Stories by C.R. Johnson Ronica Black Barbara L. Clanton Geonn Cannon
Publisher Claudia Wilde Managing Editor Carrie Tierney Assistant Editor C.A. Casey Cover Photo/Headers Lariel Layout/Story Art T.J. Mindancer
In This Issue
Happy Birthday to Us
6 Normally I Like the Rain True
Vital Signs ISSN 1939-3393 Khimairal Ink Magazine is published January, April, July, and October.
17 Who Needs Donuts Anyway? HH 24 HH
Barbara L. Clanton
appy 4th of July to our American readers! We are celebrating a fourth of July of sorts as this is our fourth July issue of Khimairal Ink. Our original idea was to offer writers an online outlet for their short story writing skills. Thirtyone writers, forty-four stories and poems later this idea appears to have been successful. Along the way, several of our authors have newly published books and our illustrator is enjoying a very successful art career. I’m even in print with our latest Zerthynia’s Tales book. Our ad spaces are a popular means of advertisement and submissions have soared. Khimairal Ink pages are filled by new and creative authors. I’d like to thank all the readers and contributors for making this idea so successful. If you’re a new reader, check out our
back issues and see where all this began: http://khimairalinkmag.wordpress.com/backissues/ We have four exciting new contributors in this issue. C.R. Johnson’s “Normally I Like the Rain” reminds us of the frailties of life and death while Ronica Black’s “True” shows how life goes on even thought we don’t like our circumstances. “Who Needs Donuts Anyway” by Barbara L. Clanton offers a glimpse of a teenager facing a life-altering future. In “Vital Signs,” Geonn Cannon examines how one copes with a disability and still lives life to the fullest. Enjoy! Claudia
Join us for the October 2008 issue featuring . . . Games With Chance by Andi Marquette Iz‛s Story by Doreen Perrine Who‛s In Charge? / Silent Journey by DeJay Communion by Fran Walker
appy birthday to us. No one is more surprised than we are to be celebrating Khimairal Ink’s fourth birthday. Our little experiment has turned into a respectable little zine. We’ve even hit the big time—we’re listed in The Black Hole (http://www.critique.org/users/ critters/blackholes/sightdata.html). No longer are we praying we get enough stories for the next issue. We had to return to our original schedule of four issues a year so authors won’t wait forever to see their stories in print. Even so, we’ve filled the next two issues and are accepting stories for the April 2009 issue. Yep. I think we’ll have our fifth anniversary issue ready before the end of 2008. Khimairal Ink is a success because of our great
and loyal readership. Thank you a thousand times over. But we wouldn’t be where we are today without all the authors who finally have an ongoing outlet for their short stories about lesbians and for those authors who have stretched their writing horizons to submit to us. We’re just as excited to publish an author’s first story or be the first to pay an author for a story as we are to receive submissions from established authors from outside the lesbian fiction genre such as Tyree Campbell, Stephen D. Rogers, Amy Sisson, and Brenda Cooper. Now kick back and celebrate our fourth July issue with us. The entertainment is on us. Carrie
f I were to turn my face toward the clouds I would feel this mist as a cool caress; instead I keep my eyes on the face of the angry gentleman in the white Buick so insistent upon going around me onto the street beyond. “I have an appointment.” His voice is deep with frustration and a bit of anger. His eyes glow with self importance. Does that self image come with the accumulation of decades, I wonder? I estimate his age at approximately seventyeight, weight close to two hundred and forty on a tall frame, barrel chest and nicotine stains on his hands but no smell of smoke. There’s a slight tremor to his hands and a cane along his thigh at the center of the seat. Walking any distance in this rain will not be comfortable for him. I don’t move. The rain has gathered to drip off the brim of my cap in a steady rhythm: 20cc’s per minute. There is a chill of it along my nape where my collar gaps as I duck my head to speak into the car window. This conversation is circular. He’s informed me of his pending appointment for the third time, as if I am an idiot. “Yes sir.” I nod, water finding its way past my hair and seeking new territory between my shoulder blades. I wish I had grabbed my rain gear, but it hadn’t been raining just over an hour ago when I’d been paged. “I understand. If you’d like to park in the East lot and walk through the building, you may do so. Or, if you wish, you may wait here until the road opens and it is safe to proceed.” Three times I’ve said these same words in exactly the same quiet tone. I should be bored with this. I should be pissed. I should be sending this guy away with a terse comment and get back into the rig out of the rain. I do not want to get back in that rig. “74, we need you in the ER. Copy?” The voice is in stereo, the remote at my shoulder echoed at a greater volume from the loudhailer in the light bar off the rig. I reach inside my jacket to key the mic, the chord moving a bit along my back reminding me of a snake. “74 copy. Need a replacement for traffic @ Drury and Fallwood to comply.” My own voice
now over the loudhailer. I don’t speak loudly, but it carries. No feedback. The man in the Buick narrows his eyes at me. He’s gonna try to make a break for it and go around. It’s in the set line of his jaw, in the superior nature of his seat on the wide leather padding Buick built just for him. I forestall him with a hand to the A post and lean into the window. “Sir, this roadway is closed for safety reasons. When the helicopter leaves, we will reopen it. In the meantime I ask you to either wait here or move into the East lot. I cannot and will not allow you to pass until it is safe to do so.” The sour look on his face simply deepens. “It’s just sitting there, not even running!” he complained. “I’m not gonna hit it! I’ll go around for Christ’s sake! This is ridiculous!” I’m fully aware of the chopper. I know it has sat there neither loaded nor running for the last twenty minutes. I know why, though I had left the controlled chaos of the ER twelve minutes ago as soon as I’d turned over my run sheets and briefed the air crew. I knew only one of those documents would be making the flight. I knew it in my bones, but now my head was catching up. I didn’t want to think about that. I had left that behind as I left it to my supervisor to schmooze with the admin and air crew. I was here, in the rain, and there was nothing else for me to do in the here and now but to stop traffic and not think: a good plan. I decided to stick with it. “No sir, It’s not.” I wanted to hear the rotors. I wanted to not wonder why I was being called back down there and clenched my teeth on the belief it just meant someone was too lazy to read my run sheets. I looked at the beads of rain on the glasses of the man in the Buick; at the darkened swatches of his shirt and the upholstery. I straightened and took my hand from its place on the A post. “You’re getting wet. Please roll up your window and wait until it’s safe to pass.” The look he shot me might as well have been a shouted obscenity, but he sealed his window and I took four steps backwards into the center of the slot the rig didn’t block. When he flipped me off I didn’t even blink. I used to be surprised when the elderly did rude or vulgar things. I’m not anymore. I didn’t care. I was alone in the chill sound of the rain waiting to hear the rotors. It had been too long.
