A Family Establishment
Saturday February 7, 2004
The Corner Bar on Thirty-fifth Street and Town Way had been the long time gathering spot of the neighborhood. Every decade or so, a new generation claimed it for themselves when the time was right. Kids living in that section of town revered the young adults congregating there, and with time, each group planned their succession into its gathering room. Over the years the building remained the same, just like the outline of the neighborhood, but with each changing of the guard, the atmosphere inside the bar changed too. Every new patron to enter its doors was a little tougher or wiser for having grown up without the trappings of money or fame. They brought with them the comfort of knowing that here in their little haven on the edge of the block they could be themselves, no matter who they were.
Wiping down the bar, the big fisted barkeeper, Gloria, came dangerously close to knocking over the stout glass in front of her only patron sitting at the bar. The young woman hadn’t even noticed for all the thoughts that were jumbling around in her head.
“Hey, O’Malley! You gonna drink that or just watch it until the ice is all melted?” Gloria stared at the childlike face that sat mesmerized deep in thought. “You’re giving my bar a bad rep,” she grabbed the old-fashion glass of lukewarm liquid, the ice cubes having melted a long time ago. “People will be thinking that I’m not giving them their money’s worth.” After a quick splash in the sink with its contents, the barkeeper leaned in to meet the woman’s gaze. “Maybe I should just give you a draft instead of wasting your money on my good whiskey tonight.”
The russet haired patron smirked. “Yeah, maybe.” Her gaze remained distant as she took in a breath and let it out slowly. A few seconds later the glass of draft beer was being set in front of her, its thin head of foam attesting to the bartender’s skill. Hesitantly, she hoisted it to her lips and sipped before putting it back down. There she remained, like some bad vignette in a grade school play, staring into her beer.
Gloria tilted her head from side to side as she studied the woman for a long moment. “Something wrong, Toni?” She waited until emerald eyes rose cautiously to meet her inquiring gaze. “Come on, I’ve known you since you were little. When you were a mere street urchin, playing on the back steps of my father’s bar.” The barkeeper rested her hands flat on the surface in front of her. Her fingertips stroked the wooden surface as if making a connection with the very man through the thing they both had loved most. “This very bar,” she reiterated lovingly. “I’ve watched you and most of this crowd,” her gaze swept over the crowd before settling back on the sulking woman on the barstool, “go from balls, to cars, to college and more, but I’ve never seen you this out of it.”
“Out of it? I’m not…out of it,” O’Malley protested, taking another sip from the glass then pushed it off to the side of her.
“I learned from the best barkeep around and that was my Dad. Don’t tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about here. You’re out of it and that’s not like you.” The salt and pepper haired woman looked around to make sure no one was listening. She then leaned in and whispered, “So, what’s her name? Do I know her?”
Toni’s eyes riveted to Gloria, her jaw set and unwavering. “What makes you think it’s a woman?” She watched as the smile broadened on the barkeeper’s face.
“Trust me, Toni.” The barkeep clapped her hand on the leather-clad arm of the lass. “It’s always a woman when your mind won’t let you drink.” She took the bar towel into her hand and began wiping down the aged wood. “Either that or you’ve killed someone.” She slowed her motion and looked out of the corner of her eye at the woman for a brief second before giving the flat top of the bar her attention again. “You don’t look like you’re a killer so…” Gloria winked at her then snickered. “It’s just basic human nature one-oh-one. And since ninety percent of my clientele is gay…”
“So I’ve been outted by the laws of statistics, eh?” Toni batted the tossed towel with one hand before it hit her and sent it right back at the barkeep.
“Honey,” Gloria chuckled uncontrollably, plucking the rag off of her shoulder. “You were outted the moment you started dressing like Alex. No straight girl would be seen imitating that carouser.” She brought her hand to her chin and rubbed it. “Although I’m sure some of them have…wished she were a guy, the really straight ones, that is.” Gloria became more flustered as Toni’s stare hardened on her. “Hey, who better to know their needs than another woman?”
“Maybe that’s the problem,” Toni mumbled, looking down at her bomber jacket, T-shirt, and jeans.
“I bet Alex has won more straight women over to lesbianism than I ever did in my day.” Gloria savored the thought for a moment. “You know, girls now-a-days are more free and willing to experiment than they were back then.” Her face took on a whimsical quality as she sighed. “God, if I could be twenty again…” her words trailed off as another vision of her randy days danced through her mind.
Toni dropped her head down to her arms while they rested on the bar in front of her. She stayed that way for a long time before her words softly floated out. “Did you ever think that maybe…” she paused for a few seconds then continued. “Maybe you’ve gone down the wrong path?”
The words took Gloria by surprise, stopping her in mid-wipe. She turned to gaze at the russet hair cascading down the back of the woman’s shoulders as a perplexed expression settled on the bartender’s face. “Huh?”
The younger woman raised her head then ran her hands through her hair, pushing it out of her face. “You know…like...” Toni paused for a moment to take a deep breath in and slowly let it out. “Like, you’re following a path for most of your life only to find out that it didn’t get you where you wanted to be.”
The lines around Gloria’s eyes became more pronounced as her gaze narrowed on Toni. “Are you saying you’re not gay?”
“I…I…” Her hesitation was interrupted by the sound of the bar’s creaky front door announcing another patron’s arrival. The sound of stomping boots caught O’Malley’s attention and she turned to see the newest customer. The sight of the tall, dark haired woman brushing flakes of snow from her leather jacket held her attention. A few seconds later, the woman raised her face to the crowd and flashed a sexy smile as her gaze swept across the crowded room. When their eyes met for the briefest of moments, Toni could feel her heart skip a beat.
The barkeeper looked up to see the slack-jawed woman and then followed her gaze to the door. Seeing the familiar face of a regular customer, Gloria smiled. “Hey, it’s only Alex,” she chuckled as she reached out to close Toni’s mouth. “Forget the question, you’ve just answered it. You’re family.”
Toni glared at her indignantly. “Of course I’m family. I’d still be family whether I’m gay or not,” she muttered, pulling away from the barkeeper’s hand. She thought for a moment, and sighed. “I don’t know what I’m saying, Gloria. Don’t pay any attention to me.”
Already Toni could feel the tingles rushing through her body just knowing that Alex was in the bar. She’d been that way since she was eleven years old when she started watching the older girl playing street ball or hanging out on the corners. There was something about the woman that made her excited and goose pimply.
Damn! There they go again. Toni rubbed her hands over her arms to ward off the telltale signs. Don’t be a baby. Turn around and look at her. God knows you want to. She gulped audibly. You have to.
Toni swiveled on her stool to face the newest addition to the crowd. She studied the woman for a few seconds until her mouth became parched and her heart started racing. Before she started hyperventilating, Toni quickly turned back to the safety of the old wood bar. Growing paler by the second, she hung on and rode out the wave of nervousness. It didn’t last long and when it ended she grabbed her glass of beer and brought it to her lips. After a hefty swig of the foamy brew she wiped her mouth on her sleeve, then smacked the nearly empty glass down on the counter. “Give me another one, Cuz.”
Observing her cousin’s sulking actions, Gloria thought for a moment before stepping over to the register. “Hey Toni, I’m running low on orange juice. Do you think you could head over to Wilson’s Market before the crowd gets any bigger? Pick me up a gallon.” She punched a few keys on the register causing the drawer to open. Taking some bills from the drawer, Gloria held out the money in the young woman’s direction. “Here take this,” she closed the cash drawer with one hand, then slid the bills down the bar at O’Malley. “I’ll have that beer ready for you when you get back.” The barkeep stared at Toni as she made up her mind. “On the house, of course,” she added with a wink, sweetening the deal.
“Sure, why not.” Toni pocketed the money and got up. “It’s not like I’m meeting anyone here for a date,” she said, turning to walk away from the bar. “Besides, she doesn’t even know that I exist,” she muttered, lowering her gaze to the floor as she tugged on her leather bomber jacket.
Not breaking her stride, O’Malley stuck her hands into her coat pockets as she wove her way through the tables. Side-stepping a chair that came into her path, Toni felt the impact when her shoulder met an unmovable object. “Sorry,” she said, keeping her head down.
“So…the baby dyke has a voice.” Alex’s smirk grew into a soft smile. “How’s it going, kid?” She reached out and acted like she was going to ruffle the butch’s hair but didn’t.
Toni froze then looked up into mirth filled blue eyes. She was holding her breath as Alex leaned in toward her and touched her lightly on the shoulder.
“You should really watch where you’re going,” the taller woman whispered in her ear. “The scenery is much better up here than at floor level.” Alex retreated enough to engage the startled green eyes that stared back at her. “You should also work on that brooding look. It’s not going to get you many dates.” She flashed a broad smile then laughed as she turned to the seated woman next to her. “Will it…ah…” she pointed to the woman as she stumbled for a name.
“Evelyn,” the woman prompted her. “I’m surprised you don’t remember it.”
“Yeah,” a wan grin came to the dark haired woman’s face. “Evelyn…it was just on the tip of my tongue.” Alex savored the woman’s attributes. “And that’s not all I’d like to have there.”
“Whenever you say, Alex.” The femme looking woman shifted in her seat, letting the blonde highlights pick up the flickering light of the candle on the small table. “So, are we on for tonight?” She batted her eyelashes and giggled. “Or do you need to look around a little more?”
“Hmm…” Alex pondered the possibilities.
The sight of one dark brow raising in contemplation on Alex’s forehead as her gaze swept over the room made Toni annoyed. I’m here, damn it. Me…you never look at me like that.
“Let me get back to you once I’ve said my hellos to everyone else.” Alex gave her a quick wink before turning back toward Toni. With her hand still resting on O’Malley’s shoulder, she let her long fingers grab hold of the leather and pulled her roughly into a head-lock. She leaned into her ear and whispered, “That’s the way to keep them on the hook. Always ready and waiting for you. Take a lesson from me, baby dyke. You’ll have any woman you set your eyes on.”
The words echoed in Toni’s head like a badly tuned string on a bass guitar. The thought of accomplishing that goal sent a shudder through her body and she pulled away from Alex’s hand. She then proceeded to stare directly at the tall woman until a feeling of disappointment set. “Yeah, right.” She walked away, heading to the door as fast as her legs could carry her without breaking into a dead run. “Like I haven’t tried to get her attention already,” she muttered.
Dark brows furrowed as she tried to decipher the mumbling. “Hey, I was just trying to help you out.” She stared at the back of the dark brown leather coat as it moved away from her. “Hey,” Alex yelled, causing O’Malley to look back over her shoulder.
Their gaze met for a split second before Alex felt compelled to say something…anything to relieve the tension. “Nice coat, kid.” She gave her a thumbs-up sign showing her approval. “Looks real…ah…butch, like mine. Way to go.”
A look of exasperation came over Toni’s face. Suddenly her green eyes churned like angry seas. Biting down hard on her lower lip, she turned her head so fast that her russet hair swung around to strike her in the face as she stiff-armed the door. A moment later she vanished into the night.
Dumbfounded, Alex stood there for a moment before looking around at the crowd. “Hey, I thought it was a compliment.” She shook her head and sighed. “You try to help a kid out and what do you get? Baby Dykes, who needs them.” She closed her eyes for a second or two then opened them slowly. A pair of carousing blue eyes twinkled as the sound of feminine laughter came floating up from a corner of the room. “Now that’s a sound calling my name.” Alex grinned, then turned and headed for her newest conquest.
