"That was Then, This is Now"
Original fiction - short story – Romance
In 1976, a young woman, stationed at a military base questions her sexual orientation. She asks some lesbian friends if she can accompany them to a secret, hidden lesbian bar – long before "don't ask, don't tell." This leads to an encounter that changes her life.
Disclaimers: The characters are all mine.
PG rated since there is no sex, but does involve a romantic encounter between two women.
Special thanks to: Vic who beta'd this for me. And just does all kinds of great things. Without her, nothing else would matter.
The 3 c's - Comments, critiques, and of course compliments can be sent to me at J_Rosestar@yahoo.com
Friday, April 9, 1976
Fort Devens, MA
It was Friday evening. I had already eaten at the mess hall and was back in my room when I heard a knock at the door. I lived in a four-man room, currently only Fran and I occupied it, our other roommates having recently transferred out. Fran was a lesbian who had broken up with her lover a few weeks before. She was very upset over the break-up and needed someone to talk to, so she outed herself to me.
Sure I'm straight, but in the weeks that followed I became the relationship counselor for several lesbian couples. I guessed that lesbian relationships probably weren't that different from straight couples, and I was right. Not that my expertise came from personal experience; it came more from observing others.
While I dated, I'd never had a serious relationship. I never felt any desire to sleep with any of the men I dated. At Fort Sam Houston, while going through my specialty training, I slept with a man, just to satisfy my curiosity. I wanted to see why everyone was so fixated on sex. I can't say it was unpleasant, but I still didn't see what all the fuss was about.
Opening the door, I let Fran into the room. She sat on an empty cot, while I sat facing her.
"Debbie wants me to take her to the bar tonight." Fran said, as if that was supposed to mean something to me.
"So?" I asked. I couldn't imagine what her problem was. Debbie and Fran had been hanging around together for the past two weeks. I was happy about that, because Fran seemed a lot happier now.
"It's a gay bar." She stated the obvious.
"So?" I still couldn't figure out why she was having trouble taking Debbie out. As far as I knew, Debbie wasn't involved with anyone else. She had only arrived on post a few weeks ago. There was the possibility that she was still involved with someone from her prior duty assignment.
"She's straight." Fran as starting to get frustrated with my obtuseness.
"She is?" I'm usually quite talkative, but apparently I can only come up with short sentences at the moment.
"Yes, she's straight." Fran's blew air up toward her eyes in her frustration, causing her bangs to flutter.
"But she likes you." It seemed obvious to me. "Doesn't she?"
"I think so, but I don't know." Fran shrugged, looking sadly toward her feet. She was sitting cross-legged on the bed, and picking fuzz balls from the wool blanket.
"Have you two talked about it?" Following her example, I began picking fuzz balls as well.
"Well, yeah." She continued tossing loose fuzzballs at the floor.
"And, so? What does she say?"
"She says she does, but she's confused."
"Well, that makes sense." I replied, thinking of my recent doubts about my own sexuality. Although I'd realized I must be straight, because, unlike all of my lesbian friends, I enjoyed wearing high-heeled shoes, skirts and make-up. I was unknowingly a victim of my own stereotyping.
"But today, she asked if I would take her out to the bar tonight." Fran looked up, temporarily leaving the fuzzballs in peace.
"She knows it's a gay bar, right?" I emphasized 'knows.'
"Yeah, she knows." Fran admitted, returning to her destruction of wool fuzzballs.
"Well, if she knows it's a gay bar, and she's an adult, I'm guessing she knows exactly what she's doing. Don't you think?"
Fran looked at me hopefully. "You really think so?"
"Yes, I do." A thought that had been formulating in my mind for a couple of weeks found its way to the tip of my tongue. I argued internally until, before I realized it, I found myself offering to go along as well. "That way, maybe it won't feel quite so much like a date to you if I go along. And then, if things start going well for the two of you, you can feel free to ignore me. It's not like I don't have other friends who'll be there."
Fran agreed that might make both of them feel better. There would be no pressure for them to get together, or to go as friends…whichever way the evening turned out. Secretly I was hoping they would get together. I liked Fran much better when she was happy. Depressed, she often turned into an even more depressing drunk. Once when she was very drunk, she tried to kill herself by jumping out my third floor window. Somehow I managed to pull her out of the window and throw her onto the military cot. Locking the door, I made her spend the night.