“91-74. Ten twenty two. Remain on station.” Voices always sound lonely off the loudhailer in the rain; hollow and apart. Mine was no exception. “Ten four.” I’d done good; found a spot where my body was more valuable than someone else’s whim. I had managed to buy myself a little peace. I glanced down the hill at the sound of a muffled shout. There were more cars below; a cruiser’s lights cutting through the mist in strobes of piercing white, red, and amber. The officer in the gap down there was yelling at the driver of a Honda. I could guess why. The airship sat forlorn and inanimate on the helipad not two hundred yards down slope of my own multi-hued flashers. I wished it on its way. Over the radio came one terse call. “Loading now.” There would be no response from those of us on perimeter. I turned back to face the cars lining the blocked lanes. The man in the Buick glared. There were now four other cars behind him, waiting. I scanned the cars lining the side of the road that faced onto the pool and park. The faces of little kids and some adults peered through the foggy glass to catch a glimpse of the scene below. There is excitement in their expressions. Their eyes are large with anticipation, with curiosity and questions. I know what they are seeing. I know what they can’t see. I can’t look at them for very long. It makes me think too much, and I don’t want to think. When I hear the whine of the turbine starting, when the pitch of that sound begins to both climb and deepen, I scan the perimeter to make sure no one on foot is getting close. The rain helps. They stay in their cars. In the window of a small Nissan is a young toddler, his face pressed against the glass as his pacifier is worked furiously between pudgy lips. His eyes are round and very blue. I look away. The rotors are whipping the air into a froth below and I can hear the change in the echo as the ship begins to lift and angle up and over the road, away from the buildings. Its path takes it over my shoulder and then in an arc north east. I look below. Law enforcement is moving toward their cruisers. “Med Flight1, dispatch. Off the deck with one for Regions @ 1123hrs. ETA,
twenty-seven minutes.” The words boomed out over the rain soaked intersection, the pilots’ report picked up as both the radio in the rig and on my hip scanned. There would be no catching the response from the dispatch in the cities: the distance too great for ground communications. I shook my head and shoulders as I reached for the door, water sheeting off me as more gathered. It was senseless, a way only to delay getting back into this rig and the stench of trauma that yet clung to it. I climbed into the cab and let the echo of blood and fear and loss wash over me because there was nothing else to do. The silence inside the cab was punctuated by the patter of rain and the soft flow of radio traffic as each unit went ten eight. I switched off the external speaker and glanced at the roadway. The old man in the Buick continued to glare. I put the rig into gear and rolled toward the ER entrance, shutting down the lights and calling in to dispatch to report this rig ten eight from traffic control/ten six at the ER. I still had paperwork to do and this rig wasn’t ready for service. The diesel’s clatter had a calming effect as I finished my three point turn and whipped tight around the corner toward the ER entrance. The high center of gravity made the van wallow like a galloping hippo in the tight turn, but there was no one in the back to worry about. There’s a difference in how you handle a rig when it’s loaded and when it’s not. A little kid waved, smiling shyly from a rain streaked window. I waved back. I think I smiled. Reflex. The bay area was full of vehicles, 270 was in the bay, doors wide, cot missing. I ran 271 up onto the side walk about twenty feet back and left it running. The route was clear for us to take 270 out if we needed. The big box was our primary rig, and closer into being in service than the van. 271 was our transfer rig, a van, sleeker, more fuel efficient, lighter and faster without the dualies or the interior room. They carried identical gear, were laid out much alike, 271 was just a tighter fit and took drifts better in blizzards. I’d spent what seemed like years of my life in both rigs: Ten years, to be precise. I’d seen different iterations of each rig, we were on our fifth version of 270, and third of 271, had a third rig at the base (272), and they were talking a
forth now that we kept a chopper and flight crew at the airport. For a town of 6000, we sure as hell worked our asses off. I guess being the only ALS company within a hundred miles and belonging to the only level one trauma institute in the cities had something to do with it. The rigs, the uniforms, the way we worked, it all set us at a high standard of care, but blood and distress smell the same no mater what you’re wearing, and the stench in this rig was bad. I climbed out and hopped down relieved for a seconds’ respite and the relatively clean wash of rain and diesel fumes as I walked through the open bay door. My clipboard and run sheets were where I’d left them in the ambulance bay along with the other rig. The spray of a hot water hose rumbled out of the module of the type three filling the bay. A half heard shout called my name in greeting from within. I waved at the two inside scrubbing; used sign to inform them of the other rig’s location and walked out of the path of the spray. I was wet enough. My partner was scrubbing down the cot, a bucket of hot water and Buecoupe already mixed and a mop in the wringer, waiting. She tossed me a smile as I walked in, nodded toward the transformer cage where I prefer to write my reports. It was warm there, and out of sight of everyone, including the surveillance cameras. “It’s cleaned. So’s your pen,” she shouted over the din. “I’ll get Scooby and scrappy doo to start on Bravo . . .” I could’ve kissed her for that small kindness, but even as I started to thank her, she interrupted me, her eyes grave behind the smile. “Elliot’s looking for ya.” I nodded, knowing what she didn’t want to say, yelled a ‘thanks’ over the sluicing whoosh of the hose and continued on past the transformer box where I snagged my clip board and pen and on to the double doors leading into the service hall. The relative quiet here was like a hammer. Too much can escape you in that kind of quiet. I hurried through into the relative chaos of the hospital’s emergency area where the families were beginning to gather. Tiny knots of distressed and bereft persons, some alone while others clung tightly to one another, formed an unintentional obstacle course through which
I threaded my way. I was suddenly very conscious of my soaked uniform jacket and the numb stares I now drew. One woman, near my own age, met my eyes with a bare and desperate longing too deep for a soul to survive. She stood over a weeping man, her husband, slowly stroking his back while she looked out onto a world she no longer recognized. I knew her. She had a seventeen year old daughter and a three month old grandson. I’d taken the daughter north on a transfer four months ago due to pre-partum bleeding . . . A flash of silver off to the side and my eyes darted to catch and catalogue. One of the big fish in the aquarium, flat, round, and oblivious. I watched it dart after something I couldn’t see from this distance and wondered what the hell Elliot needed. . . . Amazing what the mind will do to protect itself. I kept walking as the knowledge took up residence. I don’t like to be caught still by revelations. Movement gives me the illusion of will. As I turned the corner I spotted Elliot. Covered in dust, his uniform bloodied and torn, he was being herded into x-ray: his hands swollen, the right one deformed. There was a firefighter beside him in much the same shape, though his turn out gear had survived intact. Elliot saw me and nodded me over, his expression lost behind thick glasses. As they strode into imaging I followed, closing the door behind. He hung back to close in, his back and my lack of height affording us each a modicum of privacy within the small anteroom. “Say . . . I need for you and Terri to cover as duty crew the rest of this shift for me if you could. Allen and I are both pretty banged up. Would you do that for me please?” He didn’t meet my eyes as he spoke. He never did. Just as he always used more words than necessary to convey his thoughts. He preferred a roundabout approach to life that had taken me years to learn to ignore. “Of course.” I looked at his hands as he spoke. The gravel had been sharp, the deformities abraded and white with dust. “They took out the mom. You knew that, right?” This is why he’d been asking for me. He didn’t
want me to hear from one of the others. They were young: too young to understand what had happened. Still invincible in shiny new gear, still pumped with the adrenaline of the be-knighted, they would have been examining each step of the run, each angle. They would have been feasting on their own pride. I’d been there once, a decade ago. After a decade, pride is a waste of my time. “I guessed.” My voice sounded normal. What an amazing thing, to feel nothing. What a truly disturbingly inhuman thing . . . He was watching me, those oblique glances taking in every nuance. He knew me well enough after all these years to think he knew when I needed prodding. I don’t suffer prodding well. “The passenger is going out by ground to St Jo’s. You’ll be leaving in about a half hour. Fractured pelvis and bilateral femur fractures. We had her in MAST. They’re still up. She was unresponsive when we were digging her out, but she’s been pretty oriented since so the docs aren’t really worried. I’d watch it with her though.” I nodded. He was saying things I already knew. What else was he working up to? “Transfer rig isn’t back in service yet. She’s gonna take awhile.” The rigs are always “she.” I wouldn’t trust a rig that wasn’t. Silly, huh? “Go ahead and take 270. We’ve still got the third in town too so we’ll be covered.” His face twitched into a mask of thought. Here it comes. “I want you to take Jeffers with you and FTO him on the run. He needs the experience.” I didn’t react to that. Why should I? Babysitting is part of my job and the new kid had to get wet sometime. Of course, this particular new kid was all ego and had neither life experience nor labial governance . . . This was his first big MVA. He was going to be insufferable. Elliot looked at me more closely, actually meeting my eyes. He has nice eyes, grey but slightly bewildered. “He screws up; I want you to step on him. I’ve already had a few words with him myself.” “Not a problem.” I didn’t really care for the scrutiny. “Any family going with?” This was a one way trip. Terri and I would be listening to Jeffers blow wind out his face all the way home. Lovely! Now I needed to know if I had to muzzle him for
the route north. In three weeks the kid had managed to piss on and off virtually every member of the crew. If I don’t kill him, he’ll be lucky. “Her dad.” Elliot was back to scanning the cinderblock walls. There was apparently some interest in the call box. His eyes remained glued to the light there. “He’s in with her now. Ask Sandy for an estimate on the times. Should be soon. She has the insurance info on all three . . .” He was drifting. There was still sweat beaded on his forehead. “Get those hands taken care of,” I said, wanting out of this room, out of this place. “Can’t hold a brew till ya do.” An old jab, but true. Once he got a crew lined up as our second he’d peel off that uniform, climb into sweats and tip a few back until he was blind and numb. I didn’t blame him. I didn’t emulate him either. I step outside myself in other, less socially accepted ways . . . “Christ, isn’t that the truth!” The laugh he managed was weak, but it was there. We’ve been doing this too long. Today we both seem old with the weight of it. Leaving was what I wanted now. I turned to go but a stage whisper from him slowed me. “Try not to kill him, okay?” I looked back at Elliot, at the half cocked smile he was giving the call box, and felt a pang of genuine fondness. He began to chuckle in earnest when I raised a brow and grinned. He was still laughing as the door closed softly behind, I could hear it as I strode down the hall. The ombudsman and mental health had arrived. The families were gathered in a tighter grouping in the waiting area—all but the one mother and her husband. They remained as before, silent. Her eyes staring strait ahead as the MD spoke softly in tones of careful neutrality and compassion. I didn’t have to hear the words. What he didn’t say was echoed in her face. She was seeing the truths he wouldn’t give; looking out on a life now framed by the unthinkable. Her daughter’s chances of physical survival were slim. The girls’ mind, however, had already opted out. It had been approximately twelve minutes from impact to retrieval from beneath all that gravel. Her skull had been depressed, her face sheared loose beneath the skin. CSF had pooled in the creases of the head block with blood and emesis as I’d worked her en-route.
