stunned silence greeted me, then Paige asked suspiciously, “How did you know it was me?”

“Lucky guess,” I mumbled sleepily, turning over to look at Terri who was lying flat on her stomach beside me, her deep and even breathing indicating that she was still fast asleep.

“Oh well,” Paige spoke, not sounding too upset that I had stood her up. She was silent for a moment, then asked innocently, “Terri wouldn´t happen to be there, would she?”

“Um, yes…” This time it was my turn to be surprised. “How did you know?”

“Lucky guess,” Paige shot back at me, chuckling quietly. “Is she coming with you?”

“Nah…” I smiled involuntarily, brushing a lock of black hair away from Terri´s face. “I think I´ll let her sleep.”

“Oh?” Paige grinned. “What did you do to her?”

“Nothing she didn´t want me to. Well, see you in a bit,” I finished with a grin, hanging up and leaving Paige to come to her own conclusion in her head. Which, knowing her, she would be more than capable of.

It took me several minutes before I got so far to sit up and then unsteadily made my way toward the bathroom. I really wasn´t in the mood to do brunch with Paige, but a promise was a promise, and I couldn´t very well tell her that my reason for not wanting to come was because I would rather stay at home making love to Terri all day. Well, actually I could tell her that, but she wouldn´t understand. Okay, she would understand, but she wouldn´t approve of my choosing Terri over her again, and I valued our friendship too much to want to risk it. That didn´t mean I wouldn´t be with her in spirit, though. But of course, that wasn´t quite the same thing.

Entering the bathroom, I closed the door behind me, pausing for a second to study my reflection in the large mirror. My neck, throat and breasts showed obvious signs of Terri having been in a very amorous mood the night before, but I had as well, and I knew Terri would have the scratches on her back and shoulders to prove it.

Smiling decadently to no one but myself, I stepped inside the shower and turned on the water. Just as I had lathered my hair, I heard the faint sound of the doorbell ringing. Cursing quietly, I argued quickly with myself whether I should take the time to rinse my hair before answering, but before I could make a decision I heard Terri call out, “I´ll get it!”

For a second I froze, then, without exactly knowing why, I hurried out of the shower, threw on a bathrobe and went outside just in time to hear Terri say, “Oh… Good morning, Mr. Kingston.”

I stopped dead in my tracks, then took a deep breath, praying to any deity that would listen that Terri was wearing more than a sheet when she opened the door.

Then I went out to greet my father.
Episode 25

My father has always been a remarkably pragmatic man. It takes a lot to faze him, and apparently being face to face with his daughter´s female lover, – who was wearing a lot less than she ought – didn´t seem to affect him in the least. Instead he smiled and said calmly, “Hello, Terri. Is Sarah there?”

“Hi, Dad! What an unexpected surprise.” I quickly moved forward, effectively shielding Terri behind me. “What are you doing here?”

As my father moved to give me a hug, frowning lightly when he noticed the remains of shampoo in my hair, Terri gave me a faint smile and disappeared back into the bedroom. She returned a few minutes later, fully clothed, and a reasonably relaxed expression on her face.

In the meantime, my father had assured me there was no particular reason for his visit, he had just wanted to say hi, and when Terri slumped down onto the couch beside him, I got up and headed for the bathroom to finish my shower. I didn´t buy his explanation for a second, but since there was no way he could have known Terri would be here, he probably just had been in the mood to talk.

I don´t know why, but somehow I had complete faith that it was safe to leave them alone together – they had been getting along great the last time – so I took my time in the bathroom, thinking that it probably wouldn´t hurt them to spend a few moments getting to know one another. In spite of my reassurances, I must confess I was nervous about what was happening in the living room, but when I reappeared some time later, I found them chatting amiably with each other. Or almost chatting, since my father was doing most of the talking with Terri giving pleasant, but mostly monosyllabic answers in return.

All sorts of strange emotions rushed through me as I paused in the doorway, watching my lover and my father talk, a scenario that, until a few weeks ago I would have thought completely unimaginable. I recognized my father´s friendly and subtle questioning as the one he used on the couple of boyfriends I had brought home in the past, always attempting to learn as much about them as possible without them actually realizing it. I took that as a good sign, I couldn´t imagine he would do that if he didn´t consider our relationship to be serious, something to be reckoned with. However, I doubted his tactics would work on Terri. She was always too much on her guard around people she didn´t know well to fully relax, and what my father was doing would hardly escape her notice. Nevertheless I was surprised to see how at ease she seemed to be with him.

“So I hear you had a nice Christmas?”

“Yeah,” Terri nodded, “it was good. Lots of snow.”

My father hesitated, probably waiting for her to elaborate, but then apparently realized that Terri wasn´t in a talkative mood. Of course, he couldn´t know that was the way she usually was. Then he made another attempt.

“Sarah mentioned to me the other day that you are halfway through your finals?”

“Yes,” Terri nodded again, her gaze dropping to the couch as she idly scratched her thigh. “I´m almost done.”

“How is it going?”

She raised her head slowly and looked at him for a long time, then she sighed and even from my spot at the door I could hear the quiet resignation in her voice, “Not too well, I´m afraid.”

Both my father and I straightened up, but before I could say anything he beat me to it and asked, “Why not?”

She shrugged, smiling briefly, “I didn´t study enough.”

My father, ever the industrious and hard working man, frowned as if he didn´t quite understand the concept. I frowned as well, both because I was completely surprised by the fact that Terri willingly would admit something like that to him when she wouldn´t to me, and because I couldn´t help but feel just a little peeved that she hadn´t said something sooner.

Without announcing my presence, I inquired evenly, “Are you in danger of flunking?”

If Terri was startled by my voice, she didn´t let it on, instead she leaned back in the couch and said carelessly, barely glancing my way, “Yes, I think so.”

“I see.” I gave my father a tight little smile as he turned to look at me, but then turned my attention back to Terri. I didn´t really want to get into this, especially not in front of my father, but apparently that was the only time she deemed fit to let me in on some of the things going on in her life. “And when were you going to tell me?”

By the guilty look shot my way, my guess was: Never.

“Okay…” I nodded to myself, trying not to get angry. After all, it had been less than twenty-four hours since we agreed to be more open and forward with each other. With dinner the night before, and all the time we had spent in bed afterwards, doing everything but talk, there had hardly been any time for her to say something. She had probably only been waiting for the right moment.

Yeah right… And Bill Clinton never inhaled…

Sighing deeply, I forced a smile to my lips. Whether it was for my own, Terri´s, or my father´s benefit, I didn´t know. “Well, I wish you the best of luck for the last tests. Maybe it won´t be as bad as you think.”

Terri turned her head abruptly, staring at me with surprise and suspicion. For a few moments she tried to gauge how serious I was and when she realized I wasn´t being sarcastic, she gave me a relieved and grateful smile, “Thank you. I hope you´re right.”

The smile and the warmth in her voice almost made me melt, but a small sliver of anger remained inside me, and I couldn´t help but wonder how much it would take for it to fester. Still, I was in too good a mood to have my day ruined with pointless brooding, and suddenly remembering the reason why I was up and about in the first place, I walked over to get my coat.

Speaking over my shoulder, I said, “I have to meet with Paige in less than ten minutes, so I´m afraid I have to go now. If I stand her up twice, there´ll be hell to pay.”

I turned around to face them and to my surprise noticed an almost panicked expression on Terri´s face. With an evil little grin, I realized she was worried I would go and leave her alone with my father. For a moment I was tempted to do it, just to get back at her for not telling me about her exams, but then I shook my head imperceptibly, giving her a faint smile and she smiled hesitantly in return.

“Dad?” I met my father´s eyes. “Why don´t you walk me to the car, then I can catch up on everything on the way.”

His mouth opened and he looked quickly at Terri, but then he nodded, smiling warmly, “Sure, why not. Terri…” He extended his hand to her. “It was nice meeting you again, I hope we´ll have the chance to see more of you in the future. I know my wife would like to see you again.”

Before Terri could answer, I interjected innocently, my eyes never leaving Terri´s face, “As I matter of fact, Terri and I were discussing that just the other day, and we both agreed that my birthday would be the perfect occasion for all of us to get together. Isn´t that so, Terri?”

She looked at me, her face unreadable, and I involuntarily held my breath, but then a very tiny and reluctant grin spread on her face as she conceded defeat. “Yes, I think we did agree on that.”

“Splendid,” my father rose from the couch, looking quite pleased. “Then I´ll tell pass that on to my wife.”

He came over to stand beside me, waiting for me to open the door so we could go, but I paused indecisively, suddenly feeling a bit awkward. One thing was for my father to know we were together, another thing entirely was for him to actually witness it. Seeing Terri´s questioning expression, I inwardly shook my head at my own foolishness, then in a few long strides walked over to the couch.

Smiling at her, I asked quietly, “Are you staying here?”

“If you don´t mind?”

“Not at all,” I answered, in spite of my resolution to be mature very conscious of my father´s gaze on us. “Shouldn´t be more than two hours before I´m back.”

“Okay,” Terri nodded slowly, glancing towards the door, and I realized she was waiting for a clue from me as to how I wanted her to act.

Exasperated with myself for making things more complicated than they were, I leaned down and gave her a soft, lingering kiss on the lips. After all, my father had to know we were doing more than holding hands. “See you in a few hours.”

“Yeah, have fun.”

My father and I walked to the lift in silence, occasionally exchanging a smile when our eyes happened to meet. I was just waiting for him to say something, but it wasn´t until we arrived at the car park under my building that he cleared his throat and inquired softly, “So this… you and Terri… you are really serious about it?”

I looked at him as we continued to walk towards my car. “Yes, I thought you knew that.”

“Well…” he shrugged a little, smiling briefly. “I guess I just wanted to make sure. You know…” We stopped at my car and he was silent for a moment before speaking earnestly, “This is going to make your life a whole lot more complicated.”

“Loving Terri?”

He shook his head, suddenly appearing a little sad, “Loving a woman… Like that, I mean.”

I looked into his eyes, seeing nothing but gentle concern, then I nodded slowly, “I know, Dad, but I do love her like that and she happens to make me very happy.” I took a deep breath before exhaling quietly, “I hope you and mum can accept that.”

“I already have, sweetie,” he smiled gently at me, “and I´m sure your mother will as well, she just has to get used to the idea. It´ll probably help once she gets to know Terri better. I´m just…” He hesitated for a second, his voice becoming firmer, “I´m just worried about you, not all people will be as understanding. You are my daughter, Sarah, and I don´t want to see you hurt by all the idiots out there.”

His words warmed me greatly and I had a sudden flashback of him sitting on the edge of my bed, telling me not to be afraid of the monsters because he would always be there to protect me.

Without a word, I closed the distance between us and gave him a hug. He was startled at first, but then returned my embrace, whispering into my hair, “If ever there´s anything, anything all, don´t be afraid to call your old man. He might not be the centre of the universe anymore, but he still loves you and wants to help.”

“I know,” I answered softly, inhaling the so familiar scent of tobacco, aftershave and my father. “I love you, too.”

We stood like that for a few moments, then broke apart, both of us feeling a little self-conscious. “Well…” I looked at my watch. “I´m sure to be late now, Paige´s going to kill me.”

“Oh, she´ll survive,” my father grinned, stepping away as I opened the car door. “Drive carefully.”

I barely resisted the urge to roll my eyes and exclaimed good-naturedly, “Dad, you have been telling me that every time you have seen me get into a car since I was eighteen. Don´t you think I know how to drive properly by now?”

“Hey! I´m your father, I never get too old to tell you that, and you never get too old to hear it. So…” He smiled, giving me a pointed look, “Drive carefully.”

I just shook my head, but then smiled, knowing that in spite of my objections I didn´t mind one bit.

The last weekend in January I had planned to use to introduce Terri to the wonderful world of opera. She didn´t, despite a great love of almost any kind of music, seem to be too taken with that particular genre, but since I knew she loved anything dramatic I felt confident she would grow to like this one, too. I had gotten us tickets to Aida, one of my personal favourites, and Terri had without complaints agreed to come with me. On the condition, though, that she would be the one to choose the next concert we went to, and in spite of my better judgement, and Terri´s wicked grin, I said yes.

However, the evening before we were meant to go, Terri called me to say she couldn´t make it. Nicola had called and apparently she was having some kind of romantic crisis and was in need of a friend and a shoulder to cry on.

My immediate reaction was, “Oh…” The next was, “I see…” And the third, “Okay… If you´re needed somewhere else…”

Needless to say, I wasn´t happy.

The thing was that although I had only met Nicola that one time and although Terri rarely ever mentioned her, I felt an unpleasant stab of jealousy every time I thought of her. I knew it was silly and that I shouldn´t be feeling that way. After all, you can hardly expect the person you love not to have had any lovers before you, and the only important fact was that Terri was with me now. But in the back of my mind the nagging knowledge lingered that Terri had loved Nicola; that the only reason they had broken up – as significant as it of course was – was that Nicola wasn´t gay. It wasn´t because they had fallen out of love or, more importantly, that Terri had fallen out of love.

And truth be told, I didn´t really know what her feelings for her were now. I could probably have convinced myself Terri felt nothing more than friendship if it hadn´t been for a few casual remarks she uttered a day or two after my father had dropped by. She had been complaining about something stupid Alison had done and I grinned at her, asking why she kept helping her out if she was so impossible. Terri only shrugged, saying she had promised Nicola to look out for her little sister and that that was the only reason she put up with Alison´s antics.

“So…” I had asked from where I was standing behind the couch. “You´re basically doing all this for Nicola, not Alison?”

“Yes,” Terri answered absently, switching on the TV. “Alison has always been real good at getting herself into trouble, and since Nicola can´t be here, she asked me to have an eye on her.”

“But you don´t like Alison. You think she´s a spoiled brat.”

“So?” Terri had turned to look at me, her brow furrowed in confusion. “What does that have to do with anything? It´s not for her I´m doing it.”

Needless to say, I wasn´t totally happy about that either.

I ended up with telling Terri that I was disappointed she couldn´t go to the opera with me, but that of course I understood she had to be there for Nicola. After I hung up, I ate enough ice cream to make myself sick and then called Paige to hear if she was interested in coming with me instead. She was, she had just ended things with Mike, and we spent a very pleasant evening at her place afterwards, getting drunk and complaining about insensitive and selfish boy/girlfriends.
“Jesus!”

I smiled, pausing briefly in my ministrations. It never ceased to amaze me how religious Terri could become under certain circumstances.

“Fuck! That´s good!”

“I know, baby,” I spoke huskily against the soft skin of her thigh, trying to rein in some control. “It feels good from here, too.”

I resumed my task, grinning inwardly when I felt Terri´s legs tremble as she tried to keep herself upright. Her back was pressed flat against the kitchen door and her hands clawed impotently at the wall, trying to grasp hold of something that could steady her. Spreading her legs to balance herself better, she gasped loudly when I used the opportunity to push her jeans further down thus supplying me with more room to play with my questing tongue and fingers.

“Please…” She whimpered as I began to suck harder and my fingers slipped inside without difficulties. “Sarah…”

A wave of smug satisfaction washed over me. It was so seldom Terri allowed herself to beg for anything. She usually always attempted to stay in control, no matter how much I tried to persuade her otherwise.

“It´s okay, baby. You know I´m not going anywhere.”

She didn´t answer, but only groaned as I added an extra finger, her right hand reaching down to tangle in my hair and pressing me closer. I picked up my pace, the shaking of Terri´s legs telling me they might give in before she did and I didn´t want that. I had taken her completely by surprise when she walked in, roughly pushing her against the door and pulling her trousers down, but her surprise had quickly turned to pleasure and I intended to finish this with a grand finale. Besides, the kitchen floor wasn´t exactly comfortable and my knees were killing me.

A loud gasp interrupted my jumbled line of thought and Terri´s body stiffened, her inner muscles convulsing around my fingers. She threw her head back, hitting the door rather hard, but she didn´t seem to notice as she rode out her climax, the grip in my hair becoming almost painful. Then gradually her body went limp and she began to slide down, her sweat soaked t-shirt leaving a faint trace of moisture behind.

Giving her room to sit down, I then moved back in and wrapped my arms around her, pulling my still panting lover close to me.

A few minutes passed with neither of us speaking, then Terri cleared her throat and spoke hoarsely, “Do you always greet people like that?”

I laughed, placing a kiss on the top of her head, “Only the ones I like.”

“I see…” I could feel her smile against my skin as she began to nuzzle my neck. “Bet you´re very popular.”

“You have no idea.” I tilted my head, giving her better access. Her slow caresses were beginning to affect me and my body still hummed with unreleased tension. “Actually, it´s always been a fantasy of mine, having you like this.”

“Oh really?” She pulled away slightly to look into my eyes, an intrigued expression on her face. “You planned this?”

I blushed a little, then smiled, “Well, not as such, but well… You were gone three days, that´s a lot of time to go and think of someone and what you would like to do to them when they return.”

“Ah…” Terri grinned broadly. “Now I get it! You got all horny thinking about me.”

I gave her a mock frown, trying to look offended. “I was no such thing. I only spent the time thinking up several scenarios in which I could show you how much you were missed, how much I appreciate you being back, and how happy I am to see you again.”

“Ergo, you were horny.”

I just smiled enigmatically, not wanting to admit to that, or to the fact that maybe, just maybe, in my mind I had been competing with the ghost of the blond teenage girl Terri used to love.

And then I had no time to think any further as it was Terri´s turn to make me call out the names of various deities.
Part 6

Episode 26

Two days before my twenty-eighth birthday, I had the unusual and powerful experience of seeing Terri jealous for the first time.

It was all perfectly innocent. One of my co-workers, a very pretty but down-to-earth woman named Paula, and I were staying late to prepare her for her first appearance in court which would take place the next day. I never went to court myself, but Paula valued my opinion and had asked me to listen to her opening.

It was getting late and most people had left the office hours ago. We had been rehearsing and re-phrasing her speech again and again, and I was beginning to feel my concentration slip. I was now finding it a lot more entertaining trying to make Paula lose it in the middle of the sentence – a payback for all the awful jokes she had sent me through our intranet system – and in the end it was enough for me to meet her eyes and she would crack up, throwing her papers at me in exasperation.

It was during one of those bursts of laughter that Terri suddenly appeared in the doorway of my office. I immediately stopped laughing, mainly because I was so surprised to see her. We hadn´t planned to do anything together tonight, let alone see each other, because I´d had no idea when Paula and I would be done practising.

Standing with her back turned, Paula didn´t see her right away, but then she noticed I was looking at something behind her and turned around.

“Oh, hi…” She gave Terri a friendly, questioning smile. “Can we help you?”

“Terri!” I exclaimed before she could answer. “What are you doing here?”

Without looking at Paula, she asked evenly, “I thought you were working?”

“I am,” I answered, sliding down from my desk where I had been sitting. “We have been going through Paula´s opening in court tomorrow.”

“Oh…” Only now did Terri take a moment to look at the woman in question. “You didn´t say anything about that, I thought you were just doing paperwork.”

Pale blue eyes studied Paula from head to toe for a long moment, and I think she was starting to feel uncomfortable under the thorough study because she extended her hand and said pleasantly, “I don´t believe we´ve met, I´m Paula Martinez.”

“Terri,” Terri offered almost reluctantly. “Terri Cavanagh.”

Silence fell and the three of us stood uncomfortably before each other. I had been caught off guard by Terri´s sudden appearance and was trying not to panic while frantically searching my brain for something to say. There was absolutely no reason for Paula to guess the true nature of our relationship. Hell, right now she didn´t even know how Terri even knew me. However, that changed when Paula, unnerved by the continuing silence, asked, “So… You´re a friend of Sarah´s?”

Terri looked at her, appearing as if she was contemplating whether she should actually bother to answer, then said, “Yes.” She paused, then added, almost as an afterthought and her voice displaying no emotion whatsoever as her eyes searched out mine, “We sleep together occasionally.”

My heart stopped beating and I kept telling myself that this couldn´t be happening, while Paula stared at Terri, her face looking like one big question mark. Terri´s gaze never left my face, her expression oddly challenging like she was waiting for me to contradict her.

But before I could gather my wits enough to do anything at all, Paula suddenly laughed out loud, giving Terri a friendly slap on the shoulder, “Ah, that´s not fair so late in the evening! You nearly had me going there for a minute. Okay, Sarah…” she walked over to collect her papers from my desk. “I guess that´s my clue to go home for tonight. Thank you very much for helping me out with this. If you ever need a favour, don´t hesitate to ask.”

She gave me a little parting wave, smiling fleetingly at Terri before she left and chuckling quietly to herself on the way to the lift. For a very long moment, Terri and I stared at each other before her eyes darted away. Without a word I went over to close the door, then turned around to face her. As calmly as possible, I crossed my arms in front of my chest and inquired tonelessly, “What the hell do you think you were just doing?”

Still looking away, Terri shrugged, “Nothing. She asked if we were friends, I said yes.”

“You did a damn lot more than that.” I was slowly becoming angry. “What in the world were you thinking saying something like that? Do you have any idea how difficult my life could get if anybody at work knew that-” I trailed off abruptly, not really sure how to formulate the sentence.

Terri slowly raised her head to look at me, her eyes cold, “That what? That you´re a fucking queer?”

The words felt like a slap in the face and I flinched involuntarily, then my eyes grew hard. “Don´t ever call me that again, do you hear me, Terri? I don´t know what the hell is wrong with you tonight, but I never want to hear that word again. Got that? Never!”

“Wrong with me?!” Terri stared at me in angry disbelief. “I´m not the one lying, saying she has to work late when in truth she´s doing something completely else.”

“What?!” At that moment I had absolutely no idea what was going on in her head. “What are you talking about?”

“I heard you,” she pointed at finger accusingly at me, her eyes blazing. “You and Paula. I heard you laughing and fooling around. I saw you! What do you think I am? A total idiot? I can put two and two together.”

“Terri…” I held up a hand, subconsciously trying to take some kind of timeout and to get my own simmering anger under control. “Paula and I are just friends. We were just working. Whatever you thought you heard or saw is wrong.”

Terri´s jaw clenched, then she smiled derisively, stating flatly, “You´re lying.”

“What?”

“You´re lying,” she repeated impassively, almost like I hadn´t spoken. “I´ve seen this before, you know. I´m not stupid. People say they have to be somewhere, do something, when in fact they´re with someone else, screwing their brains out.”

Something about the way she said it caused me to pause for a moment, my eyes searching her now immobile and veiled face. With a thought gradually forming in my mind, I went with my instincts and said softly, “I would never do that to you.”

Terri snorted in contempt, “Everybody says that until they´re actually caught doing it.”

“True, but I happen to be telling you the truth. I would never do anything like that to you, Terri. I love you. Even…” I hesitated, speaking the next words with utmost care. “Even if I should meet someone else, which isn´t going to happen mind you, but if it did, do you honestly think I would just lie to you and start an affair? That I wouldn´t have the guts to tell you I was falling in love with someone else?”

Shoulders slumping ever so slightly, Terri shrugged again, averting her eyes as she spoke almost inaudibly, “Stuff like that´s been known to happen. Sometimes people keep their mouths shut in order not to hurt the other person involved.”

“I don´t care what other people do.” I stepped over to her, placing a hand under her chin and forcing her to look up. “That´s not what I´m asking. I´m asking whether you think I would sleep around and not tell you about it? Tell me, Terri…” my voice softened of its own volition as I saw the quiet despair in her eyes. “Do you really think I would do that to you?”

She didn´t answer, but just looked at me, and I decided to try another approach. “Okay, Terri, then answer me this, would you do that to me?” My heart beat a little faster asking that question. “Would you go ahead and cheat on me without admitting to something being wrong with our relationship first?”

She swallowed, then whispered hoarsely, “No, I wouldn´t… I don´t play games. I´ve told you that before.”

I nodded, meeting her eyes without wavering, “Then why do you expect anything less from me?”

Terri was silent for a long time, clearly struggling with herself, then she smiled weakly, trying to appear nonchalant and not even coming close to fooling me, “If you don´t expect too much, you´re less likely to get disappointed.”

Deciding to take the bull by the horns and get to the root of the problem, I said seriously, watching Terri´s face closely for her reaction, “I´m not Nicola, Terri. I want you to expect as much of me as you expect of yourself. Nothing more, nothing less.”

To her credit, only a slight widening of her eyes indicated how surprised Terri was to hear me speak those words. I wasn´t sure whether it was because I had mentioned Nicola so openly, or because she hadn´t known I was aware of the fact they had been more than friends. However, I never got my answer to that question because all Terri did was to say, “I loved her, Sarah.”

“I know,” I spoke gently, ignoring the knife slowly twisting in my heart.

“She lied to me.” Terri´s voice was so full of pain that it took me a moment before I had collected myself enough to be able to answer. “Yes.”

“She said she loved me and then she slept with someone else.”

This time I could only nod, simply not trusting my voice to speak.

Looking into my eyes, Terri placed a hand on my cheek as she spoke quietly, “If you ever fall in love with someone else, Sarah, then I want you to tell me. I don´t want to go through all that again.” She exhaled slowly, then continued, “I believe you when you say you would never cheat on me, but-” she placed a finger on my lips to prevent me from speaking, “but should it happen then… then it´s over. I love you, but I can´t… I can´t forgive something like that… I won´t…”

“You´ll never have to.” I looked at her, inwardly vowing that no matter what happened, no matter what the future had in store, Terri would never be forced to deal with any infidelity from my side. “I promise.”

Spoken out loud, my reassurance sounded terribly inadequate, but maybe it was all Terri needed to hear; or maybe she was just too drained to discuss anything further, in any case, she smiled palely, pulled me into her arms and whispered softly into my ear, “Then that´s enough for me.”

And in that moment, it was enough for me, too.

That night Terri showed me she loved me.

She never let go of my hand from the moment we stepped out of the car till we reached my apartment, and if I hadn´t needed both hands to find my key she probably wouldn´t have let go there either. Inside she took my hand again and without a word led me into the bedroom.

She took her time undressing me, pausing to linger over each new piece of exposed skin, and although her touch was reverent, almost worshipping, her eyes devoured me with a silent fire I hadn´t witnessed before. Occasionally our gazes would meet and she smiled at me, causing a shiver to run down my back and bringing a flush to my cheeks.

Fully clothed herself, she leaned over me on the bed, stroking my face with her fingers, gently tracing my lips. As I took her finger into my mouth, she smiled again, letting out a small sigh of contentment. She didn´t let me play for long, though, slowly withdrawing her finger again before I could get too carried away.

I whispered to her I wanted to feel her naked against me, but she shook her head, her eyes already trailing over my skin. “Not yet,” she murmured as she bent her head to kiss my shoulder. “Not yet.”

She spent almost an hour kissing every inch of my body, gently but firmly resisting all my attempts to touch her or to get her to move faster. In the novels my mother indulged herself in from time to time, I had often read the expression `her body was played like a finely tuned instrument´ and suddenly I knew exactly how it felt. And I couldn´t have wanted a better musician than the woman holding my heart, determined to bring me pleasure.

Placing one final kiss on my hip, she rose from the bed, leaving me breathless and nearly trembling with pent up desire. Looking into my eyes she began to remove her clothes, a small, secretive smile on her lips. When the last item of clothing lay discarded on the floor, she waited, patiently giving me the opportunity to look at her without any hurry.

The one thing that came to my mind as I studied her standing in front of me was strength. Strength in the subtle muscle tone visible on her arms and legs, strength in the manner she stood before me without moving, without embarrassment, and strength in the way her eyes never left my face, silently taking in the expressions they read there.

When finally I was able to tear my eyes away to meet her gaze, I was surprised to see a brief flicker of uncertainty, maybe even fear, and I quickly smiled at her, holding my hand out to beckon her closer.

“Come here before you steal my breath away for good.”

My words made her blush, but she gave me a smile of her own, walking over to join me in the bed. The rest of the night we spent almost like one single being, unable to be separated. Terri alternated between pleading with me to let her have me, and demanding that I give myself to her without conditions. She would growl so low in her throat it made my stomach clench in anticipation, ordering me to wrap my legs around her, yet at the same time almost surrendering herself when my hands touched her back.

She whispered my name into my ear and against my lips, asking me to never leave her, and she pinned me down, saying I was hers and that she would never let me go. My skin was roughly marked by her mouth and teeth, a testament to all the world to whom I belonged to, and then she offered me her body for me to do the same. When she came she called out my name, and that one word nearly made me cry. It was the first time, in the four months we had been lovers, that she had ever done that.

Afterwards I held her in my arms, gently stroking her damp and tousled hair while she tried to catch her breath. Raising her head from my shoulder, she looked into my eyes and spoke quietly, “I want it to always be like this.”

I had to swallow a few times before I could answer, “So do I.”

She smiled at me like I had presented her with the greatest gift on earth, “Then nothing bad is going to happen, we´ll be together forever.”

“Is that what you want?” I managed to choke out, intently searching her face.

“Yes.” She leaned down to kiss me, her tongue briefly brushing over my lips. “That´s what I want.”

Then she put her head back down on my shoulder and closed her eyes, and for the second time within twenty-four hours I made a vow. This time promising myself, and her, that no matter what, no matter what happened, she and I would be together.

Always.
Episode 27

The Thursday after my twenty-eighth birthday became a day I will never forget and, as I think back now, I more or less pinpoint that day as the moment the world went insane and my life was turned upside down. I know now that everything that escalated from then on had been a long time coming, but to me that Thursday will always be the day I started to lose my innocence in regard to Terri.

Fittingly enough, the day had a less than promising beginning. I woke up to the sound of heavy rain hitting the windows and clouds so black nothing short of a nuclear bomb could have penetrated the darkness. Then I realized that, for one reason or another, my alarm clock hadn´t been set and I had subsequently overslept. I was half a mind to stay in bed and call in sick, but my conscience got the better of me. Regretfully, I dragged myself out of bed and stumbled out into the kitchen to make some very hot and very black coffee before hitting the shower.

As I stood under the showerhead, trying to persuade myself to adjust the water to be just a little colder in order to more efficiently wake me up, I began to think of the delayed birthday party my parents had planned later that night. It would only be a small crowd, or so they said, a few friends and family members, and although I normally disliked those functions, I found myself actually looking forward to this one. However, I was also wary because it would also be the first real test of Terri´s promise to be there for me.

I had come to understand from my father that by now most of my closest family knew about my “preferences,” and that they had been told about Terri´s existence as well, and I was already fearing the looks and comments she and I might be subjected to once the alcohol began to loosen people´s tongues. I knew I could handle it, but from experience I wasn´t sure Terri could. I desperately didn´t want her to bail on me in the middle of the party, or worse, deck someone for saying one word too much.

Usually that wouldn´t have been a concern of mine because Terri wasn´t the belligerent or violent type, – except when playing soccer that is, – but the last week she had been in a terrible mood, tense and fidgeting, snapping at me for no reason. It had surprised me, and to be perfectly honest, hurt me too because of the night we had just shared, but then by piecing together the bits of information Terri grudgingly supplied me with, I realized she had had her last exam and that things hadn´t gone well.

