Thunder rolled through the hushed classroom like an old distant freight train. Beyond the high, horizontal windows, the dark gray sky was smattering the Arizona State University West with a lazy rain. Dana McCarthy wanted to keep staring at the hypnotizing drops, but instead she refocused on the papers in her hand and swallowed against a tight throat. Doing so seemed to help with her throat, but she couldn’t do anything to help the heat she felt in her face. Regardless, she forced herself to look up and tuck an errant strand of hair behind her ear and continue with her oral report for her women’s study class.
“In doing research for this report on lesbianism, I had the opportunity to read some firsthand accounts about how lesbians think and feel in regard to attraction. As I read, I realized that these women sounded a lot like me. I’ve always had crushes on women, even as a small child. And I always felt different around women I was attracted to. My stomach would cartwheel; my heart would beat faster. I would feel… almost giddy. At the time, of course, I had no idea what these feelings meant. And as I grew older, I just assumed all women had these feelings. That it was a part of growing up. I didn’t realize that my feelings, and later my rated-G fantasies, were anything other than an innocent crush. It wasn’t until I read an account about a woman and her first kiss that I realized… I might be gay. This revelation has floored me, excited me, terrified me, and ultimately moved me in ways like nothing else ever has. And when I read the reports on lesbian sex and how lesbians spend more time making love and are more open and creative in lovemaking, well, I knew, absolutely knew, I was gay.
“This report has changed my life. Nothing has happened as of yet, but inwardly, I have changed. Where will I go from here? Who knows. I am a married woman. I have a husband. I have responsibilities. But I also have these feelings inside me and they aren’t going away. Why? Because they are a part of me. They’ve always been there, just under the surface. They are me. This is me. And it’s time I start being myself.”
Dana lowered her papers. The women applauded, some of them standing to offer her a brief hug of support. At first, the warm contact overwhelmed her, and she stiffened, but soon she relaxed and fell into them as if she could somehow soak in their kindness and strength. Tears threatened. She thanked them and shook some hands and then began to pack her brown leather satchel with trembling hands. She’d thought long and hard about sharing so much of herself in the report, but she’d decided it was time to tell the truth. To someone. And these women, she knew, would understand. As she glanced at all the smiles and nods of support, she realized she’d made the right decision. Her professor thanked her for the report and then dismissed the class. Dana swung her satchel over her shoulder as two women came up and offered their phone numbers. They smiled at her, one gave her a wink and the other insisted on writing her number on her inner wrist. Dana could feel the burn of her soft skin and feel the warmth of her breath.
“Don’t be afraid to call. I know you must have a million questions.” The woman smiled again. “I look forward to hearing from you.” She took her hand, squeezed, and then held it as she backed away. “Bye.”
Dana let out a long breath and covered her heart with her hand. She’d had lesbians flirt with her before, but now it felt different. More intense. Would she call her? She eyed the number written neatly on her wrist. She knew if she did the woman would want more than talk. Was she ready for that? She didn’t know. Not yet, anyhow.
She left the classroom feeling a glow of acceptance. Like a cloak of love and support had been draped across her shoulders. But as she stepped out into the rain, suddenly, the warm feelings were gone. Reality seeped back in with the chill of the rain. She had to go home.
She crawled in her Camry with a sigh and drove into the lazy sun. The rain was thinking about stopping, but the sky looked as though it was debating whether or not to obey. A fiery love song came on the radio, which only fueled her newfound desire. She let it stir her emotions for a bit before switching it off, unable to take it. She thought of Michael, her husband of three years, and how he’d surely bring a halt to her desires. Things were so bad she’d actually seen an attorney to talk about divorce. All she had to do was give the go-ahead and he’d file the papers. God, she hoped he wasn’t home. She didn’t want to deal with his worsening mood swings. He was unhappy with school and with work, and he often came home pissed off at the world. Just eyeing his distorted face as he walked up the pathway to the front door often caused her anxiety. The dogs, too, had noticed, and they preferred to follow her around.