She’d had a weak, irregular pulse. Her breathing had been spontaneous. The catalogue of injuries continued on far below the chin . . . I do not want those eyes on me. I stuck my head into cube 3 and caught the nurse’s eye. Sandy flagged me in, began a quick verbal rundown of the patient’s condition and handed me a sheet with insurance info. The conversation was brief. Not once did we really look at one another. As she spoke my eyes assessed the young woman on the ER bed, watched the interaction she shared with her parents. She was tiny, almost lost in the volume of the inflated MAST. Two lines were running TKO, one in each AC. One unit of normal saline was nearly dry, the other held 500cc’s. I’d be locking off one of the sites on the way. The morphine they’d given her would complicate assessing her LOC and play hob with her respiratory drive. We’d be bagging her the whole way. She’d taken a hell of a hit when the car had slammed into those gravel trucks. I allowed myself a moment to picture the scene: the crushed and buried Nissan, the trajectories of the driver and the infant as they were ejected. “How long till we can roll?” They’d be waiting for the CT scan. As soon as it was read we’d have road to cover. “About ten minutes I would think. They have the radiologist on-line.” She was writing up the physician’s cert. It was quiet; the pandemonium of the previous hour now spent off into an exhausted calm all too familiar. The rest of the docs and nurses had wandered back to their usual places on the floor or in the specialty departments. Some would be taking a moment of quiet in hiding. I realized as my eyes scanned the room, that I was looking for something . . . someone and shook my head in disappointment. She wouldn’t have stuck around, her emotions too raw to be exposed and stay together if I walked up on her. She wasn’t like me, couldn’t shut down, shut off like I did. She worked in a stable environment where politics never rested and no one watched your back. Not acceptable. It sucked to be the other woman. How the hell had I ever gotten into a spot where a married woman held my heart anyway? Moron.
Picking up the paperwork, I tossed a nod to Sandy. “I’ll be in the bay.” I left without speaking to my new patient. There’d be plenty of time for introductions and questions. The family had been led away to the chapel. As I passed the waiting area, it was now occupied by a young kid with a towel wrapped around his foot. There was blood seeping through the pale peach bundle and a tall, sourfaced woman sat beside him, scowling. She was filling out the forms for admission, and even as I glanced around, Sandy emerged from the cube to head in their direction. Not my problem. I went through the double doors of the access corridor with purpose. And there by the grating where we kept the O2 cylinders, wrapped like a little girl in her own arms, stood a tall, shadowed figure I couldn’t mistake if I tried. Half of me wanted to turn around and give her the privacy I know she wanted, the other half knew why she’d parked herself here. This was my area of the ER, the gear here was for the use of EMS and cleaning only. I didn’t even slow down. “Hey Nat.” I wanted her to know it was me. I shouldn’t have doubted she already did. “Baby didn’t make it.” She had straightened, and wasn’t allowing the tears in her eyes to fall. “I heard.” I bent to pick up a new E-cylinder, signed it out on the clip board, and tucked it under my arm like a football. “You alright?” She shuddered, rubbing her upper arms. It was cold in the passageway, dark and it smelled of old wet mops and solvents. “God this is an awful place.” She wasn’t talking about the passageway. “It’s just a place, Nat.” “You’re taking out the transfer?” I nodded, wondering where this was going. “I’m here until eleven-thirty. Come find me?” We were going to the cities, a five hour round trip if we pushed it, and we would. That brought us back for clean up and restocking some time around eight oclock. She’d be charge, which meant she was going to be working the ER. I nodded agreement. She’d grown very still, her eyes down, locked onto something below my waist. A look down showed I was scuffed and covered in wet clay
dust from the pile we’d been digging in. “You’re boots need to be shined,” she said quietly, then walked away in the direction of the ER. She was right, they did. I hit the grab bar on the exit with more attitude than I really needed, pissed at myself, at life, at death, who knew. I was just pissed. That was something I couldn’t really afford right now, so I swallowed it. The rigs had been switched. They had the cradle and locks out of the transfer rig. The sound of a mop had replaced the hose and the shouts of the three at work echoed in the concrete cavern. Terri was re-supplying the first in bags. She didn’t look pleased. I could guess why. She looked up when she spotted movement. I signed for eight minutes, mouthing the words since I am loath to shout. With a roll of her eyes, she angled her head toward the rig where male voices could be heard in outrageous claims. The face she pulled was perfect. I grinned. Jeffers may think he’s god’s gift, but slime mold wasn’t appreciated even when
it came gift wrapped. It was going to be a long transfer. My job now was paperwork. I took up residence at the transformer box and began filling out an incident report. As I settled in, my foot kicked at something out of place, something that crunched and slid aside. Not thinking, I glanced down. There, next to the wall as close to the doors as possible to be out of the way, lay the crushed and bloodied remains of an infants car seat. Stained white with gravel dust, streaked red and brown and an unlikely black, it bore little resemblance to its former shape. The white background with its happy pattern of rainbows and suns and bouncing baby lambs lay in mute testimony to former promise. I took a moment to let that simple picture inhabit me as the sound of rain pattered over the thumps and comments as 271 was cleaned. Then I turned back to my work, picked up my pen, and began to write.
tap my pencil against the desk and read the statement again. I am attracted to women who are taller than me. Nervously, I flip through the test looking for another blank question to focus on instead but there isn’t one. The test is complete save for this one question. The one I’ve skipped over again and again. I turn back to the first page and stare at the two empty bubbles. One says true one says false. I read it again. I am attracted to women who are taller than me. I’m thirteen years old but I’m smart enough to know that this test is geared toward boys. I can tell by a few of the other questions, ones asking about erections and nocturnal emissions. I know this particular question isn’t meant for me. And yet it is. Because I want to answer true. Because I am attracted to women who are taller than me. The pencil is tapping again. Faster and faster. An excitement flutters in my gut as I think over my little secret. I clench my jaw, a recent habit I’ve picked up and continue to do despite the headaches that sometimes follow. I look up and stare at the cinderblock wall directly in front of me. It’s been painted thickly with white, again and again, the seams nearly gone, covered in layers of paint. The room I’m in is small, the desk worn and covered in years of graffiti. I have a bed and a desk and a small closet. The girl sharing the room with me has the same. Her name is Jessica and she wants me to be afraid of her. She cusses, has ugly scars on her wrists and throws things. She writes Sex Pistols on everything she owns. I’ve been here ten days but it feels like ten years. I have been put in this place for running away from home. I am thirteen years old and I am alone. The question on the test mocks me just like everything in this place does. I know if I answer the question the way I want they will keep me here longer. I have taken test after test. They are looking for things that are wrong with me. I know answering the question the way I want is wrong. My being attracted to women is wrong.
Everyone says so. The preacher, my mother, kids at school. Everything about me is wrong. I stare at the question. I realize I can’t be me, because being me means I’m attracted to women. What am I going to do? I clench my jaw again and get angry. It’s my father’s fault I’m like this. If he would just call me every once and awhile. Talk to me, tell me he loves me. I am 3,000 miles away and he doesn’t call. My brothers have him all to themselves and I hate them for that. My mother yells at me saying that I look just like him, that I am just like him, no good, a liar and a cheat. How can I be like him when I don’t even know him? I grip the pencil hard and scribble in the true bubble. Now everyone will know. To hell with them all. Someone in the main room screams and I hear the staff yelling and giving chase. It’s Lance. Lance falls in love with a different girl every day and when they don’t return his love he hurts himself. This morning he was smitten over Jessica. She cussed at him. I look out my door which is propped open. Lance is squealing on the floor, a plastic butter knife in his hand, three staff members on top of him. A fourth staff comes running up with a syringe. I turn away and hastily erase the true bubble. I don’t belong here. I don’t belong here. I scribble in the false bubble. I sit back in my chair and close my eyes waiting for Lance to stop screaming. Please god make him stop. Please god make me okay. My mind goes back to my middle school. Someone else is screaming. Her name is Tiffany and she’s in all of my honors classes. She’s nice but the girls beating her up in the locker bay aren’t. There are three of them and they are all punching her calling her a dyke. No one knows what to do. These girls are in a gang; they have tattoos and high bangs and wear lots of eye makeup. Tiffany is crying and I yell at them to stop. The bell rings and the other girls watching wander slowly back to class. The gang girls ignore me and bash Tiffany’s head into her combination lock once then twice. She collapses to the floor.
