I’m super excited to reveal the cover for my third book in the Chambers of the Heart series, After the Storm. I believe this is going to be my favorite book of the series! My life has taken so many turns since the original release of When It Raynes and It Pours. I believe that journey has taken my writing to an all new level. It is with every hope that you all will see growth in my writing and character development, especially with the introduction of Gentry.
So, many readers have asked me, “What happened to Sam? Where did she go?” or have said, “We need more Sam.” Well, this book will answer those questions and be dedicated to her story. With the release of the official cover, I thought I would post an excerpt from the book. It took me a long time to decide the best scene. Initially, I considered the first chapter of the book but then I kept coming back to this scene…the Atlanta Nightclub. The infamous dance between Rayne and Mo. The surprised meeting of Sam after the dance. When all had aligned to find Sam and Rayne sitting together on a park bench under a fingernail moon. I do hope you will enjoy it and it give you just enough of a hint of the book to be released in December of 2019.
“TUCKER,” Sam yelled loudly over the crowd of women.
“What the fuck?” Tucker ducked under the bar and sprinted toward Sam. She quickly wrapped her in her arms and picked Sam up off her feet. “I don’t believe you’re here!” She set her back down.
Sam grabbed Tucker’s exposed bicep. “What the hell are you lifting these days? A freaking tank or something?”
Tucker smiled broadly. “Something like that.”
Sam shook her head. “Damn, girl, you’re cut.” She took a step back and ran her eyes over Tucker’s body. Her broad shoulders bulged from her tight black tank.
Tucker put her hands on the waistband of her camouflaged pants. “Yeah, well I was bored when you left so I had to find something to do with my time.”
Sam laughed loudly. “I’m sure the ladies like it.”
“Nah. They’re all still pining for you.”
“Ha!” Sam slapped her arm and then immediately began to rub the sting from her palm. “Don’t give me that shit. They hardly looked around you to see me standing behind you. And now, girl, they won’tbe able to look around you.” Sam pretended to have difficulty peering around Tucker.
“You’re so damn crazy. Come on. Come talk to me before the music starts. ‘Cause when it does, I won’t be able to hear shit. I’ll buy ya a drink.”
“You expecting more than this tonight?” Sam maneuvered herself through the women gathered at the bar.
“Hell yes. The lezzies will be insane tonight. Mo’s back for one night and one night only. If you book her, they will come.”
Sam stopped dead fast and turned to walk away.
Tucker grabbed her arm. “Hold up, sister. Don’t be like that.”
“Tuck, I’m not in the mood at allto see her. I’ve got absolutely no filter nor any patience for her.”
“Don’t think I remember you having much of either one of those before where she was concerned.” Tucker pulled her arm to guide her closer to the bar. “Come on. I’ve not seen you in what, two years? You owe me a drink,” she yelled over her shoulder.
Sam dragged her feet behind. “I thought you said you were buying.”
“In that case, make it a double.”
“Hold up one second. Sit here. Let me get my buddy over there to catch the bar so we can talk for a minute.” Tucker pointed to an empty stool for Sam. “What ya drinking these days?”
“Basically alcohol. Any and all kinds. Tonight, let’s do a rum and coke.” Sam sat on the stool against the wall of the far corner of the bar. This would be a good spot for the night. It was secluded and hidden enough not to be noticed. She didn’t want to see anyone from her past, especially Mo. “Of all nights, why tonight does she have to be here? I tell you, Tuck, I’m so over this visit.”
“Hey!” Tuck dumped several ice cubes into a drinking glass. “I take offense to that.”
Sam pinched the bridge of her nose. “Girl, I’m sorry. Of course I’m happy to see you. I came here the first chance I got. Skeletons, you know? I’ve got too many of them that keep trying to pull me back into a past I’m desperately trying to forget.”
Tuck set Sam’s drink in front of her. “Here’s to forgetting. This should help with that.” She tapped the lip of it with the bottom of her beer glass. “So, what’s new with you? Where you been hiding these days?”
“Lately? I’ve been in Maine.”
“Are you shitting me?”
“I shit you not.” Sam took a sip of her drink and smiled at her friend who apparently knew she needed it heavy on the rum. She winked over the top of her glass. “I’m practicing OB in a little clinic up there.”
“A clinic? What happened to the bad-ass surgeon who used to come in here telling me about all the blood and guts? I ain’t that good in my geography but I’m not thinking Maine has any booming metropolis cities. Thought you would never end up in a place like that, much less a clinic.”
“You and me both. Yet here I am.” Sam held her hands in the air.
“Do you like it?”
Sam smiled with thoughts of Gentry, her budding belly, and the warm welcome she received at Seasons. “Yes, I do.” She looked up at Tucker shyly. “A lot, actually.”