Due to her attitude I hadn´t been in one of my most compassionate moods and had been irritated enough to tell her she had nobody but herself to blame. My remark made impact, but not the way I expected. Instead of becoming angry or defensive, she grew silent and looked away, and I could practically feel her distance herself from me mentally, if not emotionally. Then after a few moments of uneasy silence, she quietly told me that her mother had said the same thing when she had spoken to her earlier on the phone, and that she had continued to say that she was tired of her always being so difficult and irresponsible. That because of her selfishness all she did was cause trouble and hurt people.

The conversation had ended in a big row with Terri yanking the phone off the wall when her mother ordered her to grow up and start behaving like a respectable adult, and now Terri wasn´t sure if she and her mother were still talking. I could tell there had to be more to it than that because Terri had refused to look me in the eye during the entire retelling of the event, but when I attempted to find out she brushed it off and shortly after excused herself, saying she had to be somewhere.

When I walked her to the door, I noticed a strange expression in her eyes. It wasn´t the usual dreamy or faraway look I had seen so often. Instead I saw a quiet resignation and fatigue I didn´t understand and most certainly didn´t like. As she kissed me goodnight, she held me, whispering she would always love me no matter what anyone said. Before I could ask what she meant, she was gone.

That was the last I heard or saw of her for almost a week. However, a small bouquet of flowers had been delivered at my doorstep a couple of days before, accompanied by a little note saying they were from her, and I suspected that was Terri´s way of saying she was just cooling off and would be back soon. I had meant to call her to say thank you, but due to increased stress at work and maybe a little childish stubbornness hadn´t gotten around to it. Somehow, I felt she should be the first one to call, if only to find out it wasn´t going to kill her.

Several hours later my birthday party was well on its way, with Terri having yet to show up. Everybody was doing a fine job of pretending they weren´t aware that the one person they all had been looking forward to meeting wasn´t present, and that all my replies to their subtle questioning were vague and apologetic.

To say I was furious would be putting it mildly. Standing me up was one thing, but standing me up knowing all my family and friends would be there was an entirely different matter, and she would have to have one hell of a good excuse once she did appear.

Two hours later she still hadn´t arrived and, after having endured one curious and sympathetic look too many, I excused myself and retreated into my bedroom, heading directly for the phone.

To my annoyance the line appeared to be dead, but when I remembered the treatment Terri said she had given her phone when talking to her mother it began to make sense. Searching my purse, I finally fished out her cell phone number, which she had given me only a few weeks before. Apparently, she hated the thing and only used it now because her employer down at the bar occasionally called to get her to take an extra shift at nights. Otherwise she would keep it in a drawer, never bothering to take it anywhere.

After a couple of rings, the phone was picked up and a sullen voice answered, “Yes?”

Out of sheer surprise it took me a couple of seconds to gather my thoughts and say, “Alison?”

“Yeah. Who is this?”

“It´s me, Sarah.”

“Oh hi,” I could hear Alison sigh deeply at the other end. “Look, I´ve already been through this with Nicola, I don´t know where Terri is. I haven´t seen her since she stayed at my place and that´s several nights ago.”

“At your place?” I frowned in incomprehension, not sure I was hearing her correctly. “Terri stayed with you?”

“Yeah well, she had to, didn´t she?” Alison´s voice sounded exasperated now, like she was explaining something to a backward child. “She was kicked out of her apartment, remember? I couldn´t have her living on the street, you know.”

“What?!” For some reason I found myself staring at the receiver like it could supply me with a proper explanation for what I couldn´t be hearing. Bringing it back to my ear, I asked, feeling just a little peeved, “What the heck are you talking about?”

“Duh! What do you think I´m talking about?! Terri failed her exams and she had to go, that´s how it works here. Didn´t you know that?”

“Well, yes…” I replied slowly as my mind frantically tried to digest the information. Terri had been kicked out? For how long and why hadn´t she said anything? “Where is she now?”

This time Alison sighed so deeply I was afraid she might burst, “For crying out, I just told you, didn´t I?! I have no idea! She left here a couple of days ago, didn´t say a word as usual. I thought you knew.”

“No… no, I didn´t…”

“Oh…” Alison suddenly seemed to realize that things might not be as they should be. “Well, I guess I just thought she told you. I mean, you´re her girlfriend after all…”

The last sentence lingered awkwardly between us, almost like an accusation.

“I…” I swallowed, trying not to give in to the fear I felt beginning to built in my stomach. “I haven´t heard from her in almost a week. She sent me flowers, but that company exists everywhere. She could-”

“Look, Sarah,” Alison spoke quickly, probably hearing the growing worry in my voice. “I know Terri, she pulls stunts like these occasionally, you must know that, too. She´s most likely staying with some friend, trying to figure out what to do next, finding the courage to tell her parents and stuff like that. I bet it won´t be long before you hear from her.”

“You said Nicola didn´t know where she was either…”

“Yeah well…” Alison paused uncertainly before continuing with renewed strength. “I know that´s a bit odd, Nicola usually knows what Terri´s up to, but I´m sure there´s nothing to worry about. Terri´s a big girl, she knows how to look out for herself.”

“Yes, I´m sure you´re right,” I agreed with absolutely no conviction. “When exactly did you see her the last time?”

“Um… that must be about three, no, four days ago.”

“And she didn´t say where she was going?”

“No, I don´t think it was planned. I mean, she left her clothes here and everything.”

It was as if we both realized the implications of the statement at the same time, and both ends of the phone fell deadly silent. Alison recovered first, clearing her throat softly, “Sarah, I´m sure she´s all right. In fact I know she is. She sent you flowers, didn´t she? That´s not something you would do if you were in trouble. Just because Nicola doesn´t know anything doesn´t mean something´s wrong.”

“Maybe not…” I swallowed again, then asked quietly, “Do you think she might be home?”

“Ah, no…” Alison answered with unwavering certainty. “I´m pretty sure that´s not where she is. Terri doesn´t go home unless she has to. Her mum always drives her crazy and I know Alan isn´t there to bear the brunt, and her dad´s always been too much of a coward to get in between.”

I frowned, “What do you mean by that? I know that their-”

“Sorry,” Alison interrupted, sounding as if she was already putting the phone away. “I´ve got to go now, my date´s here. I´ll call you if I hear something, okay? Bye.” And then the line went silent.

“You okay?” Paige asked me a few moments later as I had recovered enough to go back out to my guests. “You look a little pale.”

“I…” I stared at her, still trying to get things to make sense. “I think Terri´s missing…”

“Missing?” Paige regarded me sceptically, clearly interpreting it as some kind of lame excuse as to why Terri hadn´t showed up. “What do you mean, missing?”

“Well,” my brow furrowed in bewilderment, “apparently she was forced to leave her apartment after failing her exams and she stayed with a friend for awhile, but then she just… well, left.”

“Left?”

“Yes, and nobody seems to know where she is.”

“Oh…” Paige´s face suddenly became serious. “That doesn´t sound good.”

“No,” I answered, feeling how the absurdity of the situation and not knowing what was going on was slowly making me angry. Angry and afraid. “And she didn´t even tell me she´d been kicked out. If it hadn´t been for a friend telling me, I would have had no idea!”

“Well, maybe she didn´t want to bother you,” Paige spoke thoughtfully, adding quickly when she noticed my expression, “I mean, you know how self-reliant Terri is. If I were her, I doubt I would have told you before I had found another place to live.”

“I don´t care!” I exclaimed loudly, instantly regretting it when several people around us shot us curious looks. Nearly whispering, I continued, “This isn´t about self-reliance, Paige, she can´t keep something like this from me. If it hadn´t been for Alison she would have been on the street, and God only knows where the hell she is now. I can´t…” I took a deep breath, getting my suddenly shaky voice under control. “I can´t believe she would do this to me. Doesn´t she know I can´t help but be scared something might have happened to her?”

Paige stepped closer and put her arm around me, speaking gently, “I don´t know, hon, I really don´t know Terri that well. But if you want my honest opinion, I can say that in spite of everything, I´m convinced she loves you. It´s just…”

I looked at her, “Just what?”

“Well…” Paige grimaced lightly. “Don´t take this the wrong way, but Terri is still pretty young and I´m not sure she´s ready for this serious relationship stuff yet. I can´t know for sure, but I get the distinct feeling she still needs to sort out her life, and until that´s taken care of, there won´t be much room for you, if any. And if you try to fit in, I´m afraid you´ll only get hurt. Not that she´s going to do it on purpose, but it will happen, I´m sure of it. Just look at how upset you are now.”

“Considering the circumstances, I think I have a goddamn reason to be upset,” I replied heatedly, not caring who might hear me now. “She´s been missing for days and nobody seems to know where the hell she is. Not even her ex., who otherwise seems to be fully informed about everything that goes on.”

Paige looked like a big question mark, “Her ex.?”

“Forget it,” I waved dismissively, definitely not wanting to get into that now. “Long and boring story. So, what do you think I should do? Wait? Call her parents?” I hesitated for just a heartbeat, “The police?”

Paige scratched her cheek, absently looking at the people conversing quietly around us, all pretending not to be looking our way, “You say nobody´s heard from her for days, right? Normally, I guess calling the police wouldn´t hurt, but in this case… It is Terri we´re talking about, after all. I´m not sure she would appreciate that.”

“She could be hurt,” I pointed out angrily. “In danger.”

“Yes, or she could just be hiding out somewhere, not giving a shit that people worry about her.”

Before things could turn into a big argument, my father wisely chose that moment to come over and tell me he and my mother had to leave. Paige used the opportunity to slip away as well, which probably was a good idea as she knew only too well she had been telling me all the things I didn´t want to hear. Just like a good friend should. However, she also knew me well enough to realize it might be a little before I would appreciate the sentiment. It was hard enough having to defend Terri to myself – defending her to others was more than I wanted to deal with right now. Once she showed up it would be another matter, though. Then I would tell her exactly what I thought of that kind of behaviour.

If she showed up…

That night I didn´t get any sleep. I lay awake, staring blindly at the ceiling, alternating between feeling terribly angry and terribly afraid. Every time I thought I had decided what to do, I would change my mind and decide on something completely different. I thought of calling everybody from Nicola to the National Guard and her parents. But if Nicola indeed didn´t know anything it would be a waste of time, and I didn´t want to upset Terri´s parents in case they didn´t even know she was missing. And I seriously doubted the National Guard would be interested in my problems.

At seven a.m. I couldn´t take it anymore and called her parents. I let the phone ring fifteen times before I would admit to myself there was no one to pick up. For the next thirty minutes I circled the phone like a hungry tiger, willing it to ring by just staring at it. It didn´t.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, I began to feel really afraid. I had been worried, deeply worried until then, but now I was afraid. Something could have happened to her. This was a big city with a lot of unpleasant inhabitants and Terri was an attractive woman…

I didn´t dare to finish the thought, but slowly sank down onto the couch, oblivious to the fact that I had to be at work soon and that I was still in my pyjamas. Taking deep breaths, I fought the panic I felt lurking just around the corner and the irrational urge I had to call my father and ask for help. This was something I would have to handle on my own, this wasn´t a monster he could defeat by switching on the lights.

This was real.

And I didn´t know what to do about it.

Almost eleven hours later I received the call I had been waiting for.

A young man cleared his voice and spoke softly, “Miss Kingston? This is Alan Cavanagh, Terri´s brother. I…” He hesitated and I held my breath, my heart having stopped beating the moment I heard his name. “I don´t know if I should be telling you this, but Terri´s here… with me.”

“With you?” I whispered, so weak with relief I could cry. “She´s with you?”

“Yes. I don´t think she wants you to know, but I thought you had a-”

“Is she all right?” I interrupted almost frantically. “Please say she´s all right?”

“Yes, she´s fine. She´s sleeping right now. The time difference´s still bothering her.”

“Time difference?” I repeated, momentarily thrown off track. “What time difference?” Not being in the mood for riddles, I continued impatiently, “Where the hell are you?”

“Well, London,” Alan sounded confused. “Didn´t I say?”

“No…” I closed my eyes, suddenly feeling very tired. “No, you didn´t.”
Episode 28

The dream began the way most of my dreams do, in the middle of everything, without any proper beginning or explanation to tell me where I was or what was going on. I was walking along a beautiful sandy beach, the splashing surf bluer than Terri´s eyes. A scenery taken right out from a Bounty commercial, and even in my dream I kept expecting some gorgeous guy to come running, offering me a juicy coconut. The only problem was, I had never liked coconut.

In my dream, everything made perfect sense as the beach suddenly faded away beneath my feet and I found myself standing on a mouldy path, covered with wet leaves that circled tortuously through a dense and dark jungle. Feeling a little apprehensive, I continued, somehow knowing I couldn´t go back. Turning a corner, I nearly walked headfirst into my father who was standing in the middle of the path, playing a banjo. He gave me a heartfelt smile, then began to play Greensleeves, taping his foot merrily to the rhythm.

“Hello, sweetie, where are you going?”

“I didn´t know you played the banjo?” Even in a dream, that struck me as odd.

“I have many hidden talents, my sweet,” my father replied cheerfully, changing the tune to Garbage´s Queer.”So, where are you going?”

“I´m looking for Terri,” I answered without thought, not realizing until this very moment that that was what I had been doing. “Have you seen her?”

“Hmm…” My father hummed the chorus to himself, headbanging lightly. “I´m not sure, sugar, maybe I have, maybe I haven´t. Would you think I have seen her?”

“Gee, Dad,” I shook my head, “what a time to get deep. Can´t you just tell me?”

My father stopped playing. He looked at me for a moment then gave me a gentle smile, pointing down the path, “She went that way. If you hurry you might catch her.”

As I started to run in the direction he had indicated, I heard him shout after me, “And tell her I want my Lord of the Rings first edition back in one piece! No bullet holes like the last time!”

Bullet holes? I thought in confusion. What does Terri do in her spare time?

However, before I could give the matter any further thought, I was practically scared to death when out of nowhere, the Village People´s YMCA blasted out from speakers apparently hidden in the trees around me. Protecting my ears with my hands, I ran until the sound volume became a little more bearable. Sighing in relief I slowed down, then got another fright when I heard a voice behind me.

“Hi, Sarah.”

I spun around, standing face to face with Jeremy Sallinger, the last boyfriend I had ever had. He was a blond, handsome man with sparkling green/grey eyes, a real mouthful as Paige would say, but the fact that he was wearing a gown taken directly out of Gone with the Wind served to ruin the whole picture a little.

“Um… Jeremy?”

“Hello, Sarah,” he smiled at me before pirouetting gracefully around himself. “What do you think?”

“It´s nice,” I spoke doubtfully, trying to reconcile the memory of the butch, sports-loving young man I knew from college with the embroidered vision before me. “You look… well, nice.”

“I do, don´t I?” He smiled coquettishly, lifting up his skirts and swirling around another time. “I always did think turquoise would look good on me.”

I was surprised that he even knew the word “turquoise,” but refrained from commenting. Just as I was about to ask him whether he had seen Terri, he spoke quietly, his face suddenly serious, “It hurts, doesn´t it?”

I looked at him questioningly, waiting for him to elaborate.

“To have your heart broken.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but then closed it again, not knowing what to say.

“You broke mine, you know…”

“Yes,” I finally managed to say. “I know.” I was silent for a moment, then added softly, “I´m sorry. It wasn´t your fault.”

He nodded, then spoke with feigned indifference, “You could have told me, Sarah. You could have told me why you had to break up with me the day before the most important game in my life. You could have told me instead of leaving me a note, saying that it was over, but not giving me any reason except some lame excuses.”

“I know,” I answered, feeling all the guilt I had managed to push behind me years ago return tenfold. “I´m sorry. I… I didn´t know what to do, Jeremy. I was so confused.”

He snorted, “Don´t give me that, Sarah, you knew. Deep down you knew. You just had to admit it to yourself.”

“That was easier said than done.”

He sighed, staring at the ground for a few seconds, then looked up, giving me a little smile, “Yeah, I know. It´s okay, I´m not mad at you anymore. I just wanted you to know how it feels, and now you do.”

“Yes,” I swallowed, trying to smile in return. “Now I do.”

“So…” He took a couple of playful and disturbingly skilled dance steps. “Do you think you´re going to find her?”

I just shrugged, “I have to.”

“But what if you don´t?”

“Then… then… I…” I faltered, the implication of his question stealing my words away.

“It´s tough, isn´t it?” Jeremy looked me straight in the eye. “Not knowing what to do if you don´t.”

I had no answer for him and he didn´t seem to expect one. Instead he pointed down the path, “She passed here about five minutes ago. She didn´t appear to be in a hurry so I think you should be able to catch up with her.”

“Thank you,” I whispered, walking over to place a gentle kiss on his cheek. “I´m sorry I hurt you, you deserved better than that.”

He smiled dismissively, ushering me along, “It´s okay. Now go find her, I want a happy ending to tell my grandchildren about.”

I paused in mid-step, turning around to face him, “Speaking of that, Jeremy… Um… the dress you´re wearing…”

“Yes?” He looked innocently at me. “What about it?”

“I um…” I grimaced, trying to be delicate. “I didn´t cause that, did I? I mean, my dumping you and all. I didn´t-.”

“Hey!” He interrupted indignantly. “This is your subconsciousness, not mine. I´m not to blame for your sick and twisted fantasies.” He hoisted up his skirts and sashayed angrily away.

I watched him for a moment, then shook my head, and quickly headed down the opposite direction.

I had walked for less than a minute, or something like that because who knows if they measure time in dreams, when again the scenery changed around me. This time I found myself on a grassy cliff above the ocean and there, standing precariously close to the edge, was Terri. She was leaning forward, looking down at the suddenly rough surf, the strong wind making her hair flutter erratically around her face. She was wearing nothing but a t-shirt and jeans, and I suddenly thought that she ought to be cold. Personally, I was already shivering, but the cold didn´t seem to affect Terri, who remained absolutely still, staring intently down at the waves crashing hard against the cliff over and over again.

I tentatively took a few steps toward her, terrified what would happen if I startled her, “Terri?”

She turned her head slowly and when she saw it was me smiled brightly, “Hey Sarah.”

“Terri, what are you doing?”

“Nothing,” she stared back down into the abyss. “Just having a look. It´s a pretty sight.”

“Yeah well…” I moved closer. “I think it would be a lot prettier if you would just step away from the edge a little.”

“Don´t worry.” She looked up briefly to smile at me again. “Nothing´s going to happen. I´m just gonna watch the waves for awhile.”

“Terri, sweetheart,” I reached my hand out toward her. “You would really make me very happy if you would come over here. I´m not really comfortable with you standing so close, it´s rather a big drop.”

She tilted her head thoughtfully, but didn´t step away and even leaner a little closer to have a better look down, “It is, isn´t it? But you see, Sarah…” She looked at me again, smiling enigmatically, “That´s the attraction of it all.” She was silent for a moment, staring out toward the horizon, then spoke, more to herself than me, “I have always wondered how far I could go before I would fall…”

I quickly measured the distance between her and the edge. There wasn´t any.

“Terri…” I was getting slightly desperate, not liking her fascination with the view below her. “There isn´t any room, you can´t step any further. Please come back here before anything happens.”

She turned around to face me, but didn´t move toward me, her back now turned toward the crashing surf and the wind tearing in her clothes and hair. Frowning, she asked, as if the realization had just hit her, “Are you afraid for me?”

“Yes,” I whispered, keeping my hand extended toward her, slowly edging closer. “I don´t want you to get hurt.”

“Oh…” She was quiet for a few seconds, then smiled at me, “That´s very nice of you.”

“It has nothing to do with being nice, Terri.” I was almost close enough to touch her. “I love you and I don´t want to lose you. It´s that simple.”

Terri stared at me, then spoke sadly, “It´s never that simple.” And then she spun on her heels and jumped.

In my dream I screamed the entire, seemingly endless, moment it took Terri to hit the waves and disappear beneath the surface. Fortunately, I didn´t scream for real, but as my eyes snapped open, my heart beating frantically in my chest and my hand clutching the armrest between me and my fellow passenger, I couldn´t help but shoot him a furtive look, wondering if he had noticed anything odd. It didn´t seem like it as he was sound asleep the way I had been myself a couple of seconds earlier. Trying to get my breathing under control, I stared out of the dark window, attempting to recall what had woken me up so effectively. But the dream was fading quickly and all I was left with was an uneasy feeling of dread.

Perhaps I dreamt the plane was going to crash?

Shaking my head slowly, I made myself as comfortable as possible in my seat, pulling the flimsy blanket all the way up to my chin. I knew what I was doing was crazy, taking off like that. Terri´s brother had been diplomatic and subtle on the phone, but still hadn´t been able to hide the fact that Terri didn´t want to see me, but as I told him then, it wasn´t a matter of what Terri wanted anymore. I couldn´t just let her run out on me like this, I couldn´t let her get away with it. I had to meet with her face to face at least one more time.

If only to tell her it was over.

Feeling the tears I had been able to suppress for so long finally begin to run down my cheeks, I pulled the blanket all the way over my head. I didn´t want the people dozing quietly around me to see me cry.
Episode 29

Heathrow Airport is big, noisy and confusing, especially if you´re half asleep, stumbling through customs and doing your best to keep your eyes open. Fortunately for me, there was someone waiting for me.

How he knew it was me I´ll never know, but barely had I retrieved the one bag I brought with me and begun to look questioningly around when Alan Cavanagh materialized in front of me, giving me a friendly smile.

“Ms. Kingston, please let me take care of that one for you.” Without waiting for my answer he took the bag from my hand, giving me another smile as he gestured ahead of him, “If you´ll come with me, the trains are this way.”

“Trains?” I dutifully trailed after him, too tired to decide whether I was charmed by his gentlemanly behaviour or not.

“Yes, I´m sorry to rush, but it´s almost seven and I´m meeting my girlfriend in an hour. I´m late as it is already.” He held a door open, waiting for me to pass through, “I´ll go as far as Holborn with you and from there you can take a train to St. Paul´s. Terri promised she would be there to meet you before she has to go to work.”

“Work?” I narrowly missed a trolley that abruptly appeared in my path. Shooting the woman pushing it a nasty look, I caught up with Alan who didn´t seem to have noticed I had fallen behind. Apparently, having a “selective” attention span ran in the family. “Terri´s working?”

“Yes. Jenny, that´s my girlfriend, her father owns a small pub close to where we live and I arranged for him to give Terri a job. She has to pay off her plane ticket one way or the other and London isn´t cheap.”

“No… no, it isn´t,” I replied, more to myself than him, absently wondering whether that meant Terri was planning to stay for awhile. For some reason that thought had never crossed my mind until now. Not that it was going to influence my plans in anyway, I had made up my mind about what I would do. There was no question about that. It was just…

I spent the ride from Heathrow to Holborn getting to know Terri´s brother. He was very much like I had expected him to be after having seen his picture. He was friendly and calm, very mild-mannered, and acting so grownup and mature that I began to feel like I was the younger of the two of us. Occasionally I did detect a slight tendency of his to fall quiet and become lost in thought for a minute or two, but compared to Terri it was nothing, and I soon forgot about it. He told me about the hospital where he was doing his internship and how he had met Jenny, running headfirst into her as he was chasing a little boy who didn´t want a tetanus shot down the hall. The story made me laugh, something I hadn´t done for a long time, and I quickly felt relaxed and at ease in his company, which was probably what he had wanted to achieve in the first place.

The only thing that disturbed me, and was the reason why I looked out of the window so much, staring intently at darkened fields and houses, was his eyes. Every time I looked into them, I was painfully reminded of my reason for coming to London and why it was my heart was feeling so heavy.

I think he must have sensed my dark mood because gradually he fell silent, the oh-so-familiar blue eyes studying me pensively. After a long moment of silence, he cleared his throat and said quietly, “In case you´re wondering, it wasn´t because Terri didn´t want to pick you up at the airport, she just couldn´t make it.”

I turned to look him, giving him a brief smile before staring back out the window. I could sense he expected some kind of reply from me, but I didn´t have any and I was afraid what might happen to my composure if we began to talk about Terri.

Truth be told, I had been wondering why he was there and not Terri. I had been wondering what had been going on in Terri´s mind the moment she heard I was coming. And I had been wondering what she would say once she saw me again. In fact, all I had been doing the long hours on the plane and now here in the train was wonder. Wonder if I would be able to stay as strong as I knew I needed to be when we were face to face. Wonder if I could keep myself from throwing my arms around her and begging her to come back once I looked into her eyes.

Wonder if she would be happy to see me at all.

The ride from Heathrow to Holborn was relatively short and as soon as we had left the train, Alan explained to me which line to take, shook my hand, wished me a safe trip to St. Paul´s and then hurried away. I easily found the right train and even managed to secure a place to sit. As we began to move, I leaned back into my seat and stretched my aching back when I noticed Alan through the window, making his way toward the escalators. Subconsciously I began comparing his lanky frame to Terri´s more balanced build. In spite of their difference, I had no difficulties telling they were related, but what it was exactly that linked them so strongly together kept eluding me. As the train increased its speed, I closed my eyes, exhaling slowly. In a very short time I would be face to face with Terri and even though I tried to deny it to myself my heart rhythm was already picking up.

By the time the train arrived at my destination, I had managed to completely convince myself it had been a grave mistake to come and that I should have stayed at home, leaving Terri to sort out herself and giving up ever getting an explanation for her odd behaviour. However, it was too late to go back now and deep down I knew that I would never have found any rest had I not gone. I needed an explanation, no matter how lame, and I needed to hear it from her lips. And then, once she had told me everything I needed to know, she would have to listen to what I had come to say.

Taking a deep breath, I grabbed my bag and waited for the doors to slide away and then, minding the gap, stepped out onto the platform. For about a minute everything was obscured as people rushed past me, heading to and from the trains and escalators, then gradually the mass of bodies lessened and I started to look around. Spotting the sign reading ´Exit´ I hitched up my bag and tiredly began to trot into that direction. Without thought, I let the escalator carry me up, absently studying the countless ads for musicals, some more familiar to me than others, plastered on the walls.

When at last I arrived at the highest level, I joined the lines of people pushing themselves through the turnstiles and then quickly sought out a quiet corner to allow myself a moment of peace to orientate myself.

Looking around, noticing the various stairs leading up and outside I searched for Terri, my eyes lingering on anybody who had just the slightest resemblance to her. Just as I was about to give up and find the way to the address Alan had given me myself, I noticed movement out of the corner of my eyes. Turning my head to look toward the exit furthest away from me, I smiled involuntarily. Running down the stairs, taking two or three steps at a time, and looking the absolute epitome of being late, was Terri. Skidding to a halt, she looked around, her gaze almost missing me in her hurry.

Hesitating for just a second, she smiled automatically and in a few long strides came over to stand before me.

“Hi.” She smiled again, her eyes not quite comfortable meeting mine, but seemingly unable to fully look away.

“Hi,” I responded immediately, all other words and phrases momentarily having left my mind.

A very long silence followed with both of us unsure where to look and what to say. I took advantage of it to blatantly study her, regardless of the fact that I could tell my scrutiny was making her a little uneasy. Aside from being drenched, the tousled black hair slicked to her forehead and tiny streams of water running down her jacket, she looked herself – which for some reason surprised me. Although I knew it wasn´t that long since we had last seen each other, I had expected it to show somehow. Expected her to look different in a way. However, before I could fully examine the thought, Terri bit her lip lightly and spoke hesitantly, “I hope you didn´t have any problems getting here.”

“No, no,” I answered. “No problems whatsoever.”

Once more silence fell, but before it could become too awkward Terri spoke again, “Alan was there to meet you in Heathrow, wasn´t he?”

“Yes, he was there.” I smiled briefly. “He´s very nice, by the way.”

She returned my smile, answering almost absentmindedly as her gaze appeared to search my face, “Yeah, he is.” Shaking her head imperceptibly, she gestured toward the exit she had come from, “Let´s get out of here. If we´re lucky, the rain might have stopped.”

It hadn´t.

Standing in the entrance to the underground, we watched the pouring rain for a moment, then Terri turned to me and said, “There´s only about ten minutes from here to where I live, but since it´s raining so much we can take a cab if you like.”

“Well, what do you want?”

Terri shrugged, giving me a little grin, “I´m completely soaked already, I can´t get any wetter, so to me it makes no difference.”

I contemplated her words for a couple seconds, then grinned myself, “Oh, what the heck, a little rain never hurt anybody. Let´s walk.”

Terri was right, it didn´t take very long to get to the apartment her brother shared with his girlfriend and, at least temporarily, his sister, but by the time we arrived I was just as soaked as she. She showed me to the small room she was staying in, a slightly awkward moment arising as she almost under her breath added that she would leave me the room and sleep on the couch in the main room so I could have my privacy. Not until then did I realize that she was expecting me to stay with them, and thankfully we both forgot about the silent implication of Terri´s statement as I quickly objected, telling her I would stay at a hotel. She replied that Jenny wouldn´t mind, she was never home during the day anyway, but I repeated my objections, also pointing out that there was hardly room for three people in the apartment, let alone four.

Ultimately, Terri relented, but only after I had agreed to stay for the night due to the late hour and the horrid weather, and wait checking into a hotel till the next day. Locking myself into the bathroom, I changed into a dry set of clothes, trying to get the mess that was my hair into some semblance of order. Exiting, I nearly bumped into Terri who was on her way out again, over her shoulder telling me she had to go to work, but should be back a little after midnight.

“Terri, wait!” I called out, stopping her just before she disappeared out of the door.

“What?” she stuck her head back in, regarding me impatiently.

“I… I…” My mouth moved a couple of more times, but nothing came out. I wasn´t sure what I had expected would happen once I saw her again, but I knew this wasn´t it. I had surprised myself by how calm and in control of my emotions I had been during our meeting at the station and the walk to the apartment, but that didn´t mean I wanted to prolong my stay in London indefinitely just because Terri was too busy to talk to me. I had come here to see her, not Big Ben or Buckingham Palace. There was so much I wanted to know, so much we had to talk about, and I wanted to get it over with as soon as possible so I could go back to living a normal life.

“We have to talk.”

Terri looked at me, her eyes suddenly wary. Trying to smile, she said quietly, “Why do I have the feeling I´m not going to like what you have to say?”

I didn´t even attempt to return her feeble smile, but just said, “When will you have time?”

She looked away and was silent for a moment, then spoke, “Tomorrow afternoon both Alan and Jenny will be out and I won´t have to be at work until seven. We can talk then if you want.”

“I do.” I waited until she met my eyes, having known she would sooner or later and then continued tonelessly, “We have a lot to talk about… You know that.”

“Yeah…” She licked her lips. “I know.”

Feeling slightly uncomfortable staying in a foreign apartment without having received a direct invitation from the owner, I moved around restlessly, waiting for someone to arrive and trying not to think too much of Terri. To no avail of course. Around eleven Alan and Jenny showed up, both of them to my great relief expecting to find me there. We had a very late but nice dinner, talking pleasantly with each other about nothing substantial before they excused themselves and went to bed.