The biggest gang member stalks up to me. She stabs a darkly painted fingernail into my chest. She’s dressed in men’s khaki pants and a dark blue t-shirt, they’re baggy like boys. Why is she calling Tiffany a dyke when she’s the one dressed like a boy? “Don’t you fucking tell or we’ll fucking kill you.” She looks me up and down with disapproval. “Dyke.” They leave. Tiffany is bleeding and moaning. Her eye glasses are destroyed. I bend to hold her hand and a teacher runs up and drops to her knees. She starts yelling at me but I can’t hear her. My ears are clouded with static. I get up and walk away. I don’t want to go back to school but I don’t want to stay here either. I want to run. Far and fast. Far and away. I close my eyes. Tiffany is now blind in one eye. I look like a boy. I hate the kids at school and they hate me. I am attracted to women. I relate to no one. I am scared. I want to run and this time I won’t get caught. “Are you finished?” She gently knocks on the door and smiles. Tina. My counselor. I hand over the test. I am in love with her and I know it is wrong but nothing has ever felt so right. At night all alone in this place I dream that she comes to take me away. That we go to a place where I can just be me and she loves me regardless. They are all I have. My dreams. She scans through the test and I blush hoping she won’t notice the erasure marks. She lowers the paper and closes the door. When she touches my face my skin bursts into flames. She kneels in front of me. “They’re letting you go home tomorrow.” Panic floods my veins. Suddenly I don’t want to leave. I am used to this place, I have a routine, I have her. She sees the fear in my eyes. “Listen. You have to find a way. You have to find a way to get through. You have to go to school.” I shake my head. “I can’t.” Tiffany is blind and I did nothing and the gang girls want to kill me and I want to kill them. The boys make fun of me and I hate them back. My mother doesn’t
understand, she only overreacts. My step father rules with an iron fist and my mother bows to his every command. I hate home. I can’t. “You must.” She touches my face again. “Go to school and stay out of trouble. I know you don’t understand but you have to do this for your own sake.” She holds my hand. “You are special. Different. Beautiful.” A tear slips down my cheek. “I’m strange.” She laughs softly. “No. You’re you. And you are perfect.” I look into her eyes, wanting to get lost inside her. “I love you.” She smiles. “I know. I love you too.” “You do?” “Of course. If I could take you home and raise you myself I would.” She squeezes my hand. “Which is why I’m begging you to listen. If you keep running away you will end up back here or worse. Your life will be taken from you, figuratively and maybe even literally.” “But I can’t do it. I can’t be who they want.” “Just get through. Do what they want for now. Go to school. Be you on the inside. Go to the places in your mind. Make your drawings. And then one day you’ll be free. And you can be who you want. Do what you want. Don’t let anyone take that day from you by running away.” More tears come. I nod. I know I have to leave. I know I have to face my life, there is no escape. “Okay,” I say. She wipes my tears away. “Okay.” She stands and pulls me up for a hug. She kisses my hair. “It’s going to be okay now,” she whispers. “Promise?” I look into her eyes. She’s taller than me. “Promise.”
amie kept her eyes closed as she sat against the old oak tree in the school courtyard soaking up the early afternoon sun. Her best friend Todd sat on one side and her girlfriend Cortney sat on the other with her bare arm mashed against Jamie’s. Jamie wished the moment would never end. Nobody at school knew that she and Cortney were going out or that Todd was gay, too and Jamie wasn’t interested in being the poster child for gay sophomore girls at Petersville High School. “Jamie?” Cortney nudged her with her arm. Jamie was exhausted, as usual, and couldn’t find the strength to answer. She groaned when Cortney’s warm arm disappeared. “Jamie, wake up.” Cortney’s voice was insistent. “What’s wrong with you? Todd, help me.” Jamie wanted to wake up, but she couldn’t crawl through the fog in her head. The last thing she remembered was Todd yelling, “Oh shit, her eyes are rolling back in her head. Get Mr. Moore.”
amie opened her eyes, but the bright lights made her slam them shut again. Her brain felt like mud. She put a hand over her eyes and opened them slowly. She whispered, “Mom?” “Yes, honey, I’m here.” Her mother clasped her hand. “Where am I? What happened? I’m—” she swallowed against the Sahara Desert that had become her throat, “—thirsty. Can I get a Coke?” She opened her eyes and saw her mother standing over her, brown eyes wide with concern. “There’s my girl. You’re okay now.” She turned away from Jamie and said, “Todd, get some water, please.” She faced her daughter. “Honey, you’re in the hospital.” Jamie struggled to sit up, but only got half way. “Hospital? Why?” She took the glass of water from Todd and registered his worried expression. It was then that she noticed the tube sticking out of her arm. She lifted her arm to inspect it more closely. “What happened?” She took a sip of the water and the world righted itself somewhat, but what she really wanted was a Coke. A Coke always made her
feel better. Well, for a little while at least, until she got that weird feeling again and she wanted another soda. She realized that her mother had been talking the whole time she was basking in the glory of sweet carbonated beverages. “What’d you say, Mom?” Her mother patted her hand. “The doctor said you have an insulin deficiency.” “A what?” “Mrs. Brennan,” Todd interrupted, “I don’t think she can understand anything right now. She’s a little confused.” Her mother sighed. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. I’m not even sure I understand this myself.” She paced back and forth as if trying to figure out what to say. Jamie hoped she’d grow up to be as pretty as her mom. They both had the same short dark hair and soft brown eyes. “Understand what?” Her mother and Todd exchanged a long glance. “Well, honey, they think you might have diabetes.” She stared at them. “Like Grandpa?” “Well, I think it’s a little different than Grandpa’s. They call it juvenile onset diabetes. That’s what Dr. Marcus said, anyway.” “Dr. Marcus was here?” “Yes, he came all the way here to look after his favorite patient.” Jamie took another long drink of water. She had been so thirsty lately, she drank soda constantly. And her bladder seemed to be so small that she had to pee all the time. She closed her eyes as a wave of exhaustion washed over her. “Can I have a Coke?” she asked behind closed eyes. “And where’s Cortney?” She didn’t try to hide the irritation in her voice. Todd took her hand. “Cortney, uh, had to go home. And, sweetie, you can’t have a Coke. The doctor said you shouldn’t drink sodas anymore. Right, Mrs. Brennan?” “That’s right.” No more Cokes? What was that all about? Jamie opened her eyes and found Todd hovering over her like a worried mom. Todd was so good looking with his unkempt sandy brown hair and always-twinkling hazel eyes. Even when he was worried about her, he was sweet. “You should have a boyfriend, Todd,” she blurted. “You’re so cute.”
His face turn red. “Uh, thanks, sweetie, but we’ll talk about that some other time, okay?” He patted her hand as if to say, “Not now, dork! Your mother’s here.” Oh, right, she wasn’t supposed to say anything about being gay in front of her mother. Oops. Her mother didn’t even know that Cortney was more than a friend. No, moms didn’t usually want to know about stuff like that. “Where’s Dad?” Jamie turned her attention back to her mom. “Oh, he’s on his way. As soon as he heard his baby girl had fainted at school, he dropped everything. He should be here any minute.” “I fainted?” Todd squeezed Jamie’s hand. “You don’t remember?” “No, the last thing I remember was eating lunch with you and Cortney and then I felt kind of weird and just wanted to sleep. Wait, I think you yelled at me or something.” Todd laughed. “So you don’t remember Mr. Moore shouting, ‘Call 911! Call 911!,’ and then the ambulance ride?” “No way! Ambulance ride?” Her mother helped her sit up in the hospital bed. “Oh, man, my first ambulance ride and I was passed out. Dang.” Jamie smiled when Todd laughed at her. He said, “You’re crazy. Do you know that?” Jamie nodded and then took another sip of water. Water sucked. Maybe when everybody left, she’d sneak out and find a soda machine. Where was her jacket, she had change in one of the pockets. “Oh, and you weren’t exactly passed out in the ambulance,” Todd added. “I wasn’t?” “Uh, no, apparently you punched one of the EMTs.” “No way!” “Yes way. They had to restrain you.” “Oh, my God. Is the EMT okay?” “Yeah, she’s fine. You weigh all of what, ninety-nine pounds? You don’t pack much of a punch.” “Mom, what happened to me? Am I . . . okay?” Her mother put on her best everything-is-going-to-be-okay face. “We think so, honey. Dr. Marcus said your blood sugar was too high and you had a reaction. This is probably why you
haven’t been able to put on any weight. And he said that lots of kids live with diabetes and have a pretty normal life.” Jamie didn’t want to say it out loud, but her life had been far from normal to this point. Cortney . . . “Todd, where’s Cortney?” “I told you, sweetie, she had to go home.” “Oh.” Jamie leaned back against the pillows and closed her eyes. Even though her brain was still muddy about being in the hospital, the fact that Cortney wasn’t there came through loud and clear.
amie leaned against the oak tree with Todd on her right and Cortney on her left. Three weeks had passed since her fabulous fainting act in the courtyard. She took out her glucose meter and pricked the side of her finger. Squeezing her finger, she watched as a small bubble of blood oozed out. She swabbed the blood onto the tab. Within seconds her glucose level popped up on the digital screen. “What’d you get, sweetie?” Todd looked over from his side of the tree. “Seventy.” “Is that good?” “Yeah. Well, no, it’s too low, but I’m about to eat anyway, so I’ll be okay.” “When do you have to check your sugar—?” “Shooting up again, Jamie?” Sean Manfred shouted and laughed with his entourage of friends in tow. Marcy Dunbar, one of the girls in the group, hit him on the arm and told him to shut up. Jamie could never figure out why someone as nice and as cute as Marcy would hang out with a low-life like Sean. Cortney said quietly, “Don’t listen to them, Jamie. They’re jerks.” Jamie put her glucose meter away. “I know. I can’t hide, right? I mean, if I don’t check my sugar levels I could go back to feeling rotten again. I mean, Dr. Marcus said that diabetes could wreck my heart or kidneys or eyes. Some people go blind. I’m freakin’ fifteen. I don’t want to go blind.” Todd put an arm around her and pulled her into a quick hug. “We know, sweetie, we know. Don’t we Cortney?”
