SALT LAKE LESBIANS
 

At 11:45, the phone rang. I had just kissed her goodnight and walked her to her car. I figured the way she drove, sheíd be home in five minutes.

"Hello," I answered.

"Anne, tell Rachel good-bye for me. And that I love her."

"What?" I stammered. "Um, why, Kate? Sheís on her way home. Sheíll be there in a couple minutes."

"I wonít see her. Just tell her good-bye. And, Anne, I wanted to thank you, Ďcause youíve been a good friend to her."

Yeah, right. Friend. Iím just her friend.

"Okay. Youíre welcome. Um, Kate, are you okay?"

"Yeah," Kate paused, "bye, Anne."

The clock said 11:47. Suddenly the lights were very bright. I shut them off and opened the blinds about three inches. I looked out and her car wasnít there. Sheíd be home in three minutes.

I slammed my back hard into my unforgiving red fold-out desk chair. 11:48, the clock glowed florescent green. I grabbed a cigarette, the last one, and crumpled the pack. I inhaled deeply, noticing how orange the tip looked in my darkened room. My nose hairs burnt a little as I accidentally inhaled my exhaled smoke. I listened to the leaves falling off the trees and dusting the ground with their faint scraping sound. It was about thirty degrees out and dropping. The wind blew in and knocked the blind around. 11:50. I picked up the phone and dialed. Let it ring eight or nine times.

Kate must have already taken the pills or she just wasnít answering. I took another drag. This was not unexpected. I thought back to my encounters with Kate. She was crying out for help and attention. She didnít really want to die, she just wanted us to know how close she was coming to it.

11:53. I dialed again.

"Hello," Rachel answered.

"Rach, I think you need to call 911."

"WhÖ why?" I could hear her throw her keys onto the table in her dining room. She had just walked in.

"Kate just called over here. She told me to tell you good-bye and she loves you. And she thanked me for being such a good friend to you."

I could hear her smile. Saw in my mind her eyes crinkle back in appreciation of Kateís naivete even as she was fighting tears.

"I think she really did it, but it couldnít have been long ago. She was coherent on the phone five minutes ago."

"Shit. Iíll call you back." She hung up.

I took one last drag and crushed the filter into the ashtray. I looked at the rustling blinds, the unmade bed, the disheveled desk with the glowing clock. 11:57. I was restless and this room held no interest for me right now.

Downstairs, I did the dishes we had left in haste to run up to my bedroom. Made a cup of chamomile tea and swallowed two red and yellow gel-caps of Tylenol. 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen served as my Valium. I grabbed a pack of Lucky Strikes from the drawer.

Midnight and I had class at 7:20 in the morning. I was pretty sure I wouldnít sleep tonight.

Upstairs, I stuck my head under the faucet and smoothed my two inches of hair down. Took a swallow of tea; decided chain smoking was forgivable for this night only. 12:21. The phone rang.

"Yeah," I said. I knew it would be her. "Is she okay?"

"Sure," she lied.

"She take pills?"

"I guess. Yeah. Theyíre taking her over to Cottonwood Hospital. Sheís breathing and all, she just passed out."

"You gonna call her family?"

"Not if I can help it. Sheíll live so they donít need to know."

"You want me over there tonight?"

"Can you meet me at the hospital? Weíre gonna leave soon."

"Iíll be over as soon as is humanly possible."

"Thanks, Anne. I love you." It was the first ĎI love youí in front of Kate. Of course Kate wasnít exactly conscious at the moment.

I threw on tights and jeans, a thermal and a sweater. Took wallet, cigarettes, lighter, and clipped the reflector onto my belt loop in the back. Added hat, scarf, and heavy coat. Shut the window and kissed my kitty on her head. I sniffed for smoke, decided the house wasnít about to burn down, and locked the door behind me. I got onto my bike and looked both ways out of habit. It wasnít as though anybody besides the truly hearty, like myself, would be out on a Salt Lake street at 12:30 Sunday night.

It was a straight shot to Cottonwood Hospital. Spring Lane, left to 13th East Avenue and south on Highland Drive. I rode slowly in case there was black ice lurking on the roads. It was definitely below thirty by now. My head incased in the warmth of my hat and scarf, the lack of traffic, and the hour of night sent my mind to wandering.

 

Rachel had been here a week when I met her. Robin, her boss at Beans Ďn Brews, just Beans to us locals, introduced us.

"Hi, Iím Anne."

"Rachel," she proffered her hand. I took it.

"Could I get a cup of house coffee with whipped cream?"

"Sure," she handed the drink to me with no move toward the cash register. "Iíve seen you here a couple of times. Do you come in a lot?" she asked me. It was a semi-personal question, but it could have been completely innocent. I thought she was cute, so I wanted to read more into it than there really was.

