by JS Stephens
Copyright © 2000, revised 2013. All Rights Reserved.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Helen Pappas and Brigid Anderson are my own creations, thank you very much, they just happen to be related to Melinda Pappas and Janice Covington, who just happen to have appeared in one episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess". I don't mean any disrespect, etc. of the fine folks who own, produce, market, and otherwise dispense tales of our favorite warrior and bard.
Yes, I did attend the March on Washington on April 25, 1993. To think that Fred Phelps and his ilk at Westboro Baptist Church STILL don't get it!
Helen and Brigid Series
Patrick James had just taken over as senior editor in the features department of NewsTime magazine, coming to the news weekly from a series of jobs at different newspapers and magazines, each time moving up just a bit higher on the proverbial ladder of success. He looked around his new office with satisfaction, autographed photographs, important news stories, pictures of his family already lining the walls of the large office. It also looked like NewsTime had invested quite a bit in technology; he had a brand new computer on his desk, hooked into the paper's network. In his last job, he had a secretary with an IBM Selectric II; it was considered high tech. He even had a window overlooking a local park, a sure sign that he had arrived in the world.
"Mr. James, you wanted to see me?"
Patrick turned in his seriously comfortable chair, motioning for the reporter to take a seat. "Yes, I did and please call me Patrick," he started off. "When someone says, 'Mr. James,' I start looking for my father." The reporter smiled and nodded, waiting for him to continue. Patrick picked up a file from his desk, handing it to the reporter as he announced, "You are going to Washington, DC this April to cover the March on Washington for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Rights. I want to start my tenure at this magazine with a bang and this event will provide the perfect headline grabbing opportunity. I picked you to cover the story on the basis of your well-balanced series on abortion clinics last fall, excellent writing."
The reporter nodded, jotting down a few notes, then asked, "What tact do you want me to take? Will this be a single story, or a series?"
He leaned forward, tapping a finger on his desk for emphasis. "That will partly depend on you, how much material you come up with, what type of interviews you can conduct. I know that most news outlets have traditionally covered the fringe groups, the drag queens, the butch dykes, the flashiest trashiest folks they could find. I would prefer that you cover the ordinary folks, talk to folks who could pass as straight. Folks who are professionals, folks who are hesitant to announce they sexual identity. In short, I want you to cover the next door neighbor types, plus give all the details of the speakers, how many participants, etc. I will warn you, though, that you will get a lot of hate mail if you give a balanced view. Can you handle it?"
"Yes, I can. I'll call the travel desk when I get back to my office."
He smiled. "Good. Take a couple of weeks to tie up any loose projects that you have, then concentrate solely on this project. Any questions?"
"Then thanks for coming in. Oh, don't forget the clippings file and please return it to the library when you're done." Patrick watched the reporter leave the office, then picked up the phone.
"Honey, I'm home!" Brigid Anderson called out as she walked through the kitchen door. "What are we having for dinner?" She grabbed an apple from the table, dropped her briefcase by the door, then wandered into her partner's office. "You'll never guess what I've been assigned to cover."
"The Gay and Lesbian Rights March on Washington in April."
Helen Pappas stopped writing, carefully capped her fountain pen, then turned to face Brigid. "The what?" she repeated.
"The gay and lesbian march on Washington, DC. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is estimating that between half a million and a million people will be marching through DC in April, calling for equal rights and lifting the ban on gays in the military. Just think, our fields will converge, history in the making!" Brigid dragged the footstool next to Helen's chair, crunching neat bites of her apple as she spoke. "The best part is that my new editor wants me to interview ordinary people, just like you and me as part of the series. You know, this could get me that senior reporter slot I've been fighting for; a series with my byline and just my byline. Isn't it wonderful?"
"I guess so. Are you going to come out to the nation as well?" Helen asked anxiously.
Stung, Brigid pulled back. "Helen, sweetheart, it's a fact of life, we are lesbians. But no, I'm not going to confess in my articles that I'm gay as well, I know that would ruin your career." Brigid nervously fluffed her blonde bangs, green eyes seeking Helen's ice blue ones. "Hey, I know that you value your privacy, I won't mention it or try to make you go with me, okay? Oh, jeez, I forgot to call the travel desk for reservations! I hope that there are hotel rooms nearer than Maryland or Virginia."
Helen brightened at the thought. "Maybe you can't get a room and you won't have to cover this silly march."
"Damn it, woman-"
As if on cue, the phone rang. Helen grabbed it and answered, "Pappas. Oh, hi Aunt Janice, how are you and Aunt Mel? We're fine, thanks." She listened intently, then uncapped her pen and started taking notes. "No, I have Saturday classes, but maybe Brigid would be interested. Just a minute." She put her hand over the receiver, then turned to Brigid. "You win. Janice and Mel are going to that march and want to know if we'd like to share a room."
"Give me that phone," Brigid demanded. Helen surrendered it as Brigid took it with a huff. "Hey, Aunt Janice, what great timing. I've been assigned to cover the march for the magazine, isn't that a coup? Yeah, but Helen doesn't seem to understand the historical significance of it. If it didn't happen thousands of years ago, it isn't worth reporting, she thinks."
Brigid shot a grin at her grumpy partner. "That sounds terrific, I'm sure the magazine will reimburse you for my portion of the room. I'll just have to call the travel desk tomorrow for flights and such. Y'all want to talk to Helen again? No? Okay, are we still on for the Easter weekend? Good, looking forward to seeing y'all then. We love you, be sure to give Aunt Mel our love too." Brigid reached over Helen to replace the receiver, then sat back on the footstool and retrieved her apple. "Now, how much trouble can I get into with the aunties looking after me?"
"Lots," Helen groaned. She turned back to the papers on her desk, mumbling, "too much trouble."
"Wait, what do you mean, 'too much trouble'?" Brigid shot back.
Helen laid her pen down again, aligning it neatly across the stack of papers to be graded. "Okay, too much trouble is what I said and what I mean. The media, excluding you, will probably find the most butch women and the most nellie men to portray, then talk about how we're worse than sub-human because we just think with our gonads. Why extend rights to a bunch of people who just fuck around and spread fatal diseases?"
Brigid stood up and threw her apple core into the trash can, then turned back to her lover. "Why extend rights to people who won't ask for them?" She stalked off, leaving Helen to yell, "Hey, what about dinner?"
A terrible chill fell over the house between the months of Brigid's announcement that she was going to the march and her actual departure. It wasn't that Brigid and Helen were any less loving or passionate, it was that any time Brigid brought up the subject, Helen either shut down in icy silence or tried to change the subject quickly. Finally, a week before the march, Brigid exploded, "Helen, you are the historian, I need to place this all in context, I need your help."
"Sorry, my field is ancient history, not modern history," Helen snapped.
Brigid scowled as she ran her hands through her dark blonde hair. "Helen, you are the most infuriating woman I've ever had the privilege to know! Why won't you help me? You'd only be helping all of your sisters and brothers."
Helen pointed out, "My parents didn't have any other children, so how can I have sisters or brothers?"
"You know what I mean!" Brigid plopped down on the couch beside Helen, leaning over and pulling the taller woman's arms around her. "Honey, I love you more than I've loved anyone in my life, but sometimes we have to take risks. Remember that student of yours who wanted to do her dissertation on the practice of exposing little girls in ancient Greece? Remember how you stood up for her right to explore that seamy underside of Greece, despite the fact that the dean thought it didn't mesh with the aims of Asbury University? You were quite logical yet persuasive in your defense of her and came out ahead. Why can't you summon that type of passionate defense for gays and lesbians?"
Helen didn't speak immediately. She laced her fingers with Brigid's, looking at their white and yellow gold bands, thinking about retorting that she already was putting her career on the line by wearing a wedding ring. Finally, she replied softly, "Some of us can't join the fight yet, my beloved. You can, it is your responsibility to report the news, to present the balanced facts to the nation. Remember, I work for a very conservative religious institution which has fired gays and lesbians in the past, even tenured professors."
"Then why do you stay there?" Brigid asked.
"Because I enjoy the department, except for the chair, Dr. Barry, and I enjoy the high caliber of students I get. They have to score pretty high on their SATs and ACTs to get into Asbury, then have to continue to meet high standards throughout their academic career here. I talk to other professors at other universities who are starting to see students who can't string a decent sentence together to save their souls." She squeezed Brigid, then whispered in her ear, "I also appreciate that this university, which you malign, brought us together by employing both myself and your father."
Brigid couldn't refute the last sentence. "TouchĂ©, my love. I just wish you could go with me, I'd love to show you off."
Helen kissed the top of Brigid's head, then answered, "I wish you could too, but I can't risk the exposure. Believe it or not, I do appreciate the importance of the march, I just can't go. Tell you what, I will take you to the airport and pick up back up, will that help?"
Brigid turned around to face Helen. "Will you kiss me goodbye?"
Helen smiled. "I'll kiss you in private and hug you in public, will that compromise work?"
"I guess so." Brigid sighed. "It's just not fair that husbands and wives can kiss each other goodbye and hello at the airport but we can't. Maybe, someday, it will change."
"And when it does, I'll kiss you," Helen promised, "but just not this year."
"Fair enough," Brigid answered, "but I'll hold you to that in another decade."
"I'll be there," Helen grinned, lightly kissing Brigid on the lips.
Several days later, Brigid was flying to Washington, DC. She found her seat, then stowed her carry on gear, waiting impatiently for the flight to start. As she waited, two women came to claim their seats, apologizing for crawling over her. "Not a problem," she said as they seated themselves. After the plane made it into the air safely, Brigid turned to them and introduced herself. "Hi, I'm Brigid Anderson."
"I'm Chris and this is Missy, Brigid," the woman in the middle said. "Are you going to Washington, or is this just a leg for you?"
"Yes, I'm going to Washington on business," Brigid replied. "What about you two?"
The women looked at each other, then Missy said, "We're going to the march."
"Oh, great, my editor sent me to cover the march," Brigid said excitedly, "would you mind if I asked a few general questions?"
"Only if you don't quote us by name," Chris said cautiously, "we come from Texas, it's still backwards there. A friend of ours was murdered in the Cedar Springs area of Dallas recently by some rednecks."
"I'm so sorry, ladies," Brigid empathized as she reached for her pen and notebook, "why was he murdered? Was it a botched robbery?"
"No," Chris answered bitterly, "he was wearing a gay pride t-shirt and happened to be walking to his car after meeting some friends at one of the bars. He had to park about five blocks away and it was after midnight. Some idiots were roaming aimlessly, drunk as pigs, and decided to play beat the faggot. He died from his injuries later, but managed to identify the assailants, but the judge gave them a lighter sentence."
"What?" Brigid asked indignantly.
"The judge decided that since the victim was gay, they deserved a lighter sentence," Missy chimed in. "Damn bastard, pardon my language."
"My God," Brigid whispered, turning pale, "wasn't the judge disbarred?"
"No, this is Texas we're talking about," Missy said, "not some sensible state. Still, it can be a nice place to live. I'm a reference librarian for a local law firm and Chris teaches graphic art at an university. So, who do you work for?"
"NewsTime magazine. My girlfriend teaches ancient history at a nearby university."
"Where is she?" Chris asked.
Brigid was saved from having to answer right away by the beverage question. After all three women finally got their drinks and snacks, Brigid confessed, "She's not coming, she has a lot of work to do. Um, a couple of dissertation defenses today, some meetings with other students tomorrow."
"Sorry she can't make it," Missy said, "but do you have a picture of her?" Brigid dug in her billfold, extracting a picture that Mel had taken of them the previous Christmas. "Wow, she's gorgeous! Look at this, Chris, that woman is gorgeous!"
"Thank you," Brigid said shyly as Chris handed the picture back, "we've been married for six years."
"We've been together for, what, thirteen honey? Yeah, thirteen years," Chris said. "So, you said you had more questions," she prompted.
"Oh, yes," Brigid replied, opening her notebook again. "Tell me about yourselves, how you knew you were gay, how you found each other, what obstacles you've overcome, what you think that President Clinton might do for us."
For the next hour, Brigid took meticulous notes as Chris and Missy described their lives, how they met at college, moved various times, their fears and their hopes. They also told her what various gay and lesbian symbols meant, how the rainbow flag came to be, how gays and lesbians took back the pink and black triangles to be symbols of pride rather than prejudice. "Wow," Brigid said as she finally put away her pen and tablet, "I appreciate all of your time. Say, any possibility we can get together for dinner or something?"
"We appreciate the offer, but we have dinner plans with friends from college," Missy answered. "Maybe we'll see you at the march Sunday; we'll be with Texas."
"That's good, once I interview some folks I'll be with South Carolina with my partner's aunts. Thanks again for the interview. If you happen to think of anyone else I should interview, have them call me at the hotel," Brigid said as she extracted a business card. "Let me write the hotel name and number down, the reservation should under one of these two names." She jotted down the information, then handed it to Chris. "Thanks again, ladies."
"So I got a lot of really good notes from the ladies I met on the plane." Brigid stowed away her clothes in the dresser as she spoke. "Thanks for taking me out to dinner, I really didn't expect that, I am on an expense account, you know."
Janice chuckled as she reached for her pack of cards. "How often do we get to spoil you? Helen never was one to be spoiled and Mel loves to pamper folks, something in that southern background, I think." She dealt a hand of solitaire, then continued. "Besides, we haven't see you guys since Easter."
"I know, Aunt Janice, it's just so hard to get off anymore between my trips and Helen's conferences. Sometimes I feel like I don't get to see Helen very often either," Brigid pouted.
Mel walked out of the bathroom, twisting her wet hair into a towel. "All done, girls, anyone else want to wash up tonight? Tomorrow will be a long day."
Janice smirked as she gathered the cards back up. "I guess this is a subtle hint for me to get my ass cleaned up or you won't sleep with me, huh?"
"Why, darling, I would never say that, I'd just tell you that you were a tad ripe, that's all," Melinda replied, batting her eyelashes at Janice. Janice obediently got up and gathered her shower things. Mel went to sit by Brigid, asking casually, "So why didn't Helen come with you? I thought she knew that we'd take care of her travel expenses."
