Chapter 94

Carrie stood still by the window. One hand rested on the wall, while the other held onto the fragile, lace curtain. The dimmed light from the bedside lamp made her barely noticeable if anyone would have cared enough to glance up at the brownstone, perhaps looking for a glimpse of her in the window. No one did.

She sighed as she watched Robert trudge down the deserted sidewalk…away from the brownstone, away from her. The sigh wasn't one of relief or sadness. It was one of regret. Regret for the time she and he had lost, and regret for losing a little bit of herself along the way. Thirty years, she thought, dropping the curtain back into place. Thirty years…gone.

They had made so many plans and had dreamt so many dreams. But, now it was all over. The love was gone and nothing had replaced it. Not even hatred. Just an emptiness which was waiting to be filled.

Continuing to face the window, she clasped her hands in front her. Her fingers brushed against the familiar band of gold. Without a second thought, she removed it and closed her fist over it.

"Asuka gawa
Kawa yodo sarazu
Tatsu kiri no
Omoi sugu beki
Koi ni aranuku ni."

She released a long breath at the sound of Stefan's husky voice. She was amazed at the feeling of comfort and peace his presence gave her. She moved to face him. She noted the concerned look in his brilliant green eyes, as well as the questions he held there. She hoped she would have the answers. She asked, "Was that Japanese?"

"Yes." He nodded. He moved away from the door to stand before her. His gaze was careful and unwavering. He ached to touch her, but he was unsure as to whether or not it would be appropriate in light of their uninvited visitor. He swallowed hard, remembering his brief, but unforgettable conversation with Robert Jensen. The man was weak, pernicious, and ignominious, but at one time, he held her heart. Why? How?

"Stefan?" she asked her voice quiet and a little timid. What *was* he thinking? Aloud, she said, "What does it mean?"

He laughed softly at his lapse. "It's a poem. Translated, it means, 'The mists rise over…The still pools at Asuka. Memory does not…Pass away so easily.'"

"It's beautiful, but it sounds so tragic," she replied softly. Her thoughts turned inward as she inadvertently voiced her concerns aloud. "Is that how you see me? As tragic?"

"No," he denied, taking a step closer to her. Her brushed her cheeks with the back of his hand, reveling in the softness of her skin. "Not tragic. I see you as a beautiful woman who continues to remain an enigma to me."

"Me?" she laughed in surprise. "An enigma? I don't think so. I think I'm very easy to read."

"Perhaps to some, but not to me." He gave her another brief caress and stepped away from her. He went to the window and glanced down at the street below. It was quiet and still, much like the bedroom where only moments before promised to be their sanctuary as they embarked on an erotic journey. Turning from the window to face her once again, he offered her a brief smile before he sat on the window seat.

"Well," she shrugged, "what would you like to know? I'll trade you."

"Trade?" he asked with a smile. He laughed softly as she nodded in reply and moved to sit beside him. A curious frown creased his brow. "You have a few questions of your own?"

"I have more than a few," she told him.

"Such as?" he asked, a teasing note to his voice.

"Maybe you should go first," she suggested, shifting her position so that their thighs were just a breath away. She shifted again and smiled wickedly when their thighs touched.

Stefan grinned in response. "Provided that there aren't too many distractions, I shall."

"Whatever do you mean by distractions?" she asked, flirting shamelessly as she batted her eyes.

"Hmm…Carlotta," he said softly, "you are one exceptional woman." He took her hand and spoke again. "My question for you…is…how did you remain the woman you are with a man like Robert Jensen?"

"You don't save the tough ones for last, do you?" she chuckled softly. She should have known he wouldn't, she silently chided herself. She paused for a second to consider his question. Her long black eyelashes fanned her cheeks as she lowered her eyes to their intertwined hands. Robert never liked holding hands, she thought. Public displays of affection were not his forte. Thinking back on it now, she wondered what possessed him to kiss her in front of everyone on their wedding day. How *did* she remain with him? Better still, why?


She heard the hesitation in his voice, and she raised her eyes to his and reassured him with a smile. "I guess I didn't lose myself in him because of the girls. They needed me…a lot of good it did Dawn, though." She shook her head, feeling ashamed of herself and her ineffectiveness in protecting her youngest from her husband's constant wrath. "I thought I was a better person, a better mother than most…but when Dawn ran away, I had to face a few things. I wasn't a good person, Stefan, and I was far from being a good mother."