The old neighborhood wasn’t exactly the kind of place you wanted to be seen crying, and to Toni the blackness of the night seemed like a godsend as the tears started to stream down her face. She cursed her show of weakness even as the bitter sting of the cold air on her cheeks did little to stop their flow. For the first time in years she was crying like a baby and she didn’t even care. Wiping her cheeks on her sleeve, the young woman continued on her mission as she mumbled out bits and pieces of what was roiling around in her mind.
“Nice coat…” she growled out without breaking her stride. “Butch like mine,” Toni mimicked Alex’s mannerism and tone. “It better be,” she growled, letting her anger surface as she took aim on a soft drink can that rested on the sidewalk. “Who did she think I was imitating…some Harley dude?”
Bam! The toe of Toni’s boot made impact with the aluminum can and sent it sailing down the sidewalk for a good ten feet or so. Clank, rattle, clank, tink, rattle, rattle, thunk, the can voiced its objection as it skidded to a stop across the intersection and up against the curb.
“I’ve done everything to get her to notice me and what do I get…” Toni lowered her eyes to the pavement as she swung around the corner of the building. “Baby Dyke…that’s all I am to her,” she muttered surly. “She never even sees the real…” her words stopped as abruptly as her forward momentum when she collided with another pedestrian. Hastily Toni gathered her wits and looked up in shock. “Sorry…I…I…” Her eyes opened wide when she recognized the woman’s face. “Ah man!” She reached out to steady the teetering figure. “Sorry, Gaynor. I didn’t mean to almost bowl you over. My mind must have been somewhere else.”
The woman shifted precariously on her stiletto heels for a few seconds before getting her balance. “Somewhere or someone, Toni?”
Slack jawed at the question, Toni fought hard to overcome her own feeling of being off balance. “Why…I…” she gulped, stalling for more time to think.
“I heard you mumbling. Don’t go saying you weren’t.” Blue-green eyes leveled their gaze at the young woman still glued to the sidewalk in front of her. “If there is one thing I’ve learned from living with Gloria these past five years it is to listen.” She cocked her head to one side. “And listen I did, Toni O’Malley. Every book has its cover and if you take the time to listen, every person has their story.” Gaynor studied her subject for a long while, her finger hesitantly tapping on her full lips. “I’d say by the scared look in your eyes…”
Toni’s hands hurriedly found her coat pockets and tightened into fists. She’d heard her cousin Gloria telling stories about her wife reading her like a book. The question rushing through the young woman’s mind was whether or not Gaynor was able to read other people too. A sick, queasy feeling came to her gut. She debated for a moment as to forcing herself to throw up right there or to let her stomach churn with each word out of the woman’s mouth. As an alternative, she looked to the traffic for a means of drowning out the woman’s words.
“I think you’re hiding something, Toni. If you ask me…” she gave the figure before her a long, lingering pass with her eyes, taking in every detail that she could before continuing. “I’d say that you’re not what you’re trying to be.”
Slowly the anger surfaced in Toni’s eyes as she leveled her gaze in Gaynor’s direction. “What is it with you and Gloria tonight? I’m gay damn it! I’m gay.”
“No honey,” the older woman replied quite calmly. “I’m Gay.” A second later the ends of her mouth rose into a smile as Toni’s expression became less intense. “My parents sure knew what they were doing when they gave me that name. All my life I’ve been telling my story with every introduction and the people around me just never really listened.” She wrapped her hand around a leathery arm and motioned for Toni to walk with her. “That’s why Gloria is so special to me. She listened,” she said, pleased as a cat soaking up the sun.
“You really love her, don’t you?” Toni matched her steps to the more petite size of the woman next to her.
“With all my heart and soul,” she cooed, looking up to the nearly full moon above them. “I wouldn’t know what to do without her. Even with her coming home smelling like stale cigarette smoke and reeking of sour beer every night from the bar, I know that she’s the only one that I love. The one that was meant for me.”
There was a long pause before Toni could force herself to ask what was on her mind. “Did you always know she was the one?” Hesitant eyes slowly stole a glance over to Gaynor. “I mean…” her voice became softer, “Did something just tell you she was the one from the first time you laid eyes on her?”
“Yeah…” Gay slowed her steps as she reminisced. “I suppose it was something like that.” She sighed then looked over at Toni. “And you…”
“What about me?” Toni asked rather sheepishly.
“Don’t go getting all freaky on me.” Gaynor patted the leather on Toni’s elbow. “I know that you’ve seen that one face in a million that makes your heart sing.”
“But I…I never said…I’ve never told anyone about Alex.” The words rushed out of Toni like air from a punctured balloon.
“And if you had,” the older woman tilted her head to one side and stared at her fellow pedestrian. “Maybe you wouldn’t be so upset right now. I mean…about her not noticing you.” She let go of a sigh then thought for a moment. “Alex, huh?”
Resigned to her fate of discovery, the young woman’s shoulders slumped in unison with her downward gaze to the pavement. “You can read people like a book,” Toni mumbled over pouting lips. She could already feel the tears welling up and she lost the will to fight them back. The moment that Toni looked up into Gaynor’s sympathetic eyes, both the tears and the sobs commenced simultaneously.
Like a mother comforting her child, Gaynor wrapped her arms around the crying woman and brought Toni’s head down onto her shoulder. “There, there…get it all out,” she whispered into the young woman’s ear. “Sometimes crying is the only thing to clear our minds and our eyes. Maybe then we can see the path we need to take.”
“Some butch lesbian I make.” Toni sniffed a couple of times as she wiped off her tear stained cheeks.
“Well honey, you would have fooled me if it wasn’t for those lacy eyelets sticking out over the top of your work boots last summer. I can truly say that I’ve never seen a butch lesbian sporting anything more than denim, flannel, and leather.” The sound of Toni’s laughter, though weak, brought a smile to her face. “I think,” Gaynor wrapped her arm around the young woman’s shoulder, turning her back in the direction of the bar. “I think we just need to get you to be…” she paused for a moment, “you.”
“Huh?” Fearful eyes looked out from under furrowed brows. “But I am me,” she protested. “I’ve dressed like this ever since I…”
“Ever since you knew that Alex was the one for you,” Gaynor said quite calmly. “Don’t think I haven’t noticed that you both wear the same jacket,” the older woman tugged on Toni’s leathery sleeve, “or that you turn white as a ghost when she comes in.” She leaned into the woman and gave her a hug. “You thought that you couldn’t compete with the others so you decided to do the next best thing.”
Toni thought for a moment then slowly nodded her head. “You’re right. I tried to be like her to be close to her.”
“Now, we’re getting somewhere.” Dimples appeared as Gaynor’s cheeks blossomed with a robust smile. “So what are you going to do about it?”
“I guess…” Toni cleared her throat. “I guess I could try to just be me.”
“Sugar, if it’s meant to be, that’s all you would ever need.” Gaynor stopped and turned toward Toni. “And I’ve got just the right place for you to come to terms with the new you. Gloria’s got that old cabin sitting up in the hills. What do you say if I take you up there next weekend and let you ease into the more feminine side of you? Get you away from all that bull dyke testosterone around here.” She motioned to the neon sign hanging in the bar’s window. The words The Corner Bar gave off a red glare that could be seen even in the steamed up panes of glass. Gaynor studied the woman’s face as its expression turned from contemplative to surprise.
“Oh my God! Gloria’s going to kill me.”
“No she’s not. She won’t mind at all if you’re up there.” Gaynor looked at the buildings around them. “You just let me take care of everything. We’ll leave right after you’re done with work on Friday. I’ll drive you myself.”
“No! You don’t understand. I was supposed to get her orange juice for the bar.” Toni looked down the street to the other end of the block. As if on cue the light in Wilson’s Market was extinguished before her very eyes. “Damn! I can’t do anything right.”
“Well, don’t you worry about it. Orange juice is the least of our worries here tonight. We have to get you feeling more comfortable and looking a little less butch than you’re used to.” She turned to begin walking toward the bar. “Besides, this younger bunch doesn’t even drink those mixed beverages any more. She probably just wanted it for her breakfast,” Gaynor giggled. “You let me take care of Gloria. When I’m done with her, she won’t even think of orange juice tomorrow morning.”
“Do you really think it will help me?” Toni asked tentatively. After seeing the puzzled look on Gaynor’s face she offered the older woman more direction for her thoughts to travel. “Being myself and all?” She ran her gaze over her clothing and grimaced.
“Honey,” the older woman’s smile broadened with the challenge. “We just got to make your light be seen. Fate, if it’s meant to be, will do the rest.”
“I tell you Gloria, she had the endurance of a freaking Amazon if I ever saw one.” Alex slapped the bar with her open palm. “God, that was one adventuresome night.” Her delight in the thought was evident by the twinkle in her blue eyes.
“Well, don’t look now but there’s a sweet young thing coming up right behind you.” Gloria’s eyes sparkled as a look of love settled across her face.
“Where?” Alex jerked her head around as she started her greeting. “Well hello there, B-B-…” her words stopped suddenly when the bartender’s wife came into view. Given a reprieve when the woman stepped to the side and Toni came into her view, Alex settled into a smug grin and finished her words. “Baby Dyke. So we meet again. You just seem to be popping up all over the bar here tonight, aren’t you?”
Sensing Toni’s uneasiness in the situation, Gaynor turned to address the dark haired woman. “Contrary to popular belief, some of our clientele are kind and considerate. Ms. O’Malley was kind enough to escort me on my way through the neighborhood this evening.”
Like a racehorse out of the starting gate, Gloria bolted around the end of the bar and dropped a sweet kiss on her wife’s cheek. “Gay…I would have escorted you. I wasn’t expecting you until later.” She watched as her wife flicked her fingers with her hand outstretched, dismissing her.
“I only stopped in to say hello and tell you that I’ve decided to go shopping.”
“I’m working, honey.” Gloria’s gaze moved nervously around the bar. “I can’t just drop everything and take off.”
“Perfectly alright with me, Sugar.” Gaynor turned to smile at Toni. “I’ve got all the company I’ll need.”
Catching Gaynor’s subtle wink, Toni basked in the limelight as the attention of both Gloria and Alex turned her way. “I know how you don’t like to shop Gloria and when Gay…” Toni drew in a breath after watching the expression on the bartender’s face turn ominous. “I mean…Gaynor…er…Mrs. Bartender…your wife…”
Alex shook her head and leaned in toward the flustered woman. “Smooth, Baby Dyke. Real smooth.” She crossed her arms over her chest and turned back to the barkeep. “I wouldn’t worry about this toddler, Glorie. She probably doesn’t even know what to do with a woman of your wife’s caliber.” A rakish gaze made its way back to Gaynor as Alex slowly turned her head in the woman’s direction. “Not that I wouldn’t,” she left the thought dangling.
“Why I ought to…” Gloria’s hands tightened into fists.
Gaynor’s quick reaction to the escalating situation caused her to tug on Gloria’s sleeve stopping her before she could advance on Alex. “Sugar, I do believe that your friend Alex wouldn’t know the love of her life if it was standing right next to her,” Gaynor said with a gleam in her eyes as she looked from one leather clad woman standing next to the other. “I’ve had enough of this pseudo testosterone oneupsmanship for the night. I’ve got some shopping to do.” With that said, Gaynor placed a kiss on her lover’s cheek. “I just stopped in to lay a little sugar on my Sugar. Bye all,” she waved then turned toward the door.
Toni looked to her cousin apologetically. “I’m sorry, Gloria. I didn’t mean to start anything.”