The last of the clouds dissipated with the burn of the wakening sun. It was nearing three o’clock, and there was no doubt he would be home from his Friday afternoon class. Sure enough, his old Harley Davidson was in its usual position in the driveway. She pulled into the garage and headed into the house. She found Michael in his usual position, lotus style on the floor in front of the television with the game controller in his hand. She rolled her eyes as he spooned a large bite of Cocoa Puffs into his mouth.
“Hi,” she said as she headed right for the fridge to retrieve the Franciscan merlot left over from the night before.
“Hi.” He didn’t bother to look at her.
She grabbed the wine, a glass, and a lighter, and hurried to the spare bedroom. Her two rescue greyhounds, Hunter and Hannibal, ran down the hallway ahead of her to the computer room. Once inside, she removed her satchel, lit some candles, poured herself some merlot, and sat at the computer desk. She wasn’t worried about Michael walking in on her. He’d play video games well into the early morning. He’d been doing it so long, she’d had to find other ways to entertain herself. Little did he know just how entertained she was becoming. The screen came to life and she relaxed and dove in. She’d been testing her hand at writing short stories. It had been painful at first because she’d had no training or creative writing classes, but soon she’d worked out the tense and the point of view, learning from the books she read. And now it was easier to simply spill out the fantasies she’d been having for almost her entire life. The stories were her little secret and she thrived on the excitement they gave her.
She stopped typing as she came to a pivotal moment in the story. The characters wanted to kiss, but she didn’t know how to describe it. Sure, she’d kissed plenty. But she’d read and heard that a woman kissing a woman was completely different from a woman kissing a man. She just didn’t know in what way. She pushed herself away from the screen and sipped her wine. She closed her eyes and reveled in the taste. She opened her eyes and inched closer, typing. She searched for more information on lesbianism. On erotica, specifically. Unfortunately, most of what came up was pornographic, but watching those women get it on did nothing for her. It just seemed so fake and the girls so young and made up. Maybe she really wasn’t gay after all. Confused, she groaned and rested her head on her arm on the desk. Hunter licked her face.
“I’m just all kinds of screwed up, boy,” she said, which caused more licks. “Mama is hopeless.” With the wine swimming in her and warming her, she closed her eyes and hoped a brief nap would bring her the answers to her endless questions.
The orange-vested crossing guard waved her through, and Valerie Weldon inched ahead in the school parking lot. Outside her open windows, children laughed and screeched. They were excited for the weekend. The rain had stopped, and by the look of the sun, it had stopped for good. She was grateful because she preferred to have her windows down so she could hear the kids. She smiled as she caught sight of her younger son, Erik.
“Mom!” He opened the door and scrambled inside, backpack almost too large for his six-year-old frame. “We live in the United States of America!” He thrust out a crinkled square of colored construction paper. “See the map?” His blue eyes grew large and his shock of blond hair fell over his eyes ever so briefly before he shoved it back with a quick hand. “And we live in here. In the United States,” he said, pointing to the map.
“Everyone knows that, stupid,” her older son, Mik, said as he climbed in the front seat and shut the door. He fastened his seat belt without looking at Valerie or Erik. Valerie scowled and then smiled as she looked back at Erik.
“That’s great, Erik. Very important to know. What else did you learn?”
He settled back in his booster seat and buckled his seat belt as Valerie drove slowly out of the parking lot.
“God, please don’t ask him,” Mik said. “I can’t take it.” He popped in an earbud and scrolled through his iPod for a song.
“Then just listen to your music,” Valerie said. “No one wants to hear your grumpy attitude either.”
He scoffed and sank lower in his seat. He pulled the hood of his jacket over his head and placed his foot on the dash. Valerie swatted it away. Mik had developed quite the attitude lately. He was ten years old, too young for puberty and the “I hate the world,” right?
