By the time Wednesday rolled around, Jay was ready for the evening out with Riley. She had decided that she certainly wasn’t in a place to start any kind of new relationship, but the appeal of a friend outside of the financial world was welcome. Jay started packing up her things at five thirty in the afternoon after one last check of her e-mail and messages. Scott looked at her in amazement as she walked past his desk and wished him a good night.
“Is something wrong? You never leave this early!”
“Ha, ha, very funny, I’m allowed to have a life every now and then,” she replied with a slight smile. The truth was, she rarely did leave the office before seven these days and she was feeling it. Guess I’m not as young as I used to be, she thought as a rueful smile played across her face.
On her way home to change for her dinner, her cell phone rang. She answered using her Bluetooth headset, not knowing who was calling
“Hi, Jay? It’s Riley.”
“Hey Riley, you aren’t calling to cancel on me are you?” Jay asked with a smile but also a bit of concern. She really was looking forward to this evening out.
“Oh no, nothing like that, I just thought that I could swing by and pick you up so we only have one car and I don’t have to worry about you taking public transportation later tonight.”
“Oh! That’s really considerate of you. Sure, let me give you my address.” After she verified her address and a pick up time, they hung up, and Jay started thinking about what to wear. It had been so long since she went into the “gayborhood” … but this was not a date, and she wasn’t out looking for one either.
Jay rushed through her condo and looked in her closet for something to throw on. She was just about to get into the shower when her phone rang. Listening to the machine pick up, she heard her mother’s voice and decided it didn’t sound urgent. She would call her later if there was time. As she showered, Jay mused that machines had it beat of voicemail in one major arena, screening calls. A quick soap and rinse, a brisk towel off, and she threw on her favorite pair of jeans, her hiking boots, and a short sleeve polo shirt. Jay ran a brush through her hair and decided to pull it back with a clip. Just then, the doorbell rang. She took a quick peek through the peephole and saw Riley standing there waiting. “Right on time I see. I like that in a chauffer,” teased Jay. “C’mon in while I finish up and grab a jacket.”
“Thanks, nice place. Been here long?” Riley was looking out the floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the river.
“A couple of years now. I just wish I saw more of it than I do. Sometimes I feel like I should sell it all and get a foldout couch for my office.” Jay grabbed her favorite jean jacket and motioned towards the door. “Shall we? I’m ready for my re-education.”
Laughing, Riley replied, “Your chariot awaits, as does your chauffer. “
As Riley guided her car towards the a lot on 13th and Locust that she usually used, she asked Jay, “What kind of food are you in the mood for tonight? Anything special?”
“Some kind of comfort food I think. It’s been a really stressful few months. What do you suggest?”
“I know just the place,” Riley replied in a confident tone. “A bit of an upscale take on comfort food, plus they have great desserts!”
“Sounds great, should we go to the bookstore first though? I wouldn’t want to miss out on my education tonight,” joked Jay.
“No problem, there is a whole world of tasty fiction out there for you to experience,” answered Riley. “Let’s head there first, unless you’re starving.”
“I’m good for a little while yet, as usual I ate a late lunch. Besides, I’m curious to see what you think I should be reading instead of my financial regulations and reports.”
Walking into Giovanni’s Room for the first time in over five years, Jay was immediately impressed with the sheer number of volumes housed in the smallish store. Right up front the local GLBT papers and a selection of magazines were on display, to the left were male oriented books, and the register counter had a selection of gay pride items and jewelry. Just past the register and up a step, was the lesbian fiction section. In addition, the upstairs held more books for guys, as well as more lesbian books geared towards health and politics, as well as biographies and historical interest. In another section, there were movies and music for sale, as well as a help desk.
Jay just gazed at all the books that she hadn’t realized existed. She spent several minutes getting oriented to the layout before starting to look over titles in earnest. Riley just watched in amusement before asking at the counter about a few books she had ordered the week before. She continued to watch Jay pore over titles and read covers with a look of extreme concentration on her face. Riley laughed to herself and motioned to the clerk. She quickly pointed out something in the jewelry case and had it wrapped, paid for, and in her pocket before Jay even looked up.
Strolling over to Jay, Riley smiled and asked, “Finding everything ok? If you need any suggestions, I’m familiar with a good portion of the inventory.”
“I think I might need some help choosing. There are so many more selections that five years ago! I’ve never heard of most of these authors.”
Riley reached past Jay to grab a book from the shelf. “Well, this is a great one. Do you like action, drama, and romance?”
