Long Road to Love

by JS Stephens
Copyright © 2005, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Comments to: libriscat@yahoo.com

Disclaimers, warnings, other stuff:  It's a JS original! This is supposed to be short, we'll see if I can stick with that. Women loving women, no sex.

August, 1974

I warily circled the classroom, looking for a desk that was not too close to the Popular Girls, but also not too close to the Bad Boys. It didn't look like I was going to be successful this year, so I reluctantly plopped down in a chair and scooted my satchel under my desk, right next to one of the most popular of the Popular Girls, Emily Kemp. Emily didn't seem to notice my existence until the teacher had called for order just as the bell was ringing. Another school year, another year of torment. Emily was beautiful, dark glossy hair, dark eyes, pale skin, perfect clothes, already had boys panting after her in the fifth grade. She ignored them, which, naturally, drove them absolutely wild.

The lunch bell rang, releasing us from our first morning of the newness of changing classes, in which our entire class rotated from room to room, changing teachers. We were told that this was to get us used to changing rooms, since we'd be changing classes individually once we got to junior high school. Much as most of us tried to act blasé about the whole thing, it was exciting, a step toward leaving childhood behind. By some weird twist of fate, I managed to wind up next to Emily in each of the three classes we'd be in so far.

One of the other girls even snickered about it, saying something along the lines of "Eww, sitting next to Tara McIntire." It surprised me when Emily had turned to stare at me, coolly appraising my home made double-knit polyester pant suit, then turning back to announce, "She looks clean enough, probably no cooties." I was stunned during the rest of the class, hardly able to take in what the teacher was trying to pound into our tiny little minds. Emily Kemp was actually nice to me.

I mused over this during lunch, finally able to seek out the rest of the misfits I called my friends. We all came from respectable middle-class families, but for one reason or another, were not considered desirable as friends. We all wore home made clothes, or private label clothes from Sears or Penneys instead of from the local dress shops that carried better clothing. Most of us had parents employed by the local university as professors, librarians, or administrators. We would gather to watch reruns of Star Trek and try to map out just where in the Milky Way the good ship Enterprise had roamed. Our older siblings recited long poems from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or discussed the social implications of Animal Farm and 1984.

In short, we were far removed from the world of the Popular Girls, who seemed to live only for clothes, parties, and sleepovers. So why would Emily defend me to her stuck-up friends?

Easter, 1979

Easter Retreat. Our youth minister and sponsors decided that we should recreate the Good Friday through Easter Morning sequence as much as possible, to help us understand the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. It's been interesting, to say the least. Right now we have a little free time and my boyfriend, Richard, is trying to get me to sneak into the woods with him, but I'm not interested. I don't think necking or petting is appropriate this weekend, even though my girlfriends are all jealous since I'm the first with a boyfriend. I don't understand the big deal, but I breathlessly share all details with the girls, leaving out the revulsion I feel when he tries to French kiss me.

I look over and see that most of the other girls have settled down for naps, but Tara McIntire hasn't. She's propped up against the wall, having chosen a cot that is in the far corner, as if she's trying to push away from us all. She's flipping through her Bible, making notes in a spiral notebook, looking really intense. It's really funny in a way, I've always been in a little awe of her intellect, but since she's not in my group of friends, I don't really feel like I can talk to her. Is this what one of the sponsors meant this morning when she was asking questions about cliques? It's so beautiful outside, and I'm not sleepy. Maybe I should go over and offer to talk a walk with her, I'm sure Mrs. Green won't mind. She's the sponsor assigned to our cabin, and she's the one always talking about accepting everyone, which my friends pay lip service to, but I don't think we mean it.

I summon up my courage and slip over to Tara's bed, leaning down to ask if she wants to take a short walk. Her gray eyes widen in surprise, but she doesn't say anything, just carefully places the ribbon in her Bible, then clips her Bic on the page in her notebook to save her place. I wave at Mrs. Green, whispering that we'll be back in a short while.

