DISCLAIMER: Xena and Gabrielle are ©copyright MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. I don't own them, wish I did. Absolutely no Copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fiction. All other characters that appear are ©copyright to the author.
VIOLENCE WARNING: Nope!
SEX: Not even a hint...this is a kids story all the way!
I can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
Just Like Xena
© LJ Maas
Xena crept through the tall grass, keeping her lean body close to the ground. The ruffians who robbed her mother's inn made their camp just over the next hill. If she could only stay hidden from sight until she made it a little further...
Xena threw her plastic sword to the ground and clasped tiny hands over her ears. Not moving a muscle as the voice grew louder. She wondered why she didn't have a cool name, like Xena.
"Charlotte Marie, I've been calling you for ten minutes now--"
"I can't hear you when you call me that," the young girl closed her eyes tight and sang out, her hands still covering her ears.
"Charlotte, stop that, the neighbors are looking this way." The woman said sharply.
"La la la...I can't hear anything...la la la...your lips are moving, but I can't hear you." The small girl continued her melodic tantrum.
The tall woman sighed deeply in exasperation.
The young girl dropped her arms and beamed up at her mother, clear blue eyes staring through bangs her mother considered too long, but Charlie insisted they be made to look exactly like Xena's. The young girl wanted to be just like Xena.
"Charlie, you need to come in and get cleaned up for dinner, your father will be home any minute now."
"But, mom, I'm playing Xena and this week's show isn't over yet." Charlie replied.
"Mom!" Charlie cried out. "I'm a warrior, don't call me sweetie." She added with a whisper.
Maggie Cunningham laughed and shook her head at her daughter. "Charlie, you are incorrigible."
Just then, a hunter green, Ford Explorer pulled into the driveway and Charlie let out a holler.
"Daddy!" she exclaimed, jumping into her father's arms just as he got out of the car.
"Hey there, warrior princess. How goes this week's show?"
"To be continued," Charlie said forlornly as she looked over at her mother.
Darryl Cunningham chuckled as he carried his daughter over to where his wife stood and kissed her in greeting.
"Dinner's about ready. Maybe you can get the warrior princess to wash her hands." Maggie smiled at her husband.
"Daddy, what's corrgible?" Charlie asked her father.
"Incorrigible," her mother corrected.
Darryl laughed aloud and set the girl down on the back porch. "I have a sneaky feeling it means you today." He finished, reaching down to tickle his daughter's stomach. "Now, get in there and use real soap on those hands."
Charlie vanished inside and Darryl picked up the girls toys, setting a plastic sword and chakram on the porch.
"I wish, just once, she'd play with one of her dolls without hanging them upside down in the tree and telling me that Xena has to save them. Do you know she won't answer to anything other than Charlie now?"
"So, Charlie's a cute name." Darryl responded.
"But, it's a boys name." Maggie shot back. "I don't want her growing up to be too...too boyish."
"So, she's be a tomboy, my sisters were too. They beat me up on a routine basis until I turned twelve." Darryl laughed at his wife.
"Yes, but your sisters didn't grow up to be...you know."
"Geez, Maggie, the girl's only eight years old. Don't you think it will be a while, until you have to worry about that? Besides, there are worse things that could happen to your kid than having them turn out to be gay."
"Why don't you say that a little louder, I don't think they heard you across the street." Maggie replied sharply. "They're already in our own neighborhood. You know those women moved in just four blocks away."
"Look, Maggie," Darryl lowered his voice, but it had a steel edge to it. "I won't have you infecting our daughter with your prejudices. Leave those women alone and let them live their lives." He raised her lowered chin with his fingers, " All right?" he asked his wife gently.
"All right," Maggie answered softly.
Charlie liked school, but she liked recess the best, and gym class, that was her favorite. Mrs. Flynn's class wasn't as much fun anymore since the principal made Charlie bring a letter home to her mom and dad. They told her she couldn't wear her sword to school anymore. They were afraid she would have an accident. Charlie thought that was just about the dumbest thing she ever heard. Didn't they know her sword wasn't a toy? She never poked anyone or teased them with it. Sheesh, didn't they know anything about warriors?
While she stood, waiting for the crossing guard to tell her it was safe to cross the street, she noticed a small blonde haired girl standing next to her.
"Are you new?" she asked the smaller girl. She thought the blonde looked sort of scared.
The girl nodded and smiled up at the tall brunette. "I'm in Mrs. Flynn's class." She responded pointing to a note her mother pinned to her backpack.
"You look kinda little to be in second grade." Charlie said.
"I skipped a grade," the small girl beamed.
"Cool, you must be really smart."
"Well, my mom said I shouldn't tell people that I'm smart. She says it's imp--impa--"
"Impolite." Charlie finished, proudly.
"Yea, that's it."
"I don't know what it means, but my mom says it to me a lot." Charlie added. "My name's Charlie, I'm in Mrs. Flynn's class too. Want me to show you where it is?"
"Yes please. I'm Katie." The blonde introduced herself.
The two girls walked across the street and Charlie put her hand on the smaller girl's shoulder, as she looked both ways down the street. They climbed the stone steps and Charlie smiled reassuringly at the younger girl.
"Mrs. Flynn, this is Katie and she's new here." Charlie said, using her best manners, because adults seemed to like that.
"My mom said to give this to you." Katie held out the paper her mother pinned to her backpack earlier that morning.
"Yes, Katie Tyler. Your mothers came in to see me yesterday. I think you'll do fine in this class, but if you have any trouble at all, you tell me, all right?"
Charlie stood beside the small girl the entire time, not moving an inch until she knew the young girl would be okay.
"I see you've made friends with our Charlie, would you like to share a table with each other?"
Katie looked across at the taller girl. She really wanted to sit at Charlie's table, but some kids didn't like her because she was smart, plus she was only seven years old. The moment she glanced in her friend's direction, she saw Charlie nodding her head up and down.
"Yes, please, Mrs. Flynn." Katie replied with a huge smile. Both her moms would be proud of her, making a friend so fast. Last night she cried before she went to bed because she didn't think she would make any friends like the one's she had at her old school.