Jay chuckled. Of course, especially if it is half as good as that cover!”
Riley handed it to Jay then grabbed a couple of other books form the same author. “Here, you might as well get these too. Once you read the first, you’ll want to read more the third title just came out recently. They are all about a mobster in New Orleans. Really great characters! You mentioned liking science fiction when you were a kid too. There is a series over here, about a woman who is in charge of a kid who is heir to two planets heads of government. They left their home planet in a hurry and got chased to a space station where they could be safe-if they aren’t shipped back. Good stuff!”
Riley grabbed the books form that series as well and handed them to Jay.
Jay just shook her head in wonder, “I can’t believe how much has changed in just five or six years. There was nowhere near this selection back then, and most of it was either really deep, angst ridden, or trite. This stuff is a far cry from those days. I think I’ve hit the jackpot!”
Riley chuckled at her before pointing out, “I don’t think you have to buy the store out in one trip. You can always come back and buy more.” Her eyes twinkling at Jay’s enthusiasm, Riley continued, “If we check out now, we can get a table without too much effort, the early dinner rush should be finishing by now.”
“Great, all this shopping has made me hungry,” Jay laughed, feeling more relaxed all of a sudden. She brought her selections to the counter and paid, and then they made their way out to the sidewalk and headed for dinner.
They discussed the books they had purchased while walking the few blocks to the eatery, and continued as they were seated. After looking over the menu, Jay announced that she had found the perfect comfort food with a twist.
Riley raised an eyebrow in question and Jay proudly announced, “Grilled cheese with cheddar and apples in it! How perfect! And I can get mashed potatoes or sweet potato fries, I just can’t decide.”
Riley suggested that they each get one and share. With that major dilemma solved, and the orders placed, they went back to their talk of books.
“When did all of these books appear? I can’t believe that changes in the selection.” Jay continued to gaze at her new books as she asked her question.
“Well, I think the Indy publishers finally started getting things to a more professional level as technology made things more accessible. It helps that they are using well trained editors in several of the houses now too.”
When their food arrived, Jay took a bite of her sandwich and moaned in delight. “This is just what I needed, thanks for bringing me here today.”
Riley looked over at her as she took a bite of her own sandwich. She finally decided to ask the one question she had avoided. “So, Jay, do you want to tell me what prompted this need for comfort food? Did something happen this week?”
Jay munched on a few sweet potato fries thoughtfully, deciding that she felt a rapport with Riley and that she would confide in her, at least a little to start.
“I guess my world shifted on its axis last weekend. Someone from my past came back into my life on a professional basis and we had a talk on Sunday.” Jay paused to eat a bit more of her delicious food before continuing. “She was my best friend growing up … ”
“And you were in love with her, right?” Riley remembered from their talk last Saturday. “Hey, it happens to a lot of us.”
Jay smiled, deciding she liked the way it felt, having a friend to talk to without having to feel guarded. She was always so tense from work and she hadn’t socialized outside of networking functions for years.
“Actually, yes I was. We had one night together, and she freaked so badly that she changed schools and moved to Florida the summer after our freshman year of college. I’ve heard nothing from her since a cold telephone call right before she left, informing me that she wasn’t the “same way” I was. Bailey blamed it on too much to drink and confusing her feelings of friendship for me in her head.”
“Ouch! So she just took off and never looked back? But, now she is here again and somehow involved in your life. What happened Sunday when you spoke?” Riley pushed aside her food, totally focused on the woman in front of her. She had already felt a spark of kinship with her, and it grew now as she heard the story unfold. When Jay finished explaining what had transpired, she reached across the table and took Jay’s hand.
“I’m so sorry this happened to you, Jay, but I’m honored that you trust me enough to confide in me.” She let go of Jay’s hand and leaned back in her chair. Her eyes sparkled a bit in the light, as she seemed to consider her next words very carefully. “When I left for the LPGA tour, I did so in a hurry. I was afraid of my feelings for one of my friends and I was too young to know what to do with it. Of course, I basically ran away to the lesbian circus, so I figured myself out pretty quickly.” They both chuckled at the thought.
“When I came home from the tour on my first break, I told the other girl how I felt. She turned on me in disgust and shut me out of her life. Bailey coming home took a lot of courage, and it speaks highly of her level of commitment to working things out with you. She had to be worried that you would simply slam the door in her face, so to speak.”