We walk side by side up the path to Vesper's Point, then sit on the same benches we sat on last night when our minister read us a rather graphic description of the crucifixion. I don't know what to say to her, looking at her dark blonde hair, gray eyes, jeans, school t-shirt, flannel shirt over it. I'm wearing name brand jeans, a cute pink polo shirt, and Nikes. I'm also getting a little chilled, the wind is stronger here than in the valley where the cabins are. Tara notices me shivering and offers her flannel shirt. After a moment's hesitation, I take it, buttoning it up as she smiles shyly at me. "So," I ask, "why did we have to listen to that graphic description of the crucifixion? I mean, gross!"

Tara looks at me gravely, taking her time to answer. Finally, she says, "Because he wanted us to understand the extreme physical and psychological torment that Christ went through. You see, He was the ultimate scapegoat, a human scapegoat." She went on to explain how in earlier days, a goat was literally chosen to represent all the bad things people had done, then was run over the edge of a cliff as a sacrifice to God. She patiently tied everything together for me, commenting that the Jews represented a scapegoat for Hitler, reminding me of our recent assignments in English covering The Diary of Anne Frank.

I was surprised by the depth of her response, like a term paper versus a five paragraph theme. I'd always known she was smart, but had never taken the time to understand her. Suddenly I remembered defending her to my friends the first day of fifth grade, off-handedly commenting that I wasn't fazed by sitting next to her since she probably didn't have cooties. Was she a scapegoat for my friends? I asked and she responded, "Yes," tone slightly bitter.

I don't know, maybe it was the whole impact of realizing the truth, realizing that my friends were just as bad as the Jews and Romans, that made me break into tears. I leaned over, hands over my face, crying my heart out. I became aware that Tara was tentatively rubbing my shoulder, then somehow turning me toward her. I held on tightly, cocooned in her arms, sheltered as my storm raged through, until I cried no more. I finally pulled back, saying, "thank you, Tara."

She smiled gravely, running a hand over my hair, then said softly, "You're welcome, Emily. But I won't be surprised if you ignore me from now on." She glanced at her watch, then noted, "We should be getting back." She stood up, and I reluctantly gave her the shirt back, somehow now chilled in more than body.

August, 1982

High school graduation has come and gone, now the youth group is throwing a huge going away party for the recent graduates who are now going off to college. True to my words, Emily did ignore me most of the time after our Easter talk, but I can't say that I blame her. She's popular, I'm not. But I have noticed that she tries to make sure that no one is treated harshly in youth group, and has given several tongue-lashings to girls in her group who tried to say really nasty things, like that Ann, one of the junior high girls, is a dyke. They say this because the girl is smart, refuses to wear makeup, runs around in boots and jeans all the time, and seems to always have her nose in a book. I like the girl, we've become good friends despite our age difference.

The party is winding down, and I take the opportunity to slip into the small chapel down the way from our Recreation Hall where the party is being held. The lights are pretty dim right now, and I sit on one of the front pews, staring at the small stained glass rose window at the apex of the wall in front of the chapel. I'm a little scared of moving so far from home, but a few of my buddies are going to the same college, so I'll know a few faces. I'm also scared because I'm gunning for the engineering college, and I know it will be a tough road for me, for a woman.

Life is a little tough right now, my boyfriend for most of my senior year broke up with me the day after our prom, citing falling in love with another girl. Personally, I think he was tired of trying to seduce me and me not letting him. While I ponder this, I smell a light perfume that I know only Emily wears. Sure enough, she's come in and is quietly sitting beside me. "What are you thinking, Tara?" she asks.

Like a fool, I blurt out, "Why do guys try to get into our pants when they know that the church teaches that we should be pure until marriage?" As soon as the question leaves my mouth, I'm mortified, blushing scarlet.