Walking to their assigned table, Charlie looked over at the girl, curiously. "Do you really have two moms?" she asked.
Katie nodded and smiled up at her new friend.
"Cool." Charlie said, as she took Katie to the shelf where the readers and arithmetic workbooks were.
The two girls settled in at their new table and it appeared as if they were old friends instead of new. Charlie explained everything that Katie didn't know and Katie would whisper what the hard words were from the book they were reading. Katie had a purple pencil that she hated, so Charlie traded her a blue one for the purple. They whispered and giggled when Mrs. Flynn wasn't looking, and Charlie made faces that made Katie smile. Once their quiet study session began, Katie was hard at work. She opened her pad of paper with the large blue lines and seemed lost in the large sums on the paper. Charlie on the other hand, kicked the table legs, watched those around her, wondered where Mrs. Flynn bought such ugly shoes, and tried in vain to balance her pencil on her nose.
Finally watching her small friend do twice as many of the math problems as she had done, she decided to imitate the girl and do her work too. Sometime later, Mrs. Flynn walked over to see the small blonde sitting straight up in her chair, hard at work. What amazed the young teacher was that Charlie seemed as serious about her own work. Of course, Charlie spread out and was practically lying across the table, her tongue poking out of the side of her mouth as she concentrated. Mrs. Flynn bent down and looked at the girls work.
"Very good, Katie. Charlie, I'm proud of you."
Katie smiled and Charlie's chest swelled out a bit as both girls thanked their teacher. Charlie was always the best in gym and Mr. Brooks was always saying what a good job she did, but Mrs. Flynn never said that to her about studies before. Charlie continued on, thinking that maybe, arithmetic wasn't so bad after all.
Recess was always great, but Charlie liked lunchtime best. They got the longest time to eat their lunches and with whatever time was left, they were allowed to run and play. Timber town was a cool playground, but Charlie's favorite spot was the grassy little hill and the two tall oak trees situated next to the elementary school. She showed Katie the spot and the girls settled themselves on the cool grass to eat their lunches. Charlie took one look at the amount of food her young companion had in her lunch bag and thought they'd never have enough time to play if they had to wait until Katie finished it all. Amazingly however, the small blonde ate her food in the same amount of time it took Charlie to finish hers.
Once they threw their trash away in the garbage can, they looked around for something to do.
"So what do we do now, Charlie?"
"I don't know. What do you want to do?" Charlie asked. She always did the same thing every day at lunchtime, but suddenly she was afraid her new friend would laugh like the other kids who knew she played pretend during her free time.
"What do you usually do at lunchtime?" Katie asked. "Do you play games with the other children?"
"Well," Charlie self-consciously pulled a few blades of grass out of the ground, quickly finding the green stuff fascinating. "I usually pretend..." she trailed off.
"I like to play pretend." The small blonde answered. "Who should we pretend we are?" Katie asked excitedly.
"We could be Xena and Gabrielle?" Charlie phrased it as a question in case her new friend should think that too childish. Charlie decided not to raise her head in case Katie laughed at her.
"Oh, I love Xena! That sounds like fun." Katie responded.
"Really?" Charlie's blue eyes widened. "Do you watch Xena?" she looked up in amazement.
"Oh yea, my mom lets me watch...well, she covers my eyes in some spots, but I get to see most of it." Katie admitted.
"Cool! Yea, sometimes my mom does the same thing. She didn't want to let me watch it after she read something about the show she didn't like, but my dad said I could. I have a sword and a chakram, and everything at home, but they won't let me bring it to school anymore."
"Why not?" Katie sounded disappointed. Her mother wouldn't buy her the plastic sword they saw in the toy story, even though Jace, her other mom, rolled her eyes and said she needed to let Katie be a kid and have fun. Katie thought that Charlie's dad sounded a lot like Jace, and the small blonde smiled to herself.
"Some goofy rule, I guess. They think I'm gonna hurt someone with it."
"Oh," Katie was suddenly a tiny bit frightened, but she tried to be brave. Jace always said it was okay to be afraid of stuff, but not to give in and let fear control you. Katie didn't always understand every single word Jace said to her, but she got the gist of what her mom meant. "Would you hurt someone, Charlie?" she asked her new friend.
"Of course not. A sword is not a toy, Xena says that on the show all the time, but folks think I'm too little to know that. Grown-ups forget that just because I'm little, doesn't mean I'm stupid, ya know," Charlie said, and Katie nodded her head sympathetically. "Besides, Xena only uses her sword against bad guys and for the greater good." The dark-haired girl added.
"What's the greater good, Charlie?" Katie asked, looking to the older girl as if she had all the answers. Charlie, unknowingly, already was something of a hero in Katie's eyes.
"I'm not sure I know exactly, but I think it's kinda like it's okay to clobber Tommy Drayton when he's hitting the kindie-garten kids."
Katie nodded her head then, in understanding. She already had her first run-in with Tommy over some construction paper. He was a large boy, even slightly taller than Charlie. He too was in Mrs. Flynn's first grade class, and when the students all took turns going up to the shelves that held the brightly colored craft paper, the large boy snatched the last piece of blue paper right out of Katie's grasp. The small girl learned early on that letting the bigger kids get there way was something she usually had to put up with and she was just deciding on another color when she heard Charlie's soft voice behind her.
"Here ya go, Katie. Here's the blue paper you wanted." Charlie handed the paper to the small girl.
"But--" Katie began, looking over at Tommy, who was now at the back of the line, a sullen expression on his face.
Charlie grinned at the surprised blonde. "He changed his mind," was all Charlie said as they walked back to their worktable.
"I'll be Xena, cause I'm bigger and you be Gabrielle." Charlie paused for a second. It seemed important that her new friend didn't feel like the older girl was pushing her around. "Is that okay, Katie?" Charlie asked in a small voice.
"Oh yes. I don't know how to use a sword at all and you look just like Xena."
