by JS Stephens
Copyright © 2001, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Helen and Brigid Series
Usual disclaimer: Brigid Anderson and Helen Pappas are creatures of my own imagination, although they do have Xena and Gabrielle as their spiritual ancestors. Melinda Pappas is a character from the hit TV show, Xena: Warrior Princess, but I'm not letting that stop my fun.
Unfortunately, the United Methodist Church continues to officially refuse to allow same-sex marriages to the extent that it even files charges against ministers who perform such ceremonies, even outside of their churches. For more background and news stories, go to the United Methodist News Service and look specifically for stories from the 2000 General Conference.
The UMC has been fighting about the inclusion or exclusion of homosexuals since the 1972 General Conference, which is the only official body that may revise the church's Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions, both legal documents for the church.
Any quotes from the United Methodist Church documents copyright by the church. Any relation to real churches, people or places is purely coincidental unless I am quoting directly from real news stories.
2013 revision notes: Twelve years later, and the United Methodist Church still insists on refusing to recognize same-sex marriage, even as 14 states have recognized same-sex marriage. Any ministers in performing same-sex marriages, even in states where it is legal, risk losing their license and their careers in the church.
Additional note: this story was originally written before 9/11/2001, and stays in that time frame.
Last note: the title is taken from one of my favorite anthems that I sang in youth choir, "Fight the Good Fight" arranged by John Gardner. There's a pretty good video of it by the Momon Tabernacle Choir on YouTube.
Brigid Anderson settled back in the pew as a hush descended over the small chapel. She waited eagerly for Paul Roth, the youth minister of Asbury United Methodist Church, to deliver the evening youth message. Paul's messages were always so relevant to her life, as if he was still a teenager himself, rather than a man in his late 20's. She had enjoyed church so much more since Paul came to revitalize the youth program, as had many of her friends. The average Sunday evening attendance had soared from barely twenty to over eighty junior high and high school students in just a few short years.
"Good evening, and may God bless the reading and hearing of his word tonight," Paul started, looking over the eager young faces, "but before I start the service, I have an announcement. As you know, each Annual Conference will begin next weekend, and the new assignments will be handed out. The United Methodist approach to ministry is to continually rotate the ministers, mixing and matching congregations with the appropriate ministers, so we are always doing God's work where we are needed. Up until the past twenty or thirty years, ministers often found out where they would be only during annual conference. Today, most ministers are approached by their district superintendents in advance of the conference, to make sure that the proposed match is a good one.
"I have been approached by the district superintendent to take over a new post, one at Grace United Methodist Church in Elmwood, Iowa. I will be the new assistant pastor, starting in mid-June. It was with much prayerful consideration that I decided to take the position, which was a very difficult decision for me. I have enjoyed my time here as youth minister, but I truly believe that God is calling me to this new position."
Paul looked over at the stunned faces. "I'm sorry that I am having to leave you, all of you have become very dear to me, especially those who started in the beginning with me. For those, I am sorry that I will have to miss your senior year next year, but God moves in mysterious ways. This news will come out soon, but I am asking that you not tell anyone until I have had a chance to tender my letter of resignation to the pastor-parish relations committee tomorrow morning."
"Will you please open your hymnals to 'Fight the Good Fight'?"
Brigid Anderson finished her coffee before finally opening her email. Work had been rather boring lately, no good controversies, at least now that the presidential election was finally over. How many ways could a journalist write on the ups and downs of the strangest election ever? Before she could get settled, the senior publisher, Patrick James, burst into her office yelling, "Grab something to write with, I'll send a photographer, get going now. There's a protest by a local church over the same-sex union in the university chapel. Go now, Brigid, I trust you to bring back a prize-winning story." With that, Patrick rushed out of the office.
"Oh boy," Brigid muttered to herself as she grabbed her briefcase and jacket. Before she could finish forwarding her phone to voice mail and shut down her computer, Robert Eagle, a fairly new photographer, skidded into her office. "I'm ready, Ms. Anderson, ready whenever you are. Let's go see what's going on!"
When they arrived on campus, Brigid and Robert immediately tried to get to the head of the crowd. From what Brigid could see, there was rather vocal gathering in front of the university chapel, shouting unintelligible slogans. When they finally muscled their way to the front, Brigid noticed two things: the signs were all antigay slogans, and the leader of the protest reminded her of her youth minister, Paul Roth.
"Brigid?" Robert inquired, "you okay?"
"I think I've seen a ghost," she replied, She pulled on her professional mask and motioned for the photographer to follow her. "Hello, I'm Brigid Anderson, from NewsTime magazine. I understand that there has been a disturbance here. What can you tell me about it?"
The minister turned to face Brigid, not recognizing her at first, then smiling joyously. "Why, Brigid, what a pleasant surprise! And you are a reporter? If that doesn't beat all. Listen, I would love to catch up, but I'm rather busy at the moment."
Paul started to turn, but Brigid stopped him with a hand on his arm. "Paul, I'm here to report on whatever is going on here, not just to say hello to old friends. Now, what can you tell me about this gathering?"
Paul shrugged, then answered, "My congregation is protesting the campus minister taking it upon herself to perform same-sex unions. These women that she married seem to think that just because a minister agreed to their ceremony, it makes it okay in the eyes of God. Since Kathleen Waterman is a Methodist minister, we must protest."
Brigid scribbled his words down in her notebook, asking, "How did you find out about this? Are you the leader of this protest?"
"Some of my friends on campus caught wind of this mockery of marriage. I'm sure you understand, Brigid, we do have to follow the Book of Discipline in these matters. Yes, I am leading this protest, it is the right thing to do." Before he could elaborate, the crowd suddenly surged toward the back of the building, where a long line of formally dressed people were trying to exit. "Pardon me," Paul said as he left.
Brigid tried to hold him back, but was unable to. She turned to Robert and said, "Go ahead and take lots of pictures, but let's make sure we have permission from the two women before showing their faces and names."
"Why?" he asked curiously.
"Because, young man, they may not want to be identified to the whole world. Now get going, I'll explain more later." Robert nodded and started taking pictures as Brigid edged closer to the crowd, hoping to at least interview some of the protesters and the wedding party.
Brigid had partial success at interviewing protestors, most of whom gave similar answers to what Paul Roth had said; it was against the belief of the United Methodist church to allow same-sex unions, period. Some gave thoughtful answers about gays and lesbians having civil rights, but should be celibate. Others gave emotional answers about how gays and lesbians were terrible, always giving in to their beastly desires to fornicate with as many partners as possible, tearing at the very fabric of the greatness of America. By the time Brigid had gathered as many interviews as she could, Robert came trotting up, eagerly announcing that the happy couple had posed for several shots, as had the Reverend Kathleen Waterman.
"Good work, Robert," Brigid praised him as they started back to her car, "did you get permission from everyone?"
"Yes, just like you told me," he answered happily. He passed over his digital camera, showing her a few shots that he'd taken with. "See how I managed to get the light behind Paul Roth? Makes him look like he thinks he's an angel or something." Brigid nodded distractedly as she handed the camera back. Robert tucked away the camera, then buckled his seat belt before asking, "So why is everyone so uptight about this? I don't understand, if two women want to promise each other eternal devotion, why get so bent out of shape? Seems to me like their making vows like that undermines the very protest that the church folks were leading."
Brigid waited until they were safely out of the parking lot and on the main thoroughfare before answering, "Robert, these folks are convinced that homosexuality and Christianity are not compatible, period. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Could we continue this discussion later? It's rush hour, if you hadn't noticed."
"Oh, yeah, sorry about that," he said sheepishly.
When Brigid finally arrived home that night, she noticed that Aunt Mel wasn't there and that Helen was deeply involved in a most unusual activity: cooking."Hey baby," she called out, "what possessed you to take up cooking?"
Helen leaned over to kiss her partner hello before answering, "Aunt Mel dared me to. I had to prove to her that I could indeed cook, so I'm making my world-famous chicken and rice casserole. If you'll set the table for four, I'd be most appreciative, love."
"Just let me drop off my briefcase," Brigid replied. As she set down her briefcase in the office that she and Helen shared, it occurred to her that Helen had said four places, not three. Were they to have a guest for dinner? "Honey, did you say four? Where is Aunt Mel?"
Helen's eyes twinkled. "Oh, she should be back from the senior citizen's center soon, she's bringing home an old friend. So, I was mouthing off about an old flame when she sidetracked me by betting that I couldn't fix an entire dinner by myself. I'll prove her wrong, Brigid. See, I have the casserole, the garlic bread, the salad, the sweet corn on the cob, white cheddar mashed potatoes, and the fruit salad. I fixed it all by myself, no help from Fran's Deli." Fran's Deli was a joke in the house, when it was Helen's turn to contribute toward a meal, she usually ordered takeout from the nearby deli.