Brigid made a face. "You know how stubborn she is, Aunt Mel, she's got it in her head that if she goes to anything remotely connect to gays and lesbians, that someone will recognize her and poof! no more job. Myself, I don't care of anyone knows, my dad is cool with it and I don't give a damn what my mother says. I'm sure that my secretary knows, but I don't know yet about my new editor, Patrick. I think he's cool, though, or he wouldn't have picked me for this assignment."
Mel nodded as she folded her dirty clothes into a neat pile. "Brigid, I know what you mean, but I also know what Helen is thinking. At one point in our lives, the university threatened to fire Janice for being gay. I must correct myself, it was really for being openly gay, for bringing me to faculty parties and the like. Only when I pointed out to the president of the university that if he fired Janice that he would lose all of the Pappas money did he change his tune. This was before I decided to go back to school and pursue my doctorate. This being the South, folks filed our relationship under 'strange folks' and proceeded to politely ignore the fact that we were lesbians and paid attention instead to our contributions to scholarship. And," she smiled wickedly, "to scholarships."
Brigid pondered this a moment before asking, "Auntie, do you think things will ever change enough for Helen to come out of the closet?"
Mel considered the question before she answered, "Brigid, it will take a miracle for that girl to come out. Keep loving her and don't push her too hard. She's got a self-preservation streak a mile wide and shows it by withdrawing, not by action. Helen will come to terms with her hidden life, so to speak, on her terms, not yours. Remember, she did let us throw y'all a big wedding, even if more of the guests were friends of Jan's and mine than of y'all's."
"True. What's the agenda for tomorrow?" Brigid asked as she reached for her Day-Timer calendar.
Mel answered, "Janice and I will meet up with some old friends from our days in World War II, we can meet you back here before dinner. Take advantage of being here, see the sights before the big parade on Sunday."
"You think I should? Won't there be things going on?" Brigid asked.
"Yes, but when was the last time you got to see our nation's capital? Good-night, honey."
"Good-night, Aunt Mel." Brigid snuggled down under the covers, wishing that Helen could be there. She really hated it when they were separated, even for a few days. Oh well, she thought, at least I'll have plenty to tell Helen when I got home.
"Helen Pappas," Helen answered her office phone. She listened to the caller, scribbling a few notes. "Okay, do you want to reschedule for later next week? It is getting close to the end of the semester you know." Helen leaned back in her chair, still listening. "If you can't finish that paper by next Friday, the best I can do is offer you an incomplete. No, you don't have to go into details, Roger, just say that you have an illness in your family. Take care."
She hung up, glancing at the clock. Would there be any possibility that her aunts or Brigid were in their hotel room? No, damn it, the room would be empty and she didn't trust any hotel personnel to give Brigid a complete message. Still, her hand crept for the phone, then stopped. No use in tempting the fates.
Brigid was tired when she reached the hotel room late Saturday afternoon. She had taken Mel's advice and went to see the sights, but also managed to see the large wedding ceremony, Hands Around the Capitol, protests of the military ban on gays, and cried over the Names Project quilt. She also talked to a lot of ordinary people, asking them why they were in Washington, what prompted their participation, what they hoped to gain.
Jean: "I'm here because my friends can't be here, they have jobs and families to protect. I'm one of the 'straight not narrow' types and I'm sick and tired of going to funerals of my friends my age."
Vic: "I want to feel solidarity with others. My home town doesn't have a big lesbian presence, so I want to feel accepted, be in a big bunch of lesbians and gays and feel normal."
John: "I'm here to protest the treatment of gays and lesbians everywhere. My partner and I have been together for nearly twenty years and we want the same rights and privileges as heterosexuals."
Susan: "My girlfriend and some of our friends insisted that I come. To be quite honest, I'm terrified to be here, but it is quite intriguing to see so many hundreds of thousands of queers everywhere I look. It's even better seeing so many who don't look like stereotyped gays and lesbians, men who wear jeans and women who aren't in Doc Martens."
These were just a few of the quotes that Brigid had picked up over the course of the day. She pulled out her portable typewriter and a ream of paper and started typing a preliminary story to fax to Patrick. Brigid was so deep in thought that she didn't hear Mel and Janice come in the room until Janice called out, "Ya up for dinner yet?"
"Aunt Janice, you scared me," Brigid exclaimed as she covered her heart with her hand. "But yes, I'm ready for dinner, just give me a few minutes to put my shoes and socks back on."
Janice just laughed as she picked up the finished pages of the article. She hitched one hip over the corner of the desk, scanning the words rapidly as Brigid found her shoes and socks, then started hunting for her fanny pack. As Brigid finally found all items, Janice laid the papers back on the desk and commented, "Looks good, kid, I'm proud of you. Hey, look who finally came out of the powder room. Time for me to powder my nose."
Mel sat down in one of the armchairs, primly crossing one ankle over the other. "How was your day, dear? Did you find a lot of material for your article?"
"Yes, thanks for asking. So, how was your day? Did you catch up with the friends you were planning to see?" Brigid asked, reaching for her notepad and pen.
"Oh, most of them were doing fine, but seeing your contemporaries as old women is a bit of a shock. I think Janice was more shocked than I was, however, when she saw her old softball buddy Diana in a wheelchair, being pushed by her partner. Diana had been a large, muscular woman, very handsome, but was wasted down to nearly bones and wispy white hair by breast cancer." Mel stopped, a troubled expression on her face. "Diana and Georgeanne are having problems with the doctors not letting Georgeanne sign forms, not telling her what is going on with Diana, issues like that. Why, Janice and I just spent thousands of dollars recently on wills, powers of attorney, living wills, medical powers of attorney, consolidating finances, things like that to avoid situations like that."
Brigid started writing, but was interrupted by Janice's exit from the bathroom. "Mel, don't depress the girl, you have plenty of time for that later. I'm hungry now, let's go get some chow."
"Yes, dear," Mel replied mildly. "Brigid, don't let me forget to give you a quote before we leave Washington. Older lesbians need portrayal as well as the girls your age."
"Mel, now, not tomorrow," Janice moaned, mocking starvation. Mel and Brigid stood up to join Janice at the door. "Now, that's more like it," Janice said happily, tucking her hands through both Mel and Brigid's elbows. "I love being seen with beautiful women!"
After a fine Italian dinner, Janice, Mel and Brigid boarded the Metro to go back to their hotel. Brigid soaked up the atmosphere, the thousands of gays, lesbians, bisexuals who could openly show affection, openly claim their queerness, practically overrunning the entire Metro system. "I've never seen so many rainbows in all my life," she marveled at one point. "I just wish I could smoke my cigar," Janice quipped as Mel shot her a stern look. Further discussion of the smoking issue was postponed by the arrival of their train.
The trio boarded the train with hundreds of others, finally finding a place to stand together toward the front of the car. Brigid was standing between the aunts, half-listening to their gentle bickering about what they should do before the march in the morning when she noticed two young men boarding just as the doors closed. They looked to be in their late teens or early 20's, both dressed in oversized jeans, stocking caps, t-shirts and grungy jackets. "Damn, I'm glad to see a brother!" exclaimed the first one as he slapped hands with the second one. "Being around these fucking queers gives me the willies."
The second man looked around at the car and announced, "Why don't you cocksuckers just go back home?" Pleased at his brilliant repartee, he fell into a colorful discussion with the first man about women and booze. Brigid shivered, glad for the safety of Janice and Mel flanking her, but noticing that the rest of the car became quiet as the eyes of most of the riders became glued to the two foul-mouthed men. She wondered why no one just told the two to shut up, they were certainly outnumbered by the gays and lesbians. Even the biggest leathermen and stone butches were uncharacteristically silent as the stream of obscenities eddied through the air.
Finally, back in the safety of their hotel room, Brigid walked around, unable to unwind enough to go to sleep. She tried to sit down at the desk to write, but merely lightly drummed her fingers on silent keys until Mel came over and laid a hand on her shoulder. "Brigid, what is bothering you?" the older woman asked.
The reporter stopped trying to type and turned to face the brunette. "Tonight bothered me, seeing how a hundred people could be silenced by two bigoted, foul-mouthed idiots! Why didn't anyone speak up? I'm surprised that Janice didn't put them in their place."
Mel didn't answer immediately, but instead led Brigid to her bed, then answered seriously, "I often wondered the same thing when I saw African-Americans drinking out of the 'colored' water fountains, having to sit in the back of the buses, and suffer other indignities. It has to do with being told that you are a second-class citizen for so long that you can't fight back, not without fear of your very life. Those two boys probably felt very good being able to cow such a large assembly, especially since their parents probably had to sit at the back of the buses before they were born. Imagine the power trip they must have felt, feeling superior to the queers."
Janice added, "I wanted to put them in their place, but I wasn't convinced that I had the backing of anyone else. It does piss me off that we can't just stand up to our tormentors and tell them to go to hell. I hate feeling that helpless," she said emphatically.
"Helpless," Brigid echoed. "Yes, that is a good term." She yawned and surrendered to fatigue as Mel tucked her in, murmuring the same types of endearments that her father used to when Brigid woke up screaming with nightmares, so very long ago...
Helen was about to leave the house for her office when the phone rang. "Pappas," she answered irritably.
"Oh, good, I caught you, Dr. Pappas. Listen, you know we were supposed to meet with Gloria Parent, but her brother just died of AIDS, so she has flown home for the funeral."
"What?" Helen asked, sitting down at the telephone desk.
"Yeah, quite a shame, huh? Here I'm her advisor and I had no idea that she had a serious illness in her family. Well, I'd better get off the phone, I hear my kid yelling for me."
"Okay, George, thanks for calling." Helen replaced the receiver in the cradle, then consulted her calendar. "Well," she announced to the empty house, "that's the last of my students who have canceled appointments this weekend. I wonder..." She tapped the phone with one elegant finger for a moment, then picked it up and started dialing.
The day of the march dawned bright and cool, promising a day in the mid-70's. Brigid, Mel and Janice took the Metro to the Mall area, milling around the monuments, waiting for the march to start. Mel, as always, looked crisp and elegant in khaki shorts, pink long-sleeved oxford shirt, sturdy walking shoes, and a silk rainbow scarf knotted casually around her neck. Janice was her usual self with khaki walking shorts, faded denim long-sleeved shirt, scruffy hiking boots and her favorite fedora. Brigid wore blue shorts with a red short-sleeved polo shirt, but also had a small backpack with tablets, additional pens, camera and water. The three coordinated when and where to meet for the actual march, then Brigid wandered off to interview other marchers. She saw an amazing range of people; the usual drag queens and butch dykes, leather men, men and women with no shirts, families of same-sex couples with babies, ordinary looking people, men and women in uniforms of all military branches, just like any other crowd of humanity.
After several good interviews, Brigid wandered back to where the South Carolina marchers were gathering. She found Janice and Mel holding hands, talking to another couple. "I sure wish Helen was here," she muttered under her breath as she approached the aunts, "but she'd never hold hands with me in public, even in queer public."
"Good afternoon, darling, do you remember Anna and Billie? They were at y'all's wedding, they are very good friends of ours," Mel cooed. Brigid shook hands all around. "Our niece, Helen, wasn't able to make it, but Brigid's editor actually sent her here to cover the march, isn't that grand? Oh, look, I think we're about to move."
Move they did.
The parade lasted nearly seven and a half hours, passing mostly applauding crowds. Brigid was nearly overwhelmed with emotion, a feeling of pride, a feeling that she was standing up for herself, a feeling of belonging. The strangest part of the march was when the parade passed by a small section of picketers from Kansas, who had to be guarded from the queers.
The picketers had signs proclaiming "God hates fags" and "Sodomy is not a civil right", but the reaction of the marchers was unnerving: each group that passed by shouted "SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!" as they passed by. The protestors were actually under police protection from the homosexuals, something that Anna commented was "Quite the opposite of what usually happens. I've sewn up many young men and women who were beaten severely because they were gay or suspected of being gay."
As they swept to the end of the march and onto the Mall proper, Brigid listened to various speakers on the stage, taking notes even as she continued to watch the crowd and the mood of the crowd. The speakers called for a civil rights bill, anti-discrimination measures, more money to fight AIDS, and for overturning the ban on gays in the military. She overheard a couple of women discussing the implications of Melissa Etheridge officially coming out of the closet. She heard the testimony of Dorothy Jajdys, mother of Petty Officer Allen Schindler, a gay sailor who had been beaten to death the year before just for being gay. She eventually wandered back over to the area where the quilt was laid out, looking at the loving depictions of lives struck down much too early.
Brigid did not expect to see any names she knew, she didn't think that any of the men she knew were gay, nor any of the women drug users, she she was startled to see "In loving memory, Rodolfo Chavez, 1965-1992" in a square. "Rodolfo? The Rodolfo who threatened to rape me?" she whispered. She knelt down, touching the edge of the cloth, looking at the picture of the boy who caused so much turmoil in her life, then one who had indirectly sent her into Helen's arms. "My God, I don't believe it. Was he gay?" she asked the square. Maybe not, she decided as she continued to look at the square, at pictures of Rodolfo with a woman who might have been his lover. Drug addict? Bisexual? The questions swirled in her mind as she stared at the square.
"Hey," a voice floated in her ear, "I'm here, damn it."
Brigid fell over in surprise, then saw the incredibly blue eyes of her partner inches above her face. "Helen, what are you doing here?" she asked inanely. "I thought you were home in Asbury!"
Helen smiled and chuckled throatily. "Stay away when you were surrounded by thousands of lesbians?" She helped Brigid to her feet, then kissed her lightly on the forehead. "No, I just came from the airport, all of my appointments for the weekend crapped out for one reason or the other. I knew that you and the aunts would be here through Tuesday, so I thought I'd surprise you. I found Mel and Janice already and was about to despair of finding you in this horde." She looked down at the square, then looked puzzled. "Is he someone you knew?"