"Really? Cool." Charlie answered with her customary phrase.
The rest of their lunch period was spent sneaking up on imaginary foes and spoiling the plans of evil warlords. Neither of the girls knew what an evil warlord was, but if Xena and Gabrielle thought they were bad, that was good enough for them. The young girls giggled, ran, and climbed around the tall oak trees until the playground monitor told them it was time to go back to class.
When they walked back inside the building, they turned left to go into the little girl's room. While they washed their hands, Charlie looked at her new friend.
"Katie, do you have a best friend?"
"I used to, but that was before we moved here." Katie answered quietly. It still hurt to think of all the friends she left behind at her old school.
"I don't have a best friend either." Charlie responded, as if waiting for the small girl to say something more. When Katie remained silent, Charlie wondered what to say. How were you supposed to ask someone to be your best friend? Was she even supposed to ask, or was it just supposed to happen?
Katie, in the meantime, was just realizing that although her new friend could fight off bullies easily enough, she didn't talk a whole lot. The small girl was reminded of her mother's words. When she was in a mood to tease, her mom would say that if she'd waited for Jace to ask her to marry her, they would have been old and gray before it happened. Katie decided she would do what both her moms kept encouraging her to do. Mom called it something like being a sertif, Jace, her other mom, called it, grabbing the bull by the horns. Either way, Katie thought it meant being like Xena or even Gabrielle.
"Could I be your best friend, Charlie?" Katie asked.
"That would be cool, I'd like that, Katie." Charlie replied, looking somewhat relieved.
The girls walked back to class, both lost in their own thoughts. Katie knew her moms would be happy, finding a great friend like Charlie on her first day of school. Katie also knew that both of the older women worried about her because she didn't always fit in with other children, but Charlie made her feel comfortable right off. Charlie smiled on the inside as well. She never had a best friend before, but Katie seemed to think that Charlie would make a good friend. Besides, the small girl didn't laugh because she had a boy's nickname, was a head taller than any girl, and most of the boys, in class, and that Charlie didn't talk a whole lot. Funny, but the dark-haired girl thought she'd said more to Katie today than at any other time in school. Her little friend even made her want to raise her hand and answer a question that she knew the answer to. Katie's proud smile at Charlie's correct answer caused the dark-haired girl to try even harder with the next question. Both of the youngsters felt that when they were around the other, suddenly they weren't different from everyone else. It was like they weren't alone anymore.
"Having a best friend is going to be fun!" Both girls thought to themselves at the same time.
Charlie held the smaller girl's hand as they crossed the street in front of the school.
"Do you want to come to my house and play for a while? I could show you my sword and my bike." Charlie asked, a hopeful expression on her face.
"I'd like to Charlie, but my mom said to walk straight home and she'll be waiting for me."
"Well, we could go to your house first, hey I know...you could call her from my house. Do you know your phone number?"
Katie nodded and the two girls agreed to go to Charlie's house to call Katie's mom.
"This is my house." Charlie said proudly, stopping in front of the two-story brick and wood home.
It was two blocks from their school so Katie had no trouble knowing where they were. She played on these few blocks all summer long and was surprised that she never saw Charlie until now.
"Wow, I live right over there," she pointed a few blocks down on the next street. "I have a sandbox and a jungle gym." The young girl commented proudly.
"Really? That's so cool! My mom says I'll break my neck on stuff like that. She says that a lot, though, and so far I haven't broke a thing." Charlie said a little disappointed.
"I broke my arm last year." Katie smiled broadly.
"Cool! Did you get a cast and everything?"
"Uh huh," Katie answered, nodding her head. "Jace said I was brave though. I hardly cried at all."
"My other mom. Jace is short for Jacelynn, but she says she doesn't like it the long way."
"I don't like my long name, either." The older girl commented sadly.
"Why, what is it?" Katie asked.
"Charlotte," Charlie answered, preparing herself for the laughter that usually followed that confession.
"Charlotte..."Katie repeated the name aloud, a serious expression situated on her face. "It's a pretty name, but Charlie fits you better." She finally said with a smile.
By the time they were halfway up the driveway, Maggie Collins stepped out of the back door to greet them.
"Well Charlie, who is your new friend?" Maggie asked her daughter. The older woman was happy that her daughter was with another girl instead of one of the ruffian boys Charlie usually played with after school.
"This is Katie and she's my new best friend." Charlie answered her mother with a proud smile. "She's in Mrs. Flynn's class too."
"Hi there, Katie. You don't really look old enough to be in the second grade, though." Maggie commented on the small girl's size.
Charlie rolled her eyes at her mother, but Katie just smiled at the older woman. She was used to people saying that to her.
"She's really smart, so she skipped a grade." Charlie answered her mother. "She's not supposed to tell people she's smart...her mom says it's impolite." Charlie whispered.
"Oh, I see." Maggie answered, placing a serious expression on her face for her daughter's benefit.
"And, she has two moms!"
The color appeared to drain from Maggie's face with that statement. "And, where do you live?" Maggie asked, hoping she wouldn't receive the answer she was dreading.
"We live over there, 264 Perry Street." Katie pointed down the street, repeating the words her mother taught her. The small blonde wondered why Charlie's mother looked so angry all of a sudden.
Maggie's smile turned into a frown, which finally settled into a grim line. "Charlie, I think you better say good-bye to your friend, you have to come inside now."
"But, Katie and I are going to play in the back yard and tomorrow we're going to play at her house, she has a sandbox and everything." Charlie cried out.
"You heard what I said, Charlie. Go inside, now." Maggie snapped.
Charlie stood there, looking at her mother, then at the frightened expression on Katie's face.
"But, mom...why?" Charlie pleaded.
"I said now, Charlie!"
"No, I won't!" Charlie exclaimed defiantly.
Maggie turned toward the small blonde, who took a few steps back down the driveway at the woman's intense gaze.
"You better run along home, young lady. Charlie will be busy in the afternoons. She won't have any time to play with you."
Saying that, the older woman turned her back on the youngster. Snatching Charlie's hand up in a firm grasp, she pulled the howling girl into the house.