"I disagree."

"No, you're being kind."

"No, I'm not," he said, disagreeing again. "I've seen you together. She holds no ill will towards you. She loves you."

"I don't feel that I deserve that love. Robert's treatment of her was horrible and I let it happen."

"You did nothing of the sort! Robert is fully capable of taking responsibility for his own actions. He treated her horribly and *that* is his transgression. Not yours. She loves you. There is no need to berate yourself for having your child's love."

"Is that what I'm doing?" she asked quietly.

"Yes." He released her hand and gently cupped her face, insuring that her eyes were drawn to his. "Now, tell me about you, Carlotta. Not Robert and not your two beautiful daughters, but you. Tell me why or how you put your talent on hold for so many years, and please don't use Dara and Dawn as your excuse. Tell *me* about *you*!"

"I'm me!" she replied with a shrug. Her hands covered Stefan's and her wedding band fell to the floor, forgotten and ignored. "I grew up in a small, quiet town in Georgia. Ever since, I was a small child, I loved fabrics and creating things. I made dolls for my cousins, my friends and for me. When I was twelve, my father was killed because of his involvement with voter registration. Soon after, my mother moved us…my brother, Chris, and I…to New York."

"Was the transition an arduous one?" He pulled her into his arms as he rested his back against the window, waiting patiently for her to continue her tale.

"Have you ever been to Georgia?" she asked softly, resting her head against his chest. She felt him shake his head and she laughed, "I don't blame you. Actually, I'm not being fair. Georgia is a beautiful part of the country. My mother moved back there twenty years ago. She loves it there and hated living in New York."

"Carlotta…you, dearest, I want you to tell me about you. We can discuss mothers at another time," he said, smiling ruefully at his little joke.

"You're teasing me," she said, raising her head to look at him, "but we will discuss your charming mother. Maybe not tonight, but soon. Now, to answer your question…the transition was extremely difficult. Chris and I went from being free to roam to being placed on strict restriction. At first, I welcomed my mother's over-protectiveness, but after a few months, I began to feel claustrophobic. I wanted out, and I got out. While our mother worked, Chris and I discovered the joys of city life. The museums, the history of it all called to us and we answered. It was a wonderful time."


"Well, eventually, my mother found out about our little excursions, and it was divide and conquer all the way. Chris began to work at the neighborhood grocer, and I joined my mother at the hospital. She was a Nurse's Aide, and I think she secretly hoped that I'd become a doctor. But, no such luck," she laughed softly. "I spent the time to work on my designs."

"And, what happened to those? Your creations are exquisite and I cannot imagine them being otherwise."

"You're sweet," she said. She rested her back against his chest again. His arms wrapped around her and she drew a long breath. Being held felt so good, she sighed. "I had everything all planned. I was going to design school and I would be the queen of the fashion world. All of my friends and family raved over my designs, and with that kind of support what could go wrong?"

"But, something did?" he prompted, gently.

"Not exactly. I met Robert when I was sixteen. It was the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I don't know what was reported to you in Greece at that time, but the United States wasn't a happy place to be if you were black. Things were changing for the better, but the change wasn't an easy one. I was involved with a few things here and there…Chris was more involved than I was, but I did some things to help out. Anyway, the night of Dr. King's death, I met Robert. I had seen him a few times in the neighborhood, playing ball with some of the guys. He was older and because of that, mysterious and enticing… Well, to make a long story short, one of the community centers had a vigil that night. I went and so did he. We talked most of the night. Later, we became inseparable, and before we even knew what we were doing, we were married. Soon after, Dara was born and I put my reign over the fashion world on hold."

"Were you happy?" he asked. His hands gently caressed her back, enjoying the feel of her against him.

"For a time. He was my first…everything. Kiss…love…lover. I had nothing to compare him or our lives to, so I believed I was happy."

"And, now? What do you believe now? Are you happy now?"

The urgency of his question compelled Carrie to raise herself from his chest to face him. Repositioning herself, she placed her hands on both sides of him, effectively boxing him in. Her face was inches from his and with a whispery soft voice she said, "I believe that happiness is very close at hand. Do you believe it, too?"

"Yes." He leaned towards her and gently brushed her lips with his. Their lips touched with tender insistence until their need overpowered them and demanded that their needs were met.

Chapter 95

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