"Yeah, I hand out here on breaks from my classes."

"Well, I have a break right now, so do you want to go outside and have a cigarette with me?"

"Sure, Iíll grab my coat." I threw a dollar into the tip jar.

"You need a cigarette?" I asked her as we walked outside.

"Yeah, thanks."

She lit up. I found out later that she didnít smoke. We stood there in silence inhaling and exhaling for a while.

"So," she looked down at me, "whereíre you from?"

"Well, here, for now. Before that, L.A."

"Oh, really? Iím from San Jose in Northern California."

"Why on earth did you move here?" Sometimes my mouth opens without intervention from my brain, and I occasionally end up sounding like a fool. This was one such occasion.

"My familiesí Mormon." Great. I was too late.

"Are you?"

"No. Did I look Mormon to you."

She definitely did not look Mormon. Unless theyíre now letting lesbians in the religion. And she was definitely a lesbian. The kind that mothers warn their daughters about. Probably because everyone is attracted to them. She had hair about two or three inches long, parted on the left and dangling into her right eye so she squinted. She bleached it even though sheís a natural blonde; I still donít get that. Black jeans, dark purple button down ĎBeansí shirt, white undershirt sticking out of her collar, which was unbuttoned, work boots, no noticeable figure. She was called Ďsirí more often than not. She was hot. And interested.

"Iím off in an hour," she told me. An opening if I ever heard one.

"Have you seen the city yet?"

"Not really."

"Interested?"

"Sure, when?"

"Tonight," I was on a roll, "where do you live?"

"6900 South Avenue and 1300 East Avenue. On the corner in those ugly tan apartments. Number 14."

"69th and 13th. Okay, youíre just south of me. Howís six?" I noticed car keys clipped to her belt loop with a purple rock-climbing hook. "Okay if you drive?"

"Sure, but make it 6:30. I have to pick up my room-mate from work." A complication.

"Okay. See you later."

She went back inside. I went and gushed to my friends. I had a date.

At 6:15 precisely, I left my house. A strange woman answered wearing white nurseís scrubs with little bears all over them in pastel colors. She had long, brown, curly hair, pulled back on the top with a big, tortoise-shell hairlclip.

"Hi, Iím Kate. Rach is inside. Come on in."

I left my bike by the front door. Salt Lake is an honest city.

"Hi, Anne," you said, "come in; eat Skittles if you like Ďem. On the counter in that jar."

Rachel came around the counter to give me a hug. As she passed, Kate ran her hand over her ass; Rachel shot her a look. I noticed. She let it go. I thought she was single, but Iíve been wrong before.

"Kate, check the potatoes," Rachel said.

"Hi," she hugged me, holding me a second longer than I expected. Her hand traced my shoulder to my wrist as I let go. Maybe she was single. Now I was confused.

"Okay if we eat here before we go. I usually cook after Kate gets off work."

"Sure, Iíll never refuse a meal."

I was standing awkwardly in the dining room. It had a glass-topped table but no chairs.

"Come, sit." Kate motioned to the bar- stool next to her by the counter separating the living room from the kitchen.

"What do you do, Anne?" Kate asked.

"Nothing. Well, I go to school. Up at the U."

"I work up at the U hospital. In the childrenís hospital."

Rachel was staying quiet. I was confused about the status of my evening. I decided to solve my conundrum.

"How long have you two been together," I ventured.

Rachel looked at Kate and burst out laughing.

"We are not together," Kate said. A little defensive.

"Oh, sorry." I tried not to smile too big.

Rach looked up.

"Kateís straight."

Yeah, right, I thought. I remembered Kateís hand on Rachelís ass five minutes sure Rach did, too.

"Foodís ready." Rachel handed us plates. We ate fast.

"Ready?" I asked when she was finished.

"Yup, letís go."

"Bye, Kate," I said.

"Bye, have fun. Rachel, be good to my car," Kate told us.

Kateís car had Idaho plates. I inquired about them.

"Kate just moved from Idaho. She hasnít changed her plates yet."

"And she lets you drive it?"

"Yeah, she trusts me."

"Howíd you meet her?"

"She went on her mission in Santa Cruz, Salinas, and San Jose." A Mormon mission is where all the kids go out and attempt to convert unsuspecting strangers in foreign towns. Itís a rite of passage for all girls at the age of 18, and men at the age of 21. They go for a year and a half, where they accomplish some possible conversions, but mostly meet their future spouses. Of course, thereís not supposed to be opposite sex mingling on these adventures, but the real purpose is to have everyone married off and pumping out Mormon babies by the age of 19 or 22.

I continued my line of questioning on Rachel.

"So you met Kate in San Jose when she was on her mission?"