Tucker slapped Sam’s arm. “Oh hell, I know that look. Who is she?”
“Get out of here with that. You don’t know anything.”
“The fuck I don’t. You’ve got that shit-eating grin on your face. Only one thing puts that look on you and it’s a new girl. Who’s the fresh meat?”
Sam took a swallow of her drink. She twirled the glass on top of the bar and thought about the woman for whom Tucker was referring. She didn’t know her anymore. So much had changed from the days of when she frequented the bar. “It’s not like that. I’mnot like that anymore.”
“Seems that’s going around.” Tucker leaned in closer as it was starting to get harder to understand what Sam was saying. She looked out over the growing crowd of women. “Caught up with Mo earlier when she came in to do a sound check. She says she’s changing too. Done found her someone she’s got her eye on. Acting like she may settle down a bit.”
“If she said that, you know it’s a damn lie. Everything out of her mouth is a lie. She manipulates, Tuck, and you know it. She finds their weakness and attacks.”
“When you gonna let that shit go, Sam? How many years has that been? Look at you. You’re a freaking doctor now. Ain’t it time?”
“It wasn’t one girl or one instance. She went after every single woman she ever saw me with.” Sam tapped her finger on the bar. “Every. Single. One.”
“Don’t you think you’re exaggerating?”
“Nope. Not one bit. It got so bad that I couldn’t even dance with a woman without her spinning her way in between us. It was fucking ridiculous is what it was.” Sam was starting to get angry. She downed the last of her drink determined she was about to leave.
Tuck picked up her empty glass. “You know why she did that, don’t you?”
“Yep. Because she’s a manipulating, jealous, lying little bitch.”
Tucker tilted her head to Sam and pointed at her. “For a doc, you ain’t the brightest.” She stepped to the side to fill Sam’s glass with another rum and coke. “She looked up to you. She wanted to be like you. She did everything she could to try to get you to notice her.”
“Oh, I noticed alright. Saw right through her, unlike any of y’all. Remember, I was the one they would come running back to after they realized they had been used by her. I may have dated around but I never used lies to get them into bed with me. I didn’t have to.” Sam took a swallow of her drink. “I think I’m the only pants around here she didn’t get in.”
Tucker put both of her hands in the pockets of her pants and smiled an impish smile. “Too bad, honey, because it was one damn crazy ride.” Tucker laughed loudly.
“You’re not right,” Sam yelled. She turned around on her stool to see why all of a sudden it seemed louder. A woman trying to find her place along the side of the dance floor bumped into her.
Tucker slapped her hand on the bar. “Hold on to your panties. Show’s about to start.”
The lights dimmed to black as the masses of voices quieted. The music of a single violin began to play above the crowd. Sam could hear the strings as clear as if she was sitting right next to the violinist. She looked up at the speaker above her head. The notes streaming from it were a torturous song of shyness seduced by pain and sadness. She had been reminded of the woman she once was—of how she had viewed other woman she dated. She didn’t like it. Thankful she had been changing, she tried to think of Mo in the way Tucker had described her. She wondered if maybe she had misunderstood her all those years ago.
Tucker put her hand on Sam’s shoulder. “I’ll be back. Gotta help get some drinks out before there’s a riot.”
Sam patted her hand. “Sure thing. I’ll be right here.”
A soft, falling rain filled the wall-to-wall screen behind the deejay’s booth. The violin’s scream became stronger, confident, and powerful as the raindrops strengthened into a storm. A flash of lightning erupted across the wall. The lights above the dance floor flashed brightly as if the lightning had actually been in the room. The strings of the violin changed from sounds of an orchestra to a synthesized, electric beat. Sam felt the wall beneath the speaker vibrate with each thump of the bass. The intensity of the women’s dance in front of her grew. Another flash of light and lightning.
“Can you feel it?”
Sam recognized Mo’s voice immediately. It was that drawn-out sultry voice, deep and low that she used when she deejayed. She couldn’t fight the roll of her eyes.
“Come on, ladies. I said, can you feel it?” She held the last words to linger over the sound system before they faded into a song.
The lights lit up one by one over the dance floor. Sam turned back around to take a swallow of her drink but left it sitting on the bar for fear it would be knocked out of her hand by the gyrations of the women in front of her. A keyboard’s notes teased into a slow crescendo.
“Say my name and you can dance.”
The woman who had bumped into Sam earlier screamed as loud as she could, “MO!”
The bass exploded with one final lightning strike. The wall next to Sam shook even harder. Laser lights began to sway over the crowd of women jumping up and down on the dance floor. Strobe lights flashed until they centered on the female standing in the deejay box. The crowd screamed. Sam thought the woman in front of her would surely fall flat on her ass. Her footing was not so stable with the wild jumping up and down she was doing.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! She’s looks fucking amazing,” the woman screamed.
