Jane L. Daffron
Author's Note: This scene actually takes place within the story, A Renewal of Life.
She took another sip from her glass. Turning back to gaze in through the glass patio door, she drew in a deep breath of sea air and slowly exhaled.
"Okay, Karen, so what the hell are you going to do now?" she said as if asking the question aloud would somehow immediately provide her with the answer. "The man turned you on tonight. The last time that happened…" and she sat the glass down on a table, "The last time that happened was with Michael. And I sure as hell don’t intend for this to even get to that point. I can’t. I simply can’t afford to get involved with him."
Karen Davis sat down in one of the lanai chairs and crossed her arms as she looked up into the vast expanse of the night sky.
"Problem here, old girl, is that you do want something to develop, don't you?" She shook here head and laid it back against the wooden slats, closing her eyes. "Damn it!" The air had gotten chillier since she had returned but Karen knew that if she went inside, she would not be able to think. She was tempted to go for a walk on the beach below the Institute, even though it was now just past midnight. It was a restricted area, after all, and there would be no one to bother her. She had to think. The problem was, when she closed her eyes, she felt his arms around her, enveloping her, holding her, his heart beating against her chest when he had he kissed her on the beach. And she also could feel her body flush in return, even now, hours later after she’d been with him again for a second night, this time on his yacht. Both times, he had acted every inch the gentleman, every word carefully chosen and said. Yet, when he had pulled her to him and kissed her, her body responded with feeling and she wanted more of him.
She had told him that she wanted to move on with her life - to learn to live, and to love, again. She had talked so confidently of starting over, so sure of what she wanted to do. What she didn't tell him, and didn't want to fully admit, even to herself, was that she was scared. She had managed to cover her fears so well that she had others believing that she had no fear at all. That nothing, or no one, fazed her. That 'mask' was what had caused her to earn the moniker of 'Ice Queen.' No fear. In fact, no emotions. Shutting down when faced with a situation that needed her fullest concentration and courage. Shutting down so that she could not feel the fear, couldn't feel the uncertainty. Couldn't feel. What others couldn't see was that she was petrified - scared of doing what she did because she was afraid to fail, both herself and others, and especially Caitlin.
She had learned to hide or bury her feelings after Robert's death. She didn't have time to grieve for him. It had all happened so fast. One day he was there, laughing, talking, and then a few hours later, it was all gone. All torn away from her...and from their daughter.
It had hurt. It had hurt beyond all belief. And yet, she had to continue working and providing for herself and their child. She went to a grief counselor, and she had insisted that Caitlin see a counselor as well. But she was dead inside. She went numb, as if nothing or no one could get close to her. She could comfort her daughter, but there was no one to comfort her. So, she shut down.
Taking another sip from her glass, her eyes glazed over as she remembered those days and months afterwards. The loneliness, the emptiness, the anger she felt at being left alone. Her soul had been torn away and she couldn't cry out to anyone. She had to cry alone, where no one could see her...especially Caitlin. No one could see how much she had wanted to kill the man who had destroyed their lives - to make him suffer as she had. Why had he done this to her? To their daughter? To take a man, so loving and gentle, and tear him away from his wife and child, and have no remorse over the act...was beyond her comprehension.
And so she began her life as the 'Ice Queen.'
Then Michael Briggs entered her life several years later. And with him, came the hope of a life renewed.
Now, Karen was faced with feelings that even Michael hadn't been able to stir in her. She had started to come alive with him. He had taught her so much - that she had a right to live and love again. That she had to stop building walls to keep herself from getting hurt. She had been able to feel with her body what it had craved for years. Release. And she had found she needed more. But it was more than even Michael had been able to, or could, give her. She found that she could feel with her body, but she needed to love with her heart. He had told her not to be afraid of who she was or what she could be, that she was capable of being so much more than she was. She hadn't understood what he had meant then, but she was just beginning to now.
"Michael said I had a right to feel and to live again. I know that, so why do I feel so scared about this whole thing?"
She downed the last of the wine and fingered the glass, rolling it slowly between her fingertips. This man was her employer. He was a good fifteen years older and powerful on top of that. Why did the possibility of a relationship with him frighten her?