“That’s all right kid.” The bartender gave her cousin a mock punch to the shoulder then studied her face for a moment. “Hey, O’Malley, you getting sick or something? You’re kind of flushed looking.”
“Me?” Her voice squeaked out. She coughed in an attempt to hide her embarrassment. “No, not sick at all.” She shook her head in denial then started to follow Gaynor through the bar.
After a step or two she halted and spun around to face Gloria. “Uh…I um…I couldn’t pick up the orange juice like you asked.” She reached in her pocket and produced the bills in her hand. “Sorry,” she said, wincing as Gloria took a step forward and snatched the money from her outstretched hand.
“Great!” Gloria crumbled the bills in her fist and headed back around the bar. She looked over her shoulder to see Toni moving swiftly to catch up to Gaynor. “The curse of having relatives,” she mumbled only loud enough for Alex to hear.
“I wouldn’t know. I’ve got none.” Alex smirked. “Only child begotten from the union of two of the same.”
Coming around to the register, the bartender touched a few buttons and the cash drawer flew open. Amidst the ring of the drawer, laughter sounded close at hand. Gloria cast a narrowed gaze in the direction it came from only to see Alex fighting back the desire to howl.
“You just wait, Alex. One of these days you’ll find your match and see what I’m talking about. I hope you’re cursed with a woman who has a thousand relatives.” Gloria glared over at Alex as she continued laughing “And I hope they all live close.”
“Not likely, Glorie.” Alex smirked. “I got my warning of a curse a long time ago.”
“You still believe in that old fortune teller’s prediction, don’t you?” Gloria watched as the expression on Alex’s face became serious.
“Curse it was, I tell you. She was a witch and witches don’t predict, they curse,” Alex protested, tapping her finger on the bar for emphasis. “And that was a curse if I ever heard one. You were there. You heard it too.”
“What?” The bartender challenged. “That you’d meet your love on…”
“End!” Alex snapped sounding rather surly. “That I’d meet my end on Valentine’s Day.” She gazed to those on either side of her then leaned over the bar. “Speaking of which,” she whispered in the bartender’s direction. “You know that’s next Saturday.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Gloria waved her hands to quiet the woman even more. “Just like always. It’s yours for the asking Alex. Hell, I don’t know why you even ask after all these years. I should give you a key to the place but I’d be afraid you’d turn it into your own little love nest.”
“Why? You already have.” Blue eyes stared at the barkeep.
“That was before I met Gay.” Gloria’s words came out fast and defensive. “Since then I haven’t had another woman up there or anywhere.” A reminiscent smile came to her lips. “Gay is the only woman I need. I don’t need a place to hide my love.”
“Yeah, I guess you don’t.” Alex looked away then back again. “So…uhm…my hideaway is still safe?” She turned the discussion back in her direction.
“You sound like some bank robber talking about a hideaway,” Gloria laughed as she grabbed her towel and began to wipe down the bar.
“Well…” Alex flashed a sexy smile, “rumor has it I have stolen a few hearts.”
“I won’t tell anyone where you’re at. All I ask is that you don’t tell Gaynor that you paid me two hundred bucks for the use of my cottage and the fact that I keep my mouth shut.” She shifted her eyes from one patron along the bar to another before coming back to look Alex in the eye. “Deal?”
“Deal.” Alex gave a quick nod. “Someone has to stay single around here,” she muttered with a lilting laugh. “Speaking of which, can you drop me off on Friday night? My car will be in the shop and I don’t trust anyone to know where I’m at.”
Gloria glanced to the schedule she kept behind the bar. Studying it for a moment she nodded her head. “Yeah, I’ve got you covered but it will have to be after nine o’clock when my second in command comes in.”
“Your wife’s working at the bar now?” Alex teased. Seeing the glare in the bartender’s eyes, she didn’t press further. “Okay, nine it is. I’ll be here and ready to go.” She turned her back to the bar and concentrated her gaze on the feminine persuasion of the crowd. “So, what are you going to do with your great windfall this year?”
“Poker money,” Gloria replied with a smile. “Hey, if you’d like I could get you into a game or two.”
“I have my own version of the game,” Alex said, zeroing in on a corner of the room with her gaze.
“Yeah, I know…strip poker,” Gloria said with a devilish grin on her face. “I’m not sure that would fly with my gang of players.” The bartender shuddered at the thought of seeing her butch dyke friends sitting around in their boxers and off colored t-shirts barely covering beer guts galore.
“Now that’s a thought.” A sexy smile came to Alex’s face. “Only I don’t need a deck of cards to tell me how lucky I am that night.” She shifted her view to the woman behind the bar and flashed a coy smile. “Yep! All it takes is a strap-on with a willing femme fatale and I’ve got my poker game for the whole night.”
The bartender’s hands stopped as her mind tried to grasp what Alex was saying. “Huh?”
The look of confusion on Gloria’s face caused Alex to roll her eyes. “God, how soon they forget once they’ve been hooked.” She shook her head then looked the woman straight in the eyes. “Poke her,” she drew out the words and gave a little undulating movement of her pelvis until her meaning became evident to Gloria.
“Hey!” The woman tossed her towel onto the bar. “Stop with the Elvis the pelvis moves,” Gloria said with a wicked laugh. “I’m trying to run a family establishment here.”
Alex turned back to survey the roomful of patrons. “And don’t I know it.” She tipped her head to one side as her gaze went back to the corner of the room. “Now…for the flavor of the night,” she rubbed her hands together. “I choose…”
*****Friday February 13, 2004Traveling through the snow covered streets, Gaynor slowly made her way around another treacherous corner. “Thank the Lord above,” she muttered under her breath, avoiding another near miss with Gloria’s ancient SUV. “I don’t know what would hurt her more, this ol’ truck being dented or me being hurt.” She thought about it for a moment. Her decision was a simple one. “Butches…that’s all they think about…their vehicles.” She nodded before looking off to the people standing on the curb. “And sports,” she added, seeing the name of a NFL team emblazoned across the back of a large man’s jacket. “No wonder they’re all befuddled when they come in reach of a lady.”
Gaynor glanced down to the clock on the dashboard. It was a few minutes before three in the afternoon. She sat up a little straighter and peered over the steering wheel as the SUV pulled up to the address Toni had given her. Finding herself with both a parking space and some free time, she allowed her mind to wander.
“Okay, I’m early for Toni but that’s good considering this weather.” Gaynor looked out the window at the snowflakes falling around her, making the city look as if it were housed in a snow globe. “It’s going to be a pretty drive up to that cabin,” she mused, remembering her first time there in the company of her soon-to-be wife. “Oh Sugar,” she smiled. “How romantic it was making love all night long in that big ol’ feather bed.” Closing her eyes she could almost hear Gloria’s passion filled words floating up from her memory.
“YIKES!” Gaynor was startled from her reminiscing by a sharp rapping on the SUV’s window. The pounding in the older woman’s ears soon rivaled the rhythm of her own rapidly beating heart.
“Hey! Open up. It’s damn cold out here without my flannel boxers.”
Gaynor turned abruptly and stared out her passenger window with panic-stricken eyes. “Who the hell are you?” She stared as the blonde woman reached for the handle of the door. “Goddamn it! Don’t go trying to get into the car…truck…whatever the hell kind of vehicle this is.” She gripped the wheel as her right foot shifted off of the brake. “Gloria will kill me if I let her baby get carjacked,” she muttered under her breath.
“Gaynor, it’s me.” The blonde pounded on the SUV’s passenger window. “It’s Toni.”
The driver looked up to see pleading green eyes outlined by short blonde hair and soft pink lips. She could have sworn that she’d never laid eyes on the woman before, but in the back of her mind there was something vaguely familiar about those eyes. A second later Gaynor caught sight of the dark brown leather jacket and her gaze narrowed to examine the woman closer. “T-T-Toni?” Her voice was dripping with fear. “Toni, is that you?”
“Yeah, it’s me alright.” Toni tugged at her short hair and smiled weakly. “I guess I should have warned you about the new hairstyle and color.”
“Warn me? You made me think I was having the big one, being carjacked and all.” Gaynor yelled as she leaned over to unlock the door. “Come on in. Get out of that cold air.” The older woman watched as Toni did as she was told. “Lordy! You look different, girl.”
“I feel different, Gaynor.” Toni tossed her small suitcase into the back seat before reaching for the seatbelts. “I figured if I was going to make a change, I’d do it all the way.” She gave a little grin and settled into her seat for the long ride.
“All the way but that jacket, I see. Still needed a little bit of Alex, didn’t you?” Gaynor asked while pulling into the flow of traffic.
“It’s leather,” she protested, “and it cost a lot.”
“That’s okay, Toni.” Gaynor patted the woman’s slack covered leg. “We all need our security blankets, no matter what they are.”
Toni thought about it for a while, watching the steady rhythm of the windshield wipers as they brushed the snowflakes aside. “So, what are we going to do up there…at the cabin?”
“We?” Gaynor glanced over to Toni and then stared back at the road ahead. “I’m not staying up there with you. It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow and I’m pretty sure that Gloria’s got something planned for me…us, actually.” She smiled as the blush rose to her cheeks. “She let me have her baby,” she patted the steering wheel with her right hand, “with no questions asked. I just had to promise her that I’d be home before nine tonight.”
“Sounds like she does have plans for tonight,” Toni shifted nervously in her seat. “I guess we won’t be having that slumber party like you were telling me about.”
“Don’t worry. I got you a whole stack of reading material to keep you busy tonight.” She motioned to the brown paper bag in the back seat. “I picked you up a few things when I stopped by the store on my way to get you. I figured you might need some supplies too, if you didn’t want to starve yourself into a new dress size.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready to lose that much weight or for the dresses, Gaynor.” Toni rolled her eyes. “I figured I’d ease into something like that later…after I find the new me. I’m changing but I didn’t want to throw my system completely off course,” she chuckled, turning to face the driver. “But I did bring those outfits you helped me pick out when we were shopping.”
“Well, that’s a start. You did look very nice in all that pink, Toni.”
“I’m…I’m even thinking of changing my name.”
“Really?” The driver glanced over to her passenger.
“Not really,” Toni said. “I just thought I’d start using my given name…Antoinette.”
A broad smile beamed across the older woman’s face. “Nice…” she mulled over the name in her mind before saying it aloud. “Antoinette, very nice. With a little help, I think you just may find the real you underneath that leathery exterior.”
“Better yet,” Toni sighed. “I’m hoping someone else does.”
There was a long moment of silence before Gaynor spoke. “Well, it’s going to be a long ride in this snow all the way up to the cabin. Why don’t we settle in and have us some of that girl talk you were planning on?” She glanced over to her passenger and was rewarded with a smile. “This weekend will do you a world of good, Antoinette. Trust me.” She reached over and patted Toni’s arm affectionately. “You’ll see.”
The young secretary bided her time as she watched Alex make her way out of her office and down the hall to the water cooler. Once the woman’s hand was wrapped around one of the small paper cups, the secretary got up from her desk. With an air of authority and the stealth of a Navy Seal, she grabbed the small package from out of a drawer and took off on her secret mission. She was across the open area and into Alex’s office in seconds. With nary a sound, the secretary sat the heart-shaped box on the executive’s desk and slipped out just as easily as she’d slipped in. With her mission accomplished, she breathed easier. Emerging from the doorway, the secretary turned and sauntered over in the executive’s direction. Just as Alex raised the disposable cup to her lips and started to drink from it, the young woman spoke up.
“So…” she started softly. Seeing that she had caught Alex’s attention while drinking, she continued on with a full head of steam. “Are we working late tonight?”
