By SX Meagher
On Monday morning, Mia was up early, determined to find a way to get to Colorado before the week was up. She'd had her cell phone turned off all weekend, and when she'd returned to Berkeley, there had been at least a dozen messages from her parents, but she was determined not to speak to them until her plans were set. Mia knew that she was punishing them for the way they'd treated her, but that wasn't her primary motivation for the snub. Even though she was confident that she was doing the right thing, this decision was a major turning point in her life, and she didn't want their objections or disapproval to cause her determination to waver.
Her mind had been racing all night long, and though she'd gotten very little sleep, Mia still wasn't tired. She'd used her sleepless hours well, coming up with plans, reworking some, scrapping others. She had a few ideas that she wanted to try out, and her first class was the perfect place to start.
Mia left home early and stopped by Sufficient Grounds for a large coffee. She was the first to reach her classroom, and she stood outside and made a list of everyone she knew by name. She had nineteen names on her list by the time the grad assistant arrived to begin the lecture. During the class Mia wrote out requests to each of the students she thought would cooperate, asking if they'd share their notes with her for a week. She figured there was a good chance that anyone she knew would flake out on her, so she asked two people to cover each week-in hopes that one of the two would not only agree, but would actually attend the class and take notes.
Just before the class was scheduled to end, Mia snuck out the back door and waited. Her first victim walked out right after her, and she put on her most engaging smile. "Hey, Steve!"
"Hi," the young man said. "What's goin' on?"
"I'm not gonna be in town next week. Would you take notes for me?"
"Uhm … sure. Okay."
She handed him five dollars and an envelope that was pre-stamped with Jordan's address. "Here's some money to pay for copying them and an envelope so you can send 'em to me."
He looked surprised. "Send 'em?"
"Yeah. I'm gonna be in Colorado."
"Can't I just give 'em to you when you get back?"
"Well, yeah, you could." She saw another person on her list and tried to cut it short. "But I don't wanna fall behind. Can I have your e-mail address and cell phone number?"
He gave her a smile that was a little on the flirtatious side. "Sure." She dutifully wrote down his information, then kissed him on the cheek and ran to the next person, performing this ritual until her calendar was full.
She was breathless when she'd finished, but she had offers from several people to share notes for the whole term if she needed them. Since these people seemed the most willing to go out of their way for her, she asked if she could call them every week to obtain class assignments and get information about the final exam.
When she was finished, she was fairly confident that she would get the majority of the information she'd need to take the final, and if she missed a little here or there, it wouldn't be fatal. Luckily, the graduate student wasn't very interested in running a tight ship, and attendance had never been taken. Given that class participation wasn't part of the grade, Mia knew she could handle that particular class from anywhere on earth.
Her well-laid plans went off without a hitch for her next two classes, and she called Jordan with the good news, unable to go more than a few hours without hearing her lover's voice.
"Being friendly has really paid off for you," the blonde teased. "I didn't know more than one or two people in any of my classes."
"It always pays to be friendly. If I hadn't been friendly with you, we wouldn't be together now, and God knows I'm glad we are."
"I'm glad, too, babe. Our lunch break's just about over. I'll call you when we're through for the day, okay?"
"Okay, sweetheart. Don't let 'em work you too hard. You're gonna need your strength when I get there this weekend."
"If that's what you decide to do," Jordan added, ever the realist.
"You can believe me when you see me," Mia said. "Talk to you later, baby."
* * * * * * *
Her next class was the one she had been dreading, and as the professor began the class discussion, she realized she'd probably be lucky to even be able to arrange for an incomplete.
The teacher was a young man, and he believed that class discussion was the most important part of the learning experience. He allowed each student to miss two classes, and Mia had only missed one so far, even attending when she'd really been sick so she could use her last cut for something fun.
Getting class notes wasn't going to be very helpful or get her around the attendance requirement, so when class ended, she took in a breath and approached the man. "Hi, Professor Norris."