The crowd roared and sprang up and down on their feet. They all began to dance as if Mo had them under some type of trance or spell.
Mo held her hand up in the air as she danced with them to the music. She adjusted the oversized earphones until only one covered her ear. “The night is ours!” She moved her hands along the large instrument panel until the beat faded into an even faster-paced rhythmic collection of strings, keys, and beats. “Now dance your beautiful asses off.” Mo’s body flowed and became one with the music. She raised her hand in the air and swayed to the beat as the other hand deftly moved across the panel—pulling, pushing, or spinning the device to will her tunes. Her hands created their own rhythms as they moved from the panel board to adjust the headphones from her ears to her bare neck.
Sam didn’t feel the excitement or the urge to dance as the women around her apparently felt. She only saw Mo. How many times had this woman entered her life to basically screw it up? She was like static to a fall sweater. Nothing could shake her loose from Sam’s life. Even now when Sam was no longer in the scene to compete for women with her, she was still right here in front of her. She thought of Brantley, or was it Claire? Hell, she couldn’t remember her name. What she did remember was Mo spinning her way into her life to steal her away. She had that girl so twisted up in her web of lies, she couldn’t even see straight. Sam had genuinely liked her until Mo dug her claws into her. Poor girl was a mess after Mo moved on to her next conquest. A damn mess. All hopeful thoughts of Mo being a better person went right out the window. Sam picked her drink back up, raised it in the air toward the deejay’s booth, and said, “I see you alright. I’ve alwaysseen you.”
“Give yourselves to me tonight. Let go. I’m in control. I’ve got you,” Mo purred into her microphone.
The women shouted their submission to Mo as their bodies moved together. Heads bobbed to her cadences, toes bounced to her tempos, and hips swayed to her pulses. Sam sat still on her stool, drinking her cocktail. “I’ve got you.”She felt an immediate soothing to her building anger toward Mo with the sound of Gentry’s voice in her head.
The bar and dance floor were darkened except for the bright flashes of white of the strobe light. Sam looked around at the diversity of the women. Feminine. Androgynous. Casually dressed. Sporty dressed. All shapes, sizes, and races of women filled the dance floor. The lights flashed on and off to the beat. Sam tried to make out the faces to see if she recognized anyone else from her days of old. The lights flashed on again. She caught sight of a taller woman standing over those around her. What the hell is she doing here?she excitedly thought to herself as she set her drink down ready to make her way over. Recognition of another face stopped her suddenly. Rayne? Sam straightened her spine on the stool to look harder in that direction when the lights flashed back on. She darted her head around the dancing heads in front of her.
Is that Rayne?She had grown accustomed to seeing Rayne in the faces of strangers. It wasn’t anything new to her, but this woman was a dead ringer for her. The lights flashed on again. It is her.
Tucker’s hand on her shoulder stopped Sam’s bolt out into the crowd. “You about ready for a fresh one?”
Sam nodded but didn’t take her eyes from where she had seen Rayne. Her heart pounded with nervous anticipation. Her breath stolen by Rayne’s radiance. She swallowed the building waves deep in her belly. So much time had passed since she had seen her last. Maybe this was a sign? Maybe it was like Gentry had said—everything happens for a reason. This wasn’t Louisiana, nor was it Alabama. This was her home state of Georgia. A smile started to build within.Come on lights. Hurry up.
The music lowered. “Ladies. You’re killing me. You look too damn good for me to stand up here all night.” Sam looked up sharply toward Mo’s voice. Mo took her earphones off and walked down the stairs.
The woman in front of Sam bumped hard into her. “Oh my God. She’s coming.” She grabbed her friend next to her and shook her shoulders. “She’s coming this way,” she yelled. “I’m going home with her tonight. You wait and see.”
Sam rolled her eyes. She tried to find Rayne again in the crowd, but it was useless. The women were going wild as Mo maneuvered through them. Just then she saw Jazlyn swoop Mo up in her arms, lift her, and put her back down. The rolls of nervous anticipation violently turned to rolls of nausea when Sam saw Rayne and Mo looking at one another. They exchanged words with their bodies leaned in toward one another. The lean turned into a hug of a greeting held far too long.
“Who the fuck is that?” the woman in front of Sam screamed with a slightly drunken slur.
Obviously, Sam wasn’t the only one to notice the apparent attraction within their hug. The sting of tears she once believed would never stop began to resurface. The excitement of seeing Rayne’s face of having her near again was cascading like a waterfall back to heartache.
