Cynthia woke late Sunday morning from a restless sleep. She remembered coming home the previous night still crying. She had cried until she no longer had any tears. God, I'm such an idiot. Slowly she stumbled through her morning routine eventually arriving in the kitchen for breakfast. She read a note on the counter explaining her roommates had left for church and would be home for lunch. Halfheartedly, she made some oatmeal then decided to go for a run.
Leaving the house she crossed the street to Forest Park. After 10 minutes of stretching she took off on her run. She set a solid mind numbing pace and counted her paces. She ran through the park concentrating on nothing aside from her count and her breathing. Step after step her feet pounded the pavement in a relentless manner. As each foot pounded the road, she internally pounded every thought that tried to enter her head.
Eventually she realized she no longer was running in the park, and was never really aware of a direction or destination. The count was important. The count kept her mind clear of thoughts. She didn't want to think, she only wanted to count.
She had been running for nearly an hour when she suddenly faltered. Her surroundings became devastatingly clear. As she slowed to a stop, she realized that she was on Delmar, in the Loop, directly across from Cicero's. She leaned against a parking meter, catching her breath, while thoughts flooded into her head. What the...? How did I...? Oh God, Toni... Idiot! Checking her watch she saw it was just after noon. With a big sigh, she waited for the light to change and crossed the road and entered the restaurant she and Toni had been in the night before.
There weren't many people there on an early Sunday afternoon so she had her pick of tables. Cynthia found herself at the same table she and Toni had eaten at the night before. Ordering a coffee, she stared out the window until it arrived. After a few sips, her thoughts turned back to Toni and the reason their evening had ended early.
The words, expressions and emotions were still fresh in Cynthia's mind. She was so angry. With good reason I might add. I can't believe I said those things. I can't believe I asked what was wrong with her! Tired of staring out the window, Cynthia focused on some of the large framed Niel Robert Brown photographs on the nearby wall, but the peace and beauty of the outdoor scenes were lost on the brunette this day.
She ordered a sandwich for lunch even though she didn't have an appetite and continued going over the events of the previous night in her mind. We were having such a good time until I opened my big mouth. She's so fun to be around, and enjoys life so much. Cynthia returned her gaze out the window. The sidewalks were crowded now with people as the day warmed nicely for February.
The server brought her sandwich and fries, along with a refill for her coffee. What bothered me about those two guys? I think they looked happy. Who am I to say they can't be happy? It was then she was stunned with a sudden realization. My God! What I said last night would be my mothers opinion on the matter! She was angry with herself for several reasons, but the fact that she allowed her mother's attitudes to become her own was the big one.
She walked east along Delmar after leaving the restaurant; a few blocks later she came to the spot she had argued with Toni the night before. Sitting on a nearby bench, she watched the people around her pass by. Within a few minutes, she saw the same two men she saw the night before. They must live nearby.
She watched them as they approached closer to where she was sitting. The taller more muscular one had his arm around the shoulders of the other and holding him close as they walked. They stopped together to look in a store window, both pointing at different objects on display. The two men chatted for a bit, then joined hands and continued toward Cynthia. As they neared, she was able to overhear them.
"...would look great in the living room. I know the perfect spot for it," the smaller man said excitedly as the two passed the bench.
The muscular male laughed, "I bet you do Jimmy. You've done wonders with the old place." He smiled fondly down at the smaller man. "But then you've done wonders for me as well."
Jimmy blushed and his partner laughed again. They moved out of Cynthia's hearing range, but she could see and feel the love that existed between the two. I hope I will find a relationship like that someday. Her thoughts turned back to her argument with her tall friend. I still can't believe my reaction to them last night. I can't believe the things I said to Toni. She turned from watching the two men and studied the ground near her feet.
Now she started to ask herself the important questions. Do I want Toni for a friend? Yes. Does it matter that she is gay? Cynthia mulled this over from every angle. No. It doesn't. It may matter to my mother but not to me. How can I fix what I said to Toni? Knowing that she owned Toni an apology, she quickly stood. I can only hope she'll listen to me and accept my apology.
It was when she turned to walk back home that she realized another problem. I don't know her number! God, I hope she's in the telephone book. Cynthia headed for home at a good walking pace. I'll call and apologize and pray that she'll forgive me. She grew more anxious with each step of the four miles back to her house. Emotionally she was a little fearful and very hopeful. Deep down though, below even her own awareness, was a touch of curiosity.
Toni woke late Sunday morning from her own restless sleep. The events of the previous evening were still fresh in her mind. She no longer felt the anger she had the night before, but a genuine sorrow over the loss of a new friendship saddened her heart. She couldn't even say a word after I told her. I guess she hates me. To restless to stay in bed, she got up and went into the kitchen for some breakfast.