Brigid swiped a bite of potatoes before taking the china out of the cabinet. "Umm, this actually tastes good."
"What, you thought that I couldn't cook at all? How do you think I survived during the years I was on my own, before I met you?" Helen looked miffed.
"Fran's Deli?" Helen poked Brigid in the ribs. "Youch, I didn't deserve that, Helen!"
"Sure you did," Helen laughed. "Now remember the proper glasses, Aunt Mel is at her southern utmost today, so we must have the right water glasses, iced tea glasses, and dessert coffee cups."
"No wine glasses?" Brigid inquired. They usually had wine with home cooked meals.
Helen replied, "She said that it's too hot today for wine. I think she just doesn't want to be tipsy in front of this mysterious guest. How was your day?"
Brigid briefly outlined her newest assignment as she helped Helen finish transferring food to the correct serving dishes. "It was a shock to see Paul again," she concluded at the end of her summary of the day's events. "I felt like a teenager again for a moment, seeing him there, but when I found that he seems to earnestly believe that homosexuals should not get married, I almost turned tail and left the protest area."
"Good memories shot to hell?" Helen suggested as she surveyed the table.
"I guess you could say that--oh, I see, you're punning again," Brigid groaned.
"Proud of it. Hey, I hear voices, let's go meet Auntie and her guest." Helen quickly kissed Brigid's cheek before checking the burners one last time, then followed Brigid into the formal living room.
"Helen, Brigid, I'd like to introduce y'all to Miss Kelly Stanwyck, an old acquaintance of mine," Melinda Pappas said in her soft drawl. "Miss Stanwyck, this is my niece Helen Pappas, and her partner, Brigid Anderson. Helen is a professor of ancient Greek history at the university and Brigid is a reporter for NewsTime magazine. Girls, Miss Stanwyck has been a reporter for many papers over the years, and I ran into her today at the senior citizen's center. Miss Stanwyck, would you like a drink before we adjourn to dinner?"
"Perhaps some tea or water, if you don't mind," the older woman answered. Helen proudly stepped just over the line between the living room and dining room to produce a rolling cart with sweating tea and water pitchers, glasses, and a silver bucket of ice. "At your service," she murmured like a butler in a 1930's film.
"Thank you, Professor Pappas, I do appreciate it," Kelly said.
"You may call me Helen," Helen suggested in cultivated voice. Brigid restrained herself from rolling her eyes, Helen was obviously feeling mischievous, she rarely bothered with the gracious manners that were so natural to her aunt. Brigid turned her attention to Mel's guest, creating a mini-profile in her mind. A tall woman, short pure white hair, dark hazel eyes, nearly as tall as Mel and Helen, deeply tanned, a fine network of wrinkles crisscrossing her face, subdued silver and turquoise feather earrings, a simple pale blue and white striped seersucker shirtdress. Sheer nude hose, low heeled navy blue pumps, no rings or watches. The woman was obviously fairly old, probably a contemporary of Mel's but it was impossible to determine her exact age just by looking at her.
"Thank you," Kelly said as she accepted a glass of tea from Helen. She turned to Brigid and asked, "how long have you been working for NewsTime?"
Brigid replied, "I think fourteen years full time, but I did an internship with them during the summers when I was in college. I started off doing research for the various features writers, then started contributing some of my own pieces. The last ten years I've been writing more series, mostly in-depth 'behind the scenes' types of multi-part stories over controversial issues of the day. What did you write, Miss Stanwyck?"
"I covered politics mostly, from the local level all the way to DC. I met Melinda when I was supposed to interview her father, back in 1934 during the presidential election. I went to a fundraising dinner for the Roosevelts, but was also there to interview Dr. Thomas Pappas. My editor was fascinated by his research into Greek history. I wound up interviewing Melinda instead, learning about translation of ancient documents." Kelly sipped her tea. "Delicious. I haven't been to the south in quite some time, but you always have the best iced tea in the world. Helen, how did you wind up teaching at the same university that Melinda had taught at?"
Helen shrugged slightly. "Fate, I suppose."
"Helen is being too modest," Mel intervened, "Janice and I had funded a chair for ancient Greek women's studies and Helen is the first to fill it. Not nepotism, you understand, but the department had chosen to extend the offer on her own publications and reputation."
"Well, if you say so, Aunt Mel. I hear something dinging, why don't you all go to the table? Brigid, could you help me bring out the food?" Brigid agreed, following Helen into the kitchen.
Mel turned to Kelly as soon as her nieces left the room. "Kelly, I can't believe that I ran into you today. It's been a long time."
"A very long time," Kelly agreed. "Sixty-seven years, to be exact. I'll tell you, I don't feel like I'm nearly ninety. You must be close to my age."
"Eighty-five this year." Mel reached up and smoothed back her dark hair, a nervous habit that she could never break. "When did you come to St. James?"
"A few months ago. I lived in New York, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, and most recently, Phoenix, but one of my nephews called me and said that his wife was being transferred to London for a few years, would I mind living in their house and taking care of it? I swear Charles forgets that I'm an old lady and have been living in a retirement village for the past ten years. How about you? Isn't this your dad's house?"
"Yes, it is. My family has lived in this house for five generations now. I suspect that Helen and Brigid will be the last generation to live here, but since I never had any children and neither have they..." She trailed off, not sure how to continue. Kelly started to say something, but was interrupted by Helen and Brigid announcing that dinner was on the table.
After dinner, Brigid and Helen adjourned to the kitchen to clean up while Mel and Kelly retired to Mel's office. Mel had been watching Kelly throughout dinner, wondering if bringing her home was a good idea or not. Kelly had chatted easily with her nieces, not reacting as Brigid discussed her newest assignment of covering the protests over same-sex marriages.
So many years ago, she had sat in the garden just outside the house, talking to Kelly about losing her mother at age ten, about her father's work, about anything that came to mind. She could still remember talking to Kelly and horrifying herself when she burst into tears as Kelly asked about how she coped with her mother's death, how Kelly had gathered her in her arms, allowing her to cry. Now the same woman sat tantalizingly near her on the old sofa, chatting easily about her long life as a reporter. Mel noticed that Kelly never mentioned any lovers of either gender. Was she mistaken? Maybe Kelly was just enjoying the chance to talk to someone who remembered the same events that she did, the same wars, the same fights to be independent. She sat up with a start. "Would you repeat that?"
Kelly glanced around the office, then asked, "So, you and Janice were, ah, partners?"
"Yes, for fifty-seven years," Mel answered easily.
"And Helen is your niece?" Kelly asked.
"Yes, my half-brother's only child," Mel explained. "John and Katherine were both in the army and died in Viet Nam. Katherine's parents took Helen in as a teenager, but could not handle her. Janice and I volunteered to bring her here to let her finish high school. That girl was so full of anger and grief, but she came through okay."
Kelly looked down at her lap, then finally looked up, her hazel eyes meeting Mel's bright blue eyes. "When you say partner, you do mean lover?"
Kelly licked her lips nervously. "Melinda, how did you do it? I mean, how did you know that Janice was, ah, of that persuasion?"
Mel sat back, closing her eyes for a moment, fondly remembering Janice as a young woman. Bright, belligerent, impatient, always dressed in men's clothes, a damn Yankee. She smiled at the memory, then opened her eyes. "I just did. I hadn't really considered that I could fall in love with a woman, it just happened."
"Oh." The silence dragged on for several minutes before Kelly blurted out, "It's getting dark, Melinda, I think I'd better head back. Thank you for the lovely dinner and the talk."
"My pleasure," Mel replied, standing with her guest. "Please feel free to come by or call any time, Kelly. May I walk you to the door?"
"Ah, yes. I suppose I should say goodbye to your nieces?"
Mel nodded, leading the way back to the kitchen, where Helen and Brigid had just finished putting away the dishes and the food. "Girls, Kelly is just leaving now."
"Ma'am, thank you for coming," Helen said as she held out her hand. "Any friend of Aunt Mel's is welcome."
"Yes, come again, I'd like to talk to you about the changes in journalism you've seen," Brigid added as she shook Kelly's hand.
Mel walked Kelly to her car, feeling disappointed. She could understand wanting to leave before it was full dark, after all, her night vision had diminished over the years, but she had the feeling that Kelly was uncomfortable. Be that as it may, she thought, she had enjoyed the dinner. "Kelly, it was so wonderful running in to you today. I do hope that you will consider coming again."