The shifting eyes to those around them and the coy smile on the secretary’s face told Alex that it wasn’t work she was inquiring about at all. Fond memories of such late work sessions flashed through her mind and the secretary’s attention to the smallest of details. The young woman was as good in bed as she was behind the typewriter. Keeping her thoughts to herself, Alex kept right on drinking. Her somber look and raised eyebrow were her silent reply.
“Guess you’ve got some big plans for the weekend, it being Valentine’s Day and all.” The secretary watched Alex swallow as she lowered her cup and looked into it.
“Oh, is it?” The executive acted as nonchalant as ever. “I hadn’t noticed the date,” she lied, remembering the large red circle she’d made on the calendar in her office. She turned back to the water cooler and proceeded to fill her cup again.
“But…” the secretary hesitated, looking slightly confused. “You asked me to keep our…I mean…your schedule clear this afternoon.”
“Hmm…I did, didn’t I?” Alex pondered the thought.
“Do you need me to get you anything? Flowers, candy, reservations for anywhere,” she offered enthusiastically, “card of any kind?”
“Nope!” Alex snapped then finished her drink. Realizing how rude she had sounded, she smiled at the woman. “Not this year, at least,” she winked and flashed a smile at the secretary. A second later the paper cup was crumbled and being tossed into the trash. “I’ve got everything I need,” she smirked and headed back toward the safety of her office. “Besides, I told you that I never celebrate holidays,” the executive said in passing. “And especially not that one.”
Reaching her doorway, Alex stopped and turned. “Shouldn’t you be getting ready to leave, Ms. Jones?” She glanced to her watch. “It’s nearly five o’clock. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on anything.”
Feeling dismissed, the secretary took her leave. “Happy Valentine’s Day, Alex.”
“Right…” the executive said dryly as she slipped into her office and closed the door. “When it’s over…that’s when I’ll be happy.” She made her way over to her desk and froze at the sight of the red heart-shaped box on her blotter. “Where the hell did that come from?” Alex whipped her head from side to side looking for clues of any kind. Seeing none she ventured closer to her desk and cautiously toyed with the box as though it was a land mine or a bomb. “To my Valentine,” she spoke the words aloud that were written on the top of the box. She shuddered at the thought. Alex picked up the small card and the puzzle continued. “From your secret admirer.” She stuck her tongue out at it. “Yeah, right. What rubbish won’t they think of next to sell candy?” Alex rolled her eyes. “Who in the hell has secret admirers in this day and age?”
The executive plopped down into her chair and eyed the box suspiciously again. A moment later she was lifting the lid to see several neatly decorated chocolates. “Well,” she licked her lips. “If I don’t know who left them here, I can’t be expected to return them,” Alex smiled contritely. “Looks like I’ve got my sweets for the weekend.” She leaned in to savor the aroma of dark chocolate then closed the lid. “I guess it’s only right to eat it...for dessert.” She smiled appreciatively. “Just one less thing to pick up at the store tonight.” Alex placed the box into her briefcase before settling back into her work.
The drive up to the cabin had taken longer than Gaynor had planned. The older woman glanced over to the clock on the dashboard. It was already going on six o’clock and they were only pulling into the long drive that would finally take them to their destination.
“Toni…Antoinette, I mean,” Gaynor smiled. “I’m afraid I won’t have much time to acquaint you with the surroundings up here.” She kept watching the road as she spoke. “I promised Gloria that I’d have her baby back to her before nine and with the way the snow is coming down, I’m afraid I may not be back in time for her…” she giggled, “special errand.”
“That’s okay, Gay. I’m not afraid to be here by myself.” She chuckled. “Remember who you’re talking to…I’m the baby butch.” Toni used her thumb to point to her chest. “I may look all pretty in pink,” she plucked at the material of her pants. “But I’m as capable as any with turning on a light or flushing a commode.”
“Well…see…that’s the problem up here.” Gaynor winced. “There’s no electricity.” She looked over to her passenger. “No hot water either unless you heat it up on the stove or in the fireplace.”
“Fireplace?” Toni stared at the driver. “Now I know why my mother insisted that I became a Girl Scout.”
“She knew you were gay all along?”
“No,” Toni shook her head. “So I could light fires. She always was something of a visionary.”
“Well, don’t worry about it. I’ll just run in and make sure everything is where you need it and then I’ll be on my way.” Gaynor turned the wheel and slowed the SUV to a halt. “There’s the cabin,” she said proudly.
Toni turned her attention to the clearing ahead. The headlights of the SUV illuminated the single story log cabin nestled amidst three tall pine trees on one corner. On the other side of the building stood a roughly constructed carport. The small porch that wrapped around one corner of the building wasn’t big enough to hold more than a chair or two on either side of the door. The green curtains showing through the windows on either side gave the cabin a rather homey yet natural feel. Yes, she could definitely see Gaynor’s influence on even this tiniest part of Gloria’s life.
“It’s adorable,” Toni cooed.
“Sh! Don’t let Gloria hear you say that or all the good work I’ve done will be down the tubes.” She released her foot from the brake. “Well, let’s get you settled in and I’m back on the road again.” The sound of laughter made Gay’s head turn quickly in Toni’s direction. “What are you laughing at?”
“Nothing, Gaynor. You just…” she tried to stop laughing but couldn’t. “I just never pictured you as a country music fan.”
“Willie Nelson,” Toni said as if that answered the question. Seeing the confused look on the older woman’s face, she continued on. “On the road again…it’s one of his songs.”
“Imagine that.” Gay sighed as she put the car into motion. “I say it. He sings it and makes millions.”
“Not really…the IRS got him,” Toni said as a matter of fact. “So if he had millions, I’m sure he doesn’t now.”
“Figures…just like a man.” She stopped the car. “Give me a good woman any day. That’s where I’ll put my money.” Gaynor reached for the ashtray and pulled out a key. “Got to love a creature of habit. She still keeps this damn key in her vehicle just like she did before I met her.”
“You trust her? I mean…you don’t think she…”
“Gloria?” The older woman’s face became deadly serious. “Hell, no girl. She told me her carousing days were through the moment she met me and I believe her.” Gaynor saw the skeptical look in Toni’s eyes. “Trust me, Antoinette. You’ll know when the one you love is telling you the truth. They look you right in the eye and melt, for fear you won’t believe them. Love does funny things to butchs…it makes women out of them,” she chuckled. “Come on, Antoinette. Let’s get moving here,” Gay said, sliding out of the driver’s door. “The times, they are a changin’. Besides, I’ll just put that darn key back where it was and she’ll never know you were up here,” the woman’s voice trailed off as she walked away.
Hearing the name of another song out of the woman brought a smile to Toni’s face. “I bet she doesn’t even know she does that,” the younger woman muttered then stepped out of the vehicle.
Alex stayed in her office for the rest of the afternoon, too afraid of a repeat visit from her secret admirer. Even behind her closed door the revelry of the office staff at the end of their workday was enough to choke a maggot. Every time she heard the phrase “Happy Valentine’s Day,” sungout like some declaration of love, her hackles rose like a Doberman’s would at impending danger. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped her pen tighter, nearly squeezing the ink right out of it. At one point, when the interchange of mushy sentimental greetings was exchanged just outside of her office door, she fought to keep her lunch from making a rather messy reappearance.
“What is it with these sentimental fools?” Alex spat out in annoyance as she watched the silhouettes of the offenders move across the frosted window in her door. “Who needs this dribble.” She tossed her pen onto the desk and reached for her briefcase. She didn’t need a clock to know that for her, the day was over.
“I’ll grab some supper, pick up my supplies at Wilson’s, then head on over to The Corner Bar,” she muttered under her breath as she pulled the sleeve of her jacket on. “No dames, no booze, no socializing with anyone.” She laid down her rules for the evening then picked up her briefcase and opened her door.
Surprised to see her secretary still sitting at her desk, Alex held her right hand up in a halting motion. Blue eyes pinned the woman before she could open her mouth. “Not a word, Ms. Jones.” Alex lowered her voice an octave, cautioning the woman as she slipped by. “Not a single word.”
After a promise to return for her late Sunday afternoon, Gaynor gave the young woman a hug and left Toni to the quiet retreat. After watching the lights of the car grow dim in the distance, she started to get acquainted with her surroundings.
The cabin, although simplistic in design, seemed adequately furnished. Turning to her left, Toni took in the wall-mounted cupboards of the kitchen. Underneath them was a counter of some sort with what appeared to be a sink. Seeing the rustic pump handle, she was glad that Gaynor had picked up the gallon jug of water to use for coffee. The comfortable looking chairs and a table took up the space in the middle of the area, while an old wood-burning stove sat near one of the corners of the room. Beside it was piled a stash of wood.
The young woman walked from one room into the other to get a feel for her surroundings. The living room consisted of a leather love seat with a small table on one end of it, and two chairs off to one side. A smile came to Toni’s face after seeing a faux bearskin rug on the floor in front of the hearth.
“Oh, I bet Gloria fought to keep that,” she chuckled as her attention was caught by the slowly growing flames in the fireplace. “Hmm…Gaynor was right, that is a nice feature.”
She remembered the woman talking of Gloria’s habit for having everything ready to use and it was evident by the neatly stashed pile of kindling all nestled around a stack of small diameter wood. She was still envious of how easily Gaynor had started that fire, striking only a single match to do it. Toni marveled at both the women and their fireplace, having never actually seen one that was shared by two rooms before.
“It’ll be great sleeping here tonight.” Toni wrapped her arms around herself and gave a little hug. “I bet I have some great dreams,” she said wishfully as her gaze fell onto the burning logs.
Mesmerized by the flames, Toni settled into the love seat. After a few minutes, she looked over to the stack of magazines that Gaynor had left for her. “I think…” she stifled a yawn with her hand. “I’ll just read a little here and then it’s off to bed for me. Her gaze drifted through the opening in the fireplace and focused on the bed in the next room. “Soon,” Toni whispered, hearing the call of the bed. She could easily imagine climbing under the covers in her new pajamas, but first she needed to do a little reading. She picked up a magazine and settled into the soft leather. Turning the pages to the first article, she began to read by the light of the oil lamp.*****
The line in Wilson’s Market was long and tedious as the time approached closing. Alex looked at her watch, confirming her suspicions. It was half past eight. She surveyed the items in her hands and debated their actual need for her weekend trip to the cabin. Her list never varied over the years, except for the icing on her doughnut for breakfast each morning. Red and White this year, she mused. I should have come sooner to get the chocolate ones.
A gap appeared between her and the large man ahead. She stepped up to fill the space as she noticed the display of cigarettes and cigars off to her side. Blue eyes searched diligently until her favorite cigars were found. “Swisher Sweets,” she whispered somewhat seductively and smiled, completing the thought in her mind. Come to Momma. She sat her briefcase down then eagerly grabbed the first red and white box from the rack. The memory of the sweet taste of the cigar and the warmth of the crackling fire at the cabin worked like magic to keep her impatience in line. She eyed the box tentatively. Maybe I should get more? Her gaze drifted back to the rack. There, lined up in succession were three rows of the brand in varying size boxes. Hmm…cigarillos tip, cigarillos, and perfectas. She closed in on the fatter looking cigar as the saliva in her mouth came close to the point of drooling. Alex thought for a second then shook her head. Nah, I’ve got my routine. Five little ones are all I need to pass the time with a good book in hand.