"Yeah, I was still going to church then. Her mission sister was my girlfriend."

Too soon for ex talk. I let that one go.

"You mean Kateís Mormon?"

"Yup." You looked over at me. I looked out the windshield and saw a reflection of myself. Hands folded in my jean-clad lap, my big brown coat still on even though the car was hot. Red headband that matched the sweater hidden under my coat held back what little hair I had. Shining eyes that reflected back eagerness. I hoped it wasnít too obvious.

"Thereís a bunch of c.d.ís in the glove. You should pick," she told me.

She smiled. I knew it was a test. I pulled out Ani DiFrancoís fifth album, Puddle Dive, and selected track 8, "Born a Lion." "Everything I do/ I do for the first time./ Iíve got a big crush on you,/ and itís crushing my mind./ Can I just follow you home/ just listen to you think?/ Leave my lip-prints on your cups,/ leave my hairs in your sink?/" I passed the test.

I directed us to the places that would become our hot spots. The Tower Theatre where they showed avant garde movies, as in anything with a harsher word than "crap" and every now and then even some partial nudity. It may not have been the most cutting edge, but itís Salt Lake. We drove past the Coffee Garden (a favorite local coffee and chai shop), Salt City c.d.ís (the only place in Salt Lake, other than WalMart, to buy music), Cahoots (a gay owned and operated store selling everything from greeting cards to dildos), Park Ivy (a veggie eatery), and the downtown location of ĎBeans.í Most of this was located on 9th and 9th, the appropriately named street corner where 900 South Ave. and 900 East Ave. intersected; it was Salt Lakeís little Castro district. Eventually, we headed back out of town, south, towards where we lived, because we couldnít decide on a destination, and ended up in what was to become our favorite spot, Holiday Park.

In the winter, only the truly hearty or horny people go to parks in Salt Lake at night. They are a favorite teen make-out spot, and not good for much else. I knew this about the parks; Rachel did not. As she looked around her that night at other cars with fogged windows rolling gently back and forth on their tires, I think she got the picture.

On the ride over, I put my hand on the armrest dividing the driver and passenger seats while Rachelís arm was perched on top of the gear shift, even though the car was an automatic. It started with an accidental brushing of pinkyís as we rounded a curve, and that sweet electrical tingle radiated up through my arm. The touch was a brief instant, but both our hands stayed rooted there, as if bound by an invisible length of bungee cord, not touching, but dangerously close to it.

A minute later, while calmly discussing left and right turns and Salt Lake history, I felt that same tingle beginning in my hand. This time, the warm touch of her well-conditioned hand was not accidental. We explored each otherís knuckles and fingernails, mine painted red and bitten to the quick, hers smooth, cut short, and bare, as though this was the first time either of us had figured out the point of these five-fingered appendages.

We stayed chatting calmly with our hands clutching until we pulled into the parking lot of the park, and she removed her hand to put the car in park and turn it off. We did not re-clasp hands, staying apart guiltily like we had both just done something unspeakably wrong. I rolled down the window a crack, lit a cigarette, and shifted my weight so my left knee jutted out and rested against the arm-rest. She looked at my position and opted for conversation.

We discussed family backgrounds, shared musical interests, political views, and all the funny gay pride parade stories we could think of. She lifted her hand to stifle a yawn, and when she brought it back down, it landed on my knee.

"Are you tired?" I asked, as her hand smoothed the creases of jean at my knee.

"A little."

"Do you want to go home?"

"No, I want to stay with you." I smiled.

"I wouldnít mind going back to my place and curling up in front of the t.v."

"Yeah," a grin like the Cheshire cat started a slow spread across her face, "that sounds good."

She removed her hand from my knee and turned on the car. I directed her to my house, we parked, and went in. I let my cat out after kissing her tummy and feeding her a couple crunchies from my hand, opened up a window, turned on the heater, and plopped onto my couch. Rachel was awkwardly standing by the door.

"Come in, sit down, or whatever. Welcome to my humble home."

"Thanks, um. Do you have a bathroom?"

"I have two, in fact. Upstairs or down?"

"Which ever is closest, I guess."

"Down the hall, past the washer and dryer."

She returned before I even had time to flip through every channel.

"Do you want the three-cent tour?" I asked her.

"I thought it was ten cents."

"Usually it is, but itís a small place."

"This is downstairs, small, but home," I told her.

"Itís nice."

Upstairs, in my office, I said, "This is where I do my work."

"Nice, an extra bedroom."

"Yeah." I led her down the hall, pointed out the bathroom and my bedroom.

"This is where I sleep if I make it up here from the t.v. room."

"Nice," she looked in and left. I figured it was too soon for the bedroom. She led the way back downstairs and I perched in the middle of my couch. She sat down next to me, and I handed her the remote.