She surprises me by taking my hand in hers and rubbing my knuckles with her thumb before answering, "Because their hormones are on overdrive. Tara, you'd be surprised at the number of girls in my circle who outwardly preach virginity while allowing their boyfriends to go further and further with them on the weekends."

"Do you?" I ask boldly.

She laces her fingers with mine, squeezing my hand. A pleasant, yet uncomfortable bolt of electricity sizzles through my body, stirring up the very feelings I'm wanting to deny boys. I ignore it as much as possible while concentrating on her dark eyes. "Oh, Tara, I have to confess that I've been a bit naughty and have let Greg feel my breasts, but I haven't gone further than that. He's wanted to do other things, but I won't let him." She smiled wryly, admitting, "Being so popular can be a blessing, he wants to be seen with me, so he honors my wishes." The smile fades. "Are you okay? You seem more depressed than excited or scared about this great new adventure in life."

"I am. Just a bit. So, what are you planning to major in?" I ask, trying to redirect the line of questioning, secretly glad that she is still holding my hand. She thankfully takes the hint, telling me that she's thinking of accounting, maybe eventually moving to the big city where her uncle is name partner in a mid-sized accounting firm. I tell her of wanting to be an engineer, and of how tough it will be since not many women major in the field. I guess we talk for about twenty minutes or more before we reluctantly acknowledge that we'd better get back to the party before someone misses us.

She stands up, still holding my hand, and leads me into the aisle, then turns back and hugs me tightly. We're about the same height, so it is different than hugging a boyfriend, just softer too. I feel like my senses are suddenly on overdrive, and I let my hands wander up and down her back, memorizing the feel of her. I can feel her cheek against mine, soft and warm, smell her perfume, feel how her hands are sliding down until they hit my belt, then resting there.

God, I just want to stay like this forever, just like when she cried in my arms that Easter weekend three years ago. I finally move back, startled to see her blinking back tears. She reaches up, lightly touching my cheek before saying softly, "I'm sorry I didn't get to be better friends with you, and I wish we were going to the same college."

"Me too," I croak hoarsely. I swallow hard, confused by wanting something more. "There's always summer."

"Yes, Summer. Hey, thanks for everything," she says before brushing my cheek with her lips. Dazzled, I follow her down the aisle, our hands finally breaking apart as she reaches for the door, going back to reality.

October, 1992

It's hard to believe that I've been out of high school for ten years, but it's true. Despite my job as an accountant with my uncle's firm and David's job as a programmer, it's been a stretch to buy plane tickets, pay for the reunion tickets, and to spend several nights in the town's best hotel. The insurance didn't cover all of the emergency surgery for our daughter, Sarah, when she had the burst appendix, and we just paid that off this past month. But David is interested in meeting my high school friends, and most of my girlfriends are planning to attend. I wonder if Tara will be there, we lost touch after college when she had some sort of big blow up with her parents.

My mother, who married a business professor after my father died halfway through my junior year in college, has become friends with Tara's mother, who is now the head registrar at the university, No one is saying why Tara and her parents aren't speaking, but it must have been pretty bad. It surprises me still that we became such good friends in college, both working at the public library during our summers at home. Tara had started buying her own clothes, and looked less like something from a thrift store, about the same time her mother was heading up through the ranks and started buying suits at Casual Corner or Dillard's.

Still, it's nice to see everyone, and to swap stories of weddings, babies, and careers. David is gracious toward my friends and their husbands, showing a surprising amount of social tact for such a geek. I even managed to convince him that his favorite Star Trek tie probably was not the best idea, even though it made me think fleetingly of Tara and her obsession with Spock. I'm chatting with Dana and Jack when Dana gasps, "Emily, look at the door! Oh my God, it's Tara, and she's holding hands with another woman!" I turned to look, confused when I feel a small streak of envy as I watch them walk bold toward the registration table, the other woman looking adoringly at Tara. "I can't believe that she's had the audacity to show up with a woman! My God, I knew she was a dyke!"

"Dana, shush," I reply heatedly, "don't be so, so..." I stop, hunting for the word.