Cortney patted Jamie’s leg as if she were a puppy. “Yeah, we know.” Todd pulled his arm back and Jamie couldn’t help wishing that Cortney would put her arm around her, but they were at school and that couldn’t ever happen. Especially not now with all the attention on the girl that fainted. She hated the way everybody stared at her as if they could catch it. And her teachers tiptoed around her as if she were made out of glass or something. All the attention made her feel like an idiot, but, like her mom said, “You have an illness and you’re taking care of it. You shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.” Thank God she had Todd. And Cortney, too.
amie pulled the insulin needle out of the port in her stomach and put the needle back in the plastic box. The port made taking the shots a lot easier because she didn’t have to put the needle directly into her skin. “Thanks, Mrs. McDougall.” She handed the box to the school nurse. “No problem, kiddo.” Jamie turned to go and the nurse called after her, “Hey, Jamie, your friends can come in here while you’re doing this, you know.” “Thanks, but, uh, they’re a little squeamish about the needles.” “A lot of people are. Have you spoken with your doctor about getting an insulin pump? It just hangs off your belt.” “Well, I think it’s like really expensive and Dr. Marcus wants to see how the injections work out first.” And the thought of having the pump attached to her 24-7 didn’t sound like fun, either. “Sounds like a plan. See you tomorrow. Same time, same place.” Jamie stepped out of the nurse’s office and linked arms with Todd. “Thanks for waiting.” They headed toward the courtyard. “No problem, sweetie. Anything for my best girl.” “People are gonna start talking about us, you know.” “What?” He nudged her shoulder with his. “Two queers walking together?” Jamie laughed. “Yeah, or one queer and one drug addict.”
“Would you cut that out? No one thinks you’re a drug addict.” “Then how come everyone calls me druggie?” Todd held the door to the courtyard open so Jamie could pass through first. “Because they’re morons. At least Cortney and I know you’re the awesomest chick on campus.” “Phht.” “Oh, that was ladylike.” They settled in against their usual tree in the busy courtyard and Jamie said, “Yeah, well, Cortney’s been avoiding me.” “What are you talking about?” “She’s not here, is she?” Todd nodded. “Oh. You’ve got a point there.” “I swear ever since I fainted that day—right here I might add—she’s been weird. And she never even asks me about my glucose readings or hangs around when I have to do my insulin. I think she’s embarrassed by me.” Todd picked at a blade of grass and remained silent. Jamie nudged him. “You know something, don’t you?” He put both hands up in defense. “I didn’t say anything.” “What do you know?” “Girl, I can’t believe how well you can read me. Okay, I didn’t want to say anything, but Cortney’s been hanging around with Heather again.” “Fair-weather Heather? The Heather that broke her heart? That Heather?” “I’m sorry.” Jamie picked up a stick and threw it as far as she could. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I—c’mon, don’t kill the messenger. Oh, shit. Speak of the devil,” Todd said under his breath. Cortney walked up with a stack of books clutched to her chest. “Hey guys.” “Hey,” Jamie and Todd said at the same time. “Look, I, uh, have a lot of studying to do, so I’m just going to go to the library. Okay? Catch you later?” Jamie saw fair-weather Heather standing at the doors to the library, looking in their direction. She took a deep breath and sighed. “How about never?” Cortney looked confused. “What?” “Look, girls,” Todd said springing to his feet, “this has been swell, but I’m going to check out
the guys playing basketball and dream. See you later, sweetie.” “Bye, Todd.” Jamie watched him retreat. She wished she could go with him. She looked down at her feet. “Cort, maybe we shouldn’t . . .” When Cortney didn’t respond, Jamie knew she’d been right. Cortney didn’t want to be with her anymore. Tears welled up in her eyes. Cortney shuffled her feet. “Jamie, I’m sorry. I . . . I just don’t know how to be there for you.” The silence grew wide between them. “Listen, I think we should see other people.” Jamie couldn’t form words around the lump in her throat so she just hugged her knees and nodded. Cortney walked away.
he bell finally rang to end the worst day of her life. No, the day she fainted and found out she had diabetes—that was the worst day. This was the second worst. Jamie flung herself out of her seat and trudged toward her locker. Dr. Marcus said she should check her blood sugar two hours after eating, so she usually checked it right after school, using her locker to shield the glucose meter from her classmates. But today she just didn’t feel like checking it. In fact, she’d had enough. She didn’t want to be a diabetic anymore. It was a royal pain in the ass. Once you managed to slog through one day, you woke up and had to live another one full of shots and glucose tests and stupid girlfriends who freak out and then walk away. Jamie slammed her locker shut and decided that she didn’t want to take the bus home, either. Donuts. That’s what she wanted. The donut shop was only about a half mile away in the strip mall near the high school. Oh, a small part of her knew she shouldn’t do it, but a bigger part demanded her old life back because this whole diabetes thing was freakin’ unfair. Standing in line at the donut shop, she felt dizzy, but she didn’t care. And she told herself that she didn’t even care that Cortney decided to go “see other people.” Whatever. Jamie paid for a dozen jelly donuts, her favorite from her former life, and headed out the door. She made her way around the side of the building and plopped onto the cold sidewalk. She ripped open the box and took a huge bite of one
of the donuts. The dough and powdered sugar and sweet jelly filled her senses and made her feel like an addict finally getting the drug she craved. The first bite took forever to get down because she’d taken way too much in her mouth, but she persevered because there were eleven and a half more donuts to go. She held the donut up to her mouth for a second bite, but angry tears forced her to put it down. She hid the tears streaming down her face behind her hands. When she could finally breathe without crying, a voice startled her back to reality. “So what do I do when that donut spikes your blood sugar so high you start to get all wonky?” Jamie looked up startled by the interruption from her misery and saw Marcy Dunbar standing over her. “What?” Jamie wiped at her eyes embarrassed that this cute girl, a fellow tenth grader, had seen her having a mental breakdown. “That donut.” She gestured to the half-eaten jelly donut in Jamie’s hand. “I don’t think that’s on your new list of things to eat, is it?” “No, it’s not.” Jamie rolled the donut in a napkin and threw it at the trash barrel. The pretty blonde leaned against the building and slid down next to Jamie. “I’m Marcy. You’re Jamie, right?” “Yeah. That’s me. The freak of the tenth grade.” Jamie kept her head down. “Did somebody send you here to watch me self-destruct?” Marcy laughed softly. “No. I was two people behind you in the donut shop.” She held up a plastic bag. “Coffee for my mom. I heard you crying when I came outside, and I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” Jamie smiled in spite of herself. “Sorry.” “For what?” “You have better things to do than to babysit me.” “I can’t think of a single thing, actually.” Jamie looked up and found herself caught in a pair of crystal blue eyes. She couldn’t tell whether she got dizzy from the half-eaten donut or from Marcy sitting so close. Marcy smiled in a way that made Jamie’s cheeks grow warmer. Jamie dropped her head in embarrassment, but Marcy reached over, cupped her chin, and made her look up again.
“Jamie, you’re not a charity case to me.” Jamie’s chin felt cold when Marcy let go. “Look, I know you and Cortney broke up at lunch and I figured you could use somebody to talk to.” “Oh, my God.” “Don’t freak. It’s cool. I’m, uh, into girls, too. And, well, Heather has a big mouth so that’s how I heard about you and Cortney.” Jamie couldn’t think of a single thing to say except, “Oh.” They sat in silence on the cold concrete for an eternity until Jamie finally said, “I’d have to give myself an insulin shot.” “What?” “The answer to your question. If I didn’t put myself into a diabetic coma with those donuts, then I’d have to get the blood sugar down with insulin.” “Oh, okay. And what about the flip side? What if your blood sugar’s too low?” “Give me a piece of candy or juice or something.” Marcy nodded as she absorbed the information. “Hey, do you think I could hang out with you and Todd at lunch sometime?” Jamie couldn’t believe that someone would actually want to hang out with the tenth grade freak, the sophomore druggie. “Um, I guess.” “You say that like you’re not sure.” “I just don’t know why you’d want to commit social suicide like that.”