Katie stood at the end of the driveway, unsure if she should go home or if Charlie's mom would change her mind. The older woman didn't seem nice at all and Katie could feel tears beginning to sting her eyes. The woman acted like she didn't even like Katie.
"She doesn't even know me. I wonder why she doesn't like me?" the small girl wondered aloud, as she slowly walked down the sidewalk toward home.
"But why?" Charlie was desperately close to whining and she knew her mother hated it when she whined.
"Because I said so. Now, the case is closed."
"No! Katie is my best friend." Charlie argued.
"Don't' you dare say that. I don't want you having a girl like that for a friend."
"Like what?" Charlie was definitely whining now, but she didn't care. "Katie likes me and I like her. She sits with me at school and we play at recess, and I'm gonna go play at her house tomorrow!" Charlie shouted. She stood there, with her small hands on her hips, looking up at her mother.
Maggie lost all the will to reason with her eight-year-old daughter and did what comes naturally to most everyone. She shouted to get her way.
"Go to your room, Charlotte. Now!"
"But, I didn't do anything wrong." Charlie shouted back, a confused and angry look on her childish features.
"Just do as I say. We'll discuss this with your father when he gets home." Maggie shot back.
Charlie stomped her feet loudly down the hallway. Reaching her bedroom, she turned to face her mother. "You're not fair!" the youngster shouted before slamming the door closed.
Charlie took her plastic sword in hand and began striking it against her bed. She felt the soft thwack as the plastic blade pounded against her mattress. Tears streaked down her cheeks and her proud chin quivered when she thought that Katie might not want to be her friend after the way her mother treated the small blonde.
"I wish I didn't even live here!" Charlie cried, her arms finally growing tired.
Those words prompted Charlie to think of something that never came to her before. She knew right then that she would run away from home. She could live like Xena did, in the woods by the neighborhood park. Katie's words ran through her head, 264 Perry Street. She would find Katie's house and get her new friend to run away with her. She began to stuff her school backpack with the items she thought she would need.
"Hi, sweetie, I was beginning to get a little worried. How was your first day?" Beth Tyler asked her daughter as soon as she walked into the kitchen, through the back door.
"School was great and I met a really nice girl, her name is Charlie, and she's my new best friend." Katie smiled weakly up at the woman whose blonde hair and green eyes matched Katie's own.
"That's wonderful, Katie, I'm so proud of you for making a new friend like that. So, why the sad face, sweetheart?" Her mother kneeled down and touched the girl's cheek.
"Charlie's mom was mad at me, I think. We went to Charlie's house to play and I was going to call and tell you where I was, but Charlie's mom said I couldn't play with her, and she sent me home. Charlie is the best friend I ever had, mom, and I like her. Why was her mom mad at me when she doesn't even know me?"
Katie looked up at her mother, tears filling the small green eyes. Beth felt her own heart break, knowing why the woman sent Katie home. How could she explain the real reason though? Would Katie understand that people would end up disliking her in this life simply because her parents were lesbians? She always tried to tell Katie the honest truth, but she wasn't sure what her daughter's seven-year-old mind could grasp about this situation.
"I'm sorry, sweetie. Maybe Charlie's mother was just having a bad day, huh? She might change her mind tomorrow. Why don't we wait and talk with Jace when she gets home, and we'll see what we can come up with. Okay?"
"Okay." Katie answered sadly.
Katie sat outside, on the front steps leading into their home, watching the robins on the front lawn. Jace told her that she would have to watch the red-breasted birds while she could, because they would find somewhere warmer to spend the winter.
"Charlie!" Katie exclaimed, looking up to see her new friend smiling down at her.
"Hi there." The dark-haired girl replied, looking rather pleased with herself. "I'm running away from home and I came to see if you wanted to come too."
"I don't know, Charlie..." Katie sounded unsure. "I think my moms would miss me an awful lot. Won't your mom and dad miss you?"
"Nah, they probably won't even look for me. My mom doesn't care, anyway. She wouldn't even tell me why I couldn't play with you."
"I think I'd miss my moms and all my stuff. I like our new house." Katie seemed to seriously be weighing her options. "I don't think you should go alone, though, Charlie." Katie knew that running away from home wasn't a good thing to do, but she couldn't let her best friend face this pain by herself. "I'll go with you so you won't be all alone." She added.
Katie didn't really want to run away, but she knew her moms would understand that she had to help her friend. She would wait and see if Jace could help. Jace was smart and if anyone could help Katie figure out what could be done for her new friend, Jace could.
"Do you want to see my backyard and say hi to my mom before we run away? Mom made raspberry bars today; they're my favorite. Want one?"
"Yea." Charlie's eyes lit up at the mention of food. She didn't get a chance to have her customary after-school snack. As they walked into the house, Charlie thought about how lucky she was to have found such a good friend as Katie.
"Mom, this is Charlie. She came over to play, is that okay?"
"Well, hi Charlie." Beth said with a smile, curious at the change of heart the young girl's mother must have had. She didn't want to question it, however, once she saw the happy expression on her own daughter's face. "How would you two like a little snack for energy before you tackle the jungle gym?" Beth asked, knowing it was her daughter's favorite activity.
Both girls eagerly agreed and sat at the kitchen table, laughing and talking with Katie's mother. Charlie liked the way Beth insisted the young girl call her by her first name. They told Beth about their game of pretend, with the girls portraying Xena and her faithful friend, Gabrielle. Beth surprised Charlie by knowing all the characters and seriously talking to the dark-haired girl about the television show.
Beth grew concerned only once. When she left the kitchen, returning moments later, she found both girls whispering, their head close together. The older woman took in the serious expression on her daughter's usually open and happy face. When Beth entered the room, both girls quickly grew silent. She forced herself to shrug off the nagging feeling that something was wrong, as she watched the girls run into the backyard to play. She told herself it was simply a case of a mother's first jealousy, as she observed her only child confiding secrets to someone other than herself.