"So bigoted?" my husband supplies.

"Yes, so bigoted," I finish lamely. Dana starts to swell up, but I cut her off impatiently, wanting to see Tara. "David, shall we?" I say, handing my empty plate to Dana. My husband laughs at her disgust as he lets me lead him over to where Tara and the other woman are scanning the crowd. "Tara, it's me, Emily!" I call out when we're in range.

"Emily!" Tara says with a huge smile, sweeping me into a bear hug. I hug her back, then remember to step back and make introductions. "Tara McIntire, my husband, David Alexander. David, this is my friend Tara."

David and Tara shake hands briskly, then she turns to her friend, saying, "Sweetie, this is Emily Kemp, or Alexander, I guess. Emily, David, this is my partner, Paula Koonce." Paula shakes our hands and holds mine a few seconds longer than she does David's, looking at me intently. I'm a little uneasy with the scrutiny, and Tara notices it, frowning a bit. Her face smooths out as she asks, "Okay, where's the chow line?"

Later in the weekend, Tara and I steal away a bit of time to talk. She confirms that she came out to her parents after graduation and they forbade her to come back home. She met Paula while working on a square for the AIDS quilt and they clicked immediately. She confesses that she had a bit of a crush on me in school, and was thrilled that I chose to spend so much time with her during the summers of our college years. I'm moved by the candor in which she tells me these things, and wonder if she ever considered acting on her feelings for me. "No, I was too scared to do anything like that," she laughs, laying a hand on my arm. "Although I was pretty worked up that time we spent the night at your house after going to the water park, and you spooned behind me all night."

"I was missing David," I explained, remembering the night. I hadn't been aware that I was snuggling up to her until morning, dreaming that I was in bed with David, whom I'd just started dating at the time. "We hadn't done anything more than take a few naps together at the time," I said, wondering why I was compelled to defend myself with her. "So, how did you know you were gay?"

A smirk stole across her beautiful features, lighting up her gray eyes as she leaned forward until our foreheads were nearly touching. "When I was drunk out of my skull and kissed my roommate goodnight," she murmured. "Good thing she was drunk too, and horny to boot. I woke up the next morning with a horrible hangover, a naked girl in my bed, and a revelation as to my true orientation. We both tried to blame it on being drunk, but here we are seven years later, still together."

"Wow." I wasn't sure what to say. I found myself being curious about what they did in bed, then was horrified that I was so curious. I heard the band tuning up, and said, "Hey, it's time for the dance to start, I'd better find David."

"Okay. Brave enough to save a dance for me?" Tara asked, eyes twinkling with mischief.

This was not the shy, serious friend I remembered, but I liked the new woman. "Sure," I said boldly. I guessed that David wouldn't mind.

Easter, 2005

It's funny the twists and turns that life can take over the years. My beautiful Paula died a couple of years ago in an auto accident during rush hour. I don't know how Emily found out so quickly, but she spent that first awful weekend with me, holding me as I cried, helping me go through Paula's things, just being a friend. Before she left for the airport, she made me promise to stay in better touch, not just the holiday cards or occasionally emails we'd been exchanging since the reunion.

She's not had an easy time lately. David was laid off shortly after Paula died, and couldn't find a job. Emily tried to get him on with the accounting firm, but he refused, even though it would be a different office from hers. The strain, combined with their daughter Sarah's problems with drugs, finished off their marriage, which I had the idea had been rocky for years.

Mom, who finally reached out to me several years ago, mentioned that Emily was coming home for Easter, to see her ailing mother. I hadn't planned on going home, especially not to a church, which I had rejected so many years ago, but the idea of seeing Emily tantalized me more than I'd care to admit. I had lots of vacation time built up and decided what the heck, I'd just take a whole week off, something I hadn't done since Paula died.