"Here, watch whatever youíd like." I rolled my head back and forth across my shoulders.

"Does your neck hurt," she asked.

"A little. Itís really just an annoying habit I picked up somewhere."

"You need a massage?"

"If youíre offering, I wonít turn you down."

"Lay down," she said. Leaving the t.v. on the home shopping channel, where a woman with horrible fake nails was peddling an equally horrible fake diamond necklace reduced to only thirty-five dollars if you just called in the next twenty minutes. She began rubbing my neck with strong, smooth hands.

"Too hard?" she asked.

"Mmmm, no. Itís great." Her hands did feel great, sending me their little shocks of new contact excitement. "If youíre tired, you can stop," I told her after about five minutes.

"No, Iím fine."

"Okay."

Her hands moved down from my neck and started massaging my back through my sweater. When she reached the waist of my jeans, her hands reached up under my sweater to knead my lower back. She moved up and down my spine with just the right amount of pressure, reducing me to a pile of boneless, almost drugged relaxation. Her massage slowly dissolved away until the pressure of her hands was just the tips of her fingers dusting my back with a feather-light touch.

"Your skin is so soft," she said it in a breathless, tired voice. I wanted to respond, but I couldnít think of a thing to say.

"Mmmmm," was all I could come up with.

Her hands moved up again to my shoulders, this time under my sweater, and she leaned over me, half propped against the back of the couch, her lips resting on the back of my neck. Her breathing was hard, and it tickled the little hairs on my neck when she exhaled. She started giving me the tiniest, sweetest kisses on the back of my neck, while her fingertips explored the curve of my shoulders. I started shifting, turning over, and her hands left the warmth under my sweater and started exploring my face. I reached up to pull her closer to me, my arms circling her chest and rubbing the indentation of her spine. I closed my eyes and felt fingertips brush over the lids. We stayed that way, touching and exploring, for what felt like years.

Eventually, she shifted again, this time to an almost sitting position, her back resting on the arm of the couch, and pulled me with her. My hands were up around her neck, my fingers getting tangled in her short hair as I pulled and grabbed at it just a little, not to hurt her, but to tease her. My eyes were still closed, and I felt her face coming closer to mine. Her lips were warm and full, soft against mine, for those first, hesitant kisses. She pulled back.

"Is this okay," she whispered.

"Yes."

Her lips returned to my mouth, more insistent this time. We kissed for a long time, deep and breathless, and slow and soft. Finally, I curled up to her, my head on her chest to hear her heart beat. We fell asleep that way, tangled up in each otherís arms, and woke up to a crying, hungry kitty outside with the sun high. I was very late to class, but I didnít care.

She drove me to school, went to work, and picked me up after class with a bouquet of daisies. We were inseparable for the following weeks, always at my house or her work, talking, kissing, and never getting enough sleep. We developed a routine where Iíd sit at Beans for hours into the evening working on calculus or writing about Shakespeare on one of the large, black tables. I liked room.

A few weeks after we started dating, I walked in, flashed her a smile, and claimed a table near the window, emptied all necessary items from my backpack, then walked up to the counter for a hug. She came around the counter, picked me up, kissed my neck, and set me back on the floor.

"You want a drink," she asked.

"Sure."

"What would you like?" We enjoyed the customer/employee game.

"A double, white-chocolate mocha with butterscotch."

"You never just want a simple cup of joe, do you?"

"Nope. That would be too easy." I smiled showing all my teeth. Devilishness disguised as charm. She ate it up.

"Okay, Iíll make your damn coffee." I knew she loved every minute of it.

"Thanks, love." I wandered back to my claimed space.

She came up to the table a few minutes later with my drink. It was a huge to-go cup with the Beans-n-Brews logo on the side. The mountain of whipped cream that capped the concoction was accented with chocolate sprinkles.

"Why so sweet?" I asked. She plopped into the chair next to mine with a less auspicious version of what I was drinking.

"Kateís coming in later."

"Oh, good. I havenít seen her since that first night we went out."

"Yeah, she wants to hang out tonight."

"Okay. With me, too, or just you guys?"

"No, you, too. We thought weíd go to my place and fix margaritas."

"Okay, whatever. I donít have class Ďtill eleven tomorrow."

"Yeah, okay. Well, sheíll be here in an hour or so." Rachel didnít seem happy about this.

"Okay. Rachel, are you okay?" She looked squirmy, uncomfortable.

"Oh, sure, fine." Which, I was beginning to understand Rachelese, meant Ďno, I need to talk.í

"Okay, well, I have to finish up reading some shit my Shakespeare class, soÖ" I trailed off.

"Yeah, um, you wanna have a cigarette before you start? I have a break for a few minutes." Beans was empty save us and few other regulars.