What have I done? I thought as I looked at the Army issue metal locker that served as a closet. What am I going to wear? Finally, I selected my favorite bright red, silk turtleneck sweater with blouse type sleeves. That tucked into a pair of very wide leg bluejeans. The looseness of the outfit made me feel less skinny, as I had a body just like the 1960's model Twiggy. Most of my friends envied me, while I hated it, wishing I could look more 'normal' like them. I let my light blond hair hang down just past my shoulders.
I added the usual touches of make-up. Looking in the full-length mirror, too feminine? Well, that's just who I am. I wouldn't feel comfortable in anything else, so this is the best it's going to get. I closed the closet just as I heard a knock at the door. Grabbing my purse and going to the door, I pulled the padlock from the inside hook so I could lock the door on my way out.
"You guys look good." I told the couple waiting for me. Fran was dressed in blue jeans, a white cotton shirt. She showed me the tie she had in her pocket. The tie would have to be put on in the parking lot of the garage, it wouldn't do to be seen wearing it on post. Debbie was wearing bluejeans and a striped turtle neck sweater.
Once in the parking lot, I got into the back seat while Debbie got into the front passenger seat. I was still a bit shy around Debbie, as I did not know her very well yet. So we drove to the bar talking about work related topics.
Once we parked in the parking lot of the bar, Fran, with some help from Debbie, managed to get her tie in place. We walked through the slightly muddy, dirt parking lot toward the small bar. It was secluded, somewhat off any of the main roads.
Fran held the door open for Debbie and me to enter. I paid my coverage charge, while Fran paid for both of them. The bar was very dark, loud and smoky. My eyes had some trouble adjusting to the darkness, but eventually I could look around.
This was my first view inside a gay bar. It looked pretty much like I had imagined. Like any other small bar, it had neon lights, tables and a small dance floor. Off to the left was the actual bar. It held a few stools, which were all occupied by women. There weren't any men around, so I assumed the gay men at the post had their own bar somewhere else. To my surprise, I found my heart skipping a beat as I watched the women slow dancing together. I felt a smile spread over my face. Had I come home?
Fran escorted us to a large table where several of her friends were sitting. Most I already knew, since my room had become a safe haven for any lesbians who lived in the barracks but couldn't relax in their own rooms because they had straight roommates. There was always the fear of being reported and getting a dishonorable discharge. They were surprised to see me, but all waived in greeting. The music made talking difficult.
There were still several places open at the table. Fran pulled out a chair to her right for Debbie to sit. She turned to pull out my chair, but I'd already seated myself. Looking at her surprised look, I realized my error. I shrugged and mouthed a 'sorry' to her. She smiled and leaned over to speak to Debbie.
"Do you want me to get you a drink?" Fran turned back to ask me.
"Do we go to the bar area to get it?" I asked, unsure of how things worked in this bar.
"Yeah, I'm going to get us a beer."
I don't care much for beer, but really needed a drink. I handed Fran a $10 bill. "Will you buy me a bourbon and coke?" She agreed, took the money and walked over to the bar area.
With my eyes completely adjusted to the dark and smoke, I looked around the bar to see if there was anyone else I knew there. Off to my right, a couple of tables over were two of the nurses I had seen at the hospital. Even though I was assigned to the MASH unit, I spent the workweek working in the Cutler Army Hospital Pharmacy.
I'd watched them at lunch, and had assumed they were a couple. Linda and Ann were a few years older than our group. Most of us enlisted out of high school and ranged from 19 to 22 years old. They were both E-6 Sergeants, so I guessed them to be about 25 or 26. Sitting with them was a woman I'd seen at the hospital a few times recently. She had certainly caught my attention at the hospital
My heart skipped a beat as I looked at the woman now out of uniform. She was wearing bluejeans and a dark shirt. I knew she was taller than me, and definitely more muscular. Her dark hair was in its usual comebacked short style. Hospital whites didn't do her justice. She was definitely built to wear jeans. As I was observing her, she turned to look at me.
Even in the dark, I could feel predatory eyes look me over. I was used to that look. I often encountered it in the many straight, country & western bars I had gone to while in San Antonio. When men looked me over like that, I generally felt revulsion. This time I felt an electric current surge through my body. Embarrassed, I looked away. Still I couldn't help the pleased smile that curled at the edges of my lips.