Reflexively her eyes shifted to the other hand but there wasn’t any book. Instead, it was a can of beef stew. Hmm…got to remember to ask ol’ Glorie for some good reading material. She made the mental note still gazing down at the can. Something was different about the way it looked. Brand, that’s it. It wasn’t the same brand she’d picked up in previous years. So what? She scrutinized the label of predominately red and white before stepping up in line again. One can of beef stew is the same as any other. Nothing’s gonna change this weekend.
The line moved again and she quickly grabbed her briefcase and stepped up to the end of the counter. Only one man was ahead of her now as she maneuvered her body to within inches of the conveyor belt. The unforeseen nudge to her back with a grocery cart sent the lightest of her packages tumbling onto the checkout counter. She set her groceries down on the conveyor belt then quickly reached a long arm out to snatch her bag of salad before it could cross into the man’s stockpile of groceries.
“Sorry,” Alex said, and flashed him a smile as she settled the red and white bag onto her portion of the counter. “I…ah…” Seeing his dire expression she voiced the single word of apology again rather contritely, “Sorry.”
Alex glared over her shoulder to the cart-wielding woman behind her but she found it difficult to stay angered at the white haired woman with blush-covered cheeks.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, dear. I didn’t mean to bump you,” the woman offered.
“No problem,” Alex said flatly and turned back to face the register.
“Looks like you’re planning for a special night,” the older woman kept on talking. “All that red and white…” she pointed to Alex’s groceries and sighed. “I just love Valentine’s Day, don’t you?”
Blue eyes shifted over to the old woman and narrowed. Alex fought hard not to verbalize the answer that jumped out from the darkest corner of her mind. No! I don’t. Can’t stand it and I certainly don’t want to be involved in anything to do with Valentine’s Day. It’s the goddamned end of the world for a free spirit like me. When she finally felt she had herself under control, she commented dryly, “Not particularly.” Her hands searched desperately for the opening in the leather for her pockets.
“Cash, credit, or debit,” the young girl at the register asked as she started to ring up Alex’s order.
“Credit,” Alex answered with a little snarl. She flipped the plastic card out of her coat pocket and swiped it through the machine. She looked back to the older woman. Suddenly the image of the fortuneteller came drifting into her head and it scared her silly. Signing her name to the receipt in a hurry, she grabbed up her small bag of groceries and took off for the door.
“Happy Valentine’s Day,” the clerk called out after the woman.
“Merry fucking Christmas,” Alex mumbled on her way out the door.
The whole way down the block Alex muttered about witches, curses and things of that nature as she shifted the bag from one arm to the other. With her determined stride already set, it didn’t take long to arrive at The Corner Bar. Stiff-arming the door like a Heissman trophy winner, she burst in and made her way toward the well polished bar.
“Glorie,” Alex yelled over the din of the crowd as she looked to the clock behind the bar. “I’m here. It’s time. Let’s go.”
“What’s your hurry? We’ve got time.” Gloria glanced up to the timepiece above her as the second hand settled in over the number eleven. “It’s only five to nine.”
“I’ve had it. I just don’t want another person commenting on Valentine’s Day to me.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, Alex.” A young woman turned sideways on her barstool and smiled. “What’s the matter, love, need a date?”
The frustration roiled inside Alex until she couldn’t hold it in. “NO!”
“Humph…” the busty brunette batted her fake eyelashes. “It would be a shame to spend it all alone.”
“Yeah?” She challenged with an arched eyebrow. “Well, I like it that way.” Alex rested her bag down on the bar. “Now if ol’ Glorie would get her act in gear, I could head out to my…business meeting.” The last words came through gritted teeth as she turned to face the barkeep.
“I’m coming, I’m coming. Just let me get my hat and coat,” the bartender tossed down her towel then looked over to her second in command. “It’s yours now, Jodie. I’ll see you tomorrow night.” Gloria moved from behind the bar and reached for her coat on the hook. “Don’t take any wooden nickels, and by all means…no checks.” The owner emphasized her last two words.
“Book,” Alex declared with a finger pointed straight at Gloria.
“You got anything I can read up there?” Alex gazed nervously around the bar, noticing the over-abundance of feminine looking lesbians tonight. With each head that turned in her direction, she felt like they were slowly closing in on her. That’s when she realized the first grips of her own paranoia setting in. “For the plane ride to my business meeting,” she held the briefcase up as if to prove her point. “Out of town,” she stated for all to hear.
Gloria waved her off as she reached for her favorite baseball cap and put it on. “Reading material’s in the truck. My own private stash,” the barkeep winked. “You can take your pick on the way to the…” she stopped short and smiled, deciding to play along with Alex’s word game. “Airport.”
Seeing the big fisted woman produce her keys from the pocket of her jeans, Alex snatched up her bag from the bar and waited for Gloria to pass.
“That’s all you’re taking?” The barkeeper’s eyes glanced to the brown paper bag in the woman’s hands.
“Got everything I need right here,” she said, falling into step with the easy rhythm of Gloria’s stride. “Well, except for the book you’re going to loan me.”
“No change of clothes or even something to sleep in?” She muttered over her shoulder as she wove her way through the crowded tables and mingling patrons.
“Got my change of underwear and socks in my pocket, mother,” Alex said sarcastically. “Now, as for the something to sleep in…” she chuckled dryly, “that came with the package.” The sight of a new face in the crowd caught her eye and Alex flashed a toothy smile in the beautiful woman’s direction. “Wash and wear, never leaves me. Ready at the drop of a hat or any other article of clothing that’s discarded.”
Hearing the change in her friend’s voice, Gloria couldn’t keep her comments to herself. “Finding something to your liking, Alex?” She looked at the flirtatious nature of the woman and tried not to smile. The bartender cleared her throat loud enough to get her friend’s attention. “Are you forgetting about the reason for your little trip?”
Alex blew out a puff of air, ruffling bangs and scattering them wildly over her forehead. “No, I haven’t forgotten.” She glanced over her shoulder to the clock above the bar, then back at the future conquest. “Next weekend baby,” she yelled over and winked in the stacked woman’s direction. “You and me,” She motioned with her finger between herself and the woman she was flirting with. “We’ll tango the night away.”
“I thought you wanted to leave here by nine?” Gloria called back as she held open the door leading to the street. She watched her friend’s flirting with her usual non-judgmental attitude.
“I’ve got time,” Alex said, flashing a brilliant smile as she passed through the door. “What’s thirty seconds going to harm?”
The bartender rolled her eyes and snorted. “Trust me, thirty seconds can make a whole world of difference.”
Toni looked around the room and smiled. Even with the large screen in place, the cheery glow from the fireplace gave the room more light than the oil lamp. She closed the magazine and thought about Gaynor. What an inspiration she was in the art of femininity. After reading through several of her borrowed magazines, Toni was now starting to feel the first stirrings of her more womanly side. It was a whole other world from pretending to be butch.
Set on her plan, she rose from the love seat and walked into the bedroom. It was time for sleep and what better way to complete the evening but to wear her new bedclothes. Toni grinned as she took them from the suitcase and held them up to her body. Looking down at the fleecy garment she remembered the last time she’d worn something of the like.
“What was I, five or six when I’d grown out of my last ones? I remember mom telling me they didn’t come in any larger sizes.”
Toni eagerly shed her clothing and pulled them on, one leg at a time, then pulled the rest up over her hips and onto her arms. With the zipper pulled up to her neck, the young woman’s grin turned into an all out smile.
“So what if I’m still part kid at heart, I love them.” She brushed her hand over her soft pseudo fur. “Look out Peter Cottontail,” she said with a flare. “Antoinette, the pink bunny, has arrived.” The room filled with laughter a moment later. Toni looked over into the dresser mirror. “Well, at least in my mind I look like one.”
After shoving her suitcase out of sight under the bed, she crossed to the far side of the room and arranged her clothing in a neat pile on the dresser. Then, like every other night of her life, she crawled under the covers on the side of the bed that was furthest from the door.
Toni plumped her pillow a time or two before letting her body sink all the way into the soft feather bed. Just before she drifted off, Toni set her mind in prayer. “Please God…” she whispered. “Let Alex find…” she thought for a moment, then reworded her intention. “I mean…let Alex finally see the real me.” A moment later Toni drifted off to sleep as visions of the woman she loved danced through her head.
Growing impatient with the long ride, Alex checked her watch for what seemed to be the millionth time. “What’s taking you so damn long, Glorie? Did you have the cabin hauled off to another prime location or what? I swear it never took me this long to get up here.”
“If I remember correctly,” Gloria glanced over to her passenger, “the roads aren’t exactly in the best of conditions here tonight.” The rhythmic sound of the wipers acted like a metronome, setting the pace for her slower than normal speech pattern.
“God, you’re driving like an old woman.” Alex looked around the snow-covered scenery for some kind of landmark to judge their progress. “I could have been there an hour ago.”
“Alex…” the driver’s voice was tempered with caution. “I’m not the one who put their car into the shop this weekend, remember.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Alex sighed. “I know, beggars can’t be choosers.” She glanced back to her watch again. “It’s just that it’s getting close to midnight and I’m not liking the prospects here.” She eyed the driver from head to toe and back up again. “You’re not exactly what I want to be around if that curse ever comes true.”
“Prediction,” the bartender corrected her. “And why wouldn’t you want me to be around? I thought we were friends, Alex.” Gloria sniffed as if her feelings were hurt.
“Stop that.” A leather-covered arm snapped out at the driver’s shoulder and barely made contact with it. “You know damn well why. You’re not exactly my type. You’re a butch…like me.”
“So you’re counting all the butch lesbians out,” Gloria smirked. “Is that it?”
“You could say that.” Alex nodded her head. “Let’s face it Glorie, I could never see you as a femme and that’s what attracts me. Besides, if it was you that I was with after the stroke of midnight, do you really think Gaynor would let you go?”
“Well, you wouldn’t have to worry about any old curse if she thought you were taking me away from her.” The driver smiled as she gave a little chuckle. “Hell, we’d both be dead.”
“Goddamn right!” Alex cracked up laughing. “If your wife didn’t kill us, we’d kill each other from duking it out as to who was going to be on top.”
“That’s the trouble with us hard nose butches, Alex. We don’t know when to lay down and surrender.” Gloria leaned forward over the steering wheel, her eyes glued to the road. “Here’s the turn-off. I should have you at the cabin in a few minutes.”
The woman looked down at her watch again. “Good. You got fifteen minutes before you turn into my mate for life. So, if you don’t want to be part of the curse…”
“Okay, Cinderella. You’ll get to the cabin in time. Don’t worry.” Gloria tried to comfort her friend. “Just sit back and let me drive before we end up in a snow drift or stuck in a ditch.” The driver turned an evil look in her passenger’s direction. “Then you’ll really have someone cursing at you for sure.”
True to her word, Gloria had the SUV pulling up to the cabin five minutes later. “There, you’re here and it’s still…” she looked over to the clock on her dashboard, “ten minutes to go before it’s Valentine’s Day.”
“Thanks, Glorie. You don’t know what this means to me.” She handed the driver an envelope then reached for the handle of her door.
“What’s this…my Valentine’s Day card?” The driver couldn’t help but tease.
“More like the luck of the Irish,” Alex turned back to look into the SUV after getting out. “It’s green,” she grinned, “and payment for the use of the cabin.”
“Thanks, Alex.” Gloria slipped the envelope into her pocket. “I’ll be back to get you Sunday afternoon.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something, ol’ Glorie?” Alex stood there with the SUV’s door open. “I need the key.”
