Away From HomebyBelle_in_south©
The ache in her heart was tangible. She stood in the dark wings, watching the beautiful woman singing on the stage, and tried to ignore the painful throbbing in her chest. Her heart was heavy. Its weight smothered her. Her eyes were focused on the slim woman moving in the soft bath of the spotlight, but the brunette was not on her mind. Her heart ached for a small blonde woman with big green eyes and two beautiful children living in a tiny apartment on the opposite side of the state.
The performer finished one song and paused to sip some water from a bottle while the audience cheered. Her dark eyes flitted to the wings of the stage and found Raegan Hall leaning against the wall. Rae forced a smile onto her face and gave Erin McAllister a thumbs-up. The smile did not reach her eyes even though she was pleased with the performance and the audience's reaction to the twenty-two year old woman standing on the stage.
Rae and her best friend had discovered McAllister singing in a bar on the outskirts of Nashville and working in an Old Navy store to pay the bills ten months ago. McAllister had hypnotized Rae and all the patrons of the bar with her tight jeans, mesmerizing hips, and lilting voice. Rae had ended up fleeing the spell that night, her raging hormones competing with the love that burned for her girlfriend.
Thoughts of Tara Myers couldn't even bring a smile to Rae's lips tonight. It was Tara's fault that loneliness choked her. Though they had been together for nearly a year, a great chasm yawned between them. The physical distance between them seemed insurmountable. Obstacles kept popping into their path. They had to find a house. Tara's parents had not taken the news well. Then the baby had come.
The baby could make Rae grin. The corner of her mouth lifted just a touch as she thought about holding the tiny little girl. Rachel's skin was soft like velvet and she smelled like spring time. Whenever she visited her girlfriend, Rae sat in the rocker with Rachel's tiny fist wrapped around her finger and just stared at the miracle she couldn't believe was part of her life.
It was Tara's fault that Rae couldn't be with Rachel and Will all the time. The tour with Erin McAllister was supposed to take Rae's mind off of the empty house sitting in a suburb of Nashville waiting for Tara. The baby was four months old. She should be sleeping in the crib on the second floor beside the master bedroom. Five year old Will should be playing in the floor beside his race car bed. Rae had spent a lot of time and money on the house, wanting it to be a home when Tara was ready to come.
But Tara kept finding excuses not to come. It angered Rae's best friend. Beth insisted that Tara would never move. She thought that Tara was using Rae and worried about Rae ending up hurt. Rae accepted Tara's reasons, but that did nothing to combat her loneliness or frustration.
Erin McAllister didn't help matters, either. She was a constant distraction for Rae and Beth had encouraged it since they had first heard her perform. The tour had been Beth's idea. She'd booked McAllister at every county fair in the western half of the state and then suggested that Rae travel with the young woman. Rae had argued, afraid of the temptation McAllister presented, but Beth had convinced their boss that a studio escort was necessary for Capitol Records' next star. McAllister had insisted on Rae.
McAllister had taken Rae's breath away the day she'd walked into the studio to audition. There had been a spark the night Rae had watched the young woman perform in the bar, but when Erin had walked into the studio wearing a long skirt with a wild print and a wispy peasant blouse, Rae's mouth had gone dry. Beth had done the talking while Rae had gained her composure. Erin's eyes had been focused on Rae's face as she had responded to Beth's questions, unnerving Rae even more. When Beth had finished her spiel and looked at Rae, her expression had been smug. Rae had cleared her throat and quickly walked toward the sound booth where Erin would perform for the decision-makers at Capitol Records.
Just before they had left Erin in the booth alone, the young woman had leaned over to whisper loud enough for only Rae to hear, "You'll be watching?"
"We'll be in the booth with Mr. Hanson," Rae had answered, relieved that she could finally trust her voice to form words without betraying her body's desire. Rae had stepped away quickly, intoxicated by the scent of McAllister's skin. In the recording booth, Rae had taken a seat at the microphone between Hanson and the technician. She'd pulled the intercom to her mouth. "All right, Ms. McAllister, we're ready. As Beth told you, we're going to record you singing today and we'll use the demo tape to help us determine whether we should sign you."