The music suddenly changed as another electric violin played, followed by the undeniable voice of Annie Lennox singing, “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This.” Rayne was smiling a genuine smile. The one Sam remembered she gave when she felt truly elevated. That was the one she wore as Mo shook her hair free from the newsboy cap she had been wearing. When Mo took Rayne’s hand to lead her out into the dancing crowd, it was as if she had grabbed the very core of Sam and pulled her right along with them. No matter how badly the scene before her hurt to see, she couldn’t take her eyes from them. Mo walked backward to lead Rayne further into the center of the dance floor. She rocked her hips to “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” as she mouthed the words to Rayne. Sam’s chest tightened as Mo slowly trailed her hands down Rayne’s arms to bring her hands to her hips. With hands on each other’s hips, they swayed together. Sam’s breath caught somewhere in between an inhale and exhale when Mo pulled Rayne closer. Their hips rubbed against one another’s to the rhythm. In a much different connotation to the song’s lyrics of the world stopping, Sam wanted nothing more than for the world to stop. To just stop the unfolding of the eroticism in the dance in front of her and cease the pain of watching Mo’s hands so effortlessly accepted upon Rayne’s body. For the first time, she let her eyes close to the sheer agony of the sight before her. Her Rayne.Except she wasn’t, was she? Her Rayne had been shy to an intimate touch. Her Rayne had responded with innocence in their attraction and arousal within her own timid touch. But this? This was on display for all to see, including her. Mo slid her hand underneath Rayne’s shirt at the small of her back and nestled her thigh in between her legs as she guided their hips together in a low, tortuous movement. Sam closed her eyes to see the Rayne she remembered. The one whose blush wasn’t hidden in the light of the moon out on the dock the night of their first kiss. The tears streamed freely down her cheek. Yes, so much had changed. The woman she loved and had given her heart to was being exposed for all to see as the next conquest on Mo’s list. She felt Rayne’s skin against hers as it had been the night in the on call room. Now Mo knew that touch. Mo. The woman who had chased after every woman she had ever been attracted to was touching…no, violating…the woman she loved to her core in front of everyone. She had her hand inside the waistband of Rayne’s jeans manipulating her body to do what she wished it to do. Bitterness coated her tongue like acid. The song ended with the women dispersing among the crowd. She glared at Rayne as she returned to stand next to Jazlyn. She couldn’t stomach looking at Mo again. She had felt Rayne’s body next to hers. Had molded it with her will against her.
Sam shot the rest of her drink back and slammed the glass down on the bar in front of Tucker. “Oh yeah, she’s fucking changed alright,” she yelled with venom in her voice. “You tell her if she ever crosses my path again, she’d be wise to keep walking.”
Tucker was shocked at the anger she saw in her friend. In all of the arguments between the two women, she had never witnessed Sam this angry. All she could do was nod her response.
Sam turned abruptly around on her stool and stormed through the crowd. Mo was perched like a vulture back on her post with the music and light show continuing. Sam’s resentment grew with each flash of the strobe light on Rayne’s face. She moved quickly toward her until she caught the surprise in Rayne’s expression as their eyes met. Rayne froze where she stood. Sam thought she detected a hint of a smile as she reached her. It angered her more. How dare she smile at her after practically having sex out on the dance floor with that bitch? Sam’s eyes were like daggers when they grabbed Rayne’s hand to pull her behind her. She raced toward the exit to leave all of it behind. All of those faces. All of those expressions who had seen Rayne and Mo together. She pushed open the metal door with such force that it slammed loudly behind them. As she led Rayne from the club into the alley and through the groups of women mingling outside, she realized she had no idea why she was doing it. Why was she bringing her with her and where in the hell was she taking her? She had walked nearly a block before she saw the entrance to Piedmont Park. Using muscle memory, she followed the path she used to take in medical school until she reached the park bench next to a small pond where she had spent hours studying. Thankfully, it was empty. She slowed as the tension in her body began to dissipate. She turned to face Rayne. There were no words that seemed fitting. No sentences or statements or expressions came to be shared. The warmth and softness of Rayne’s hand within hers began to further dampen the anger within her. She wasn’t ready to let the resentment go, so she released her finger’s grip from Rayne’s hand.
“No, don’t let go,” Rayne begged.
Sam bit the corner of her lip. Her Rayne stood right in front of her. The moonlight shone on the face she remembered from the dock. The lips of the kiss that had awakened her soul. “What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Jazlyn invited me.”
Sam stopped the roll of her eyes. She was not in a place to be blasé in their conversation. “I know the simplicity of what brought you here. I’m asking why you’re here.” She felt the sharpness in her words.
“I don’t know.”
“Figured you’d say that.” Sam saw this was going nowhere. She briskly pulled her hand from Rayne’s and turned to walk away.
“No, goddammit, don’t you walk away from me.”