"Hello," he said, giving her a rather blank look. "What's up?"
Even though Mia was gregarious and exuberant in most settings, she kept a low profile in class. She'd learned long ago that the best way to get through college was to be neither seen nor heard, as much as possible.
"Something very unexpected has come up, and I'm going to be in Colorado for the rest of the term, Professor. Is there any way that I can complete the class if I'm not able to attend?"
Suddenly, Mia had his attention. "Not attend?" he asked. "How can you learn the material if you don't share your thoughts with your classmates? The free flow of ideas is what cements the concepts in your mind …" He trailed off, not knowing her name and not wanting to ask for it.
Nobody cements the concepts anyplace, she wanted to say. We just tack 'em up at the last minute so we can stick 'em in a blue book during the final and never think of 'em again! But she was sure he wouldn't agree with her philosophy on higher education, so she tried another tack.
"I'd be happy to write a term paper, do independent research … anything, Professor. I've learned a lot so far, and I can show you how well I know the subject in another way."
"That's the problem," he said. "You can show me what you get out of the reading, but you can't hone your ideas with the input you get from me and the rest of the class. I'm afraid you wouldn't have a complete grasp of the subject, and I can't go along with that."
She looked at him for a minute, trying to determine any weakness she might be able to exploit. But she could tell he really believed in what he was saying. She didn't approve of it, but she could tell. "Okay," she said. "Is there any chance of getting an incomplete? Then I'd just have to attend class for eight weeks when I return."
"No," he said, shaking his head. "That won't work. Each class is different, and part of the experience is seeing how ideas develop over the term. I'm afraid you'll have to withdraw."
"No other options, huh?" She wasn't going to flirt with him, mainly because of Jordan, but also because she could see it wouldn't work.
"No, I'm afraid not," he said, looking genuinely regretful.
"Well, I'm not certain I'm going, but if I do, I'll withdraw. You'll get a note from the registrar."
"I hope you're able to stay … Uhm, I'm sorry, but what was your name?"
"Jessica Alba," she said, never one to give her real name when a pseudonym would do.
* * * * * * * *
Jamie was at home on Monday morning, getting ready for her afternoon classes. She answered the ringing phone, concerned to hear her mother's voice-sounding horribly upset. "Jamie, did you read the paper today?"
Thinking back a few hours, she replied, "Uhm, yes, I read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Why? What's wrong, Mom?"
With a heavy sigh, Catherine steeled herself and said, "The Chronicle had a gossipy little blurb about my divorce. I'm so sorry to pull you into the spotlight again, honey, but they mentioned your name, too. Then, just a few minutes ago, I had the television on, and they reported on it. They're talking about my divorce, but they had to include a picture of you and Ryan."
She sounded so anxious and distressed that Jamie immediately tried to soothe her. "It'll be okay, Mom. This kind of thing doesn't last long. It'll blow over by tomorrow."
"Oh! I'm not upset about having my name mentioned," Catherine insisted. "I'm upset because they're dragging you two into the whole mess."
"Mom, don't be silly," Jamie said. "It doesn't bother us to have our names mentioned; we just don't want people chasing us. That hasn't happened to you, has it?" she asked.
"No, not at all. I just don't want you to be harassed any longer."
"We're fine," Jamie insisted. "Once you've been the top gossip story in the country for a few weeks, you really do get used to it. Which brings me to the reason I was going to call you," she said.
"I don't like the sound of that," Catherine said. "What's wrong?"
"I might be jumping back into the limelight, and I wanted to talk to you a bit before I made up my mind."
"You might voluntarily jump back in?" Catherine asked, a note of incredulity in her voice.
"Yeah. Hard to believe, right?"
"So far, definitely."
Jamie told her mother the entire story, and at the end of her explanation, Catherine asked, "Do you want advice, honey, or are you just letting me know?"
The younger woman smiled. "That's such a perfect way to respond, Mom. When you put it that way, I guess I just wanted to let you know that I'm thinking about doing it. If you have any major objections I'm glad to listen to them, but if not, I'd like to make up my own mind."