"Remember when you rescued me from that Christmas party my senior year of high school? Rodolfo was the boy who was trying to attack me when you drove up. But look, pictures of him with a woman, I'm just trying to decide how he got AIDS." Brigid looked up at her beloved. "I guess it doesn't really matter, but it is quite a shock to find anyone's name here that I knew from school." She looked at the square another moment, then turned back to Helen, reaching for her hand. Helen started to resist, but Brigid protested, "Helen, we're in the middle of hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians, no one is going to look twice at you holding my hand. Besides, why did you come to Washington anyway?"
Helen grinned sheepishly as she took Brigid's hand in her own and kissed it. "Because I missed you," she answered simply.
Brigid smiled and squeezed her lover's hand. "Well, come on, honey, let's go find the aunts. Wait until I tell you everything that has happened. Did you know that Melissa Etheridge came out? I told you she was gay. We also saw all sorts of celebrities including Cybil Shepherd, Ian McKellen, Martina Navratilova and Senator Edward Kennedy. I have a whole list in my notes..."
The long Sunday finally came to an end. Helen, Brigid, Mel and Janice went out to eat, then went back to the hotel to watch the late news and CNN to see the coverage of the march. "See?" Brigid said as South Carolina flashed by, "you can't tell that your aunts and I were in the middle of that crowd."
"Which reminds me," Janice said from the other bed, "I owe you a statement. You could say something about the fact that we're both 77, so we were probably some of the oldest marchers out there. Tell them that it is a damned shame that our niece has to stay closeted to keep her job at an unnamed school, so we're doing her marching for her. Mention that Mel and I have been together for nearly fifty-one years and have seen the historic cycles of good and bad."
Mel added, "You should mention that we've both taught history on the college level and for many years, had to skip over the fact that many historical figures were gay. It is just heart-rending when you can't tell a student, 'I know what you are going through, these people also had to hide their lovers, their sexuality, anything that would mark them as different.' Janice and I were somewhat open, even in the early days, but my father's money and Janice's scholarship insulated us pretty well." Mel flashed a dazzling smile at her beloved Janice, then added, "Remind your readers that Janice and I have spent thousands of dollars to have custom wills, trusts, and other legal instruments drawn up, just to make sure that our rights as a couple are intact."
Brigid wrote quickly, then announced, "This should make a good conclusion to my article. Thanks, guys."
Helen asked her aunts, "Did you really come in my stead?"
"Yes, so you'd better be appreciative," Janice grumbled. "This old woman is cranky and tired, so I'm turning in now. Oh, Brigid, I dare you to say that we still have quite the active sex life."
"Janice! A lady never talks about her sex life," Mel said primly.
"Well, honey, it's true!" Janice protested.
"Oh, God," Helen muttered, "Aunt Janice, you never pull any punches, do you?"
"Hell, no," Janice replied. "See y'all in the morning." She paused, then glared at Mel. "See? Marry a Southern lady and I can't stop saying 'y'all'." Janice smirked as she snuggled up to Mel. "But, she's a damn good heater!"
The two couples spent most of Monday sightseeing around the capital until it was time for Helen and Brigid to leave for the airport. Brigid's flight was an hour before Helen's flight; Janice and Mel were not going back to South Carolina until Tuesday morning. Brigid hugged and kissed the aunts good-bye, then turned to her lover, waiting expectantly. Helen glanced around the busy airport, then leaned over to kiss Brigid's cheek, but Brigid turned just in time for Helen to hit her lips. "Hey," Helen protested, "what did you do that for?"
Brigid winked and answered, "To shake you up, my love. See you back at home." She picked up her backpack and headed for the plane. Helen watched as Brigid disappeared down the gateway, then turned to her aunts. "So, why did she have to do that?"
Janice answered, "Because she loves you and has had an earful this weekend about taking our rights. Don't worry, no one was looking, Helen. Maybe by the time you are my age, you won't have to look around before you kiss your partner, it will be considered normal behavior." She glanced up at her own partner, then added, "But then again, Mel has kissed me in public quite a few times without raising a stir. I guess it's her Southern Lady disguise."
Mel put on her best innocent look. "Why honey, the way I was raised, you always kissed your friends and relatives hello and good-bye."
"But usually on the cheek, my love," Janice pointed out.
Helen shook her head, listening to her aunts. "Listen, I need to go down to my gate or I'd love to stay for this debate. Auntie Mel, Aunt Janice, I had a wonderful time, thanks for letting me crash. Come to Asbury to visit us sometime, we have plenty of room."
"We'll consider it, darling. You'd better go now, they should start boarding your plane in another fifteen minutes." Mel announced. Helen smiled at her aunts, then shyly hugged each in turn and headed off in the direction of her gate. Mel watched her niece striding through the airport, looking so much like her father. "Janice, don't you think Helen looks like my brother, John? She has his bearing and almost military precision."
Janice slid an arm around Mel's waist as they sauntered through the airport. "My beloved Mel, she is the spitting image of you and your brother. Yes, she picked up that military bearing and discipline, but I'd like to think that she has your compassion hidden away somewhere." Janice leaned her head against Mel's shoulder momentarily as Mel draped an arm around her shoulders. "I just worry that she won't unbend enough for Brigid, now that Brigid has seen a taste of freedom."
Mel considered it for the rest of the walk to the Metro station, then finally replied, "I guess we'll just have to wait and see."
When Helen arrived back from the airport, she found Brigid already furiously typing on her article. "Good evening," she said, leaning down to kiss Brigid's head. Brigid merely replied, "Mm," and went on typing. Helen smiled as she picked her suitcase back up and headed upstairs to their bedroom to unpack.
A few hours later, Brigid went upstairs to find Helen. "Hi, sweetheart!" she exclaimed as she leapt into bed, nearly bouncing Helen's books off the bed. "Sorry, did you lose your place?"
"Nope." Helen took off her bifocals, recognizing the "We need to talk" look. She grabbed the books and neatly stacked them on her nightstand, then lined up her glasses next to the books. "So, what did you want to talk about?"
Brigid smiled. "You are getting better, you recognize the signs." Her smile faded. "Honey, you do understand the need for ordinary men and women to come out of the closet, don't you?"
"A trick question. Yes, I do intellectually. My emphasis may be ancient Greece and Rome, but I do understand the need to stand up to the oppressors sometimes. So, what does this have to do with you, me, or us?" Helen asked.
Brigid took a deep breath, announcing, "Helen, I want to come out to my editor." Silence filtered through the room for several minutes. "Helen, it is very important to me, don't you understand? I can't go through life pretending to be straight, or pretending that you are just a landlady, it feels dishonest. I'm pretty sure Patrick will understand. I mean, I've been married to you for six years now and I've been in love with you for over ten years, do you really think we're fooling anyone now?"
Helen rubbed her forehead, then asked wearily, "Will it change anything? Brigid, you might lose your job, where would that leave you? Since the property taxes rose last year, I can't support us both, especially after you bought that Jeep last year. Damn, woman, why?"
"Because I need to be emotionally honest. Being a journalist means telling the truth, no matter how ugly it is, how can I be a good journalist if I can't tell the truth about us? I don't think my job would be in jeopardy, or why else would Patrick send me to cover this march and ask for me to get interviews with ordinary gay men and women? Helen, we'll never get equal rights if we don't stand up for ourselves! How will anyone know that we don't all fall in the stereotypes if they don't see folks that look and act just like them in long-term, stable relationships?"
"You sure chose bad times for these conversations," Helen grumbled. "Look, I agree with you, but think of how this could impact me, Brigid. Asbury is known as a conservative church university, I don't think they would take kindly to knowing that one of their professors is gay-"
"Helen, all they have to do is look in the goddamned cris-cross directory and they will find both of our names at the same location, even though we have separate phone numbers," Brigid fumed. "All they then have to do is go to the city of find that you changed the title of the house from just your name to both of our names and they would start wondering. I'm so sick and tired of having co-workers brag about their spouses, or to casually mention that 'my husband' or 'my wife' did this or that, or that they went somewhere on vacation together!"
Brigid started pounding the bed with her fist as she enumerated her list. "I can't have a picture of the most important person in my life sitting on my desk, unlike all of my straight colleagues! I'm sick and tired of it, Helen, I want those rights! I want to be able to put you down on my emergency contact list as my partner, my wife, not just 'friend' or 'other'. I want to be able to join in ordinary conversations and say, 'yeah, I know what you mean, my sweetie hates me putting my cold feet on her in the winter' without anyone looking horrified at the implications. I'm sick of being a minority, and I won't stand for it any longer!"
Helen looked totally stunned by the outburst, unable to formulate a reply at first, Then, she finally said softly, "Do what you will, I know that you are going to anyway. Just don't expect me to follow you." With that, she turned off her lamp and rolled away from Brigid to go to sleep. Brigid sat on the bed in the dark, still worked up by her outburst, wondering how Helen could be so insensitive.
She could see Helen's silhouette in the faint light that leaked through the curtains, lending a silver beauty to Helen's black hair. She was torn between taking off in a huff and sleeping in another room because she was so angry with Helen's reaction and snuggling up to that broad back and threading her arm around Helen's waist, smelling Helen's soap and shampoo. Finally, she gave in and spooned against Helen's back, sneaking an arm around her waist, gratified when Helen wrapped her fingers around hers, finally able to drop off into a troubled sleep.
Brigid did not bring the topic back up the next morning at breakfast. She was unusually quiet as she sipped her coffee and scanned the morning paper, grateful for once that Helen was not a morning person and rarely spoke more than necessary. Her nerves were pretty well shot anyway since she had decided to come out to her editor in spite of Helen's objections. Brigid snuck looks at Helen's sleepy face from time to time, wondering if pursuing this course of action would endanger or even destroy their relationship. But, she felt it had to be done, she had to be honest with herself, to be honest with those she worked with, or else everything she had done in the past few years was a total lie.
"Good afternoon, Brigid, fine work on the Washington march," Patrick led off the meeting. "You gave me more than enough material to work with here, I especially appreciate the items that we can use as side columns, such as the list of speakers, the summary of the speeches and the quotes from various real people. By the way, did you have a chance to see the AIDS quilt?"
"Yes, Patrick, I did," Brigid answered.
"Fine." Patrick took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes absentmindedly. "I'd like to congratulate you on the even-handed approach that you took, even throwing in some quotes from the Bible-thumpers. No, sorry, I really shouldn't call them that, but you know what I mean." He put his glasses back on, then asked, "Any questions?"
"No, no questions," Brigid said, wondering how she was going to segue into her announcement.
"I especially liked the interview with the two older women, Drs. Covington and Pappas, nice touch. How did you get them to talk to you?" he asked.
The opening. Brigid took a steadying breath and said, "They are the aunts of my partner."
"Oh, family ties, very good. Well, if that is all, then I need to get back to work, deadlines, you know." He closed the folder, handing it back to her.
Brigid looked at him, stunned at his non-reaction. "Wait, Patrick, you didn't quite get my meaning, did you?"
He came around the desk and sat in the other visitor's chair. "Brigid," he said softly, "I do know what you mean, but I don't know this magazine well enough yet to actually acknowledge what you mean. I can hazard a guess as to the identity of your beloved, given your previous comment, but I'm already sticking my neck out running these articles in such a complimentary light. I don't care who you go to bed with, who you love, just don't say anything outside this office, okay?" Patrick stood up waiting for Brigid to take the hint and leave.
"But Patrick, if you seem so cool--"
Patrick got up and moved back around to his side of the desk. "Brigid, I don't understand everything about gays and lesbians, but I do understand being a minority. I grew up Catholic in Texas during a time when being Catholic was akin to being a second-class citizen. Right now, we have enough to fight just to get this entire series run, not just a brief article listing celebrities and the argument between the march organizers and the park police over the actual count of participants. We'll go over your next assignment in the morning, so why don't you take the rest of the day off?"
Brigid slowly stood up, confused and disappointed. She quietly went back to her office, wondering why Patrick was insisting on her silence. Was he secretly homophobic, but thought that the March would make for good sales? Was he gay? No, she had seen the pictures of his wife and children on his desk and walls. Was he just trying to protect her, just like Helen? Would she ever get any answers to her questions? Would she ever be able to display pictures of Helen on her desk and vice versa? God, was he sending her home in prelude to firing her? "God, I made a mess of things," she groaned as she packed up her briefcase and grabbed her purse. "Helen was right."
Brigid sat at the kitchen table, pushing her dinner around the plate with her fork, frustrated with life in general. Helen ate rapidly, scanning a history journal, not noticing Brigid's lack of food intake. Brigid finally asked, "So, when were you planning to ask me how my day was?"
Helen blinked as she shifted from ancient Greece to present-day America. "Say what, honey?" Brigid repeated her question, waiting impatiently for an answer. "Okay," Helen said as she laid down her journal, "how was your day? I take it that something happened that you would like to discuss?"
"Well, I came out to Patrick today," Brigid stated.
"And?" Helen asked, attention fully engaged.
"It didn't really go like I expected, Helen." Brigid laid her fork down, abandoning all pretense of eating. "He didn't freak or anything like that, he seemed to be expecting it, but neither was he terribly supportive. I mean, he practically told me not to do anything like put your picture on my desk His actually told me not to discuss it outside of his office, even though he claimed to know how I felt!"
"What was his background? In other words, how did he let you know that he knew how you felt?" Helen asked.
"Patrick said that he grew up Catholic in Texas, whatever that means. Claimed that he was treated like a second-class citizen, but why would he say he understood, but then forbid me to mention our relationship to anyone else?"
Helen pushed back her plate, then folded her hands together, unconsciously assuming her lecture position. "Brigid, you don't remember because you were not even born yet, but many people questioned the wisdom of electing John F. Kennedy as president during the 1960 presidential race. As you may recall, he was Catholic and people were afraid that he would take orders from the Pope. Additionally, we gained much of our common heritage from the English, who had thrown off the Catholic church and looked down on it. I'm afraid that we inherited that attitude. As far as Catholics in Texas, from what I remember about Texas history, many of the settlers, at least in northern Texas, were Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian, all very Protestant denominations, so not likely to look kindly upon the Catholics."