Jay thought that over for a few minutes as they both finished eating. Finishing off her drink, Jay nodded as if making a decision. “I know you’re right, I think that’s what has me confused the most. She’s out now, but coming to work for a very conservative company. She wants us to become friends again, and I don’t know how I feel about having her back in my life. Hardly a day has gone by that I haven’t missed her and been hurt about how things turned out. I just don’t know if I can trust her now.”
Riley turned the conversation slightly towards Jay’s work. “Does she realize how reserved you’ve had to become? I mean, when is the last time you got to hang out with women, friends or otherwise, that didn’t have to do with your job? They seem to run you ragged. If it’s as conservative as you say, don’t they have issues with you being gay? Or are you closeted at work?”
Jay let her frustration show with the situation. “I’m out, but I’m not OUT, if you get my meaning. My boss is a lesbian who is convinced that is makes a difference and has has done the closet thing for her whole career. I don’t think too many people really care, but I haven’t exactly brought a date to any company functions either. I don’t think I’ve had more than five dates in five years and it’s getting pretty hard to stay there and live this way. I love what I do, but I don’t see why it has to rule my life. All I do is work and I never seem to have the time to just be me anymore. I feel as if I’ve lost a part of myself and I’ve only recently recognized how empty I’ve been feeling.”
Riley straightened up in her chair, reached into her pocket, and pulled out a small package. “I think I may have a helpful reminder for you,” she said. “This is a reminder of today, and the world you are a part of outside of your work.”
Jay felt a blush come over her face and started to protest, “I can’t, I mean you shouldn’t have. We haven’t known each other that long and…”
“Relax Jay, I think we both know we are destined for friendship, not a partnership. This is a gift from one supportive friend to another, nothing more. Just open it.” Jay took the gift, thanking her and opened it. Inside was a long, thin box.
“Um, please tell me this isn’t a rainbow pride thing,” Jay joked, instinctively knowing that Riley wouldn’t give her something that would complicate her work situation.
“Just open it!” Riley grinned, not giving anything away.
Jay opened it and found a sterling silver rope necklace with a three dimensional triangle pendant hanging from it. “Oh Riley, its lovely!”
“And the best part,” said Riley stood and moved to help Jay fasten the clasp, “Is that no one will realize that the triangle represents your place in the GLBT community. People see rainbows and think of us, they still haven’t caught on to the triangle, especially in a form like this. You can wear this to work and have a reminder that there is a world outside of your job and it stands ready to embrace you.”
Jay had to brush a tear away as she stood and gave Riley a big hug. “I can’t thank you enough for today, Riley; it’s been like a home coming of sorts for me. I had given up on having friends who could really relate to me on a personal level.”
Riley returned her hug and smiled. “Hey, I’m not exactly overrun with friends either, I just moved back here.” She did her best Bogart imitation, “Kid, I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship.”
Jay groaned and grabbed the check before Riley had a chance to look at it. When Riley protested, Jay pointed out that Riley drove, paid for parking, and bought her a gift. The least Jay could do was buy dinner. Riley conceded, and they gathered their things and walked together to the parking lot. They chatted casually on the way back to Jay’s and when Riley pulled up, Jay asked if she wanted to come in and hang out. Riley pointed out the lateness of the hour on a work night and her drive home before thanking her and promising to call soon to do something.
Jay tossed her keys on the table just inside the door, kicked off her boots, and fingered her necklace thoughtfully as she wandered into her bedroom to get ready for bed. She stacked her new books on the bedside table and laughed as the stack wobbled.
“Hmm, maybe I ought to move some of those,” she chuckled as she rescued the swaying stack. Jay quickly got ready for bed and crawled in between the covers to settle in with her first book. It was actually early for her to go to bed, but she decided she was taking the night off from work.
Friday morning, Jay headed in to work as usual. She didn’t get many early morning calls so she jumped when her cell phone rang. Hitting the button on her headset she answered and was surprised to hear Bailey on the other end.
“Um, hi, I hope this isn’t to early,” started Bailey.
“No, it’s okay, I’m on my way to the office.”
“That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about, I’m starting on Monday, and I wanted to know if there was anything I should prep for over the weekend.”
Jay gave her a few things to go over, mostly just some Pennsylvania lending regulations and laws that differed from the ones in Florida, and then asked, “Was that everything? This really could have waited, Bailey; just enjoy your last free weekend before I get you in my clutches.”