"I will consider it, Melinda, it's just that I don't see as well at night." Kelly smiled as if to soften her leaving. "Maybe next time I'll take a taxi. Your nieces are beautiful women, you should be proud of them." She unlocked her door and opened it, laying her purse inside before turning back to Mel. "I did have a wonderful time, thank you very much." She stood awkwardly for a few seconds, then tentatively patted Mel's shoulder. "Are you in the phone book?"
"Yes, under M. Pappas."
"All right, I'll call soon. Good night, Melinda."
"Good night, Kelly." Mel watched Kelly carefully back her car into the turnaround, then head out to the road. "Mel, you are a romantic fool," she chided herself before going back inside. "What would Janice say?"
The next day, Brigid was still thinking about Aunt Mel's mysterious guest as she logged in to her computer and started sifting through her emails and voice mails. Who exactly was Kelly Stanwyck and how did Aunt Mel know her? She'd never heard Mel mention the woman before, but that didn't mean anything. Brigid toyed with the idea of checking the woman's background, then decided that was ridiculous, when she needed to be trying to interview the people involved in the same-sex marriage story. Should she call Kathleen Waterman, the minister who performed the ceremony, or Paul Roth, the minister opposing the ceremony, first? She finally got out a quarter and flipped it, heads for Waterman, tails for Roth. It came up heads. Brigid picked up the phone and dialed the campus ministry center and asked for Kathleen Waterman.
An hour later, she walked into the center's library for the interview. A few minutes after the secretary ushered her in, she was joined by a woman who introduced herself as Kathleen Waterman. "My secretary says that you want to interview me about the holy union that I performed the other day," she said as she sat across the table from Brigid. "I usually don't visit with people in the library, but my phone has been ringing off the hook."
"I can understand that, Dr. Waterman. I'm Brigid Anderson, reporter for NewsTime magazine. I'd like to interview you about your role in the controversial ceremony, and get a little background on the whole issue, if I may."
"Certainly. But, please, call me Kathleen, I hear 'Dr. Waterman' and I look for my father. He was a Methodist minister for over forty years, as was his father and grandfather before him." Kathleen leaned forward a bit. "As you may or may not know, the United Methodist church has been wrestling with the issue of homosexuality and Christianity for about thirty years now. The basic stance has been that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings, and has been expanded to state that Methodist ministers are forbidden to perform any holy unions or other ceremonies uniting same-sex couples. Ministers are also forbidden to be 'avowed, practicing homosexuals'. On the other hand, the Social Principles state that homosexuals should enjoy the same civil rights as everyone else, and should not be discriminated against in housing, jobs, etc.
"Now, this doesn't make any sense to me, or to many other ministers. Many of us have been persecuted by the church for performing holy unions between same-sex couples, even being tossed out of the ministry. My personal viewpoint is that if God has called two people to join their lives that I should not judge that calling. If God has called a man or a woman to be his minister, I should not say, 'no, sorry, you can't speak for God because you are gay.' I guess I'm an old hippie at heart, certainly a liberal, but I really believe that we cannot speak for God in matters of the heart."
"Kathleen, have you ever been disciplined for performing these ceremonies?" Brigid asked, scribbling notes.
"No, but it looks like I will now. Before Paul Roth took over the St. James congregation, no one really inquired into how I performed my duties as a campus minister. The last minister, Dolph Gates, knew that I was performing these unions but looked the other way. I don't know why Paul started stirring up this trouble, but I guess I was lucky for too long. I've joined about twenty couples in the six years I've been here, and joined others in previous positions. Of course, South Carolina is a little more conservative that my previous assignments."
Brigid looked up from her notebook and laid her pen down. "Kathleen, is there any reason in your background that would cause you to risk your license to perform these ceremonies?"
"Like am I gay, or have any gay friends or relatives? No, sorry, I can't give you such an easy answer," the minister answered easily.
"When did you perform the first holy union?"
Kathleen smiled. "About ten years ago. I was associate pastor at a church in Los Angeles then. Two women, both divorced, grandmothers, etc. had fallen in love and asked me to do a private ceremony for them at a friend's house. Bless their hearts, they were terrified to ask, but felt strongly that they needed a minister to join them, and neither liked the local MCC, or Metropolitan Community Church. They had both been members of that church for many years. I agreed, then found myself being approached by other couples who wanted quiet ceremonies. I knew that it was against church policy, but I couldn't see that it hurt anyone. I guess that's my story."
Brigid picked her pen up, made a few more notes, then asked, "Is there any connection between you and Paul Roth?"
Kathleen leaned back against her chair. "None that I can think of, Brigid. If you'd like, I can ask around, see if he's stirred up this kind of trouble before. I have lots of friends in pretty high places in the church and I'm not afraid to speak out for my beliefs." She smiled, then chuckled. "I sound more like my dad every day, he was one of the white ministers in the south who was adamant about civil rights for African-Americans. He'd served with some in the Korean war and came out believing that all men were really brothers under the skin."
Brigid started to ask another question, but the secretary poked her head through the door, saying that Kathleen was needed on the phone. "Duty calls, Brigid. If you need anything else, please let me know. I'll see what I can find out about Paul's background for you. Do you have a card?" Brigid handed over her business card. "I'll call you soon, or email you. When will the article come out?"
"The initial article should come out in next week's issue, but there will be follow-up articles. I'll let you know when they are coming out. Thanks for letting me take up your time and for digging up information on Paul."
Kathleen smiled at the reporter. "You're very welcome, and let me know if I can be of further help with your story. Be careful and God bless you."
"Thanks." Brigid followed Kathleen out of the library, then left the building. Noting that it was nearly noon, she decided to walk across the campus to surprise Helen and see if she wanted to go to lunch.
"How's your latest story coming?" Helen asked as they scooted into a booth in the barbeque joint. "Any luck?"
"Some," Brigid answered as she unloaded her tray. "I talked to Kathleen Waterman, the campus minister, this morning. She's been performing holy unions for many years now, but it's only been since she came out here that she started getting flack about it. She used to be an associate pastor in Los Angeles."
"Los Angeles is different than St. James, South Carolina," Helen agreed, "but I do like it here. So why do you suppose that this guy started picking on her?"
"She said she didn't know, that the last pastor turned a blind eye to what she was doing. Did you know that she could lose her license for this?" said indignantly.
"Brigid, I would believe anything connected with discrimination against gays or those who care for them. Remember, I'm the one who got kicked out of Asbury University for being gay." Helen sipped her iced tea, then asked, "Do you suppose that the jerk who ousted me ever recovered? After all, he was stripped of his rank and reduced to teaching full time! Horrors!"
Brigid chucked. "Helen, I declare that you have a mean streak about that incident. How could I forget how Dr. Barry was so mean to you, even accused you of having an affair with your students?"
"Which reminds me, have you heard anything about Darlene Fisk? My student who became your intern?" Helen asked.
"Yes, she and Kate Miller are still together. Remember, she met Kate at that party that my editor threw when the series came out on your firing."
"Cute couple. Anyway, I digress, must be old age creeping up on me. Have you talked to Paul Roth yet?"
Brigid dropped her eyes, muttering, "Not yet, dear."
Helen reached over and touched Brigid's arm. "Hey, it must be tough, seeing him in a different light like that. Are you okay with it? I could come along with you, pretend to be your assistant or something. My department meeting this afternoon was cancelled."
"I thought I did the sensitive chats, why the role reversal?"
Helen's blue eyes softened as she replied, "Just cause I love you and want to make sure nobody hurts you. That's all."
"And you touched me in public," Brigid noted, surprised.
"Blame Aunt Mel, she's rubbing off on me," Helen said with a smile.
Brigid smiled as she picked her fork back up. "True, she is a very affectionate person. Hey, what did you think about Kelly Stanwyck? Do you suppose that Aunt Mel actually had a girlfriend before Aunt Janice?"
Helen swallowed a bite of peppered turkey before answering slowly, "I don't know, honey. Kelly seemed rather tense at times, but I couldn't tell about Auntie Mel. That southern graciousness and all that, she could host a formal dinner for the devil and not let him know she was scared."
"You're right about that, how else could she have lived with Janice all those years?"
"Touche, my love. But, back to the question about Aunt Mel and Kelly, I haven't the foggiest clue. Mel puts on that demure act so well that I never thought about questioning her past. Janice told me a lot about her past girlfriends, more to shock me than anything, I think."
The pair fell silent as the finished up their lunches, pondering the mysterious appearance of the woman they knew nothing about. Finally, Brigid said she had to leave, to go interview Paul Roth. She shook off the repeated offer for Helen to go with her, saying, "No, I have to interview him by myself, dear. I'll see you tonight."