Sam’s spine stiffened. She hadn’t remembered Rayne’s voice with such assertiveness in it before. Neither had that particular profanity ever crossed her lips. She had no right to be angry with her. She wasn’t the one who was nearly fucking some bitch out on the dance floor. The fire of her anger returned from the smoldering ashes Rayne’s eyes had left. She turned to Rayne without hiding what she was feeling toward her. “Tell me one good reason why I should stay?” The tone of her voice was equal with her expression.
“Because I die a little every single time you walk away from me. And honestly, I’m not real sure how much of me is still alive at this point.”
Sam heard her words for the brief moment they passed over her. But she wouldn’t own them. She wouldn’t let them in as if they were truth. They were a trap. They were a means of igniting old feelings. Mo’s hands on Rayne’s body flashed in her mind. “You looked pretty alive a few minutes ago.” She just wanted to leave. She regretted letting Rayne see her or know she was there, much less bringing her along with her out here.
“Sam, please. Please don’t go. For some reason, you found me in that club tonight. For some reason, in the mass of all of those women, you saw me. Can’t we at least just acknowledge that?”
“We can acknowledge that I would’ve never imagined you’d dance like that with a woman. You’ve gone from not knowing who you wanted to be to practically making out with her in front of everyone. And with her. After everything, you get with someone like her.”
“I didn’t get with anyone. I’m not with Mo. We’re just friends.”
“That dance was anything but friendly.” Sam couldn’t look at Rayne any longer without envisioning Mo’s hands on her body. She shifted her weight onto one leg and looked away. “Whatever. What does it matter to me now anyway?”
“Don’t be like that, Sam. We’re just friends. Please, let’s sit down and talk.”
Exhausted from it all, Sam brushed the overgrown shrubbery off the back of the bench and sat down. “I really don’t think there’s much to say.” She had grown so tired of the pain from others—the heartache she had felt at the hands of Rayne many times now, the pain of watching her mother broken and needing her, and the pain of a taste of betrayal by Gentry. She had not told Sam of them knowing one another and for that, Sam felt for the first time she had been untruthful with her. After all, an omission is a lie.
“Can we try?” Rayne sat beside her and took her hand. Sam didn’t resist her touch or pull away her hand.
She watched as Rayne sat silent studying the fingernail moon above them. Initially, her body flinched as Rayne began to stroke her hand; but then, she let herself feel the touch of Rayne again. She looked down to watch Rayne’s thumb slowly slide around the tip of each finger. She was incredibly gentle with her touch. It was a gentleness she had not been given since last Rayne held her in some way. Sam had found herself over the months trying to determine what exactly it was about Rayne that had made her fall so exquisitely into her. Yes, true, she had many personality qualities that led Sam to her. Yet as she continued to lightly stroke Sam’s hand, she realized it was her tenderness upon all else that hooked her so deeply. The tenderness in the way she held her with her eyes or touched her skin with hers was unmatched to any she knew. Sam softened with the recollection that at no point had she seen that tenderness on the dance floor with Mo.
Rayne looked up and over her shoulder toward the rolling hills of the small park. “The noises.” She waved her hand. “Reminds me of being back home on the bayou with you.”
Until then, Sam hadn’t noticed the street noise being drowned out by the call of the insects. She looked up and around the park as she thought about the night on the dock with Rayne. “Yeah, but they sound different.” When she looked back at Rayne, the moonlight had caught the charms hanging at her neck to make them sparkle in its light. She was overwhelmed with the feeling of Rayne’s hand upon hers and the proximity of the woman who had sat next to her on the bayou’s dock. She swallowed hard. Since the engagement party, she hadn’t let herself think of the charm any longer. Gentry had asked her of the little white box, but she hadn’t talked of the charm. The last she thought of it was when she saw Rayne touch it at their goodbye. A part of her wished she would wear it daily as she had done the cross Memaw had given her. Seeing it at the base of her neck was physical proof that she too thought of Sam. She wondered how often in a day her hands found the cicada charm. Cicadas.
“The cicadas don’t sound the same here,” Sam said flatly.
“I think those are katydids.”
“There are a thousand different species of them. They say they’re named because they sound as if they’re saying ‘Katy-did.’” There was a nervousness to Rayne’s words. It was as if she couldn’t get them out fast enough for fear Sam would become frustrated with her rambling and yet again get up to leave. “Meems would tell me…” With the mention of Memaw’s name, Rayne’s eyes saddened. She took them from Sam and looked out at the small pond at their feet. Reflexively, Sam squeezed her hand. She didn’t know why. It was a natural response to seeing the sadness darken the green of Rayne’s eyes.