As the evening progressed, it was obvious things were going smoothly for Fran and Debbie. I was beginning to feel like a third wheel. While they were dancing yet another dance, I moved over to Debbie's chair so I could talk to Dawn. All the while, I kept my eye on the woman who had been sitting with Linda and Ann. Several times she got up to ask a woman to dance. She was a very sensual dancer, holding them close. I felt my face flush, while also getting a taste of jealousy when I saw her talking to them. Sometimes they would talk, as their mouths moved closer, they would kiss.
Subconsciously I felt the music shift from frenetic paced rock & roll to a slower song. But my attention was diverted from the dance floor by a joke Dawn was telling. A tap on my right shoulder caught my attention. I turned to find myself engulfed by dark brown, predatory eyes. Trying to keep my face blank, my heart began throbbing in my throat.
"Would you like to dance?" She held out her hand for me to take.
"Sure." I replied with a calm I wasn't feeling. How did she slip off the dance floor when I wasn't looking? Why in the world would she be asking me to dance? I followed her to the dance floor, trying to maintain an exterior aura of casual confidence. Inside my bones, muscles and organs had all turned into mush.
"None of you friends have asked you to dance." Her worlds came out as a question, not a statement.
"Oh, they know I'm straight." I said as we smoothly began dancing. Thank God I can follow almost anyone. And she was very easy to follow.
"You are?" She asked with almost a teasing sarcasm. A look of mock surprise on her face.
"Yes," I answered. I think so, my mind continued. I couldn't avoid looking at the smile curling her lips. Her plump, very sexy lips.
"Then why have you been watching me all night?" I hated the confidence she exuded with those words.
"Have I?" Answering with a question is good. It avoids a direct response.
"Mm-huh. You have." Her response was said in a teasing manner, as she pulled me gently tighter.
"I don't know." Realizing I'd been busted, there was nothing else to say but the truth. I gave a slight shrug.
"I'm honored." The predatory gleam left her eyes. They softened as she gave me a gentle smile. The softness in her eyes and smile had an even stronger affect on me.
We continued the dance in silence. You idiot! I scolded myself. Now she'll never want to dance with you again. She'll never talk to you again. She probably thinks you're an incredible idiot too. So what do you care? It's not like she matters. She's nobody, just another soldier stationed at Fort Devens. She's not important in your life. But I want to get to know her.
Admitting that to myself was difficult, but I knew it was true. Why is it true? She's a total stranger. I know, but there's something different about her. It's like I knew her in a past life or something. I laughed silently at myself. Although I believe in reincarnation, that thought seemed somehow ridiculous.
"I'm sorry." I pulled slightly away from her. "I didn't mean…I mean…" I rolled my eyes at myself. "Okay, I'm a complete dork." I laughed, looking down toward our feet.
She laughed and pulled me back. "It's okay. I'm often a complete dork myself."
"No. Not you." I looked into her eyes; I shook my head still laughing.
"Okay, maybe we could start over. I'm Sally Joyner, it's nice to meet you." I said, moving our hands down so they were in a handshaking position.
"I'm Ann Taylor, but everyone calls me Taylor. It's very nice to meet you." She followed my lead, shaking my hand.
We continued with small talk. I learned that she had recently been transferred to Fort Devens. Her last post had been in Korea. She was a 91C, which meant she was the equivalent of an LVN. Currently she was assigned to Surgery, which she loved. Next semester, she was going to continue taking courses so she could get her RN.
As the evening progressed, we danced several more dances. In between our dances, she sat at the table with Ann and Linda. Debbie and Fran continued their involvement with each other. They decided it was time for them to head home.
We all stood up to leave. I turned to pick up my purse, to find Taylor standing next to me.
"Are you leaving?" She asked, as she looked from me to Fran and Debbie.
"Yeah, I came with them, and they need to get home." I laughed as I stressed the word need.
"I can give you a ride back to post if you want." I hesitated. I didn't know her. But I also wasn't ready to leave yet. To myself I had to admit I wasn't ready to leave HER yet. "I'm safe. My friends will vouch for me." She nodded her head toward Ann and Linda.
Everyone would know I was leaving with her. So I felt pretty certain I would be safe. Although I wasn't that sure I wanted to be safe.
"Are you sure?" I asked her.
"Sure I'm safe, or sure about giving you a ride?" She let the predatory gleam sneak back into her eyes, then relaxed. "I'm sure."