Marcy looked off into the distance. “Well, maybe, I, uh, have reasons of my own.” Jamie watched Marcy’s cheeks turn scarlet. “Oh,” Jamie said with understanding. Marcy placed her hand on top of Jamie’s. She smiled shyly and said, “Is this okay?” Jamie felt her face flush. She answered by lacing her fingers with Marcy’s. “Are you sure you know what you’re getting into?” “Yeah, I think I do. Now, how about we get rid of these donuts, okay?” Jamie handed the box over with her left hand, still clutching Marcy’s with her right. “Yeah, who needs donuts, anyway?” “C’mon.” Marcy tossed them in the trash barrel. “My mom and I live in the apartment complex right behind the donut shop. Do you want to come over?” Jamie’s instant smile almost split her face. She nodded and let Marcy lead her home. The second-worst day of Jamie’s life had just made a miraculous comeback. She snuck a peak at the beautiful blonde who held her hand and knew she wouldn’t need donuts anymore, because out of nowhere she had found something so much sweeter.
Toe to Toe: Standing Tall and Proud A collection of stories dedicated to women who overcome adversity, jump over major hurdles, beat the odds, stand for what they believe in. Women whose stories inspire all of us to be strong and confident as we make our way in this challenging world. “The Night of the 18th” by Milagros Silva “Sweet Baby Dyke” by Renée Strider “Jumping Over My Head” by Lori L. Lake “Kissing On the Ferris Wheel” by Meg White “Excerpt from The Trees in the Field” by J. E. Knowles “Dream Frigate” by Olga Godim “Diamond Dust” by T. J. Mindancer From Nuance Books http://www.bedazzledink.com/nuance
he cart just barely had enough clearance on either side for her to stand and shelve the books. Cheryl Paxton pushed it carefully to where she needed to be, her neck slightly craned to keep an eye on the one odd wheel that kept trying to angle her to the left. She stopped, kicked the brake into place and slipped between the cart and the shelf. She took as many books as she could comfortably hold against her side with one arm and made sure they were in alphabetical order. She had shelved half the top row of the cart when someone politely tapped her on the shoulder. Cheryl half-turned, the regular “eager-to-please” smile already in place before she recognized her guest. Her lips pulled into a genuine smile and she said, Kelly! What are you doing here? I finished up early and they let me take the rest of the day off. Can we talk? Cheryl looked at her watch, then at the books on the cart. Never mind, Kelly said. When can you get away for lunch? Fifteen minutes, Cheryl said. I can take a halfhour. That’s fine. I’ll meet you outside. Cheryl nodded and watched as Kelly disappeared down another aisle. She and Kelly Yost had been partners for almost three years. Kelly worked on the mainland, so their lunches together were rare treats. She shelved the rest of the books as quickly as she could, returned the cart to the check-out counter, and told her boss she was going to take lunch. She pulled on her blazer, despite the fact that it wasn’t terribly cold outside, and pushed through the glass doors into the lobby. Three concrete steps led straight down, but Cheryl moved to the left and followed the sloped wheelchair ramp. She let her hand trail along the dark green railing and stopped at the edge of the building. A small man-made pond was hidden behind the library, a lovely gem set into the rolling green hillside. Benches ringed the edge of the water, one every ten feet or so, and Kelly had claimed the nearest one for their lunch. Her back was to the library, so Cheryl took the opportunity to watch her for a moment.
Kelly was a slender blonde, athletic in high school and still dedicated to keeping in shape. Today, she wore baggy blue jeans with bleach stains and a plain white T-shirt underneath an open Oxford shirt. Her hair was done up in a sloppy ponytail, a few strands clinging to the collar of her shirt as she turned and set out their lunch. She had carried it in the denim backpack that now stood open between her feet. Sandwiches in Ziploc bags held down a stack of napkins, and two bottles of orange juice stood to one side like sentries. Cheryl finally pushed away from the building and rounded the edge of the bench. Kelly looked up and smiled. Cheryl paused; the smile was normal, but there was something else behind it. She sat carefully, bracing herself for the bad news she assumed was coming. Hi, Kelly said. She nodded at the food. Turkey or ham and Swiss? Turkey, thank you, Cheryl said. She had just started to ask about chips when Kelly brought the tube out of the pack. You know me too well. She wrapped her fingers around the tube and used it to pull Kelly to her. They kissed and Cheryl smiled against Kelly’s lips. I missed you. I missed you, too, Kelly said. She fiddled with the edge of her sandwich bag and said, Cheryl, there’s something I need to talk with you about. Cheryl was looking down to open her sandwich bag. She pulled out a triangle-shaped wedge and checked to see if there was mayo on it. Kelly put a hand on Cheryl’s shoulder to draw her attention. I need to talk to you about something, she said again. Anything. Kelly shifted on the bench so that she was facing Cheryl. She left her sandwich bag in her lap and took a moment to think about her words before she said, I’ve been thinking a lot about us. You want to break up, Cheryl said. Kelly hesitated and looked out at the pond. I met someone. Cheryl waited for the other shoe to drop. She’s Hearing. Cheryl closed her eyes and scratched the bridge of her nose. Kelly put a hand on her shoulder to try to get her attention, but Cheryl
ignored her. Finally, she opened her eyes and took a breath. Have you been out with her? We had dinner. Just dinner. I told her I was in a relationship . . . Cheryl held up a hand to stop her. She folded her Ziploc bag over her sandwich and tucked it into the pocket of her coat. Thank you for lunch, she said, hoping her hands weren’t shaking. Kelly said, Cheryl, wait. Cheryl refused to look at her, so she spoke. “Cheryl! Don’t go. Please!” Cheryl wasn’t completely deaf; she could vaguely hear, in her right ear, the hum of Kelly’s voice behind her. She ignored it. She climbed the gentle slope to the parking lot and passed a garbage can. She spun around and fished Kelly’s sandwich out of her pocket. She could see Kelly in her periphery, watching her from the bench as she hurled the bag into the trash. Then she turned around again, stormed up the handicapped ramp and went back into the library. The other librarian, a septuagenarian named Amelia Judah, looked up. How was lunch? she signed, the words coming slowly in her arthritic hands. Shitty, Cheryl said, snapping her hands as she breezed past the check-out counter. She grabbed the cart that was again half-filled with checked-in books, pushed it away from the desk and went back to work. Anything to keep her mind off Kelly Yost.
hat night, Cheryl drove home mentally cursing Kelly the entire way. She kept her hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel, her eyes focused on the task of driving. She worked her jaw back and forth, tapped her thumb against the hard rubber of the wheel and her knee jogging up and down as she impatiently waited at stop signs for other drivers. She pulled into her apartment block, took her bag from the backseat and went upstairs to her apartment. She locked the door behind her, left the lights off and finally slumped to the floor next to the kitchen counter. She pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes, took a deep shuddering breath and began to cry. She had met Kelly three years ago. Kelly had been a regular at the library, always asking for
recommendations. Cheryl had been surprised to see how well she could sign, and Kelly revealed that she had been trained in sign for her social work. Their relationship had grown steadily until Kelly admitted she hadn’t read half the books that Cheryl recommended to her. That had just been an excuse to talk to her. Their relationship had seemed solid, but there had been evidence it wouldn’t last. They would be in the middle of a conversation when Kelly would suddenly turn around and start doing something else, and times when arguments had come to a complete stop because Kelly’s “hands were tired.” She had been a lazy signer, a selfish lover . . . but they had good times together. They had loved each other. And now it was over. Cheryl wiped her eyes, determined not to cry a single tear more than necessary for Kelly Yost. A three-year relationship required tears, but she refused to let herself be depressed by Kelly leaving. She pulled herself up and went into the kitchen to make herself something for dinner. Something light. Her lunch had been a few bites of Kelly’s sandwich, but she still wasn’t very hungry. She found the remains of a salad in the fridge, sniffed it to make sure the dressing hadn’t gone bad, and decided to risk it. She carried the tray into the living room, sat down on the couch in the light of a single lamp, and ate while staring at the wall. So Kelly was gone. It wasn’t the end of the world. In fact, if she made a list of the ten worst things that could have happened that day, Kelly breaking up with her wasn’t even in the top five. She kicked off her shoes, curled her feet underneath her and settled back against the cushions. “Good riddance,” she said aloud, making the sign for “go” with her hands. She speared a baby tomato and popped it into her mouth.