"Helen, I wasn't looking for a lecture, but thanks for the information," Brigid chided her partner. "I'm sorry, honey, that was a snide remark. I guess I was looking for either resistance or support from my boss and I didn't really get either."
"Brigid, just what are you looking for? Complete and total acceptance? Hell, Patrick gave you more open acceptance today than my aunts ever received in their working lifetime. Just be happy that he didn't fire you for being gay. Now, can we just drop the subject?" Helen begged.
"I guess so," Brigid muttered unhappily. "I suppose it's just that for once in my life, I felt like I was part of the human race and I don't want to let that go so easily. Can you understand that?"
Helen reached across the table and took Brigid's hands in hers. "Yes, I can, but before you, I dared not admit to myself that I could love anyone, I was too afraid of who I would love. I am just old enough to remember women's liberation and the fight to be accepted as an intelligent woman by my professors. It would have been even harder to be accepted as a serious doctoral student if I were known as a gay woman."
"Well, that is the attitude that must be stopped in our lifetime," Brigid replied loftily. "I, for one, don't intend to hide any longer."
Helen drew back and picked up the journal again. "If that is how you feel, I can't stop you. Just don't cause any trouble for me."
Brigid walked into her office and stowed her briefcase under her desk, then turned on her computer and started sorting her mail while waiting for the login screen to appear. It had been several weeks since the march and the reaction from the readers was starting to set in. Her secretary Barbara Herring, had helpfully sorted letters into several categories: agreement, disagreement and somewhere between the extremes.
"Good morning, boss," Barbara said as she came in with coffee and a fresh stack of letters. "Seems like your articles have stirred up a lot of public sentiment. Would you like a donut this morning?"
"No," Brigid answered absently, "I ate before I came to work, but thanks. Oh, Barbara, sit down, let me ask you something." Barbara sat down, looking somewhat apprehensive. "You've been doing a wonderful job handling the fallout from this particular story, but I'm curious, which of these piles would you put yourself into?"
Barbara looked down at her hands, twisting her wedding rings nervously. She opened her mouth several times to answer before actually saying, "I'm not sure, Brigid. I used to think that all gays were sinful, but after reading everything you wrote, I'm not sure anymore. My husband read your articles and started nearly foaming at the mouth, screaming at me, asking how I dared work for a woman who went against the will of God in taking up for these creatures." She looked up, barely meeting Brigid's eyes. "Brigid, I appreciate your hiring me this year, but I'm just not sure of anything right now."
"What do you mean?" Brigid asked, puzzled by the woman's behavior.
"Remember that part about the women who've been together for so many years? The professors? Anyway, I started thinking about my great aunt Mattie and her friend Chloe. Aunt Mattie married, but her husband was killed in World War I, just a year after they married, so her best friend moved in with her so she would not be alone. I called them both Aunt when I was growing up. They just had a two bedroom house and no one ever mentioned that only one room had a bed in it. Chloe was a nurse at a local doctor's office and Mattie was a principal at the local high school. After reading your article, I started wondering if they were lesbians. Chloe died first, then Mattie followed a year later and they were buried side by side."
"Barbara, I can't answer that for you, but it seems that they were at least great friends," Brigid said. "So, why did you bring up that you appreciated me hiring you? You were the best candidate for the job."
"Brigid, I'm not sure how to say this, but I needed this job badly." Barbara got up and shut the door, then came back to sit down again. "You see, I'm saving money so I can get a divorce."
"Oh, Barbara, I'm so sorry, what happened?"
Barbara slowly unbuttoned her blouse, then pulled back the tail, revealing bruises along her rib cage. "Bill beats me," she said quietly, "and after working for you, reading your articles, I realized that I don't have to accept that treatment. I just have to save up another thousand dollars so I can put a deposit on an apartment and buy a used car. I had payroll send half of my paycheck to a savings account that is in my sister's name, she's an attorney here in town. Bill doesn't know how much I make, I've always handled the bills and the taxes." She re-buttoned her blouse as she kept speaking. "Brigid, he didn't beat me in the beginning, but I miscarried last year and he accused me of wanting to lose his child. He just hasn't been the same after his wreck a few months before that, it's like he can't control his temper any longer. I'm tired of it, I want out."
"I'm sorry, Barbara," Brigid said. "If I can do anything at all to help, please let me know."
"Thanks, Boss." Barbara stood up and turned to leave, then looked back. "Be grateful you're single and don't have to deal with men." She turned back left the office.
"If you only knew," Brigid thought as she turned back to the letters. "Poor lady."
"Class, don't forget your papers on the Hoplites next time." The class slowly filed out while Helen started gathering her lecture notes. As she finished placing everything neatly in her briefcase, she heard the door shut, causing her to look up. "Miss Parent," she said, surprised, "I thought you were still gone."
"I just got back yesterday," Gloria explained, "and I need to apologize for not telling you that I was leaving before I did." She handed Helen a sheaf of papers. "Here's the last chapter of my thesis, Dr. Pappas, I am so sorry that it is late, but I couldn't very well not go to my brother's funeral," she said, her voice starting to break on the last word.
Helen's face softened as she came around the desk, handing Gloria a tissue. "Death is never convenient, Miss Parent," she said in soothing tones, "do you need an extension on your paper? If you feel rushed, I can recommend to the committee that you take an extra semester to finish, perhaps the first summer session."
Gloria shook her head no as she struggled to keep her composure. "No, that's okay, Dr. Pappas, working harder will let me forget my pain for a while. I suppose I should leave now, I know that your office hours start in a few minutes."
Helen mentally reviewed her schedule, then announced, "I don't have anything right now, so we can use this time to review your last chapter and have our discussion that you had to postpone." Gloria's grateful expression told Helen that she had miraculously said the right thing. Helen led Gloria to her office, shutting the door behind them.
"Dr. Pappas," Gloria began after they had settled in her office, "did Dr. Ramie tell you what my brother died of?"
"Yes, he said that your brother died of AIDS," Helen affirmed.
Gloria gritted her teeth, willing her tears back. "Well, it nearly tore my family up, Dr. Pappas, we didn't even know that he had AIDS until he died. Vidal was a beautiful man, so brave. He was in the navy for a number of years, we were so proud of him. He originally joined to earn money for college, then kept re-enlisting after he finished his bachelor's degree in cartography. Then, a routine physical revealed that he had AIDS and he was dishonorably discharged, despite his protests that he was not with any men." Gloria stopped to dab her eyes, clenching her fists as she fought with her emotions. "Vidal never told any of us how he contracted the disease, but after his discharge last month, he went downhill rapidly. I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier, but I was afraid that you would not understand somehow. I guess I wasn't brave enough to admit that my brother had that dreaded gay disease."
"Miss Parent," Helen began, then paused. She cleared her throat, uneasy with so much emotion simmering under the surface. "Gloria," she started again, "please accept my condolences. Were you close to Vidal?"
"Yes, Dr. Pappas, we were very close, Vidal was only two years older than me. He was so protective of me, my parents let him chaperone my dates when I was in high school." A tiny smile creased her face as she remembered her brother. "He always declared that he was on the hunt for the perfect man for me, a man who would cherish me as much as he did. When I met Arthur last year, Vidal grilled him for several hours when he was home on leave. Arthur must have passed muster since he proposed to me just days before Vidal was kicked out of the navy."
"I didn't even know that you were engaged, Gloria," Helen said.
"Well, I haven't told many people yet, I wanted to finish my degree under my name, not my future husband's name. Arthur says he understands." She sighed heavily. "Besides, I didn't want to bug you with anything that was not academically related. You have a reputation of being all business, in a good way, I mean. I'm getting flustered, I apologize."
Helen raised her eyebrows in surprise. "All business? I had not heard that one before, how did that get started?"
"I think it is your insistence on calling us by our last names, being on track completely with any discussion, not allowing people to talk about their personal lives with you. I'm surprised that I'm in here talking to you about Vidal. Did you ever lose anyone close?" Gloria caught herself, apologizing, "I'm sorry, Dr. Pappas, I should not have asked that."
Helen stood up and opened a cabinet drawer, taking out a framed picture and handing it to Gloria before answering, "My parents, Majors John and Katherine Pappas. This was taken a few years before they died in Vietnam. I was sent to live with various relatives before I managed to settle down and actually mourn for them."
"Wow, Dr. Pappas, I had no idea," Gloria said quietly as she looked at the picture, then back up at Helen. "You made a very handsome family." She handed the picture back, then asked, "Why don't you keep the picture on your desk?"
"Um," Helen said, trying to come up with an answer. Damn, she shouldn't have opened that particular Pandora's box! She ran through several answers before answering honestly, "It hurts too much, still. I'm probably not the best for giving personal advice, Miss Parent."
"Please, call me Gloria, 'Miss Parent' sounds so distant. I know I have to call you Dr. Pappas, but please call me Gloria."
"Gloria it is, then." Helen looked at the picture for a moment before finally placing it squarely on the corner of her desk. "I'll make a bargain with you, you can call me Helen if you don't tell anyone else. Now, yes, it hurt when my parents died, especially for such an unworthy cause as Vietnam."
"Helen. That is a lovely name, really." Gloria smiled shyly. "So, what would you do if you were in my situation? Would you request an extension, or just work that much harder to finish?"
Helen looked at the picture of her parents for a long moment, contemplating her answer. "Gloria, I honestly don't know, you are the only one who can answer that. You might consider talking to someone, like a counselor, a minister, someone you can trust. I didn't seek any help for a long time and nearly got myself into serious trouble. Then again, I was in high school, so it may be different for you."
Gloria nodded, then stood up. "I'll let you know my decision tomorrow, Helen. Thanks for letting me talk, I do feel a little better."
"You can talk to me any time," Helen answered, "I'll do what I can." She watched Gloria pick up her briefcase, then walk out of her office, wondering why she opened up to Gloria. Usually, she kept her distance from her students, but there was something different about Gloria. Maybe it was that Gloria was a little older and more mature than most of her graduate students. Helen shrugged mentally, then pulled test papers from her briefcase and piled them on her desk. Nothing like paperwork to turn the brain off, she smirked to herself.
Several days later, Brigid was preparing to leave for the day when Patrick walked into her office. "Brigid, just the reporter I wanted to see," he said with a warm smile. "This won't take long, I promise."
"Okay." Brigid sat back down, wondering why Patrick was here. Was her new assignment about to be rescinded?
"Brigid, I just got the news that you are in line for an award from a gay and lesbian news group for best coverage on the March on Washington for a news magazine. Yours is the only major nomination from a non-gay publication, so you should be proud of yourself. I know I'm proud of you."
"Thank you, Patrick. Is that all?" she asked uneasily, "I'd like to beat rush hour, if you don't mind."
"No, not at all." He paused, started to say something else, then just smiled. "Go on, I'll see you tomorrow. Don't forget your interview with the CFO of the utility company tomorrow, I tend to think that they are cooking their books a bit."
"I won't forget," Brigid said as she stood up again, moving toward her door.
Patrick followed her out to her car, reviewing the assignment with her as they walked. As she started to get into the car, he asked, "I never asked about your partner, Brigid, I guess I blew it the other day. Um, do you have a picture of her?"
"Yes, I do," Brigid answered, fumbling in her briefcase for her billfold. She opened the picture section, then handed it over to him, explaining, "The tall dark haired woman in the picture is my partner, Helen."
"My God, she is beautiful!" Patrick exclaimed.
"Yes," Brigid said proudly, smiling. "She doesn't seem to know it, either. Hey, would you and your wife like to meet her some day? Maybe we could all meet for dinner after work."
Patrick handed the billfold back to Brigid. "We'll see, Brigid. My wife is pretty busy, which reminds me, it's my turn to pick the kids up from daycare." He glanced at his watch. "I'd better hurry or I'll have to pay the late fee. Good-night."
"Good-night, Patrick," Brigid answered. After he was out of earshot, she said, "I'll get her picture on my desk yet, just you wait and see."
"Helen, you'll never guess what Patrick told me," Brigid said as she dished out some more mashed potatoes. "He said I was up for an award for my coverage of the March on Washington, then he asked to see your picture. He thought you are beautiful, to which I heartily concurred. See, I'm making progress already!"
Helen smiled at her partner. "Wonderful, dear. It's about time that you were considered for awards for your writing."
"What? No comment about Patrick wanting to see your picture?"
"No, doesn't everyone think I'm beautiful?" Helen teased.
Brigid stared unbelievingly at her partner. "Helen, did you just say what I thought you said? Was that a joke? Wait, who replaced my serious wife with a humorous model?"
"Just seeing if you were listening. No, seriously, that's great, honey, but you've taken this coming out thing so seriously yourself..." Helen's eyes sparkled with mischief as she nabbed a forkful of potatoes from Brigid's plate.
"That's my food, thank you very much!" Brigid scolded Helen. "But, I think I like this side of you, I don't see it very often. How did your day go, my love?"
"Interesting. One of my graduate students came in seeking advice on whether or not to ask for an extension on her thesis, she was the one who lost her brother recently. It seems that he died of AIDS."
"Poor woman, how is she handling it?" Brigid asked sympathetically.
Helen shrugged. "As well as can be expected, Gloria said that she was very close to her brother."
"Was he gay?"
"She didn't say, I don't think she knew for sure. He'd been in the Navy, but was kicked out when they discovered that he was HIV positive." Helen took a sip of tea, then said pensively, "I think she was looking for much more from me than just simple advice, so I told her that she might consider seeking help, that I knew how unvoiced feelings over sudden death could lead to trouble. I showed her the picture of my parents, just before they left."
"Oh," Brigid voiced softly. "Are you okay, baby?"
"Yes, I'm fine," Helen answered. "It's funny, I usually don't want to get even remotely close to my students, I'd rather stick to the topic of history, not hear about their lives, but this was different." She abruptly changed the subject. "So, anything else happen today?"
Brigid dragged her fork through her potatoes and gravy for a moment, watching the brown and white meld, then answered, "My secretary is being beaten by her husband. Helen, would it be okay if I gave Barbara both of our numbers in case of emergency?"