I was beginning to feel tired, too, but was reluctant to go to bed, debating with myself whether I should stay up until Terri returned. I wasn´t sure if she was counting on me to be awake when she got back, but I soon realized it didn´t really matter what she thought as I was too exhausted to keep my eyes open much longer and just wanted to sleep.

After finishing in the bathroom, I went into Terri´s room, closing the door behind me and then quietly started to undress. The room was small and oblong, with just a bed and a dresser, and the eggshell coloured walls were nearly bare with only a few pictures of flowers and landscapes and it was clear to me that Terri hadn´t done the decorating. Shivering lightly in the cold air, I slipped beneath the covers and switched off the light.

As I lay in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the city, I thought about my situation, trying to determine what I wanted and what I was hoping to achieve. The big problem was that the two things weren´t easy, if at all possible, to reconcile. With every fibre of my being I knew I wanted Terri, had known it all along, and I wasn´t even going to fool myself and try to pretend that it wasn´t the case. Unfortunately that didn´t mix very well with the fact that the sensible and clear-thinking side of me wanted to put an end to this, wanted to find some kind of closure that would allow me to move on and let me live my life without the continuous emotional turmoil Terri subjected me to.

Eventually, I began speculating what Terri wanted, what she was thinking about it all, but as so many times before I came up empty handed and decided to drop the subject before my mind began racing too much for me to be able to fall asleep. Without caring about the few treacherous tears running down my cheeks, I slowly drifted into sleep.

“Sail away with me, honey, I put my heart in your hand. Sail away with me, honey, now… now… now… Sail away with me, what will be will be. I wanna hold you now…”

Blinking the sleep from my eyes, I sat up halfway in the bed, listening in confusion to what had woken me up.

“Crazy skies are wild above me now, winter howling at my face. And everything I held so dear, disappeared without a trace. Oh, all the times I tasted love, never knew quite what I had. Little darling if you hear me now, never needed you so bad… spinning round inside my head.

Sail away with me, honey… I put my heart in your hand. Sail away with me, honey, now… now… now…”

Sitting absolutely still, I listened to Terri half sing, half whistle the rest of the to me unknown song as she moved around out in the kitchen, her voice low and soft. Then she fell silent and I heard her sit down at the table, drawing the chair closer. For some reason that prompted me to get out of bed and without really knowing why I walked to the door, nearly getting a heart attack as the shrill sound of a phone ringing suddenly cut through the night. The noise elicited a deep sigh from Terri and I smiled to myself as I heard her pick up, seeing in my mind the exasperated expression on her face. Deciding on going back to bed and back to sleep, I found myself hesitating instead, my brow furrowing lightly as Terri´s part of the conversation carried into my room. Uncertain of what to do I remained at the door, trying to convince myself that I wasn´t really eavesdropping since I would still be able to hear her from the bed.

“No… no, you can´t. He´s sleeping.” Another sigh sounded from Terri, a little more contained, but still exasperated. “No, Mum, I´m not going to wake him, you can speak to him tomorrow… Yes… Yes… Mum, I know that! I´m not stupid.”

A low thump followed and I guessed Terri had slumped against the wall, leaning her back against it. With my hand edging ever so slowly toward the door handle, I continued to listen.

“Mum…” Terri´s voice seemed to lose strength. “Mum, please don´t say that. Mum, I-” She was silent for a long time, and in spite of feeling terribly guilty I held my breath, straining to hear what was being said at the other end of the line.

“Mum,” Terri suddenly spoke again, sounding slightly desperate. “You don´t mean that. You know I-” As she was seemingly cut off again, I felt an almost irresistible urge to go out there and hold her, but I stayed where I was, somehow knowing this wasn´t a conversation Terri wanted me to overhear.

“Mum, I´m gonna hang up now.” Almost before the last word had left Terri´s lips, she slammed the receiver down, the sound so loud I feared she had broken the phone. After that there was only silence, but then I could hear her slide down the wall to the floor. Without taking time to think, or even wonder if it was a good idea, I opened the door and stepped outside. Terri was sitting a few feet to the right of me, her legs pulled up and her arms wrapped tightly around them as she stared straight ahead.

“Terri…?”

“What?” she answered without looking up, her tone of voice incredibly cold and harsh.

“Are you okay?” I asked, fully aware that by asking that question I was giving away the fact that I had been listening.

However, Terri didn´t seem to care either way and just shrugged before answering dismissively, “I´m fine.”

Although I knew better, I waited for her to elaborate, but naturally she didn´t. I was about to kneel down before her to be able to see her face when abruptly she wiped her eyes and rose from the floor. Too stunned by the thought that Terri might actually have been crying I could only stare at her, waiting for her to say something. But she didn´t speak and only stared at me intensely, her face completely unreadable and showing no trace of either tears or distress. Then suddenly she moved toward me, slowly enough for me to be able to realize her intent and avoid it, but too fast for me to do so without having to move away in a rather abrupt manner. And before I could make up my mind about what to do, she was kissing me as if we had never been apart.

Her lips were soft and inviting, and before I knew what was happening, my tongue had found its way into her mouth, slowly searching out hers. Terri´s body trembled and a hoarse, almost strangled sound I couldn´t identify escaped her throat. Her hands left my face, sliding down my back before coming to rest gently on my hips, and for a second I could swear they were shaking. Then, before my racing mind had decided on whether to go further or pull back, I tasted blood.

“Terri…” I spoke breathlessly, finally managing to break the kiss. “Terri, your lip is bleeding.”

She looked at me uncomprehendingly, then slowly raised her hand and gingerly touched her lower lip with two fingers, holding them up before her face to study the faint smear of blood evident there. “I…” she spoke slowly and distractedly, staring at the blood. “I must have bitten myself earlier when…”

She met my eyes, then suddenly rushed past me, disappearing out into the bathroom.

“Terri?” I paused uneasily outside the door, not wanting to intrude. “Is… is everything okay?”

“I´m fine,” came Terri´s answer instantly. “Just go to bed, Sarah, I´ll see you tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?” I asked without any real interest, feeling too exhausted and too resigned to argue. I had experienced situations like this countless times since I first met Terri and I was sick and tired of it. And in that very moment I promised myself I wasn´t going to ask anymore; if something was wrong, she would have to tell me.

“Yes, just go to bed. We´ll talk later.”

“Okay. Goodnight, Terri.”

And with that, I turned around and walked away.
Author´s Note: The song referred to is “Sail Away,” by David Gray from the brilliant album “White Ladder.” Highly recommended.
Episode 30

“Hey…”

I blinked, then smiled uncertainly, trying to see her face in the feeble daylight, “Hey.”

“Slept well?”

“Um… yes, thank you.”

Terri nodded, gave me a little smile and then continued to look at me in silence from her spot near the wall where I had noticed her sitting when I woke up only seconds earlier. When she had come into my room and for how long she had been watching I had no idea, but I vaguely recalled her wearing pretty much the same clothes the day before so it was possible she had been there all night. Not wanting to think about that, I sat up, suddenly feeling oddly self-conscious.

“What time is it?”

Terri glanced at her watch, “A little past seven, Alan and Jenny just left.”

In the ensuing silence, our eyes met, but for once it was me who wasn´t comfortable holding her gaze and quickly looked away. Terri sighed softly, then pushed herself over to sit on the floor beside my bed. We both stared straight ahead at the wall for a long moment, then she asked quietly, “Are you very mad at me?”

I hesitated lightly, still looking ahead, then asked, “Why did you leave?”

“Leave… I didn´t…” Terri tasted the word, her voice pensive. “I guess I just… kinda ran away.”

I turned to look at her while she kept staring at the wall, “Why?”

“I just needed to get away.”

“From me?”

“No…” I could see a little, resigned smile flicker across her face then she finally raised her head to meet my eyes. “Not you. It didn´t have anything to do with you… I was just tired…”

I exhaled slowly, absorbing her words and feeling somewhat tired myself, then said, “Of what? School? Your mother? What?”

Terri smiled bitterly, “Myself.” She shrugged, looking away, “Life… Things just get so complicated sometimes. I don´t know what to do. I…” She sighed, shrugging again, “I don´t know what I want anymore. I´m not sure I ever did.”

“Why didn´t you tell me something was wrong?” Although I hadn´t intended it, the hurt was still evident in my words and Terri grimaced, her fingers restlessly playing with her sleeve. “I didn´t want to… I mean, there wasn´t really anything I could say. You see…” She looked at me, her brow furrowing, “It´s not something definite, something I can pinpoint, it´s… it´s more of a feeling. I don´t feel…”

“Happy?” I offered quietly.

“Yeah… happy…” Terri spoke the word like it was something vile.

We were silent for a very long time as I tried to understand what she was saying, doing my utmost not to take it personally. When I at last had gathered my thoughts enough to think of something to say, Terri beat me to it, her speech coming unsure and hesitant, “When… when I feel that way, I just want to be alone… I just want people to go away. I don´t want them around because I… I´m not the most considerate person then, I´m… I don´t really care about anything… or anybody. I know that I hurt people when I´m like that, I know that I´m being selfish and unreasonable, I know that they don´t understand because I never say anything, or give a reason. But…” She rubbed her forehead angrily, closing her eyes, “But how can I give a reason when I don´t know it myself? Sometimes I´d wish that…”

“That what?”

At first I didn´t think she would answer, then she spoke almost inaudibly, “That I could be a little more the way I want to be. And not the way I am…”

I smiled faintly, reaching out to touch her hair with my right hand before absently beginning to massage her neck, “We all feel that way at times. We all want to be somebody else, but that isn´t a reason to run away.”

“Maybe not…” Terri replied absently, bending her head to give my fingers better access. “But that´s what I do. It´s what I´ve always done.”

“Has it ever solved anything?”

She let out a low laugh, shaking her head almost imperceptibly, “No, not really…”

I smiled wryly myself, continuing my massage, “Then perhaps you should consider adopting a different approach.”

“Perhaps.”

After a moment of silence, Terri eased herself away from my touch and got to her feet, “Well, I´ll leave you to get dressed. I´ll go prepare some breakfast in the meantime.”

“Okay, but Terri…”

She turned around in the door, “Yeah?”

I looked at her, suddenly not knowing what to say. In lack of anything better I just smiled helplessly and said, “I´m still mad at you. I still feel like I could strangle you. I´m going to stay in London for a day or two to sort things out, and then I´ll go back home. What you do then is up to you.”

Terri regarded me without speaking for a moment, then she nodded slowly, “I understand.”

“What?” I responded immediately before she could walk away, eager to know what she was thinking. “What do you understand?”

She looked away for a second, then sighed and gave me a little sad smile, “That I blew it.” She paused, then straightened up slightly, speaking impassively, “Well, I´ll go make tea. Take your time dressing, there´s no hurry.”

As she closed the door behind her, I was as motionless as I had been when I heard her answer to my question, three little words running through my brain again and again.

This is it… This is it… This is it…

I leaned back against the wall, pulling the covers up to my chin, my vision blurring slightly, then I closed my eyes.

It´s over…

By the time I had finished in the bathroom and joined Terri at the breakfast table, a strange sense of calm, mixed with not a little resignation, had suffused me and the atmosphere between us was relaxed, albeit a little quiet. We were both lost in thought, eating our food without really tasting it, and what she was thinking I couldn´t tell, but I was beginning to wonder if Terri had meant what I thought she meant or if I had jumped to conclusions. To make matters worse, I wasn´t sure what I wanted her to have said. Did she think it was over? Did she expect to work things out? Did she think I believed it to be over, or what? Was she even thinking about us at all? The nagging questions were slowly driving me crazy and every time I thought I had reached a conclusion, found an answer that would satisfy me, I changed my mind and started all over.

I had come to London with the clear intention of getting an explanation from Terri and then reacting accordingly; a reaction I had halfway come to accept would mean the end of our relationship. But now I wasn´t so certain anymore, mainly because I didn´t know what I wanted. I knew I couldn´t, wouldn´t, continue down the rather bumpy road we had been heading almost from the day we met, but at the same time I was also painfully aware that in spite of all my sound reasoning, there was one minor factor I had left out of the equation. My heart.

My heart and my mind didn´t agree. And as much as each attempted to overrule the other it just wasn´t working, and it left me feeling more and more confused and unsure of myself and my feelings. Not to mention Terri. How did she fit into it all, and didn´t she have a say in the matter? Or did she lose that when she just up and left with no regard for me?

“Terri?”

She raised her head slowly, her eyes distant as they met mine. “What?”

“Why didn´t you tell me where you were? Why didn´t you at least contact me to tell you were all right?”

A pensive, troubled, slightly confused expression appeared on her face and her brow furrowed before she spoke slowly, giving me the impression that the words were barely thoughts before she uttered them, “I was afraid… how… how you would react. I knew that… that you would be angry and I didn´t know how to deal with that…”

“So you took the easy way out?” I commented, trying not to sound too sarcastic, but the anger I had believed more or less gone had begun to simmer and by the way Terri squirmed I could tell she knew it, too. “Let your brother do the dirty work for you?”

“No!” Anger flared in her eyes as they narrowed rapidly. “I never asked Alan to do anything, I never told him to interfere, he did that all by himself. In fact,” she rose so quickly the chair almost toppled over, her voice growing hard, “that happens all the time, people make decisions over my head, think they know what´s best for me. Alan, my parents, Nicola, even you!” Icy cold blue eyes bored into mine. “You come over here and don´t care whether I want you to or not, you don´t even ask me, but just announce your intentions and expect me to accept that and be happy about it.”

I stared at her, rendered speechless by her outburst. Then my own anger suddenly flared and I felt adrenaline rush through me as my body prepared itself for the imminent confrontation, but then something happened and a strange, tired indifference came over me, chasing all other feelings away. “If that´s how you really feel,” I spoke very quietly, rising from the chair, “then we have nothing left to talk about, there´s no point.”

In a cool and frightfully nonchalant manner that surprised even myself, I swallowed the rest of my tea, put the cup back down on the table and spoke in a calm but firm tone, “I´ll go pack my things and be on my way. I shan´t bother you anymore. Goodbye, Terri.”

I could see the shock in her eyes as I walked past her and knew she was just as stunned by the development as I, but I was wrapped up in my own hurt and couldn´t bring myself to care. She was the one who had brought this on, she was the one who had turned this into a disaster and now she would have to live with the consequences.

As I quickly closed the door behind me to escape the gaze burning into my back, I suddenly realized that she wasn´t the only one who would have to live with the consequences.

When I exited the room, Terri was gone, just as I had expected she would be. Taking a moment to write a small note to Jenny and Alan thanking them for their hospitality, I went outside and with heavy steps began to walk down the pavement towards the nearest Underground. I was halfway there, my eyes absently taking in the sight of St. Paul´s Cathedral towering at the end of the street, when I heard running footsteps behind me. Without turning around, or even slowing down, I continued until my path was blocked by Terri abruptly cutting in in front of me.

“Sarah!” she gasped, trying to catch her breath. “Where are you going?”

I looked at her, my feelings alternating wildly between anger and hopelessness, then I just shook my head slowly and walked around her, speaking over my shoulder, “I´m going home, Terri, I told you I would as soon as a few things had been cleared up. And now they have.”

“But…” She remained standing where she was for a second, then quickly caught up with me again, coming to walk beside me. “Look, Sarah, I´m really sorry about what I said, I didn´t mean it like that. I was just in a bad mood. Please come back to the apartment with me, we still have a lot to talk about.”

I paused mid step, giving her an incredulous look, “Now you want to talk? Gee, Terri, are you sure you´re feeling all right?”

Without waiting for an answer I picked up my pace and resumed my walk to the Underground. However, the Fates weren´t on my side that day and at the next traffic lights I had to wait, giving Terri plenty of opportunity to reach me again, even putting her hand on my shoulder to hold me back should the lights change before she was done.

“Sarah, please…” she spoke behind me, standing so close I could feel the heat from her body. “I´m sorry for the way I´ve acted, for all I´ve done. Please don´t go yet, give me a chance to make it up to you.”

In spite of all my good intentions and set mind, her softly spoken words brought tears to my eyes as the hurt inside me increased tenfold. I forced myself to keep staring straight ahead, ignoring all the curious looks from people walking past us, knowing that if I turned around I wouldn´t be able to walk away.

“It´s too late, Terri.”

“But I love you!” she objected almost petulantly, the grip on my shoulder tightening ever so slightly. “And you love me, at least that´s what you´ve said, but maybe that was just a lie.”

That did it. Whatever Terri might have been able to achieve was lost now as the angry accusation in her voice tore through my heart, leaving it barren and cold. Turning around I met her eyes and spoke harshly, “This isn´t about love anymore, Terri, it´s about what´s best for me. You know very well that I love you and I can´t believe you have the guts to suggest anything else. If it was-”

“But if you love me,” Terri interrupted before I could finish my sentence, her eyes growing desperate as she began to realize that this time there wouldn´t be a happy outcome, “then why won´t you give me a second chance? I know I screwed up, both when I left and this morning, but I promise I won´t do it again. Please, Sarah, don´t go, I won´t-”

“Terri,” this time it was my turn to interrupt, “you´re missing the point.” I reached up to the hand still clamped down on my shoulder and gently, but firmly removed it. “I know you´re sorry, I know that you mean it when you say that you´ll never do anything like this again, but…” I faltered, but then continued, the words nearly falling over each other in their hurry to leave my lips, “Terri, you´re not good for me. I love you, but I can´t be with you anymore. I know you love me, but I can´t do this. I… I don´t know, maybe I need more stability, less second-guessing.”

“I can change!” Terri´s hands moved restlessly as though she didn´t know what to do with them. “I´ll be different from now on.”

I looked into the beautiful blue eyes I loved so much, my chest feeling like it was about to explode from the pressure inside it. Clearing my throat, I spoke hoarsely, having to use all my strength not to look away, but knowing I owed her that much, “Terri, how can I make you understand… it´s over. I don´t want you in my life anymore, it hurts too much. And I don´t…” I swallowed, my heart beating so frantically I was afraid it would burst, my already feeble voice fading away as I spoke the last few words, “I don´t want you… not anymore…”

Terri took a step back as if there had been a physical force in my last statement, her eyes wide open in shock and her face draining of all colour. “You… you don´t mean that… You can´t mean that, you´re different…”

“I´m sorry, Terri,” I choked out, fully aware that I had lost the battle and tears were running down my face. “But that´s how it´s going to be, I´m not going to change my mind. I´m sorry.” I spun around and ran away as fast as I could, incapable of looking at her for a moment longer. But as I fled, stumbling over streets and curbs, I knew, without a doubt, that I would never be able to forget the look of pain and despair I had seen in her eyes.

And the betrayal.

How the journey home was I don´t recall. At the time I hardly remembered anything except the final scene with Terri on a cold and wet March day with one of the biggest cathedrals in the world as our silent and dispassionate witness. The only reason why I managed to stay composed and calm in the plane and on the ride home in a cab was that I didn´t have the strength to cry. Or maybe I just didn´t have any tears left to shed.

By the time I locked myself into my apartment I was so exhausted and numb that I just let the bag slip from my fingers, barely making it to the couch where I fell down, curling up like a wounded animal. How long I lay like that I don´t know, but the living room had become dark and cold before I slowly sat up, bringing my aching body into the bathroom. I turned on the hot water as high as it would go and spent a minute watching the water flow furiously from the showerhead, steam rapidly filling the cabinet shower. Then, fully clothed, I stepped inside, the instant pain from the scalding water hitting my senses like a steamroller and washing the numbness away. Just as the pain became unbearable, I added the cold water, then sank down to the bottom of the shower, wrapping my arms around myself and starting to cry quietly.

Three hours later, Paige came knocking on my door. Or maybe banging is more accurately. And she didn´t relent until I had dragged myself over and let her in. One look at my face told her all she needed to know and without a word she opened her arms, and I gratefully accepted the invitation, burying my face in her shoulder.

“Shh… hon, it´s okay… it´s okay,” Paige cooed softly as she stroked my back. “Just let it out.”

“It´s over,” I managed to squeeze out between sobs, my voice sounding like a stranger´s. “I told her I couldn´t do it anymore, I told her I didn´t want her in my life.”

Paige only nodded, apparently fully capable of deciphering my rushed and frantic speech. As my crying started to cease, she gently led me over to the couch, pulling me down to sit beside her. Putting an arm around me, she reached into her pocket with the other and pulled out a couple of Kleenex, handing me one.

“Thanks,” I said, smiling through tears. “You´re a lifesaver.”

Paige smiled faintly in return, commenting softly as she resumed the stroking of my back, “I seem to remember you doing the same for me on several occasions, it´s about time I return the favour.”

“Yeah, well,” I wiped my eyes, slowly starting to get my emotions under control. “This is one favour I could have done without. No offence,” I smiled at her. “None taken,” she returned my smile, giving me a fresh Kleenex. “This isn´t exactly something I´ve been counting the days to get to do. I always hoped it´d never be necessary.”

“I should have listened to you, you saw it coming all along, but I was too blind! And too damn stupid!” Abruptly I rose from the couch, walking out into the kitchen.

“You weren´t stupid, Sarah, or blind,” Paige spoke wearily from the living room as I opened the fridge to take out a bottle of wine. “You were in love and wanted things to work out.”

Her words made me pause, then I put the bottle down on the counter and walked over to stand in the kitchen door. Meeting Paige´s questioning gaze, I said quietly, “I´m still in love, Paige.”

She smiled sadly, suddenly looking a lot older than her thirty-two years, “I know, sweetie, trust me, I know.”

“It hurts so much…” The hitch in my voice and moistening of my eyes were more than enough to tell Paige that I needed another hug, and she quickly got to her feet and walked over to put her arms around me. “I don´t know what to do,” I whispered into her hair. “I hurt so much… I miss her… I don´t want it to be over.”

“I know, I know…” Paige listened patiently to my ramblings until I had calmed down, then asked softly, “How did Terri take it?”

I sniffed a little, leaning back to see her face, “Not well. She was pretty upset.”

“What did she say?”

“Well, she didn´t really have time to say anything,” I spoke dryly, gently easing myself out of Paige´s embrace to return to the kitchen. “Because I turned on my heels and fled like a coward the second I had told her.”

“You-” Paige stopped herself, watching in silence as I walked past her to the couch, bringing the wine and two glasses. She continued to watch as I poured us each a glass of wine, then spoke thoughtfully, “That´s not like you, Sarah, you´re one of the bravest people I know.”

I smiled bitterly to no one in particular, taking a small sip of the wine, “Maybe… just not this time. This time I bailed out.”

“The way Terri usually does…?”

“Yeah…” The smile was gone, but the bitterness was still evident in my voice. “I guess for once I beat her to it…”

Paige sighed deeply, then came over to sit down beside me. Taking her glass, she emptied it in one big gulp, then poured herself another. Leaning back in the couch, she studied me for a moment then said, “I know it hurts right now, Sarah, and I know this isn´t what you want to hear, but it´ll pass. It´ll get worse and then it´ll get better. And…” She hesitated, then concluded gently, “And maybe it´s for the best. Maybe it´s good it ended before it got any worse.”

I let out a humourless laugh, “I think it´s a little late for that, Paige, I don´t think it can get any worse than this.”

Paige was about to respond, but was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. We both looked at each other, then at our watches. It was long past midnight. The prospect of talking with anybody now was more than I could bear and Paige, recognizing the reluctance on my face, got to her feet and went over to answer it.

“If it´s Terri,” I spoke quickly before she raised the receiver to her ear, “tell her I´m sleeping – no wait…” I interrupted myself, not wanting Paige to lie and knowing that Terri would see right through it anyway. “Just tell her that I don´t want to talk to her. Not tonight.”

Paige nodded, then spoke into the phone, “Hello? No, I´m sorry she can´t come to the phone right now…”

Whoever was on the other end apparently wasn´t going to take no for an answer and Paige was silent for a very long time, listening. Then slowly she covered the mouthpiece with her hand and turned around to look at me, the expression on her face very odd. “Sarah,” she said quietly, holding the receiver out towards me. “I think you should take this call after all.”

“Why?” I rose uncertainly, puzzled and alarmed by the sound of her voice. “Who is it?”

“It´s… it´s Terri´s brother.” Paige was staring intensely at the receiver, looking like she could drop it any second.

“Alan?” I took a step forward, conflicting emotions running through me. “What does he want?”

“It´s about Terri, she´s in the hospital.”

“The hospital?” I stared at Paige in confusion, not having expected that answer at all and unsure what to do. “Why?”

Paige raised her head a little, meeting my eyes again, then said quietly, “Terri´s in the intensive care unit, Sarah… She… she tried to kill herself. If it hadn´t been for her brother she would have succeeded…”
Part 7

Episode 30
“Hey…”
I blinked, then smiled uncertainly, trying to see her face in the feeble daylight, “Hey.”
“Slept well?”
“Um… yes, thank you.”
Terri nodded, gave me a little smile and then continued to look at me in silence from her spot near the wall where I had noticed her sitting when I woke up only seconds earlier. When she had come into my room and for how long she had been watching I had no idea, but I vaguely recalled her wearing pretty much the same clothes the day before so it was possible she had been there all night. Not wanting to think about that, I sat up, suddenly feeling oddly self-conscious.

“What time is it?”
Terri glanced at her watch, “A little past seven, Alan and Jenny just left.”
In the ensuing silence, our eyes met, but for once it was me who wasn´t comfortable holding her gaze and quickly looked away. Terri sighed softly, then pushed herself over to sit on the floor beside my bed. We both stared straight ahead at the wall for a long moment, then she asked quietly, “Are you very mad at me?”
I hesitated lightly, still looking ahead, then asked, “Why did you leave?”
“Leave… I didn´t…” Terri tasted the word, her voice pensive. “I guess I just… kinda ran away.”
I turned to look at her while she kept staring at the wall, “Why?”
“I just needed to get away.”
“From me?”
“No…” I could see a little, resigned smile flicker across her face then she finally raised her head to meet my eyes. “Not you. It didn´t have anything to do with you… I was just tired…”
I exhaled slowly, absorbing her words and feeling somewhat tired myself, then said, “Of what? School? Your mother? What?”
Terri smiled bitterly, “Myself.” She shrugged, looking away, “Life… Things just get so complicated sometimes. I don´t know what to do. I…” She sighed, shrugging again, “I don´t know what I want anymore. I´m not sure I ever did.”
“Why didn´t you tell me something was wrong?” Although I hadn´t intended it, the hurt was still evident in my words and Terri grimaced, her fingers restlessly playing with her sleeve. “I didn´t want to… I mean, there wasn´t really anything I could say. You see…” She looked at me, her brow furrowing, “It´s not something definite, something I can pinpoint, it´s… it´s more of a feeling. I don´t feel…”
“Happy?” I offered quietly.
“Yeah… happy…” Terri spoke the word like it was something vile.
We were silent for a very long time as I tried to understand what she was saying, doing my utmost not to take it personally. When I at last had gathered my thoughts enough to think of something to say, Terri beat me to it, her speech coming unsure and hesitant, “When… when I feel that way, I just want to be alone… I just want people to go away. I don´t want them around because I… I´m not the most considerate person then, I´m… I don´t really care about anything… or anybody. I know that I hurt people when I´m like that, I know that I´m being selfish and unreasonable, I know that they don´t understand because I never say anything, or give a reason. But…” She rubbed her forehead angrily, closing her eyes, “But how can I give a reason when I don´t know it myself? Sometimes I´d wish that…”
“That what?”
At first I didn´t think she would answer, then she spoke almost inaudibly, “That I could be a little more the way I want to be. And not the way I am…”
I smiled faintly, reaching out to touch her hair with my right hand before absently beginning to massage her neck, “We all feel that way at times. We all want to be somebody else, but that isn´t a reason to run away.”
“Maybe not…” Terri replied absently, bending her head to give my fingers better access. “But that´s what I do. It´s what I´ve always done.”
“Has it ever solved anything?”
She let out a low laugh, shaking her head almost imperceptibly, “No, not really…”
I smiled wryly myself, continuing my massage, “Then perhaps you should consider adopting a different approach.”
“Perhaps.”
After a moment of silence, Terri eased herself away from my touch and got to her feet, “Well, I´ll leave you to get dressed. I´ll go prepare some breakfast in the meantime.”
“Okay, but Terri…”
She turned around in the door, “Yeah?”
I looked at her, suddenly not knowing what to say. In lack of anything better I just smiled helplessly and said, “I´m still mad at you. I still feel like I could strangle you. I´m going to stay in London for a day or two to sort things out, and then I´ll go back home. What you do then is up to you.”
Terri regarded me without speaking for a moment, then she nodded slowly, “I understand.”
“What?” I responded immediately before she could walk away, eager to know what she was thinking. “What do you understand?”
She looked away for a second, then sighed and gave me a little sad smile, “That I blew it.” She paused, then straightened up slightly, speaking impassively, “Well, I´ll go make tea. Take your time dressing, there´s no hurry.”
As she closed the door behind her, I was as motionless as I had been when I heard her answer to my question, three little words running through my brain again and again.
This is it… This is it… This is it…
I leaned back against the wall, pulling the covers up to my chin, my vision blurring slightly, then I closed my eyes.