"Okay." I turned to Fran and let her know that Taylor had offered to give me a ride home. Fran, ever the protector, gave Taylor a threatening glare. Turning back to me, she too asked if I was sure. After assuring Fran everything was fine, and that I'd be safe, she left with Debbie.
Taylor escorted me to the table she was sharing with Ann and Linda. After introducing everyone, We all relaxed to enjoy the rest of the night. Taylor and I began a strong teasing flirtation.
It was almost time for 'last call' when Taylor asked me to dance again. She held me close, my head on her shoulder. My nervousness gone, I felt so comfortable with her. We fit together well. I felt at home in her arms.
Taylor pulled back slightly, causing me to lift my head and look at her questioningly. "I really want to kiss you." It was almost a whisper. I wasn't sure I'd heard her properly. But my heart heard, or perhaps it was my libido. Which ever one heard, my lips definitely answered.
Tenderly, gently at first, I felt her lips touch mine. I was unable to keep my body from surrendering along with my lips. Her kiss became harder, as her tongue licked my lips, trying to find an entrance. Automatically my mouth opened as I welcomed her tongue. My tongue danced with hers as our bodies danced to the music. Pressing myself closer to her, I felt her arms pushing my back, holding me tighter. I heard myself moan.
We pulled apart, looking questioningly at the other. Her glazed eyes gave me the answer I needed. I guess I must have appeared the same, as she seemed to have received my answer as well.
We walked out the door together, just as the DJ was announcing 'last call.' She held me close as we walked to her car. "My place?" She asked softly.
Sunday, April 9, 2006
Fondly, I remember Fort Devens. It no longer exists, having fallen victim to government budget cuts. It was my place for coming of age. That is where I left behind the innocent girl, and began growing into the woman I am today.
Of course, that's not all that grew. I am no longer the size two of yesterday. The beautiful white wedding dress I wear is a size fourteen. Still, I feel beautiful. I know that my face is glowing with excitement and with love. For I know, without a doubt that I love the person I am marrying.
Robert, one of my closest friends has agreed to walk me down the aisle. He holds out his arm for me to grasp. The organ begins playing "Here comes the bride." I feel tears already starting to fill my eyes. I've waited all my life for this moment.
We walk down the church aisle, past all of our friends, families and surrogate families. But all I can see is the person waiting for me at the alter. Standing tall in her dark blue tuxedo, grey streaks now claiming a share of her dark brown hair. I have seen those dark eyes filled with almost every emotion known to mankind - predatory, welcoming, loving, lusting, blazing in anger, smoldering with frustration, sorrowful with tears unshed, anguishing with tears, and happy with laughter or mischief.
Today they are looking at me filled with awe. It's as if she's seeing me for the first time all over again. Her eyes are full of love. They are welcoming me home again.
Robert and I reach the end of the aisle, where he places my hand in Taylors.
"I'm glad we decided to wait until the anniversary of the day we met." Taylor whispers. "It makes it even more special."
"Me too." I silently praise once again whatever powers above that made me brave enough to ask Fran to take me to that bar thirty years ago.
Yes, I went home with Taylor that night. That night she taught me why everyone made such a big fuss over sex. Perhaps it's because I have always been a lesbian and had no interest in men. Or, perhaps I was just waiting for the right person. Either way, true to lesbian U-Haul lore, I stayed…and stayed.
There have been many changes in the past thirty years. We both finished out our enlistments. Having finished her RN degree, Taylor got a job as a surgical nurse in Boston. I was transferred to Germany to finish my enlistment. We agreed to remain faithful the year I was gone. I left Germany to return to her. I became a Pharmacy Technician at the hospital where she worked.
Our life together had has its ups and downs. It wasn't always 'happily ever after.' There have been trials and tough times. Times when we thought we might not make it through together. Yet our love always managed to keep us together.
Times have changed. In the past, we had to keep our love secret and hidden. Even when we got out of the military, we feared losing our jobs if anyone found out. Now we are both out to everyone. Slowly we came out to our families; some accepting and some who still will not speak to us. We've found surrogate families to replace those we've lost through their own prejudices.
Robert walks me down the aisle in place of my father, who is still alive, but refuses to attend. While we mourn the loss of family and friends who cannot accept us, none of that matters. It is their loss, not ours.
Thirty years ago we met, in a hidden, secret lesbian bar. Today we formally proclaim our love in front of our families and friends. It is cliche, but true -
"Today I am marrying my best friend."
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