Bailey could have sworn the room got a bit warmer at the thought of being in Jay’s clutches, but she managed a shaky laugh. “I guess I was wondering about getting together. I thought that maybe we could play a round of golf at the club, if you were coming up to your folks’ place. I know I shouldn’t push, but I just wanted to ask you.” Bailey listened intently, not hearing a response. “Jay, are you still there?”
“Um, sorry, I was reviewing my schedule in my head. I can fit in nine holes tomorrow, but I don’t think I could make a whole round.” She and Riley had plans to go to a movie and try a new Irish pub up in Bucks County. Jay planned on crashing at her parents’ house that night.
“That’s great, I’ll be available all day, so just give me a call, and I can meet you at your parents’ house.”
“Why don’t we just meet at the club for a two o’clock tee time. I’ll call it in and let you know if it changes. I have plans after that and can leave from the club if we take separate cars.” Jay had to admit, it felt good to have plans and even better to be able to say that to Bailey. Granted, it was a little high school of her, but she indulged in it just the same.
“That’s great, Jay, thanks, and I’ll see you at the club tomorrow.” Bailey paused before adding, “I really am grateful and I don’t want to mess up your plans. Thank You, it means a lot that you are willing to do this.”
Hanging up, Jay seemed puzzled by Bailey’s request and even more puzzled that by her own agreement to the golf game. Pushing it from her mind, she focused on the day’s schedule and was ready to go when she reached the parking garage at work.
“Sharon wants to meet with you in her office ASAP,” said Scott, standing in Jay’s doorway that afternoon.
“Great,” grumbled Jay, “I have all the time in the world for more meetings.” Eyes flashing in irritation, she gathered her piles of folders into some semblance of order and stood. “Fine, Scott, let her know I’m on my way. When I get back I’m going to need your help on some paper gathering and documentation for two of these loans.”
“No problema, boss of mine,” he said in an irritatingly chipper tone. Jay took a deep breath, counted to ten before releasing it, and then picked up her day planner on her way out of her office.
Sharon waited behind her desk for Jay to arrive. She remembered her dream of the night before and again, felt as if her world was about to change. She remembered very little other than it seemed like a regular day at work until Bailey arrived for her first day and chaos ensued. Now Sharon was tense about adding a new person without running it past Jay. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but as with many things in her life, Sharon decided the best defense was a good offense.
“Shut that behind you, won’t you, Jay?” Sharon sat at her desk, looking the manicured, coiffed picture of perfection for an upper level executive. No one knew how she managed to get through every day without a hair out of place, but yet again, here was the proof. On the other hand, Jay tucked a stray lock of her hair behind her ear, as she sat in one of the visitor chairs in front of Sharon’s giant mahogany desk. “I wanted to talk to you about your team, your new employee, and how she’ll fit in,” Sharon stated.
She saw Jay’s hackles rise immediately, though even she had to admit that Jay did an admirable job of hiding her anger. She knew that she hadn’t called such a meeting the last time a new member joined Jay’s team and she had expected to get a rise out of Jay with her statement.
“Sure Sharon, what seems to be the concern?” Jay asked evenly.
“Oh, no concern per se, I just realize that your team has been together for a while now and bringing someone new to the company into the mix can cause difficulties. I just wanted to make sure you have all the tools you’ll need at your disposal to ease the transition.” Sharon looked over at Jay, wondering if she sounded the least bit convincing.
The truth was Sharon was curious about whatever past there was between Jay and this new hire, Bailey. Sharon saw Jay as her protégé, and she didn’t want anything to halt the progress that had been made in advancing Jay’s career. Sharon had big plans and she wanted to continue to use Jay as a cornerstone of her team. Something about that dream last night…this department, heck, I, don’t need any trouble right now.. Sharon just had to make sure that it remained an anxious dream and nothing more.
Jay shrugged, obviously confused about the real purpose of this meeting. “Everything should be great. In fact, I spoke with her today. She’s all set for her New Employee Orientation Monday morning, and she’ll spend the afternoon meeting the team and getting set up with her computer access.”
“Oh, alright, I guess you have a handle on things. If you need anything from me, just let me know. As usual with new hires, let’s meet every week for a few minutes to discuss her progress.”
Jay rose to her feet saying, “Sounds good, Sharon. Don’t worry; I think I was just shocked when I first saw her back in town. I’m sure things will work out just fine. Besides, I need the help in the department,” Jay grinned. Everyone knew that her team was the most productive in the state and near the top for the company.
Sharon took a moment and then asked in a softer voice, “Jay, are you sure you’re okay? You seem to be a bit run down, and I don’t think it’s all from working too hard. Is there anything I can do to help out?”