“Key? Oh yeah…key,” Gloria mumbled, reaching over to the ashtray in the dash and opening it. “Here ya’ go.” She pulled the key out and handed it to the waiting woman with an apology. “Sorry, I almost forgot.”
“Well, just don’t forget to pick me up,” Alex said as she took the key then hefted her briefcase and bag into her arms. “I’ll see ya on Sunday. Now get out of here.” She glanced down to her watch. “I’ve only got a few minutes to hide.” The dark haired woman flashed a smile and gave a little wave. “Bye Glorie,” she said as she closed the door to the vehicle and turned toward the cabin.
A few seconds later, the crunching of tires on freshly fallen snow was the only sound she could hear on the cold night air. Upon reaching the cabin’s door, Alex looked over her shoulder to see the fading taillights of her friend’s vehicle. Blue eyes glanced once again down to her watch and she tapped the small button on the side of the timepiece that illuminated the dial.
“And just in time too. I’ve only got a few minutes to go.” Alex put the key into the lock and turned it.
“Ah…safety at last,” she sighed, stepping into the small kitchen and setting her bag down on the table. “I’ll be damned if that curse is going to get me. Hey, it feels warm in here,” she mumbled, then headed into the next room. Noticing the softly glowing embers in the fireplace, Alex studied them for a moment.
Hmm…just like ol’ Glorie to call ahead and have that maintenance guy set things up for me.
Alex set her briefcase down and took off her coat, tossing it onto the back of the loveseat as she passed by. She stood in front of the fireplace and warmed her hands for a minute.
“Yep, now that’s what you call a real considerate friend,” she whispered. “I bet she even had them turn down the bed for me.” She yawned, patting her mouth as she turned for the door to the bedroom. Well, no better time to find out than now.
Stripping as she moved into the next room, Alex hung her clothing on the hook behind the door. Dressed only in her birthday suit, she walked over to the bed. By the dim light of the glowing embers she could see the covers closest to the door were flopped over, awaiting her arrival.
See, I knew it. I’ll have to remember to thank ol’ Glorie for all her hospitality. She slipped under the covers and within seconds, the tired woman was drifting off to sleep.
Saturday February 14, 2004
Time: 2 AM
Murky shadows filled the bedroom as the flames dwindled in the fireplace. Floating somewhere between dreaming and the real world, Alex felt the chill of a cool room on one side of her body. She tried to move toward the center of the bed but something kept stopping her. Searching for solutions to her problem, Alex’s sleep-dulled mind could come up with only one. One chilled but shaky hand reached out and latched onto the material that covered her warmer side. First she tugged, then she pulled, but the covers didn’t budge. Her hazy mind conjured up the image of her covers nailed down to the bed.
Befuddled, the woman slowly reasoned that her own weight was the cause for her chilled state. Thinking she was wrapped up somehow in the covers, she tried to roll to her left, but again her actions did little to relieve her plight. Instead, they brought a new concern to her mind.
“Damn it!” Alex’s muttered curse was barely audible as she tried to roll over again. “It feels like my whole side is asleep.” She attempted to wiggle the fingers on her right hand only to find them bogged down and hindered by the feel of soft, short strands. “What the…” Alex tried harder this time to move her fingers and in a moment of desperation, gave her arm a jerk.
Suddenly a loud snort sounded and then a searing pain erupted in Alex’s right breast.
“YEOW!” The echoing sound of Alex’s scream reverberated in her ears as another higher pitched tone chimed in.
The woman’s heart began racing wildly as her eyes snapped open in fright. There, in the dim shadows of the bedroom, she could roughly make out what seemed to be a fur covered creature scampering down into the covers.
“Great Gods of Grizzly Adams…it’s a bear,” Alex cried out as she jumped out of the bed. “Glorie…when I get my hands on you,” the woman’s voice was filled with anger.
Hearing the familiar sounding voice, Toni peeked out from under the covers. To her surprise, she saw the naked silhouette of a woman jumping around and shaking her fist in front of the dying fire. Seeing the image of Alex made it hard to decide whether the fast beating heart was from her fright at being startled awake by the scream, or from being near the woman she loved.
Sensing the size of the animal under the covers to be more that of a cub, Alex mustered up her bravado and gave the bed a good poke. “Get out,” her voice started out sounding shaky but then resolved into one of more authority. “Get out I said.”
Alex didn’t wait. She grabbed for the covers and tugged with all of her might. The balled up fur on the mattress seemed to cower. The next second it reared up on it’s haunches and screamed, startling Alex as she clenched the covers to her chest, adding her own voice to shatter the stillness of the night again.
The screaming lasted for what seemed to be an eternity, only ending after the pair ran out of breath. Now the silence of the room lent itself to the macabre, filled with the sound of heavy panting. One pair of startled round eyes met with another. Transfixed in their gaze, each participant now stared at the other as they sucked in air and calculated their next move.
It was a good thirty seconds or so before either of them had enough wind or energy to speak.
The goose bumps on Toni’s arms threatened to come right through her pajamas as she rubbed them down with her hands. “W-why should I have to get out? I was here first,” Toni declared, trying to gain her composure in the face of the woman she loved.
“I have a standing reservation for this cabin,” Alex stated as she edged closer to the bed. “Wait a minute…bears can’t talk,” she mumbled out teasingly. “What the heck is that…” Blue eyes roamed over the pink, furry-looking material that covered nearly the entire figure that knelt on the bed. “That…that…stuff. It’s not…” she looked at the face of the creature and rubbed her eyes with her fingers as if to clear her vision. “I’ve never seen a pink bear before,” Alex mumbled under her breath.
“Bear?” Toni’s brows shot upward. “I thought I looked more like a bunny.” Her mouth turned into a pout.
Alex moved around her side of the bed as she studied the creature more intently. “You’re definitely not a bunny. Besides, your ears are too short. But then again…you could be Ms. Febraury, that month is always pretty short.” She tucked the cover under her armpits then proceeded to hold her two hands up and formed a frame with her fingers. Looking from all different angles Alex’s smile finally faded. “Nope,” she shook her head and chuckled, “got to be a bear ‘cause I’m not seeing enough skin.”
“I’d say you’re the one looking rather bare here,” Toni smirked, setting her gaze on the long, undraped leg that showed through the covers. She fought hard trying not to blush as a coy smile settled on her face. “Not exactly pink, but close enough to count.”
The words caught her by surprise. She had always enjoyed women with a quick wit. “Oh shit!” Alex turned back to stare into the flames. “I’m fucked!” Her words were consumed by her fear.
“What’s that you said?” Toni sat up on the bed and waited for a reply. The silence in the room was only interrupted by the sound of the crackling fire. Impatient, Toni scooted to the edge of the bed and stood up. Taking a step forward, she repeated her question in a polite tone that nearly dripped with honey. “What’s that you said?”
Alex jumped, clutching the covers to her body and whipped around to see long eyelashes fanning the air. She gulped, fearing that her knees would buckle under her right there.
“My name is…” Toni started.
“NO! Don’t say it. I don’t want to know. If you have a name, then the whole curse is real.” She shook her head in disbelief. “This can’t be happening.” Alex’s eyes shifted back and forth uncontrollably. “Not to me.”
“Curse? What curse?”
“THE curse,” Alex emphasized the word. “My curse. The end of my days…”
Toni looked on with sympathetic eyes. “But how will knowing my name put an end to your…”
“Life as I know it.” Alex jumped in, her eyes filled with fright at the prospect. “Trust me, it will. It’s just like it was predicted. It will happen on Valentine’s Day she said.”
“Who said?” Toni tried to understand where the conversation was going.
“The witch!” Alex’s eyes grew bigger and more intent as if everyone should have known. “She’s the one who cursed me.”
Confused, Toni thought for a moment. “But if this was any other day…” she looked over at the woman in front of her, “You’d want to know my name, right?”
“Hell, yes!” Alex exclaimed, somewhat torn with her statement. “I…I just wish it wasn’t today.” Her mood became sullen.
Alex whirled around and looked into the flames, pleading for them to burn this nightmare of a dream from her memory. “It’s a dream,” she whispered. “Nothing but a dream. You’re going to wake up and it will just be your over-active imagination at seeing that old, flea-bitten, bearskin rug again.”
“Excuse me,” Toni sounded indignant. “Did you just call me old and flea-bitten?”
The question startled Alex for a few seconds before she started mumbling again. “You didn’t hear that. No one is here. You’re just having a bad dream and when you wake up it will all be gone.” Gathering all of her strength, she turned around with her hand clasped over her eyes. Slowly, she inched one foot on its way toward the bed. Feeling comfortable with the progress she made, Alex started to move her body forward until an immovable object stopped it. Hesitantly she lifted one finger and peered out.
“Seeing something you like or do you always just bump into people this way?” Toni tried to keep a straight face but the look of shock on Alex’s was just too funny. It was so unlike the self-assured Alex she had admired from afar. The woman turned and let out a long falsetto sigh to keep from laughing. “Ahhhhhhhh. Well I can see that this introduction is going nowhere. If you don’t mind,” she fingered the covers then gave a little tug, pulling them away. “I’m going back to bed.” Toni walked around and got back in on her favorite side of the bed. “A girl has to get her beauty rest you know.”
Goose bumps danced up and down the front side of Alex’s body as the words rambled aimlessly in her head. She stood there dumbfounded, her mouth gaping open like a mackerel. Alex stood with her eyes transfixed on the woman who had just stripped her of not only her covers, but of her freedom. The more she thought about that concept, the angrier she got. In a snit, she stomped over to where her clothing hung on the hook and started to pull them on. “Well, slit my throat and I’ll commit Harry Carry,” she muttered out loud, fastening her belt as she forced one foot into her boot.
Toni rolled her eyes then raised herself up on one elbow to gaze over into the shadowy corner where Alex was getting dressed. “That’s hara-kiri,” she said in the most staccato sounding Japanese any westerner could muster. “And…you’d have to be slitting your abdomen to do it. Much too painful for anyone but a Samurai to bear,” she said with a coy smile. “Harry Carry was a baseball announcer from Chicago who talked a good game.”
“So, what makes you so knowledgeable?” Alex grabbed her shirt and slipped it over her arms. “You read it in some magazine?” She started to button her shirt. “Oh, wait…I know,” the tall woman held her hands up for dramatic effect. “You saw it on Oprah,” she sneered. “Right?”
“Hardly. I don’t get much time to watch daytime TV shows. I’m too busy working.”
“What, sewing pink bear costumes? Or would that be planning how to fuck with someone’s life?”
“Whoa! Such language.” Toni glared at the woman. “Wait a darn minute there, stud.” Toni knelt on the bed with a determined look in her eyes. “I’m not the one who crawled into bed with you or ruined my quiet weekend retreat.”
“YOUR WEEKEND?” Alex yelled at the top of her lungs. “You’ve ruined not only my weekend, but my life, too.” She raised her hand to make a point, then stopped only to dash out of the room and over to her coat on the love seat.
“I’ll put an end to this,” she said grabbing her cellphone from the pocket and tapping at the numbers feverishly. “You’ll see who the rightful owner of this weekend retreat really is. I paid for this weekend.” Alex was mindful of the rings as she continued talking, “Me, that’s who. I coughed up cold, hard cash…” she stopped abruptly, hearing the familiar voice coming through the phone. “Glorie…ol’ buddy, ol’ pal.” Her voice went from playful to annoyed in a second. “What the fuck you doing to me?” She listened for a moment then laughed. “Yeah, I know what time it is. It’s the end of the world and I’ve saved you a special seat on my ride to hell and back. My only question is, do you want to be the one to sit next to the pink bear or not?” Alex paused to take in a breath.