“One of the folklore stories is that there was a woman named Katy who was madly in love with this man. But he left her to marry another.” With those words, Sam loosened her grip on Rayne’s hand. Rayne continued her story but with a quieted tone to her voice. “They were found dead in their honeymoon bed the morning after they’d married. It was said they were poisoned but no one saw the crime. Well, no person saw the crime. They say the bugs saw what happened as they had been watching from the window. On hot summer nights, it’s said they shout from the trees to tell us who committed the crime. ‘Katy-did, Katy-did.’”
Sam stopped a smile that tried to curl the corners of her lips. “I should’ve known you’d have a story about them.”
Rayne shrugged. “Guess I’m weird like that.”
Sam had never considered Rayne weird. Different? Yes, but in a very good way. “Not weird. Different.” She faced the park. “So really, what are you doing here?” she asked much softer this time, as she truly wanted to know what had been happening in Rayne’s life to lead her here.
“Jazlyn invited me. Violet had to take call this weekend, so she asked me to come with her.”
The Universal signs Gentry spoke of seemed to be keeping Sam and Rayne’s life intertwined. Sam turned to look across the park. It seemed unimaginable that Rayne had become friends with the two people Sam considered to be her truest of friends. “And how’d you two become friends?”
“I met her when I went to the Pineapple Post.”
Sam snapped her head back toward Rayne. “Why were you there? Why did you even go there?”
“I overheard Kylie talking about it.”
“Oh? And what? You hear the Queen Lesbian Conqueror talking about a lesbian bar and you just had to go? Please tell me you didn’t get with her after I left.” As if a snap of a finger, Sam’s anger sparked by an ignitable jealousy returned.
“Why do you say that? Why do you keep assuming I’ve been with another woman?”
“I do believe lesbian bars are filled with lesbians. Why else go unless you’re looking for one?”
“I wasn’t looking for another woman when I went.” Rayne’s voice was filled with frustration. She looked down at the bench. “I was looking for myself.”
“It didn’t look that way to me. Looked like you were trying to sew some wild oats before the big wedding day. You were nearly making out with Mo on the dance floor. Geez, Rayne, why don’t you try to have some decorum and keep your little lesbian trysts discrete?” Sam’s words were overflowing with the jealousy that filled her. She couldn’t shake the image of Mo’s hands all over Rayne. Every single time it became present, it gave fresh momentum to her growing bitterness.
Rayne swallowed hard enough to be heard. She stared into the tiny moon’s reflection as it glowed a skinny line of sparkle across the small pond. She didn’t speak for several minutes. Sam watched as Rayne tried to regain composure. Regretful for her tone, sorrowful for the feelings she had expressed, Sam released her grip even more upon Rayne’s hand. This time, Rayne didn’t fight it. She let their embrace fade until they hardly held hands any longer.
“It’s not like that,” she finally said.
They sat in the immediate comfort of their silence. Rayne bent her knee between them to rest it on the bench. She turned to Sam. “Sam, I don’t know what all of this means. Why I’m here. I see these women being together so openly and yeah, it makes me know there is something beyond what I’ve always been taught it would be like. I understand why Jazlyn wanted me to come, but it doesn’t change what I feel.”
Rayne kept her eyes focused on anything but Sam and did everything she could not to make eye contact. Instinctively, Sam knew Rayne was hiding the emotions within her eyes. If she looked directly at her, everything she was trying to find the right words for would be freely shown. Sam began to feel uncomfortable as Rayne stared at her body. She felt her shirt hanging off of her shoulders and chest. She hadn’t noticed her weight loss until she tried on her once favorite shirt and jeans. The belt she used to tighten her jeans dug into the skin below her belly button. She shifted her position on the bench and brushed a strand of hair away from her eyelashes. The shortened length from her recent haircut by Gentry didn’t stay tucked behind her ear. In the continued silence from Rayne, Sam’s thoughts floated toward the night when Gentry cut her hair. Quickly they flowed past their escapade on the couch to the sound of Gentry’s voice in the tent as she told her of the scars left on both her body and her soul. She looked at the small pond and remembered watching Gentry for what seemed hours as she stood at the water’s edge.
“It doesn’t change that it’s still only you,” Rayne said softly.
Caught somewhere else and with surprise to her words, Sam’s mouth fell open. She let Rayne’s words fall over her. Could she say the same? Could she confess it was still only Rayne? The arch of her lips held the surprise and perhaps guilt in how easily she had drifted to think of Gentry.