Helen considered the request for a long time before answering, "You know how I feel about us giving out each other's numbers. Tell you what, though, give her your number as your home number, then give her mine as, oh, a friend of yours. Does she know that I exist?"
"No, not yet, we haven't covered that topic yet."
"Then just say I'm a very good friend. Hey, don't you have that sheaf of domestic violence numbers somewhere? Didn't you do a story on that last year?" Helen asked.
"Yes, I did--"
"Then give her those too. I just...I don't know, honey, I just don't want..." Helen's voice trailed off, recognizing the danger zone she was stepping in with Brigid.
Brigid rubbed her forehead, tired of Helen's reticence. "Anyone to be in on 'our secret'? Helen, you need to trust people some time."
"I know, I know." Helen stared at her plate, then lifted her head. "How about I take you out for ice cream?"
Brigid considered, then let Helen off the hook. "Woman, you sure know the right bribes, don't you?"
"Yup," Helen answered proudly, "sure do."
Bill lurched at Barbara, grabbing her roughly around the waist, slamming her into the wall. "For the last time, where is the rest of the money? My buddy Doug's wife is a secretary and she makes a lot more than you do! He thinks you're hiding the money, that you're gonna leave me, is that it?" He slammed her into the wall again, leaving a dent in the Sheetrock. "Well?"
"Let go of me, Bill, or I'll--"
"You'll what? Kill me? You stupid bitch, you can't do anything right, how could you think that you could put one over on me, huh?" Bill smashed a fist through the wall next to her. "Next time, that will be your face!" He threw her on the floor, staggering back into the kitchen in search of another beer.
Barbara watched as she mentally tallied her injuries, nothing serious this time, just more bruising on her back. This was the last straw, he might make her break this time, she might get weak and tell him about the savings account at the other bank. She bit her lip to keep from crying, to keep from going and apologizing to him.
She had been through some of Brigid's old stories and read the one on domestic violence, which had given her the courage to talk to her boss about Bill in the first place. She just wished that she could remember some of the hotlines, or if there were any shelters in Asbury. What she really wanted was to get her own place and move out while Bill was at work, but that plan was no longer viable. She slowly stood up, listening to Bill's noisy drinking and loud belches. He'd be crashing in bed soon; all she had to do was to stay alive until then.
Sure enough, Bill headed to the den and fell asleep on the sofa within a few minutes. Barbara waited until he started snoring, then quietly packed a small bag, grabbed her purse and keys, then went out to her car. She let the car slide into the street before starting the engine, afraid that he would wake up and catch her, but she had to leave now. As she drove off, she considered what she was going to do, she couldn't access her money until morning and didn't have enough cash for a hotel room. Most of her friends were wives of Bill's friends, so she couldn't go to them.
Barbara pulled into a convenience store parking lot to think, watching people wandering through the aisles of the store as she tried to decide who she could contact. Wait, maybe Brigid could put her up for the night. Bill didn't even know her boss's name, he never bothered to ask. She looked around cautiously, then went to the phone booth and found a phone book, a minor miracle. There, Brigid Anderson, 1205 Beech Street. Damn, not enough change to call, she'd just have to take a chance on driving over and Brigid letting her in.
Beech Street, that has to be in the older part of town, the historic district, she mused as she pulled out of the parking lot. Pretty close to the university campus, if she remembered correctly, she and Bill had looked at a house on Walnut, but it was too expensive. Barbara drove around slowly, finally finding the house. She parked in front, then stared at the comfortable looking house for several minutes before gathering the courage to walk up to the front door and ring the doorbell. Please be home, she thought as she waited for the door to open. Please be home, Brigid.
Helen lifted her head, staring at the numbers on the clock.Who the hell would dare to ring our doorbell at this time of the night? she wondered. Brigid, of course, was dead to the world, leaving Helen to deal with whatever or whoever was daring to disturb their slumber. The doorbell pealed again as she slid out from the covers, grabbing her robe and pulling it on as she started to descend the steps. "Coming," Helen grumbled softly.
Barbara shivered as she waited for Brigid to answer the door. Guess I could have gone to my sister's house, she thought, but pushed that thought aside. Her sister was helping enough by hiding half of her income, but Jessica would have insisted on calling the police to arrest Bill. No, Brigid had promised help if she needed it. She hoped it wasn't the wrong house, what was taking so long?
At last, Brigid was opening the door. "Hi, I need..." Definitely not Brigid, Barbara realized as she looked up at the tall, dark woman who stared at her with piercing blue eyes. "Um, I'm sorry to disturb you miss, I was looking for Brigid Anderson. She's, um, my boss. Oh dear, I'm not explaining this very well..."
Helen looked at the shivering woman, torn between slamming the door shut and asking her in. The woman did know Brigid...wait, boss? "Ma'am, do you happen to be Barbara Herring, Brigid's secretary?" she asked as politely as possible.
"Ah, yes, I am." Barbara shivered again, staring at the tall, stern woman.
Helen sighed as she opened the door wider. "Come in, I'll go up and get Brigid. You look cold." She waited for Barbara to come in, then shut and locked the door. "I'm Helen Pappas. Please, come into the den, I'll get you a blanket." Helen led Barbara into the den, deposited her on the couch, grabbed Brigid's favorite TV-watching blanket and handed it to Barbara. "This should keep you warmer. I'll get Brigid." Without another word, she went upstairs to fetch her partner.
Barbara sat gingerly on the couch, precisely unfolding the blanket and arranging it over her legs. "God, Bill will try to trace my car!" she groaned out loud. She guessed she'd have to deal with that in the morning, she had intended to leave it behind and buy a used one, much different, maybe go back to her maiden name, Woodbain. So many things to do, so much sooner than she had anticipated. She smoothed the purple and gold blanket, smiling as she recognized the mascot from one of the local high schools. It figured that Brigid would have saved something like that, she thought. But wait, who was that woman who had answered the door? Helen something? Who was she? Brigid had never mentioned a roommate or anything.
"Brigid, get your butt out of bed, your secretary is downstairs," Helen announced as she shook the blonde's shoulder. "I have her in the den."
"What? Why is Barbara--never mind, I'll go see for myself," Brigid spluttered as she bounced out of bed and toward the door. Sheepishly, she came back to pick up her robe to cover her skimpy t-shirt and shorts. "Thanks, honey, I didn't hear anything."
"You never do," Helen mumbled under her breath as she followed Brigid downstairs.
Brigid rushed into the den, taking in the sight of her shivering secretary. "Barbara, what happened? What can I do for you?" Brigid asked as she sat on the couch next to Barbara. "Was it your husband?" Barbara opened her mouth to speak, but a sob spilled out instead. Brigid's heart melted as she reached for the shivering woman, pulling her into her arms as she called, "Helen, could you fix us some tea or something? You know, one of my sleepy time teas. Thanks. Now, Barbara, it's okay, you're safe here," Brigid crooned as she rocked the sobbing woman. "Just take your time, I'm here for you."
Several minutes later, Helen brought out a tray with a pot of boiling water, two cups, a box of tea bags, sugar and cream. "Your tea is served, Brigid. I'm back off to bed, I have a lot to do tomorrow."
"Thanks, Helen," Brigid said, "I'll get Barbara settled, then be up."
"Take your time," Helen replied, "we'll do more formal introductions another time."
Brigid caught the warning and bit her tongue. Damn, was Helen going to pull the roommate routine now? She had nearly come out to Barbara, what would it hurt? Was Helen going to make her move into the spare room upstairs if Barbara stayed more than a night? No time to think of that now. "Barbara, can you sit up now, honey? Would you like some tea?"
Barbara pulled away, sniffing and wiping her eyes. "Yes," she whispered, "tea would be fine, thanks." Brigid handed her a cup and offered her a choice of tea bags, then placed a box of tissues on the coffee table. Barbara smiled tremulously, then busied herself with making her tea. She drank gratefully, draining the beverage in a few gulps, then leaned back against the cushions, exhausted. "Thank you," she choked out, tears threatening to overwhelm her again. She wiped her eyes again, then took a shaky breath. "Bill beat me for the last time tonight, I was afraid for my life. I'll look for a place in the morning, I'll just have to get Jessica to give me some of the money she's keeping for me. Do you mind if I camp out on your couch tonight?"
Brigid took one of Barbara's hands in hers, squeezing it gently. "Barbara, you deserve much better than this old couch, even if it does make into a bed. There's a guest room down the hall with a bathroom next to it. I'm afraid that you'll have to come upstairs to shower in the morning, Helen's grandmother split the downstairs shower so she could have a larger laundry room."
"Oh, is this Helen's house?" Barbara asked, confused.
Brigid considered how to answer before saying, "Well, Helen inherited it from her grandparents a long time ago, when she first came to teach at Asbury University. Long story, I'll tell you some time, but right now, you look like you desperately need some sleep. Come on, let me show you to your room. Do you need anything from your car?"
"Just my suitcase. Oh, do you mind if I park it around back? I don't want Bill to find me here..."
"That's fine, I understand," Brigid said as she stood up. As soon as they had taken care of the details, Brigid showed Barbara to the guest room, then said, "I'll leave you to sleep now. Um, I'll wake you in time for work, unless you'd rather take the day off, but we'll talk about that in the morning."
"Thanks, Brigid, I really appreciate this. I sure hope Helen doesn't mind, she looked pretty mad when she answered the door," Brigid said timidly.
"I'll take care of her," Brigid grinned. "Now get some sleep and I'll see you in the morning." Now to deal with Helen. Brigid walked slowly up the stairs, wondering how to explain that her secretary would be staying for a few days. At least she had warned Helen, she just didn't think it would come to a head this soon. "Helen?" she called softly as she walked through their bedroom door, "are you still up?"
Helen raised up, blinking sleepily. "Sort of, I was drifting."
Brigid explained, "Sweetheart, I'm sorry, I didn't anticipate that Barbara would actually come over, but I promise that I had not given her our address."
"It's okay, we'll deal with that in the morning. I've put your clock and slippers in the other room," Helen said pointedly.
Brigid sighed. Please, don't shut me out! "Helen, what are you talking about?"
Helen stared at her pointedly. "Hey, it's only for a few days, right? I just thought it would be easier if we slept in separate bedrooms until she left, so you wouldn't have to explain right away."
Brigid opened her mouth to protest, but closed it when she recognized that don't you dare do anything to out me look. "Okay, I'll camp out in the other bedroom until Barbara leaves. But honey, when are we going to finally throw caution to the winds and actually act like a couple rather than roommates or friends?"
Helen ran a hand through her black hair, seeming to give the question serious thought. "I guess when Hell freezes over," she answered. "Good-night, Brigid."
"Good-night, Helen," Brigid replied. She turned and crossed the hallway into the other bedroom, the same one that she had slept in so many years ago when Helen rescued her from that Christmas party. She shivered as the memories surfaced, then wondered idly, what had happened to Rodolfo? From attacking her and egging her boyfriend on to take advantage of her to dying of AIDS? Maybe she should remember to call the library for the clippings file in the morning. At any rate, she guessed that the next few days were going to be very tough for all parties involved.
"Helen must have left early," Brigid explained to Barbara as she stumbled around the kitchen trying to fix breakfast. "She teaches at the university, ancient history."
"May I help you with that?" Barbara asked, reaching for the eggs that Brigid was about to drop.
"Brigid, why don't you fix the coffee and let me fix breakfast? I have a lot of experience cooking for an exacting critic," Barbara suggested. "Do you like omelets? Good, find me some cheese, bacon, spices and milk and I'll whip us up some very nice omelets while you sit and tell me all about Helen. Is she always that distant?"
Brigid tried to pull her thoughts together before answering, taking advantage of the coffee grinder to give an excuse for not answering immediately. Finally, she finished with the coffee and sat at the table. "Well, Helen does tend to be a bit grumpy if she doesn't get enough sleep."
"So, how did you meet her? What is she like?" Barbara inquired as she expertly folded the ingredients together.
"Um, how did I meet Helen?" Brigid had to smile, thinking of herself as a teenager. "Actually, I lived next door. My family moved here when I was in junior high, my dad taught at Asbury University. Anyway, Helen moved in to this house the summer I turned seventeen, she had just accepted a position at the university and had inherited the house from her grandparents. I saw her moving in and volunteered to help. She rescued me from a summer of maintaining files in my mother's office by offering to pay me to help her whip the yard into shape. I was enthralled until I figured out how much work it is to weed, prepare the soil, plant, weed again, dig, etc. College was a great escape the next year."
"I thought you went to South Carolina for college. Hand me your plate, please."
"Oh, okay. The coffee is ready." Brigid hopped up to grab the coffeepot and started pouring the coffee as Barbara divided out the eggs on the plates. She plowed halfway through her eggs before finishing her tale. "I did go away, but I accepted a position with NewsTime during my senior year and wound up back here at the main offices. I'd kept in touch with Helen, so she offered to let me stay here and I just never moved out."
"Good coffee, Brigid. So, she's somewhat older than you are."
Brigid explained, "Eight years, but it rarely seems that way. She's the dearest friend I have, don't be put off by her grumpy ways."
Barbara sipped her coffee, then asked, "So, didn't either of you ever have any boyfriends? Two such beautiful women, looks like one of you would be married by now."
Brigid started to answer with the truth, but her courage inexplicably failed her. "Well, I dated in high school but I had a really bad experience. I was nearly raped at a party. I'm not sure why Helen never had any boyfriends, I think she was a late bloomer and has been too concentrated on her career," she finished lamely. "Gosh, I'd better hurry. Why don't you shower first while I clean the kitchen?"
"If you insist."
"I insist, you are the guest. Towels are in the cabinet, the bathroom is just at the top of the stairs next to my room. Lots of soap and shampoo, if you need anything, just holler." Brigid stood up, picking up dishes. "Don't worry about the hot water, we have a very large heater," she assured Barbara. She watched her leave the kitchen, then breathed a sigh of relief. I'd better watch my tongue, she thought as she started loading the dishwasher. I'd also better find out more about this husband of hers.