“What do you mean have I hit your hooch?” Alex pulled the phone from her ear and stared into it for long moment before bringing it back to listen to the squawking voice coming through it. “Hell, Glorie, it took you so long to get me up here, I didn’t even have time to find it. But I just may go looking for it now.” She smiled evilly into the phone. “Honest, I was too goddamned tired. I went straight to bed.” She looked over to the figure standing in the bedroom doorway and glared. “Funny…straight. Ha, ha! You should be a stand up comedian. Wait, I’ll call Ellen and see if you can be on her show.” Alex shifted the cellphone into her other hand. The more she listened, the more perturbed she became. “Ellen I said, not Helen.” She paused for a moment. “Degeneres,” she yelled into the phone. “Can you hear me now?” She waited for an answer.
“Yes, I’m sure that I haven’t touched a drop.” She paused then repeated her answer again, only this time through gritted teeth. “I said…I haven’t.” She rapped the phone against the small table then brought it back up to her ear. “Did you hear that?” She paused for an answer. “Well, you should have.” Her gaze roamed the cabin until it came to rest back on her intruder. “Trust me, you’d be seeing pink bears…or bunnies…or something all soft and furry with blonde hair if you were here, my friend.” Alex thought for second then added. “Scratch that. You’re not my friend. You’re working for the other side. How much did you sell me out for, Glorie?” She whirled around, putting her back to the doorway as her voice sank almost a whole octave lower. “You listen to me. If I find out that you set me up, I’ll…I’ll…let the weekend come back to haunt you.”
The sound of dead air was all that Alex could make out. “Glorie…Glorie,” she called out progressively louder each time. Alex yelled out the name one last time, as loud as she could. “GLORIE-E-E!” She listened, but still there was no answer. The light had gone out and her phone’s screen was blank. “Damn batteries,” she flipped her phone closed and threw it as hard as she could against the wall of the cabin. One big crash turned into a multitude of smaller ones as pieces went scattering all over the living room floor.
“So tell me,” Toni looked on as innocently as she could. “Is that one of your many skills or are you still working on perfecting it?”
Defeated, Alex hung her head and gazed at the floor. Taking in a breath, she let it out slowly then sank into the love seat. “No,” came back her sullen reply. “It’s pretty much just a spur of the moment thing,” she said glumly. “My life is changing before my very eyes and I can’t do a thing to stop it. My friend…Ol’ Glorie,” she said with a little more enthusiasm. “Thinks I’m drunk,” Alex smirked. “She just accused me of hitting her hootch stash.” She jumped up from the love seat and started to look around. “Maybe I should. Let this whole goddamn night go into oblivion and maybe it wouldn’t be so bad…having a good buzz tied on. Maybe I’ll just get so goddamn drunk that I won’t wake up ‘til Sunday.” Alex grinned, liking the idea even more. “Yeah, if I can’t remember it…it never happened.” She opened a storage cabinet and sorted through the contents. “She’s got to have some good stuff up here,” Alex muttered under her breath.
Toni crossed the room until she stood behind the woman. Reaching out, she gently laid her hand on Alex’s arm just as the taller woman grasped a bottle of fifty-year-old scotch. “If it’s any conciliation, I don’t think you’re drunk. Nothing short of death could be so bad that you’d want to forget it entirely, could it? I mean…that you wouldn’t want to remember any of it.”
Alex looked down to the hand lying on her arm then followed it back until she was gazing into emerald eyes. “Death would be heaven sent right about now. You don’t know me very well ‘cause if you did you’d know that I’m dying right this very minute.” She turned back to the cabinet and stared at the bottle.
“You don’t look like your dying. I mean…you look healthy and agile.” Toni smiled, thinking back on their encounter earlier. “Very agile, I might say.”
Alex turned to look at the young woman. After studying her face, she commented. “You’re blushing, aren’t you?”
“Why…I’m…ah…not really.” Seeing the pleased look on Alex’s face, she buried her face into her hands. Toni missed the sultry gaze aimed in her direction. Suddenly, it was more than the young woman could stand and she turned away. “Oh God help me. I’m dying here,” she whispered under her breath.
“Well, since we’re both not long for this world,” Alex offered her the bottle. “I’d be honored if you’d go first.” She flashed a toothy smile in the blonde’s direction.
Toni eyed the bottle of scotch as a little voice inside her head kept goading her to accept it. Come on Baby Dyke, you always tried to be just like her. She’s drinking so you might as well too.
The urge was truly appealing. Toni could almost taste the scotch on her tongue as she tried to reason its medicinal use for calming her already churning stomach. It was then the faint image of Gaynor came to her mind. Like a staunch Sunday school teacher, the older woman stood shaking a mean looking finger in caution, her head shaking also to show her disapproval. In the air she could swear she was hearing the refrain to another song that Gaynor had spoken somewhere along life’s way.
Toni couldn’t help but sing along in a hushed tone. “She’s a lady…whoa-whoa-whoa…She’s a lady.”
The words that the blonde sang took Alex by surprise, opening her eyes in witness to the presence that she was in. “Sorry, I guess it’s not exactly the kind of drink to offer a woman of your caliber.”
“I’d say there’s a lot we don’t know about each other.” Toni’s voice was soft, barely louder than a whisper. She watched the woman, silently trying to still her nervous stomach in the process.
Alex shrugged as she put the bottle back on the shelf. “I guess that might be alright. I mean…I try not to drink with strangers.” She closed the doors of the cabinet then sighed. “Ah hell, what can it hurt?” She turned around to face the blonde. “My name is…”
“Alex, I know. I’ve seen you…” Toni’s voice dropped off making her last word almost inaudible, “around.”
“You have?” Blue eyes now studied the woman more intently. “I don’t remember seeing you. I’m sure that someone as pretty as you would have caught my eye.”
“Oh, I’ve been around,” Toni piped in. “Maybe I just wasn’t noticeable then.”
“Well, if you wore that outfit, I can see why,” Alex winked. “Pink bears aren’t exactly what switches my libido into gear.”
“Especially the ones with blonde hair,” Toni pulled at her short hair, while her soft laughter floated on the air.
“Especially,” a genuine smile came to Alex’s face as her keen eyes studied the woman in a different light. She seemed harmless, but then again, so did a lot of things that came around to bite her in the ass.
“My name is,” she cleared her throat, “Antoinette.” She offered her hand along with a smile.
“Antoinette,” Alex repeated the name. “By the sound of the foreign language you spouted off before I never expected you to be French.” She watched as the blush came to the blonde’s cheeks. “Say, what was that anyway and how did you come to speak it so well?”
“Oh, I’m not French by any means,” Toni laughed. “It was Japanese and really not spoken well at all. I’m a little rusty since my college days.”
“What would make you learn Japanese?” Alex took hold of Antoinette’s hand and scrutinized it. “Don’t tell me, you’re an aspiring animator. I heard that all the good cartoons were coming from the Far East.”
“No,” Toni shook her head. “Hardly. I just thought it would be interesting and different.”
“So, tell me…” Alex held onto the other woman’s hand, unwilling to give it up. “What else do you do to be different, Antoinette?”
“Besides dressing up in pink animal outfits and scaring the crap out of the woman I share my bed with, there’s not much. I work, I have a small apartment in the city,” Toni became introspective. “I pray that one day love will look my way.” She gulped, realizing what she’d just said out loud. She looked up as the grip tightened on her hand to see blue eyes staring back at her and she just about melted right there on the spot. “I…I hope to get more sleep tonight,” Toni said the first thing that came to her head.
Alex moved in closer, her gaze becoming more intense. “Antoinette? Are you feeling…”
Toni could see Alex’s mouth moving and she focused all of her attention on it as the woman’s voice began to sound disjointed and fuzzy to her ears. Inside, Toni could feel a raging pool of hormones fighting to be free. Her heart filled with love as Alex’s every word floated around in her mind. There was something so inviting in those blue eyes. How could one person be so confident and yet so utterly scared all at the same time? Toni didn’t know the answer. All she knew was that somehow, some way she needed Alex to feel the same way that she was now. Her only question was how. How could she bring them together and still be the lady she so desperately needed to be?
Torn between her years of acting butch and the self-realized woman inside, the battle of ways continued in her head. If she’d had her chance a few days ago, Toni reasoned that she would have just leaned into the woman and kissed her hard on the lips, never stopping until Alex came to her senses. How a lady would bring them together was her dilemma now. Her mind raced with possibilities, each having been thrown out for some degree of unladylike technicality. When Toni was just about to give up, she found the answer dangling right there in front of her. In a moment of shear delight, Toni grasped onto it and went along willingly for the ride. If this didn’t bring them closer together, nothing would.
The distant look on Antoinette’s face caused Alex to reach out in an attempt to steady the woman. The more Alex hesitated, the more evident it became that she had to do something for fear the blonde woman would topple over. Quick thinking on Alex’s part prevented that from happening as she cradled the woman into her arms. Worried eyes took stock of Antoinette’s delicate features and there, underneath the woman’s softly fluttering eyelashes, floated the hint of a sexy smirk.
“So that’s you’re…” Alex mumbled, realizing she’d been duped. She didn’t wait for her thought to manifest, but did what her body had needed to do since she had laid eyes on the blonde.
Toni sensed a pair of strong arms wrapping around her in an embrace. She opened her eyes as a pair of lips descended upon her. Her eyes grew bigger as she felt Alex’s warm breath on her skin. “I love you,” Toni whispered the words aloud before soft lips covered her own. The next thing she knew, her knees were giving away and everything was fading to black.
*****Friday, February 13, 2015
The crowd inside The Corner Bar hadn’t changed much over the years. It was always an odd mix on a Friday night. There were always the regulars and free skaters that walked in on a whim. It was funny how people judged things by their looks and the bar screamed of family even from the outside.
Gloria looked out from behind the old wooden bar and studied their faces. They kept getting younger looking by the day but Gloria swore she could identify them as they fell into her categories. You had your watchers, your friendly sort, and of course as always, you had your players. Those were the ones that she knew the best. After all, she had been one of them in her own day. That was until a young lady stole her away and settled her down.
“Best day of my life,” Gloria muttered remembering fondly the day she met her wife. She polished the long expanse of bar in front of her and smirked. “Who would have ever known that someone coming out would be the best day in my life.” The bartender looked up from her task at the sound of the squeaking door as it swung open, announcing that another person had entered the room. “Is it time already?” She muttered, looking up to see a young woman standing there with one hand in a leathery pocket and the other on the door. The bartender watched as the butch-looking young woman’s gaze swept over the patrons. Having surveyed the entire room, she slowly stepped inside and made her way to the bar.
Out of the corner of her eye, Gloria followed the woman’s path without looking up from her duties. She wiped down the bar with her rag and waited until the woman was a step away before speaking. “You looking for someone…or just looking?” The bartender’s gaze rose from the bar to settle on her.
A smile cracked the serious face as a nervous chuckle sounded. “Looking, right now,” she clarified.
“What will you have?” The bartender wiped off a spot at the bar and offered it to the woman.
“Give me a beer,” she said with a nod of her head. She watched as Gloria poured her a draft and set it down in front of her.
“Anything else?” Gloria’s one eyebrow rose higher as did her voice.
The butch played with the glass for a second before taking a drink. She swallowed and set it down. “You know of any place to take a woman for a good time,” she smirked, turning to survey the crowd. “Maybe for the weekend?”
“Oh yeah…” Gloria chuckled. “But you won’t want to be going there.”