Sighing deeply, she laid her head back and looked up at the blackness of the night.
"You know, Robert, you could help me out here," she said. "You’re the one who left me here, with all of this. What in the hell am I going to do?"
There was no answer to her question, nor did she expect any.
Seemingly speaking to an unseen presence, "I know, I know. I’ve got to follow my heart. But right now, it’s my head and my career that I’m worried about. The heart can come later."
There was an eerie silence in the chilling air, pierced only by an occasional clang from an unseen buoy in the channel. She closed her eyes again and drank in the smells of the sea below her. Minutes passed slowly as she simply allowed her mind to empty of all that seemed to be racing inside her brain. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, she shivered and gradually opened her eyes.
Taking a deep breath of resignation, she sat up and quietly bowed her head. Little by little, she came to realize that her life was now becoming increasingly more complex. She was also suddenly tired. Tired of having to do everything and be everything for herself and for Caitlin. She was also finally ready to admit that she was lonely. She was beginning to realize just how much she missed the companionship and love that had been torn from her years before. And if ever she had doubted it, tonight had proven it to her in spades. Then before she knew it, tears were slowly falling down her cheeks.
"God, why did You have to do this to me? You took away the person I loved more than life itself and You let me go and nearly kill myself I don't know how many times. And to do what? Bring me here?" Tears were streaming down now. "Why did You have to go and put this man in front of me? Is this some kind of sick joke?! You know I can't allow myself to fall in love with him. Why are You doing this to me?"
Her fists were clinched so hard that her knuckles were white. The confusion of the past couple of days suddenly collided with an excruciating pain she thought had been long buried. How could anything this wrong feel so right hurt so much? Logically and realistically, she had a perfect right to get on with her life…to rejoin the ‘living’ and take full advantage of a possible love that now stood before her. But her heart still whispered for another. Would she ever be able to understand what it truly was saying and know the difference between then and now?
Harriman Nelson was the ultimate enigma for her. What was it about him that drew her to him? That made her feel so...safe and warm and comfortable in his arms? He was her boss and yet, he hadn't been anything but the perfect gentleman the whole time she'd been here. Had she been so blind to what everyone else had seen?
The minutes slowly ticked away as she sat there, trying to come to terms with what was and what is...and what could be. She had to make a decision. Was she going to tear down the wall she had built or hide behind it for the rest of her life?
Her eyes slowly fell on a picture that stood on a table just inside the patio door. They had been so happy back then. Maybe it was finally time...
A piercing noise suddenly brought her back to reality. Confused, she looked down and realized that the portable phone was ringing.
"Now, who in God’s green earth would be calling here at this time of night? Surely to God it’s not Caitlin...unless something’s wrong..." she exclaimed and picked it up, clicking open the receiver. "Davis residence."
"Karen, this is Dora. I wasn’t sure if you’d still be up," the other woman’s voice said from across the country.
Karen Davis inwardly smiled. If ever anyone should have been asking that question, it should have been her.
"Yeah, but the question is why are you still up? For God’s sake, Dora, it’s 0300 in Washington."
"Just got in from a big dinner/dance at the French Embassy. Thought I’d give you the low-down on a few things." the woman laughed, and then her voice softened. "But the way you answered that phone sounds like you haven’t gone to bed either."
"No…not yet. I just got in myself about an hour ago."
"Late night in the lab?"
"No…actually, I had a date."
"What?! You had a date? Glory be, I was about to think that you’d died out there." There was a hesitation. "Mind if I ask with whom?"
Karen wasn’t sure if she should say anything to the woman. Though Dora was one of her best, and closest, friends, she herself was still posted at the Pentagon. The last thing she needed was for it to slip to the wrong people what was going on.
Noting the sudden quiet on the other end, Dora broke the silence. "Karen…?"
"I’m still here…"
"Okay, Davis…out with it! Now!"
Finally, Karen whispered, "Dora, how can something so wrong feel so very right?"
There was complete silence for several moments, and then her friend cautiously spoke. "Karen, what did you do? He’s not married, is he?"
"No…no, not at all. In fact, he’s never been married. Well, he was supposed to have been…years ago, but…she was killed and he, ah, buried himself in his work…"
The realization must have finally dawned on Dora. "Wait a minute. Are you telling me that you went out with Harriman Nelson?"