"If you insist. I'll be in my office at school if you change your mind. I guess I should catch up on some of this committee paperwork and such. I'm not fond of reviewing textbooks, but someone has to do it." Helen sighed dramatically as they walked into the parking lot of the restaurant. See you tonight, Brigid." She leaned over, giving Brigid a quick peck on the cheek before walking back toward school.
Melinda Pappas had been blessed with wonderful health, physical and mental, all of her life. She had been volunteering at the senior citizen's center since she was in her early 60's, never thinking about the fact that now she was helping people younger than herself, still thinking of them privately as "old folks". She hummed under her breath as she pulled out the various board games from the cabinets, then went to check on the volunteers who were overseeing the lunch preparations. The center usually opened at ten in the morning, then closed around seven thirty in the evening, sometimes later if there was a special event going on. She patted her bun absently as she went to unlock the doors and started greeting the folks who walked through the doors.
Mel was really hoping that Kelly Stanwyck would come to the center again. She hoped that she had not scared her off the other night, but maybe being so open about Helen and Brigid's relationship and her own with dear Janice was too much for Kelly. Even though the girls were such good company, she sometimes longed for companionship closer to her own age and experience. True, many of the people who filled the center she considered her friends, but most of them willingly believed that she and Janice had just been good friends all these years, despite the signs to the contrary. Perhaps she was pinning too much hope on Kelly, hoping that she was also "one of us" as Janice used to say.
The morning wore on to noon and the food was brought out. Everyone lined up dutifully, allowing the more infirm to go first. Mel watched the line eagerly, then finally gave up and got her own plate. She sat down with several other ladies and struck up a conversation about gardens, a nice harmless topic.
After lunch, Mel helped supervise the cleanup, then drifted into the center's library. She listlessly started reshelving books when a voice interrupted her reverie. "Melinda?"
She turned. "Kelly, what a pleasant surprise!" she exclaimed, "I thought you might be here for lunch. I mean, I looked for you, but you weren't there." She stammered to a stop, realizing that she sounded like a young girl.
Kelly smiled, hazel eyes dancing. "I had no idea that you were looking for me, Melinda, or I would have come earlier. Oh, thank you for the lovely dinner last night, you have wonderful nieces." She looked around, then asked, "Is there anywhere we can talk privately?"
Mel thought a moment, then nodded at the window. "Just beyond that bridge is a wonderful little garden, just between the center and the park. It's fairly private and kids rarely go there. Shall we go sit a spell?"
"Lead on," Kelly answered.
Mel lead the way to a nice wood and iron park bench, right in front of a small fountain. They were surrounded by all manner of miniature roses, backed by large irises. A ring of strategically planted trees provided just the right amount of shade. Kelly sat carefully, smoothing her skirt over her knees as she looked around at the beauty of the garden. Mel sat next to her, close enough to nearly touch knees, but far enough for social distance. Finally, she broke the silence. "So, what have you been doing since you interviewed my father besides writing for various prestigious newspapers?"
Kelly laughed, her body language relaxing slightly. "What an interesting question, Melinda. How does one pack nearly sixty-seven years of living into a short answer?" She leaned back, turning her face up to the small shaft of sunlight, enjoying the warmth. Without opening her eyes, she started, "As I told you the other night, I worked in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Phoenix. I retired from a paper in San Francisco in 1981, then moved to Phoenix. My nephew called to ask if I would house-sit, so here I am."
Mel gripped her courage, then with uncharacteristic directness asked, "Any lovers?"
Kelly brought her head up, looking directly at Mel. "Well, I was so caught up in my career that I never thought about dating. I did have a fling in the early 1960's with a young man, young enough to be my son! He was very gentle, Melinda, very sweet, but he got called up for Viet Nam and I've never been with anyone else. Oh, I keep busy keeping track of my sister's children and grandchildren, but I never wanted any of my own."
Mel took a deep breath, then asked quietly, "Did you ever feel anything for any women?"
Kelly shifted uncomfortably, crossing one leg over the other and clasping her hands around her knees. "Like you mentioned last night?"
"That's a pretty loaded question, Melinda, especially from someone I knew for only a few hours so many decades ago. I guess the answer is I don't really know. I kept myself wrapped up in that professional cocoon so well that I didn't let myself get close to anyone except Sam for those few months. How did you know that you, um, preferred women?" Kelly asked, curiosity breaking through.
Mel nervously patted her bun, then brought her hands in her lap and clenched them together. "Remember when we talked in the garden after you interviewed Daddy? How I got so upset when I mentioned Mother's death and you held me while I cried? Kelly, I felt something between us that night and was frightened, but curious too. I swear that you nearly kissed me and I would have let you. I didn't feel that again until I met Janice during the war, when I went to translate the Xena Scrolls for her."
She boldly reached over and took Kelly's hand in hers, squeezing it. "Kelly, I'm not usually this forward, that was Janice, but I have to face reality. I'm old. I see you before me, still beautiful, still desirable, and I have to act, even if I do the wrong thing. The question is, will you allow yourself to feel anything?"
Kelly unwillingly looked into Mel's clear blue eyes and was startled to see passion smoldering in them. She felt the warmth of Mel's hand in hers, felt the nearness of the other woman. Long suppressed desires flooded to the surface, along with memories of getting close to friends, then pulling away when she wanted to do more than friends were supposed to do. Her heart thudded in her chest crazily, what was she thinking? She was nearly ninety years old, she wasn't supposed to feel these things, certainly not for another woman! Yet, Melinda was right here, right now, offering herself.
Kelly reached up and touched Melinda's cheek, marveling that her skin was still so soft. Why not take a chance? Throttling down her fear, she leaned forward and barely brushed Mel's lips with her own, half-expecting to feel revulsion. Instead, she felt as if electricity had shot through her very soul, causing her to press harder, blindly pulling Melinda closer to her.
Mel finally pulled back, whispering the age old question, "Your place or mine?"
Kelly shook her head to clear it of the immediate desire to continue then and there, whispering back, "Mine, your nieces might come home early." They stood up, Kelly taking Melinda's arm as if she were just an old friend in need of steadying, following Melinda back to the parking lot.
Brigid walked into the church offices, announcing to the church secretary that she had an appointment with Paul Roth. "Yes, Miss Anderson, he should be out shortly. He's tied up in a pastor-parish relations committee meeting right now. Would you like to have a seat in his office? May I bring you anything to eat or drink?"
"No, Mrs. Roberts, I'll be fine, I just came from lunch, but I appreciate the offer," Brigid replied. The secretary ushered her into Paul's office, then pulled the door almost closed as she left. Brigid waited until the footsteps receded, then wandered around the office, glancing over the pictures, books, and knickknacks on the built-in bookcases. She recognized her youth group from the mission trip they had taken the summer before Paul left. Curious, she picked up the picture and found herself wedged between Sylvia and some boy she couldn't remember. How ironic, she thought, the two lesbians of the group next to each other.
"Brigid, how good to see you!"
Brigid carefully replaced the picture and turned to face Paul, shaking his hand before taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of his desk. Paul took the other chair, smiling broadly, still seemingly unaware that Brigid could ask hard questions. "Good afternoon, Paul, thank you for agreeing to see me on such short notice."
"My pleasure, Brigid. I saw you looking at the picture of the old Asbury gang from that trip to New Mexico. I remember how you stubbornly insisted that you could shovel concrete for the sidewalks just as good as the boys could. I finally told the sponsor in charge to let you." He chuckled warmly at the memory. "I think you embarrassed some of the boys when you outlasted all of them."
Brigid unwillingly smiled at the same memory. She had not wanted to paint inside, or to plant flowers or weed gardens, so she had insisted on the sidewalk detail. "I was pretty sore the next day too, but I kept at it."
"You sure did. Say, did you come in from somewhere to interview me?" the minister prompted.
Brigid shook her head. "No, I live here and work for NewsTime magazine. It was originally just a local bureau, now it's a regional bureau, a consolidation of three other locations. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I've never seen you in church here, do you attend somewhere else? First Methodist, maybe?" the minister asked.
Brigid flipped open her notepad a and pulled out her pen to stall for a moment. "No, I don't attend any local church," she answered evasively. "Let me get a little background, Paul, what have you been doing since you left Asbury?"