It´s over…
By the time I had finished in the bathroom and joined Terri at the breakfast table, a strange sense of calm, mixed with not a little resignation, had suffused me and the atmosphere between us was relaxed, albeit a little quiet. We were both lost in thought, eating our food without really tasting it, and what she was thinking I couldn´t tell, but I was beginning to wonder if Terri had meant what I thought she meant or if I had jumped to conclusions. To make matters worse, I wasn´t sure what I wanted her to have said. Did she think it was over? Did she expect to work things out? Did she think I believed it to be over, or what? Was she even thinking about us at all? The nagging questions were slowly driving me crazy and every time I thought I had reached a conclusion, found an answer that would satisfy me, I changed my mind and started all over.
I had come to London with the clear intention of getting an explanation from Terri and then reacting accordingly; a reaction I had halfway come to accept would mean the end of our relationship. But now I wasn´t so certain anymore, mainly because I didn´t know what I wanted. I knew I couldn´t, wouldn´t, continue down the rather bumpy road we had been heading almost from the day we met, but at the same time I was also painfully aware that in spite of all my sound reasoning, there was one minor factor I had left out of the equation. My heart.
My heart and my mind didn´t agree. And as much as each attempted to overrule the other it just wasn´t working, and it left me feeling more and more confused and unsure of myself and my feelings. Not to mention Terri. How did she fit into it all, and didn´t she have a say in the matter? Or did she lose that when she just up and left with no regard for me?
“Terri?”
She raised her head slowly, her eyes distant as they met mine. “What?”
“Why didn´t you tell me where you were? Why didn´t you at least contact me to tell you were all right?”
A pensive, troubled, slightly confused expression appeared on her face and her brow furrowed before she spoke slowly, giving me the impression that the words were barely thoughts before she uttered them, “I was afraid… how… how you would react. I knew that… that you would be angry and I didn´t know how to deal with that…”
“So you took the easy way out?” I commented, trying not to sound too sarcastic, but the anger I had believed more or less gone had begun to simmer and by the way Terri squirmed I could tell she knew it, too. “Let your brother do the dirty work for you?”
“No!” Anger flared in her eyes as they narrowed rapidly. “I never asked Alan to do anything, I never told him to interfere, he did that all by himself. In fact,” she rose so quickly the chair almost toppled over, her voice growing hard, “that happens all the time, people make decisions over my head, think they know what´s best for me. Alan, my parents, Nicola, even you!” Icy cold blue eyes bored into mine. “You come over here and don´t care whether I want you to or not, you don´t even ask me, but just announce your intentions and expect me to accept that and be happy about it.”
I stared at her, rendered speechless by her outburst. Then my own anger suddenly flared and I felt adrenaline rush through me as my body prepared itself for the imminent confrontation, but then something happened and a strange, tired indifference came over me, chasing all other feelings away. “If that´s how you really feel,” I spoke very quietly, rising from the chair, “then we have nothing left to talk about, there´s no point.”
In a cool and frightfully nonchalant manner that surprised even myself, I swallowed the rest of my tea, put the cup back down on the table and spoke in a calm but firm tone, “I´ll go pack my things and be on my way. I shan´t bother you anymore. Goodbye, Terri.”
I could see the shock in her eyes as I walked past her and knew she was just as stunned by the development as I, but I was wrapped up in my own hurt and couldn´t bring myself to care. She was the one who had brought this on, she was the one who had turned this into a disaster and now she would have to live with the consequences.
As I quickly closed the door behind me to escape the gaze burning into my back, I suddenly realized that she wasn´t the only one who would have to live with the consequences.
When I exited the room, Terri was gone, just as I had expected she would be. Taking a moment to write a small note to Jenny and Alan thanking them for their hospitality, I went outside and with heavy steps began to walk down the pavement towards the nearest Underground. I was halfway there, my eyes absently taking in the sight of St. Paul´s Cathedral towering at the end of the street, when I heard running footsteps behind me. Without turning around, or even slowing down, I continued until my path was blocked by Terri abruptly cutting in in front of me.
“Sarah!” she gasped, trying to catch her breath. “Where are you going?”
I looked at her, my feelings alternating wildly between anger and hopelessness, then I just shook my head slowly and walked around her, speaking over my shoulder, “I´m going home, Terri, I told you I would as soon as a few things had been cleared up. And now they have.”
“But…” She remained standing where she was for a second, then quickly caught up with me again, coming to walk beside me. “Look, Sarah, I´m really sorry about what I said, I didn´t mean it like that. I was just in a bad mood. Please come back to the apartment with me, we still have a lot to talk about.”
I paused mid step, giving her an incredulous look, “Now you want to talk? Gee, Terri, are you sure you´re feeling all right?”
Without waiting for an answer I picked up my pace and resumed my walk to the Underground. However, the Fates weren´t on my side that day and at the next traffic lights I had to wait, giving Terri plenty of opportunity to reach me again, even putting her hand on my shoulder to hold me back should the lights change before she was done.
“Sarah, please…” she spoke behind me, standing so close I could feel the heat from her body. “I´m sorry for the way I´ve acted, for all I´ve done. Please don´t go yet, give me a chance to make it up to you.”
In spite of all my good intentions and set mind, her softly spoken words brought tears to my eyes as the hurt inside me increased tenfold. I forced myself to keep staring straight ahead, ignoring all the curious looks from people walking past us, knowing that if I turned around I wouldn´t be able to walk away.
“It´s too late, Terri.”
“But I love you!” she objected almost petulantly, the grip on my shoulder tightening ever so slightly. “And you love me, at least that´s what you´ve said, but maybe that was just a lie.”
That did it. Whatever Terri might have been able to achieve was lost now as the angry accusation in her voice tore through my heart, leaving it barren and cold. Turning around I met her eyes and spoke harshly, “This isn´t about love anymore, Terri, it´s about what´s best for me. You know very well that I love you and I can´t believe you have the guts to suggest anything else. If it was-”
“But if you love me,” Terri interrupted before I could finish my sentence, her eyes growing desperate as she began to realize that this time there wouldn´t be a happy outcome, “then why won´t you give me a second chance? I know I screwed up, both when I left and this morning, but I promise I won´t do it again. Please, Sarah, don´t go, I won´t-”
“Terri,” this time it was my turn to interrupt, “you´re missing the point.” I reached up to the hand still clamped down on my shoulder and gently, but firmly removed it. “I know you´re sorry, I know that you mean it when you say that you´ll never do anything like this again, but…” I faltered, but then continued, the words nearly falling over each other in their hurry to leave my lips, “Terri, you´re not good for me. I love you, but I can´t be with you anymore. I know you love me, but I can´t do this. I… I don´t know, maybe I need more stability, less second-guessing.”
“I can change!” Terri´s hands moved restlessly as though she didn´t know what to do with them. “I´ll be different from now on.”
I looked into the beautiful blue eyes I loved so much, my chest feeling like it was about to explode from the pressure inside it. Clearing my throat, I spoke hoarsely, having to use all my strength not to look away, but knowing I owed her that much, “Terri, how can I make you understand… it´s over. I don´t want you in my life anymore, it hurts too much. And I don´t…” I swallowed, my heart beating so frantically I was afraid it would burst, my already feeble voice fading away as I spoke the last few words, “I don´t want you… not anymore…”
Terri took a step back as if there had been a physical force in my last statement, her eyes wide open in shock and her face draining of all colour. “You… you don´t mean that… You can´t mean that, you´re different…”
“I´m sorry, Terri,” I choked out, fully aware that I had lost the battle and tears were running down my face. “But that´s how it´s going to be, I´m not going to change my mind. I´m sorry.” I spun around and ran away as fast as I could, incapable of looking at her for a moment longer. But as I fled, stumbling over streets and curbs, I knew, without a doubt, that I would never be able to forget the look of pain and despair I had seen in her eyes.
And the betrayal.
How the journey home was I don´t recall. At the time I hardly remembered anything except the final scene with Terri on a cold and wet March day with one of the biggest cathedrals in the world as our silent and dispassionate witness. The only reason why I managed to stay composed and calm in the plane and on the ride home in a cab was that I didn´t have the strength to cry. Or maybe I just didn´t have any tears left to shed.
By the time I locked myself into my apartment I was so exhausted and numb that I just let the bag slip from my fingers, barely making it to the couch where I fell down, curling up like a wounded animal.
How long I lay like that I don´t know, but the living room had become dark and cold before I slowly sat up, bringing my aching body into the bathroom. I turned on the hot water as high as it would go and spent a minute watching the water flow furiously from the showerhead, steam rapidly filling the cabinet shower. Then, fully clothed, I stepped inside, the instant pain from the scalding water hitting my senses like a steamroller and washing the numbness away. Just as the pain became unbearable, I added the cold water, then sank down to the bottom of the shower, wrapping my arms around myself and starting to cry quietly.
Three hours later, Paige came knocking on my door. Or maybe banging is more accurately. And she didn´t relent until I had dragged myself over and let her in. One look at my face told her all she needed to know and without a word she opened her arms, and I gratefully accepted the invitation, burying my face in her shoulder.
“Shh… hon, it´s okay… it´s okay,” Paige cooed softly as she stroked my back. “Just let it out.”
“It´s over,” I managed to squeeze out between sobs, my voice sounding like a stranger´s. “I told her I couldn´t do it anymore, I told her I didn´t want her in my life.”
Paige only nodded, apparently fully capable of deciphering my rushed and frantic speech. As my crying started to cease, she gently led me over to the couch, pulling me down to sit beside her. Putting an arm around me, she reached into her pocket with the other and pulled out a couple of Kleenex, handing me one.
“Thanks,” I said, smiling through tears. “You´re a lifesaver.”
Paige smiled faintly in return, commenting softly as she resumed the stroking of my back, “I seem to remember you doing the same for me on several occasions, it´s about time I return the favour.”
“Yeah, well,” I wiped my eyes, slowly starting to get my emotions under control. “This is one favour I could have done without. No offence,” I smiled at her. “None taken,” she returned my smile, giving me a fresh Kleenex. “This isn´t exactly something I´ve been counting the days to get to do. I always hoped it´d never be necessary.”
“I should have listened to you, you saw it coming all along, but I was too blind! And too damn stupid!” Abruptly I rose from the couch, walking out into the kitchen.
“You weren´t stupid, Sarah, or blind,” Paige spoke wearily from the living room as I opened the fridge to take out a bottle of wine. “You were in love and wanted things to work out.”
Her words made me pause, then I put the bottle down on the counter and walked over to stand in the kitchen door. Meeting Paige´s questioning gaze, I said quietly, “I´m still in love, Paige.”
She smiled sadly, suddenly looking a lot older than her thirty-two years, “I know, sweetie, trust me, I know.”
“It hurts so much…” The hitch in my voice and moistening of my eyes were more than enough to tell Paige that I needed another hug, and she quickly got to her feet and walked over to put her arms around me. “I don´t know what to do,” I whispered into her hair. “I hurt so much… I miss her… I don´t want it to be over.”
“I know, I know…” Paige listened patiently to my ramblings until I had calmed down, then asked softly, “How did Terri take it?”
I sniffed a little, leaning back to see her face, “Not well. She was pretty upset.”
“What did she say?”
“Well, she didn´t really have time to say anything,” I spoke dryly, gently easing myself out of Paige´s embrace to return to the kitchen. “Because I turned on my heels and fled like a coward the second I had told her.”
“You-” Paige stopped herself, watching in silence as I walked past her to the couch, bringing the wine and two glasses. She continued to watch as I poured us each a glass of wine, then spoke thoughtfully, “That´s not like you, Sarah, you´re one of the bravest people I know.”
I smiled bitterly to no one in particular, taking a small sip of the wine, “Maybe… just not this time. This time I bailed out.”
“The way Terri usually does…?”
“Yeah…” The smile was gone, but the bitterness was still evident in my voice. “I guess for once I beat her to it…”
Paige sighed deeply, then came over to sit down beside me. Taking her glass, she emptied it in one big gulp, then poured herself another. Leaning back in the couch, she studied me for a moment then said, “I know it hurts right now, Sarah, and I know this isn´t what you want to hear, but it´ll pass. It´ll get worse and then it´ll get better. And…” She hesitated, then concluded gently, “And maybe it´s for the best. Maybe it´s good it ended before it got any worse.”
I let out a humourless laugh, “I think it´s a little late for that, Paige, I don´t think it can get any worse than this.”
Paige was about to respond, but was interrupted by the ringing of the phone. We both looked at each other, then at our watches. It was long past midnight. The prospect of talking with anybody now was more than I could bear and Paige, recognizing the reluctance on my face, got to her feet and went over to answer it.
“If it´s Terri,” I spoke quickly before she raised the receiver to her ear, “tell her I´m sleeping – no wait…” I interrupted myself, not wanting Paige to lie and knowing that Terri would see right through it anyway. “Just tell her that I don´t want to talk to her. Not tonight.”
Paige nodded, then spoke into the phone, “Hello? No, I´m sorry she can´t come to the phone right now…”
Whoever was on the other end apparently wasn´t going to take no for an answer and Paige was silent for a very long time, listening. Then slowly she covered the mouthpiece with her hand and turned around to look at me, the expression on her face very odd. “Sarah,” she said quietly, holding the receiver out towards me. “I think you should take this call after all.”
“Why?” I rose uncertainly, puzzled and alarmed by the sound of her voice. “Who is it?”
“It´s… it´s Terri´s brother.” Paige was staring intensely at the receiver, looking like she could drop it any second.
“Alan?” I took a step forward, conflicting emotions running through me. “What does he want?”
“It´s about Terri, she´s in the hospital.”
“The hospital?” I stared at Paige in confusion, not having expected that answer at all and unsure what to do. “Why?”
Paige raised her head a little, meeting my eyes again, then said quietly, “Terri´s in the intensive care unit, Sarah… She… she tried to kill herself. If it hadn´t been for her brother she would have succeeded…”

 

Episode 31
Some say that there are events in your life that you will never forget no matter how much time passes – events that make a small nick in you, make you a little less certain and change you and who you are forever.
That happened to me the night Terri attempted suicide.
There are concepts too incomprehensible and too terrible to grasp, no matter how true they in reality are, and that was the feeling I was left with when, very late the next day, I arrived at the hospital where Terri was, and was met by her brother, who told me what had taken place. Or what they assumed had taken place, since Terri had refused to speak about it ever since she gained consciousness a couple of hours before.
“I´m pretty sure it wasn´t planned,” Alan spoke softly, gratefully gulping down the cup of coffee I had fetched from one of the hospital´s vending machines. His face was drawn and his eyes bloodshot and I wondered absently when he had last slept. Probably around the same time I did. “I mean, I don´t think she decided to kill herself the moment you left. I know my sister, most of the things she does are spur-of-the-moment impulsive and spontaneous reactions without thought of the consequences.”
“Yes,” I managed to smile weakly. “That sounds like Terri all right.”
Alan smiled palely in return, then gestured to two chairs placed against the wall opposite Terri´s room, indicating we should take a seat. I had had a quick peek inside when I first arrived, but Terri had been sleeping and her parents had been in there so I hadn´t wanted to intrude.
For some reason I had the feeling they wouldn´t be happy to see me.
“Are you here alone?”
“Um, no,” I shook my head imperceptibly, trying to clear my mind of the conflicting thoughts racing through it. “A friend of mine is here, too, she is checking us into a hotel nearby so we have somewhere to stay.”
“Good,” Alan smiled again, slowly bringing his hand up to rub his forehead, his movements tired and absentminded. “I´m glad.”
We fell silent, both of us staring blankly at the floor, paying the nurses and doctors rushing past us no heed. Then I cleared my throat and asked the question I had wanted to ask ever since the fateful phone call the night before. “What did she do?”
Alan remained motionless for a few seconds then turned his head to look into my eyes, “She slit her wrists. Cut open the veins and tried to get deep enough to slice the artery as well.” He sighed deeply, looking away again, “I guess she was afraid the blood would coagulate too quickly otherwise.”
I closed my eyes trying to ward off the images his words had created in my mind, but it didn´t help and I began to feel sick. Taking a deep breath, I asked in a carefully controlled tone, “You found her?”
“Yes,” Alan´s voice was as calm as mine, void of any trace of emotion. “I was home early, wanted to surprise Jenny by making dinner. I noticed Terri´s jacket on the kitchen table and I saw your note, and…”
I turned my head towards him, but he didn´t look my way, “And?”
“And I just… I don´t know… Just got this feeling that something was wrong.” He was silent for a moment, then continued quickly, “I knocked on the door to her room, but there was no answer and when I opened there was no one inside. Then I noticed light coming from under the bathroom door.”
I swallowed, too easily picturing everything, and my nausea was growing worse.
“There…” Alan cleared his throat a couple of times, his voice suddenly a little rusty. “There was a lot of blood. It looked very… well, like something you would see in the movies. Her jeans were soaked, she had just let… just… Anyway,” he cleared his throat again. “She was lying huddled against the wall, her face was white as a sheet. I… I thought I was too late, that… that she was dead… Then I saw she was still breathing and I managed to find her pulse, and then called for an ambulance.”
“For… for how long do you think she had been lying like that?” As much as I dreaded to know, I needed an answer as well. I needed to know exactly when Terri had made the decision to end her life.
“Some time, but not that long. If she had cut herself right after you left she would have been dead long before I got home.”
I nodded to myself, biting my lower lip hard in an attempt to regain some control, control I was afraid I could lose any moment. “Did… Did Terri know you would be home early?”
Alan shook his head, finally meeting my eyes again, “No, she didn´t. It was a coincidence, I could have been gone for several more hours.”
I acknowledged his words, trying to smile a little to convey my gratitude, but my composure was unravelling too fast and I could feel the beginning of tears in my eyes. “She´s going to be all right, isn´t she?” I whispered nearly inaudibly, wiping my eyes on the back of my hand.
“Yeah, she will.” Alan stared at his hands, appearing to be far, far away. “Her heart stopped just as we arrived at the hospital, but she was quickly revived and aside from the scars there shouldn´t be any permanent injury.”
“More scars,” I shook my head slowly. “As if she doesn´t have enough already.”
Alan looked at me in surprise, then realization hit and he gave me a little smile, “Yes, I know. She´s always been a bit of a wild one.”
“Alan…” I tried to hold his gaze, but after a brief struggle I had to let go and looked down at the floor. “Do you think that…” I hesitated, feeling like I was about to choke on the sentence. “Do you think that I…” I faltered again, unable to continue. Alan let out a low sigh and reached out to put a hand on my shoulder, but before he could say anything I asked, “Why would she do something like this? Why? Why would she just give up like that? Why… why would she just… give up?”
“Well, Sarah…” Alan sighed deeply, moving his hand from my shoulder to slowly run it through his wayward locks. “It´s a long story and I´m sorry that you have to find out like this, but in my family, or more precisely my-”
“Alan!” a sharp voice cut off whatever Alan had wanted to say and we simultaneously looked up. “Do you know who the doctor who examined Terri was? I would like to speak to him.”
“I believe it was Dr. Rosenbaum, Mum,” Alan answered tiredly, getting to his feet. “I´ll go find him, he should still be here. Sarah…” He smiled briefly at me then made his way down the corridor, leaving me alone with Terri´s mother.
Unsure of what to do, but not comfortable remaining seated I rose, standing awkwardly in front of her. She studied me silently, her gaze unwavering. Her face was as exhausted and tired looking as her son´s, but there was an inner strength, a hardness, which I hadn´t detected in Alan.
“Ms. Kingston…” she suddenly said, her voice very cool. “I heard you were here.” Somehow she made it sound like an accusation and although I knew better, her words added to the already heavy layers of guilt I had been feeling from the second I heard what had happened. “Why is that?”
“I…” I tried to get my tongue to work properly, but the steely glare directed my way was making it very hard and I began to feel a strong urge to defend myself. The notion made me angry and I straightened up, saying firmly, “I´m here because someone I care a great deal about is hospitalised.”
“Oh yes…” Fiona Cavanagh spoke derisively, “Care… Well, Ms. Kingston, don´t you think your caring has done enough? My daughter came close to dying tonight because of you. If that´s what happens to people you care about, then I´d very much prefer it if you stayed the hell away from her. Terri doesn´t need someone like you in her life, she has problems enough of her own.”
“Look, Mrs. Cavanagh,” I spoke as calmly as possible, trying to suppress my growing anger. And guilt. “I understand you´re upset, I know what Terri did was terrible and it breaks my heart to think of it, but I don´t think it´s fair to-.”
“Ms. Kingston.” Never in my life had I heard such an icy and hateful tone of voice and I subconsciously took a step back. “I don´t care what you think! I don´t care if you think it´s fair or not. My daughter tried to kill herself because of you, because of the way you treated her. How could you!”
“Mrs. Cavanagh,” I managed to get out, torn between wanting to strike her and flee from the hospital. “I love Terri! I would never do anything to hurt her. What happened wasn´t my fault. It was Terri´s decision, not mine.” Even to my ears, my words sounded feeble and inadequate, and Fiona clearly wasn´t mollified.
“Oh? So you love her and would never do anything to hurt her? Well, Ms. Kingston, if that´s true then why did Terri try to kill herself? Why did she quit university? Why did she flee to London if it wasn´t to get away from you?” She looked me square in the eye, her face hardening. “It seems to me that ever since you came into her life things have been going downhill. My daughter was perfectly happy with life before she met you, and I can´t believe you have the audacity to deny any involvement.”
“Those were all Terri´s decisions,” I spoke a little harsher than intended. “I have tried to be there for her from day one. It was Terri who wouldn´t-.”
“Ms. Kingston,” Fiona interrupted curtly, turning her head when she heard the sound of a door opening, “save your breath, I´m not interested in hearing your explanations. All I want is for you to leave and never show your face here again.”
“But-”
“Sarah…” a gentle, but very tired voice suddenly spoke and I looked over, seeing Terri´s father stand in the door to her room. “Maybe it´s better you leave.”
“But…” I repeated helplessly, more or less having expected the reaction I got from Terri´s mother but not thinking that her father would share the sentiment. “I only wish to see her, just for a few minutes. I promise I won´t stay too long.”
Fiona stepped over to stand next to her husband, almost as if she wanted to make sure I didn´t try to force my way into the room. “I´m sorry, but that isn´t possible, only family members are allowed access and last time I checked you didn´t belong to that category.”
“Fiona,” Patrick hushed softly, putting a calming hand on his wife´s arm, “there´s no need for hostilities. Sarah will leave now. And so should we, it´s late and we both need to rest. As does Terri, she´s in no condition to receive further visitors tonight anyway.”
I stared at him in disbelief, unwilling to believe my ears. I had thought we understood each other, had become friends when we met during Christmas. He had to know how I felt about Terri, he had to know that I would never intentionally hurt or upset her. And most importantly, he had to know that loving Terri wasn´t without its complications.
With tears stinging my eyes, I was about to throw all dignity overboard and resort to pleading, ready to do or promise anything that would grant me access to Terri, when Patrick, apparently reading my mind, shook his head imperceptibly and said quietly, “Sarah, please… I think it´s better for all involved if you just leave. Terri´s out of danger and is resting now, there´s no need for you to stay.”
I looked at him, trying to remember the last time I had felt such a strong and out-of-control hatred against any living being. Then I pulled myself together and nodded briefly, forcing myself to keep my voice even, “If that´s what you want… Tell Alan I had to go and if Terri wakes up then… then tell her I was here, okay?” I met Patrick´s eyes, knowing Fiona would never fulfil my request. “Will you do that?”
“I´ll tell her,” Patrick replied softly after a moment of silence, ignoring the angry shake of his wife´s head and the exasperated look shot his way.
“Thank you.” I held his gaze, willing him not to forget, then I turned around and walked away, the sound of their arguing voices fading in the distance as I left the hospital and stepped out into the cold and rainy night.
I had promised Paige I would call from the hospital with any news, but since there hadn´t really been anything new to tell I hadn´t done so. Although I knew perfectly well she would be pacing the floor of our hotel room by now and that I ought to at least call her and tell I was on my way, I instead began to walk slowly along the water-glistening pavement, my hands tucked deeply into my coat pockets and my head bent to shield me from the worst of the rain. I was too tired to really think and too exhausted to consider what I was doing, so for a long time I just walked with no goal or purpose, with fragments of thoughts, feelings, and images running through my mind in a slow but never-ending stream.
I was so far away in my head that I nearly continued walking when a voice spoke, “Miss? Is everything all right?” I looked up and then noticed that a cab had pulled up to the curb and a friendly, but slightly concerned looking cabby was studying me through his halfway open window. “Are you lost?”
“Lost?” I stared at him, momentarily stunned that he was able to read my mind. Then I realized he was talking about my geographical position and nothing else, and I gave him a little smile, “Nah, not directly, but if you´re free I wouldn´t mind hiring you. It´s starting to get a little cold.”
He smiled at me, revealing a missing front tooth which made him look oddly young although he was probably in his late fifties, and reached over to open the passenger door for me, saying pleasantly as I climbed inside, “You look cold, Miss. You shouldn´t be out at this time of night, especially not alone. This world can be a very nasty place to be at times.”
“Yes, it can,” I agreed with a tired sigh and then gave him the name of the hotel before sinking back into the seat, mindlessly following the windscreen wipers in their futile battle against the heavy raindrops.
I don´t know whether some taxi drivers are just not naturally talkative or if my driver just saw I wasn´t in the mood for talking, but for a long time we drove through the streets in silence, the only sound being the low commentary of what I gradually identified as a cricket game.
“Recorded,” the driver informed me when he noticed me search for the radio. “I got all me favourite matches on tape.” He grinned at me, “The wife thinks I´m crazy, but I always say that either you´re into something a hundred and ten percent or you´re not into it at all. There´s no middle ground.”
I pondered his words for a moment, then smiled, “Yeah, you´re probably right. It´s all or nothing.”
“Exactly,” he gave me a big pleased smile, apparently glad to have met someone who seemed to share his opinion. We continued past a few blocks then he cleared his throat and asked, “So, what was the young lady doing outside on her own at this time of night if you don´t mind me asking? I can hear you´re not from here.”
“No, I´m not and I was just getting some air,” I replied vaguely, unsure of what to think of his intrusion into my personal matters. “I have been visiting a friend in the hospital.”
“Ay…” he made a few sympathetic sounds as we turned a corner. “That´s never nice. Is it serious?”
“You could say that. She tried to kill herself.”
I don´t know if I said it because I wanted to shock him, to provoke him and force some kind of reaction, or if I was just trying to make everything that had happened seem more real to myself. However, if the former had been my intent it didn´t appear to have any effect whatsoever as he didn´t even blink, but just shook his head slowly, “Ay… that is a sad thing when people don´t want to live anymore. I hope your friend will be fine.”
Suddenly I felt a lump in my throat and had to swallow a couple of times, “Yeah, so do I.” Not completely sure why, I felt compelled to continue, “You see… she´s very important to me… my friend. And I want to help, but it´s so hard because neither she nor her family will let me and I feel like I´m constantly banging my head against a brick wall.”
“What´s wrong with her?”
I had been about to speak, but the softly spoken question stopped me dead in my tracks and I turned my head to look at him. “I… I… don´t know.” The frustration was more than obvious in my voice and he glanced at me quickly, giving me an encouraging smile. “I think that… that maybe…” I trailed off, angry with myself for not being able to properly convey what I was thinking, but then realized that the problem was I didn´t know what I was thinking. “I guess she´s… she´s just not happy,” I finished quietly, unable to come up with anything else.
“Well, if you absolutely have to kill yourself,” the driver spoke thoughtfully, coming to a halt in front of my hotel, “then I guess that any reason is as good as the next one, but not being happy is probably one of the better.”
“It´s the coward´s way out,” I retorted angrily, rummaging through my purse for the fare. “It´s selfish and cruel, with no regard for all the other people involved. When you try to kill yourself it´s not just about you, about your pain and hurt, it affects everybody, everybody who cares for you and wants the best for you. And if you succeed you may find peace, but what about the rest of us? What about those left behind who can spend the rest of their lives wondering if there was something they could have or should have done? If you kill yourself you may end your pain, but for the rest of us it´s only beginning.”
I tossed him the bills and was about to step out when he reached out and gently but firmly held me back, “Hey, Miss, wait… I didn´t mean it like that, I don´t approve of suicide in any way, I just meant that there are reasons more justifiable than others to kill yourself for.” He smiled experimentally when he saw my anger lessen, “I´m sorry if it didn´t come across that way, but that´s what I meant to say.”
I took a deep breath, letting his words sink in, then smiled apologetically, “No, I´m sorry, I shouldn´t have blown up like that. It´s just… it´s a rather sensitive subject for me right now.”
“No wonder,” he handed me my change, but I gestured he should keep it and he nodded his thanks. “I hope your friend will get well soon,” he spoke out of the window as I stepped around the car and up onto the pavement. “And next time she gets a silly idea like that tell her that once you´re dead you´ll never know what it could´ve been like.”
I smiled involuntarily, turning around halfway to look at him, “Shall do.”
“Good!” he shouted after me as I walked into the hotel. “And if that doesn´t help, sit her down and get her to explain in detail what makes her think she has the right to decide over life and death. That requires wisdom man doesn´t have, even if it´s only one life, your life… – because you can´t afford to be wrong!”
And neither can anybody else, I thought to myself as the doors swung close behind me, effectively silencing both the rain and my friendly cricket-loving taxi driver.
“Are you going to keep that on?”
I raised my head to glance at Paige, who was curled up on her side in the bed beside me, her eyes lingering on the ring I had been staring at for the last ten minutes. “I don´t know,” I replied uncertainly, staring briefly at the ring again before looking back to Paige for advice. “What do you think?”
“Hmm…” She moved a little closer and reached down to bring my hand up to her face. “It´s very pretty.”
“Yes, it is.” In spite of the darkness in the hotel room, the delicate ring still seemed to reflect light, causing small glimpses of silver to flicker across our faces.
“You could keep it in a necklace?”
“Yes, I could,” I gently withdrew my hand and slipped it beneath the covers away from Paige´s gaze.
I had arrived at the hotel a little past four in the morning and Paige had been slowly going mad from worry, even calling the hospital only to hear from Alan that I left there hours ago. Fortunately, ordering room service on my credit card had helped soothe a little of her displeasure and after a few heartfelt apologies she forgave me and changed into comforting best friend mode, something I was in great need of. We had spoken very little and then gone to bed, but after having heard me toss and turn for the hundredth time, she had slipped out of her bed and into mine, giving me a little smile and saying that you could never get too old for a sleepover. She had proceeded to ask me all the questions I had been avoiding or to which I had no answer. Whether I was going to try to see Terri again, if I thought they would let me visit her later, how long I would stay in London, if Terri might contact me herself, and, most importantly, what I would do next.
“I mean, it´s still over between you, right? As terrible as it was what happened, it doesn´t change anything?”
“No…” I shook my head. “It just makes me even more sure I made the right decision. I can´t spend the rest of my life guarding my words or actions out of fear what Terri might do, that´s not a life, and it´s not my responsibility either.”
“No, that´s true.” Paige searched my face in the dark for a few moments, then suddenly said, “Do you feel guilty?”
“What?” I stared at her, unpleasantly startled by the direct question. “What do you mean?”
Paige bit her lip, apparently looking for appropriate words, but then decided to keep it simple and clarified, “I mean, do you feel like you´re to blame? That it was your fault Terri did what she did?”
“Are you saying that it is?!” I sat up quickly, anger coursing through me. “Well, it´s not! It´s not my fault Terri decided to kill herself. Maybe I had something to do with her decision, but in the end it was exactly that, her decision! Not mine!”
Paige attempted to speak, but I cut her off, “I don´t care what any of you think! I don´t care if Terri herself thinks it´s my fault! It´s not!” At some point during my outburst tears had begun to fall, but I didn´t care and continued heatedly, “It was Terri who cut herself, not me! It was her hand with the razorblade, not mine!” All my anger and passion suddenly left me again and I looked at Paige in despair, finishing quietly, “Not mine…”
“All I asked was if you felt guilty,” Paige spoke softly, reaching out and covering one of my clenched fists with her hand. “And I think you just gave me your answer.”
“I…” My head dropped and I studied our joined hands on top of the covers. “If I hadn´t said what I did, if I hadn´t-”
“Hush,” Paige moved up to sit back against the headboard, gently pulling me up to sit beside her. “I don´t want to hear such nonsense, Sarah. You´re not to blame and don´t let anybody give you any stupid ideas. You have nothing to feel guilty about.”
I turned to look at her, encouraged but not entirely convinced by her words. “But why do I feel so bad then? Why do I feel so guilty if I´m not to blame?”
“Because it´s love and it sucks,” Paige stated vehemently, putting her head down on my shoulder and snuggling close as though she was the one in need of comfort.
Despite myself, her gusto made me laugh, “Is that the scientific explanation?”
Paige smiled a little sheepishly, then said with a shrug, “It´s the only explanation.”
We sat in companionable silence for a couple of minutes, watching the numbers on the alarm clock moved forward mercilessly, then Paige shifted slightly and said, “Tell me something about her.”
I had been lost in thought and responded automatically, “Who?”
“Terri. Tell me something about her I don´t know.”
“Um…” I paused. “I think I have told you all about her already, there can´t be much left.”
“There must be something,” Paige objected, poking me lightly in the ribs with her finger. “Doesn´t have to be anything groundbreaking, just something I don´t know.”
“Well…” I looked straight ahead, following the shadows on the wall as I contemplated her request. I was well aware that Paige was trying to get my mind off anything having to do with suicide or guilt complexes, but as much as I appreciated her efforts I wasn´t sure I had the energy to start reminiscing now. Still, I felt she deserved something for trying and searching my brain, I spoke hesitantly, “She´s the only one I know who reads as fast as I do, but she still hates it when I read over her shoulder. I have succeeded on more than one occasion in getting her to throw a newspaper or magazine across the room in exasperation.”
“Really…” Paige let out a noise that clearly indicated what she thought of that annoying habit herself and I smiled inwardly, having expected that reaction from her.
“She also has the most schizophrenic sleep patterns. Sometimes she´ll stay awake until early morning, if she goes to bed at all, other times she´ll go to bed at nine and get up again to go running at five.”
“She´s insane,” Paige, whose only involvement with jogging was a constant guilty conscience, mumbled with conviction. “Getting up at such an unearthly hour to go running can´t possibly be healthy.”
“No arguments here,” I replied, fondly recalling many a similar conversation between Terri and myself. “Anyway, it wasn´t so bad. She was always careful not to wake me when she left and sometimes when she returned she´d make me breakfast in bed.”
“Nice.” Paige lifted her head from my shoulder to look at me. “She would do that?”
“Yes.” I smiled broadly, “Of course sometimes she´d make me the main course.”
Paige stared at me for a heartbeat or two, then commented with a sigh, putting her head back down, “I hate you, you know.”
“That´s what friends are for,” I answered with a grin, but inside I wasn´t so cheerful. Talking about Terri was bringing back all the good times we had had and as much as I preferred thinking about those compared to the later events, it was beginning to take its toil on me.
“So,” Paige asked, stifling a yawn as sleep finally seemed to grasp at least one of us. “Once you had been sufficiently ravished, what then?”
“Well,” I cleared my throat softly, hoping Paige wouldn´t notice the slight tremor in my voice, “it varied. If we had time we would stay in bed, not really doing anything, just being close together. Terri always enjoyed stuff like that, like counting beauty spots on my skin or listening to the small trivial things I had to tell from work or what you and I had been up to. Sometimes she would tell me things, often things she had heard of or seen which she felt strongly about for some reason, nothing personal as such more like issues, but it always helped me get a better understanding of her. I learned a lot more about her that way than I think she ever realized.”
I cleared my throat again and continued, “If it was a weekday we would have to get up, but that was easier said than done as she enjoyed thinking up any excuse to get me to stay a little longer.” I smiled faintly, “She was ruthless, nearly tackled me across the bed once, claiming that since I was late already I might as well stay at home.”
“What did you do?”
I smiled a little wider, “Fortunately, Terri´s always been rather ticklish and I have never been above fighting dirty.”
“That´s my girl,” Paige mumbled nearly inaudibly and I knew she was already halfway into dreamland. But then she suddenly straightened up, her eyes serious as they met mine and her voice very quiet, “I´m sorry I never got to know Terri better, Sarah.”
I tried to brush it off, tried to say that it didn´t matter, that it was mainly Terri´s doing that they hadn´t been getting along, but I couldn´t. Instead I managed to smile a little and said softly, “I´m sorry, too.”
We didn´t speak anymore after that and Paige soon fell asleep whereas I remained awake, waiting for the daylight to arrive to announce the beginning of yet another day.