Eating her cereal slowly, she tried to concentrate on the newspaper. Images from the night before kept intruding. Toni could still see the shocked expression on Cynthia's face. She could still hear the words Cynthia had spoken.
"You would think they wouldn't flaunt themselves like that in public," she had said. Then she continued with, "I mean, why do they have to share that with the rest of us?"
Those words had really hurt. How can such an intelligent woman be so closed minded? Toni set aside the newspaper for later since she couldn't seem to focus on what she was reading. Some of the words Cynthia had spoken had done more than just hurt. Some of the words had touched a wound she had thought healed.
"Just tell me what's wrong with you!" Cynthia had pleaded.
Toni remembered back to high school and the principal who had insisted that something was wrong with her. Luckily her orientation did not become public knowledge until late in her senior year. When it did, the principal had tried to get her expelled on moral grounds. Her parents and family had supported her in that trying time with love and understanding. They also went to the school board, the town council, and eventually a lawyer. The ironic thing was that the principal was forced to resign two years later when he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute.
Suddenly Toni realized that part of her anger was due to her former principal's attitude. She had transfered some of those old buried feelings to Cynthia. Oh God! I was so harsh to her. Maybe she didn't deserve that. I remember she said that she had never knowingly seen gay people before. But those feelings she has come from somewhere. Finishing her cereal, she washed the dishes and got ready to go for her run.
She drove her Durango over to Jefferson Barracks Park.. She loved the jogging trail there since there were different distance loops of path to run. After parking and stretching she set out on the five mile long path. The scenery and sounds of the wildlife was a welcome distraction as well as the deer grazing near the edge of the woods of a large natural meadow. Nearing the north end of the park, she noticed the Frisbee golfers were out enjoying the warm February day.
It wasn't long before her mind wandered back to Cynthia and their argument. I should have controlled my anger better. I should have known my past was actively influencing me. She was in such shock when I left. Her feet continued to beat a steady rhythm for her thoughts. Maybe she would have apologized. Maybe I should have apologized. Her pace went unchanged as the path turned back toward the south.
Arriving back near the lot where she had parked, she cooled down by walking the one mile loop. After the walk she climbed up into her SUV and headed back to her apartment. Toni took a quick shower and changed into some casual clothes before heading into the living room. She picked up the remote while plopping down on the couch. Maybe I should call her and apologize for being so rude, and explain why I was angry. Wait! I don't have her number! She reached for the telephone book and paged through it until she arrived at 'Pennington'. Damn! None of them are on Lindell.
Setting the directory aside she started to think. Hm, She doesn't have my number either and I'm unlisted. She got up off the couch and started pacing when she was suddenly struck by an idea. Taking her keys, she headed out to the Durango and found the basketball schedule that Cynthia had given to her. Damn! The game Tuesday is in the evening when I am at work, and the Friday game is in New York. She locked up the SUV and headed back into her apartment taking the schedule with her.
Looking at the schedule more closely, the next home game she would be able to attend was in a week and a day. I guess I'll have to wait until then. She went into the kitchen to fix lunch, then came back to watch sports and eat. Halfway through the afternoon, she changed into her uniform and headed off to work.
Cynthia slammed the phone book shut and pushed it away. She had been unable to find phone numbers of any of the Branson clan. I wonder why they are unlisted? I wonder if she would even talk to me? How am I going to contact her? Cynthia rose to retrieve a bottle of apple juice from the kitchen. She went over every bit of her interaction with Toni trying to remember any tidbit of information that would help her contact the tall raven-haired woman.
After several minutes of thinking and pacing Cynthia decided it was time to take her mind off the problem for a bit. Finishing her juice, she got her jacket and keys, then headed for her car. Clearing her mind, she placed a B-52's CD into the player and drove around Forest Park singing along with the music and taping her fingers on the steering wheel. The pop dance beat and funky rhythms soon had her almost dancing in her seat.
Feeling better after her singing and 'seat dancing', she drove to a nearby car wash. With her new Taco CD playing, she pulled into line. Once she had the car in the wheel cradle, Cynthia slid the stick into neutral. Turning the music off, she leaned the seat back while the Lexus was pulled through the automatic car wash. Thinking back a week earlier, she had been in a similar position when Toni had pulled over to help her.
Suddenly Cynthia sat up, fully alert. Her brother! I have that Invoice from the tow! I can contact her through him! She opened the glove box and found the invoice from 'Ronnie's Auto Repair & Service'. The invoice had all the information she needed. Damn! He's not open on Sunday's. I'll contact him first thing tomorrow. Still feeling hopeful, she was now happy that she had found away to contact Toni.