Paul settled back in his chair and launched into a summary of his career to date. Assistant pastor at a succession of small churches throughout the Midwest and southern states, a few years leave to take a master's of divinity, then marriage to a computer programmer at his last church before St. James. He reached over to turn a picture around on his desk. "That's our wedding picture. Isn't Julie beautiful? We've been married for three years, she was lucky to find a position as a programmer with one of the local banks here. Don't ask me exactly what she does, I don't understand computers very well. Now, what have you done?"
Brigid relented. "I went to school at the USC branch here on a journalism scholarship, then went back to Asbury to work for NewsTime. I've been working steadily for the same magazine ever since, and jumped at the chance to come back here several years ago when the three local bureaus consolidated into one regional bureau. Plus, my managing editor was moved here as bureau chief, and I enjoyed working with Patrick, so it was a good move."
"No husband and children?"
"Nope, too busy," Brigid replied briskly.
"Oh. So, what did you come to talk about?"
She flipped back through her notes as if to refresh her memory. "I was assigned the story about the protests that your congregation is leading against Kathleen Waterman's blessing of same-sex unions. Tell me, Paul, why protest what she is doing?"
Paul blinked, then asked incredulously, "What? What do you mean, why protest? Brigid, the church has declared that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings, I couldn't let this go on without protest! Tell me, if you saw something wrong going on, wouldn't you protest?"
"Paul, would you give me specifics? How did you find out that Dr. Waterman was participating in these ceremonies and what prompted you to make a public protest? Have you ever talked to her in private?"
He opened and shut his mouth without uttering a sound. He looked at Brigid closely, seeing only the professional, not the young teen he had known. She was asking hard questions from what seemed like a liberal point of view, but her face was neutral, her body language open and relaxed. Maybe she wasn't attacking him after all, he decided, even though it felt like that initially. Gathering his thoughts, he started answering her questions one by one. "One of our members brought this to my attention a few months ago. His daughter is attending the university and had been participating in the Wesley Foundation activities there. As you probably remember, the Wesley Foundation is the name for most Methodist campus ministries, named after our founder, John Wesley.
"Stacy, the young woman, told her father that one of the discussions was on homosexuality in today's culture. I forget now why the subject came up, but Dr. Waterman told the students that it was okay to be gay, that God accepted gays just like He did straights. One of the other students asked if it was okay for gays to get married and she actually admitted to conducting such ceremonies. Well, Stacy was upset, being a proper Christian lady, so she told her parents that night, and her father came to see me the next day," he explained.
"So, what did you do with this information?" Brigid asked.
Paul said, "I called Kathleen Waterman and asked if what was said was true. She confirmed it, so I knew it was my duty to show her the error of her ways. She tried to get me to come talk to her in person, but I refused. I did find out when the next one of these ceremonies was, which happened to be yesterday, so I called on my congregation to back me up in protesting."
Brigid scribbled a few notes, then asked, "Why not just refer it to the district superintendent's office for investigation?"
Paul stopped, fumbling for an answer, finally blurting out, "Because she is wrong, I tell you!"
Brigid looked at him coolly, asking, "Aside from what the church currently says, do you have personal reasons for protesting? Any homosexuals in your family or circle of friends, any bad personal experiences?"
Paul was shocked by the insinuation, but he felt he had to answer honestly. "None in my family, but I did have a friend in seminary who came out the last semester of school."
"What happened?" she prompted.
Paul looked down at his shoes, the memories threatening to overwhelm him. He finally lifted his head and answered quietly, "He was dismissed from school. Gays may not enter the ministry. Period. When he got the news, he went on a week long drunk, going to those awful gay bars, picking up any man who would fill his depraved appetites. He called me from the emergency room one night, asking if I would take him home. Brigid, he had been brutally beaten and sodomized. He was lucky that he didn't contract any diseases, especially AIDS. I picked him up from the hospital, helped him pack his bags, then drove him to the airport so he could go back home."
"I'm sorry, Paul, that must have been rough on you and on him."
"Don't you see, if he hadn't given in to his urgings, he wouldn't have been beaten! He wouldn't have been going to such places! Gays are weaker, why should we allow them to get married when they will only stray and copulate with anyone who looks their way?" Paul spat.
Brigid stared at him, irritated with his response. "Paul, I think you're being unfair. Have you ever taken the time to talk to any gays or lesbians, to find out their viewpoint?"
"Well, no, but-"
"Then who gives you the right to speak this way?" Brigid asked, anger creeping into her voice. "Have you considered that maybe, just maybe, if you treated gays and lesbians like humans that they would be able to build loving, long-term relationships? That they could contribute positively to the church?" Brigid abruptly cut herself off from her tirade, forcing herself to calm down. "Paul, could you give me any other reasons for protesting?"
He thought for a long moment, then finally said, "It's just the right thing to do, Brigid, I must fight the good fight, I must show Kathleen the error of her ways, show these people that they can shed their depraved appetites and go straight, get married and have children. God will help them."
Brigid closed her notebook. "Maybe we can finish this up another time, Paul."
Puzzled, he asked, "Why?"
She stood up, saying, "Because I am losing my cool. I can't finish this interview and still remain neutral. Perhaps we can finish it some other time," she repeated.
"I'd like that," Paul replied, still puzzled. "Maybe if we met somewhere else?" he offered.
"Yes. Here's my card, call me at the office tomorrow. Good afternoon." She left, barely hanging on to her temper.
Paul stared after her, wondering what went wrong. The small voice of doubt whispered in his ear that maybe she was right, maybe it wasn't fair to single out gays. No, he told himself firmly, he was fighting for the right thing, for the sake of families everywhere. For the sake of good Christian families.
Kelly woke up with a start, wondering why she was naked in her bed in the middle of the afternoon. No, later than that, the sun was going down. She saw the sleeping figure of Melinda and the memories came back with a rush. Sam had always been gentle, had nearly always brought her to orgasm, but never the soul-shaking feeling that she had experienced with Melinda. She had always been aware of other women's bodies, their smells, their enticements, but had never given in until now. Now, with someone she barely knew, with a woman who seemed to meek, who housed such consuming passion.
Mel woke up, stretching lazily, running a hand over Kelly's body. "Satisfied?" she asked in a husky voice.
Kelly had swallow several times before she could answer. "Oh, God, that was incredible. I had no idea that women could do this."
Mel laughed as she traced a path around Kelly's breasts with one finger. "Janice showed me the way and I never looked back."
"Um, I need to-"
"Go ahead, where's another bathroom?"
Kelly gave directions to Mel, then headed for the privacy of the master bathroom. After flushing, she contemplated a quick shower, but what she really wanted was another round in bed. She still felt foggy with desire, weak with satiated lust. Melinda had taken over, unleashing her dark, thick hair, which in turn seemed to unleash her sexuality. Kelly leaned her overheated forehead against the cool tile of the wall, her mind's eye replaying the vision of Melinda slowly stripping, then helping her with her clothes, growling playfully as she started kissing Kelly all over. "God," Kelly moaned as she tried to shake the vision.
"I'm not God," Melinda announced from behind her. Kelly turned around to find Melinda shutting the door behind her. "Such a nice shower, looks like it will hold two people easily. Shall we get cleaned up?"
Kelly nodded, unable to speak. What would her nephew say if he found his old aunt in the arms of another woman? The thought vanished as Melinda manipulated the shower controls, slowly rubbing shower gel all over Kelly's body. Kelly half feared, half hoped that Melinda would take her again, make this desire flare up white hot again. She thought inanely that she rarely encountered women her height any more, most had shrunken with age. Maybe Melinda worked out too, was her last coherent thought as she threw caution to the winds and pulled Melinda to her, crushing her with a fiery kiss. She could feel the excitement building in her lower body, demanding immediate release...
"Hi, honey, I'm home," Brigid sang out as she entered the house. "Where is everyone?"
"Hello, sweetheart," Helen answered as she walked into the kitchen, stopping to kiss Brigid briefly. "Have you talked to Aunt Mel today?"
"No, why?" Brigid asked.
"Because it's already nearly seven and she's not home and hasn't left a note," Helen answered. "She's never this late without prior plans or leaving a note or a message."
Brigid put down her briefcase, thinking. "Maybe she's still at the center, wasn't she going today?"
"I called, she wasn't there. Brigid, I'm worried that something happened to her. Suppose she was in an accident or something?"
"Helen, her doctor would have been notified and he knows to call us in any emergency."
"True enough." Helen paced back and forth, frowning. "It just isn't like her to be gone like this."
Before Brigid could say anything else, they both heard the unmistakable sound of Mel's car coming up the drive. Both women flew out the back door to greet Mel, calling out questions fast and furious. Mel calmly got out of the car, retrieved her purse and shut the door before chiding them, "Are y'all worried about me? Dears, I am a grown woman, you know. Now let's go in the house for some supper."