“Among all of these women, it’s still only you.” Rayne picked up Sam’s hand and rubbed the back of it lightly across her face. Sam felt the tip of Rayne’s tongue as she brought it to her parted lips. The sensation sent a swarm of butterflies through her as Rayne searched her eyes. Rayne reached up, ran her thumb across Sam’s jawline, and continued along the side of her neck. Sam felt her fingers flow through her hair before her hand trailed along the back of her neck. Her eyes softened within Rayne’s touch. She gave in to the urging of Rayne’s hands to pull her closer to her lips. She felt Rayne’s breath upon her lips and watched as she closed her eyes to their proximity. Rayne’s heart beat fast and hard against Sam’s chest as her whole body hummed with the missing of Rayne’s lips. The softness of them against her own. Desperation to the point of sheer ache filled her with the hopes of feeling them again. This was followed quickly by another form of ache. Heartache. She felt the pain of the loss of her kiss deep within her. She had missed the softness of her lips and how her kiss had made her feel more alive than she had ever felt before. Suddenly, she began to fear the reliving of both the heaven and hell of kissing Rayne. She stopped the touch of their lips by placing her finger upon Rayne’s lips.
Sam let her forehead fall against Rayne’s. “I can’t,” she whispered.
“Why?” Rayne peppered Sam’s finger with kisses of urgency for more.
Sam dropped her finger from Rayne’s lips and inhaled deeply. “I barely survived our last kiss, Stormy. I dare not tempt fate and try again.”
“I’m so in love with you that I can’t breathe when you’re near me,” Rayne’s breath was warm against Sam as she pleaded and tried to pull her closer.
Sam scooted away from her and reached up to grab Rayne’s hand that she had resting on the back of the bench. She pulled it up into the air between them. “And this?” She tapped the ring on Rayne’s left finger. The ring that signified the end of their once hopeful relationship. It was the physical evidence to one of the insurmountable obstacles that had kept the two women apart.
Rayne’s facial expression began to change. Her eyebrows furrowed and her lips tightened. Sam noticed the clinch in Rayne’s jaw as her eyes narrowed to focus on the ring upon her finger. Her hand closed in a fist to whiten the skin over her knuckles. It held a forceful tremor with the tension in her arm.
“Aren’t you engaged to Grant?”
“Sam…don’t. Don’t bring that up right now.” Rayne’s voice held anger within it.
“Why not, Rayne?”
“Because,” Rayne paused as she looked up at the moon. She again clinched her jaw and left it tightened as she spoke, “because I know I’m not marrying him.”
“Does he know that?”
Rayne placed her hands across Sam’s face and urged her to look into her eyes. “I’m telling you I love you. Please don’t do this. I need time. We need time. Time to get it all worked out. It’s not easy for me and I know it’s not easy for you.”
“But you said yes. You didn’t have to say yes. I was there. I was in that room when he proposed. You had me but you let me go and you said yes.”
Rayne vigorously shook her head. “No, no. That’s not true and you know it. I didn’t let you go that night. You left. There’s a big difference. I know what I asked that night wasn’t right. I know my mistakes but I needed you to stay and help me work it all out. Be with me and support me while I did. But you said you couldn’t. It broke every single part of me when you left. Not a moment goes by that I don’t think about you.” Rayne reached up and rubbed the cicada charm. “I didn’t say yes. I didn’t say anything. He and Charlie Grace started planning things as if I had. I was just too broken and numb to argue.” She ran the charms along the chain which held them as she spoke.
“Rayne, you wanted me to fit into your perfect picture. You wanted me to guarantee you what it would be like so you could plan it out just like you plan everything in your life out. But life’s plan isn’t a guarantee. It’s ever changing and you have to be ready to make those changes. I couldn’t and wouldn’t be that for you. Don’t you get it?”
“No, not really. We could’ve been together while I made those changes.” Rayne grabbed Sam’s hands and squeezed them tighter with each word.
“But I needed you to make the changes on your own. I needed you to realize who you were without it being dependent on me.”
Rayne released her hold of Sam’s hands and let her own drop in her lap. “So, I’m to blame for losing us because I wasn’t ready or because I didn’t know who I was. I don’t think that’s fair. You showed me a life I’d never imagined. Loving you changed everything I had ever seen my future to be and you left because I didn’t accept all of those changes immediately. As if something like that wouldn’t take time to adjust to.”
In truth, Sam had not given thought to the what-ifs of what was to be after the proposal had Rayne chosen her instead. In her eyes, it was the natural choice of things. She had fallen in love with her. She hadn’t considered nor appreciated the consequences Rayne would have had to face with that choice. She was slowly starting to realize these with Rayne in front of her. The look in her eyes, the pain in her words, and the withdrawal in her mannerisms spoke far more to her than Rayne had ever done before. “No, it’s not fair and it’s not entirely you. I let you take the blame for it. I’m sorry for that.” Sam reached for Rayne’s hand. “Stormy, you changed me too. You changed everything I saw for my future too. I saw you. I saw us. I wanted us so bad. For as hard as it was for you, it was equally hard for me. I didn’t know who that person was or how to even be someone’s girlfriend. I ran.”