"I thought you told me a few days ago that you didnít really smoke."

"Um, I donít. But I know you do, and Iíll just have one, so itís not like Iím really smoking." She grinned. I put my coat on and we went outside.

"Something on your mind?" There obviously was.

"Um, I guess so."

"Out with it." I said a little too loudly. This probably was not as light-hearted as I was making it. She exhaled loudly. Looked up at the clouds made pink by the sunset. Her breath was visible in the cold.

"Címon, Rach," I prodded, "how bad can it be?"

"Bad." She looked grave. I got worried.
"Did someone die?" She started laughing.

"Not that bad."

"Then what is it?" I looked at my half-smoked Lucky Strike. Othello awaited and I was getting cold.

"Rachel, I need to go back in. Will you just tell me or let it go?"

"Okay, okay, Iíll just say it." She took a deep breath. "Um, Anne, I havenít exactly told Kate weíre dating."

"Why, is she homophobic, or something? No, wait, she knew about you and Michelle." I thought out loud. "Then, why?"

"I dunno, sheís just been kind of depressed lately. You know, sheís single and all that." Single and twenty-four years old in Mormon terms meant a lifelong sentence of spinster-hood. Or queerness.

"Maybe sheís single Ďcause sheís queer and wonít admit it." I stated the obvious.

"You know it and I know it, but she doesnít really know it yet."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, my guess is, she knows it. Sheís just not ready to say it or do anything." She looked like she had more to say, but she held her tongue, and I didnít pry.

"Okay, so is that he big deal youíre all stressed about?"

"UhÖpretty much." She shivered.

"Catch a chill?"

"Yup, threw it back." She opened the door for me and I put out my cigarette in the ashtray on the way in.

"So, I shouldnít say anything about us then, right?"

"Not yet. Maybe weíll tell her tonight after sheís good and toasty." Rachel giggled. I doubted it.

"Okay, Rach, whatever. Iím going to read. Have fun working."

Beans got busy and she was the only one working. But she was off in a few hours so it wasnít a big deal. And I had time to read. About an hour later, Kate walked in. I saw her out of the corner of my eye. Kate walked up to the counter and Rachel gave her a hug similar to the one she gave me an hour or so ago. I wondered about it, but didnít ask. Rach looked over at me to see if I was watching. I let her know with a slight nod of my head that I saw it. She said some unintelligible things to Kate, got her a cup of coffee and they came over to my table. I dog-eared my book and put it down.

"Hi, Kate, how are you?"

"Fine," she answered, "how are you."

"Fine, have a seat guys."

"I have to work for another forty-five minutes. You kids talk." Rachel walked away. Kate and I decided to go buy alcohol in lieu of talking as we had nothing to say to each other.

"Rachel, weíll be back to pick you up when youíre off," Kate said.

We left and acquired a bottle of tequila, some margarita mix, and a small bottle of vodka in case margaritas got boring. Forty-five minutes later we picked Rachel up. She was hungry and grumpy and tired and I wondered what had happened in those few minutes we were gone.

We went back to their house and set up the alcohol on the counter. Rachel cooked us dinner, chicken and potatoes from a box. While she was cooking, she slammed vodka shots, five in a row. We all ate together around the counter in the kitchen, and as we finished, the first round of the illness began. Rachel puked for a solid hour, mostly undigested dinner, and finally crashed. Kate and I were stone sober and alone with each other. I fixed us drinks and we turned on the drier so it would be warm outside where the drier vented. We went outside to smoke and talk. I gave Kate a cigarette, without knowing she had horrible asthma. She took a few drags, started coughing, and put it out. She took a few breaths and was fine.

"Donít smoke much, do you," I asked.

"No, I have asthma. Itís not the best idea for me to smoke."

"Then whyíd you ask for a cigarette?"

"I donít know. I like them. I just donít know my limits that well.

We finished our drinks and made small talk for the next hour. Told each other about our families and talked about school and work. I went back inside to check on you and fix more drinks. She was sleeping like a baby. I went back outside.

"How is she?" Kate asked.

"Oh, fine. Sheís sleeping."

"Thatís good." She lapsed into silence.

"So, how long have you two been living together?" I knew the answer but was trying to make small talk.

"About three months now."

"You like it, living with her?"

"Yeah," Kate smiled, "Itís great. Sheís a great girl."

"Yeah, she is." I wanted to tell Kate how I knew but I held my tongue.

"Do you have a crush on her?" Kate asked me.

"A little, I guess. But not really a crush I wouldnít say."

"Good."

"Whyís that good?" I was confused.

"I like her."

"I thought you were straight."

"I am straight. I mean, I go to the singles ward at church and everything. I just like her, you know."

"Are you seeing anyone right now?"

"Aside from Rachel, no."