The girls followed her, slightly dumbfounded. Was this really their aunt, dismissing their fears so lightly? As the three bustled around, laying out sandwich fixings, Helen became aware that something looked different about her aunt. She mused over this as they sat down at the kitchen table and started passing around the food. Finally, it dawned on her. "Mel, your hair is different, it's more of a braid than a bun and it looks wet."
Mel took a bite of her sandwich, arching an eyebrow at Helen. Helen felt herself blushing, as if she'd said something wrong and was a child again. Nonetheless, she persisted. "Where have you been, and how did your hair get wet?"
Mel swallowed her bite, laid down her sandwich, then coolly answered, "With Kelly Stanwyck. We spent a very pleasant afternoon together."
Brigid started laughing as the pieces fell together. "Helen, I don't think you should ask any more questions unless you really want the answers, right, Auntie?"
"Correct." Mel picked up the pepper shaker and daintily sprinkled some pepper on the edge of her sandwich. "How were your days?"
After supper, Helen and Brigid retired to their office, Helen still stewing about Mel's absence and lack of forthcoming answers. "But Brigid, suppose she'd been hurt or something? She never did really say where she was or anything, just that she was with that Stanwyck woman. They're both older than God, suppose-"
Brigid held up a hand to stem the flow of words. "Helen," she said carefully, "consider the smug expression, the wet hair, the smell of fresh soap. What do you think they were doing?"
Helen's jaw dropped in amazement. "You mean they were fooling around?" she blurted out.
"Yes, I think so. Look, Mel's been a widow for nearly two years and you know that she and Janice had an active sex life. Did you think that all those feelings would vanish when Janice died?"
"Honey, I'm pretty shocked too, I never though that Mel was that assertive, but wouldn't you rather she have some fun? Are you telling me that you don't expect that we'll have sex when we're old?" Brigid asked.
Brigid chuckled at her partner's shocked expression. "Helen, just deal with it. I know it's hard to see Mel as a sexual being, but she is. Just like you are a sexual being, even though you tried to deny it at first."
"But you were underage," Helen defended herself.
"Point taken." Brigid started to say something else, but was interrupted by the sound of the phone pealing. She reached across the desk to grab it. "Brigid Anderson here," she answered. "Oh, hi Miss Stanwyck, sorry, I'm used to answering my phone at work. Helen, would you go tell Mel that Kelly is calling?" Brigid listened as Helen went in search of her aunt.
Mischievously, Brigid asked in a bland tone, "Did y'all have a good afternoon?" She listened to the stammered answer of yes, very pleasant. "Maybe you can come over again soon, I'd love to chat with someone who was a reporter during the war years. I think I hear Aunt Mel on the line now. Yes, nice talking to you. Goodbye." She waited until Helen had come back into the room to say, "I think I was right." Helen just grunted. Brigid smiled slyly. "I think Mel will be tied up for a bit, shall we go to bed early?"
"But I'm not sleepy," Helen started to protest. Brigid got up and ran a hand down Helen's blouse, causing her to shudder with excitement. "Oh, what the hell," Helen muttered as she stood up to follow her enticing partner. "Mel must have rubbed off on you."
"Brigid, what have you got for me so far?" Patrick asked the next day during staff meeting. "Anything behind these protests?"
Brigid looked over her notes one last time, then answered, "It boils down to a difference of opinion, but a potentially harmful difference of opinion. The campus minister, Kathleen Waterman, has been conducting ceremonies for gays and lesbians because she believes that someone needs to bless their unions, even if the state and society refuse to do so. Further, in a brief conversation we had this morning, she stated that gays and lesbians who have some type of public commitment ceremony stay together longer and have more stable relationships. She thinks that they tend to me more stable than even heterosexual marriages, even though she has no evidence to back up her opinion."
"And the local pastor?" he asked.
"Paul Roth is convinced that Kathleen Waterman needs to be disciplined since she is violating church law. Further, he believes that gays and lesbians should not be allowed to have any Christian marriage type ceremonies. He emailed me a list of scriptures to support his views, and maintains that Christians cannot be gay, that gays and lesbians are weak and need to be, no pun intended, straightened out. He also emailed me his proposal to start an Exodus type ministry at St. James United Methodist to help gays see the quote 'error of their ways' unquote."
Patrick nodded, making a few notes of his own. He looked at the photographer, asking, "Did you get any pictures?"
Robert Eagle enthusiastically shoved a folder across the conference table. "Sure, got some great ones of the crowd, individual protesters, even permission to include pictures of the happy event. I personally don't see what the fuss is about, if you look at some of these pictures, you can see how in love these women are. I mean, if a woman looked at me that way, I'd be ecstatic. And they are really cute together, too."
"Thank you, Robert," Patrick said mildly. "Now, Anne, could you help Brigid by digging up some more background? References to ministers being expelled, ministers who managed to evade being expelled, couples who have been joined, congregations who protested and why. Give the results of your work to Brigid when you're done. Thanks folks, that wraps up this meeting."
Anne Green followed Brigid to her office, asking, "Why do I have to dig up the research?"
"Because you are still green, my friend. Again, no pun intended. You graduated from J-School, what, three months ago?" Anne nodded yes. "Well, this is seasoning. Believe me, I had to do plenty of grunt work and research before being allowed to write published stories. I'll tell you a secret, go to the library and ask the reference librarians for help in digging the stories up, they are a gold mine. I need to start working on my rough draft now, but if you'll do the research and turn in a summary, I'll see if you can get contributing credit."
Anne's eyes got big. "Really?"
"Yes, really. Now get to work." After Anne had left, Brigid turned to her computer and opened her word processor, trying to decide how to approach the tone of the story. She was debating whether or not to go for a cup of coffee when her phone rang. "Brigid Anderson," she answered.
"Paul Roth here, Brigid. I feel that you left on less than happy terms. I mean, something upset you at our interview yesterday and I'd like to talk about it."
Brigid wearily rubbed her eyes, trying to think of a graceful way out of this conversation, but couldn't think of a one. "Okay, tell you what, why don't you come to my office."
"Sure, I'd love to see where you work, Brigid. How do I get there?"
Brigid gave him directions, then hung up. She sat for a moment, contemplating what to say or ask, then decided to let Patrick know that Paul was coming over. It never hurt to let you editor know when a potentially hostile interview subject was coming over.
Paul arrived within thirty minutes, by which time Brigid had sketched an outline for her story. Her secretary showed him in, then shut the door behind her. "So, this is your office," Paul said, "mind if I have a look around?"
"No, help yourself," Brigid said. She watched him closely as he stood up and slowly walked around, looking at pictures and awards, stopping to stare at one taken during the March on Washington in 1993. She saw him stiffen slightly as he read the caption under the picture, then slowly turned to face her again. Anticipating his questions, Brigid calmly explained, "I was there to cover the march for gay, lesbian and bisexual rights. Similar to the civil rights marches of the 1960's."
"But these people look so, I don't know, normal," Paul said, still staring at the photograph.
"Most gays and lesbians do look normal, Paul," Brigid replied dryly, "it's just the outer fringes that get the publicity."
He looked baffled. "Meaning?" he asked.
"Meaning," Brigid said, warming up to her topic, "the flamboyant queens, the butchest of dykes, the angriest of AIDS sufferers, all get the most press because they are so different and make good visuals in our sound/video bite world and they usually have nothing else to lose, they are outcasts."
Paul came to sit down, looking at Brigid quizzically. "Outcasts? But they chose to live that way, to lie with-"
For some reason, Brigid had heard enough from him. Maybe it was the commutation of ignorance she'd heard, maybe it was the disappointment that her beloved youth minister had shown such flaws, but she'd had it. Slowly, she turned a picture around and let him look at it. Paul picked it up, looked at it for a long moment, then finally said, "But that's you, Brigid, with some woman. It looks like a wedding picture."
"It is." She pulled the picture out of his grasp, looking at it lovingly. Pointing, she said, "That's my partner, Helen Pappas, and her aunt, Melinda Pappas, and Melinda's partner, Janice Covington, God rest her soul. Helen and I have been married for fourteen years, we dated for many years before that. Her aunts were together for fifty-seven years before Janice died two years ago. All good people, all monogamous, all together for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death us do part."