melia’s eyes brightened as Cheryl opened the Styrofoam container and presented it like a game-show model. “Oh! What is this?” Cheryl put the slice of chocolate cake down on the desk and said, I’m sorry I was such a bitch yesterday. Forgive me? “Oh, dear,” Amelia said. She hugged Cheryl
and stepped back so she could read her lips. “Did you have a fight with Kelly?” Cheryl pushed her hand into her hair and ruffled it a few times. She sighed, shrugged, and said, We broke up. She met someone else. “Oh, no!” Amelia said. She put her hand over her heart and said, “Are you okay?” Fine! Fine. But I wanted to apologize to you for being such a brat. So . . . cake. “Is it from Coffee Table Books?” Cheryl scoffed as if it was a stupid question. “Of course, of course.” She picked up the plastic fork and cut off the front corner. She took a bite, moaned, and shook her head. “I really doubt this can be fat-free and still taste this good, but I don’t want to know.” Cheryl laughed and said, Enjoy it. I’ll take care of the check-outs. “Bless you, dear.” Cheryl went out to the check-out counter. There was a row of books waiting to be checked-in, so she fished them out of the bin and started scanning them. She was halfway through the stack when a teenager approached the counter. “Good morning,” Cheryl said. She held out her hand, took the books from the customer and said, “Do you have your library card?” The kid handed it over, Cheryl scanned it and saw his name appear on the screen. She scanned his books and a due-date receipt snaked out of the machine. She tore it off and handed it to him with his card. “They will be due back on the fifteenth. Thank you!” The next customer in line stepped up and Cheryl froze when she saw that it was Kelly. Her face went hard and she said, What are you doing here? “Cheryl, I don’t want this to be a fight. Can we please talk?” No. If you don’t have a book to check out, please . . . She moved down the counter and smiled at the next person to be checked out. Kelly followed her and Cheryl made a point to ignore her as she went through the ritual. Kelly waited until the stranger was gone and said, I didn’t mean to hurt you. Then breaking up with me is a very strange thing to do, Cheryl said. Kelly put her head down on the counter. When she looked up, Cheryl had walked out into the
main part of the library. Kelly hurried after her. “Wait,” she said, even though she knew Cheryl wouldn’t hear her. She put her hand on Cheryl’s shoulder and spun her around. “Do you think I wanted to do this to you? Do you think I planned to fall for someone else?” What you planned doesn’t matter. I’m happy for you. Really, I am. I wish you all the happiness in the world. But I don’t want to justify it. I don’t want to be the bigger person. I just want to hate you for a little while. Okay? Kelly deflated a bit, but finally nodded. Will you give me a call when you’re ready to talk? Cheryl leaned against the new releases shelf and stared at Dean Koontz’s smiling face on the back of a book. She slowly signed, We’ll see. All I’m asking is for you to think about it. I know. I need to think about it. You dropped a bombshell on me and I need time to recover. I understand. Okay. I’ll leave you alone. Cheryl nodded and watched Kelly back away. She finally turned around and pushed through the glass lobby doors. Amelia was standing at the office door, the empty Styrofoam container in her hands. She dumped it and the fork in the trash and said, Are you okay? I will be, Cheryl promised.
heryl turned on the computer and, as she waited for it to boot up, went to the bedroom and changed into her pajamas. She sat down at the keyboard and tucked her bare feet under the desk. A vent was hidden there, and warmed her feet as she opened the instant-messaging system. The little icons on the side revealed Kelly was online, so she began typing. “Kelly. It’s me.” “Who is me?” Cheryl frowned. Her online name was CPaxton. Hard to get confused about that. “What do you mean? It’s Cheryl.” “Oh! I’m not Kelly. I’m using her computer. Let me go get her.” Cheryl bristled and lifted her fingers from the keyboard. A few seconds later, another message appeared. “Cheryl?” And then a minute later, “Cheryl, are you still there?” She signed off, closed the message window
and shut down her computer. She had tried. But it was almost eleven. For the new girlfriend to be using Kelly’s computer, she would have to be pretty comfortable. Comfortable enough that she was probably spending the night. She crawled under the covers even though it was an hour before her usual bedtime, pulled one of the pillows over her head and tried to shut out all the light of the world.
heryl sat on a small stool in the children’s section of her library. Her knees were tight against her chest and her back was stooped forward as she tried to stay eye-level with the kids. To her right, Heather Grady held up a picture book so the kids could see the pictures. She was reading a book Cheryl had memorized in her first weeks volunteering with the reading group, so she signed without needing to see the page. Heather was a petite redhead in bleach-stained overalls and a blue gingham shirt. Her hair was done in pigtails and she had marked six freckles on her face with a red pen. Everyone at the library called her “Wendy” after the iconic restaurant chain, but her character’s name was Deb O’Nair. She turned the page and Cheryl glanced to make sure she was at the right part of the story. Davey put his backpack on the floor and he filled it up with all kinds of goodies. Apples . . . oranges . . . he even put in a couple of his favorite toys, just in case. He knew he would have to take a lot of stuff. Running away was not easy, so he was prepared for the absolute worst. Two children, a boy and a girl, in the back of the room were moving their heads slightly back and forth. They would look at the pictures in the book, then watch Cheryl’s signs so they could keep up with the story. She tried to keep her signing slow enough that they wouldn’t miss anything when they were looking at the drawings. When they finished the story—and Davey was safely back at home with his parents--the parents came forward with coats and hats. A few kids thanked Heather for the story as they were ushered out. Heather closed the book and returned it to the shelf as Cheryl started rounding up the
chairs the kids had been sitting in. When she looked up, she saw that Heather was speaking. She waved her hands to get the other woman’s attention and then pointed at her ears. Heather closed her eyes and touched her forehead. “God, I’m sorry,” she said. Cheryl made an “it’s all right” gesture with her hands. “I was saying that it’s really great having you sign. I’ve always felt bad that Micah and Lisa couldn’t join in on story time.” “It’s my pleasure,” Cheryl said. She hated her voice, knew it had to sound awful since she had been deaf for her entire life. She used it sparingly, but sometimes there was no alternative. “I’m happy to do it. I love kids.” “Oh, I do, too!” Heather said. “Making the time to come down here is tough, and I’m dog tired at the end of a reading-group day, but it’s worth it to see them smile or he—” She nearly tripped over the word and covered by coughing into her hand. “Hear them laugh?” Cheryl supplied with an understanding smile. “It’s okay. You don’t have to . . . “ She made the sign and then said, “ . . . tiptoe around me.” “Sorry. I’m always putting my foot in something or, you know . . . “ She pushed her hair out of her face and said, “I need to change into street clothes. Deb O’Nair would never be caught being this flatfooted.” Cheryl laughed and said, “I’ll never tell anyone your secret.” “I appreciate it.” She glanced in the mirror next to the doorway and licked her thumb. She started to scrub at her cheek and said, “Damn.” Cheryl saw her lips move in the reflection. “What’s wrong?” Heather shook her head. “Nothing. It always takes forever to take these freckles off, and I have to be home in half an hour. I hate driving in this make-up.” “One minute,” Cheryl said. She hurried to the counter, took out the bag of baby wipes and brought them back to the kid’s section. Heather turned to her and Cheryl gently scrubbed at the red spots. “I appreciate this.” Cheryl shook her head and waved it off. “I
would hate for Prince Charming to see you and not ask you out because of some silly spots.” Heather laughed. “Well, you don’t have to worry about that too much.” “Oh, you’re married?” “No,” Heather said. “I’m . . . not really looking for a relationship right now. Happy being single.” Cheryl looked dubiously at her and said, “So it gets better?” “Better?” “I broke up with my partner last week.” Heather said, “Oh, my God. I’m so sorry.” Cheryl waved her off. It was still painful, but what she missed most was the intimacy. The closeness they had shared. Sitting on the couch together, reading or doing a crossword puzzle. She missed that like a physical ache. She finished with the make-up and made a “ta-da” gesture with her hands. “Thank you. You saved me a bit of embarrassment.” Cheryl waved her off. “Happy to help.” They walked to the front door together. Cheryl looked at the check-out counter and saw Amelia sign, New blood? Oh, shut up, Cheryl signed back. Heather was holding the door open for her. “What was that?” Cheryl shook her head and mouthed, “Nothing.” Heather hooked her bag over her shoulder and pulled her pigtails free. Her hair hung down to her shoulders in gentle waves. She leaned against the railing and said, “So. Partner, huh?” Cheryl nodded. “So if I told you that I wasn’t interested in Prince Charming . . . you wouldn’t turn me in to the library board?” Cheryl shook her head, not understanding. “I’m looking for Miss Right,” Heather said. “I didn’t say anything because . . . well . . . people get kind of uptight about that sort of thing when their kids are involved.” “Ah. Too true.” Heather shuffled her feet on the ramp and said, “So, I guess I wouldn’t be too far out of line if I were to ask you for a date? It’s not too soon after your break-up, is it? I mean, I would understand if . . . “
Cheryl waved her hands and interrupted, “I would love to.” “Really?” Heather said. “I’m sick of eating by myself, in my apartment, and I don’t like going to restaurants alone.” Heather smiled. “Well, I’m happy to be your plusone until you decide you like my company.” Cheryl nodded. “Great. I’ll call you.” “Do you have my number?” Cheryl opened her mouth to reply and Heather put a hand to her forehead. “God. Stupid me. Um . . . “ “Amelia interprets for me. She’ll call you.” Heather exhaled. “Sorry. Thank you, yes, I’ll do that. So, do you have my number?” Cheryl gestured at the library door. “I have everyone’s number.” Heather grinned, and the skin around her eyes wrinkled. “I think that came out more ominous than you anticipated.” “Maybe, maybe not,” Cheryl said. She bit her bottom lip and watched Heather walk to her car. She turned and went back into the library with a bit of a spring in her step.