Helen couldn't quite pin down why she was so threatened by the arrival of a guest. Okay, a battered woman, an employee and friend of Brigid's, it wasn't like she didn't know that the woman might come by some time. Brigid had planned to give Barbara her phone number after all. But of all the nights to disturb her sleep, when she was sitting on not one, but two dissertation committees today! She indulged herself by dropping her head in her hands, a rare show of fatigue and discomfort.
"Dr. Pappas? Am I disturbing you?"
Helen looked up. "Gloria," she croaked, "come on in. What may I do for you today?"
Gloria looked at her professor for a moment, then replied, "Maybe that should be turned around, what may I do for you today? You look pretty worn out. I can come back later, I just wanted to discuss my thesis with you."
"No, it's fine, I just had a restless night," Helen answered. She cleared her throat, looked at the clock and slumped in her chair. "I have two hours before hearing the first of two dissertation defenses and I am wiped. Would you mind accompanying me over to the union building for a cup of coffee, maybe a bagel? I overslept and didn't stop for breakfast." She paused, adding sheepishly, "I feel like I'm babbling, just like a friend of mine."
"You're fine, Dr. Pappas, just human. Yes, I'd like to get a cup of coffee with you, I've already had my breakfast."
"Good." Helen grabbed her briefcase and coat, locked her door, then followed Gloria to the student union building. "Think I'll indulge in one of their cinnamon bagels with cinnamon cream cheese. Not something I do ordinarily, you understand."
"Oh, of course not," Gloria chimed in as they entered the building. "But you are human, Dr. Pappas. In fact, you might tempt me to try one as well, I didn't really eat that much myself this morning." She smiled at Helen, her dark brown eyes meeting blue eyes in fellowship of conspiracy. Helen found herself smiling back and relaxing.
After they finished eating, Gloria finally got to the point. "Dr. Pappas, I'd like to go ahead and finish on time. I was thinking about it last night and decided that Vidal would be most upset if I let his death prevent me from graduating on time. He was the one who piqued my interest in history to begin with, really."
"If you feel comfortable in doing so, I don't see a problem with you graduating on time," Helen affirmed. "I've read the first three chapters of your thesis; it looks fine to me. So, how did your brother pique your interest in history?"
"Oh, by telling me about the places had been in the Navy. I'd listen, spellbound, when he came home on leave, then I'd start asking him why this country did things that way and he'd smile and tell me, 'little sister, you'll just have to look that up and tell me.' After a few times of that, I started following his movements more carefully, reading up on the countries he mentioned in his letters, then telling him all about their past when he came home to visit." Her face lit up with happy memories. "When I explained the Trojan war to him, he kissed my cheeks, then announced that I should be a history professor. This was pretty impressive to a senior in high school who adored her older brother." She stirred her coffee idly, then looked up at Helen. "I miss him so much. Do you mind if I dedicate my thesis to him?"
"Gloria, dedications are personal, I can't dictate who you dedicate your thesis to, but I think it would honor his memory to do so." Helen smiled at her student. "I dedicated my dissertation to my aunts who pushed, shoved and cajoled me through all three degrees."
"You've mentioned your aunts before, Dr. Pappas, who were they?" Gloria inquired.
Helen swore internally, knowing that she had given leading information. Should she just tell the truth, or not? Well, just because her aunts were gay didn't mean it would reflect on her, besides, Gloria's brother might have been gay. "Dr. Melinda Pappas is my father's sister and her partner, Dr. Janice Covington, is my aunt by courtesy. It's one of those southern things," she explained haltingly.
Gloria nodded, understanding. "Oh. So these are the women you said took you in after your parents died?"
"I lived with my mother's parents for several months before, but I got in so much trouble that they could not handle me. Mel and Janice took me in and whipped me into shape in more ways than one." Helen finished her coffee, adding, "I should give them more credit than I do, they were very brave to take in a troubled teenager. I guess Janice saw a little of herself in me, she had a pretty rough childhood. Anyway, that's a tale for another day, do you have any more questions on your thesis?"
"No. I appreciate your taking the time to meet with me, Dr. Pappas." Gloria reached out, touching Helen's hand. "I'm glad that your aunts took you in, everyone needs someone to love them. I just wish that Vidal could have found love, or at least admitted who he loved. I don't think it is any shame to love, no matter which gender or race they happen to be." She withdrew her hand, smiling shyly. "Thanks for everything, Dr. Pappas."
"You're welcome, Gloria." Helen watched the other woman start to pick up her plate and cup, reminding her, "You can call me Helen, I don't mind."
Gloria smiled wider. "Helen. I will remember next time. At any rate, I'll bring chapter four and five by your office Friday, I'm nearly finished with my first draft."
"Fine. Check with my secretary for an appointment time, I don't think I have anything Friday," Helen said. Gloria left, leaving Helen to her thoughts. Arthur is one lucky young man, she thought as she watched Gloria walking away from the dining room. I just hope he treats her with love and respect.
Brigid wound up giving Barbara the day off so she could take care of personal matters, such as contacting her sister/lawyer about accessing her money, looking for an apartment and trading in her car. Work did not hold the same fascination, it paled next to reality today. Brigid had to force herself to make the necessary phone calls leading up to her next story, then finally escaped to the library to indulge her curiosity about Rodolfo and his death.
Several hours later, Brigid had gone through countless indices and microfilm reels, but she had found what she was looking for, an obituary on Rodolfo. It was very simple, stating:
Chavez, Rodolfo. Born July 6, 1965, died August 16, 1992. Rodolfo was preceded in death by his brother, Joseph. Rodolfo graduated from Asbury High School in 1983, joined the Navy in 1985, served four years before his honorable discharge in 1989. He worked for the AIDS ministry of Asbury until his death of cancer. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, the Asbury Cancer Fund, and the AIDS ministery of Asbury. Rodolfo was survived by his mother, Mrs. Arthuro Chavez, and by his sister, Miss Donna Chavez of Wilmingham.
"Nothing about a lover," Brigid mused as she printed off the page. "But, his family was pretty brave to include his work with the AIDS ministry." She finished rewinding the reel, then took it back to the microforms desk, thanking the library assistant on duty. It really wasn't any of her business, but it was an unfinished chapter in her life, a life that had crossed hers, no matter how violently. She shuddered as she remembered his hands on her at that long ago Christmas party, then smiled as she remembered Helen rescuing her, staring Rodolfo down until he ran in fear. "My hero," she muttered as she checked her watch.
Time for lunch, maybe Barbara was back at the house, they could have lunch together. Helen would be tied up with meetings all day, so there was no possibility that she would come home for lunch. Still, the thought nagged her, did Rodolfo really die of just cancer, or did he die of AIDS? Who had stitched together the quilt square for him? She signed as she entered her office, grabbing her briefcase and purse. The curse of being a reporter, she decided, was always having some questions without answers. She just had to find out, no matter what the answers were.
Barbara wondered if she would ever be able to write again; she felt like she had signed every piece of paper available in her sister's office and then some. "Jessica, is that the last of the papers to sign? I'm getting tired and it's pretty late, Brigid might be wondering where I am now."
Jessica Woodbain took off her glasses and rubbed her face before answering. "Dear sister, I know this seems like we've just gone through a forest of papers, but believe me, they are all necessary. Are you sure that you want to file for divorce immediately?"
"Are you questioning me? My God, Jessica, didn't you see the bruises that Bill left on my arms?" Barbara shot back.
"Barbara, I'm sorry, but I have to be sure. After all, you didn't go to the police and file a report on him, he could come back after you again. I'm just trying to look out for my baby sister, that's all. I see women in your position all of the time, but most don't have the foresight to stash away money that their husbands or boyfriends don't know about. You are aware that this will take some time to resolve, divorces don't happen overnight."
"I am aware of that. Can I trade my car in now?" Barbara pleaded.
The lawyer nodded. "Yes. In fact, why don't you call Miss Anderson and tell her you will be late. I'll take you to a good used car lot, you can make the trade before we file the papers. The car is in your name only, isn't it?"
"It is," Barbara confirmed, "I bought it before I married Bill, so it was never in his name."
Jessica put her glasses back on, looking over her checklist to see if they had skipped any steps. Finally, she asked, "Is your friend Miss Anderson aware that Bill will come looking for you, that she might be in danger as well?"
"She should be, she wrote an extensive series on domestic violence last year. After I reread it a few days ago, I decided that it was time to make final plans to leave Bill. Besides, she has a roommate who is pretty damned intimidating, the woman must be close to six feet tall!" Barbara added.
Jessica warned, "Size has nothing to do with it. Still, I guess if you feel safe, you can stay there for a while. Tell you what, give me Miss Anderson's phone numbers just in case so I can reach you if I need to. I already have your office number. Oh, you need to inform security at the magazine so they won't let Bill in should he try to harass you at work."
Barbara paled at the thought. "He might do that?"
"Yes," Jessica said flatly.
Barbara looked through her sister's window at the gathering gloom. "I never thought of that. Wait, I had read it in Brigid's article, so I should have thought of that. Hand me your phone, Jessica, let me call Brigid." Jessica shoved her phone across the desk. Barbara picked the handle up and started dialing, only to encounter Brigid's answering machine. "Hi, um, it's me, Barbara. I'm off with my sister to find another car, so don't expect me for a while, I'll call when I'm about to come back." Barbara dropped the receiver in its cradle, explaining unnecessarily, "She's not home yet."
Jessica nodded absently as she straightened up the stack of papers. "Did she leave you a key?"
"Yes, she did.I wonder why her roommate didn't pick up the phone. Oh well, let's go get me a new used car, sis."
Jessica finished with the stack of papers and grabbed her coat and briefcase. "We'll find you a very nondescript car, but one that is in good condition. Ella took over the car dealership from her father a few years back, you'll be in very good hands." She walked past Barbara, opening her office door, then noticing that Barbara had not moved. "Hey, you okay?"
Barbara nodded, picking up her belongings. "Just scared."
"That's normal, sweetheart. Don't worry, big sister will take care of you."
"Don't mention it. After you," she said, holding the door for Barbara.
"Hi, um, it's me, Barbara. I'm off with my sister to find another car, so don't expect me for a while, I'll call when I'm about to come back," the answering machine duly reported after Brigid hit the play button. "Hey, lover, Barbara won't be back for a while," Brigid noted as she felt Helen come up behind her. "Want to make use of the time?"
Helen grumbled, "You are insatiable, woman. Thanks, but she might come in sooner, you know, can't risk that." Nonetheless, Helen opened her arms for Brigid to snuggle into, kissing her partner possessively. Despite the invitation, Brigid contented herself with snuggling in Helen's arms, slowly relaxing into the warmth and love represented there. She could feel Helen's quiet breathing, hear her steady heartbeat, feel the comforting pressure of Helen's chin resting on her head. It was a rare moment to be savored, especially in the recent storm of events and emotions the past month. "Hey," Helen finally asked, "everything okay?" Before Brigid could frame a reply, they heard the front door being unlocked and reluctantly parted.
"Anyone home?" Barbara sang out as she walked through the house.
Brigid kissed Helen's hand soundlessly, then called out, "We're in my study, Barbara." She sat down in her desk chair as Helen chose to lean against a bookcase, distancing herself from her lover. Barbara sailed into the room and plopped into the other chair, an old beat up armchair. "We had just listened to your message, did you decide not to call back?"
"Huh? Oh, right, I said I'd call before I came back. I ran out of change and was just too excited, I wanted to show you my new car. I hope that you didn't mind." Barbara said, looking calmer than she had that morning.
"No, not at all, in fact, Helen and I were just discussing eating." Helen raised an eyebrow, but forbore comment. Brigid continued blandly, "Would you like to go to eat with us? We've been wanting to try that new Italian place on the square, right Helen?"
"Sure, sounds good to me," Helen agreed. She turned to Barbara and asked, "So, about this new car?"
Barbara grinned and bounced excitedly. "Yes, something Bill would never look for, a 1986 Nissan Sentra, dark blue. Bill always insisted on buying American cars, something about being patriotic and all that stuff. Hey, why don't I drive so I can show it off to you guys? Would you like that?"
"We would be delighted," Helen agreed, "and I know that Brigid would be happy to pay for our dinner." Brigid's eyebrows raised in surprise, but she didn't contradict Helen. "I'll go get my jacket." She left the room, leaving Brigid and Barbara alone.
Brigid started to say something, but decided not to. Helen was in a strange mood again, but at least Barbara was happy for the moment. "So, Barbara, what all did you do today?" Brigid asked. As they walked toward the coat closet, Barbara started her recital of buying a car, filing for a separation and taking care of other divorce related matters.
Several hours later, the three women returned home, full of good food and conversation. As they entered the house, Helen's phone started ringing, so she excused herself to go answer it while Brigid followed Barbara to the den, still talking about Brigid's latest story assignment. They sat on the couch as Brigid laughed about Helen's frozen face during the ride to and from the restaurant. "I thought Helen was going to grind her teeth to nubs, she was gritting them so hard!"
Barbara laughed, remembering Helen's face. "It is my fault, I was making the car jump all over the place."
"When was the last time you drove a stick shift?" Brigid asked.
Barbara replied promptly, "Oh, when I was in high school, I guess, Dad let me drive his old Scout to school."
Brigid patted Barbara's leg. "See, you have a perfectly good reason not to drive smoothly yet. Don't worry, you'll figure it out again."
"I hope it's before I ruin the clutch and transmission. Bill always said I probably should never have a car, he always had to take care of the maintenance." Barbara's face screwed up as if she had bitten into a lemon. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to bring him up again, but I am so glad that I got to choose a car without his help. 'Baby, you should really get a big sedan, something to keep you safe,' he'd say. When we bought the Celebrity several years ago, I had begged him for a sporty car, something small with better gas mileage, but he said, 'Honey, we might have babies some day, I don't want them in a small car.' Thank God I never had children with that man."
Brigid took advantage of the change of topic to voice what she had wondered all day. "Speaking of Bill, did you ever file any charges against him? I should have thought to call the police the night you came, but I was so tired."