“But you’re here now. It’s not too late. We can have another chance. We can work it all out together.”
Sam thought of Gentry, the woman who had given her breath again. The woman who had shown her another life she could have as well as another side of herself. She thought of the taste of car exhaust on her tongue as she had walked the Atlanta streets and its contrast to the sea air blowing in through the patio doors of her condo. The life she had once pegged as her future was no more. She couldn’t go back. Although, she hadn’t quite yet figured out exactly where forward was either. “I can’t, Stormy. I’m not back.” She stuttered on her words as she thought of Gentry’s growing belly. She owed it to Gentry to return to help her through the pregnancy even if she still didn’t know what she wanted to become of it. More than owed, she wanted to return to help Gentry. She had been let down by so many in her life. Sam wouldn’t be another name on that list. “And…I’ve got someone I need to get back to.”
“Oh.” Rayne said flatly. She pulled her hand from Sam’s and tucked it between her thighs. “I see.”
“No, you don’t.” Sam pulled her knee up against her chest. “Because I still don’t fully see myself. I’m still trying to figure out me. In much the same way as you’ve been trying to find you, I’ve been trying to find myself. I didn’t know what I truly wanted until you showed me.” She pulled at the frayed strands of the hole in her jeans. “I didn’t tell you why I was here. My parents are getting a divorce. Mother finally asked the old bastard for a divorce. I’m here for her. See, Rayne, he had it all planned out too. His whole life, her, me. We were all according to his plan. And then one day we weren’t. I don’t want to be my mother. She stayed in his plan until the day she couldn’t breathe. I want my own plan. I want to know my own path. You showed me how much more of life I wanted. I fell so hard for you that I forgot the reality of the situation. I wanted the fairy tale.”
Sam turned on the bench to face Rayne fully. Remorsefully, she wiped the tear from Rayne’s cheek. “Falling in love with you made me realize I wanted more than sex, more than one-night stands. I want it all. I want love and sacrifice and commitment. I want the woman who loves me to fight against all consequences of what it means to do so. Maybe if you hadn’t changed that in me then I could be what you’re asking of me. But I can’t. I can’t wait on the sidelines or hide in the closet loving you in secret while you pretend we’re only friends. Even if it isn’t about just Grant. You’re not ready to live in anything but secret. I’m sorry. I want the fairy tale. But the truth is, the fairy tale is mine to make. To me, it’s all about timing. We weren’t ready for one another. We still aren’t.” Sam couldn’t take seeing the tears continue to fall from Rayne’s eyes. Nor could she continue to let her own fall. As she spoke, she knew the truth of her and Rayne. It hadn’t been their time before and it wasn’t their time now. They had to accept that and move on with their lives. The pain of sitting so close to one another, the continued fight against what was assuredly not going to happen in the immediate future, was nothing more than torture. It was time to end it—at least for now. Sam stood up, ran her fingertips underneath her eyes to dry them, and brushed the bench dust from her jeans. “But that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. I will alwayslove you.”
“So, this is goodbye again?” Rayne choked back the tears streaming through her words.
“I hope not.” Sam loved her too much to say goodbye to her again. It nearly killed her the last time. Filled with hope of another time for them, she turned and walked away. As she reached the light of the lamp beside the sidewalk, she stopped. The strength in her stride was stripped from her. She feared any attempts to further walk away from Rayne would cause her to tumble to the ground. She leaned against the pole to strengthen herself. The tickle of Rayne’s breath against her lips was felt in the breeze that gently blew against her. She looked back at the bench where Rayne still sat. She prayed for the strength not to run to her and take her in her arms. She wanted to pull her up off of the bench, fall helplessly into her, and kiss her until the answers as to how they could be together came. As if Rayne sensed everything her body questioned, she stood up from the bench. Sam inhaled deeply as she let her body imagine Rayne in her arms. As Rayne began to run to her, Sam realized that’s all they could do—run. Run from everything. Run from the truth of who they were to each other. Run from Grant. From Charlie Grace. From Gentry and the baby. They would run from it all. But then she felt the uncontrollable love they had for one another. The intense pureness of it from the very beginning of knowing one another. There was an innocence to how they had fallen in love with each other. Hurting all of those who they would run from would tarnish the pureness of it. It would shadow it perhaps to a degree which could not be healed. Sam couldn’t let that happen. The love she and Rayne had for one another was the most perfect thing in her life. She had to protect it. With all of the strength she had, she held up her hand to stop Rayne’s advance, pushed her back off of the post, and hurriedly walked from the park. She looked up into the fingernail moon and whispered, “Let her see how much I love her. Please just let her see.”