"Are you seeing Rachel?"

"No, I just live with her. But itís nothing. I mean, I canít do anything about it. Iím Mormon and all that."
"Yeah, youíre church kind of frowns on this whole lesbian thing."

"Thatís fine. Iím not a lesbian."

"No, of course, you just have a crush on a woman." Iíve heard it before. ĎIím not gay, my girlfriend is.í Same old story, sure to lead to sadness.

"Exactly, but Rachelís also just a good friend."

"Have you told her how you feel?"

"Yeah, weíve talked a lot about it. Itís hard, you know. I donít really know what I should be doing. Like, Iím attracted to her, but sheís my roommate and my friend, and Iím straight." And defensive about it, I thought.

"Uh-huh," I let you continue.

"Sometimes I just get really upset, you know? Like I donít know what I want, and I donít know what I should want. Like, I kind of want Rachel, but I donít even know what that means. Iíve never slept with a woman. Or a man. Iíve kissed guys, though. But then, you know, work keeps me really busy, and sometimes itís just so hard. Working with sick little kids. And I wonder, you know, like, itís just stupid, Ďcause I donít even have time for a relationship in the first place so why should I even worry about it. I mean, if I meet a nice guy, that would be cool, but Iím not really looking."

"Thatís a good attitude."

"Yeah, you know, and Heavenly Father helps a lot too." Oi, Jesus, here we go, I thought. "I mean, I love the church, I was raised in it and all that. And my mission was great. And Michelle was great."

"But didnít Michelle and Rachel date?"

"Well, I guess you could call it that. Michelle was just helping her get in touch with her religion, mostly." Yeah, through all night naked study courses, I thought. "But Michelle was great. I mean, I think she liked Rachel a little, maybe like me. But Heavenly Father helped her through it, and she resisted temptation."

Kate ran out of steam after that last comment and we just sat in silence for a while. I had a slight urge to reassure her and tell her whatever she was feeling was fine. If she thought she was a lesbian, it was a fine thing to be. I spoke to high school kids a lot about it, going over my own coming out story, though itís not very interesting, and itís almost a reflex to reassure people that being queer was not the end of the world. But it was my girlfriend we were talking about here, and I didnít want to give her any ideas. So, I settled with,

"Whatever you decided about yourself, Kate, itís fine. Donít worry about your religion, worry about your happiness. If what youíre doing makes you happy, than itís the right thing to do."

She pondered that one for a while. The dryer stopped so I went back in and turned it on. I came back outside, and we talked for a while longer about nothing. Mostly music. Thatís always a safe topic after one spills their heart out. I didnít drink my second margarita, so Kate finished it for me. We stayed outside for about four hours all told, until we started getting tired.

Walking back inside, Kate and I decided it was time for bed. Rachel and I retired to her room, and Kate took Rachelís place on the couch. In the middle of the night, I got up to use the bathroom. When I walked back to the living room, Kate was sitting up on the couch, gasping for breath. I ran back to Rachelís room and woke her up.

"Rachel, Kateís having an asthma attack. Where are her inhalers."

"Oh, fuck." She jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom. She grabbed an inhaler and went to Kate. Sat next to her and shook the inhaler. Rachel tried to insert it into Kateís mouth but she pushed her away.

"Kate, you need this."

"No," she was gasping for air, "justÖ let me," she gasped, "die."

"No, youíre not going to do this again." Rachel was struggling with Kate and the inhaler.

Again, I thought, she does this often? Rachel had told me that Kate was depressed, and even Kate had mentioned to me when we were outside, but I had no idea she was this depressed. I really did not want to be in a room with someone trying to kill themselves. I had no idea where to go.

"Kate, just take the goddamn inhaler."

"No," Kate paused, struggling for enough air to finish her sentence, "just letÖ me go."

"Kate, if you donít do this, weíre calling 911 and going to the hospital."

"No," Kate was screaming and choking, "just let me die, Rachel, please, just let me go." This sentence took Kate about five minutes to choke out between gasping and coughing. I was still standing around trying to figure out what to do.

"Kate, Iím serious." Rachel said. "Take this or we go to the hospital."

"No," Kate coughed.

"Okay. Anne, put on your shoes and grab Kateís shoes from her room." I went. I wrestled with Kateís feet as she was trying to kick me away.

"Iím notÖ going toÖ the damnÖ hospital. Iím an," she coughed and inhaled wetly, "adult. I can," she gasped, "make my ownÖ decisions."

"Obviously, you canít. So weíre going." Rachel told her.