 
Episode 32

 

Around 10 a.m. Paige went out for a morning stroll and a newspaper – although I suspect she was just interested in checking whether the cute receptionist with the brown George Clooney eyes was still at the desk – and less than ten minutes later, it knocked on my door. I was still in a bathrobe, having just recently returned from a half an hour shower which I needed to feel just remotely human again, but thinking it was Paige I went over to open the door, muttering to myself why that woman never could remember to bring a key.
However, it wasn´t Paige, it was Alan, looking scruffy and unshaven, with dark circles under his eyes, and wearing the same clothes as he did the day before.
“Morning,” he spoke, his voice hoarse and he coughed once or twice before continuing. “I hope I didn´t wake you up.”
I didn´t find it necessary to tell him that I had been awake for the last several hours and only stepped back, allowing him entrance into the hotel room. “No, I´m awake.” I walked over to the trolley carrying Paige´s and my half-eaten breakfast room service had brought by, finding a clean cup. “You look like you could use some coffee?”
He gave me a smile full of gratitude as he stood uncertainly in the room, fiddling with an umbrella and looking around as if he didn´t really know what he was doing there. “Yes, please, that would be wonderful.”
I gestured for him to sit down and he did so with a low sigh, leaning his head against the back of the couch, bloodshot eyes staring at the ceiling. Pouring a cup for myself, I joined him on the couch, handing him the cup of coffee and watching in amazement as he gulped it down in a few seconds.
“Occupational hazard,” he remarked dryly when he noticed my gaze. “Mere weeks from the moment you enter medicine school, you begin poisoning your body with caffeine and nicotine just to keep going and stay awake during night shifts.”
I smiled briefly, taking a more controlled sip of my own coffee, “As a future doctor, shouldn´t you know better?”
He shrugged, his eyes slowly trailing forward and then to the left to stare out of the window, “Maybe. I guess being aware of the risks doesn´t necessarily make you heed them.”
“No, guess not…” I waited a couple seconds, mainly out of respect and understanding that he needed a moment to himself, but then I couldn´t wait any longer and asked, “Is everything okay with Terri?”
He turned to look at me abruptly, almost as if woken from a trance, “Oh, sorry, yes, yes, she´s fine. No change from yesterday, you don´t have to worry.” He reached out to put his empty cup on the tiny table in front of the couch, speaking as he did so, “You probably wonder why I´m here?”
“Well, yes, if it´s not about Terri…?”
“Actually it is.” He leaned back in the couch again, turning slightly to face me. “We were interrupted last night in the hospital and I apologize for anything my mother might have said.”
“She´s been under a lot of stress,” I replied noncommittally, staring down at the brown liquid in my cup. “It´s understandable she´s upset.”
“Yeah,” Alan spoke to himself, and I was surprised to hear what I thought was just the slightest hint of bitterness in his voice. “Anyway,” he shifted again, a slightly nervous gesture that reminded me of Terri. “I´m here because I could imagine you might have a few questions and because I want to tell you that no matter what you feel, it´s not your fault what happened.”
“I know that, but-”
“No buts,” he interrupted gently, giving me a knowing look. “I have been here before, with my cousin, I know the thoughts that run through your head. I know how it feels.”
He closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead, and I said quietly, “I´m sorry you had to experience it again.”
Alan didn´t react immediately and for a moment I thought he was asleep, then his eyes fluttered open and he studied me for a long time before speaking wearily, “Me too…” He smiled humourlessly, his face contracting slightly like he was in pain, “But it´s not really that surprising. You see, suicide runs in the family.”
“It does?” I looked at him in surprise, trying to see if he was serious or just joking in a very bad fashion.
“Yes.” He took a deep breath, folding his hands in his lap and staring intensely at them. Then he took another deep breath and began to speak, “We have a history of mental illness in our family, nothing too serious, nothing that can´t be treated, just depressions, various degrees of emotional instability and so on. It seems to be hereditary from my mother´s side, and nine out of ten times it only affects the women and sometimes not even then. Jason was one of the rare cases when a man was affected, or at least we think so. Nobody had noticed anything unusual with his behaviour and his death came as a great shock to us all. But we think he was depressed and just never spoke about it. Openness has never been a strong suit with us.”
He fell silent, flexing his fingers nervously, waiting for me to digest the information. A few pieces suddenly fell into place and I recalled the great number of pill bottles I had discovered in Terri´s home when I was there for Christmas. Exhaling inaudibly, I asked very softly, “And Terri?”
“Terri…” he paused, looking up to meet my eyes before continuing quietly. “Terri has the disposition. She´s extremely volatile and prone to isolate herself and withdraw when there´s something she´s unable to deal with. But I´m not sure to which degree to be honest. I think that whatever her state of mind is has more to do with our mother than anything else.”
“Your mother?”
“Yes. Mum´s manic-depressive and that wouldn´t be so bad if only she would always take her medication, but…” He faltered, now looking extremely uncomfortable, and in spite of my curiosity and desperate desire to know more, I reached out and put my hands over his, giving them a light squeeze, “You don´t have to tell me if you don´t want to.”
“I know,” he smiled palely, “but I think you should know.” He cleared his throat, speaking quickly, seemingly in an attempt to get it over with fast, “When Terri and I were children our father was rarely home. He was putting in long hours at the hospital and wasn´t there much to have an eye on things. Mum can have long periods of feeling wonderful, times when she´s on top of the world, but it never lasts and because she often failed to take her medication we got to bear the brunt.”
I frowned, asking in puzzlement, “How could she, a doctor herself, forget to take her medicine if it affected her life so much?”
“I´m not sure she forgot,” Alan´s eyes gleamed with a strange light and his voice was angry, but then all trace of being distraught vanished. Carefully withdrawing his hands from mine, his tone matter-of-fact, he went on, “Terri was very young when she learned of our family´s medical history and ever since she´s been terrified that the same will happen to her. I know that Jason´s death shook her to the core, not just because she loved him, but because she saw it as sign that she was next. She and Jason were very alike in every way.”
I was about to ask a question, but he held up a hand, not wanting me to interrupt just yet. “Mum and Terri have never gotten along very well, I don´t know why, but that´s the way it´s always been. I have always been her favourite whereas Terri is Dad´s. He would usually step in when things got too bad, but he was so seldom home. When Mum´s depressed she doesn´t just shut the world out or lies paralysed in bed, she has a tendency to become cruel, and it was always Terri who got to feel it and with Dad away there was no one to stop it. And sometimes… Well, sometimes it didn´t help even if he was there. Terri may be his favourite, but nobody is more important to him than Mum. He loves her more than everything, even his own children.”
This time I had no doubt. There was a clear, but also resigned bitterness behind his words and for a second I had a vision of a frightened boy, hiding in his room because his mother was crazy and his father wasn´t around to help.
“Are you serious?” I simply had to ask the question, unable to understand why someone could not intervene if their children were suffering, even if the one causing the hurt was their own spouse. Especially if the one causing the hurt was their own spouse.
“Yes.” Alan spoke sadly, shaking his head as though he couldn´t believe it either. “Even when Mum was at her worst, even when she was self-destructive and hurting everyone around her, Dad would tell us to be understanding and patient. That she didn´t mean the things she said. I have always been stronger than Terri in that regard, I knew Mum was sick and as hard as it was, I tried not to take anything personally. Terri, however, wasn´t capable of the same. It was also harder on her because Mum for some reason always went after her. Don´t get me wrong, our mother loves us both, but there are times – or were – it´s not so bad anymore, when she was so wrapped up in her own pain and misery that she wanted the entire world to suffer with her. And Terri… well, being Terri, was always an easy target. She did what she could to please Mum, tried to change every single thing about herself she was told was wrong or unacceptable, but when she at last couldn´t take it anymore she just… went away… sometimes both literally and figuratively, and it´s been like that ever since.”
“I have seen that…” I spoke thoughtfully to myself, focusing on that singular line of thought to avoid succumbing to the intense anger that was building inside me. I didn´t want to think of Terri´s mother now, or what I wanted to do to her. I would have to deal with that later. “Her going `away´ I mean. She just disappears into herself.”
“I know,” Alan said regretfully. “She´s been doing that since she was twelve years old.”
“How did she ever bring up the courage to tell she was gay?”
He shrugged lightly, turning away from me again and staring straight ahead, “I think it was Nicola´s doing.” He was about to continue, but then remembering something inquired abruptly, “You know who she is, right?”
“Yes.” I suddenly noticed that my coffee was cold and put the cup away. “I know who Nicola is.”
He nodded in acknowledgement, going back to where he left off, “Anyway, Terri was in love with her, I think there might even have been something between them, I´m not sure, I´ve never asked. But at a time they were very close and I know Nicola was furious with our mother, often trying to get Terri to rebel against her. Of course Terri never would, she even defended her. Then when Nicola went away something changed and Terri got very reckless, didn´t seem to care what Mum thought anymore, and my guess is she told her of her sexuality just out of spite. To provoke some kind of reaction on Mum´s behalf.”
“And did she react?”
“Yes…” Alan hesitated, a look of worry and speculation crossing his face. “At least she must have. I don´t know exactly what took place because I wasn´t living at home anymore, but Terri has never wanted to speak of it to me. Soon afterwards she left home as well and I don´t think the subject has ever been mentioned again, not directly anyway.”
“What does your father think about it?” Somehow I couldn´t imagine Patrick having as hard a time accepting Terri as his wife apparently had. “Didn´t he support her?”
“Not enough, and I know that really hurt Terri. Basically, I think he just wants to forget about it. Not because he has a problem with it himself, Dad´s never cared about such things, but because Mum is so against it. I´m not sure, but I suspect Mum reckons Terri is just claiming to be gay to get back at her.” He sighed and was silent for a while, then turned his head towards me and said quietly, “I´d wish I had been there when she told them, at least I would have been able to back her up. But we were never that close and Terri´s not the kind of person to ask for support.” He faltered, then said, “You know what she told me once?”
“No,” I answered, patiently waiting for him to elaborate. I was trying hard to concentrate and pay attention to everything he was saying, but the more he said, the more my thoughts strayed to Terri, and my wish to see her and hear her voice was becoming nearly unbearable.
“She told me that she would never ask anybody for help, no matter for what or how much she needed it. She said that she knew in her heart that she wouldn´t be able to get the words past her lips – she was drunk, we both were,” he interposed quickly when he saw the look of surprise on my face, “otherwise she would never have spoken so openly about herself, but I still remember it clearly. She looked me straight in the eye and calmly said that she had absolutely no doubt that one day she wouldn´t be able to pull it off anymore, and she would end up taking on more than she could handle. She was so certain…” Alan´s eyes were lost in memories, speaking softly to himself. “It was like she was only waiting for it to happen, waiting for the moment when she would finally find out if it would kill her or cure her. It was awful. There she was, my gentle and sensitive little sister, still only a goddamn teenager, and she was scaring the hell out of me.”
He stopped speaking and averted his face, a heavy silence filling the room. I swallowed, not sure what I was feeling, whether I was even capable of feeling anything anymore. Then, after what have must been several long minutes, I spoke, not loudly or forcefully, but in a kind of tone that told I wasn´t going to take no for an answer, “I want to see her. Is there a time when your parents won´t be there and I´ll be able to slip inside?”
“I don´t know.” Alan seemed suddenly both irresolute and a little lost. “This morning they were trying to have her released to take her home, but I know Doctor Rosenbaum is very reluctant and would like her to remain under observation to prevent Terri from attempting something again. However, as a courtesy between colleagues he may fulfil their request. If you want to see her it´ll have to be soon.”
“Then I got no time to waste,” I rose from the couch, heading directly for my still unpacked suitcase lying under the bed to get dressed. “If your parents take her home they´ll be able to keep me from seeing her for I don´t know how long, and even if Terri says she wants to see me, it´s doubtful your mother will let me. I´m not going to take that chance.”
Alan looked at me and he must have seen the grim determination on my face for he didn´t even try to argue or reason with me, but just got to his feet. “Okay. I´ll return to the hospital now and if my parents are there, I´ll see if I can´t persuade them to go out and get something to eat with me. That ought to give you enough time to see her. The nurse on duty is a friend of mine, I´ll let her know that you´re coming so she won´t cause you any trouble.”
He looked towards the door and it seemed like he was about to leave, but then he hesitated and looked back at me, speaking quietly, “I´m sorry we had to meet under such circumstances, Ms. Kingston. You seem very nice and I would´ve liked to have had the chance to get to know you better. But maybe next time.” He walked to the door and opened it, but stopped abruptly in the doorway and turned around, speaking dryly as he met my eyes, “Welcome to the Cavanagh Family, Sarah, and may you never be bored again.”
I dressed and scribbled a note for Paige in record time and less than twenty minutes after Alan had left, I walked through the doors of the hospital, gazing left and right to see if the coast was clear. I saw no sight of Terri´s parents and walking purposely, I set course for Terri´s room, hoping that if I looked confident enough nobody would inquire about my presence. In spite of Alan´s reassurance that the nurse on duty wouldn´t try to stop me, I wasn´t going to take any chances.
It wasn´t until I arrived at the door that I faltered, suddenly feeling uncertain. I wanted to see her, that I knew, but what then? What would I say? What would Terri say? And more importantly, what would I do once everything had been said and all there was left was for me to leave?
Deciding to deal with that when it happened, I carefully opened the door and went inside. The room was enveloped in a murky darkness, the closed blinds preventing any light outside from penetrating. Not that there was much light outside to begin with. The sky was grey and threatening and the clouds were black and heavy with rain. It looked to be another gloomy day.
Pausing just on the other side of the door, I tried to orientate myself, but just as my eyes had adapted to the darkness, a lamp was switched on. Blinking quickly against the sharp light, I saw Terri slowly sit up in the bed, her squinting eyes and tousled hair indicating that she had just woken up. Without a word, we both stared at each other for a moment, then Terri´s brow furrowed and she said hoarsely, “Sarah?”
“Yes,” I smiled uncertainly, but feeling very happy just to see her. “I´m sorry to wake you, but-”
“That´s okay,” she interrupted, stifling a yawn. “I was only dozing anyway.” She followed me with her eyes as I stepped over to her bed, coming to a halt an arm´s length away from her. “What are you doing here? I thought you left London?”
“I did,” I answered hesitantly, wondering how I could explain my reason for being here without ever touching upon her failed suicide attempt. As futile as it was, I just wanted to pretend it never happened and that it was for some other, harmless and insignificant, reason that Terri was sitting tired and pale in a hospital bed, silently waiting for me to speak. “But… when… well, Alan called me when…” I trailed off, unable or maybe unwilling to speak it out loud.
Terri only nodded slowly and didn´t speak either, her gaze straying to her arms resting on top of the blanket. My eyes followed, taking in the sight of her bandaged wrists, appearing eerily white against her tan skin. The sight did something to me, something inside me just came tumbling down with a resounding crash, and suddenly I heard a furious voice speak, “How could you do this?! How could you, Terri?! What the hell were you thinking?!”
It took me a couple of seconds to realize that the angry voice demanding answers was my own, but it didn´t stop me from continuing, although it a slightly more controlled tone when I saw how startled she looked, hiding her wrists beneath the blanket. “Terri, how could you do something like this? I know you were upset, but did it ever occur to you what you were about to do?”
I looked directly into her eyes, subconsciously taking a step closer and trying to ignore the hitch in my voice, “Do you know how close you came to dying? Do you know that if Alan had returned just a little later, you would have died! It would have been too late to do anything. Was that really what you wanted?” I was close to tears now, but didn´t even care. I was desperately trying to make her understand what she had done to herself. What she had done to me. “Did you really want to die? Because of me? Because of what I said?”
She looked away, mumbling something unintelligibly. But the matter was too important to me and I immediately reached out, turning her face back to me. “Was it, Terri? Was it because of me?”
She met my eyes reluctantly, searching my face, but for what I don´t know. Then she spoke nearly inaudibly, her gaze dropping to the bed, “I´m sorry, Sarah. I never meant to hurt you. And no, it wasn´t because of you. It was… a lot of things were involved…”
I regarded her in silence for a long time, then my hand released her chin and she instantly turned her face away again. I knew she was lying. I knew that no matter what she said, I had been the main factor, I had triggered it, and being to blame or not, guilt or no guilt, it was something I would have to live with for the rest of my life.
“I´m sorry,” Terri spoke softly again, almost as if she was reading my mind. “I… I was very angry and upset when you left, and I didn´t know what to do. I tried to think, but I just couldn´t. My head was just too filled and I was so tired… I just didn´t care anymore. I wanted it all to be over. I thought it would be better that way.”
I straightened up a little, asking simply and emotionlessly, “Did you want to die? The moment after you slit your wrists and watched the blood begin to flow, did you truly want to die?”
Terri raised her head, staring at something ahead of her, not even glancing in my direction, and then whispered, “Yes… but afterwards when I woke up in the hospital I was glad that I didn´t.”
That, at least, made me breathe just a little easier. I had been scared out of my mind that the moment the doctors or her family turned their backs, she would try something stupid again. But the way she spoke convinced me that, in spite of everything, Terri was glad to be alive.
“Terri,” I began, smiling weakly when she met my eyes. “I don´t understand why you-” But before I could finish my question, the door behind me swung open and the sound of footsteps came to a very abrupt halt. Then a strictly cool and professional voice inquired, “Ms. Kingston, what are you doing here? I believe you were asked to leave.”
I turned around to look at Mrs. Cavanagh, noticing the unconscious tightening of Terri´s jaw as my gaze flickered past her on the way, her own eyes staring straight at her mother. Yet again before I had the time to speak, the sound of another pair of steps hurrying down the corridor reached us and seconds later, Alan appeared in the doorway, gasping for breath.
“Mum! I told you not to come here! You can´t keep treating-”
“She´s my daughter!” Fiona interrupted, her eyes shooting lighting bolts at alternately her son and me. “I happen to have her best interests at heart, and that woman!” By this she pointed an accusing finger at me. “Is not it!”
“Mrs. Cavanagh,” I spoke pleasantly, trying to get everybody to calm down before the entire hospital was alerted. “I can assure you that-”
I was interrupted again, but this time it was by Terri´s father who had joined his son in the doorway, staring at the scene before him as though he couldn´t believe what he was seeing. “What is going on here? And Sarah, what are you doing here when you were told specifically to-”
However, nobody, it seemed, was allowed to complete an entire sentence that day, and the second he paused to take a breath both his wife and his son began arguing loudly. I tried to stay out of it, I really did – mainly because I was very capable of seeing how grotesque and silly it all was – but when my name was suddenly dragged into the argument by a furious Fiona, I was too enraged not to react and started defending myself before going on to tell her exactly what I thought of her and her concept of caring.
I´m ashamed to admit that this argument very well could have gone on forever, or until we were all out of breath and things to say, but just as things were heating up for another round and the angry words spoken became more personal, Terri raised her voice. She didn´t yell or scream, she was terribly controlled and composed, her face void of expression, but her voice was so cold and yet so resigned and sad that we immediately shut up and turned our heads toward her.
“Please leave.” Her eyes searched out each of our faces before moving on and never lingering on anybody. “All of you.”
“But Terri-” We all said as one, but she just shook her head lightly. “No, go. I want you all to go.”
I know we all must have felt like protesting, but for some reason neither of us did. Maybe it was the way she looked at us, maybe it was her voice that finally returned us to our senses, I don´t know, but one by one we backed down. As we started to file out of the door, Patrick first and myself at the end, Terri spoke again, causing us all to stop and look back at her.
“Mum, Dad, I´m sorry for what I did, I know it hurt you, but that doesn´t mean you can just step in and take control of my life. I have spoken to Dr. Rosenbaum and told him that I´m not leaving the hospital until he thinks it´s right and there´s nothing you can do to change it. I´m twenty-one and can make my own decisions, but should you find a way of bringing me home against my will, I want you to know that that will be the last time you´ll ever see or hear from me again.”
A stunned silence followed as she paused, waiting to make sure they knew she was serious. Fiona was about to object, but Patrick´s hand on her arm smothered the words on her tongue.
“And Alan,” she smiled faintly, meeting her brother´s eyes. “You have always looked out for me no matter how many times I told you to fuck off and mind your own business.” They both smiled at that. “I want to thank you for saving my life, and I can´t tell you how sorry I am that it was you who had to find me like that. I didn´t think, I hope you´ll be able to forgive me.”
“That´s okay,” he answered softly, clearing his throat. “I´m just glad I got there in time.”
They held each other´s gaze for a moment, seemingly coming to some kind of understanding, then Terri nodded imperceptibly, slowly turning her eyes to me. I looked at her, forgetting the presence of the other people standing closely behind me. I knew exactly what she was going to say, and every fibre in my body was screaming out that it didn´t want to hear it.
“Sarah…” For the first time since she began her little speech, Terri´s voice appeared to waver and she looked suddenly uncertain, but only for an instant, then she smiled at me. “Thank you for coming to see me, and thank you for putting up with me all those months in advance. I know it can´t have been easy.”
I know she expected some kind of reaction from me, maybe a smile, but I was unable to move or speak and just looked at her, waiting.
“Well,” she began to fiddle with the blanket and I received the impression that she was having difficulties maintaining eye contact, but she immediately stopped her nervous fingering and continued, determinedly looking into my eyes. “I want you to know that being with you was the best time of my life and that I´m sorry it ended the way it did. I understand now that you did the right thing, and… and that in fact I was lucky that you kept trying for as long as you did. I hope…” The slightest trace of emotion showed on her face, but it was thoroughly masked as she concluded quietly, finally giving up and looking away, “I hope you find someone to be happy with. Someone who´s always there for you and treats you the way you deserve. I´m… I´m sorry it couldn´t be me.”
I took a step towards the bed, and as I recall it now I don´t have the faintest idea of what I was going to say or do, but it doesn´t matter anyway. Terri never let me speak and just softly told me to go. Then she repeated it when we all seemed to be frozen, but it was me she was directing the words to and it was me her gaze followed as if by silent agreement, we all slipped out of the room, closing the door behind us. Alan turned to speak to me, but I waved him off. Nothing more needed to be said.
It was cold and wet when I left the hospital and Terri. It was warm and sunny when I finally laid my eyes on her again.
Seven years later.
Many things happened in those years. I steadily worked my way up, working increasingly long hours to avoid being alone and later it just became a habit that I continued. And eventually I began taking home the kind of money that, I must admit, was part of the reason I had wanted to study law in the first place. Paige was also doing well and met a man and nearly got married for the second time, but returned to her senses – as she put it – when she met his children. Myself I had my share of discreet and casual affairs, more often than not the woman in question was dark-haired and had blue eyes, but it was never serious and I backed out every time it looked like that might change. Always because I wasn´t interested, always because I wasn´t in love. Paige never commented when once again I told her a relationship was over, but only looked at me in that sad, knowing way of hers, before she would go out into the kitchen and fetch a bottle of wine and we would drink the night away. We were both drinking a little more than we ought in these days. At least I know I was.
Does a broken heart heal? I´m not sure, but it definitely becomes less painful as time goes by. I was torn between wanting to forget about everything that had happened, and wanting to remember it all into the smallest detail. It was hard, the first couple of months, the first half a year, to walk past the places Terri and I had been together. It was even harder when a song on the radio reminded me of her and what we had done together. But nothing ever compared to the pain I felt every morning the first many weeks after my return from London when I woke up and Terri wasn´t there beside me, and I had no choice but to remember. I thought I had cried a lot while Terri and I were still together; I was wrong.
I wore the ring she had given me in a small chain around my neck for a year. And just as I was about to think I might be able to take it off, just when I was starting to think it would be okay to begin living again, something happened that brought it all back and made the last year I had spent trying to get over her seem absolutely worthless.
Terri´s first book was published by a minor British publishing company. And it was all about me.
It received positive acclaim considering her age, but I didn´t care about newspaper reviews and it was a long time before I began to pay attention to the world surrounding me again, spending night after night rereading Terri´s own account of what had taken place between us. Of course it was far from an exact retelling of the story of our relationship, Terri would never expose herself that way or reveal anything of such a personal nature, and the characters were, surprisingly enough – straight, but it was only too clear that it was about me. Us. And as much as I was happy for her that she was at last doing what she loved, at the time the book came out, I hated her for writing it.
From page one, the tone of the book was sad, frustrated, but as the story progressed it changed. It became more serene, more thoughtful and mature, but with that it grew less and less personal and towards the end I had difficulties finding Terri behind the words. Paige later informed me that most reviewers had picked up on the same and regretted that she hadn´t been able to keep it in the style she started it, but most had been confident that she would improve with age and experience. I didn´t respond, seeing Terri´s style of writing as a replicate of the way she had been with me. My father read the book as well and kept it in his private library, just as he did every other book she published after that, but we never discussed them or their content.
I learned through Nicola that Terri had never returned from London. She and I met by coincidence in a store and spent a few awkward minutes talking before I finally found the courage to inquire about what I wanted to know. I was told she was living in a small apartment in the North of London, writing during the day and working at night in a bar to make ends meet. Nicola had been to see her and she seemed to be content, living one day at a time and not thinking too far ahead. As far as she knew Terri wasn´t seeing anyone or seemed interested in that at all, by which I was secretly relieved, and whether she had any contact to her parents, she didn´t know. The subject hadn´t come up. Lastly Nicola told me that Alan and Jenny had married and were now living in a small country town a couple of miles from where Jenny was born. She offered me their phone number, saying that I could always contact Alan if there was something I wanted to know about Terri and I smiled and said that I would, but I never did.
Years later, Terri was slowly becoming more successful and her books were selling well. They were no longer about me, but I could still detect something in them, or a character would remind me of myself, but sometimes I wasn´t sure if it was only wishful thinking on my part. I couldn´t bear the thought that Terri might have forgotten me because as much as I had tried, I hadn´t forgotten her. Occasionally I could still make myself believe that I saw her on the street or in a window, but deep down I knew it couldn´t be her and I never said anything about it to Paige, not wanting her to think me as pathetic and sad as I did myself. Seven years is a long time to continue loving someone who isn´t there.
Thus time passed, slowly and relentlessly, and the skip my heart always made whenever I saw an article about Terri in the paper or came across one of her books on a shelf gradually and imperceptibly became smaller. But it never quite disappeared. And in a strange way, and despite the pain, I found a little joy in that.
For my thirty-fifth birthday, Paige bought me a trip to Dublin, inviting herself along. She had wanted to travel to Ireland in search of her roots for as long as I could remember, although I personally doubted there would be much, if anything, to find, but going to Dublin sounded great to me and I was more than looking forward to leaving.
We set the date for our departure in early July, but as the much anticipated day finally arrived, Paige was in the hospital having her appendix taken out. I wasn´t understanding at all, I had just abandoned another relationship and was eager to get a little distance between myself and my so-called spurned, and also not very understanding, ex-lover, and I was more or less convinced Paige had done it on purpose. Especially when I learned that the trip was non-refundable and couldn´t be postponed at such a short notice.
Smiling bravely from the hospital bed, Paige urged me to go by myself, and I think she was a little insulted when it took me less than thirty seconds to make up my mind and decide that that was exactly what I was going to do. However, after solemnly promising her to bring home something Celtic, she softened and even found the energy to wish me a safe journey.
Dublin is a beautiful city, small for a capital and with a very different feel from say London, but still it´s able to offer you whatever your heart may desire.
You just have to know when to ask for it and not to be afraid of the consequences.