It's funny how some things never change, Mother wanted me to wear a dress to the Easter service, but, just like a stubborn teenager, I dug my heels in and refused. I had a nice new burgundy suit and a cream blouse, that would have to do. She finally gave up, but managed to get me to pin the cameo on my lapel that had been my great-grandmother's, just as a spot of feminine style. I found myself being nervous as I parked in the church lot, running around to help my mother from the car, who laughed and told me that she didn't need help, to remember that she was cycling every day now. I blushed, but offered my arm anyway. She took it and let me lead her into the sanctuary.

We had just sat down when I felt someone sit beside me. I turned and saw that it was indeed Emily and her mother. Emily and I hugged the best we could, and I asked how her family was. She replied that it was David's turn to have Sarah, and that Sarah had just come out of rehab and seemed to be better. David had finally pulled out of his funk enough to get a job at a local big box hardware store, a far cry from his glory days as a programmer, but he was able to pay his bills by living in a small mother-in-law type apartment behind an old house.

I'll be honest, I don't remember much of the service. During one of the first hymns, I felt Emily take my hand under the hymnal, and gradually got bolder as the service went on. We held hands like scared teenagers, not really caring that we got the occasional odd stares from our mothers. My mother, bless her, suggested that Emily and her mother come to our house for lunch after the service, saying that there was plenty of food, even with the bunch of relatives expected to descend. They thought about it, then accepted.

The rest of the day was pure bliss and pure torment. Emily and I couldn't seem to tear ourselves apart for too long at a time, and I was dying to know if she was feeling what I did. I remembered the shock on her face when I came out to her at the reunion, but the barely disguised hunger for details about my relationship with Paula. Over the years, I'd noticed that she and David were close, but never seemed madly in love. I'd always thought it was just that they'd already been married for six years when I met him, but still, I wondered. Back to the present, I was thrilled to hear that Emily was also here all week to make sure her mother was doing okay, and to start signing the inevitable papers for living will, power of attorney, and so on. We agreed to meet back up on Wednesday, after she'd taken care of most of the paperwork.

Wednesday after Easter, 2005

I'm still shocked that I kept holding Tara's hand in church! I feel like a teenager again, making a date with a cute guy, but in reality, it's a cute girl. I had a hard time keeping my hands off of her Sunday, I wonder what she thinks of me. I must confess, after David left for good, I gave in to my curiosity about women and found some pretty explicit stories on the Internet, first shocked at the content, then stunned at how I reacted to them. Most of my so-called girlhood friends disappeared after my divorce, I guess they thought it was my fault or something. The irony is that I was faithful to David, and I know most of them have been in affairs or their husbands have been in affairs. Wonder what they would think if they knew that I was wondering about Tara?

Thank God the weather is cooperating. I made a picnic lunch, and we're taking it to the lake. Since the area schools are now back in session, we can find a secluded spot for our picnic, and it's warm enough to sit out in jeans and t-shirts. We exhaust the polite conversation quickly, and I finally boldly ask, "What does it feel like to make love with a woman?" Tara looks startled, but tells me that it is the best feeling on earth, provided that you're drawn to women. "Of course, I've only had one lover, so I can't really compare," she finishes wryly.

I decide to go for broke. "Have you ever been interested in me?" I search her eyes, reaching for her hands.

She ponders the question for a long time before finally answering, "Yes. You were the only Popular Girl who gave a damn about me."

I started to say something, but decided to let actions speak louder than words. I leaned forward and kissed her, half expecting to be revolted, half expecting her to pull away, but neither happened. Just like the times I held her hand, I felt a surge of electricity crackling through me, only stronger. I didn't want to give her a chance to stop, so I held her head in my hands, pulling her closer, deepening the kiss, frantic to make sure she felt what I was feeling. It was a bit strange, true, after kissing men so many years, but it was intoxicating as well.