Brigid pointed at her wedding picture as she continued. "This, Paul, is what you are protesting. Your protests, and the protests of others like you, have caused me and others like me to live in fear, to live with semi-lies about our relationships, to stop going to churches that condemn us for who we are. Paul, when I was a teenager, you told us to always fight the good fight, to fight for what was right, not just for what was popular. You were the one who told me over and over again that Jesus tended to all strata of society, not just to the rich. You were the one to tell us that the outcast was just as important as the popular person. You were the one to deliver the sermon on how important it was for us to accept everyone, regardless of their race, religion, creed, or origin. Did you forget to add, oh by the way, it's perfectly acceptable to hate homosexuals?"
Paul was at a complete loss for words. Brigid, a lesbian? Brigid, one of the youth he had ministered to, in a sexual relationship with another woman? Her aunt in a relationship for nearly sixty years? It boggled his mind, trying to reconcile this information with what he had been told over the past twenty years, what the church had told him.
I've always been so sure that homosexuality was just a selfish phase some people went through, that they just needed prayer and the blessing of God to change. Maybe it wasn't quite true. No, it had to be true, if Brigid is... The thoughts spluttered to a stop. Brigid has just taken an enormous risk, telling me of her relationship with this Pappas woman. He vaguely remembered, though, someone on the board mentioning something about it taking much longer to pay off the new building because some woman named Pappas had pulled her pledge. "Did, um, your partner's aunt used to go to St. James?" he stammered.
Brigid reined herself in with great difficulty, managing a civil, "Yes, Aunt Mel did attend St. James, for many years. Why do you ask?"
He answered, "Someone on the finance board said something about a Pappas pulling out all of her pledge money. This was before I came, but it wrecked the church budget until more pledges were lined up."
Brigid tapped the photograph. "Paul," she said quietly, "Mel tried to get the church for our wedding. She was told the same things you've told me. Instead of fighting with words, she prayed about it, then quietly withdrew her money from the church. She said she couldn't give money to a church that would condemn her beloved niece for wanting to make a commitment to her soul mate. It's not in her nature to trumpet her reasons, but I'm sure that the executive board knew the reason."
Paul rested his head in his hands, wondering what to do or say now. Finally, he looked up and said, "I can't go against the church laws, Brigid. I am bound to report Kathleen's illegal acts."
Brigid looked at him sadly. "I feel sorry for you, Paul, you are fighting the wrong fight. You should be fighting for her right to perform the ceremonies. Have you lost your compassion?"
He looked up at her steadily, then answered, "No, I haven't lost my compassion. I hope that you will come to your senses and find a good husband."
"Please leave my office then." Paul looked bewildered, but slowly got up and left, shutting the door quietly behind him. Brigid stared at the door for a long time, then finally turned back to her computer to write the article outline.
Kelly marveled at the beautiful grounds around Melinda's house as they slowly walked hand in hand. So soothing, so many inviting pockets of little gardens, places to get lost in, yet so many expanses of pure green, broken only by meandering paths or streams. "This is so beautiful, Melinda," she said in a hushed voice, "how do you keep it up?"
Mel laughed as she guided Kelly to a bench under an old tree. "Partly I get Helen to do it, partly I do, the rest I hire out. Money is convenient, you know. I just putter around but leave the heavy lifting to others."
Kelly sat down, surprised at how easy it was to let Melinda drape her arm around her, how easy it was to lean into Melinda's body, to just soak up the afternoon. She never realized how much energy it took to hide from herself all these years. What would have happened if she had kissed Melinda back in 1934? Probably nothing, she decided, she still would have been a coward.
"A penny for your thoughts," Mel cooed.
"I was just thinking about how much I'm enjoying our time together," Kelly replied.
They sat, listening to the birds and the insects for several minutes before Mel asked, "Kelly, have you thought about your future?"
Kelly sat up, chuckling. "Melinda, I'm eighty-nine years old, I don't have a future, I'm living on borrowed time."
"No, I'm serious. What happens when your nephew and his family come home? Is it back to Phoenix?"
"I suppose so, I really hadn't thought that far in advance, Melinda. Why do you ask?"
Mel answered, "I've been thinking that I'm really enjoying your company. If you get back to Phoenix and find yourself lonely, you could come live here. It's a big house and the girls are on the other end, I can't hear them and they can't hear me."
Kelly was stunned by the offer, but tempted. "Melinda, I'm not sure what to say."
"Say you'll consider it, Kelly. Say you'll at least think about moving in with me, please," Mel begged.
"I just-I mean, this is so sudden, we just met again two days ago, now you're asking me for a commitment."
Mel leaned back, expression turning cool. "I'm sorry, Kelly, I don't mean to pressure you, forgive me, please."
Kelly turned at caught Mel's face with her hand. "Darling, there's nothing to forgive, I'm just rather overwhelmed at the moment. But I guess I can consider it."
"That's all I can ask," Mel responded formally.
Kelly smiled, looking deeply into Mel's fantastic blue eyes, finding herself nearly hypnotized by them. She closed her own eyes, seeking Mel's lips, finding them, giving herself over to Mel's deep kisses. After several minutes, she pulled back and said boldly, "Let's go to the house, Melinda."
Mel smiled broadly and answered in a sultry voice, "Gladly, Kelly."
Helen walked into her house, shouting, "I'm home!" She went into the office she shared with Brigid and dropped her briefcase, then started toward the stairs, pulling her jacket and shoes off as she did. She had subconsciously registered seeing Mel's car in the garage and wondered why her aunt didn't respond. Granted, she was home early, but how did she know that her afternoon class would finish their mid-term exam an hour early?
Before she got to the stairs, she heard sounds of moaning and gasping. Thinking that Mel was having a heart attack or something, she dropped her jacket and shoes and raced to her aunt's door, flinging it open, trying to remember her CPR training. "What the-" she yelled as she took in the sight. Her dignified aunt, lustily moaning as Kelly was...
Helen shut her eyes and cautiously backed out of the room, meekly shutting the door behind her. She grabbed her shoes and jacket and raced up the stairs to the room that she and Brigid shared, slamming the door behind her. "My God, they were fucking!" she breathed. And enjoying it. Helen felt like she'd walked into a peep show by mistake when she had expected a Disney movie. Unsure what to do, she grabbed jeans, a polo shirt, and underwear and headed for her bathroom to take a cold shower.
When she came out of the bathroom, Mel was perched in a wing chair in her bedroom, calmly waiting for Helen to emerge. "Sweetheart, you look rather shocked," she said cheerfully. Helen couldn't believe it, her aunt didn't have a hair out of place, was dressed in crisply iron linen shorts and camp shirt, except something was wrong.
"Your hair is down," Helen spluttered, still standing in the doorway to the bathroom.
"Yes, Kelly convinced me to leave it down," Mel answered sweetly. "Now, please come sit down so we can talk. Kelly is taking her shower now."
"Um," was Helen's brilliant comment as she sank down on the end of the bed, facing her aunt. "So, um, it's true then."
Mel smiled. "Yes, I'm human, my dear, what do you think Janice and I did all these years?"
"But that's different, y'all knew each other forever and you've known her just practically days," Helen protested.
Mel cocked an eyebrow. "My dear niece, just because I'm old doesn't mean that my hormones are dead. True, I'm taking quite a risk, but I am nearly eighty-five, and Kelly is eighty-nine. We don't have time for a long courtship."
"Courtship?" Helen's normally low voice squeaked.
"Yes, dear, courtship," Mel said, enjoying Helen's discomfort. "In other words, my dear niece, I plunged in recklessly and took my pleasure when I had a chance, something that Janice would approve of, I'm sure. Would you believe that I'm the first woman Kelly's ever been with?" Helen gaped at this announcement. "Well, I am and I've been having a wonderful time helping her catch up with what she's missed."
"Oh my God, you sound like a horny teenager!" Helen blurted out.
Mel laughed heartily, not demurely like Helen was used to hearing. "So what? Listen, I've been a good southern lady all of my life, except in bed with Janice, so now is my time to finally cut loose. I'm sorry if I shocked you, Helen, but that's the way it is. Perhaps I shall stick a rainbow decal on my bumper, or buy a big motorcycle with 'dykes on bykes' written on the fender. Or, maybe I'll just hold Kelly's hand in public and not worry about what anyone says. Maybe I'll even ask Kelly to move in with me, so we can enjoy our declining years together."
"You? Decline? Hardly," Helen muttered. "Wait, move in with you? What about us?" she spluttered.
"Silly, there's plenty of room of all of us," Mel lightly scolded her niece, "don't worry, the house will still belong to you, I'm not changing my will."
"I didn't mean for it to sound like that-"
"Hey, what's going on?"
Mel and Helen both looked toward the door as Brigid entered. "Having a chat?"
Helen blurted out, "Mel's gonna asked Kelly to move in!"