Erik, oblivious to any issues with what he was saying, continued. “I learned that my legs can go really, really fast. Like this.” He scissored his legs and Valerie laughed. “And if I do that when I’m standing, I will run really, really fast.” She laughed again and caught sight of his Skechers.
“Honey, tie your shoes.” She checked for traffic and turned left.
Erik frowned. “I can’t.” He crossed his arms over his chest.
“Try. Just like I showed you.”
“I do, but they don’t stay tied. Can’t I just fix my laces like Mik? So I don’t have to tie them?” Mik looked back at him, suddenly paying attention.
“You have to learn to tie your shoes, dummy. God, I could tie mine at five.”
“Hey, none of that,” Valerie said as she pulled onto the main road. She reached over and wiped the scuff off the dash Mik had left with his Vans shoe. The Jeep Grand Cherokee was new, and she was trying her best to keep it looking that way.
“Are we going to the car wash?” Mik asked, obviously recognizing where they were headed.
Erik squealed with excitement in the back. “Can I get a pop? Please, Mom?”
Mik, too, piped in. “I’m getting a giant pop and some Takis.”
“I want some!” Erik said.
“No, baby, they burn your mouth, remember?”
“Yeah, and you cry.” Mik smirked, amused.
Valerie closed her eyes briefly as Erik begged for the hot and spicy corn chips. He wanted to do everything Mik did, and he never understood why he couldn’t.
“You can have some of my hot Cheetos, okay?” They were a little less fierce. “But only a few.”
He grinned and swung his feet. “I’m gonna mix my pop. Get. Every. Single. One.”
Mik shot back at him. “Copier.”
Valerie pulled into the parking lot and drove to the car wash lanes. The boys continued to argue as she ordered her wash. The man, who was sweating despite the recent rain, nodded quickly, as if he’d dealt with crazy, loud children a lot.
“All right, everybody stop. No one gets anything if you don’t stop.” She gathered her purse and opened her door and the boys followed while they grumbled. After kneeling to tie Erik’s shoes, she led them inside. The place smelled like rubber floor mats and grease. The kids loved it and they pointed to all the odds and ends for sale from license plates, to key chains, to stuffed animals. Mik wanted a sign for his room that said “Danger” and Erik wanted a key chain and a stuffed monkey. She shook her head just as she always did and moved on to find a seat at the front where she could watch the Jeep come out to be hand dried. She gave the boys money for the soda fountain behind them and the standing arcade games, then she crossed her legs and fingered her sunglasses. The day was almost over. Could she make it to eight o’clock when the boys passed out?
“Cute kids,” a woman next to her said. Valerie smiled and turned to look at her and then reddened. The woman was athletic and tanned. She had a short spiky haircut held back by a black Nike visor.
“Thank you,” Valerie said. Her voice tried to cave. She always had this reaction when she saw an attractive woman. Especially if she suspected she was gay.
“I bet they’re a handful.” The woman smiled, showing gorgeous white teeth and a dimple in her right cheek.
Valerie’s heart pounded. She felt herself blink rapidly behind her shades. “You have no idea.” Somehow, she sounded calm, even humorous. How she managed to always pull off the cool attitude, she had no idea, but she was thankful.
The woman laughed. Valerie tried not to stare at her mouth, at her thick, deep, rose-colored lips. She bet they were covered in cherry ChapStick to protect them from the sun. From the look of her prominent tan lines, Valerie also bet she spent a lot of time on the golf course.
“Are they about done yet, hon?” another woman said as she approached from behind to place her hand on the visor woman’s shoulder. She leaned down and kissed her, and Valerie felt her clit come alive. She had to look away and squeeze her legs together tighter.
When she dared to look over and offer a smile, she found them holding hands, and the new woman ran her free hand through her long auburn hair. She was beautiful and Valerie could smell her warm vanilla cologne. It caused her skin to burn below the surface. She was so turned on she had to escape. She rose and found the boys cheering and whooping at a game machine. Mik was driving a race car and Erik was cheering him on and sucking on his oversized pop.