"Go right ahead. This is between you and your father."
"And my community," Jamie added. "I hate to be put into the role of representing the gay people of California, but I probably have more weight with the media than anyone else right now. I hate that, but I can't ignore it."
"I understand that, Jamie, but you don't have to let your notoriety run your life. You should only do this if you want to, not just because other people want you to."
"I know that, but it's hard to ignore the pressure. Say, speaking of communities, how has yours reacted to the news of your divorce? Have you heard from many people?"
"My phone has been ringing all day with condolence calls." She laughed mirthlessly as she added, "Most of them just want me to speak badly of your father, which of course I won't."
"They don't know you very well, do they?" she asked, smiling when she considered how much she'd learned about her mother in the past year, and how nearly every bit of information she's gleaned had increased her love and respect.
Now Catherine's laugh sounded genuine. "I suppose that's a good point. I don't really want that type of person in my life, anyway. Thanks for reminding me of that, Jamie."
"That's my job," she said.
* * * * * * * *
That afternoon, Mia shared the results of her struggles with Jamie. "It was kinda humbling to find a teacher I couldn't have my way with," she said. She was sitting at the kitchen table with her head resting on her stacked fists. Her normally bright eyes were a little dull, and she had been uncharacteristically listless since she'd gotten home.
"If you could charm everyone in the world, that would make life way too easy," Jamie teased. "Isn't it more fun when you have to work for it?"
"No. This is a hell of a time to come up against a teacher who actually cares if I learn the subject. Why'd I have to take a class from a newbie?" She thought back for a minute. "I remember. This was the only class that fit my schedule, didn't require any papers, and just had a take home exam at the end of the semester." She sat up and banged on the table with her hand. "This woulda been so perfect!"
"Well, at least you can get out of your other classes. When you come back to Cal, you'll only have to take one class."
Mia nodded glumly. "You can bet your ass it's gonna be from someone who's about to retire."
* * * * * * * *
While Ryan was at softball practice, Jamie went outside to think. She sat in a chair in the quiet, cool yard, trying to sort through all of the ramifications that writing the article could have. It came down to the damage it would do to her relationship with her father, versus the good it could do for her community. In this instance, she decided that her community needed a boost-even at the cost of more dissention between her and her father.
On a whim, she called Ryan, surprised to have her answer. "Can you talk?"
"Seems like it," she said, stating the obvious. "What's up?"
"I've got to do the article," she said. "I don't want to, but I have to."
"I understand," Ryan said. "Really, I do."
"I've got to call my father right now," Jamie said, sounding small and sad and defeated. "I'm not going to have a minute's peace until I get it over with."
"Wanna wait for me? I can't be home until 7:00, but I'd love to be able to hold your hand while you do it."
"Thanks, honey, but I have to get it over with."
"I'm just shagging balls in the outfield," Ryan said. "I could sneak away, and no one would miss me."
Jamie smiled at the image of her partner sneaking away from the field. "That's okay, honey. You go shag. I'll see you when you get home."
"I love you," Ryan said. "I respect you, too."
Jamie could feel herself starting to choke up, and she whispered, "Bye." She walked up the stairs, head bowed. She was both pleased and disappointed when her father answered his cell phone. "Hi, Daddy," she said.
"Hi, honey," he said quietly. "I'm at a benefit dinner. Can I call you later?"
"Uhm … sure. I'll be here."
She heard rustling and he whispered, "Hang on." A minute passed, and he said, "I stepped outside. You don't sound like yourself. What's wrong?"
"I, uhm … have something pretty serious to talk to you about, but it's not urgent or anything. I just wanted to -"
"Jamie, I always have time for you. I'm not the guest of honor or anything here. They'll just think I'm conducting state business. Now, what's the matter?"