Erin had licked her lips and given Rae and the other executives a glistening smile. Rae barely knew the girl, but she had easily read the smile. There was no question in Erin McAllister's mind if Capitol Records would sign her. Confidence poured from her body language, her smile, and her voice. Rae sat in the booth without looking at McAllister, scribbling marketing notes on a legal pad while Erin pulled the executives into her spellbinding performance.
As the tape reels captured Erin's talented voice, a vibration distracted Rae. She glanced at the display screen on her mobile telephone and frowned when she recognized her lover's number. She flipped it open and covered her mouth so she would not disturb those listening to the singer. "Hey, baby. What's up?" she whispered.
"I'm sorry, honey," Tara answered. Rae tensed as she recognized tears in her girlfriend's voice. "I hope I didn't bother you at work. I'm in labor."
Rae sprang to her feet, dropping her legal pad. "What?" she shouted, forgetting the others in the room. Someone hissed at her and she quickly made her way out the door. "You're not due for another three weeks."
"I know, but I was hurting all morning. I went to the doctor and he says it's for sure. I wouldn't call if I thought it was false labor, honey."
Rae was walking toward her office, her mind clicking at rapid speed. "It's all right, sweetheart. Dammit, I told you I wanted you here so I wouldn't be so far away."
"Can you come?" Tara asked in a weak, pleading voice that tore at Rae's heart.
"Yes, baby. I'll be there in a few hours, just hold on. I'll be there."
"I love you," Tara cried.
"I love you, too, sweetheart. I'll be there." Rae looked up as Beth entered the office with a frown on her face. "I'll be there," she repeated. "Call your Momma to come be with you until I get there."
She snapped the phone to a close and began throwing things into her briefcase without looking at her best friend. "Tara's in labor," she announced. "I've got to go."
"Does this mean she'll be with you when you come home?"
"I don't know. I hope so."
"She's running out of excuses."
"I know," she answered, kissing Beth's cheek. "I'll call you."
The four hour trip from Nashville to her hometown where still Tara lived was the longest block of time of Rae's life. She couldn't push her car fast enough. She didn't even have anyone she could contact during the long trip. When she finally arrived at the hospital, she ran into the waiting room without knowing if Tara had already had the baby.
Her eyes scanned the waiting room as she made her way to the nurse's desk. From the corner of her eye, she saw Tara's father rise slowly. He glowered at his daughter's girlfriend. Rae felt the tension radiating from him but attempted to ignore it. "Tara Myers?" she asked the nurse.
"Raegan?" a soft voice said. Rae turned to see Tara's mother standing nearby. Rae stepped toward Jane Roding, trying to hide her own tension. Jane stared at her daughter's lover for a long moment before lowering her eyes. "She's been asking for you." She turned and walked away. Rae hesitated before stepping away from the nurse to follow the older woman. Jane was waiting at a door. She pointed to the number. "You'll need to wash," she said in a defeated tone.
"Is everything all right?" Rae demanded as the mother prepared to push the door to Tara's room open.
Jane paused, finally lifting her eyes to Rae's face. "I thought it would pass, this ridiculous feeling that my daughter seems to have for you. She's not mentioned you very much, but she's cried for you all night. Raegan, I don't want to lose my daughter."
"You won't lose her because she loves me."
"You're taking her away."
"I'm taking her to a better life, Mrs. Roding. One room in the house where we will live is bigger than that apartment she calls home right now. She'll not want for anything. Will and the baby will have the best schooling I can give them. Tara can stay home with the kids. She won't have to work. Along with my love, I'm giving her a better life."
"Better? What about harder? What about the hatred she is going to face because she has chosen to be . . . chosen this lifestyle?"
"Nothing could be harder for her than the way you treated her when you found out. Strangers are nothing compared to family hating her. And sometimes, it's harder to be something your not alone than to be yourself with someone you love. I'm going to go wash up so I can be with the woman I love while she brings our child into the world."
Rae trembled as she scrubbed her hands and changed into the hospital-provided scrubs. She had been in the lifestyle for nine years. Tara was new to the world's reactions to homosexuality. In the nine years that Rae had been accepting her sexuality and living with her college sweetheart Jamie, Tara had been married to Billy Myers and having fantasies that she didn't understand. Billy's car wreck had set Tara free to explore those fantasies. Rae had tried to push the beautiful woman away, but when Tara had shown up in Nashville on New Year's Eve, Rae had been helplessly lost.