Toni had been awake for a few minutes when the alarm went off. She reached over to shut the noise off, then rolled back to stare at the ceiling some more. Thoughts were flying around inside her head at dizzying speed, mostly thoughts and images of Cynthia. God! What is with me? Forcing her mind to other matters, she quickly went about her morning tasks.
After her morning jog, Toni gave her mom a quick call at the bookstore and found herself agreeing to lunch. I sure hope she doesn't have anymore books for me. I don't think I could take the embarrassment! She gathered up her gym bag and headed out the door.
Her workout behind her, Toni drove into Kirkwood to meet her mother. Arriving at 'Turn The Page' she entered to find her mother at the counter.
"Hi sweetie, give me a minute to tell June I'm heading to lunch."
Toni nodded agreement then headed to the mystery section of the store. Not seeing anything new from her favorite authors, she browsed other titles for a minute then walked back to the front of the store. She waited until her mother and June were finished talking.
Her mother winked at her, "okay sweetie, I think June can survive without me for a few minutes."
"Well, if I must." June said with mock resignation. "Pearl tells me she gave those two books to you. When she first asked me my opinion I thought she had finally come to her senses and jumped the fence." June smiled suggestively at Pearl.
"Oh my!" Pearl responded with shock evident on her face. "Toni, remind me to never tease the Lesbians."
"No way Mom! You tease me all the time. I love to see June get you all flustered!"
June laughed , "see Pearl, we lesbians will gang up on you if you're not careful. Maybe Bud will let you come and play with the big girls sometime."
"Okay. Okay, I'll stop teasing. You two don't play fair! Let's go to lunch Toni, before the teasing backfires on June and I hop that fence right onto her lap!" She smiled at June and wagged her eyebrows before running out of the store.
Toni stared at June for a minute and said, "don't ask me! I don't have a clue!"
June chuckled and smiled at Toni, "your mother is a complex woman, but I am sure her sensibilities will be coming around any moment telling her that she just flirted with another woman. Go on and catch up to her. See you both when you get back."
Waving at June, Toni headed out the door. Turning the corner she saw her mother leaning up against the wall.
"Mom? You okay?"
Looking up at her daughter, she flashed a quick smile. "I'm fine. I've been wanting to toss that flirting of hers back at her for years. Didn't think I had it in me." Linking her arm with her daughters she said, "let's go to lunch."
They walked across Kirkwood road and headed up the block to Massa's. Once seated, they both ordered coke and salad. As mother and daughter waited for their food to arrive, Toni noticed her mother was slightly apprehensive.
"Okay Mom, spill it."
Her mother sighed, then looked at Toni with resolve. "Toni when we talked this morning I could tell something was bothering you. I don't know what but something has you off kilter. I know you don't like me to pry, but now that I have seen you, I know something has hurt you. Tell me what's wrong sweetie."
Toni was silent for a moment, then slowly told her mother about the evening she had with Cynthia. She started at the basketball game and by the time their salads arrived, she was describing their arrival at Cicero's. While they ate the salads, she talked about their dinner and wager, then moved on to their walk around the Delmar Loop.
"So as we had crossed the street and were headed back, we passed a couple, two gay guys walking and holding hands. I figured it was a good time to tell Cynthia about me. Before I could, she commented on the two gay men with a very homophobic remark about them displaying themselves to the general public."
"Oh dear," her mother said sadly.
"Yes, you know how I am. I compared the gay men to Cynthia and a boyfriend. asking how different the situations differed. I was angry, and I don't think she got my point. We argued for a minute, then she said the same words Principal Snyder said to me. She actually said, "Just tell me what is wrong with you." Stopping to catch her breath and to wrestle with her emotions she looked at her mother.
"Toni, I'm so sorry. What did you do? " Her mother spoke softly, concern etched on her face.
"Well I know she didn't mean it quite the way Snyder did, but I kinda snapped. I was angry and explained to her how close minded I thought she was and that we couldn't be friends because of her feelings and because I was gay." Toni sighed sadly, then continued. "She sat there very shocked, not saying a word, so I left. I was very harsh to her mom. Mainly because she brought out the feelings from five years ago."
Toni's mom caught her daughters hand. "I know she hurt you, but you are right. You were harsh. Too harsh."
"I know mom, I really want to apologize. Unfortunately I don't have her telephone number and she's not listed. Plus, she doesn't even have a home game until next week. I feel by then it may be too late."