 

Episode 33
The sun was shining and the weather was warm at a few minutes past five as I strolled down Grafton Street, one hand holding an ice cream, the other adjusting my sunglasses.
I was in a good mood and feeling perfectly touristy. It was hardly a wonder as I had used my first few days in Dublin visiting nearly every interesting tourist site. From the James Joyce Centre to the Book of Kells kept at Trinity College Library, I had seen it all, and it was with a subtle, but increasing feeling of “enough is enough,” that I had decided to take a day off from being cultural and do something just as important instead.
Namely shopping.
I had promised to buy Paige and various family members a couple of souvenirs, but I had no idea what, and to be frank, I was more in the mood to get something for myself. Not that I had a much better idea of what to spoil myself with, although as most women I was – and am – of the opinion that you can never have too many shoes.
Walking past two street musicians, their enthusiasm and energy making up for everything they might lack in the talent and skills department, I caught myself missing having someone to share it all with. As much as I enjoyed the peace and quiet, and the possibility to be completely selfish when travelling alone, I longed for someone to discuss the things I saw with. Someone to comment on the sights, the food, the beer etc, and to keep me company when I needed it. Basically, I guess you could say that after three days in Dublin I was starting to feel just a little lonely.
Finishing my ice cream, I began to look around for suitable places to spend some money before returning to the hotel for the night. The hotel Paige had chosen was very nice, not exactly in the city centre so it required a bit of walking to reach it, but since the route let through a nice park called St. Stephen´s Green I didn´t mind, but rather enjoyed the walk. In fact, despite that I was feeling alone, I was quite at home and found most Irish to be friendly and less reserved than most of their polite British neighbours.
Just as I was about to give up finding anything interesting to buy, my eye caught the sight of a huge bookstore. It wasn´t really like I needed anymore reading materials, and it wasn´t like I was searching for anything I didn´t already have, but being my father´s daughter I was almost never capable of walking past such a store without at least looking inside. And that day was no different.
Walking inside I was absently speculating whether I would be able to come across a book my father might like, perhaps something about whisky, when I noticed that the store seemed unusually crowded considering the hour. People were milling about and I almost went back out, not in the mood waiting forever to pay in case I should find something I wanted to purchase. Still, the back of the store was close to being empty, and taking my sunglasses off, I quickly walked down between the aisles, searching for an appropriate place to start my browsing. Even when I was still a little girl, my father had solemnly taught me to be thorough and that it was in the most unlikely places you would find the best books or the biggest bargains. That aside, I liked taking my time.
The section I started with was filled with books about car engines, trains, aeroplanes and various mechanics, and it took me less than two seconds to realize that that probably wasn´t the best place to find something for Paige. Although I wouldn´t mind seeing her expression if I did. Trailing back towards the centre of the store, I came to an open space between two aisles, giving me a good look of the ground floor of the store. Not that it was a ground floor as such, more like a part of the floor lowered a few levels with two stairs on either side leading down to a circular area just big enough for a couple of tables covered with books.
Any other day the space was most likely used for special bargains or exhibitions, but not this time and I realized why people were lining up. There was a book-signing going on. One stair led people down to the table where the author was sitting, and the other stair was used as exit to avoid any confusion or chaos. I moved closer to the railing enclosing the circle, curious to see who the writer was and if it was anybody I was familiar with. If it was one of my father´s favourites I had just found the perfect gift for him.
Annoyed by the people who kept obscuring my view I leaned over the railing a little, finally catching a glimpse of red hair. However, when two young women who had been particularly good at hiding the author from my sight by practically hovering over her finally stepped back, I saw that the red hair didn´t belong to the writer, but to a woman in her late thirties sitting on a chair close behind. She was looking rather bored, her face turned halfway away as she spoke into a small cell phone, gesturing occasionally to emphasize a point. Losing interest, my gaze moved from her to the person sitting slightly in front of her.
A break had come in the line of people still waiting as the two who were next seemed to disagree on who had arrived there first, and the author used the opportunity to take a sip of water from a glass on the table, rubbing her forehead slowly as if she was in pain.
She was dressed in black from head to toe, the bad lighting made it difficult for me to see her face, and her hair was a little longer than I remembered, but it didn´t matter. Even from a distance, even after so many years, I would recognize her anywhere.
And I just had. In a bookstore in Dublin.
I don´t know how long I stared at her and I have no idea what I was thinking or feeling. Everything was just racing through me and for just a second, I felt like I couldn´t breathe.
Maybe if I had had the chance to prepare myself, had known she was there, I would have reacted less strongly. But the surprise, if not the shock, of at last seeing her again unprepared after so long left me dumbfounded.
As the next customer approached her, Terri looked up and gave him a tired and absent-minded smile while fumbling with her pen – a smile I recognized only too well – then I lost her from my sight as the man leaned in over the table to tell her something. In that moment I realized that if I continued standing frozen to the ground, odds were that Terri would spot me. I wasn´t directly across from her, but all it would take was for her eyes to waver just a little to the left and up and she would see me. The thought that she might not recognize or even notice me did cross my mind, but I pushed it away as ridiculous. I knew she would remember.
Filled with conflicting emotions, I remained paralysed for one more long, agonizing minute. I both wanted and didn´t want her to see me. I wanted to see her reaction, the expression on her face when our eyes met, but even as I thought that, I was turning away, intending to head for the door and walk away. In that exact moment Terri was done signing the man´s book and raised her head, catching the movement out of the corner of her eye.
I know I could have continued, that if I had walked steadily for the door, then she probably would have written it off as a trick of the light and soon forgotten everything about it. But I didn´t continue, something held me fast and I turned back, coming to stare directly into her eyes.
I held her gaze for about two seconds, then I did the mature thing – turned on my heels and fled.
Once I was outside the store I still had enough presence of mind not to run to avoid attracting unnecessary attention to myself, but I was walking mighty fast nonetheless. Not that it would have made any real difference as less than thirty seconds later, I heard running steps behind me and it was clear as day they were following me. Still, she didn´t call out my name before she was directly behind me, close enough to reach out and stop me if she wanted. She didn´t, though. I don´t think she dared.
“Sarah?”
From the moment I heard her follow me, I had gradually, and more or less subconsciously, been slowing down, and now I came to a complete halt. But I kept my back to her, momentarily not knowing what to do or if I even wanted to talk to her.
“Sarah? It is-”
Before she could finish I turned around, vaguely noticing the sign of relief showing on her face as she saw it was me.
“It is you,” she spoke slowly with a warm smile, stepping a little closer before pausing hesitantly. “That´s a relief. I was afraid I was chasing a stranger down Crafton St. As if people don´t think I´m crazy enough.” She grinned briefly and reached out towards me as if to touch me and make sure I was really there, but then suddenly changed her mind and pulled her hand back and just said, “So… how have you been?”
“Fine…” I answered lamely, thankful that she hadn´t asked why I left the bookstore the way I did. “I have been just fine. You? And what are you doing here?” Somehow it seemed the answer to that last question was very important to know as I suddenly felt a strong stab of anger towards her, irrationally thinking that she could only be here to mess up my life again just as I had gotten everything straightened out.
Terri shrugged and obviously didn´t suspect what I was thinking, but just said she was fine and mentioned something about combining a holiday with a little business. But I received the impression she didn´t really seem to be aware of what she was saying and was as busy studying me as I was her.
It had been seven years and she would turn twenty-eight the upcoming November, but she still looked quite young. Obviously not the way she did when I first set eyes on her, but as I stood there, in the middle of the street, I saw that it wasn´t so much her physical appearance that had changed and matured. It was something else. As I fought to find a word that would properly describe her transition, she suddenly reached out again, this time lightly grasping my left forearm.
Smiling, she met my eyes without nervousness and spoke softly, “I´ve missed you, Sarah. I´ve often wondered how you were doing.”
I swallowed, trying to get rid of the lump I felt in my throat. I wasn´t going to let her do this to me again. “Well,” I smiled, feigning both relaxation and tranquillity, either of which I didn´t feel one bit. “I can´t imagine you´ve had too much time thinking of me considering how busy you´ve been making a name for yourself as a writer.” I smiled again, this time for real, gently covering the hand still holding my arm with my own, “I´m so very proud of you, Terri, and happy for you and what you have achieved.”
“Yeah well…” Terri smiled slightly and shifted on her feet, looking a little embarrassed, but pleased by my words nonetheless. “It definitely suits me more than tending bars.”
“And requires less social involvement as well,” I supplied with a teasing but friendly grin, instinctively knowing that although Terri might have changed, she hadn´t changed that much. And the self-conscious grin she gave me in return told me I hadn´t been mistaken. “Yeah, that too.”
With that it seemed like we had run out of things to say, or maybe we were just too engaged in looking at each other, because the conversation came to a halt and almost simultaneously we both noticed that we were still standing in the middle of the street, that our hands were still touching, and that we were receiving curious glances from people passing us by.
I removed my hand first, seeing how Terri´s gaze followed the movement, a strange, somewhat bewildered look on her face, but whether it was my reaction or something in herself that surprised her, I couldn´t tell. Then she released my arm and before either she or I had the chance to speak, another voice spoke directly behind us, “Excuse me, Terri, but what the hell do you think you´re doing taking off like that?”
“I´m sorry, Caroline,” Terri spoke tiredly without turning around and her eyes still meeting mine. “I just had some urgent business to attend to.”
“Uh huh,” came the very dry reply and a woman stepped around Terri and into my view, and I recognized the redhead from the store. “So I see…” She gave me an icy look, sizing me up in less than three seconds, before instantly dismissing me, speaking only to Terri, “People are not happy, Terri, you promised them three hours and they want you to come back again tomorrow to fulfil your part of the deal.”
“There was only half an hour left!” Terri protested in exasperation, apparently forgetting about my presence as well. “How many fucking books can you sign in thirty minutes anyway?”
“Enough, and you know that,” was the woman´s unfazed answer as she calmly checked her watch, not the least impressed by the look Terri shot her once she looked up. “There are about ten minutes until the store closes, so you still have an opportunity to make up for some of the lost time. Let´s go.”
She gestured back towards the store, indicating for Terri to walk ahead of her, but Terri remained where she was, turning to me and saying without missing a beat, “Sarah, allow me to introduce Caroline Thomas to you, my charming agent, or babysitter, depending on one´s point of view.”
In spite of her words and her previous display of irritation, I didn´t detect any real animosity on Terri´s behalf against her agent, and the redhead didn´t even blink, so I assumed this was normal behaviour for them.
“And Caroline, this is Sarah Kingston…” Terri hesitated for just an instant. “An old friend.”
Caroline´s eyes wavered briefly in my direction, “My pleasure.” But already as she said that she was looking at Terri again, demonstratively holding up her watch. “Terri… the time… They´re expecting us and people are waiting to have their books signed. You know… the people who buy your books and pay your bills, ” she finished blithely, giving Terri a pointed look.
“And yours, too,” Terri muttered under her breath, but if Caroline heard she pretended not to. “Okay, okay…” Terri sighed and rubbed her forehead again, just like she had done back in the store, “You´re right. Sarah…” she looked at me, appearing a little conflicted. “I have to go back now, but I´d like to-”
“Terri, please…” Caroline was clearly very irritable now and Terri´s eyes narrowed dangerously by the sound of her agent´s impatient tone, and for a long tense moment they just stared at each other, then Caroline backed down. “Suit yourself, Terri. I´m going back there now and you´d better not let me wait too long. You´ve already managed to get a reputation for being difficult and overly aloof, let´s not add unreliable to that list. Unreliable authors always tend to make publishers and booksellers nervous, and we don´t want that, do we?”
Without waiting for an answer, or even expecting one, she turned around and strode away, taking out her cell phone and dialling a number as she did so. Terri exhaled slowly and I could swear she was counting to ten on the inside, then she gave me a quick smile, “Sorry about that. Caroline´s usually not so… so…” She grinned suddenly. “Well, not so much anyway. She just hates it when I do something unexpected.”
“Like chasing people out of bookstores?” I inquired, glancing for a second past Terri to see Caroline´s back disappear in the crowd of people further down the street.
“Something like that,” Terri replied, still grinning, but then she grew serious. “Look, what I was trying to say before we got interrupted was that I´d really like to talk to you some more if you have the time. And want to of course,” she added hurriedly, searching my face intently. “So… I mean… if you´ve got some time later tonight, then…?”
She regarded me questioningly and I could clearly see the look of anticipation in her eyes, in spite of her efforts to hide it, and I realized I would have to make a decision. After my initial shock, it had been nice to see her again and a lot less painful that the countless scenarios I had envisioned in my head over the years. Also, as far as I could tell she seemed to be content with life, happy, and if I had to be brutally honest with myself, that was all I really needed to know. It was enough for me to be able to wish her a good life and walk away with a clear conscience, comforted by the knowledge that she would manage just like always. I didn´t need to meet up with her again later and reminisce about old times or tell her about the things happening in my life. I didn´t need to tell her how much I had missed her and how much everything that had happened in London had hurt me, and I was afraid that if we did sit down and began talking, I might just end up telling her all that despite my firm resolutions not to.
As the last thought ran through my head, my gaze left her face of its own volition and darted to her wrists, both hidden in the sleeves of the black shirt she was wearing in spite of the warm weather. When I was finally able to tear my eyes away again and look up, I could tell from the expression on Terri´s face that she knew exactly what it was I had been staring at for so long, but she gave nothing away and an almost imperceptible clenching of her jaw was the only visible reaction.
“So…” she licked lips briefly, her voice even. “Do you have time?”
Naturally, I said yes. Just as I had known deep down I would all along.
Old habits die hard.
I told her where I was staying and we arranged for her to come by later that evening. However, just as that was settled, she remembered she had to go to an exhibition one of Caroline´s contacts was participating in, and taking her agent´s current mood into account, Terri thought it better not to break that arrangement.
“I don´t really want go,” she explained apologetically. “It´s a PR thing, and it´s usually incredibly tedious. Rooms filled with people all furthering their own interests and following their own agendas, and nobody´s really listening to what anybody´s saying anyway.”
I told her not to worry, smiling inwardly by the thought of how extremely bored Terri was going to be, and then said she could call me at the hotel the next day and we would set up a time to meet.
“Okay.” She smiled at me even as she was starting to back away from me, unwilling to turn around completely. “I´m looking forward to it.” She paused, looking at me in a thoughtful but appreciative way, that made my stomach do things it shouldn´t, and then said quietly, “You look good, Sarah.” She smiled again, speaking more to herself than me, “You´re as beautiful as ever… not that I ever doubted it.”
And then she finally turned around and left, leaving me to experience a whole range of new and old feelings I wasn´t sure whether to welcome or to fear.
Getting back to the hotel, the first thing I did was to fix myself a stiff drink from the minibar. Then I collapsed down onto the bed and spent about an hour staring aimlessly ahead of myself, so far away in my mind that even after so long I wouldn´t have been able to describe the wallpaper pattern, or even the colour. Eventually the standstill of the moment became too much and I practically leapt to my feet, experiencing a strong need to do something, anything, to regain at least some control of the situation. For a second I was tempted to pack my bags and just leave to avoid having to deal with it all. But then I got a hold of myself, and with only my jacket, without any purpose or destination in mind, I left the hotel room and headed for the lift. As the lift slowly moved downwards, I finally started to be able to sort out my feelings and thoughts, and the state of confusion and uncertainty I had been in since speaking with Terri began, if not completely, almost to disappear.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn´t fool myself and claim that seeing her again had left me cold, or just remotely unaffected. I just had to recall my reaction in the bookstore to know how big an illusion that was. Parts of me wanted to write it off as being caused solely by the surprise of suddenly seeing her again after all those years, and while that was true, it wasn´t the only reason.
Walking through the lobby and past the restaurants despite my complaining stomach, I slowly resigned myself to fate. I was never going to have Terri completely out of my system. It just wasn´t going to happen. I would always carry some of my love for her in my heart, and that love would always have the potential of becoming alive again if I wasn´t careful. If I allowed it to happen. Which I couldn´t.
Oh, I was just as attracted to her as I had always been. That would be the most futile point to deny. The need to reach out and touch her had returned within seconds as if it had never been dormant. Her hesitant smile still made me weak and her eyes were still the most beautiful I had ever seen, but I couldn´t allow it to cloud my judgement.
Terri wasn´t good for me. She wasn´t what I needed. Last time I was forced to admit that it broke my heart, and I wasn´t going to let that happen again. I had enough scar tissue to deal with as it was.
She may have changed, an excited voice whispered seductively in my head. It´s been seven years. She´s not the person she was, she´s grown up. Things are different now.
“I have no way of knowing that,” I answered my internal voice, not realizing I had spoken out loud before the couple that had just passed me in the lobby turned around briefly to give me an odd look. Ignoring them, I left the hotel and began to walk down the street, direction unknown. It was still warm and relatively bright outside and on any other evening I would have appreciated it, but tonight I didn´t care. I thought about calling Paige to get her opinion, but decided against it. She couldn´t tell me anything I hadn´t told myself already, but as I approached St. Stephen´s Green, walking around it instead of through, I admitted to myself that the reason I didn´t want Paige to know was that I knew what she was going to say. And most importantly, I knew I didn´t want to hear it.
You won´t be able to stay away, will you? The same voice as before whispered, this time more mellow than seductive. And maybe a little resigned. Should anything happen, you´re not going to do anything to stop it. You may even be the one to take the first step if she lets you. Isn´t that so?
Isn´t that so…?
The annoying thing about internal voices is that they can be awfully hard to shut up or even ignore, and the voice in my head has always been particularly bothersome, but in that moment I saw something that made it fall deadly silent faster than it ever had before.
I saw Terri. She was standing maybe thirty or forty yards ahead of me outside a large and brightly lit building, and she was laughing. She and Caroline were saying good-bye to two men and a woman who were just getting into a taxi, and they were all in high spirits. As the taxi drove off I saw that Caroline´s arm was placed around Terri´s waist in what looked like a very proprietary manner, but Terri didn´t seem to mind or even notice. Instead she hailed another taxi just passing and as it made a large turn to come back to them, Terri leaned down to say something to her agent, who responded by laughing, lightly shaking her head. And then they kissed.
It only lasted a second or two because the taxi pulled up in front of them and put an end to it, but to me it might as well have lasted an eternity. And as they got in and the taxi drove away, I knew that the sudden pain inside me would last even longer.

 

Episode 34
You would think that being in a complete state of shock and disbelief would prevent you from feeling anything, but not in my case. As I slowly walked back to the hotel, my mind in some kind of haze, the one thing that kept making itself heard no matter how hard I tried to suppress it was how stupid I had been.
It had been seven years. Of course things had changed.
Just because I had been grieving the loss of what I felt was the love of my life, it didn´t mean Terri had been doing the same. Sure she had loved me once, or so I believed, but young hearts are fickle and heal quickly, and my so suddenly silenced inner voice had returned and kept whispering to me that I should be happy for her, happy that she had found someone else and wasn´t alone.
But I wasn´t. And as I reached my hotel and went inside, I didn´t know who I hated the most in that moment. Myself for being so stupid as to expect anything from our meeting, or Terri, for having the audacity to love someone other than me.
Of course, it was also possible that the one I hated more than anyone else was Caroline.
As I heard the door close quietly behind me, I stopped and stood motionlessly in the middle of my hotel room, staring absently at the furniture around me. I had returned with no plan or idea about what I would do next, and the feeling of bewilderment and uncertainty didn´t seem to want to leave my head and let me think straight. In a way I welcomed that because it also prevented me from thinking about things that would be too painful, but deep down I knew I couldn´t keep acting like nothing had happened.
Maybe it´s for the best… Maybe this will finally allow you to move on and forget about her…
Somehow I found myself sitting on the bed, my eyes now focused on the floor, finding it as fascinating as I had the wallpaper only a few hours earlier.
It´s not like you´re really upset, is it? You were just carried away and then abruptly brought back to reality. That´s not so bad, is it? You´ll be fine in a moment.
As I buried my face in my hands, the voice in my head tried one last time, You´re not really crying, are you…?
And then it fell silent.
Around noon the next day Terri called. I told her I wasn´t feeling well and that I would like to postpone our meeting to the following day. She sounded a little disappointed, but said it was fine and wished me a speedy recovery, and I put down the receiver and reached for my wine glass, not even wondering why it had been so easy for me to lie to her.
I had planned to leave Dublin that night, but when the time arrived I was too drunk to even contemplate such a complicated task, and some small part of me was also reluctant to break off my holiday and return before time. Paige would ask questions I didn´t want to answer but knew I would in the end, and it was the look on her face once she had heard my entire sad tale that I feared the most.
The next morning, while I still lay in the bed, feeling the consequences of too much alcohol and no food, Terri called again. This time I had no problem sounding sick and Terri began to sound slightly worried, asking if she shouldn´t come by just to check everything was okay. I told her no, saying it was nothing and it would pass once I had had the time to sleep, and she reluctantly relented, but gave me her cell phone number in case I needed something. However, what I needed she couldn´t give me, so I called room service instead, ordering another bottle of wine. While waiting for it to arrive, I did start speculating whether I actually intended to spend the rest of my days in Ireland in a state of complete inebriation, but then the bottle arrived and I quickly pushed the thought away. It wasn´t like I was going to drink myself into oblivion anyway, just enough to stop it from hurting.
I should have seen it coming, and maybe, in a way I did because when later that night I heard a firm knocking on my door I knew exactly who it was. Besides, room service had been there less than an hour before with the, so far, last bottle of wine I had ordered, and although I had done my best, that one still wasn´t empty and I hadn´t planned to order another just yet.
Tightening the belt of my robe a little more, I padded over to the door, not bothering to put anything else on. Opening the door, I saw Terri catch herself just as she was about to knock a fourth time and instead she let her hand fall down, speaking quickly, “Look, I know you said that you-”
She faltered when all I did was to turn around and walk back in, leaving the door wide open for her to follow. After a brief hesitation that was exactly what she did. “Sarah?” With my back turned I could hear her shut the door and step closer, her voice a mixture of puzzlement and concern. “Sarah, are you all right? Is there-” Abruptly she fell silent again, but this time I knew the reason wasn´t me, but the almost empty bottle of wine on the table and the other bottles from before I hadn´t bothered to throw away.
“Sarah, what´s going on here? I thought you weren´t feeling well?”
I shrugged carelessly, although the timbre of accusation in Terri´s words did make me cringe inwardly. But I didn´t show it and just replied, “I´m not.”
“No wonder,” Terri spoke a little testily and I could hear her walk over to the table and pick up one of the bottles, holding it in her hand for a moment before putting it back down. “With all you´ve had to drink it´s a wonder you´re capable of standing upright.”
“Not that it´s any of your business,” I answered slightly sharper than intended, turning around to face her, “but those are old bottles. I haven´t been sitting all day drinking if that´s what you´re thinking.” Okay, maybe that wasn´t exactly true, but it wasn´t exactly a lie either.
Terri just looked at me and the expression on her face remained impossible for me to read despite all my attempts. “I…” her brow furrowed and she looked away as though she was trying to think, her gaze resting on the edge of the bed. A few seconds passed in silence, then she met my eyes again and said quietly, “I´m not sure I understand what´s going on here, Sarah. If you haven´t been ill then…” She straightened up suddenly and crossed her arms in front of her chest, her face hardening imperceptibly, but I detected more confusion than anger. “Have you been trying to avoid me?”
Several responses ran through my head, some more laughable than others, but I never seriously considered lying to her. I knew she would see right through me anyway. Also, a strange feeling was slowly but steadily suffusing me. It wasn´t exactly resignation, but it wasn´t a feeling of serenity or peace either. Pushing it aside, I answered softly, “Yes.” And I think I might even have managed to smile at the absurdity of the situation, but inside I wasn´t smiling. “I guess I have.”
“But why?” Terri stared at me and I could tell that although she had asked me the question, she hadn´t anticipated the answer she would get and was clearly taken aback. And hurt.
And suddenly I knew what it was I was feeling. Indifference. Not about Terri, not about my feelings for her, but the entire ridiculous situation. All the confusion and pain and misunderstandings – I just didn´t care anymore. In that very moment I was past that. I was tired of always being reasonable, considerate, and understanding. I was tired of always having to settle, of things never going my way.
And most of all, I was tired of never getting what I wanted.
Somehow I knew that the alcohol content in my blood played a very large part in my sudden feeling of carelessness, but nevertheless I relished it, welcomed it. And then I acted upon it.
“Because…” I slowly closed the distance between us, slightly amused by the renewed look of bewilderment on Terri´s face. “Because if I didn´t I was afraid I might do something I shouldn´t…”
“What do you mean?” Terri looked at me, obviously not following.
“This,” I replied calmly, wrapped my arms around her, and kissed her.
I had expected her to react in one of two ways; one, that she would freeze up in surprise, or two, roughly push me away, and those reactions I would have known how to deal with. What I didn´t know how to deal with was her tongue slowly entering my mouth as she began to kiss me back, her arms slipping around my waist and pulling me close. That, I hadn´t quite expected.
Which didn´t mean I wanted her to stop.
She kissed me hard and relentlessly, her passion probably spurred on by her confusion and anger, but I did what I could to urge her on, skilfully remembering and taking into use all the small tricks I knew would make Terri´s blood race faster. And I soon learned that Terri hadn´t forgotten which of my buttons to push either, her hands already attempting to find a way up under my robe. Nevertheless, despite her forcefulness and greater strength, that night I was the one who called the shots and she never really stood a chance. From the moment I kissed her, I knew I had to have her and no force on earth was going to stop me from achieving that goal. Not my better judgement, not my conscience, not Caroline and, least of all, not Terri.
Fortunately, she didn´t mind.
I´m not really sure, but somehow we ended up on the bed, our descent less than graceful, but neither of us could have cared less. She tried to roll me over, to take charge, but I was having none of it and soon she relented and let me be in control, maybe not understanding, but sensing that I needed it.
In a way it was like we had never been apart. Our bodies merged and fit together like those seven intermediate years had never been, and we moved together effortlessly, instinctively, with no feelings of awkwardness or hesitation. Before I could tell her or show her what I wanted, she would do it, and she barely had the energy to voice any wishes as I made sure she wasn´t neglected for even a second. I loved her fervently and reverently, but with too many haphazard thoughts and feelings running through me to be really gentle. We didn´t have time for that, at least I didn’t – always fearing to wake up and have her disappear beneath my hands before I could satisfy my hunger. So I clung to her, as closely as the damp and tangled sheets clung to her back, and the only time I allowed myself to slow down was when I tenderly kissed her wrists, moving closer and closer to the pale scars visible there. At that point Terri froze and for the first time tried to move away, but I wouldn´t let her and silently dared her to break eye contact as I held her wrist against my lips, easily feeling the frantic beat of her pulse close beneath the skin.
I don´t know what went through her head in that moment, and as much as I tried I wasn´t able to read anything off her face or tell what she was feeling, but that she was indeed feeling something I knew without a doubt. She ceased resisting and remained quiet and passive as I moved to her other wrist, our eyes never leaving the other´s face. We didn´t speak, in fact, not a single word of significance was spoken between us that night, and hours later, when Terri was lying fast asleep next to me, I plaintively realized that it hadn´t been like before after all. And it was with a sense of sadness, emptiness, not joy, I eventually fell asleep, locked in an embrace that didn´t belong to me.
I woke scant hours later with a feeling of being watched and as I slowly opened my eyes, I saw Terri propped up on her right elbow, studying me intently. In the early morning light it was hard to see her face properly, but I could tell she smiled a little, her free hand resting lightly on the blanket covering my hip. “Morning.”
“Morning,” I replied quietly, intending to smile in return, but for some reason wasn´t able to. “What time is it?”
Without looking away or searching for her watch, Terri answered, “A few minutes past six, it´s still early. You can go back to sleep if you like.”
I was tired, to be honest I was completely exhausted and feeling drained both emotionally and physically, but as much as I longed to just close my eyes and postpone thinking about anything, I knew I couldn´t. I felt like I owed Terri some kind of explanation for my behaviour, an apology, but as the room gradually became brighter and Terri absently began to draw small circles on my hip, another thought struck. Why was she acting the way she did? Why did she seem so relaxed and calm, as if this was a morning like any other and not…
I sat up quickly, pulling the blanket up to make me feel less exposed, “Perhaps you should go.”‘
She removed her hand, which had stilled when I moved, and frowned, leaning back a little to look up at me, “What do you mean?”
I looked at her and suddenly wanted to strike her as I saw the look of what appeared to be genuine confusion on her face. I couldn´t believe she had become so callous, the Terri I knew would never have behaved like this. “Caroline,” I spoke, amazed by the calm and emotionless tone of my voice. “Don´t you think she´ll be worried by now?”
“Worried?” Terri sat up as well, only bothering to cover herself when she noticed me avert my eyes. “Why? Why should Caroline be worried?”
“Well…” I was starting to get slightly annoyed now. Maybe Terri didn´t have a problem with what had happened between us, but I did. My recklessness from the night before had long disappeared and my conscience was doing an excellent job of telling me how selfishly I had acted, and it wasn´t making it better that I apparently had to spell it out to her. “You didn´t come home last night. Don´t you think that´ll make her worried?”
She just shrugged, searching my face for what she obviously suspected was the real reason for my sudden withdrawal. “I don´t know, I don´t think so. We didn´t have anything planned.” She meant to say more, but suddenly something seemed to dawn upon her and her brow furrowed slightly, her eyes becoming almost suspicious as she stared at me thoughtfully. “Where are you going with all this, Sarah? If there´s something you want to say then come straight out and say it, stop beating about the bush.”
I regarded her coolly, my guilty conscience disappearing almost as quickly as it had arrived. Terri´s attitude was making me angry and the anger was a lot easier to deal with than the hurt I didn´t want to acknowledge. I was starting to feel that she was the one who had done something wrong, not me. It was true I had initiated matters, but I wasn´t involved with anybody, I was free to do whatever I wanted and it wasn´t as though I had seduced her. Terri had willingly joined me in everything I wanted to do, never once trying to stop me or tell me no. I knew had she really wanted me to stop, she would have told me so, regardless of her desire and lust, she would have made me stop. But she didn´t. So who was really to blame here? Who was it who ought to feel guilty?
With that thought in my head I rose from the bed and walked naked through the room, searching for my robe.
“Sarah?”
I found the robe where it had been thrown carelessly onto the couch and slipped it on, tying the knot securely as I turned around to face her again, “I think you should go now, Terri.”
She didn´t answer and bit her lip lightly, meeting my eyes. I could tell that she was thinking about something, seemingly weighing the pros and cons, or debating with herself what to do next, then suddenly she said, “Look, Sarah, I don´t know what you´ve heard or read about me and Caroline in the tabloids, but those are just stupid rumours. You know how people like to read more into-”
“I saw you, Terri,” I interrupted softly and without accusation, not experiencing any real anger towards her anymore, but more like a warped sense of sympathy, wanting to stop her before she embarrassed herself further. “Last night, outside the gallery or whatever it was, I saw you together. Are you going to tell me the tabloids orchestrated that?”
She opened her mouth to answer, but no words came out and she slowly closed it again. Still, she recovered from the surprise quickly, only using a few seconds to think before saying, “I don´t know what you saw, Sarah, or believed you saw, but Caroline and I don´t have a relationship like that. We just…” She faltered, for the first time appearing a little unsure of how to continue, her eyes still locked with mine, waiting for my reaction.
“You don´t have to explain anything,” I spoke, continuing in my calm, relaxed tone. I stepped over to draw the curtains aside and open a window, gratefully inhaling the fresh morning air. “It doesn´t concern me.”
“But…” Terri spoke to my back, the confusion in her voice so evident that I could easily picture the expression on her face. “But if you thought… I mean, I thought that… when…” For a moment there was silence, an unpleasant silence, and I was sorely tempted to turn around and look at her, but something held me back. Then she spoke, very quietly, but her words were far from placid, “So was this some twisted way of getting back at me? Were you trying to punish me for hurting you all those years ago, or were you just in the mood for a quick fuck and knew where you could get it?”
“You think highly of yourself, don´t you, Terri?” I snapped, angrily spinning around. “Don´t you think I have had better things to do for the last seven years than coming up with ways trying to punish you? And trust me, should I feel like getting laid there are plenty of other places I could go.”
Terri stared at me, then spoke in a voice cold as ice, “Of that I have no doubt.” She got out of the bed and began to dress, quickly and without a word. I just watched, torn between wanting to go over and throw my arms around her, and scream for her to get the hell out of my room.
And my heart.
As she walked to the door, I experienced an incredibly strong sense of déjà vu, abruptly recalling all the times I had been through the exact same or similar situations when we were still together. But then Terri hesitated, her hand tightening around the doorknob but not turning. Without looking at me she spoke tiredly, “I´m sorry about the things I just said, I had no right to feel upset. I understand if you think I´ve behaved like a jerk, but you have to believe me when I say that Caroline and I really don´t have that kind of relationship. We… we do end up in bed together occasionally, but that´s all it is and usually only when we´ve had too much to drink.”
“You don´t have to explain anything,” I said, repeating my words from earlier and feeling as tired as Terri sounded.
“Yes, I do,” she said almost angrily, glancing at me. “I want you to understand.”
“Why?” I asked simply.
“Because…” Terri sighed, then finally turned to fully face me, crossing her arms behind her back and leaning against the door. She sighed again and was silent for a few moments, then met my eyes and spoke quietly, “Because I don´t want you to think bad of me, Sarah. I don´t care what the rest of the world thinks, or what the papers write about me, but I can´t stand the thought of you thinking bad of me.”
“Why do you care what I think?”
For a second it almost looked like she was about to laugh, but then she shook her head in a slow, resigned way, smiling faintly to herself, but her voice was sombre as she spoke, “I just do… okay.” She pushed herself away from the door, hesitated for a split second, then resolutely walked over and gave me a gentle hug, whispering into my ear, “I´m sorry things always seem to get messed up when we´re together. You have no idea how many times I´ve wished that it ended differently between us, or better yet, that it didn´t end at all.” She moved away a little to look at me, but kept her arms loosely around me, giving me a small smile, “You helped me realize a lot about myself, Sarah, among other things that I couldn´t keep running away, or that not thinking about stuff wasn´t going to solve it. I´ll always be grateful to you for that.”
She raised a hand to slowly tuck a stray lock of hair behind my ear, but when that was done she didn´t move her hand away and just continued to speak softly, “I´m sorry for what I did in London, it was an unforgivable thing to do and I´m very fortunate that I´m still alive.”
I swallowed, an old pain suddenly feeling very fresh again as I replied hoarsely, “You scared me, Terri. I have never been so afraid in my life as on that plane going back to London.”
“I know,” she murmured, tenderly stroking my hair, the blue eyes as gentle as her touch. “I´m so sorry, baby, I never meant to hurt you. It was rash and thoughtless, I didn´t think how it would affect you.”
I leaned into her hand, so tempted to just close my eyes and…
And what?
“Terri, please…”
“Yes, baby?” Terri whispered fervently, her face so close to mine now that we were breathing each other´s air. “What is it?”
“I can´t do this again…”
“What?” she froze inches from my lips, her entire body stiffening.
“I´m sorry!” I blurted out, nearly stumbling as I tore myself away from her. “I can´t do this again, I can´t risk it!”
“But, Sarah…” she reached for me, but I took a step back, afraid that I would ravel should she touch me again. “Sarah…” Terri looked at me, an edge of desperation to her voice that was mirrored on her face. “You can´t mean that, not when we still have something. And we do, I can feel it!” She was going to say more, but faltered abruptly, searching for words before asking quietly, “Don´t you feel it, too?”
“That´s not the point!” I almost shouted, feeling closer to tears than I was comfortable with. “Yes, it is!” Terri answered just as loudly, closing in on me. “That´s exactly the point! If you still love me we can make this work. I wasn´t mature or stable enough seven years ago, but, Sarah…” She reached for me again and this time I didn´t attempt to move away. “Now I am… I can make you happy now… If you´ll let me,” she added almost inaudibly, her grip on my arm so tight it was painful.
We stared intensely at each other, the atmosphere in the room so tense that I felt like I would choke. “Don´t you understand, Terri…” I finally managed to whisper, sounding almost like I was pleading with her. “You broke my heart… I can´t risk letting you do it again…”
The lugubrious smile that flickered across Terri´s face cut straight through me and her words were full of bitterness as she exhaled deeply, “Don´t you think I broke my own heart as well? Don´t you think I have cursed the day I let you walk away? I even went to see you once when I couldn´t stand it any more. I waited outside your building for four hours, but when you got back you weren´t alone and I didn´t want you to know I was there.”
“But why not?” I asked, completely floored by the information that Terri had actually come to see me.
“Because I didn´t want you to think me as pathetic as I felt.”
“I… I…” I gave up coming up with a response and just asked, “When was that?”
“I…” It was Terri´s turn to hesitate. “I don´t know. A long time ago. I´d just finished my first book and wanted you to see it before it was published. It was… well…” She smiled tentatively, “It was mostly about you, you know… about us…”
“I know,” I answered softly, my gaze shifting from Terri´s face to her hand still holding my arm. “I´ve read it, I´ve read everything you have ever written.”
“Everything?” she inquired, seemingly surprised, but also pleased by the revelation.
“Yes.” I looked up again, giving her a smile. “Everything. Even that piece you wrote in The Times a year or two ago about Tori Amos being the 21st century´s answer to Sophocles.”
“Oh… that…” Terri grinned a little embarrassed. “That was only meant as a joke. They wanted me to write something, but I had my own deadlines to keep and didn´t have the time to write anything proper.” She grinned again, “Judging from the passionate ´Letters to the Editor´ they received a few days later not everybody appreciated the joke.”
“No,” I returned her grin. “I remember.”
The change of subject had helped clear the tension between us, but we both knew that things were far from over. I could tell from the determined set of Terri´s jaw that she wasn´t going to let me get away without a fight. In an odd sort of way that made me feel good, but also afraid. Afraid that I would give in, or maybe – as I looked into her eyes, seeing the emotion there – that I wouldn´t.
Terri was the first to break the silence, “Sarah, I understand if you´re gunshy after all that happened, hell, I don´t even know if you´re seeing someone else or not, but I really want to try again. It´s something I´ve thought about a lot for a very long time, and I know now I´m not going to meet someone like you again.” She paused, then continued in a rush, “In fact, I don´t want to meet anybody else, I don´t want anybody but you. Maybe you don´t believe me or think I´m exaggerating, but I´m not. I still love you. I loved you when you left me in London, and I love you now. I want you back, Sarah. Please say that I have a chance to make things right?”
“What… what about Caroline?” I asked, mainly to gain some time before having to answer. “Doesn´t she have a say in this?”
“I told you it´s not like that between us,” Terri exasperated, and I could tell she was aware of my delaying tactics. “We´re just friends who happen to find each other attractive and occasionally act on it. It´s nothing! She doesn´t love me, and I don´t love her. Not like that. Besides, she already knows something´s up.”
“Why? What do you mean?”
Terri let her hand drop from my arm, slipping it around my lower back instead and slowly drawing me closer as she spoke, “I got your name tattooed on my ankle, remember? It was kinda hard for her not to notice.” She smiled a little, lightly tracing the contours of my face with her other hand, “To be honest, you have no idea how complicated having your name on my ankle has made my love life for the last seven years.”
The thought made me laugh and I spoke without thinking, “Good, I´m glad to hear it.”
Terri smiled again, her eyes focused on my lips as her hand moved around to the base on my neck, and I knew she was going to kiss me now if I didn´t stop her or pull away.
I did neither.