“Mom, he’s crashing everywhere!”
“Good,” she said, oblivious. She rubbed her neck and looked back at the women. They were walking to their car, hand in hand. She imagined what they did in the dark, and she burned even hotter.
“Give me a sip of your pop,” she said to Erik, taking it from him. Shocked, he frowned but then grinned as she made a face of disgust. “That’s awful.”
He giggled. “It’s good. It’s my special brew cuz I’m a mad scientist.”
“You’re something all right.”
She turned and watched the women drive away in a black Mercedes. She let out a sigh of relief and tousled Erik’s hair.
“Okay, one more game and we go.”
“But Mik won’t let me play this.”
“You can’t even reach the pedals,” Mik said and grimaced as he crashed. “Damn!”
“Mik! Language.” She lightly smacked the back of his head. Erik laughed.
“Let your brother play.”
Mik sat slouched in the game chair. He hit the heel of his hand on the steering wheel. “It’s rigged. There’s no way to win.”
She breathed deeply and glanced at her watch.
“It’s time to go anyway. You can play more after homework.”
He groaned and climbed out. He walked with a slouch up to her, once again pulling his hood up and popping in an earbud to listen to music. Valerie had to tug Erik away from a new game that had caught his eye. A shooting game he was too short for. He fought tears and she cursed under her breath.
“Come on, get the hot Cheetos and we’ll go.”
He stopped whining and ran up to the counter. He grabbed the hot Cheetos and hopped up and down while she paid. Her phone rang as a man held up the towel by their car, letting them know it was finished. She hurriedly crossed to the SUV and gave him a five-dollar tip as she answered the phone already knowing it was Steve, her husband.
“Hey, I’m going to be late tonight,” he said before she could even say hello. She yanked open the driver’s door and tossed her purse onto the console and climbed in.
“Fine.” She’d long given up on trying to get him to come home at a decent hour. And frankly, she just no longer cared.
Mik climbed in and he was listening intently. “Is that Dad? Is he coming home?”
Erik bounced in the back. “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”
“The boys want you home,” she said. She knew it would make no difference.
“Tell them I’ll try.”
She gritted her teeth. “Boys, buckle up.” Then back to Steve, “I’ll do no such thing. Because you never do.”
“Tell him to bring pizza,” Mik said. “It’s Friday and he promised.”
“You promised the boys pizza?” She was growing angrier by the second. He placated them all and it wasn’t fair to the boys.
“I’ll order it,” he said. “And I’ll try to make it home before ten.”
“Whatever.” She hung up and headed for home. She squeezed the steering wheel hard as she drove. Mik was watching her.
“He’s not coming, is he?”
Her heart sank. “He said he would try, love. Try to make it home before ten.”
Mik stared out the window. He upped the volume to his iPod and she could hear the muffled music. He was hurting. Just like he did every time his father broke a promise.
“Daddy’s not coming home?” Erik said. She glanced in the rearview mirror. He was frowning with a ring of orange around his mouth.
“He will. But you might be asleep. How many Cheetos have you had?”
“Does your mouth burn?”
He broke into tears. “Yes.”
She reached back for the bag which he handed over. He wasn’t supposed to eat them without her handing them to him. Because if he ate more than five at a time, his mouth would burn. “Drink your drink,” she said softly.
Erik cried and sniffled the rest of the way home. Mik listened to his music. When they walked in the house, Mik tossed his backpack and ran upstairs. She didn’t try to stop him. Instead, she poured Erik a glass of milk and he settled in on the couch.
“Take off your shoes, please,” she said to him as she wiped his fingers and mouth free of orange Cheetos. She settled in on the opposite side with her laptop. They all needed comfort. Mik had the quiet and peace of his room. He had his music. Erik had his cartoons. And she, what she had was her most sacred secret. She had women. She logged into her favorite site and pushed out a long breath. At long last, comfort settled over her.