She slipped into the delivery room. Jane Roding was mopping Tara's brow and whispering soft assurances to her daughter. Rae swallowed with difficulty before edging into Tara's line of vision. "Hey, darlin'" she said softly.
"Rae, you made it," Tara answered breathlessly, the air escaping her lungs as a contraction passed. She extended her hand toward Rae. Rae quickly took it, pressing her lips to the warm flesh. "You made it."
"I promised you that I would," Rae answered, bending to touch her lips to Tara's forehead. In that moment, Erin McAllister was the farthest thing from Raegan's mind as her heart filled with love for Tara and Will and the baby about to be born.
Rae had held Tara's hand through the long labor, wiping the sweat from her brow and encouraging her lover through each difficult contraction with words of love. As the baby had pushed her way into the bright world, Rae had stood dumbfounded at the miracle unfolding in front of her. When the doctor handed her the scissors to cut the cord, tears had blurred her vision. She was holding the little girl in her arms when Tara had whispered the name Rachel. Gazing at Tara as she held tiny little Rachel, Rae felt more complete than she ever had in her life.
Finally, things seemed to be going in Raegan's favor. She took Tara and Rachel to Tara's little apartment. They began packing Tara's belongings with the intent of all of them returning to Nashville together. Rae's spirits had soared. Her home was going to be full of her new family and full of love. Lying at Tara's side at night, while her lover nursed the new baby, Rae's heart was so full that she thought it would explode from her chest.
On the stage in Jackson, Tennessee, seven hours away from Tara Myers, Erin McAllister finished another song and basked in the thunderous applause from the crowd. The young woman glowed from the attention. Her name was being spread from county to county as they made their way across the state. People were starting to come just to hear the new artist. McAllister loved being the center of attention. Ecstasy from the whistles and cheers was written across her face.
She waved and jogged off the stage, the roar of the crowd following her into the wings where Rae stood. She threw her arms around her publicist, laughing merrily. "This just keeps getting better and better," she said as the hug lingered. Her smell, a mix of shampoo and sweat from the hot lights, tickled Raegan's nose. Rae breathed deeply, feeling her blood warm as Erin's small breasts pushed against her body, and wrapped her arms around Erin's waist.
The crowd continued to cheer as Erin kissed Rae on the lips and turned in the stunned circle of the older woman's arms. She placed her hands over Rae's, not allowing the embrace to break, as she stared onto the stage. "Should I go back out there?"
Rae's mind spun as she struggled to order her thoughts. She had never been one to be governed by her hormones, but Erin constantly kept her off-kilter. She inhaled against McAllister's hair, her senses reeling. Erin's firm rear rubbed against the front of Rae's hips, sending electric ripples through her insides. She felt her nipples tighten and rub against Erin's back, the dual sensations competing with Rae's rationale.
Erin turned her head to glance at her publicist from the corner of her eye. The corner of her mouth turned upward with a knowing grin. She wet her lips with the tip of her tongue and lowered her voice. "Should I give an encore?"
Rae still stared for a moment, trying to interpret McAllister's words. She finally pulled her hands free and stepped back, breaking all physical contact with her tormenter. "Yes," she answered, her voice weak. She cleared her throat and tried again, waving Erin toward the stage. "Yes. Go. They love you."
Erin blew Rae a kiss and ran back onto stage. The crowd roared with delight as Erin waved and bowed. Rae tried to think of the woman as dollar signs. She would gain popularity quickly and make lots of money for Capitol Records. Erin was a client. Rae needed to remember that.
Perhaps if other obstacles hadn't appeared in Tara's path to Nashville, Rae wouldn't be struggling with her attraction to Erin McAllister. At the end of Rachel's first week, Rae had left for Nashville with a car load of her lover's belongings. Rae planned to come home every weekend until Tara's doctor cleared her, and then Tara, Will, and Rachel would come to Nashville to stay. Rae had been satisfied that her family would be with her in two months.
She walked away from the stage as she thought about the disappointment that had overwhelmed her in the last few months. Recently, it seemed Rae's whole life revolved around telephone calls. Tara had called to tell her about the baby coming, and then about being cleared, but before the music executive could absorb that news, Tara had called again. By the time Rae had gotten Tara to stop crying enough that she could be understood, Rae had known the news would not be good.