 
Episode 35

 

“Did you know that my Dad has read all of your books?”
Terri paused just as she was about to dive in for another kiss, “You´re kidding?”
“Nope.” I grinned at the expression on her face, which was quite frankly a mixture of surprise, satisfaction and horror. “He keeps them in the bookcase reserved for all his favourites. You should feel honoured.”
“Oh my God…” Terri flopped back down on her back beside me and I used the opportunity to sling a leg over hers and move just that little closer. “That´s terrible.”
“Why?” I regarded her, fairly bemused by her reaction. “Don´t you want people to read your books? Or have I missed some crucial point here?”
“Well, of course I want people to read them, but your dad…” Terri´s gaze strayed upwards for a moment as she took in the sight of the ceiling and I could swear a faint blush had risen to her cheeks. “You know… some of the stuff is pretty… well, you know…”
“Hot?” I offered helpfully, suppressing a new grin. “Steamy? Sexy?” I leaned closer, whispering conspiratorially into her ear, “Moist…?”
“Oh God,” was Terri´s only response as she hid her face in her hands. I laughed out loud, nearly missing her low mumble, “How am I ever going to look him in the eye again? He´s gotta know some of that stuff was inspired by you.”
Her words immediately wiped the grin off my face and I reached out to pull her hands away, looking at her very seriously as I tried to ignore the panic about to seize me, “What?”
“Well, you know…” Terri made a vague gesture with her hands and this time it was she trying not to smile. “Sometimes it´s too hard to come up with something so you just take stuff from real life. Slightly altered of course,” she added quickly when she saw the reaction her revelation got. “It´s not like I have been putting everything we have ever done down on paper and then had it published. I mean, it´s only been one book, okay two, the rest have just been mainly about straight characters and so.”
“Oh God,” I exclaimed as all colour drained from my face, subconsciously echoing Terri´s words from earlier. “I did think some of the situations seemed familiar when I first read them, but I just thought… Oh God… Those two books you´re referring to happen to be my Dad´s absolute favourites of your work. I even heard him commenting some time ago on how great the character interaction was.”
That elicited a tremendous laugh from Terri while I in turn didn´t see the humour of it, and was instead wondering when the earth would open to swallow me up whole, and quite honestly hoping it would just about now. When I buried my face in Terri´s neck, she began to laugh so hard her entire body shook, “So he liked the interaction, did he? Now that´s just sick! Reading about your daughter´s sex life. Eww!”
“Yeah well, Miss I-can´t-be-bothered-to-come-up-with-something-new, he´s been reading about your sex life, too, then.” Each phrase was accentuated by a not too friendly poke in her chest, but Terri just kept laughing, apparently having recovered from her own embarrassment minutes earlier, and in response I moved away and sat up on the bed in a display of the proper righteous indignation.
“Now, now, come back here,” Terri spoke with a smile, making a real effort to get herself under control as she pulled me down into her arms again, closing them firmly around me. “Don´t be so mortified by all this, sweetheart, your dad is probably like most dads, and in my experience they are quite capable of pretending that their daughters don´t have a sex life, let alone know there´s such a thing as sex in the first place. If he has had the slightest suspicion you might have been one source of inspiration for some scenes, and I do mean one source of, not the only source, I´m sure he banished that thought from his mind quicker than you can count to three.”
“Hmm… perhaps…” I was about to allow myself to be mollified – after a suitable punishment for Terri of course – when something she had just said struck and, deciding to have a little fun, I asked dryly, giving her a look, “Not the only source, eh? So, tell me, who were the others?”
The question seemed to surprise Terri, or maybe she was just surprised by how serious I suddenly acted, because she didn´t answer at first and I could feel her body stiffen just a little. “Well…” she finally began, not really comfortable looking into my eyes, but making herself do it anyway. “It´s not like I´ve… I mean… but…”
“Hey,” I whispered quietly, breaking off any further words by kissing her softly on the lips for a few moments. “I was just teasing you, baby, you don´t have to say anything. I wasn´t being serious.”
“Oh…” Terri was clearly relieved by that, but something still appeared to trouble her and from, a sometimes hard-earned, experience I kept silent, waiting for her to speak her mind. “That´s good…” she spoke at length, moving a hand to caress my face. “You had me worried there for a sec. But you know… even though I… I mean, obviously I haven´t been celibate all this time, but…”
As she trailed off, searching for a way to express herself better, I was surprised to feel just the slightest sting from her last remark. However, I did my best to hide it, recognizing the ridiculousness and futility of it. After all, it wasn´t like I had been celibate for the last seven years myself. Granted, I hadn´t exactly been making notches by the dozen in my bedpost either, but there had been a few and naturally Terri had to be aware of that, too.
“Even though it didn´t quite turn out the way I wanted it to,” Terri suddenly spoke, disrupting my line of thought. “And even though it wasn´t… well… the best of break-ups back then, I never regretted it – I mean, I never regretted meeting you.” She gave me a small pensive smile, her eyes running over my face as she continued quietly, “I´m not gonna lie and say it didn´t hurt when you first left me in London, it did, but that doesn´t quite excuse my overreacting like that, and I know that at the end of the day I probably hurt you a lot more than you did me. I know this wasn´t planned,” she indicated our entwined bodies with her hand, “and I want you to know that I totally understand if you don´t want to get too serious again, or even want to try again. But no matter what you decide, I still want you to know that although I have been with other people after you, no one ever came close to being as important to me as you. No one made me feel the way you did… and still do.”
“What are you trying to say, Cavanagh?” I asked teasingly, purposely trying to block out the sincerity in Terri´s voice because I wasn´t sure I was ready to deal with that and desperately wanted to keep things light between us. If only for a little while longer. But then of course I had to ruin it by adding, in a tone bereft of playfulness, “Are you saying you still love me?”
Terri just looked at me, then sighed, sounding almost resigned, and said with a faint smile, “Yes. I still love you, Sarah, I have already told you that. But what really matters is, do you still love me?”
For some reason I swallowed involuntarily as both conflicting thoughts and voices calling out in warning filled my exhausted head, then I nodded quickly, but that wasn´t enough to satisfy Terri and she shook her head slowly, speaking softly, “No, I want you to say it.”
As I looked into her questioning eyes, seeing both anticipation and fear, I knew I couldn´t lie to her, not even to protect myself. And maybe I didn´t really care to any more either because before I knew what was happening, I heard myself say, feeling and sounding so calm I surprised even myself, “I still love you, Terri. I never stopped loving you. Sometimes I wish I did; in fact, there have been several times in the past years I wish I did, but no matter how hard I tried I never seemed to be able to completely dispel you from my heart. You told me once that you always aim to leave a lasting impression… well, sweetheart,” I gently traced her collarbone with my finger, speaking with just the slightest hint of a smile that belied the sudden sadness I was experiencing, “in this case you definitely succeeded.”
Terri took in my words without a visible reaction and she didn´t speak herself, but the look in her eyes told me all I needed to know, and I sighed inwardly, feeling like I had just sealed my fate.
For the second time.
Terri and I spent a nice couple of days together in Dublin after that. Sort of. To be honest, it could have been better. It might have been more than nice, it might even have been very romantic, if Terri had actually had the time to be with me more than an hour here, an hour there. She did warn me beforehand that she had several business obligations to fulfil before she could allow herself to relax, and I didn´t mind that, but that didn´t mean I wouldn´t have preferred to see more of her – although that might have been the wrong wording because I did see quite a lot of her when we did manage to find time to be together, but that wasn´t what I had in mind. I was trying to get to know her all over again, to find out – even if I wasn´t openly admitting it to myself – whether there was a new chance for us, but since that required Terri to actually be present I wasn´t getting very far and had way too much time to speculate on my own.
If we went out to dinner or to some tourist sight, her cell phone would invariably ring – usually it was Caroline asking where she was and if she didn´t have time to make an appearance at some place or other – and even though Terri mostly declined, she didn´t seem frightfully bothered by the interruptions which, in turn, bothered me. There were even times when people would come over to talk to her, to comment on one of her books or just say hi, and though that did bother her, she kept it well hidden and I was only able to tell because I had long ago become an expert in reading Terri´s body language. It wasn´t that she didn´t enjoy their praise; she did, but she didn´t seem to know what to say in return except “thank you” and “I´m glad you liked it,” and she was always relieved once they left again.
One late evening just before dusk, while strolling slowly through the city, I asked her if she thought she would eventually get used to the attention and people wanting to discuss her work. But she just smiled enigmatically and took my hand without answering as we continued toward her hotel. Then after we had walked a few minutes in silence, she spoke suddenly, “I don´t mind the attention as long as it´s the good kind. If people are friendly or have something interesting to say it can actually be quite nice to talk to them, but if they just want to say that they hated every word or that the last book was so much better than the crap you just published, then it´s definitely something I can do without.”
I turned to her, looking at her in surprise, “Do people actually say that to you?”
Terri shrugged briefly, answering lightly and with an indifference I wasn´t completely sure was genuine, “You´d be surprised.”
“What do you do when that happens?”
She shrugged again, her eyes following a lone car driving past us, “I usually say nothing and just sign the book. I mean, what can I say?”
“So,” I said slowly, just to make sure I had understood her correctly. “People come over, tell you how much they hated something you have written, and then still have the nerve to ask you to sign something?”
“Pretty much.”
“Jesus Christ…” I shook my head incredulously, staring at Terri who now seemed slightly amused by my indignation. “The next time something like that happens you have to promise me to tell them to drop dead or fuck off. Preferably both.”
My heated words caused Terri to laugh quietly and she gave my hand an affectionate squeeze as she spoke wryly, “Well, I actually did that once, a long time ago.”
“Oh?” I was suddenly curious. “What happened?”
Terri laughed again, “Caroline didn´t approve.”
I wanted her to elaborate further and was about to ask, but didn´t have the time as she continued, seemingly even more amused than before, “But you don´t have to worry, Sarah, I can take care of myself just fine and sometimes it can be quite entertaining. I remember a couple of years ago I got a call in the middle of the night from a British tabloid that threatened to ‘out me’ if I didn´t give them an exclusive interview.”
This information brought me to a complete standstill and I stared at her. “No? Seriously?”
“Oh yeah,” Terri nodded, stepping closer and slipping her arms around my lower back. “They said that if I didn´t talk to them, my sexual orientation would be plastered all over the front page of next week´s edition.”
“What did you do?” I asked, feeling completely flabbergasted that someone would actually do something like that, and also a little puzzled by Terri´s devil-may-care attitude to it. “Did you threaten to sue if they went ahead with it?”
A small, but clearly self-satisfied smile appeared on Terri´s face, “No, not exactly…” The smile turned into a grin. “I told them I was sorry to break it to them, but they had to be the very last people on the planet who didn´t know I was gay, and that I couldn´t care less what they wrote about me. And then I hung up and went back to bed.”
“God…” I shook my head, unable not to grin myself. “I can tell you haven´t been bored since we last saw each other. So, did they use the story after all?”
Terri didn´t respond at first and looked away, her good spirits suddenly having left her. Then, exhaling softly, she looked back at me and said with a tired smile, “They ran a story about my suicide attempt instead. Even tracked down Alan and Jenny trying to get all the gory details.”
I was speechless, not knowing whether I should be angry or sad, but somehow I managed to get out, “I´m so sorry, Terri… I don´t…”
“It´s okay,” came Terri´s casual answer and I knew that if I hadn´t just put my arms around her neck she would have shrugged yet another time. “It didn´t really bother me, but it upset my parents and those of my friends who didn´t know, and I was a bit angry about that. But what the heck… it´s all in the past now. No reason to brood over that any more.”
“No… but still…” I objected, not quite ready to let go of the anger I was feeling on Terri´s behalf. “Such arseholes, they shouldn´t be allowed to get away with that.”
“Yeah well…” was all Terri said and after that we dropped the subject and began to talk about more cheerful matters until we reached the hotel.
As I had halfway expected, but not seriously believed would really happen, the phone in Terri´s room started to ring the moment she closed the door behind us. I didn´t have to listen to Terri´s deep sigh as she picked up to tell it was Caroline and her impeccable timing on the other end. That woman had an unnervingly accurate sixth sense when it came to Terri and her whereabouts, and I was actually ready to believe she might have her tagged in some way to be able to keep so closely track of her. However, in that moment I didn´t mind too much, because I knew without a doubt there was no way Terri´s agent would be able to persuade her to go anywhere that night. I had only one day left of my holiday and Terri had taken great delight in teasing me all evening, whispering into my ear the things she intended to do to me later, completely unrepentant about the blush that would invariably colour my cheeks, and judging from her answering grin I knew she planned to follow up on each and every one of her promises.
Idly listening with only half an ear as Terri initiated the lengthy and laborious process of getting Caroline to understand the meaning of the word “no” and subsequently off the phone, I headed for the bathroom, intending to use the moment to freshen up a little. Lost in thought and already filled with anticipation of what would happen next, I quickly finished and was about to leave the bathroom again when I noticed something on the edge of the sink, almost hidden behind an extra complimentary bar of soap. My mind instantly recognized what it was and yet I hesitated, almost as if I was trying to make myself believe I hadn´t seen anything, but then I reached out slowly, my fingers closing around the small pill bottle.
I held it in my hand for almost a minute before I felt capable of studying the label, unwilling to have my suspicions confirmed. But there it was. Terri was on antidepressants, not an overly strong kind, and compared to the stuff I had seen in her mother´s medicine cabinet that Christmas long ago, hers was almost like candy, but even as I thought that I felt the first cold waves of fear wash over me. In all our time together in Dublin, she hadn´t said a word about this and although I couldn´t really blame her for not saying anything, I couldn´t help but feel that she should have. If Terri was taking these pills, it meant she was taking them for a reason and that reason I was really interested in hearing about.
It wasn´t that I had a problem with her taking the medication as such, and had it been anybody else I would never have given the matter a second thought. But it wasn´t anybody else, it was Terri – Terri who had once been so upset by our break-up and life in general that she tried to kill herself. And if there was just the slightest chance of something like that happening again… if she was still that volatile…
Closing my eyes, I clutched the pill bottle in my hand so hard it hurt. There was no way I would be able to go through that ordeal again. There just wasn´t.
“About time,” Terri commented with a smile from her sprawled-out position on the bed. “I was about to go in and look for you. I thought you might have gotten lost. Now, come here,” she patted the surface of the bed beside her, giving me her most ingratiating look. “I believe we had plans for tonight.”
I did as she asked, but instead of lying down next to her like she wanted, I sat down on the edge of the bed, keeping a few inches between us.
“Sarah?” Terri studied me, first nonplussed then alarmed, and she sat up as well, her brow furrowed as she attempted to understand my sudden change of mood. “What´s going on? Did I say something wrong?”
“No, no,” I hurried to reassure her, smiling briefly. “Not at all…”
Terri regarded me carefully as I faltered, the expression on her face going from concerned to thoughtful. Then she gave me an almost imperceptible nod of encouragement, silently urging me to continue. That caused me to smile once more, surprised and pleased by how quickly we had become attuned to one another again and how well we seemed to communicate without having to use words. But as nice as that was, it wasn´t quite sufficient in this case and I sighed to myself, knowing that for me to learn all I wanted to know I would have to actually say something out loud.
Deciding we had been through too much together to want to beat about the bush, I spoke, keeping my tone even and matter-of-fact, “I saw a pill bottle with antidepressants in the bathroom, Terri, and even though I could tell it was some pretty mild stuff, I would like to know if it´s something I should be worried about? I know it´s none of my business, but I have to ask because I care about you and because of the history we have together. I need to know if… if…” Suddenly unable to finish the sentence I halted uncertainly, counting on Terri to read between the lines.
“You need to know if what took place in London is likely to happen again?” Terri asked quietly, but her question was mainly rhetorical; we both knew that was exactly what I wanted to know. Still, I nodded in confirmation, my gaze trailing away from her face and down to the bed. “That was a one-time thing,” Terri spoke, even as she reached out and gently got me to lift my head and meet her eyes again. “I was young, stupid and theatrical. If I had stopped for just one second to think about what it was I was actually going to do, I would have realized how absolutely idiotic it really was. As it were, I was lucky to survive and I have been utterly grateful for that ever since. So no, Sarah, you have no reason to be worried.”
“No?” I looked into her eyes, seeing a quiet confidence there I had never associated with Terri before.
“No.” She smiled faintly and we held each other´s gaze for a long time, trying to read the other´s innermost thoughts and feelings.
I don´t know how much time passed that way, but Terri was the first to finally break the comfortable silence that had fallen between us as she let out a low breath, speaking very quietly, “I am what I am, Sarah, and nothing´s going to change that. I will probably never be quite the way you would like me to be and I´m not likely to ever be like most people, I think we both know that by now, and I know I can be difficult to live with, but I promise you that I will do my damnedest to make you happy. I love you and I want you in my life. And if you give me that second chance…” Never severing eye contact, she reached down to take both of my hands into hers, almost as though she needed the physical connection, “If you allow me back into your life… I can´t promise you that you´ll never regret it, but I´m going to do my best that you never do.”

It took a while before I was able to answer, and when I did, my voice was barely more than a whisper, “It´s not that I don´t want to, Terri… these last couple of days with you have been wonderful and I have thought constantly about us getting back together…”

“But?” Terri inquired softly, displaying a near supernatural patience, which was something else I hadn´t associated with her before.

“But I´m scared… I´m scared that it might end like it did the first time around.”

To my surprise, something that sounded a lot like a laugh escaped Terri´s throat, “Don´t you think I´m scared shitless of that, too? Of course I am, of course I worry about that, too, but I also figure that we must have gotten a little wiser since the last time, and if only we work hard at not making the same mistakes twice then it can only get better. A lot better. I´m not saying it´s going to be easy, but I really think it´s worth a shot. So…” She looked at me, losing some of her calm and appearing quite eager, but also very nervous all of a sudden as she tightened her hold on my hands. “What do you say?”
Episode 36
Standing in the crowd of people in the airport all waiting to – hopefully – see their suitcases and rucksacks slowly slide by it was easy to tell who had been on holiday where. Most of them were extremely tan compared to me. Dublin was nice, but didn´t exactly have that much sun, and some arrivals had unusually blondish hair whitened by the sun and then of course there were a few fashion victims wearing clothes you really shouldn´t be wearing once you had returned to civilization. Not that I cared, I was fully occupied thinking of other matters. And then I was so very, very tired. Or maybe it was my mind that was tired, it was hard to tell since it had been too long since I had last had a few decent hours of sleep and my perception of the world around appeared to be getting more blurred by the minute.

When at last my suitcase appeared, as one of the very last I´m convinced, I pulled it to me with a tired sigh and headed for the exit, hoping to see Paige who had promised to pick me up. She was easy to spot, standing below the clock as we had arranged, chatting to two young men half her age. They were telling her something about certain types of waves when I arrived and she quickly shooed them off, walking over to give me a hug.

“Welcome back, hon! Did you have fun? Not that I can imagine that you would have too much fun without me.”

“God forbid,” I grinned, returning her hug. “I missed you terribly every single day. If the trip had lasted much longer I was sure to have become fully depressed and lonely without your charming self to entertain me.”

“Good,” Paige smiled, despite my objections taking the suitcase from my hand, “that´s what I thought.”

I was surprised to learn that we weren´t going to use Paige´s car and go by taxi instead, but decided not to press the matter when Paige, looking away and barely audibly, mumbled something about the parking spaces at our local shopping centre having become a lot smaller and a lot closer to the wall than good was.

“So…” Paige made herself comfortable in the backseat, looking at me expectantly. “How was it? And how come I only got one lousy postcard saying the weather was fine? What was so exciting you couldn´t stop to write me about it? The beer?” She leaned slightly closer, whispering overly dramatically while glancing at our driver who was listening to the radio and seemed oblivious to our presence, “The women?”

I smiled a little nervously, hoping to appear mysterious knowing it wouldn´t work on Paige, “Maybe, maybe not…”

“Hmm…” Paige looked at me searchingly, clearly intrigued and her eyes full of humour and I could tell she was setting herself up for questioning me about every little detail that may or may not have taken place. But then suddenly, and I still don´t know how or why, her brow furrowed and she tilted her head just an inch, now staring at me very closely, “Sarah, is… is there something you want to tell me?”

I met her eyes, sighing inwardly before I spoke softly, “You know me too well.”

“Of course I do,” Paige responded matter-of-factly as if I had just informed her that her eyes were brown. “But that´s not what I was asking.”

“No, it wasn´t,” I replied, more to myself than her. Then, turning my head to look out of the window because I wasn´t completely sure I wanted to see the next expression on her face, I said quietly, “I ran into Terri in Dublin.”

At first the silence was deafening despite the sound of both the traffic around us and the radio screaming out “Hotel California”, then Paige cleared her throat, “I see… And?”

“And…” I looked back at her, not too surprised to see that her face wasn´t really showing anything at all, she would save that for the grand finale. Searching for words, the best I could come up with was obviously terribly inadequate, “We… we hung out.”

Paige stared at me for a moment before inquiring with a light note of sarcasm in her voice, “Well, since it´s been a while since I attended high school, Sarah, I would appreciate it if you would clarify to “hang out” for me.”

This time sighing out loud, I leaned back in the seat, crossed my arms and stated wearily, “It means exactly what you think it does. It means I ran into Terri again and we spent some time together catching up and reminiscing. It was nice, it was good seeing her again and…”

“And?” Paige nearly jumped onto the word before I had finished the sentence.

“And she´ll be coming to see me in two weeks´ time.”

And that was pretty much the end of that conversation and the rest of the ride home was spent in silence with Paige squinting at me, alternating between an accusing and questioning stare sent my way, probably trying to decide whether I had suddenly become masochistic or just sadly misguided. Or just lost my mind. Or perhaps all three options. And parts of me were inclined to agree with her.

It had been a long talk, an emotional talk, not to mention, a tough talk.

It had been so tempting to give in and think to hell with the consequences, but I couldn´t do that and I knew it. The problem wasn´t that I doubted Terri´s love for me, I didn´t, I never really had. Nor was the problem that I questioned my own love for her, I had never really had any doubts there either. No the problem was that I feared it wasn´t enough. That the past history between us, our present lives and all the future obstacles bound to come our way would make this end up in disaster. And frankly I didn´t need that again.

Basically, I guess I was scared. Scared of losing control again, scared of feeling helpless and hurt, scared of Terri doing something that would result in her finally making me unable to forgive her. She kept ensuring she had changed, and I believed her. But just as strong as that belief, if not stronger, were the vivid memories of the anger and frustration she had brought into my life seven years ago. The overwhelming and also so exhausting anger rushing through me when once again she had bailed out of an argument or awkward situation, leaving me to pace my apartment floor for hours in a state of restless distress or helpless anger. An anger it had been so very hard for me to free myself from and could still feel deep inside even long after a particular argument had been over and allegedly solved. I hated myself for it, but had never been able to help feeling somewhat restricted, unable to fully unleash my anger on the person who had caused it, always fearing that if I did I would never see Terri again.