Squeezing her daughters hand, "It may be sweetie, but you need to try. You don't only have to apologize, you have to explain why you were so angry. Cynthia needs to know that at least."
"I know you are right, and I'll tell her if she will let me."
"Now don't worry about it. You can't do anything until next week, so don't let it get to you."
"Thanks mom, I love you."
"I know sweetie, I love you too."
The two women finished their drinks, then headed back to the bookstore. Toni then left for work. When she arrived home later that night, she was very tired. Walking past the answering machine that held three messages, she stepped into the bedroom. Within a minute she was under the covers and sound asleep.
Cynthia woke on Monday and prepared for her day. After a shower and breakfast she gathered her backpack and headed out the door with Jen. When she got to her car she threw the backpack on the passenger seat and climbed in. Grabbing the invoice from Ronnie's Auto Repair & Service, she stuck it into the front pouch of her book bag, then stuck the sack down on the floor so Jen could climb in. Starting the motor, she backed out of the driveway and headed down Lindell to school.
She sat through Professor Lawson's lecture eagerly awaiting the end of class. When then evil little twerp finally concluded and released the class, she gave a quick wave to her roommate and jogged quickly to the Molecular Biology lecture hall so she would have plenty of time to talk with Toni's brother. Finding a bench in the hall that offered a little privacy, she pulled out the invoice and dialed the number.
"Ronnie's Auto Repair & Service, may I help you?" A female voice inquired.
"Yes, I'm a friend of Ronnie's sister and would like to talk with him."
"Okay, hold for a minute please"
Cynthia waited patiently, hoping she had spoken the truth about being Toni's friend. I hope she will forgive me. After a minute or two, a cheerful male voice came on the line.
"This is Ronnie, how can I help you?"
"Ronnie, this is Cynthia Pennington. You and your sister helped rescue my Lexus and me last week."
"Yes, I remember. By the way thanks for the 'wedding present'. Cheryl loved the food, plus seeing me in a suit is a rare treat for her."
"That was my pleasure Ronnie. But I find myself calling you to ask a favor."
"What can I do for you Cynthia?"
Hesitating slightly, "Well, ummm..." I wonder if he knows Toni is gay? Taking a deep breath she continued. "Toni came to my basketball came Saturday and I took her out to dinner as a thank you for the rescue. Anyway, we had a great time until the end when I said some silly things causing her to get angry. Then after a brief argument she left."
"Let me guess. She came out to you and you were shocked?"
With a little relief that she didn't have to keep that secret from Toni's brother she said, "Well to be honest, I said something about two men we saw before she told me. I'm afraid my words were prejudicial and obviously made her angry. Before I could recover from the shock of her anger she shocked me with her news of being gay. She left before I could recover."
"I need to apologize to her. I learned something about myself and how parental opinions can be fostered into their children. And I'm not happy with that. I need to apologize to Toni. I think I need to learn things from her so I can change things about myself. But I don't have her number and was hoping you could help me."
"It takes a bit of gumption to admit something like that to yourself, and even more to admit that to someone you don't really know. I'll give you Toni's number, and I really hope you can change those things about yourself that you would like to change.
"Thank you Ronnie. I really appreciate this."
"I just want you to know that Toni had a rough time right before graduating high school, and that's where a lot of her anger comes from. I'm hoping that she will help you change those things you want to change, but I am also hoping you can help her change some things about herself. She really needs a close friend."
"If she will let me Ronnie, I'll try my hardest."
"That's all I can ask."
Cynthia wrote down Toni's phone number in her daily planner, then thanked Ronnie for his help. Glancing at her watch she was glad to still have time before class. She dialed Toni's number. When she heard the click after the fourth ring, her excitement grew and she hoped Toni would accept her apology. Unfortunately it was Toni's answering machine with a computer generated message.
After the beep Cynthia said, "Umm Toni? This is Cynthia. I got your number from Ronnie. I know you may not want to hear my voice but I really need to apologize and talk to you in person. I am hoping you will allow me this chance. Please call me when you have a minute. My cell num...." There was another beep and Toni's answering machine disconnected.
Cynthia noticed others in the hallway looking her way after her outburst but ignored them. Hitting redial she waited patiently for the beep and said, "Cynthia again, my cell is 555-5309. Please call me."
Hanging up, she prepared for the next class. After each class that day she checked for messages, but nothing from Toni. After her classes were done, she assumed Toni was at work and would not call her. I hope she's at work and missed the message. I really hope she's not ignoring me. Her basketball practice wasn't the best since her mind was really on Toni, but she pushed herself to improve her concentration. When practice was over and she had showered, she decided to leave another message on Toni's machine.