Kate grabbed the inhaler out of Rachelís hands, shook it, and inhaled. She repeated the process several times, until she got a clear breath. She collapsed against the couch exhausted. But breathing. We sat up with her and watched her breathe until the sun came up. When we were convinced she was really okay, Rach drove me to Beans to get my bike, and apologized profusely for the rocky evening. I had no response. I rode home, showered, and went to school. When I got home that afternoon, I called over to Rachelís house. Kate was fine and she wanted to talk.

"Hi, Anne," Kate said.

"Hi, Kate, how are you feeling."

"Oh, Iím fine. It happens."

"Yeah, Iím glad youíre okay."

"I wanted to tell you I had a good time last night."

"Thanks, me, too."

"Good, we should do it again."
"Yeah, we should."
"Okay, well, Iíll talk to you later."

"Yeah, take care, Kate, bye."

"Bye."

I hoped we werenít going to do it again real soon, because I needed to sleep occasionally. But it was educational. These last thoughts of Kate brought me to the hospital. The twenty-minute ride passed in a blink. Itís funny how that can happen reliving the good and bad moments of life.

 

My face was frozen when I walked into the ER The smell of sickness and floor cleaners and heat was almost welcome. I knew I could at least still smell. I walked up to the counter.

"Iím looking for Kathryn Joewl."

"Are you family," the nurse asked.

I deliberated a moment, "yes," I lied, "Iím with the family."

"Just a minute."

A nurse in lavender and teal scrubs walked around the counter to greet me.

"Thereís a room down the hall where you can wait."

"Okay."

The nurse pushed a button on the left side of the wall and two double doors with windows at the top swung open. We turned right and the nurse opened a door to a small room for me.

"Wait here a minute, honey." She left.

I surveyed my surroundings. Two wing chairs with a pink floral print occupied one side of the room. A matching printed loveseat was across the small room. A light plastic, painted-to-look-like-wood end table next to the loveseat sported a family sized box of Kleenex. The walls were light tan with a pink floral strip around the ceiling. A low table made of real wood in between the chairs held a smaller box of pink tissues. With the door closed the room was claustrophobic. I realized this was the room they took you when someone died.

I chose the edge of the couch nearest the tissue box. As I began un-wrapping my scarf, Rachel opened the door and walked in.

"Oh, fuck." She fell onto the couch next to me.

"Is she really okay?" I wanted to know what was up with the death room.

"Oh, yeah. Sheís sleeping. She drank charcoal shit and they pumped her stomach.

"Are you okay?" I grabbed her hand.

"They said her family was here. I thought I was going to have to deal with them and I was trying to figure out how they found out. Look at me," she rubbed her newly cut hair, which was now just a buzz that was almost too delightful to touch in other circumstances, "Iím sure theyíd blame me for this."

"Hon, itís not your fault."

She looked at me with tears in her eyes. At this moment she was the exact opposite of the big butch dyke stereotype.

"Will you stay here with me tonight?"

A tear traced a path down her cheek and off her chin. I put my arms around her; let her cry on my shoulder for a while. I was thankful for the multitude of tissues and used a few to dry her face.

"Címon, Hon. Letís go see her."

She led me down a new hallway with open doorjambs and three people to a room with the three beds separated by mostly sheer curtains. Televisions created an indistinguishable din, but most of the occupants of the beds were sleeping. At the fourth doorjamb on the left, she stopped. Peeked in. Led me to the second bed; the first one was empty.

"Hi, Katey," she whispered in childish sing-song to the sleeping form. She pushed a curl off Kateís forehead. My eyes trailed over her slightly sweaty, puffy face, noticed a red mark that looked suspiciously like a hickey at her collarbone. Saw the wires sticking out of the hospital gown, and the huge I.V. needle and tube snaking from the inside of her right elbow. A couple of machines were beeping away at a steady rhythm. I took that as a good sign.

"Rach," I got her attention, "Iím going to go outside for a bit.

"Yeah, okay, Iíll meet you out there in a sec."

I retraced my path through the hospital corridors to the ER doors. Wrapped my scarf back around my neck and shrugged into my jacket. Walking outside, I shook a Lucky Strike out of the pack. I stared into the blackness of the early morning sky and tried to think profound thoughts. I felt nothing. Sad for Rachel, sad for Kate, sad that I wasnít going to sleep tonight.

I turned, and Rachel was standing behind me about two feet away. Staring.

"You okay," she asked me.

"Yeah, fine," I replied honestly and shrugged. I wondered how different Iíd feel if Kate had died.

"I need to talk," she said.

"Thatís why Iím here. You shouldnít deal with this shit alone." I inhaled sweet nicotine hoping the heavens werenít gonna open and strike me down because at this moment I wanted nothing more than to be tucked into bed, not listening to a saga that Iíd heard so many times before.

"No, I mean, I need to talk about us, sort of. And Kate."

"Okay." Same saga, different chapter, I thought.

"You cold?"