For the first time in many years, I wanted to beyond just a quick kiss on a first date, I wanted to throw her down on the blanket and show her what I'd been reading about for the past few years. I wanted to run my shaking hands over her skin, wanted the new sensation of feeling another woman's breast, to feel her warm skin against mine. My heart was racing with fear and desire and I was absolutely giddy with the prospect of touching her intimately.

Wednesday after Easter, 2005

Oh, there is a god, and she is kissing me senseless, fulfilling all of the half-formed fantasies that sometimes surfaced when we were in school. Emily is doing her best to make up for lost time and I'm on fire. My hands are freely roaming up and down her sides, I'm trembling with the effort not to touch her breasts, not to throw her down on the blanket and show her what love is like between women.

After two years of no woman in my life, no sex, nothing more than friendly hugs from our friends, I have a wildcat in my lap who is assaulting my senses with her feel, her taste, her smell, her sounds. I finally manage to pull back, shocked by the naked desire in her face, even more shocked by the answering desire burning in me. I finally croak out, "Whoa there, Emily."

"You don't like me?" she asks in a small voice, desire turning to panic.

I smooth her hair with one hand, pulling back so I can see her better. I'm still dizzy with the need to take her, but know that despite having one long relationship that started with sex, it doesn't always work that way. Marshalling my thoughts, I stroke her cheek and finally say, "Honey, it's really a long road to love, and I want to make sure we love each other before expressing it physically. I know that we've known each other for years, but this is different." I smile, trying to lighten the mood a bit. "Despite the fact that all I want to do is finish what we started, I can't. Not with you. I don't mean that I don't love you, or don't desire you, but I want to get to know you better, get to know you as a friend before getting to know you as a lover. Do you understand?"

Wednesday after Easter, 2005

I want to shout, "Hell, no, I don't understand." But, I do, once the hormonal haze starts dissipating somewhat. "Does this mean I can't kiss you?" I ask, whining like a little girl.

Tara laughs softly, pulling me closer. "Emily, I want to kiss you every day, but we need to know each other better. I promise, the better we know each other, the better the sex will be. Paula and I were sexually involved for months before we actually fell in love, and when we did, it went from a wonderful tension-draining exercise to a spiritual connection. That's what I want with you first, is that spiritual connection. I want it to be special."

I reluctantly agree, still wanting to tear her clothes off. "So, where do we start?" I ask.

She smiles mischievously. "Hi, I'm Tara McIntire." She stuck her hand out, waiting for me to shake it.

I take it, and finish the introductions. "Hi, I'm Emily Kemp. Glad to meet you, Tara." Feeling a bit mischievous myself, I ask, "Do you want to play together?" She laughs, a joyous sound.

March, 2006

We've had our ups and downs, but now we're ready. Emily's mother was shocked when she announced a few months ago that we were getting married, but David wasn't surprised. Sarah, their daughter, resented me at first, but now has started to come around, and has managed to stay clean for nearly two years.

We've sent emails, letters, spent weekends together, and finally decided that we were ready to join our lives. Since Sarah is still in high school, I volunteered to move closer, so Emily could still share custody with David. Ah, modern romance. I was lucky enough to find a job with another engineering firm, one in the same building as Emily's accounting firm.

But right now, I'm nervously pacing in our hotel room. We had a full wedding, dress, tux, attendants, everything except the little legal paper. It's been hard, but we kept to our promise, and I haven't even seen her naked yet. I don't know where this old-fashioned streak came from, but it will be worth it. It's a long road to love, but the destination is worth it.

March, 2006

I hear Tara gasp as I finally exit the bathroom, wearing a very sheer negligée. I'm on fire with need for her, having waited all of my life, but at the same time, despite having had a husband and child, I feel like a virgin in front of her. God, she's so sexy in those silk boxers and that ribbed tank I bought for her. I lick my lips and before she can say anything, cross the floor to her waiting arms. I boldly snake a hand under her shirt as I pull her too me, kissing her hard and fast, pouring myself into her arms. I shove her onto the bed and start crawling up her body.

It's time to find what's at the end of this road.

The end

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