They hadn't spoken since their fight over his comments to the San Francisco Chronicle revealing that he supported President Clinton's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, as well as the Defense of Marriage Bill, and Jim could tell by his daughter's voice that this conversation was going to be uncomfortable.
"I'm sure you realize how upset I was over your comments in the paper," she began.
"Yes, you made your feelings very clear," he said. "And I hope I was clear about how sorry I was that I upset you."
"You were," she said. "But sometimes you have to do what you think is right-even when it hurts someone you love."
He paused before he spoke, feeling like he was going to cry. "You have no idea how it makes me feel to have you realize that's true," he said, his voice filled with emotion. "Just because I vote a certain way or support a certain policy doesn't mean that I love you any less, Jamie. I'm very proud of you, and I'm very pleased to see that you're creating a good life with Ryan. I can see how happy you are, honey, and I swear that's all I've ever wanted for you."
"I know that, Dad," she said. "I hope you know that I love you, too."
"I do," he said. "I truly do." He was smiling, feeling lighter and happier than he had in days. He was just about to tell her again how happy she'd made him when she spoke.
"You know, I hope you really do believe that I love you, Dad, and that I'm doing what I'm doing out of principle."
"What are you talking about?" he asked, trepidation in his voice.
"Some representatives of a major gay and lesbian political action committee have asked me to write an opinion piece concerning Prop 22. They want me to write about my feelings on the administration's two-faced approach to gay rights. I've agreed to do it, Dad, and it's going to be published in the Chronicle next Monday."
She could hear the breath he exhaled, and she waited expectantly for him to form a reply.
"Are you just trying to get back at me?" he asked, his voice sounding weary and thin.
"No," Jamie said emphatically. "Not at all. I'll admit to being really angry, and at first, I entertained the idea because I was so furious with you. But I've thought about it a lot, and this is something that I feel very strongly about. I won't get many chances to reach people in this way, and I feel like I need to seize the opportunity."
"Will you at least send me a copy of the article so my staff can prepare a response? I'd like to minimize my embarrassment as much as possible."
She wished she could think of something to say that would make him feel better but knew that she couldn't. "I'll send it to your home e-mail account. I'd really appreciate it if you could call me after you've looked at it. I'm willing to make changes if there's anything you find objectionable."
"All right. I'll call you after I read it." He switched off without saying goodbye, leaving her feeling even worse than she had before she'd called.
* * * * * * * *
Arriving at home after softball practice, Ryan went upstairs and found her partner lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling with a vacant look in her eyes. "How'd it go?" she asked.
"It went briefly," Jamie said. "I told him, he asked if I'd send it to him, then he said he'd call me after he read it." She turned to her partner. "He was really hurt."
"Makes sense," Ryan said. "Maybe he'll feel better when he actually reads it."
"Maybe," Jamie said. "Maybe not. Mind if I take a nap?"
"No, of course not." She ruffled her fingers through the soft blonde hair and asked, "Do you feel like going out to dinner, or would you rather just stay close to home?"
"Carry-outs," Jamie said.
"No problem," Ryan said. "We'll just cocoon tonight."
"Okay. Thanks, honey."
"Want me to rub your head to help you sleep?"
"Nah. I'm fine. Go order dinner."
Ryan started to walk out of the room, but something held her back. Crossing back to the bed, she sat on the edge and placed her hand on Jamie's cheek. "It's gonna be all right. He'll be angry, but he'll get over it. This is politics, honey, and he understands that."
"You sure?" she asked softly, craving reassurance.
"I'm positive. I really am. He loves you, and he won't let this little thing change how he feels about you."
"Could I have that head rub? And maybe a little cuddle?"
The larger woman smiled. "Absolutely. There's nothing I'd rather do."
Jamie sighed when her partner curled up behind her and began to stroke her head.
"Go to sleep, sweetheart. You'll feel better when you wake."
Jamie snuggled tightly against Ryan's warmth. "No, I feel better when you hold me. That's the key."
"That makes two of us," Ryan murmured.
* * * * * * * *
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