At the same time, Beth couldn't help but smile while she gazed out the kitchen window, which was situated over the sink. She spent all summer watching her daughter play in that yard all alone. Katie was gifted, that's what all the tests, and counselors told them. When they insisted the young girl could easily start in the third grade at her new school, Jace and Beth disagreed. They wanted their normally happy, yet reserved child, to grow emotionally as well as testing the limits of her knowledge. That meant developing her social skills as well as her brain cells. They talked with their young daughter and agreed Katie would skip one grade and they would hire a tutor to stretch her learning beyond what a second grade classroom could provide.
Beth was glad now that they made the decision they had. It was funny how everything seemed to happen for a reason, and how every action in life put into play other important events. If she hadn't of collided with that tall woman with the short, dark hair when they were both reaching for that foul ball at the Cubs game, she would never have met and fell in love with Jace. Had Jace not accepted the new position with this law firm, they might never have left Illinois. Of course, if they had never allowed their daughter to skip a grade, or had sent her to a private school, the girl would not be laughing in the backyard with her new best friend. Beth recalled her own best friend. She and Sara met in the first grade and to this day, they saw each other at least once a year, e-mailing on an almost daily basis.
Continuing to watch the girls outside, Beth was pleasantly surprised at the interaction between them. True to her hero's form, Charlie had long dark hair and sparkling blue eyes, standing a head taller than Katie. What struck Beth most, was the way Charlie always led the way, but constantly turned her head to make sure the small blonde was beside her. When it looked like Katie couldn't keep up, the dark-haired girl was there beside her friend, offering a hand, or laughing along with Katie.
"Xena and Gabrielle, indeed." Beth chuckled aloud.
Charlie watched as Katie's eyes suddenly lit up.
"Jace is home!" the small blonde exclaimed, scrambling down from her perch on the jungle gym. "Come on, Charlie."
The dark-haired girl ran behind Katie until the blonde raced across the lawn and jumped into the arms of a woman who looked as tall, if not bigger, than Charlie's dad. The tall woman laughed and dropped her briefcase on the grass, lifting the small blonde high over her head before kissing the girl and settling Katie in her arms.
"Hi, princess. How's my favorite daughter?" Jace kissed the girl again, cuddling her in one strong arm.
"Jace...I'm you're only daughter." Katie added, giggling at the same thing Jace said to her everyday.
"Oh, yea." The older woman grinned. "So, how was your day?"
"Oh, Jace, I had the best day ever!" Katie smiled back at the loving attention from her mother.
Charlie came to stand beside the tall woman.
"And, does this young lady have anything to do with how well your day is turning out?" Jace asked.
"This is my best friend, Charlie." Katie introduced the two.
Charlie smiled rather weakly up at the intimidating woman.
"Hey there, Charlie." Jace leaned down and scooped the dark-haired girl up into her other arm. In no time, she had both girls giggling and squirming in her strong embrace.
Beth walked outside to retrieve her wife's forgotten briefcase, shaking her head, a smile on her face. When Katie ran out to greet her, Jace lost focus on everything but her daughter. Beth followed behind the three as they made their way into the fenced in backyard.
"Hi, hon," Jace's smile grew when she reached in for a quick kiss from her wife.
"So, what have you two been up to all afternoon?" Jace asked the two girls.
"We're playing pretend," Katie answered. "Charlie is Xena, see, she even has the sword."
"Really?" Jace winked at Beth. "Well, princess, if Charlie is Xena, who does that make you?"
"Gabrielle," Beth answered quickly as Katie and Charlie nodded their heads. "Should we be worried?" Beth whispered in her wife's ear, giving her a sly grin.
Jace leaned her head back and laughed aloud, setting the two girls down on the ground. "All right, back to your games you two." She then turned and walked toward the house, one arm wrapping around Beth's shoulder.
The two older women broke their embrace when their daughter came in through the sliding glass door. As was her habit, Katie tugged on the leg of Jace's cotton slacks. Her mother grinned and lifted the girl into her arms.
Beth watched as the tiny blonde wrapped both arms around Jace's neck and kissed her cheek. The dark-haired woman returned the affection, as she wrapped long arms around the small child in her arms and held her in a warm hug. Beth smiled at the deep and loving bond that existed between Jace and their daughter. The tall woman was the one Katie ran to for protection and strength. The blonde woman enjoyed the irony, as she remembered her sixteen hours of painful labor and teaching Jace how to care for a newborn baby. The tall woman at first, held their child like a porcelain doll, afraid her every move would hurt the baby in some way. After all of that, and it was Jace who Katie ran to, Beth thought with loving humor.
"Yes, my princess?" The tall woman asked the girl in her arms.
"Jace, would it make you sad if I wasn't here?" the girl asked.
Jace pointed a questioning glance at Beth, who shrugged her shoulders, as confused as her wife over their daughter's question.
"Yes, sweetheart, your mom and I would miss you very much." Jace answered truthfully. "Are you thinking of moving away or something?"
Katie shook her head, but tears filled her small green eyes. Jace's heart nearly broke at the sight that reminded her so much of her wife's own tender gaze.
"What's wrong, princess? Can't you tell me about it?"
"I want to, but I'm afraid that if I tell you, Charlie will be mad at me." Katie answered.
Jace looked over helplessly at her wife. Beth had a nature as sensitive as the young girl in the dark-haired woman's embrace, and she was often more in touch with the emotional side of life than Jace. The smaller woman laid a gentle hand on her partner's forearm.
"Sweetheart," Beth spoke to Katie," does Charlie think her parents wouldn't miss her if she ran away?"
Katie simply nodded her head, and then buried her face against her mother's neck. Beth and Jace finally exchanged a knowing look.
"Katie, do Charlie's parents know where she's at?" Beth asked her daughter.
"No. Charlie said her mom wouldn't care." Katie answered, on the verge of actually crying.
"All right, princess," Jace said, squeezing the girl and giving her a kiss before depositing her on the ground again. "I want you to go outside and play with Charlie, and you let me and your mom solve this for you. Okay?"