There was a low whistle on the other end of the phone. "Whoa!" When Karen didn’t answer her, she continued, "Okay, so you went out with Nelson. And...?"
"And there’s nothing to tell, Dora. I can’t see him again. He’s my boss…and for all intents and purposes, my CO. It’s wrong. End of conversation."
"How many dates, Karen?"
Again, she hesitated. "Two. Last night…and tonight. Look, I can’t…"
"Karen…what was one of the first things you said to me tonight? Something about something ‘so wrong feeling so right’? Okay, first off…it’s not wrong. I mean, now if both of you were still active military, then yeah, it probably would be wrong. Flag officer and a line officer, particularly since you'd be in his direct line of command, you know. But he’s not active…he’s retired. And you’re in the Reserves. Now, the last time I looked, neither of you are married. So, the only real thing standing in the middle of all of this is that he’s your boss. Well, guess what? The woman who married Bill Gates was his employee – in fact, I think she was one of his vice-presidents…"
"Yeah, but it’s not the same, Dora…"
"Oh, yes it is, Karen. It’s exactly the same. Look, I’ve known you for a lot of years now. I knew you before you ever got involved with Michael Briggs. And I watched you come out of that shell you’d built up around yourself when you got involved with him. For what it’s worth, Karen, that relationship did give you back your life. He was never marriage material, but he was good for what really ailed you…and that was to get back into life!"
"But I can’t…I mean…"
"Yes, you can. Look…answer me this. Has he kissed you?"
"Oh, for Christ’s sake, Karen…! You said you’ve had two dates with the man. You two aren't children…you’re two mature adults. And might I remind you, Captain Davis, you’ve been married before. Add to the fact, your last relationship wasn’t exactly platonic, now was it? Now…how did you feel when he kissed you?"
Karen was suddenly uncomfortable with Dora’s question. As much as she had looked forward to this evening, after it was over, she’d been having second thoughts. And third thoughts. And thoughts she didn’t want to admit to that excited her.
"How did I feel? Stunned at first, I guess. I didn’t expect it. But once he did…I didn’t want it to end."
"Okay…that’s normal. Good…I was beginning to wonder about you…"
Davis sat down on the couch in her living room and pulled her legs up under her. "We, ah, were out on the deck at the Harbor Restaurant. Nobody was out there ‘cause it was a little cold outside. Anyway, before I knew it, he kissed me. Dora…I…didn’t want it to end."
"Hon, there’s more here than you’re telling me…"
"We, ah, ended up driving back up toward the Institute and he took me to this place on the beach, about five miles away. Anyway…he took me down to the beach and we ended up …in a rather romantic embrace. I, uh, ...."
"And this was last night, right? Okay…what about tonight?"
"We were out on his yacht. Dora, the way I felt in his arms, the way he held me…it felt so right. But it’s so wrong."
"Who says it’s wrong, Karen? You didn’t tell him not to kiss you, did you? You wanted him to. Look," the other woman replied, "you’ve been a total professional, in every sense of the word. If the man had intended to put the moves on you, it would’ve been when you first got there, not nearly two years later. You’re attractive, you’re smart, you’ve got a good head on your shoulders…and you’re not the kind of girl that looks to screw every man in her path to get where she needs to be. You’ve gotten to where you are the old fashioned way…you’ve worked your ass off and sacrificed a helluva lot for Caitlin and for yourself in the process. No one in their right mind could ever accuse you of getting what you’ve earned any other way but by hard work."
"Well, I don’t need any rumor mill circulating anything to the contrary…"
"I can certainly understand that, but why are you so conflicted over this, Karen? Is it really the fact that he’s your boss…or…is it something else?"
"That’s part of it, Dora. I’ve worked so hard to get where I am and the last thing I need is someone starting something about me seeing the boss. You know how hard it is, even now, for women in the military. We’re judged at a higher standard."
"Yeah, I know that. But Karen, you’ve been there nearly two years and not once, from what you’ve told me, has he ever done anything except treat you as an employee and expect you to do what he’s paying you to do. And I’ve talked to you since you’ve got there – you’ve had tunnel-vision, girlfriend. Big time. In fact, I was getting a bit worried about you."