"Anna and Joe, they're going to take the kids," Tara sobbed, struggling to catch her breath as she spoke.
"Who are Anna and Joe, baby?" Rae demanded, her brow creased and her heart pounding as she tried to make sense of her lover's disconnected words.
"Billy's parents. They want to take my kids away from me. Raegan, I can't let them. I can't lose Will and Rachel. I can't lose my children."
"Slow down, darlin'. Nobody is going to take the children from you. I want you to take a deep breath and tell me why they want to take the kids."
"I told them we were moving. I told them about you. They said if I tried to take the kids to Nashville to live with a . . . to live with another woman, that they would take me to court for custody."
Watching Erin McAllister capture the attention of the crowd, Rae felt her anger rising again. Her muscles tensed and her hands tightened into fists. She dug her fingernails into her palms, attempting to absorb the pain in her heart. Tara's former in-laws' threats had paralyzed the young mother. She was afraid to come to Nashville, so Rae was left alone in the home she had bought for Tara and Will and Rachel.
Erin finished her encore and Rae joined in the thunderous applause. She painted a smile on her face for McAllister's benefit as the woman waved to her audience and took several bows. She made her way slowly off stage, enjoying every last minute of the attention. When she reached the wings, she leaned against the wall, taking a deep breath. Rae studied her from a distance. Erin's cheeks were flushed with excitement. Her forehead and chest glistened with sweat from the exercise of performing. If she looked closely, Rae could see the outline of her client's nipples against the ribbed material of her tight top.
Rae tried not to look too closely.
With a smile, Erin stood and walked toward her manager. She laid her palms on Rae's shoulders, sliding them slowly down her back as she stepped closer. She didn't press herself to Rae, but kept a few inches between them. The distance was electrified. Erin lifted her face toward Rae, her breath warm and her lips slightly parted. "I want you to take me out tonight," she whispered. "I want to go out and dance and I want you to get me drunk."
Rae licked her lips, Erin's inviting mouth filling her vision. "I hardly think that's appropriate."
"Oh, come on, Rae. We're on this tour and the crowds love me, but we go to the hotel every night. I need to go party tonight, and you are going to take me." She pushed away from Rae and jogged down the steps to greet her fans. She would autograph pictures and pose for photographs and when her first CD hit the stores, they would remember her and buy it. She would be an instant success and owed it all to Rae and Beth.
Rae had no choice but to follow. She watched from the sidelines as Erin interacted with each person in line. She smiled and flirted with each person, weaving her spell on people who had maybe heard her single on the radio before coming to the concert but likely had only shown up for the free entertainment. McAllister could enthrall them from the stage and enrapture them one-on-one. If the executives at Capitol Records could see the young artist at work, they would sign her to an air-tight multi-year contract immediately.
The line dwindled to nothing and Erin turned to flash her smile at Rae. She tilted her head, peering at Rae with a knowing look. She swayed as she closed the distance. "Let's celebrate," she whispered as she passed Rae. She continued walking, confident that Rae's eyes were on her, until she reached the van that carried their equipment. Two locals were loading the van and falling over themselves to catch her attention. Rae sighed wearily before stepping into the office to settle with the fair manager.
The music in the dark bar was loud and throbbing. The crowd dancing on the floor moved in and out of the shadows created by flashing colored lights and spinning sparkles. Raegan was moving in time with the beat of the music pounding out of the jukebox speakers, Erin dancing just a few feet in front of her. Erin's skin glistened as her body spun and rocked. Her eyes, locked with Rae's, glowed with contagious enthusiasm and energy. Strangers jostled against Rae and pushed Erin closer to her manager. They were lost in the crowd of bodies gyrating wildly to the thumping rhythm.
Rae attempted not to notice the way that Erin's top clung to her curves. Lights reflected in her skin and her emerald eyes. Each movement brought the duo into contact and Rae tried to ignore the way her body responded to each light brush of skin against skin. Each encounter sent an electrical spark coursing through Rae's body, causing her muscles to tighten and fireworks to explode in her head. She struggled not to acknowledge that her body had never responded in that way to Jamie in the seven years they had been together. She didn't think of Tara.