Katie smiled up at both of her mothers, her fears suddenly disappearing. The young girl knew that telling them about her problem was the right thing to do. Jace had an answer for everything and Katie felt better about not having to actually tell Charlie's secret. She ran outside with the bright smile still on her face. She couldn't help it if her moms were so smart that they figured it out.
"Well." Jace said, once Katie was gone.
"Well, indeed." Beth tossed right back with her favorite saying. "Looks like we're going to have to be the bad guys and take her home. I just hate to think what that will do to Katie and Charlie's friendship." She added. Beth then told Jace all about Katie's confrontation with Charlie's mother, watching as the tall woman's blue eyes clouded over. "Do you think that's why the girl ran away from home, Jace? Because her mother wouldn't let her play with Katie?"
"It seems a little extreme, but you know how life and death kids can be." Jace answered. "Maybe they're soulmates." Jace added with a smirk, trying to lighten the mood.
"Oh, Jace," Beth slapped her wife's arm. "This is serious."
"I know, honey," the taller woman chuckled, pulling the small blonde into her arms. "I was just trying to lighten it up a bit. Look, I have an idea. Why don't you look in that directory the school gave us with all the parent's names and numbers in it? Look for..." Jace searched the kitchen and saw Charlie's backpack sitting in the corner chair. Printed on the leather tag on the inside flap was the name, Charlotte Cunningham. "Look for Cunningham, in Mrs. Flynn's class and give the parents a call. Let me work on the girl's psyche a bit and I bet I can get Charlie to change her mind."
"Oh, thanks a lot. How come I get to talk to the homophobic parents?" Beth replied with a laugh.
"Honey, we don't really know that was the reason. It could have been something else entirely." Jace responded.
"Uh huh, sure." Beth arched an eyebrow in her wife's direction.
"Okay, well let's at least give them the benefit of the doubt. Besides, you're better at those sensitive chats than I am. Plus...I'll make it up to you later," the dark-haired woman whispered to the smaller woman in her arms.
"It's five o'clock, that's it I'm calling the police." Darryl Cunningham brushed past his wife, who obviously looked as though she'd been crying.
Just as the man reached for the phone it rang, startling the two people.
"Yes? Yes this is Charlie's father," Maggie held her breath until her husband spoke the next words.
"She is? Thank God. Yes, thank you so much. Yes, Beth, I remember you and your partner, Jace's names, from the directory too. I can't understand why Charlie would—what? She did?" Darryl looked at his wife and placed his hand over the mouth of the phone. "We are going to have a talk when I get off this phone, Margaret Cunningham." Darryl hissed.
Maggie lowered her head. The minute she heard the two names she realized where her daughter ran off to, and why. She was frightened of what she didn't understand and angry, and unfortunately, it spilled out at her daughter. She loved Charlie so much and she only wanted what was best for her daughter, but growing up in the small Oklahoma town where she did, filled her with many strange bible belt prejudices. Maggie realized, listening to her husband finish the phone conversation, that what she thought was best for her daughter, was perhaps a little colored by the stories and snide remarks about gays that she heard growing up.
Darryl simply turned to his wife. He saw the tears in her eyes and the contrite expression on her face. He never could stay mad at her long, especially since she was usually harder on herself than anyone.
"She said you sent her daughter home in tears." Darryl said gently. "That doesn't sound like you, Maggie."
Maggie raised her head and a few tears spilled from the eyes as blue as her daughter's. "I—I treated that little girl badly, Darryl. I was so afraid...afraid that Charlie would be like her if she hung around the girl. I don't know what I was thinking."
Darryl took one long breath and released it, sitting on the couch beside his wife. Placing an arm around her and handing her a tissue, he explained.
"Maggie, that girl that you treated so badly has as much chance of realizing she's a lesbian someday as your own daughter. It's a roll of the dice and nothing you ever say or do, no way that you raise her, will change that."
"I know, it's just that--"
"You want what's best for Charlie." Darryl answered with a small grin. He kissed his wife's forehead and smiled at her. "I know that, but what if being gay is what's best for her? What if marrying a man and living out your dream makes her miserable? Would you really want that for her, Maggie?"
"No, of course not. It's just...well, lesbians...they drive trucks and wear baseball caps." Maggie wiped her eyes, trailing off.
Darryl couldn't help it, he laughed aloud. "Oh, sweetheart, where do you get this stuff?" He asked the rhetorical question. "I want to tell you something, Maggie. It's something I've never shared with you because I know the way you've always felt, but it's about time you saw people for who they really are. My sister Emily is gay."
"What?" Maggie mouthed the word silently. "Darryl, that's impossible."
"Why?" Her husband asked.
"Well...I mean...we've been married for ten years. Don't you think I would have noticed if Charlie's own Godmother were gay?"
"No, sweetheart, you wouldn't. Emily knows how you feel and over the years she's gotten very good at hiding her life, from her co-workers, from her friends, and especially from her family. Is that how you would want your daughter to live, given the slim chance that she might grow up and discover she's gay?"
"But...I don't understand. Emily wears dresses and makeup, and everything."
The confused tone to his wife's voice sounded much better to Darryl that the adamant stand she'd taken about gays only days earlier. She looked a little overwhelmed, but definitely more educated, as her husband explained that gay men and lesbian women were every bit as diverse a group of people as straight men and women could be.
"Come on," he pulled her up from the sofa. "Let's go meet our daughter's new best friend...and her parents." He added at last.
Jace walked into the backyard after changing into a t-shirt and faded blue jeans. She sat down at the wooden picnic table and watched as the young girls came running over to her breathlessly as soon as they saw what she held in her hands.
"Ready for an ‘I-snuck-these-out-of-the-house-when-your-mom-wasn't-looking' snack?" Jace asked the two.
Both heads nodded up and down enthusiastically as they sat down on the bench seat across the table from the tall woman. Jace handed each girl two Oreo cookies, then she sat back with an amused look on her face. The small, dark-haired girl slowly demonstrated to a rapt audience of one, the subtle nuances behind eating the chocolate and vanilla delight. Katie watched in fascination as the older girl showed her how to twist off the cookie and eat the creamy filling inside first, before then trying to stuff the remaining cookie halves into her mouth at once.