Jay was a little surprised by this personal interest. Usually, Sharon made sure to keep things strictly professional with her. “I am feeling a little worn out,” Jay admitted grudgingly. “I think I need to start taking vitamins or something. I know I need to get more workout time in my schedule. That usually makes me feel better.”
Sharon nodded her head, “I understand, it’s one of the reasons I got the treadmill at home. I can fit in a workout no matter what time it is when I get home. Just don’t over do it, kiddo, we need you at full strength around here. Take some time off this weekend and get some R & R in.”
Jay laughed, “Okay Boss, no problem.”
“Seriously, leave the laptop and files here for the weekend, Jay, it can wait until Monday. Now get out of here and get finished up. I expect you out of here no later than five pm tonight!”
Jay gave up, raising her arms in a gesture of surrender and laughing lightly as she left her boss’s office.
Sharon could be so unpredictable sometimes, thought Jay. She could go from slave driver one minute to caring and supportive the next. Might as well take advantage of her generosity today and get going; it was almost five pm already.
“Scott, let’s get everything put away. It will keep until Monday, and I think we both deserve a fun weekend off.”
Scott looked on in amazement as Jay actually started putting her files away in drawers, not in her briefcase. Jay stopped what she was doing and turned an amused eye on her assistant.
“What? Is it impossible for me to try to get us out at a decent hour now and then?” Scott, realizing that he was about to get a reprieve from late hours, just shook his head and started putting away files with Jay. He saw her power down the laptop, but she didn’t undock it.
“Coming in over the weekend?” he asked.
“Nope, I’m leaving it here for the whole weekend. Sharon’s orders too.” Jay was almost gleeful as she said this, watching the expression on Scott’s face.
“Wow, I wonder what happened?”
“Who cares, let’s get out before anyone changes her mind!” He started clearing his own desk and shut down his workstation. They grabbed their jackets and headed for the stairs, not wanting to risk running into anyone during their escape. With a conspiratorial wink and wave, Jay wished Scott a great weekend and headed for the garage and her CR-V.
“No Mom, I won’t be home for dinner tomorrow, but I can have Sunday brunch with you guys.” Jay was on the telephone with her mother, having forgotten to call her back the other day. “I have a few plans for Saturday, and I figured I could crash at the house and visit with you two. Is that all right, or did you have plans?”
“Jay, you are always welcome here and you know it,” chided her mother gently. “In fact, we were wondering about a round of golf on Saturday before your plans.”
“Sorry Mom, I already have plans for a three o’clock round with Bailey before I go out for the evening. We’re going to talk about her new position and play the back nine.”
Laura raised her eyebrows at that but kept her mouth shut, thankful Jay couldn’t see her over the phone. “Sounds fine, dear, whatever you have planned is good. You have your keys and we’ll see you at the club tomorrow. We can catch up over brunch on Sunday, and you can fill me in on this sudden social life you have acquired.”
Jay rolled her eyes but smiled, grateful that her parents wanted to know about her life instead of shutting her out. “No problem Mom, I’ll see you both tomorrow, I’m going to go do some laundry and workout now. Have a good night!”
Jay tossed in a load of laundry and climbed on her exercise bike after putting on some good pedaling tunes. She was pedaling away when suddenly, she felt light-headed. Jay grabbed at the handlebars and stopped pedaling, reaching for her bottle of water. She took a few sips as she started to regain her breath. Her head seemed to settle down but she felt the vestiges of dizziness. She rechecked her settings and saw that it was set to her usual workout, nothing too strenuous. Jay decided that the combination of not enough food, and not working out regularly, was the cause of the problem. She went to her fridge and checked around for food she could prepare quickly. Pulling out some eggs, a partial onion, some salvageable red bell pepper, and the last of her fresh dill, she whipped up an omelet with a few grinds of sea salt and some white pepper.
She grabbed a couple of slices of bread, tossed them in the toaster oven, and cleaned up the debris from her cooking adventure. Jay poured a glass of apple juice and took the pumpkin butter from the fridge before she set the table as her omelet finished cooking. Getting everything on a plate, she sat down to her meal and devoured everything. With her obvious hunger as proof that the earlier episode was nothing to worry about, she continued doing laundry and reading from her new book collection. Finally sleepy, Jay tossed a few clothes in an overnight bag for the trip to her folks and got ready for bed. As she lay down, her mind was a jumble of characters from her life and her book, and with a puzzled look on her face, she slept.
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