Brigid looked from one to the other, then walked over to Mel and lightly kissed her cheek. "Congratulations," she said. She continued to the bathroom, leaving both women puzzled.
Dinner was quiet. Kelly was nervous, Helen was stunned, Mel was radiant, and Brigid was distracted. Finally, after the foursome carried their desserts and coffee into the den, Kelly said, "Helen, Brigid, I care a great deal about your aunt. In just a few short days, I found out what I've been missing all of my life, a true companion. You two just don't know how lucky you are to have found your true partner so early in life."
"Thank you," murmured Brigid.
Kelly smiled, hazel eyes sparkling. "It's true that Melinda asked me to move in. But, in spite of her good arguments about our not having much time left, I'm just not ready to make that type of commitment now. Melinda, I'll spend the rest of my time in St. James with you, if you'll let me, but I won't have an answer for you until I've gone back home to think."
Kelly held up a hand to stop Mel's protest. "No, it's best this way, trust me. Besides, even if I say no, we'll both have some wonderful memories. Even if I say yes, we might not have much time together. Pros and cons either way."
"Kelly?" the reporter interjected.
"If you decide to come back, we'll accept it. If you decide not to come back, we'll take Aunt Mel to the airport to spend time with you in Arizona." Brigid said decisively.
"We will?" Helen asked.
"Yes, dear, be a good wife and pour me some more coffee," Brigid directed.
Kelly took a deep breath, conflicting emotions running through her. "Thank you, thank you all," she said. She turned to Mel. "If this is what love feels like, I think I like it." Mel smiled at her, reaching for her hand. "And even if this is just infatuation, I'll take it."
"Hey-" Mel's protest was cut off by the phone ringing. Helen snatched it up and answered it, then silently handed it over to Brigid. She took it, listened intently, took a few notes, then turned to the group and announced, "I have to leave, there's been a fire at the ministry center. Kathleen was conducting another holy union. I'll be back when I can." She kissed Helen, then leaned over to kiss Mel. She started to leave the room, but came back and kissed Kelly's cheek. "Nice to meet you," she whispered, "decide what is best for you."
The scene was pure bedlam when Brigid pulled up. She found Robert, who was taking pictures, and asked what happened. "I don't know for sure," he admitted, "but the protesters were surrounding the building before it happened. Two women were getting married inside, I'm not sure how many people were there. The police have detained most of the protesters and the wedding party for questioning."
Brigid nodded, then went up to the detective in charge. "Lt. Travis, what can you tell me?"
"Evening, Miss Anderson," the lieutenant replied, "it seems that the protesters got out of hand. I'll tell you what I know if you'll fill me in on what you know." Brigid agreed and gave him a summary of the reasons the protesters were there. He sipped his coffee as he listened, then said, "Well, it seems that they came here to protest, like you said, and were carrying torches. Now, we don't allow protesters to carry anything flammable around these parts for fear that they'll look like a KKK rally or something. One of them either got jostled or deliberately tossed their torch and the building caught fire. Weird thing is that there was a convenient pile of dried leaves on the corner, where the wooden siding starts. Not to say it was premeditated or anything, but most folks have had their leaves raked and gone months ago. We have our usual agreement?"
"Yes, just an 'officer with the police' in exchange for 'my anonymous source says'," Brigid confirmed. She started to ask another question, but cut herself off when she saw Paul Roth walking up to the scene. "Excuse me, Lt. Travis, but I'd like to interview him."
"So would I, but I'll let you have first crack at him," Travis agreed. He patted her shoulder understandingly, then turned back to watch the firefighters pulling more people out of the building. Damned shame, he thought, damned shame.
"Brigid! Thank God you're not hurt, what's going on here?" Paul Roth babbled as he grabbed her by the arms. He dropped them just as quickly. "I'm sorry, I just heard about this on the radio, what's going on here?"
She took him by the elbow and steered him away from the rest of the crowd. "Paul, your protesters were here and a fire started. Two women were getting married, according to my sources, when a torch accidentally lit a pile of dry leaves."
He looked at the building, then back to Brigid. "But there shouldn't be any dried leaves around now," he said, confused. "Wait, are you trying to tell me that someone deliberately set the fire?"
Brigid shrugged. "Perhaps. That's for the police and fire investigators to determine, not for me. I just report what happened."
He looked at the burning building again, then back at Brigid. "You mean, someone could have decided to burn them out, just because these people were...but Brigid, that's not a Christian response, I just don't understand!"
Brigid's green eyes reflected the flames as she said sadly, "Paul, there are a lot of evil people in the world, and a lot of hypocrites. Many people will willingly take God's word out of context to support their own hates, their own fears, their own vengeance. I don't care what you think about gays, they don't deserve to be killed for their sexual orientation."
Paul nodded, still in shock. He continued to look first at the building, then at Brigid, trying to decide what to do. Brigid finally took pity on him, saying, "Go, minister to the wounded." He nodded again, then grabbed Brigid in a tight hug. She could feel him trembling; she rubbed his back soothingly for a moment, then pushed him away. "They need you," she repeated. She watched as he walked toward the crowd, pushing through the protesters to get to the injured, then watched as he knelt down beside the still figures of the two women who were to get married.
"Should I get a picture of that?" Robert asked softly.
She turned around, not having heard him walk up. "You startled me," she complained. She watched for a moment longer, then said, "Yes, get a picture, but make it a silhouette." Brigid then turned and walked over to some onlookers and started asking questions.
Several weeks later, Patrick finished reading the series of articles that Brigid had written on the whole protest issue. He had run some immediately, like the initial protest and the fire, but had held on to the rest until she finished the background articles. It disturbed him deeply that anyone would try to keep two people in love from having a happy life together, suppose someone had protested when he had married his wife? After all, he was very Anglo and she was Amerasian. Fifty years ago, both families would have set up a mighty howl in protest of a "mixed race marriage", yet there hadn't been a whimper. Back to the issue at hand, he signed off for the articles to run as Brigid walked into his office.
He smiled at her as he spoke. "Good morning, Brigid, how are you? I just signed off on your articles."
"Thank you, Patrick," Brigid said as she took a seat.
He noted that she looked weary, as if she hadn't slept well for several nights. "Did you burn the midnight oil again?" he asked solicitously.
"Yes and no. I did work pretty late to finish the articles, but something else has been bothering me," she said slowly.
"Tell me," he said.
Brigid took a deep breath, then asked, "Patrick, I've been reporting on controversial issues for most of my fourteen years here. I haven't seen it do a damn bit of good, so why am I still doing it? Why should I keep chasing people down, trying to figure out why they are so prejudiced against this group or that, or why they can't leave well enough alone?"
Patrick looked at her steadily for several minutes, then finally answered, "Because, my friend, you care. You care deeply. But, I think you are burned out on caring right now." He picked up a folder from his desk and handed it to her. "I know that the spring semester is nearly over; how would you and Helen like to travel overseas? Before you answer, let me sketch out what I mean." He talked for nearly fifteen minutes before he let Brigid interrupt with questions. He had picked the right assignment, he thought smugly, just look at the glow coming back into her eyes.
"Can we take Aunt Mel along too?" she asked.
He smiled in relief. "If she wants to go, sure, it'd be grand to get an original eyewitness to review the site."
Brigid bounced out of her chair excitedly. "I know my passport is still good, I'd better check on Helen's. Hey, maybe we can do some sightseeing, like a vacation, on the way. Thanks, Patrick, you're the greatest."
"Yes, I believe I am," he said to her departing figure. "I do believe I am."
Mel and Kelly sat at the airport, waiting for Kelly's flight to arrive. Her luggage had been checked, her reservation confirmed, her boarding pass handed over, now she just had to wait. To the rest of the world, they looked like two little old ladies, but in their hearts, they were young lovers about to be separated. Kelly boldly held Melinda's hand, not caring what it looked like. She hated to go, but she had to, had to go home and think.
"Honey, your plane has arrived," Mel said softly. "I'll miss you terribly."
"I'll miss you too," Kelly promised as they stood up and walked toward the gate. As the agent announced the flight and started the routine about who boarded when, Kelly gazed at Melinda's beautiful face, hating to leave, but knowing she had to, at least for a while. "I'll write, I'll call, I'll even email," she promised fervently.
Mel smiled. "I'll write, call and email back," she said. She heard the agent call Kelly's group. "You have to go now, sweetheart," she murmured. Kelly looked at the gate, then back at Mel. "I'll wait for your decision." Kelly nodded, then boldly seized her lover and kissed her thoroughly, then walked off. Mel watched Kelly disappear through the tunnel, then turned to leave.
She was betting that Kelly would be back.
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