Katie tried it for herself on her last cookie, and Jace watched that tiny tongue poke out in fierce determination, but the cookie crumbled in her small hand. She looked ready to cry and to Jace's amazement, Charlie became the girl's savior.
"It's okay, that happens all the time, it still tastes good." Charlie explained, scooping the broken pieces into her own hand and placing her remaining whole cookie within Katie's grasp. "Here, try it again." She added matter of factly, placing the broken bits of cookie into her mouth.
The older woman leaned back and studied the behavior, trying to remember if she was ever that chivalrous at eight years old. It didn't take much after the cookies to get Charlie talking to Jace. At one point Beth called Jace to the house to inform her that Charlie's parent would be coming by to get her, so the older woman had better act fast.
Upon returning to the picnic table, Jace crept up silently and overheard Charlie's ideas for running away with Katie. She cleared her throat and sat down again.
"So, you're heading out on your own, are you?" Jace asked.
Charlie looked surprised that the older woman wasn't angry.
"It's okay," Jace added. "I understand. Sometimes you just have to set out on your own."
"But...I was going to go with Charlie, Jace." Katie said in a quiet voice.
"Oh...I see." The dark-haired woman answered knowingly. "Well, your mom and I would miss you an awful lot, princess, but I can understand how you would want to be with your friend. I'm sure Charlie will take good care of you and make sure you're not too sad. I'm sure if you cry a little because you're lonely, well, Charlie will understand it's only because you're so sad at leaving us behind." Jace finished and sat back to watch. She had a feeling about this girl and she wanted very badly for Charlie to prove her right.
"You'll be sad?" Charlie asked Katie.
"Well, I'll miss being with my moms, Charlie. I like being with you too, though, so I'll try not to be too sad." Katie replied, but her lower lip was already quivering.
Charlie lowered her head and Jace took the opportunity to smile briefly and wink at her daughter. Katie brightened suddenly, aware now of what her mother was trying to do to her friend. Jace went on to explain what the world outside Charlie's mom and dad's house was like. By the time the older woman finished speaking, Charlie didn't know if she wanted to run away so bad, anymore. The world sounded a lot scarier than she thought and she realized that her own mother didn't sound so bad in comparison. Then a tiny part of her wondered if her mom was missing her at all like Jace said she would miss Katie.
"My mom's probably real mad by now though, huh, Jace?" Charlie asked in a small voice, secretly wondering if her mother would come and get her if she asked very nicely.
The young girl was wavering on the proverbial fence, but the older woman's next words sealed the deal, so to speak.
"Oh, I don't know Charlie, moms are strange people sometimes. Too bad you girls will be leaving us, though. You know, there's a lot of stuff you just can't get when you run away from home."
"Like what?" Charlie looked up curiously.
"Oh, no more warm bed to sleep in at night, you'll have to get used to the hard ground. Did you bring a blanket or a sleeping bag...maybe some matches to start a fire?"
Charlie shook her head.
"Well, it might be hard for you at first, but you seem like a strong girl so you should be able to get along all right. I don't know if I could do it, though, especially when I think about what Katie's mom is making for dinner." Jace stretched her arms over her head, trying to appear nonchalant.
"What's for dinner, Jace?" Katie innocently asked.
"Fluffer Banutters." The older woman answered casually.
"Yea!" Katie cried out, clapping her hands together. Turning to look at her dark-haired friend, Katie explained. "They're my favorite."
"What are Fluffer Banutters?" Charlie asked in confusion.
"Mom makes a sandwich with crunchy peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, then she slices a banana on it."
Charlie's eyes went wide and a smile lit up her small face at the description of the meal that only a child could love. Jace watched the transformation of the young girl's face, from glee to disappointment, as the older woman explained that there would be no food like that on the road.
"Yea, you'll probably have to stick to fish from the creek, of course, you may have to eat them raw if you don't have any matches to start a fire. It's still warm out now, you won't run into any real problems getting food until winter gets here."
Little by little, Charlie's plan was crashing in on her as reality was compared to her fantasy of running away and being on her own. That's when Jace moved in for the final blow.
"It's not always easy to be a mom, Charlie." Jace suddenly started explaining. "Sometimes I get so worried about taking care of Katie and making sure she has everything she needs, or that she doesn't get sick or hurt, that I forget to find out if she's happy. Sometimes I'm so busy doing all the things I need to as a mom, that I don't always talk to her like I should. I know one thing, though. I don't know how I would go on without Katie in my life. She's my only child and I can't begin to tell you how sad I would be if she left her mother and I." Jace finished.
Katie moved from her seat to sit in her mother's lap and snuggled into the tall woman's warm embrace. Charlie looked very much like she wanted to cry, but was struggling hard not to.
"Do you think that's how my mom feels?" The small girl looked over into older blue eyes, the color of her own.
"I'll bet you anything it is, Charlie."
Jace stood and moved around to the other side of the picnic table. Holding her small daughter in one arm, she picked up the dark-haired girl in the other. Katie laid her head on her mother's shoulder, receiving a wink and a smile from her mother. Charlie snuggled against the woman whose strong embrace reminded the girl of her father. Jace felt the wet tears against her neck and gave the girl in her arms a squeeze. Eventually, the softly whispered words in Jace's ear caused a broad smile to cross the woman's face.
"Jace...I ran away from home today and my mom doesn't know where I am."
Jace turned her head and kissed the girl's forehead. "I tell you what, let's see if Beth has dinner ready, we'll call your mom and dad, then we'll eat and take you home. How's that sound?"
Charlie self-consciously wiped the tears from her eyes and nodded to the older woman. The young girl was afraid Katie would laugh at her for crying, but the small blonde simply leaned her head onto her mother's broad shoulder and smiled happily at her friend.
Just as Jace turned to go inside, the two girls still held in her solid grasp, a voice came at them from the direction of the backyard gate.