It´s neither very productive for a relationship nor very promising for its future success when you fear that a wrong word or comment, even if justified, will make you lose the one person you love more than anything. It builds up resentment whether you want it to happen or not, and I realized that back then, of course I did, but didn´t know what to do about it. Or maybe I was just too weak.

I also recalled, only too well, the maddening frustration – and worry – I felt every time I didn´t know where she was or I couldn´t reach her. Whether that happened to be in the literal or more figurative sense didn´t make much of a difference. All this had never been something unforgivable, something we couldn´t recover from, but all these little incidents had left their small, stinging mark. And there had been moments, looking into Terri´s anxious eyes that night in Dublin, when that had been all I could feel and remember.

I knew Terri had never meant to intentionally hurt me. Most of if had been caused by thoughtlessness or ignorance, her youth, and knowing that had enabled me to explain it to myself, rationalize every little new situation in my mind, but it very seldom diminished the pain felt.

It had made it hard for me to love Terri sometimes, and I told her that. Told her that it had put my feelings for her under a lot of strain and there had been times when I thought irrevocably damage had been done. That struck. After that she was silent for a long time and she was noticeably subdued and perplexed for the rest of the night. Nevertheless, after appearing to have digested what I just said, she continued her gentle, if still insistent, argumentation, trying to persuade me in her own unique blend of half thought through thoughts and disorganized but seemingly always heartfelt assurances of love.

Much later, when everything more or less had been said, Terri had been sitting on the edge of the bed, watching me sprawled across the rest of the surface. I was staring intently at the ceiling, wanting nothing more than to close my eyes and get some much needed sleep, but feeling Terri´s gaze on me I turned my head to meet her eyes, giving her a small smile, “If you intended to wear me down, you succeeded.”

Terri smiled absently in return, running a hand through her hair, her gaze already on the way away from mine, “Yeah well, it wasn´t quite the way I had in mind, but I guess beggars can´t be choosers.”

“Hey…” Gathering what was left of my strength, I reached out and grabbed hold of her sleeve, tugging lightly, “Don´t sound so sad, I didn´t say your efforts were in vain, did I?”

“No…” Terri let out a low breath, staring at my hand refusing to let go off her arm. “I´m just tired. I guess I thought it would be easier… or at least not take so long.” She gestured at the black alarm clock placed on the nightstand; it was showing 4:47 a.m. She grinned wearily, “You always liked talking too much, can´t believe I forgot that.”

“Yeah right,” I responded dryly, throwing a pillow at her. “Like I have been doing much of the talking for the last hours, which is only fair by the way, and besides, it´s you who are desperate to get back together with me, not the other way round.”

For about a second there was no reaction, then Terri abruptly rose from the bed and walked over to the window. “Terri?” I sat up halfway, worry and annoyance racing through me as I stared at her back. “What-”

“Now, if I were a little more sensitive… a little too sensitive…” Terri spoke slowly, turning around to look at me, a badly suppressed grin spreading on her face, “I might have taken what you just said the wrong way. Thank God…” She made a vague but nonetheless somewhat “imperial” gesture in the air with her hand, “That I´m not… Any more…”

She regarded me expectantly, now grinning openly and obviously very pleased with herself and her little prank. As well as, I assume, the confirmation that she could still get to me just like that even when I had just spent hours convincing myself, and her, otherwise. I decided not to dignify her terribly immature joke with a reply and just threw the remaining pillows on the bed at her, none too gently.

“Does that mean I´m sleeping on the floor?”

The first couple of days after my return from Dublin, Paige and I were both tied up in work and thus I had a welcome, if only temporary, calm before the storm I knew was brewing and heading my way. Paige was not happy about my decision to see Terri again, and she finally decided to tell me so Saturday night, fuelled by far too much wine and a sudden dislike of love, life and the world in general. She would get like that sometimes, and still does, but usually we would team up together, spending a few pleasant hours discussing and analysing everything and everybody we knew, or didn´t for that matter, but this time she directed all her ammunition at me. And knowing me so well, she knew where it hurt. I managed to stop her before it got too nasty and before I became too angry to remember she was drunk and currently suffering from a slightly bruised heart herself. A man she was seeing had conveniently forgotten to tell her he was married with two kids and a baby on the way, and she hadn´t realized until a week or so ago when his wife suddenly called.

However, I wasn´t going to let Paige´s own bad luck and serious misgivings about Terri, and her countless but amazingly varied versions of, “get this nonsense out of your head, and you really should know better by now, Sarah” make me start doubting. Mainly because I already had enough doubts and misgivings of my own and they grew steadily every day as the memory of Dublin, and the Terri I had met there, began to fade in the all too unpleasant light of reality. It wasn´t like I was very good with reality in the first place.

At one point, just as Paige had started to become really insistent, the phone rang and she had to shut up but not without giving the phone an evil look as though it had done it on purpose. Picking up, I smirked at her, but instantly forgot about Paige when I heard the familiar voice at the other end, “Hi, it´s me.”

“Hi, Terri,” I answered, remembering Paige long enough to give her a slightly smug look. “We were just talking about you.”

“Oh…” The information didn´t seem to make much impact and from the sound of her voice I could tell she was distracted by something. “Look, Sarah, I know I said I would come see you next week, but something´s come up. I´ve got some obligations here I can´t cancel. I hope that´s okay?”

Paige, who in the meantime had resisted the great temptation to move closer to be able to catch both ends of the conversation, now only needed to take a look at my face to guess what Terri was calling to say. Pointedly turning my back to her, I heard her remarking quietly, probably more to herself than me, “Blowing you off again, is she? Now, there´s a shocker.”

I purposely overheard the comment, speaking into the phone, “So when will you be able to come?”

“Well… um…” Again the distraction in Terri´s voice was evident and suddenly I detected the faint sound of a mumbled female voice in the background. “I´m not really sure… Caroline says it may drag out for a few weeks so I´d rather not give you a specific date if you don´t mind. Can´t I just call you when I have the time and hear if you´re available?”

I stared at the wall in front of me for a moment, breathing quietly as my gaze slowly moved past a floral print and a few framed pictures, disinterestedly taking in the details, and then I heard myself say, “No, Terri, I don´t think you can.” And then I – very calmly – hung up.

Just as calmly I returned to the couch and without a word poured myself a glass of wine, emptying it in one session with a concerned looking Paige watching every swallow intently.

“Did she call to say what I think she did?”

“More or less, “ I shrugged, leaning back in the couch to look up at the ceiling.

Paige moved over to sit closely next to me, handing me her own half-filled glass which I promptly emptied. “Do you want to talk about it?” The sudden kindness in her voice surprised me a little after the hard time she had just given me, but then again, when it really mattered, Paige had always been there for me. Whether she agreed with what I was doing or not.

I sighed, closing my eyes. I wasn´t really certain what I wanted. “Not really. I think I have talked enough about this to last me a lifetime.” I sighed again, then turned my head to look at her and spoke quietly, “I guess some things just aren´t meant to be and this is one of them. I think it´s about time I realize that.”

Paige looked at me for a moment, searching my face, then she said almost awkwardly as she slowly reached out to touch my cheek, “You´re crying.”

“No, I´m not,” I sniffled, wiping my eyes. “It´s a trick of the light.”

Paige didn´t respond and just gave me a hug.

Getting up the next day was hell, not just because I wasn´t exactly feeling peachy emotionally, but because I was suffering from the worst hangover North of the Equator and the sight of empty bottles scattered all over the living room was enough to make me run for the bathroom. It was Paige´s fault of course, insisting that we taste the whiskey I had bought her while in Dublin. I had been reluctant at first, but after the initial disgust I had been forced to admit she was right. Whiskey did taste less dreadfully the more you drank. However, that recollection only made my stomach turn again as I stared in despair down into the toilet, trying to persuade myself the room wasn´t actually capable of spinning. My only comfort in all this was that judging from the colour of Paige´s face when getting into the taxi last night, she would be feeling just as lousy as myself. If not worse. And somehow, that cheered me up a little. Not enough to prevent me from going straight back to bed after the worst of the nausea was over though.

But I wasn´t allowed to die in peace that day. Less than half an hour after my first trip into the bathroom, the doorbell rang. The sound, albeit muted through the closed bedroom door, cut through my aching head like a rusty blade and I moaned out loud. I valiantly tried to ignore it, both the chiming and the pain it caused in my head, but after the fourth ring I had no patience left and with a somewhat murderous glint in my eye, dragged myself out of bed to the door.

Dizzy, hung over and mad as hell, I roughly threw the door open, staring straight at Terri whose left eyebrow arched slightly at the sight before her. Regarding her for less than a second, I asked hoarsely, the question sounding more like a demand, “What do you want?”

Terri blinked quickly in surprise, the expression on her face changing from bemusement to puzzlement and back again. “Um…” she hesitated, shifting on her feet. “I was just…” She paused again, tilting her head as she stared at me searchingly, “Are you feeling all right?”

“No,” was all I managed to reply, then I spun on my heels and raced for the bathroom.

This time was the absolute worse yet as my stomach for some sadistic reason still thought it necessary for me to throw up when there was absolutely nothing left and no imminent relief to be found. In my misery, I had completely forgotten about leaving Terri on my doorstep and it wasn´t until I felt a cool cloth on my forehead and an arm slipping around my back that I remembered. Using the cloth to brush the hair away from my eyes and her other arm to keep me steady, Terri knelt patiently beside me until the nausea had receded.

Raising my aching head, that now felt like it had several jackhammers going at it in there, I looked at Terri who gave me a small inscrutable smile, inquiring softly, “Paige was here last night?”

I was about to nod, but instantly regretted it and instead whispered pitifully, “Yes. She wanted to teach me how to drink whiskey.”

“Well, evidently she was successful,” Terri replied noncommittally, but I thought I could detect just the slightest hint of amusement in her voice. “Okay, let´s get you back to bed. You look like you could need it.”

I had no objections whatsoever so after squeezing a few drops of water down my burning throat, I let her help me back to bed. Not that I really needed any help, but it was nice to have someone to lean on for a change and with the way I was feeling I could have been leaning on the devil himself for all I would care. Although to be honest it was probably nicer to have Terri sitting on the edge of the bed watching me settle in than the devil, and before I could stop myself I heard myself say, “I´m glad you´re here.”

Terri only smiled, then rose, “I´ll get you some aspirin, don´t go anywhere.”

“As if I wanted to,” I groaned into the pillow. “As if I could.”

Absently hearing Terri move around in the bathroom, it struck me there was something strange about the situation, something I needed to ask her, but my thoughts were too muddled and the rest of me too tired find out what it was and before I knew what was happening, I was asleep.

When I awoke the second time it was already early evening and I was surprised that I had managed to sleep for so long without interruption, but apparently I must have needed it. Sitting up carefully, my gaze fell on a glass of water and a couple of tablets on the night table beside me, but after a few seconds of consideration I came to the conclusion that I didn´t really need the painkillers any more. My head wasn´t quite back to normal, but the vague pounding in there wasn´t something a bit of fresh air couldn´t cure and right now I was more interested in finding out what had become of Terri. And as I got out of bed and put on a robe, I was surprised to feel the tiniest pang of panic inside by the thought she might have left. As much as I had wished never to lay eyes on her again the night before, now there was no one else I rather wanted to see.

“You´re fucking hopeless, you know that,” I mumbled under my breath to myself, gingerly taking a step towards the living room and relieved to find the earth had stopped moving. “You just can´t help yourself, can you? It´s sad really.”

Shutting up as I reached the living room door – I didn´t want Terri to think me crazy if she was still there – I nonchalantly took a look around inside, crushing disappointment hitting me when she was nowhere to be seen. I didn´t really know what I had expected until that moment, or wanted for that matter, but the sudden lump in my throat was a clear indication that I wasn´t quite as indifferent about the entire situation as I had made myself believe.

I resisted the temptation to rush into the kitchen to see if she was somehow hiding in there and instead stood motionlessly in the doorway, suddenly incapable of deciding what to do next. I don´t know for how long I stood there, staring at nothing while all sorts of thoughts and emotions ran through me, probably not that long but it felt like days, and by the time I finally managed to tear myself loose it was dusk outside and my headache had returned. Without really making a conscious decision, I was about to head back into the bedroom to take the tablets when a faint sound caught my attention. Standing absolutely still for one more second, I suddenly stepped into the living room, walked directly to the couch, hesitated, and then threw a look down. Terri was lying curled up on her side, partly covered by a blanket and completely hidden by the back of the couch from my previous position at the door. She was sound asleep, her breathing barely making a sound.

Not sure whether to laugh or cry, I had the feeling the strangest grimace was showing on my face as I looked at her. But before I could decide on what to feel, Terri moved – almost as though she could sense someone looking at her – and shortly afterwards her eyes fluttered open.

“Oh hi…” she spoke with a yawn, then cleared her throat. “You feeling better?”

I had no answer for her because I wasn´t thinking about that at all, and after a moment of silence I asked quietly, “Why are you here, Terri?”

She pulled herself up into a sitting position, looking confused, “Well, I didn´t want to leave you alone when you were feeling like that. I thought you might need more assistance in the bathroom later on.” She grinned slightly, but the grin faded when she didn´t get a response.

“That´s not what I asked,” I spoke with sigh, perching myself on the couch´s armrest. “What are you doing here? I thought you had obligations in London?”

Terri looked away, but not fast enough for me to miss the expression on her face. If I wasn´t quite mistaken, she was feeling embarrassed. “Well…” she fiddled with the blanket and was silent for few moments, then I could almost see her shrug mentally and she looked back at me. “Actually no… I didn´t have any obligations in London. I was here when I called you.”

“I don´t understand.” I stared at her. “You were here?”

“Yeah…” this time she shrugged for real. “I was staying with Nicola. I wanted to surprise you, I was going to pretend I couldn´t make it and then show up unexpectedly.” She attempted a weak smile. “I thought it would be fun.”

“Fun?” was nearly all I could say as I stared at her in disbelief. “You thought it would be fun?”

“Well… yeah…” she said a little defensively, her fingers fiddling with the blanket again. “As I said I wanted to surprise you, but when I spoke to you last night I realized that maybe it wasn´t such a good idea after all. I mean, I could tell you were a bit upset, so I thought I´d better come see you right away to straighten things out.”

“Terri… Terri, you…” I began, but words failed me and I could only shake my head slowly.

“Well, at least you were surprised.”

And then, finally, I had made up my mind whether to laugh and cry and did just that; laughed out loud with a very startled Terri watching me suspiciously.

 
Episode 37
The late afternoon was pleasantly warm as I stepped outside, not quite as warm as the season warranted, but warm enough not to need any coat. Walking slowly down the street, I let my mind wander back to the cases I had been occupied with that day and the tasteless, but actually quite funny joke one of the junior clerks had passed on via the intranet. Something that was bound to get him into trouble when his superiors found out. The joke, appropriate or not, had contributed to my cheerful mood and without thinking I inhaled deeply, feeling the dry summer air fill my lungs, which to my surprise contained only the slightest hint of fumes. It was the city, after all; you had to settle for what you could get.

Walking past people who actually seemed to be enjoying the evening as well and weren´t in a hurry to rush home, I hummed quietly to myself, smiling inwardly when I recognized one of the latest offerings from Tori Amos. I might never become a fanatic like Terri, but Amos´ songs would always remind me of her and that was enough to make me like them. Hesitating a little before crossing the street, I took a moment to reflect and look at the building I was aiming for. It was a long time since I had been there last. At first it was because it reminded me too much of Terri, and later when the pain had dulled, I just didn´t feel the need to meet anybody new. Eventually, though, almost two years after we parted, I had found myself there again, almost by accident, and I had met one or two of my casual bed partners there. But the place gradually lost its appeal when I didn´t seem to be able to find what I was looking for, and since it was close to where I worked there was always the danger of being spotted by someone who knew me. So now it had been a few years since I had last stared into one of the huge mirrors inside the Stage, watching myself sip a drink while chatting with strangers.

As the lights turned green, I quickly abandoned memory lane and resolutely headed for the café on the other side. Even before I opened the door I could hear the loud music booming inside, but I guess it was to be expected that the place might be a little more festive on a Friday. Inside I was instantly greeted by an unpleasant wave of heat and enveloped in a smell of perfume and perspiring bodies. A handwritten sign on the wall apologized and explained that the air-condition was currently out of order, but would be functioning again the next day. However, nobody seemed to mind or maybe they had become used to it, and after a few minutes I didn´t notice any more either.

It was quite a struggle to get to the bar – one of the many disadvantages of being short – but I was determined and after a fair amount of pushing and zigzagging, I wormed my way through. I didn´t recognize the bartenders, both fully occupied with serving the customers and sweating the lives out of them, but I didn´t expect to either and just waited patiently until it was my turn to order. I was feeling good and wasn´t in a hurry. Quite some time later, I was finally enjoying my by now much needed drink. It was a tricky task, though, trying not to spill when getting the occasional stray elbow in the side from the people around me, and I abandoned the thought of staying at the bar. I knew it was just as hopeless to find a free table, so I manoeuvred my way to the wall to lean against it while keeping an eye on the door opposite me.

Although I wasn´t on the lookout, I couldn´t help but check out the goods on display before my eyes, and what a display it was. It appeared as though the entire gay community had felt the nice summer air, too, and decided to go to the Stage that evening to enjoy themselves. And enjoy themselves they did, which probably also explained some of the heat in the room, not all of it caused by a defective air-conditioner. Looking around, I found it hard not to smile at the various stages of the age-old “dating ritual” displayed everywhere, some successful, some not, and I sighed inwardly, relieved I wasn´t part of it. Or so I thought until I heard a sultry voice very close to my ear, “What´s a nice girl like you doing in a joint like this?”

“Trying to mind her own business,” I replied, not bothering to turn around to look at the voice´s owner. “Which seems to be easier said than done.”

“Oh… so much attitude in such a sweet, little thing,” the speaker continued, not giving up. “Will you at least let me buy you a drink?” When I hesitated for the right words, my suitor took that as a sign of encouragement and added in a hot whisper, “Free of charge of course, no obligations… unless… you want there to be some…?”

“Jesus,” I blurted out before I could catch myself. “Does that line ever work on anyone?”

“Not really,” came the amused answer, no hint of offence. “But this might.” And then I felt lips against me, nibbling playfully on my earlobe for a moment before moving to kiss the side of my face.

“You should know,” I said with a smile, tilting my head to make room. “I´m already spoken for.”

”I should hope so,” Terri paused long enough to answer. “Or we would have some serious talking to do and I really don´t feel like doing that now.”

“That makes two of us,” I replied and turned around to look at her before she could start kissing me again. Taking her face between my hands, I leaned up to give her a proper kiss before speaking with a grin. “You know, it´s a good thing I already love you because with that approach and those cheesy lines, there´s no way you would ever manage to pick me up.”

“Oh… I don´t know about that…” Terri responded with mock indignation. “I seem to recall doing pretty well the first time we were here. What was it? Like five hours later before I had you in my bed?”

Not answering, I kissed her deeply instead, letting my hands languidly slide down her sides to her hips, pulling her close to me, then moved my head back slightly to whisper against her lips, “For your information, in case you really don´t remember, I was the one picking you up, smartarse, not the other way round. And it has to be at least eight hours before you had me in your bed.”

“Right, that makes all the difference.” Terri spoke wryly, returning my smile as she felt my hands move lower to emphasize that this was serious business indeed. “Three hours make all the difference between being easy and being-”

“Call me easy again,” I interrupted sternly, “and I will leave you for the brunette at the bar who hasn´t taken her eyes off of me ever since I came here.”

“What brunette?” Terri´s head instantly swivelled around just as I had predicted, searching for the woman in question. “Who? Where?”

“God, baby, if I were you, I wouldn´t talk too loudly about being easy,” I said smugly, but then I did actually leave her. Not for any brunette at the bar, but the one who had just entered the the Stage and was looking around uneasily.

“Hey Paige! Over here!”

Turning her head towards the sound of my voice, Paige at last noticed me as I approached, a relieved smile flashing across her face.

“Great, you made it,” I gave her a quick hug. “I was worried you would get lost on the way.”

“Well, it´s hardly that difficult to find,” she replied a little absently, glancing around us, but now she seemed more curious than nervous. “Although it´s not exactly a place I come often. Why is it so hot in here? Is it supposed to be like that?”

“Yes,” I spoke gravely, taking her by the hand and leading her back to where Terri was. “It´s all part of the plan to get people to take their clothes off faster. It´s a gay thing, Paige, you wouldn´t know.”

“No, really?”

Rolling my eyes, I let go off Paige´s hand and took Terri´s instead, giving her my most charming smile. I had kind of forgotten to tell Terri that I had invited Paige to join us, and I could tell from the expression on her face that she wasn´t altogether pleased by the development. However, when her gaze shifted from me to Paige, there was no hint of annoyance to be detected and she said pleasantly, “Hello Paige.”

Paige nodded curtly, “Terri… it´s been awhile.”

“Yes.”

Silence ruled between them for a moment, then Paige shifted on her feet, stating the obvious, “So, you´re back, huh?”

“Yes,” Terri spoke again, exchanging a surreptitious glance with me in which she clearly indicated that she wanted me to join the conversation, but I just looked at her innocently, pretending not to get the hint. Eventually, Terri realized she wouldn´t receive any help from my end and turning her attention back to Paige asked, sounding just a tad helpless, “So… how have you been?”

“Fine, thank you.”

Taking pity on them, I decided to come to the rescue before the situation became too awkward and commented dryly, “It´s so good to see you two getting along just as well as before, I was worried you might have nothing to say to each other. Now, who wants a drink?”

Before they had the chance to reply, or even voice what drink they wanted, I pushed myself into the mass of sweaty bodies, leaving them to stare at one another in silence. I wasn´t doing it to be mean in any way – although I did take a little guilty pleasure in their discomfort – but I was not in the mood for my best friend and my lover painstakingly avoiding running into each other like they had started doing the last time. Something they vehemently denied doing when I brought it up, both writing it off as sheer coincidence that they never appeared to be in the same room together.

By now the crowd must have thinned out, or perhaps I was just becoming skilled at worming my way through, because I had a lot less trouble reaching the bar and placing my order this time. And as I was also the recipient of a flirtatious smile or two from one of the bartenders, I was feeling pretty good about myself when I made way back to “the kids” just in time to hear, “Why should I believe you? As far as I can see you haven´t given me any reasons to do so.”

“Well… as far as I can see,” came the calm reply, but with a note of growing tension in Terri´s voice, “this is none of your business. It wasn´t back then, and it isn´t now. Sarah is a grown woman, it´s her decision who she wants to be with or doesn´t. Not yours.”

“I´m just looking out for her, Terri, just like a good friend should.” Paige words were clipped, but like Terri she sounded very calm. Somehow not wanting to interrupt, thinking that it was better to let them battle it out once and for all, I stopped a few feet behind them, gingerly balancing three wet glasses between my fingers. Then Paige continued, not realizing I was back, “Friends look out for each other, in case you´re not familiar with the concept, as do lovers, but to me it seems like you were always more busy with looking out for yourself. And I don´t really care if you had your reasons to act like that, Sarah still got hurt, more than once, and I don´t want that to happen again.”

I could tell from the tight set of Paige´s shoulders that she was expecting some kind of fierce verbal counterattack, but it never arrived. Instead Terri looked at her pensively for a couple of seconds, then nodded slowly to herself before speaking earnestly, “I don´t want that to happen again either.”

Surprised by the answer, it took Paige a moment before she could say, “So you agree to stay away?”

“No,” Terri shook her head almost imperceptibly. “I can´t do that.”

“Why not?”

“Because I love her.”

It was a simple enough statement, but it was made with an air of finality that even Paige couldn´t ignore and there was an imperceptible shift in her body language, almost like she was standing down. Not that I was paying much attention to her any more because all of a sudden Terry´s eyes moved from Paige´s face to look at me standing behind her and she spoke softly, seemingly addressing Paige, but never breaking eye contact with me, “You see, Paige, I know I have an endless list of faults and flaws, now like always, but the biggest of them back then was that I didn´t know what I wanted. Or didn´t know what to do with what I had. But now I do.”

She smiled affectionately as we continued to look into each other´s eyes, and in a split second I forgot about Paige being present even though she was standing right between us. “I know what I want, I know how I want it and I know I´m not going to give up until I get it. I nearly had it once but threw it all away and I thought it didn´t matter, that it was okay. But it wasn´t. I want it all back, and I know I can if…”

For the first time she hesitated and the words faltered, and with them her confidence and smile. And when she finally spoke again, I had to strain to hear her through the music and loud voices around us. “If Sarah is willing to give it all back to me again, to give me this last chance. I can´t promise that everything will be happy ever after from now on, but I can promise that if I mess this up, I´ll never ask for another chance again. I´ll bow out and leave graciously.”

Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, she looked me straight in the eye and inquired quietly, “So… what do you say? Do you want this, Sarah? Do you want to try again? Do you… want me?”

Even if Terri hadn´t said my name or spoken directly at me, Paige had by now realized the words weren´t directed at her, and with a glance over her shoulder she stepped away a little, close enough to come to the rescue if she felt it was needed, but far away enough not to intrude.

Feeling uncomfortably hot and sweaty, standing with three drinks clutched between my hands that were dangerously close to slipping from my fingers and feet aching from being stepped on and a thousand things on my mind, I stared helplessly at Terri, speaking with disbelief. “You want me to make a decision, right here, right now?”

“Yes,” she smiled. A gentle, encouraging smile, no trace of anxiety or uncertainty remaining, and I immediately knew that no matter whether I made a decision tonight or not, Terri had already made hers. “I would appreciate that.”

“Your timing absolutely sucks,” I said, exasperated, both to gain time and to tell her what I thought about surprises like this.

The smile didn´t fade. “I know. Your answer, please?”

“Terri, I can´t-”

“Your answer, please, Sarah. It´s not that hard. Do you want me?”

I looked at her, at her face, knowing I would have to find my answer there. I saw the light sheen of perspiration on her forehead from the excessive heat and how it made her dark hair want to curl at the temples. I saw the faint scar on her jaw from a schoolyard accident, and the hint of white teeth as she bit her lower lip, revealing she wasn´t as composed as she looked. I saw all that, traits and features I felt as familiar with as my own. And then I looked into her eyes, and what I saw expressed there was what had captivated me from the very first moment. And then, just like that, I had my answer.

It was obvious. It always had been.

I didn´t hear the crash as the glasses finally fell from my hands, I didn´t hear the curses or surprised exclamations from people around us as they got gin splashed on their clothes and shoes, I didn´t hear that at all. All I heard was Terri´s shaky whisper in my ear as she held me so tight I could hardly breathe, “Sarah… Thank you…” And then I closed my eyes and buried my face in her neck and didn´t see anything from then on either.
Epilogue
I wish I could say that we lived happily ever after from that minute on, but I can´t because I still don´t know how the story is going to end. But I can tell you that the outer factors in both our lives gradually came to, if not accept, then learn to live with our decision to be together. Paige came around first, we all knew she would, but for a long time she did her best to give Terri a hard time and question her every move. If Terri hadn´t told me no, I would have spoken to Paige about her behaviour, but in a way I think Terri believed she deserved everything she got so she let her get away with it. And then, suddenly, when I came home one day I found them chatting amiably in my living room, and ever since then there have been no real problems between them.

Terri´s parents were harder.

Her mother still hates me even if Terri says I´m being silly, but she is not the recipient of the looks or the occasional comment I get when Terri isn´t there. It doesn´t bother me so much, though, because she is mostly being polite and I also know she will never completely cross the line. She owes me, and she knows it. If it weren´t for me she would still have no contact with her daughter and for that she´s grateful, both of her parents are, even if Patrick is the only one to tell me so. He is sometimes hesitant around me whenever his wife is there, as if he doesn´t feel like he can be friendly to me without her permission, but when we´re alone he´s funny and charming, just like his daughter.

My own parents have accepted Terri and welcomed her into the family, whether she wants it or not. But to be honest, I think she does. My Dad acts like she´s never been out of my life, like the seven years we were apart was nothing but some kind of prolonged business trip. The first time we came to see them after getting back together, he greeted her heartily, took her by the arm, then spent the better half of the evening showing her his latest book bargains, completely forgetting the fact that others might want to talk to her, too. Mum is a little less forward, but she has grown fond of Terri and sometimes I think they get along better than Mum and I do. I know she´s secretly sad about not getting any grandchildren from me – even if Emma and Richard have done their share and produced three now for her to spoil – but who knows, maybe I will have kids one day. But not right now; there´s still time, and besides, I´ve got my hands full with Terri.

She wants me to come live with her in London. She likes it there and thinks I will, too. I believe her, but am reluctant to leave my family and friends behind. I´m more tied down, emotionally and professionally, than Terri is; I don´t leave everything behind as easily as she does and she´s aware of that. She says she will give up London permanently for me if necessary, but it´s a decision we still have to make.

As I write these lines we´re on holiday in Italy and enjoying every minute of it. You may find it a bit strange to go on holiday at this time of year, but in winter Terri suddenly became depressed and when she was finally feeling better we thought a change of scenery would do us both good. The depression wasn´t too serious, but it scared me. It made me realize that in some ways, Terri will always be fragile, no matter how old she gets. But even though it scared me, even though I understood that this is something we will both have to live with for the rest of our lives, I never for a second regretted my decision to let her back into my heart. She was never really fully gone from it anyway.

I believe there are thousands of people in this world you could live very contentedly with, and I believe there are hundreds of people who could make you happy. Because this world is so big, anything else seems statistically unlikely – even to a true romantic like me. But I also believe there is a very small handful of people who are just right for you, people with whom you could share a bond and a connection unsurpassed by anything else. If you´re ever fortunate enough to meet any of them, that is. And then I believe there is that one person out there, that one person made just for you. That single soul who has in their power the option of either making you the happiest or unhappiest person you could ever be. The only one who can complete you, if they choose to. And if you let them.

So far, so good.

There are still many thoughts waiting to be written down, still many feelings unexplored on paper, but they will all have to wait. For now, this story is over and Terri is calling out to me from the balcony; she claims the sunset is the most breathtaking sight she has ever seen. I know when I go out to her in a little while and seek comfort in her arms I will agree with her, but to me, the most breathtaking sight will always be her smiling at me, reaching out to draw me near. I haven´t told her that yet, but I will and when I do, I will tell her everything. Tell her everything I have always wanted to tell, because now, at last, I have found the right listener.

And now I will leave these words, and all those before, to themselves. After all, there´s a sunset to catch.
The End

Day, February – 2002

One thought on “October by Day

  1. Very nice. Depression is a hard subject to deal with and you did great making it the backdrop of a romance. So did you write anything else? Yes, I’d like to read more.

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