She turned to look directly at the bartender. “Why not?”
“You’re not ready for it.” Gloria said flatly after eyeing up the woman as she took a swig of her beer. “Besides, it’s cursed. Has been for the last eleven years…that I know of anyway.”
“I don’t believe in curses.” She reached into her pocket and produced some bills, then slid them over the bar.
“Neither did I until a few years ago.” Gloria took the money and punched a few keys on the register, causing the drawer to snap open. “That’s when I got caught up in someone’s curse and I’ve been paying for it ever since.” She deposited the bills and pushed the drawer close. Upon hearing the squeak of the door, Gloria’s gaze shifted. There, coming her way was a familiar sight. “Speaking of which…” the bartender motioned to the mature woman headed her way, “the other half of the curse is here now.” She pushed away from the bar and tossed the rag to a younger woman a few feet away from her. “Sarah,” the bartender called out to the young looking woman who was fixing a drink. “I’ll be leaving for the weekend now. You need anything, you know where to find me.”
“Sure thing, Gloria.” The sassy young girl with a jigger in her hand turned to greet the older woman stepping up to the bar. “Hey Gaynor, how you doing this evening?”
“Fine, just fine.” Gaynor looked over to her wife. “Gloria we ain’t got time to be dragging our feet now. You know it takes awhile to get up there.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Gloria winked at the barmaid and grabbed for her coat. “We’ll get there when we get there.”
“Like fun we will. I told them we’d be there on time and I meant it.” Gaynor turned to Sarah as she waited for Gloria to come around from behind the bar. “She can’t wait to get there and she knows it. It will be all you’ll hear for the next week or so, what with her telling all her stories.”
Gloria stopped at her wife’s side. “I don’t tell stories, Gay. I just state the truth as I see it.”
“Uh…that’s what you say now but I remember when you used to have this argument with Alex over which one of you were telling the real story.”
“Did too,” Gaynor’s words were quick to come out.
“Well…” Gloria thought about it for a second before giving in. “Now that you mention Alex…I guess she was right to a certain degree, it was a curse.”
“You only brought it on yourself. If I remember correctly, dear…” Gaynor smiled politely as she looped her arm around Gloria’s.
“I know. I know,” Gloria patted her wife’s hand. “But I didn’t mean for it to include me too.”
“Oh…you love every minute of it too and you know it.”
Gloria thought for a moment before coming to her conclusion. “You’re right.”
“That’s what I like,” Gaynor smiled contritely, “a butch that has learned and knows when to surrender.”
“Story Auntie Glorie,” the russet haired child of two and a half could be heard chanting over and over again without stopping.
“Pleeeeeease…” piped in the older girl of five with curly brown hair, “a bedtime story about our moms.”
Gloria studied their faces for a moment. “Well, which one will it be this year my little dumplin’s? The one about the scared butch or the one about the princess and her fairy godmother,” she looked over the bed at Gaynor and grinned. “I’m kind of partial to the,” she spoke up loud so that her voice would carry, “SCARED BUTCH story myself.”
The sound of a clearing throat came from out in the hall and she turned to see Alex leaning up against the framework of the door with her arms folded over her chest. “I thought that would bring you running,” Gloria muttered under her breath.
“You would like that one best, wouldn’t you?” Alex looked over to Gaynor. “I’d much rather they hear about their fairy godmother.” She smiled graciously at the impeccably dressed femme. “Don’t you look wonderful this evening, Gaynor.”
“Alex, be nice.” The words floated down the hallway from the bathroom.
The woman in the doorway sighed. “I’m sorry, Glorie. I just don’t want my kids thinking that their old lady is…”
“No need to worry, Alex. I’ll be right here.” Gaynor tried to comfort the woman. “If you want, I’ll even add a few good parts to make you look more butch.” The older woman winked, giving it her best smile.
“And how would you know what to add…” Alex turned to face the hall, her voice getting just a little louder so it would carry to the bathroom, “unless someone told you what I did.” Her eyebrow arched high on her forehead as she watched her wife come out of the bathroom and down the hall.
“It’s over and done with, Alex.” Antoinette dismissed her with a flick or two of her wrist. “You got the girl. Isn’t that all that matters?” Waddling closer to her wife, Toni smiled and rubbed her swollen belly.
“Alex, don’t go being mad at Antoinette. It’s not love unless you confide in someone else. We ladies understand that, I don’t know why you butches don’t.” Gaynor stopped talking the moment she saw a very pregnant Antoinette come into her view. “Oh my Lord,” she clapped her hands together like an excited two year old. “I do declare that pregnancy suits you well, girl.”
Toni blushed at the compliment. “Well, I think it does us both well.” She looked up into Alex’s eyes as her wife leaned in to hug her. “I couldn’t have done it without her.”
“Oh yes you could have,” Gloria muttered.
“Hush up!” Gaynor slapped at her mate. “Just remember, you’re the one who brought that…prediction into being.”
“You mean,” Gloria said with single nod of her head, “curse.”
“Prediction,” Alex spoke her mind at the same time.
“Whatever…who cares what the fortune teller said.” Gaynor said in an exasperated tone.
“Witch!” Gloria snapped out, making an angry face.
“The bottom line is that they belong together and we all know it.” She looked over to the couple in the doorway and smiled. “I’m so happy for you two…er…three.” She sighed and shook her head. “Heck, I’m happy for all five of you.”
“Thanks Gaynor,” Antoinette leaned her head onto Alex’s shoulder, “for being our fairy godmother and well…for everything.”
“Ditto on that, Gaynor,” Alex added her sentiments. “And you too, Glorie. I don’t think I’d ever be happy without this lady in my life.” She placed a gentle kiss on the blonde’s head. “I guess you’re a fairy godmother, too.”
Gloria sniffed back a tear as the emotions welled up in her and threatened to spill out of her eyes. “Enough of that now. I’m no fairy. I’m gay.”
“No dear, I’m Gay.” Her wife couldn’t help but smile sweetly.
“Lordy,” Gloria turned her eyes heavenward and sighed. “How will I survive?” She muttered under her breath. “I will survive.” She turned her attention to the children. “All right you two rascals,” she smiled down at them. “Let’s say your good-byes to your moms so we can get on with the stories.”
“Bye, Mom,” the five year old jumped out of bed and came clambering over to Alex.
In the sweep of her arm Alex gathered her daughter up in a hug and placed a kiss upon her cheek. “Bye my precious,” she cooed softly before setting her back down on her two feet. She watched as her curly haired child reached out to embrace her other mother.
“Bye Mommy,” the girl said, trying to wrap her small arms around the woman’s ever growing midsection. “Bye Baby, come see us soon.”
Toni couldn’t help but smile at her daughter’s anticipation of another sibling. “I promise, Lexie,” she stroked the child’s head lovingly, “it will be soon.” Toni looked over to Alex and smiled. “Very soon.”
“Mommy,” the two year old held up her arms and smiled as she sat half under the covers in her bed.
“Yes, my little dumplin’,” Toni turned her attention to her other daughter.
“Me say g’bye, too!”
Alex walked over to the bed and gave the child a hug. “Love you lil’ one,” she whispered before kissing her daughter’s forehead.
“Luv you Mom.”
Alex pulled back reluctantly. “You be good for Auntie Gaynor.”
“And Auntie Gloria,” Antoinette chimed in as she came up behind her wife. She waited until Alex moved away before leaning somewhat awkwardly over to kiss her child and give her a quick hug. “Mommy loves you.”
“I know,” the child blushed in a moment of embarrassment as she hid behind her raised arms and giggled.
“Definitely the girl in this family,” Gloria muttered aloud.
“Oh pshaw! Don’t go teasing her,” Gaynor protested. “Don’t worry, Carolyn. You’re Auntie Gloria is just jealous that you’re not afraid to show your feelings,” she tried to comfort the child. “You can be the little lady just like your Mommy.”
Wide-eyed, the tyke looked up to Gaynor and beamed. “Can I have babies then, just like Mommy?”
The room fell suddenly silent as the question lolled around everyone’s mind. Finally Toni found the presence of mind to answer the child. “We’ll see, baby.”
“And on that note,” Alex cleared her throat. “I think it’s time we leave.” She turned to her wife. “Shall we?”
Toni held back a smile. “By all means.”
Alex gathered her wife in her arms then turned toward the rest of the people in the room. “Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.”
“Yes,” Toni smiled, as she repeated the greeting in her wife’s direction. “Happy Valentine’s Day.” Upon seeing the pleasant smile the words elicited on Alex’s face, she turned to address the older women. “Thanks again you two. If you need us…”
“We know how to find you,” Gaynor anticipated the idea. “Now git, while the gittin’s good,” she teased them as she shooed them out of the doorway. “We got story telling to do and you got an anniversary to celebrate.”
Together Gloria and Gaynor turned their attention to the children, snuggling them back into their beds. When the sound of Alex’s car could be heard pulling out of the driveway, Gloria pulled her cellphone out of her pocket and started to poke at the numbers.
“Who are you calling, Gloria?” Gaynor settled herself on the corner of Carolyn’s bed. “You’re not going to harass them already, are you?”
“Nope,” she said matter of factly.
“Then who are you calling?”
Gloria smiled and held up a finger to quiet her wife as she began to speak into the phone. “Hello, Mountain View Ambulance Service?” Gloria paused to listen to the reply. “No…no emergency,” she shook her head. “I just wanted to make sure you know how to get to my cabin up on Logger’s Trail.” She paused to listen again. “Yeah, that would be the one. Number fourteen to be exact.” Gloria watched as a look of confusion came to Gaynor’s face. “Thanks, that makes me feel a lot better. Good-bye.”
“What the devil are you doing, Gloria?”
“Let’s just say that I’m making another little prediction. That’s all.” A smile came to her face as she slipped her phone back into her pocket. “You know, Gay…you’re not the only fairy godmother around.” Gloria’s face beamed with delight.
“Why you trickster, you.” Gay slapped at her wife’s shoulder playfully before leaning in to whisper. “How much did it cost you to have that fortune teller say that to Alex?”
“Sh!” Gloria quickly brought her finger to her mouth to silence Gay. “It wasn’t much but I’m getting back a big return…with interest on it every year.” A huge smile swept across the bartender’s face as her eyes settled back on the children. “Best money I’ve ever invested,” she glanced over to her wife. “Wouldn’t you say?” She motioned with her head to the girls snuggled down in their bed.
No words were necessary with the look of love she saw written all over Gaynor’s face. Gloria patted her wife’s hand softly and smiled. “Happy Valentine’s Day, love.” The words were whispered barely loud enough for the woman to hear.
The moment of silence didn’t last for long. The soft garbled whispers from the children drew both of their attentions.
“What’s that you’re whispering?” Gaynor’s interest was peaked.
“Nothin’,” Lexie giggled out around a tiny hand clamped over her mouth.
“Come on, you can tell Auntie Glorie.” She looked over to Caroline.
Bashfully, the girl lowered her head. “You act just like our mommies.”
“Yeah,” her sister joined in. “When they think we’re in bed.”
Gaynor giggled at how they were perceived in the children’s eyes.
“Okay,” Gloria said tentatively before clearing her throat, “next time I’ll learn not to ask.” She looked over to the children. “Anyone ready to hear a real story?”
“Me do!” The children’s lighter sounding voices chirped in as the excitement grew on their faces.
“Alright,” Gloria laughed out loud at their swift and unabashed reply. She held out her arms and gathered her family around her. “Once upon a time on Valentine’s Day there was a family…a very large family that was growing bigger every day…”