All three heads turned and Jace smiled when she saw the way the young girl's features brightened. The moment she set the small bundle down on the ground, Charlie was racing across the lawn and into her parent's arms.
Once the happy reunion was taking place, Katie wrapped her tiny arms around Jace's neck and kissed her cheek. The dark-haired woman returned the hug and a kiss of her own.
"What's this for?" Jace asked.
"Cause you're so smart, Jace. I knew you would figure a way to help Charlie. You're the smartest person in the whole world."
Jace chuckled and squeezed the young girl as she watched Beth walk outside. The tall woman could only wonder how much longer her daughter would feel this kind of hero worship toward her. The years were going by way too fast and Jace knew that one day her role as hero would be turned over to a young man or a young woman a lot like Charlie.
"Hi, I'm Beth Tyler and this is my wife, Jace." Beth introduced herself.
Darryl Cunningham accepted the young woman's hand and introduced his wife and himself in turn.
"I believe Mrs. Cunningham already knows Katie," Beth couldn't resist the dig. "And, you should know that Charlie is welcome here at our house anytime." Beth added.
Jace watched as her wife went into her ‘kill them with kindness' mode. The adults shook hands all around and the dark-haired woman noticed that Maggie Cunningham looked rather hesitant to touch her at first, then smiling nervously the woman grasped her hand and even gave Beth a small hug, which surprised both of the Tyler women.
Kneeling to the ground and hugging her daughter, Maggie caressed her daughter's cheek with her hand. "Charlie, you scared me to death." Maggie gently scolded her daughter. "Why would you do such a thing?"
"Katie's my best friend and you said she couldn't be. We have fun together...and I just didn't want to stop being her friend. You didn't even tell me why. You just told me to go to my room like I did something wrong." Charlie explained in a small hurt voice.
Maggie looked up at her husband and then at the adults around her, finally reaching over to brush long dark bangs from her daughter's eyes. "Oh, Charlie, I'm so sorry for acting that way with you, honey. I was caught up in all my own problems and I didn't even think of how it was affecting you."
"I know." Charlie answered knowledgably. "Jace said it's easy to get busy with grown up stuff when you're a mom. And I...I thought maybe I should go back home with you cuz maybe you'd miss me."
"Charlie," Maggie responded, hugging her daughter tightly and placing kisses on her face until the young girl giggled and squirmed away. "Honey, I would miss you so very much." She added.
Maggie looked up at the tall, dark-haired woman who held the small blonde girl in a very protective embrace, rocking the girl slightly, back and forth. Maggie gave a smile of thanks to this woman she judged so harshly, without even knowing her. She was surprised when the tall woman returned the smile.
"I have something to say to you," Maggie rose and stood in front of Jace, Katie, and Beth. Maggie swallowed nervously and continued. "I--I guess I owe little Katie an apology. I was rather rude this afternoon and...well, very narrow-minded. I come from a very small town and I know that's no excuse, but I never met anyone...I mean, I thought I never met anyone," Maggie looked over to her husband, "who was...um...um..."
"Gay." Beth finished for her.
"Yes, Maggie looked over in thanks and relief. "I've never known anyone who was gay," Maggie repeated. "And, well...I guess I got a lot of my perceptions from the outdated ideas of my parents. Seeing you two with your daughter, and the way you helped Charlie, especially after the way I treated Katie...I can see you're very loving parents who want all the same things for your daughter that we do for Charlie. I owe you a great deal for helping to open my eyes and I do hope you'll accept my apology."
Beth turned slightly to Jace, who winked at her.
"Apology accepted, Maggie." Beth said. "You know, we kind of promised the girls a special dinner and Jace and I were going to throw some salmon steaks on the grill. Why don't we start our friendship off by having dinner together."
Maggie suddenly looked like she was going to cry and Beth thought she offended the woman in some way.
"You...you still want to be friends? After what I--" Maggie started.
"All in the past." Jace smiled, lowering Katie to the ground.
Maggie and Darryl exchanged nods and accepted the heartfelt invitation.
"All right, fluffer banutters!" Katie jumped up and down in glee.
Katie took Charlie's hand, leading her friend into the house to wash up before dinner.
"What's a fluffer banutter?" Maggie asked in confusion.
Beth explained the concoction with a chuckle. "I don't really use much marshmallow, but I put it on whole wheat bread and Katie gets some protein and fruit without realizing it's good for her."
"I have to say it sounds positively disgusting," Maggie laughed in return, "but, if I could get Charlie to eat most of anything, I'd try it. Can I watch how you put these things together?"
"Sure, come on." Beth and Maggie walked to the house, already discussing the trials of raising girls.
Jace and Darryl smiled weakly at one another.
"I'm not much in the kitchen." Darryl commented.
"I'm a whiz, if you don't mind picking off all the black parts," Jace grinned. "You golf?" she asked.
"Yea," Darryl brightened. "I try to get out once a month."
"Well then, you've got to see my new toys...a set of PING drivers." Jace responded enthusiastically, steering the man into the house. By the time they were in Jace's study, the two were acting like old friends.
"Huh?" Katie answered her friend, taking her turn to stand on the red plastic stool placed in front of the bathroom sink. She finished washing and drying her hands by the time her friend spoke again.
"I hope you don't think I was being stupid or anything today. I just...I mean...I guess I didn't want anybody saying I couldn't be your friend." Charlie mumbled a little self-consciously.
Katie smiled sweetly at the older girl. "I didn't think you were stupid, Charlie. I thought you were kind of brave."
"Really" Charlie asked, feeling braver already. "I guess I feel a lot more brave when you're around, Katie. It's like..." Charlie lowered her head, feeling unsure and a little afraid of these new feelings. It was kind of like Katie was her little sister, sort of like family. "...It's like I can do anything when you're with me," she finished.
Katie's bright smile grew larger. "You're just like Xena, huh, Charlie? Like Xena does good stuff because she has Gabrielle as her best friend."
"And, I have you." Charlie added softly.