wo weeks later, the kids gathered in the children’s section for another reading group. Heather, in full Deb O’Nair gear, settled on the bench and said, “Hi, kids! How is everyone today?” The kids replied in typical child fashion, screaming that they were “GOOD!” Heather pretended to be blown back by the force of their reply. She wiped her hand across her forehead and said, “Whew, I guess you guys are doing okay, then, huh? I am Deb O’Nair, and today we are reading a book called . . . “ She flipped up the book on her lap and read the title with an ominous voice, “The Monster at the End of This Book. Ooo. By Jon Stone, illustrated by Mike Smollin. Joining me as always . . . well, you may have known her as Miss Paxton the librarian, but that’s not her real identity.” Cheryl kept signing, but raised her eyebrow at Heather. Heather grinned evilly. “Oh, no. This is Deb O’Nair’s super special best friend . . . Patty Coates!” Cheryl gaped and feigned a punch at Heather’s
arm. Heather stuck her tongue out between her teeth and said, “Okay, kids, are you ready to read about the Monster with Grover?” “Yeeeeees!” “Okay, then! Let’s get started.” She opened the book and began to read aloud while Cheryl signed along. Cheryl watched Heather’s lips and occasionally let her attention drift down to her hands. Occasionally when Heather had one hand free, she would unconsciously sign the word she was saying. When she finished the book and said good-bye to the kids, Cheryl said, You’re doing very well. Heather frowned. With your signing. Heather looked down at her hands in surprise. She was trying to learn sign, through online tutorials and a video Cheryl had loaned her. I didn’t even notice. Did I do it through the whole story? Just now and again. She took Heather’s hand and kissed the knuckles. It’s okay, though. I think it’s cute. Heather smiled and said, I had a great teacher. Cheryl threaded her fingers with Heather’s and said, “So, tonight. Feel like dinner?” “Your choice.” “Gail’s,” Cheryl said. “I’m in the mood for seafood.” Heather said, “Okay. I’ll come by and pick you up after work. It’ll give me a chance to change.” Cheryl looked at Heather’s blue overalls, her freckles and pigtails. Change? she said. But you look so hot! Heather laughed. “You be careful or I really will wear this to the restaurant.” She leaned in and quickly pecked the corner of Cheryl’s mouth. “Six?” Cheryl nodded. She took the stack of books from Heather and went to work shelving them. She looked up in time to see Heather disappear through the front doors of the library. She smiled and slid another book into place.
hat night, Cheryl led Heather up the stairs to her apartment. Heather unlocked her door, reached in to turn on the outside light and then closed the door again. She smiled at Cheryl. “I had a good time.” “I did, too.” Cheryl signed as she spoke, as Heather had requested. She was still getting
the hang of carrying out an entire conversation in sign. Heather asked, Same time Thursday? I have to work Thursday, Cheryl signed slowly. How about Friday? “Friday is fine,” Heather said. She smiled and said, “How am I doing?” Very well, Cheryl said truthfully. May I ask you something personal? Of course. Heather hesitated. Is it going to be a problem? That I’m Hearing? Why would it? She shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I just keep getting worried that you’ll meet someone else that it’s easier to be with.” You mean a deaf woman? Heather shrugged and looked at her feet. Cheryl reached out and touched her chin, lifting it until they were looking into each other’s eyes. “I’ve been with deaf women, I’ve been with Hearing women. All that matters are their mouths.” “Their mouths?” Cheryl smiled and stepped closer. She moved her hand from Heather’s chin to her cheek as she leaned in to kiss her. Heather parted her lips just as Cheryl leaned in to kiss them. Their tongues met and Cheryl moved her hand to the collar of Heather’s shirt. She balled her hand in the material and pulled Heather closer, gently urging her tongue forward. She felt the vibrations as Heather moaned and slipped her hand around her waist. She hooked her thumb in the belt loop and pulled back, nuzzling her lips against Heather’s cheek. She said, “Yes. Their mouths.” “Oh,” Heather said with a smile. “And I have a good one?” “One of the best.” Heather kissed Cheryl’s cheek and stepped back. You should go while you still can. Okay. Thank you for dinner. It was my . . . She hesitated. “Pleasure.” Cheryl showed her the sign, and Heather repeated it. Thank you. You’re showing progress. I have a good incentive. Cheryl threaded her fingers around Heather’s and whispered, “One of these nights, I think I will show you a few private signs.”
“Oh, really?” Heather said. She leaned in and bumped her nose against Cheryl’s. “Yes. A whole library.” Promises, promises, Heather said. They stepped toward each other once again and kissed. Heather ran her hands up into Cheryl’s hair and pulled her head back. Cheryl moaned and kissed the inside of Heather’s wrist. “I should go,” she mouthed against the warm skin. Then go, Heather said with a smile. She released Cheryl’s waist and stepped back. I’ll be online tomorrow. Usual time? Definitely. Bye, Cheryl. Good-bye, Heather. Cheryl walked down the stairs and looked back as she unlocked her car with the remote. Heather was leaning against the apartment door, watching her. Cheryl waved good-bye and got into the car. She flashed her headlights, backed out of
the spot and drove to the edge of the parking lot. In the rearview mirror, she saw that Heather had finally gone inside. She smiled and pulled out into traffic. Heather’s signing wasn’t the only thing showing progress. Their relationship, Cheryl’s life . . . everything seemed to be right on track for once. She braked at a stop sign and tightened her hands on the steering wheel. She had thought breaking up with Kelly was the end of the world. A beautiful, loving woman who was fluent with sign language and also happened to be a lesbian? What were the odds of finding someone like that on a tiny island like this? She had felt Kelly was her one shot at love. Now, Heather had opened her eyes. Had shown her that nothing was impossible. She rolled through the intersection with a smile. She owed Heather a lot; she just hoped she would be able to pay it all back. With interest.
C.R. Johnson Leading a spotty life of misadventure, C. R. has degrees and practical experience in everything from electronics (she’s a navy veteran) to healthcare; working rigs for over a decade as a medic, teaching for the state she lives in and training medics in both BLS and wilderness rescue techniques. As she aged, she chose to try out the cleaner, less insane angle of healthcare and got a degree as a respiratory therapist and learned that less insane and cleanliness are subjective. She encourages all to breathe deep and enjoy. She now writes and lives in her own head which she keeps in the land of the great white north.
Ronica Black Ronica Black spends her free time writing works that move her, with the hope that they will move others as well. She is a firm believer in “that that does not kill you makes you stronger.” Each step she takes in life is a journey meant to be experienced. Whether it be a smooth step paved with green grass, or a rocky one marred with boulders. She keeps stepping, keeps experiencing and keeps writing. She’s an award winning author with four books currently published by Bold Strokes Books. In Too Deep, Deeper, Wild Abandon, and Hearts Aflame. She also has several short stories published with Bold Strokes Books in Stolen Moments, Lessons in Love and Road Games. She was also published in Ultimate Lesbian Erotica 2005. For more on Ronica please visit her website at www.ronicablack.com or visit her publisher’s website at www.boldstrokesbooks.com
Barbara L. Clanton Barbara L. Clanton is a native New Yorker who left those “New York minutes” for the slower-paced palm-tree-filled life in Orlando, Florida. She currently teaches mathematics at a college preparatory school in the Orlando area. When she’s not teaching, playing softball, tiling her floors, or evicting possums from the engine block of her RV, “Dr. Barb” plays bass guitar in a local band called The Flounders with her partner of eighteen years who plays the drums. Her ultimate dream is to one day snowbird between upstate New York and central Florida. Barb’s writing credits include two young adult novels forthcoming from Regal Crest Enterprises, LLC. Out of Left Field: Marlee’s Story is due out in December, 2008 and Art for Art’s Sake: Meredith’s Story is due out in March, 2009. Visit her website at www.BLClanton.com.
Geonn Cannon Geonn Cannon discovered the real life Squire’s Isle in 2004 and has taken advantage of it’s fictional counterpart ever since. He lives in Oklahoma with two cats, but dreams of living in the Pacific Northwest (Like they say in Spokane: Near Nature, Near Perfect). His first novel, On the Air, was published in 2007 and two other novels - Gemini and World on Fire - will join the list in late 2008 and early 2009 respectively. For more information, visit his website at www.geonncannon.com.