Cynthia waited for the beep and said, "It's Cynthia again, I have a game Tuesday night at SIU - Carbondale. Our bus leaves around noon. Please call me Toni."
Hanging up, she headed home. The girls were having the weekly movie party tonight since she would be gone Tuesday. Luckily they had decided on comedies, and Cynthia was feeling a little better by bedtime.
Toni woke late on Tuesday morning since she didn't have to work later. She dressed for her morning jog before heading to the kitchen for breakfast. Seeing the message light on the answering machine, she pressed the play back button.
"Umm Toni? This is Cynthia. I got your number from Ronnie. I know you may not want to hear my voice but I really need to apologize and talk to you in person. I am hoping you will allow me this chance. Please call me when you have a moment. My cell num...." BEEEEEP!
Toni had listened to the message in shock, and almost cried out when her lousy machine had silenced Cynthia. Soon the next message was playing.
"Cynthia again, my cell is 555-5309. Please call me."
Toni scribbled down the number, then listened to the last message.
"It's Cynthia again, I have a game Tuesday night at SIU - Carbondale. Our bus leaves around noon. Please call me Toni."
Toni looked at the clock to see it was just 9:30 in the morning and smiled to herself. Well, well. She went above and beyond to find my number, and she wants to apologize. I guess that's something we both need to do. She picked up the phone and dialed Cynthia's number.
"Hi, This is Cynthia. I'm either in class, on the court, or in bed. Take your pick. But leave a message and I'll call you when I am done with class, basketball, or sleep."
Toni waited for the beep and replied, "Cynthia this is Toni returning your calls. I also need to apologize as well, and explain a few things. I'm headed out the door for my jog but I should be back by 10:30, Call me at 555-3877."
Toni returned home an hour later and saw a new message flashing on her machine. Almost running over to it, she pressed the play button.
"Hi Toni! I got your message and I'm so glad you called me back. I'm done with my class for the day and am heading home to get lunch and my stuff for the road trip. I'll have my phone right next to me, so call when you come back from your jog! Bye."
Smiling to herself, Toni made the call to Cynthia's cell phone.
Cynthia picked up and asked tentatively, "Hello?"
"Hi Cynthia, Toni here."
"Hi, I am so glad you could look past my words the other night and call me back."
"Nonsense. I think we both said things we regret."
With relief evident in her voice, Cynthia asked, "So, why don't we meet again? I'll remove my feet from my mouth and we can try again. I really enjoyed our evening before I said those things. Let me take you out again and maybe we can past that."
"No, " Toni said, sharper than intended. Softening her voice she continued, "After all, you won the wager. It will be my treat!"
Cynthia shyly chuckled. "You had me worried there for a second. I'm free Wednesday evening and anytime after 10 and before 6 on Thursday. We're leaving Thursday night for a game Friday. Can you squeeze me in?"
"I work Wednesday evening, but Thursday sounds good. I go to the gym around 10:30 but would be free by lunch."
"Can you have guests at your gym? I need to work out after my morning class, and we could do it together if you like."
"That would be great. The gym is actually out just past your Lexus dealer on Manchester. Let me get the exact address. Hold on a sec." She pulled out her key chain which had her gym pass on one of the loops. "Here it is. 14204 Manchester Road. It's called Gold's Gym and it's fairly easy to spot."
Cynthia paused as she scribbled down the information, "Okay, I got it. 10:30 at the gym, right?"
"Yes, 10:30. And Cynthia?"
"I'm very glad you went to the trouble to get my number from Ronnie. I had tried to find you in the phone book with no luck. I did have your schedule but you didn't have a home game until next week and..." She paused as she ran out of breath.
"Toni, that's okay. I had to try. I realized something about myself I didn't like. I had to call hoping you would let me apologize. I am also hoping we can still be friends."
"Are you sure Cynthia? Are you okay with me being gay?" Toni asked with a worried tone to her voice.
"A part of the soul searching I did Sunday included that very question and the answer is yes. I'll tell you more Thursday, I promise. But now I have to head to the Athletic Complex for the bus ride down to Carbondale."
"Good luck tonight Cynthia. And I think you can stop hoping if we can still be friends. I think we are friends. Okay?"
"Thank you Toni. I really appreciate your ability to forgive. See you Thursday, friend."
Toni placed the phone receiver back in the base unit. That worked out well. Picking up her gym bag, she headed for the door. Hmmm. I wonder if I can talk her into coming to the show on Saturday? I just bet she would freak. The insane giggle that issued forth from her mouth shocked her at first but she was just thankful to be happy again.
Continued in Chapter 5
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