"No," Barbara replied slowly, "I didn't." She clutched her hands tightly in her lap, staring at the floor between her feet. "Brigid, I've taken an enormous risk just filing for separation and divorce, I don't want to make him angry by sticking him in jail. All I'm going to ask him for is my clothes, my books and my photo albums, nothing else."
"But don't you need to prove abuse as a reason for divorce?"
"Brigid, I ran away one other time and filed charges. Bill was out on bond the next day and beat me so badly that I landed in the hospital. He told the emergency room that I had been beaten by a thief on my way home from the grocery store and they believed him, didn't even check to see if he had any history of abuse. He also promised me that if I ever filed charges against him again that he would kill me."
Barbara waved her hands, interrupting Brigid. "No, no buts, boss, just let it be. You are very generous to me, letting me stay here, but this is my fight and I'd rather come out alive."
Brigid took Barbara's hands in hers, trying to decide what to say. Finally, she confided, "I never lived with an abuser, but after nearly being raped at that party, a friend rescued me, took me home and made sure I was okay. I would have never thought of filing charges against him, one of his buddies had dared him to try to have sex with me." She lifted a hand to wipe away a tear that started trickling down. "I guess I do understand, since who would have believed that the captain of the basketball team tried to rape me?"
"So what happened after that?" her secretary asked, intrigued by this glimpse into Brigid's past.
"Strangely enough, we became friends again later, one summer when I was home from college, but we never dated again. In fact, I never really dated much after that, I guess I was afraid the same thing would happen."
"You do understand," Barbara whispered. They looked into each other's eyes, seeing pain there. "Why can't we meet any nice guys, one who won't see us as rag dolls or trophies? Why?"
"I don't know," Brigid answered miserably, "but you are safe here, I promise. I'll take care of you, keep you safe from harm."
"Thanks," Barbara choked out as she threw herself into Brigid's arms, sobbing so hard she was shaking violently. Brigid rocked her gently, making soothing noises, kissing the top of Barbara's head. The storm subsided almost as quickly as it had begun, leaving Barbara feeling shaky, but better. She was content for the moment to stay close to Brigid, comforted by the other woman's arms. She tried so hard not to cry in front of Bill, it usually made him worse, bringing additional beatings, so she tended to hide emotion from her husband. She sighed, reveling in the rare luxury of simply enjoying human contact that neither hurt nor preceded rough sex. She closed her eyes, nearly drifting into sleep in the comfort of Brigid's arms, lulled by the other woman's steady heartbeat, a feeling of calm descending on her.
"Hey, don't go to sleep on me," Brigid murmured, shaking Barbara slightly, "I can't carry you to bed, you know."
Barbara sighed again, reluctantly sitting up. "You are a good friend," she said wearily, "I appreciate you." Overcome by gratitude, she leaned over, kissing Brigid's cheek, then shyly bolting from the room, nearly running into Helen in the hallway. Helen turned at stared at her back, then walked into the den, hands clasped rigidly behind her back. "So?" she queried in a tight voice.
Brigid got up from the couch and went to Helen, rubbing her arms lightly. "Hey, relax, she was upset." Helen tried to jerk away, but Brigid held her, trying to get Helen to look her in the eye. "What's the matter with you? Look, you know how Jake affected me so bad with one night, how do you think that Bill has affected Barbara with years of abuse?"
"You two seemed awfully chummy," Helen growled.
"Chummy? Damn, I was just comforting her, she was sobbing! Not that you would understand," Brigid hissed, anger flaring up. "Look, let's continue this discussion later, I'm tired and want to go to bed."
"Which one?" Helen shot back as she stormed out of the room, leaving Brigid to wonder what had prompted that remark. She waited for a few minutes, then went upstairs to her room. She changed into her night clothes, wondering why Helen was increasingly irritable. Sure, it was hard having a guest in the house, but was that all? Brigid looked around the room, wondering how long she would have to sleep alone, away from the comfort of Helen beside her. She climbed into the cold bed and waited for sleep to overtake her and ferry her away from the silence...
By the time you read this, I will be dead from AIDS. I had been puzzled where I might have picked it up, I never visited prostitutes, I didn't do needle drugs, I hadn't been with a man. At least, I thought I was safe, but I finally think I tracked it down.
I said I had not been with a man, but to be honest, I had thought about it. There were several gays in my unit in the Navy, but they were pretty much tolerated by unspoken agreement as long as they kept quiet about it. One man, though, made a couple of discrete passes at me and I finally did something about, something I'm not very proud of at all. A couple of my buddies and I went to a bar on leave in Australia and we got absolutely plastered. This guy, Rodolfo Chavez, was there and made another pass at me and my buddies started hollering for me to beat him up. I was very stupid, Gloria, I lit into him and pounded him nearly senseless. He tried to defend himself with a knife, slashing at my arms, but I knocked it away from him. I busted his nose; his blood splashed all over me. It was a couple of hours before we found a little clinic to bind our wounds, I'm guessing that I caught it from him, by having his blood in my open wounds.
I'm not proud of myself. Chavez could have reported me, but he didn't. Our CO simply asked what happened and we all told him that a gang tried to rob us while we were drunk and we beat the shit out of them. He either believed us or didn't want to hear of us turning on each other, so we all got off with a lecture, but no marks against us. Chavez and I avoided each other during the rest of the cruise; his time was up when we pulled back into US waters.
The night before he was discharged, he invited me out for dinner in town. We went to a quiet little place away from the main sailor hangouts, like a family cafe or something like that. Chavez apologized for making passes at me, said that he was going through a phase, but he had accepted Christ in his life and wanted to start fresh. He said that Christ had taken away the sick urges, that he was going to dedicate his life to AIDS ministry. I commented that the two things were contradictory, but he just smiled and said, no, they weren't, that he wanted to reach out to Hispanic AIDS sufferers, especially those who had become infected through sharing needles, like he had before he joined the Navy. I wished him luck, but didn't think to ask if he were infected himself. When we left the cafe, he invited me to join his ministry, but I refused, saying that the Navy was my home. He just smiled at me, said that he hoped I would find peace, then he held out his hand. I shook it, then he flagged down a cab and disappeared from my life.
There you have it, Gloria. I served my country to the best of my ability and was happy, but deep inside, I always wondered what I missed. I will go to my grave a virgin, wishing that I was not one, wishing I had taken a chance and found out if I really did like men or not.
Gloria sat in the library carrel, reading the letter for the umpteenth time, wondering why Vidal chose to tell her this story. True, they were extremely close, but did he think that she would understand? It was such a sad letter, one that tarnished his memory, yet she was glad that he trusted her enough to tell her what really happened. She just wished that he had told her while he was alive, not after he had died. She looked at the postmark on the envelope again, it had been mailed the day after he died. The envelope was from a lawyer's office, the same firm that had contacted the family with the terms of his will. How could she concentrate on her finals when she had received this last letter from her beloved brother?
"Oh, shit," she muttered as she glanced at her watch. It was time to face her thesis committee; she had nearly forgotten that she was defending her paper today. Dr. Pappas had assured her that it would be fairly short, probably no more than an hour or so, since there were two other defenses scheduled after her. No time to go back to her apartment and change, she'd have to go in her jeans and knit shirt. At least she had worn her newest pair of jeans, she thought as she gathered her materials and shoved them into her briefcase.
Forty-five grueling minutes later, Roger Albert announced, "Miss Parent, our congratulations. You may graduate with the rest of the master's candidates this spring." He shook her hand, then said, "I'd stay around, but I'm on another defense committee in fifteen minutes. Good job, excellent paper. Helen, see you on graduation day, we've been picked."
The other professors spoke with Gloria for a few minutes, then all found other places to be except for Helen. Gloria slumped in her chair, wiping the sweat off her brow. "God, I'm absolutely fried! I'm sorry I look the way I do, I had lost track of time."
Helen chuckled. "So, Gloria, what are your plans now?"
"I guess I'll apply for my doctorate. I've actually had an offer to teach in one of the junior colleges back home, Arthur would like that much better, he could stay with his job instead of looking for a new one."
Helen smiled. "No, I really meant your plans for this afternoon, I was wondering if you wanted to grab a bite to eat, I skipped lunch and I'm famished."
"Oh." Gloria stretched, considering the offer. "I guess so, Dr. Pappas. Or can I really call you Helen now?"
"You have earned the right. How about Ernie's?" she offered.
Gloria chuckled, having only seen her professor eat baked, grilled, or raw foods. "I never knew that you liked heavily fried food, Helen."
"Well, not usually, but it's the only place in town for chicken fried steak and I developed a taste for it when I lived with Aunt Mel. Besides, you look like you need to talk." Gloria nodded, her throat constricting with emotion. "I'll take that as a yes. Ready to go? Do you have a way?"
"No, I walked to campus today," Gloria managed to say, "but I wouldn't turn down a ride back to my apartment."
"Good. Follow me," Helen commanded, leading the way.
They chatted about Gloria's teaching offer, graduation ceremonies and trivia until each woman had polished off her dinner, then Helen suggested key lime pie and coffee for dessert. "Best key lime pie in town," she deadpanned, knowing it was the only place in town that served that particular pie. "So," she said after their pie arrived, "what's bothering you?"
Gloria pulled the letter out of her purse, then attacked her pie while Helen read it. "Interesting," she murmured as she passed it back to Gloria, "I wonder how many men named Rodolfo Chavez are out there." Gloria looked puzzled. "Sorry, a friend of mine went to school with someone by that name," she explained.
"Chavez is a common surname, but Rodolfo isn't that common," Gloria commented seriously, running names through her head of male relatives and friends, "did this man join the Navy too?"
"I'm not sure, I'd have to check, but my friend did say that she was surprised to read his obituary," Helen answered, wondering how to steer the conversation away from identifying Brigid. "You did suspect that Vidal was gay, how did his letter make you feel?"
"Like he couldn't trust me completely while he was alive. Helen, he was my brother, I adored him!" She pushed away her plate, drained her cup. "Helen, what would you do if your brother admitted he was gay? Would you tell the rest of your family? On the one hand, everyone is suspicious because he died of AIDS, but on the other hand, I'm not sure that I can even come to terms with it. I've never been faced with having any homosexuals in my life before, I don't know how to react. What would you do?"
Helen faced a decision, confide that she knew exactly or go with generalities. She stalled by taking a long sip of coffee first. She liked Gloria, but would Gloria tell anyone else? Sure, she was about to graduate and leave Asbury, but could she spill the beans to the wrong person later?
Helen made up her mind and simply said, "Every family is different, Gloria. I never knew that my Aunt Melinda was gay until I was in high school. I was horribly embarrassed and angry that her partner had put it so bluntly. It was worse than finding out that your parents still had sex, it shattered my image of her as the perfect pure Southern lady. I wasn't angry at her, but I was angry at Janice for a long time, imagining that Janice had seduced her into 'that lifestyle'. Later, I found out that even though Janice had dated other women before and had flirted with Mel, Mel was the one who fell hard and was determined not to let Janice go. I guess love crosses all boundaries, but in this day and time, I still wouldn't want to be the one to announce someone else's sexual identity."
Gloria listened, a little baffled by Helen's disjointed non-answer. Nevertheless, she thanked her for her advice. "I appreciate your input. Maybe I'll wait until I've had a chance to go back home and see how everyone is reacting before I say anything." She yawned, the day abruptly caught up with her. "I guess I'm finished, can you run me home after we pay for dinner?"
"Sure, but it's my treat," Helen said as she signaled the waiter, "you've had a rough day."
"That's generous of you."
"You did a wonderful job, Gloria." Helen counted out the money, added some for the tip, then stood up to leave. "Not everyone can finish so well after such an interesting semester."
"Thanks, Helen." Gloria touched Helen's arm as they walked out to the car, not noticing that Helen flinched at the contact. "You've been a life saver for me this spring."
"No problem," Helen said as she unlocked the doors, "I do what I can for students. So, where is your apartment?" Several minutes later, Helen pulled up in the parking lot of an older complex. "This it?"
"Yup. Hey, thanks for everything, Helen, you don't know how much I appreciate everything." Gloria started to open her door, then paused. "I'll miss your classes and all that."
"Well, you can at least let me know if you decide to teach or not."
"Believe me, I will," Gloria agreed. She smiled at Helen, then reached out and hugged her professor as tightly as possible. Without another word, she let go, grabbed her briefcase and purse, then hurried out of the car before Helen could see the tears welling up in her eyes.
Helen watched Gloria until she disappeared into her apartment, still shocked by the unforeseen contact. Finally, she drove off, wondering if she should have come out after all, if she could have trusted Gloria with her deepest secret. No, she finally decided as she pulled into her own driveway, she did the right thing by not coming out. If that were true, though, why didn't she feel relieved that she hadn't admitted her real sexual identity?
Barbara picked up her purse, then decided to just take some money out of her billfold and get lunch at the deli in the building, rather than go out and risk getting caught in traffic on the way back. She first poked her head into Brigid's office to see if she wanted anything, but Brigid said she was going to eat with someone from the company she was investigating. Barbara stopped back by her desk to pick up her book, then took the elevator downstairs to the deli.
She was halfway through her soup when a shadow fell across her book. Barbara could feel the hair starting to rise on the back of her neck as she slowly turned around to see who was standing behind her, dreading what she would find. Sure enough, it was a very angry looking Bill, clutching his copy of the papers that had been served on him that morning. "What is the meaning of this?" he growled.
"I want a divorce," she answered as calmly as she could, "I can't live with you any longer, Bill."
"Just why not?" he repeated.
She stood up, refusing to be intimidated by his looming over her. "Because you are a monster," she said calmly, gathering her courage as she spoke. "Because you beat me, tormented me, made life miserable for me. I'm leaving you everything except my belongings, you have no grounds to contest this action. I really should alert security, we filed a restraining order on you yesterday afternoon."
He lunged at her but she anticipated his move. She grabbed her soup bowl, flung the remaining contents into his face, then bolted from the deli toward the security desk. "Help!" she yelled at the startled officer, "he's after me!"
"Buddy, are you bothering her?" Michael said as Bill pulled to an abrupt stop in front of the desk. "Why do you have soup all over you?"