"No, but you are. Letís go sit in the car."

We walked over to the light blue Camry.

"Can I have a cigarette?" she asked.

"Sure." Bad news was coming because she only smoked to look cool or because she was scared. We were over the cool stage.

She lit up. "Did you have a nice ride over here?"

"Sure, for below freezing at one a.m. It was great." Definitely scared, because she was stalling big time. Typical pattern.

"Good." She paused. "You really tired?"

"I could sleep."

"I couldnít. Iím not even close to tired."

"I know, sweetie." She flinched at the word Ďsweetie.í

"Yeah, wellÖ." She lapsed into silence.

"You want to get to the point, or do you just want music while you pick your words?"

"Music." She looked relieved.

I threw on Patsy Cline. It was too late for anything fast. I pulled my seat back and waited for her to get to it. This was not a new routine.

I let "After Midnight" and "Crazy" play before I started getting frustrated. I sat up, and looked expectant.

"RachÖ" I waited. "Hon, what do you need to talk about? I can see the wheels turning in your head."

"UmÖ" she started, "Itís sort of about Kate."

"Uh-huh?"

"And us." She paused. "Can we change the music? Itís bugging me."

"Sure." I replaced Patsy with Paula Cole. She was silent. "Rach, címon, it canít be that bad," frustration disguised as sweetness; I hoped it was working.

"Itís not, well, I dunno." She was stalling still.

"Rach, look, itís late and cold and sleep is sounding better and better." This time I decided not to disguise my frustration.

"Um, you know how you thought Kate was gay?" She sounded almost like she had a point, so I decided to let her continue.

"Uh-huh," I urged.

"Well, um, she is."

"Yeah, she talked to me a little about liking women. I guess sheís in that look but donít touch stage." Rachel looked guilty. She kept wiggling around the car seat like it was suddenly too small to contain her body.

"Yeah, um, I would hazard to say sheís in the looking and touching stage."

"And sheís touching you." I sighed and flopped back against the cushion of the car seat.

"No, no, not really." Too fast and too defensive. She took her time and chose words carefully. It was hard giving her the benefit of the doubt on this one, but I tried.

"Then what, Rach, a girlfriend? I know all the lesbians in Salt Lake. Sheís not seeing anyone I know." Maybe I was stretching the truth a little.

"WellÖyou know her," Rachel said.

"Who?" I tried to be nonchalant, but it was either bad news or good gossip.

"Sheís actually really close to you."

"My close friends are straight, in another state, and you."

"Yup," she said.

"íYup,í what? For Christís-sake, Rachel, just spit it out. Iím tired."

"Well, itís one of the people you listed."

I decided to play along for the minute.

"Again, my close friends are straight, so thatís not it. Or theyíre in another state, and Kate hasnít been travelling lately, so thatís not it. Which leaves," I paused for dramatic effect and decided to consider the implications later, "you."

"Yeah, um, youíre right." She refused to just say she was sleeping with her roommate.

"Okay, Rachel, so youíre confessing to cheating?"

"I guessÖ" She started to say something, but I interrupted her.

"At three a.m. when I have class in four hours and no sleep." I was whining. "And in the fucking hospital parking lot." I sighed loudly and looked over at her. She was staring out the window.

"Why did you lie to me a few minutes ago," I asked.

"When did I lie?" She seemed genuinely innocent.

"When you said Kate was looking and touching but not touching you."

"Well, sheís not. Mostly, I touch her." I shouldnít have pressed for these extra details. I have no patience for cheating, at least not in theory. It had never happened to me in practice before now. But the image of Rachelís smooth, androgynously sexy hands on Kate, a woman who I donít find even the slightest bit attractive, was repulsive. Mostly repulsive because it hurt me. My eyes filled with tears almost as an afterthought. One escaped and I hastily wiped it away with the back of my hand.

"Oh, Annie," Rachel cooed, "I didnít mean to make you cry. Really, honey." Another tear escaped and I let it drip down onto my pants and I wiped my chin dry.

"I really am sorry." She tried to hug me and I escaped her grasp. Physical affection canít solve everything.

I took a deep breath and turned to look out the window. This night just kept getting worse.

"Rachel," I said, turning back towards her, "how could you not make me cry? Iím tired, itís late, weíre in a hospital because the woman who I thought was only your roommate took some pills and tried to off herself. And I left my house in the middle of the goddamned night to ride over here to help you and Kate, and instead, weíre sitting in this stupid car doing nothing for anything, and on top of it, I find out youíre fucking the woman Iím here to see." I took a breath. "Tell me, Rachel, how should I not cry? How should I not be upset? I mean, I came to take care of you and you just unload your entire conscience onto me and I just want to go to bed. Okay? So let me be upset."

She was silent. I made my point.