“You know Caitlin’s been pushing for this big time, don’t you?"
"Yeah, I know. But he’s the one who asked you out. Caitlin might have been on the sidelines encouraging it, but he’s the one who did the asking. Not you...and not her. Him. Hasn’t it ever occurred to you that maybe he’s taking a big chance here too?"
Karen sighed. "Ironically, he said something to that very effect tonight. About how he’d shut himself off after his fiancée died."
"Okay, so he’s aware of the risks and he’s willing to take them. But he’s a man, and they don’t always look at things the same way we do. You know that! But at the same time, Karen, I think what you’re afraid of isn’t the fact that he’s your boss. I think, deep down, you’re really afraid to open yourself up again."
"I’ve already done that. I saw Michael for nearly a year…"
"And I’m not saying that that wasn’t a good thing, even if you did end up walking out on him. Look, Michael Briggs wasn’t capable of loving you. You know that. You told me that yourself before you left DC for Miramar. Honey, you’re the kind of woman that’s not gonna settle for his kind of life in the first place. You never have been and never will be - you just weren't raised that way. You loved Robert too much to be that. You need someone who will love you the way he did. And believe me, Briggs isn’t it."
She was silent for a few moments as she looked out at the channel. She felt like bursting into tears and it was taking everything she had in her to keep them from erupting. Finding her voice, "Dora, I know what you’re saying is right. And I can’t see myself spending the rest of my life alone. I refuse to do that. Do you know that I actually had someone in Robert’s family blast me for even considering seeing someone else? They implied that I was betraying his memory and I had a duty to be faithful to him??"
"And that person was as stupid as they were cruel, Karen. My God! You just turned 40. You’re not going to ‘wear black’ the rest of your life because of someone’s stupidity, are you?"
"But nothing!" There was an air of tension now between the two women, until Dora broke the ice. "Look, it’s late for both of us and I have to go into the office tomorrow. I want you to think about something, okay? Think about how you feel when you’re with him. You told me it feels right. You told me Caitlin’s pushing this – and your daughter has a fairly good head on her shoulders. The fact that she’s for this says a lot. She lost her father when she was nine, Karen. Maybe she’s looking for a father or maybe she wants to see you happy. I don’t know. You’re not on the command staff for that sub of his. You’re a mission specialist – a department head. Look…you deserve some happiness in your life."
"But Harriman Nelson?"
"And why not? Look, the good Lord plopped him down in front of you. He’s given you a second chance and it’s up to you to take it or not. Are you willing not to take it simply because you’re scared?"
"Right now, frankly, I’m not sure how I feel. All I know is that when I’m with him…it feels right. But my brain is screaming at me that…"
"Haven’t you got things turned around, Karen? It’s your heart that’s really in conflict here – not your brain. Robert’s gone. He’s never coming back and I think you started to realize that when Briggs first asked you out. You wouldn’t have gone out with him if you hadn’t already started to come out of that shell. It’s time, Karen. All I can say is really look into your heart. If it’s to be, it will be. But if you don’t try – you’ll never find out one way or the other."
"You know something, Dora?"
"You’re a pain in the…"
The other woman laughed. "So are you. I’m just telling you to practice what you preach." Then, without missing a beat, "So, girlfriend…what’s he like? Come on…spill the whole thing before I go to bed. I want to be able to go to the Pentagon with a smile on my face tomorrow…"
Karen Davis started to laugh herself. Captain Dora Kennedy always knew how to get her out of a morose mood. "These lips will never tell…"
"Ahhhh, you’re no fun…"
The conversation lasted another thirty minutes or so until both were finally so exhausted they were almost falling asleep in the middle of a sentence. After Dora hung up, Karen headed back to her bedroom and started to prepare for bed. Her schedule wasn’t as stringent as Dora’s but tomorrow was to be a long day in the lab. As she slipped under the covers and closed her eyes, a vision of Nelson appeared before her and the remembrance of that evening invaded her being.
There was something she was definitely sure of. For the first time, in a very long time, she felt safe.
©Jane Daffron, 9/10/05
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