"Because that bitch threw it on me," Bill huffed, "so get the police here and arrest her for assault and battery. Step to it!"
"No, Michael, he was trying to hurt me," Barbara said, alarmed at Bill's newest tactic, "ask him to show you the restraining order, I'm sure he's clutching it in his hands!"
"Settle down, both of you," Michael ordered, "let's get to the bottom of this. First, who are you, mister? What business do you have with Ms. Herring?"
"I'm her husband, damn it, can't I see my wife without all this ruckus?" Bill shouted, frustrated.
"I'm divorcing the bastard!" Barbara cut in.
"One at a time," Michael started, trying to keep Bill away from Barbara. "Sir, is it true that she filed a restraining order on you?"
Bill didn't answer, he just shoved Michael out of the way, reaching for Barbara. She screamed, twisting and dodging his hands, scrambling over the security desk to get away from him. Michael tried to restrain him, but Bill managed to elude the guard and caught up with Barbara before she got to the front doors. A crowd was starting to mill around, but no one dare interfere for fear of getting hurt. Michael managed call 911 while Bill chased Barbara around the lobby, explaining that it looked like a domestic situation. Bill caught up with Barbara, grabbing her by the hair and slamming her into the wall, screaming at her all the while.
Brigid got off the elevator, having decided to take a cab rather than lose her parking place, just in time to see Bill slamming Barbara into the wall. She reacted reflexively, dropping her briefcase and running up behind Bill. She tapped his shoulder and when he turned around, slammed one fist into his gut, following with the other fist to his chin. She danced out of the way as he staggered, then homed back in with a tremendous chop to the neck. Bill sank down in a puddle, eyes rolling up in the back of his head. The police arrived in time to see Bill sinking to the floor and glanced at Michael, who simply said, "Cuff him before he gets back up."
While the police cuffed Bill, Brigid went over to Barbara, asking, "What happened? Do we need to call an ambulance?"
Barbara gingerly sank to the floor as she answered, "My ribs hurt, Brigid, I guess I'd better see a doctor." Brigid nodded, but Michael had been ahead of them and the paramedics were bursting through the doors that moment. "I guess you don't need to call the ambulance," Barbara noted as the first paramedic reached her.
Several hours later, Brigid was finally released from questioning about her part in the fight. Barbara was being held in the hospital overnight for observation, so there wasn't anything she could do there. She had called Patrick, but he said for her to just take the rest of the afternoon off, not to bother coming back to work and he'd see her in the morning. She dropped off her briefcase and purse in her study, then stumbled to the kitchen for a sandwich. She was halfway through her sandwich when Helen came in from the garage. "Hey, why home so early?" Helen asked as she set down her briefcase.
"Oh, little scuffle, Bill came and tried to make mincemeat out of Barbara and I kinda coshed him. I've been to the police station for questioning, but just as a witness, the security guard assured the police that I was helping Barbara, not just attacking Bill. Let's see what else, Barbara is in the hospital with a cracked rib and a minor lacerations, but I came out without any damage. Patrick told me to take the rest of the day off. How was your day?" Brigid reeled it off, trying to be nonchalant.
"You what?" Helen stared at her partner, noticing that she was dirty, still in her work clothes. "Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself? My God, Brigid, why the hell did you do that? You could have been seriously hurt!" Helen grabbed Brigid by the shoulders, her voice rising with every word. "You're a lot smaller than most men, why interfere?"
"Now wait one minute!" Brigid yelled, shoving Helen's hands away from her, "I did what I had to do! Damn it to hell, woman, I'd have done the same if someone was attacking you! Janice and Mel taught me a lot when I lived with them during college, you know Janice would have done the same thing. How dare you presume that just because I'm small that I can't defend myself or my friends! I can think of someone else who nearly got in a fight over my virtue many years ago -- did I yell at you then?" She hurled her plate across the kitchen, barely missing Helen's head. "I'm sick of it all, sick of hiding, sick of your anger, sick of your fear and aloofness! I'm tired of not sleeping in my own bed, thank you very much, because of your irrational fears!" Brigid grabbed her purse and shoved past Helen, slamming the door behind her.
"Wait!" Helen yelled, taking after her. It was too late, Brigid had jumped into her Jeep and was already roaring off into the night. Helen hesitated a second, then went in and grabbed her keys and billfold, then jumped in her car and took off in the same direction. Aloof? Scared? Angry? "Woman, you vex me," she muttered under her breath, barely catching sight of the Jeep's back, "you really know how to vex me and hurt me."
"Hey, Barbara, how do you feel?" Barbara opened her eyes to find her boss holding her hand, looking at her with a very tender expression. "Are they treating you okay here?"
Barbara nodded slowly, then asked, "Can you had me that water glass? Thanks." She took a long swallow, then handed the cup back to Brigid. "I'll be fine, I'm just sore right now and a little sleepy. How are you doing? How are your hands? You hit Bill pretty hard."
"I'll be okay," Brigid assured her, "just a little stiff. The police had a lot of questions for me, but ultimately they let me go."
"Oh. Did you have a chance to tell Helen what happened?" Barbara looked up at Brigid, noting the unusually rigid line of her jaw. "What's wrong? Something went wrong at home, didn't it?"
"Just a misunderstanding, that's all." Brigid said, face wooden.
"No, I think it's more," Barbara said, turning to see Brigid's face better, "you two have been friends far too long for it to be a simple misunderstanding." She searched Brigid's face, then suddenly asked, "Does it have to do with me? I felt that Helen didn't want me there in the first place, she's resented my intrusion in the house."
"Don't be ridiculous-"
"No, it's true. I've somehow come between the two of you," Barbara said miserably, "and for that, I apologize."
Before Brigid could reply, Helen came through the door, stopping at the foot of the bed. "Barbara, Brigid just told me what happened," she said gravely, "how do you feel?"
"Oh, I've been worse, believe me, if Brigid hadn't stopped Bill when she had, he'd have beaten me much worse," Barbara said matter-of-factly. "You should be proud of her, she jumped right in and probably saved my life. Brigid's a very brave woman, very caring."
Helen looked at Brigid, then back at Barbara. "Yes," she said reluctantly, "Brigid is very brave and has a very big heart." She unconsciously gripped the end of the bed in her hands as if to crush it. "Brigid, I'm very sorry I yelled at you, but when you told me what happened, it, well, it scared me." She looked directly at her partner. "It occurred to me that I could have lost you, then after you left, it occurred to me that I might lose you anyway, the way I've been acting lately."
Brigid was thunderstruck, Helen, apologizing? "Helen-"
"No, let me finish. Barbara, I'm sorry that I've been so cold toward you, so unfeeling about your marital problems. Brigid was absolutely right to open our house to you, I just wasn't prepared to share it with someone I didn't really know. I'm a very private person, Brigid is the only one I've really let into my heart over the years." She smiled slightly at the irony of the situation. "You see, I've been talking to a student, someone who recently lost her brother to AIDS, and never had to courage to tell her that I could understand why he was so reluctant to face up to his sexual identity. I lost an opportunity to be honest, something that Brigid can be almost effortlessly."
She let go of the bed, then stepped closer to Brigid. "Honey, please forgive me, I've been an absolute ass the past few months. I'm not saying that I'll come out completely, but I'll try to acknowledge you as the most important person in my life when I can." She swallowed hard. "I love you, I always have and I always will, and I am very proud of you for standing up for Barbara."
Brigid's jaw dropped as her mind whirled with what Helen was saying. Helen, opening up? Admitting feelings? Right in front of -- "Um, Helen?"
Brigid smiled, then turned to Barbara. "I guess I lost my courage a few times, but let me rectify the situation. Barbara, let's do the formal introductions again. This is Helen Pappas, my life partner. Helen, this is Barbara Herring, my secretary. Barbara, I guess I'd better come clean, we're lesbians."
"Wait a minute, you mean-"
"Yes, you beat me to coming out for the first time in recorded history."
Helen stared at her beloved, then turned to Barbara. "You didn't know?"
"Actually, I hadn't put together the pieces, I just knew that you were very close," Barbara said slowly, "but don't get me wrong, I've relieved that you have ended your argument." She suddenly laughed, saying, "Bill was so afraid of me working with someone who was just reporting on gays and lesbians, just think, I've been living with them! He'd have had an absolute fit!"
"Um, yes, he would have," Brigid mumbled.
"Look, I'll be fine, the doctors will release me in the morning. You two had better kiss and make up, then go home and talk," Barbara ordered. Helen glanced toward the door, then suddenly pulled Brigid into her arms and kissed her quite thoroughly, then sheepishly let go. "That's a start," Barbara muttered. Brigid leaned over and kissed Barbara's cheek, then pulled Helen's arm around her, leading her out of the room. Barbara watched them leave, thinking about the past week. She had known there was tension, but she had no idea that they were lovers. She smiled at the ceiling, thinking about how cute they were together, though. Maybe she would find a man as brave and caring as Brigid, as smart and deep as Helen, she thought as she started to drift off to sleep. Bill was really wrong, gender didn't matter when it came to love.
The next morning, Helen woke Brigid up early with further reconciliation in mind. Much later, she called in sick and asked Brigid to do the same thing, a very un-Helen like thing to do. She took Brigid to her favorite restaurant, then took her to the zoo, one of the favorite places to relax. While she still didn't show any overt affection, Helen did take opportunities to touch Brigid's shoulder to get her attention, or would deliberately bump into her, anything to make contact. Brigid had not seen Helen so relaxed in years. "Honey, what's up?" she finally asked as they strolled back to Helen's car.
"Oh, not much, just realizing how much I really do love you," Helen replied, flashing a huge smile. "Want to go to the arboretum now? The perennials should be a riot of blooms now, you know. Hey, remember all of those flowers I made you plant when I hired you for the summer?"
"Sure, my back still aches to think about it," Brigid answered as she climbed into the car. "So, you really love me?"
"More than anything."
"I'm not sure who was more shocked last night, me or Barbara," Brigid mused, "but I was definitely shocked that you actually came out to her, before I did."
Helen drove to the park before commenting, "It just seemed like the thing to do. Mind you, I'm still not going to any political rallies or coming out at work, but it's, I don't know." She frowned in deep concentration as they walked up to the gate. After they paid for their tickets and started walking through the nearly deserted place, Helen continued, "I can see why you are so tempted to tell everyone, though, it is rather liberating to not have to hide, at least from one other person." She shyly took Brigid's hand in hers as they slowly strolled down the path.
They came to a bench that was hidden by the profusion of flowering plants and sat down, still holding hands. Brigid searched Helen's light blue eyes, seeing an rare softness creeping into her expression. Helen hid so much of her passion, funneling it into her teaching and research, rarely letting others see her with her guard lowered, but when she was like this, she was more beautiful than usual, Brigid thought. She knew that this was a moment to treasure, for Helen would go back to snapping the mask tightly in place when they left, but for now, it was enough.
Helen watched Brigid searching her face and felt a rush of warmth and love. They were such opposites, Brigid was so emotional and passionate about everything, yet when the situation demanded it, she could take charge and efficient. Helen realized that it was the quest to answer life's questions, the passion to right wrongs that first attracted her to Brigid. Strange how they seemed to be such opposites, yet fit together so well, like the yin and yang, each complimenting the other, drawing from each other's strengths. She felt giddy today, just as mindless as she had when she first realized that she was hopelessly in love with Brigid. She leaned forward and lightly kissed Brigid's lips, satisfied with the surprise she saw in her lover's face.
They sat there, each lost in their own thoughts, until Brigid had to break the silence. "You know, I found the obituary on my classmate, Rodolfo Chavez. It seems that he had been in the Navy, then worked for an AIDS ministry before he died. Remember me finding his square in the quilt after the march?"
Helen took a few seconds to shift gears, then frowned in concentration. "He was in the Navy? Strange, very strange." She suddenly smiled and asked, "So, did you find out what you wanted?"
"Not really, I wanted to know if he, well, I know it's morbid..." Helen laughed, then related the story that Gloria and her brother's letter had told. Brigid listened intently, then peppered her with questions, finally asking, "Do you really think that they were the same? I mean, Vidal's crewmate and my classmate? Small world, huh?"
"Yep, but I don't think we should probe that mystery any further. I just with I could have leveled with Gloria, but at least I know that she has a very nice fiancĂ©. Hey, it's getting late, shouldn't we head back home?"
"Okay, it is starting to get dark," Brigid agreed. "But from fighting to ministry?"
"Hey, stranger things have happened and I'm proof -- look at how my aunts turned me around."
"You're right, that was strange," Brigid agreed before taking off like a shot. Helen just laughed, then ran after her and grabbed her from behind, hoisting her over her shoulder. "Brat," she said as Brigid pretended to try to get down.
"Bitch," Brigid rejoined as Helen let her slide down. "Let's go home."
The next morning, Patrick was waiting for Brigid when she arrived in her office. "Brigid, please sit down," he said. She looked at him apprehensively, suddenly afraid that she had done something wrong, but he was grinning too big. She sat down, waiting for him to continue. "Brigid, let me be the first to congratulate you, you've won the award for best series on the March on Washington! There's an awards ceremony in New York City next week, the magazine will pay for you go to."
"Wow," Brigid said, almost unable to take it in, "I won?"
"Yes, you did and I am very proud of you. In fact, I insist that you take Helen with you," he said. "Oh, by the way, when do I get to meet her in person? I'm also throwing a party here in your honor, do you think she would like to come as your special guest?"
"Um, yeah, I think so."
"Then get busy and call her," Patrick said with a twinkle in his eyes. "Good work yesterday, but don't forget to re-schedule your interview. Bye," he called over his shoulder as he left the office.
Brigid sat, still stunned, then realized that Patrick had just told her to invite Helen, just like he would for any other couple. Maybe there was hope after all, maybe some day, an invitation like that would not be special, but ordinary. In the meanwhile, she'd better get busy, she had a lot of work to catch up on, but first, she had to call Helen. Her beloved. As she dialed Helen's office number, she started looking for the perfect place on her desk to put their wedding picture, for that was the next step in leading a perfectly ordinary life. She smiled. "Hi honey, guess what?"
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