<= Part 1
by Crème Brûlée
A Revelation in Several Parts
"Of course not."This was the obvious answer and had shot directly out of Marjorie's mouth.
A lesbian? Of course she wasn't a lesbian. Sad, lonely women were lesbians. She was neither sad, nor lonely. Women like Samantha Hill in Physical Education were lesbians large women, masculine women, unattractive women. She was neither large, masculine or unattractive she was simply herself.
Perhaps Adele's loneliness forced her to need Marjorie to be something she wasn't. It must be awful to be like that, Marjorie thought. So desperate. There was something so wrong about it, so unsavory.
She'd stopped calling Adele. And noted, in a peripheral way, that Adele hadn't called her. Marjorie put the matter out of her mind.
Marjorie appeared in her office door again, arms crossed, staring at Jim and Rose. Jim retreated from the office with his mail.
"Rose, is the staff meeting set for 3:00 tomorrow?"
"Thank you," Marjorie responded curtly before shutting her office door.
Marjorie sat in her car in the school parking lot. It was the third day in a row she'd done this. But after Tuesday's staff meeting, and what she'd noticed in the parking lot afterward, she'd felt compelled to.And it wasn't long before she spotted them. Samantha Hill and Helen Vargus, walking to Helen's car. They talked for a few minutes, Helen looking distressed, Samantha looking uncomfortable, then Samantha walked to her own car, glanced back at Helen as she got in and then drove off. Helen sat in her own car for a moment, then she too drove away.
It was subtle, but clear enough to Marjorie. She recognized something in it, she supposed. Poor Helen, to have Samantha Hill attaching herself to you. And what about the girls in Samantha's gym classes? Were they safe? What did she really know about Samantha Hill?
"Is everything alright Marjorie?" Fred sat on her couch, petting Captain Jack, who rubbed up against his legs aggressively. They'd chatted about school, about his wife Bess' latest hobby - jogging their usual topics of conversation. But it wasn't the usual topics she'd invited him over to discuss, as evidenced by her apparent discomfort. Marjorie had asked Fred if he could spare some time to come over, alone, to discuss "a complex issue"."Well " Marjorie smoothed the fabric of her skirt. She sat in a chair facing him, her most trusted co-worker, a good friend, having no idea how to broach the topic she intended. "Is everything alright? Yes and no. There's a delicate matter to do with someone on staff and I wasn't sure how to proceed."
"If it's about my forgetting to clean the coffee pot in the teacher's lounge last week after lending it to Bill Drake for his science lab experiment, I'm sorry. It didn't seem to effect the flavor though, possibly improved on it."
"What?" Marjorie asked.
"Nothing," Fred smiled. "You were saying um, delicate issue?"
"Yes, well as you know, I don't pry people's private affairs are their own business but it's come to my attention that we may have a problem. You're so good with people, I thought you might have some idea how one could " Marjorie made a vague gesture.
"Could?" Fred encouraged her to complete the thought.
"Tackle such a complicated problem."
"What, or who, is the problem?"
"Samantha Hill," Marjorie said.
"Samantha Hill? What about her?" Fred asked.
"I'm not sure she should be working so closely with the girls." It was out. In the open. Broached.
Fred was quiet. The smile that always played at the corner of his mouth was gone. He sat for a moment without saying anything, then asked, "Why?"
"I think well, it's quite possible that she may be a lesbian."
Fred sat looking at Marjorie with an expression she could only interpret as sickened shock.
"Last week I I saw Samantha in the parking lot with Helen Vargus. It's not the kind of thing I'm accustomed to doing, lurking and spying on the faculty. Only, I'd noticed Samantha I'd seen And it's not my business, but Helen appears very upset by it."
"By what?" Fred asked quietly.
"By Samantha's attentions. Helen's married after all, with two children, it's understandable she'd find it... It must be very upsetting, disturbing to have to face that at work every day."
Fred sat quiet again, he seemed to be thinking it over. "What gives you concern for the girls?"
"She's in a position of influence, of trust with children."
"Have you seen her behave inappropriately with them?"
"Well, no. Samantha's very good at what she does. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be concerned." Marjorie said.
"I've worked with Samantha Hill, as have you, for over ten years."
"Well, I know that, but "
Fred interrupted, there was a perceptible edge to his voice. "I have never witnessed anything remotely inappropriate in her conduct with the children, girls or boys. One might even say she goes far out of her way to avoid it."
"But Fred, if she's a lesbian, can she be trusted? With children? Can we take that risk? We're responsible for their welfare."
Fred's expression could only be read as pained. "Marjorie, you saw Samantha in the parking lot with Helen, engaged in something, I don't think you're certain what, but it has you concerned for the children?"
"Shouldn't I be?" Marjorie asked, nonplussed.
"Only if you're concerned with their welfare around me."
"But why would I be? Fred, we're talking about something very different. About "
"Homosexuals." Fred said.
"I'm homosexual, Marjorie." His words came out in a rush awkward, pressured.
Marjorie's jaw dropped.
For several minutes Captain Jack's purring was the only sound in the room.
Fred let out a long breath. He sat with his elbows propped on his knees and looked across at her. "I thought you might understand."
He cocked his head at her, "For years, I've thought, well, you might be " He trailed off, shrugging.
"I might be what?" No sooner were the words out of her mouth than her eyes went round as saucers. "Me? You thought Me?! Why does everyone think I'm a lesbian all of a sudden? Do homosexuals assume that everybody is like them? If we were, I doubt it would be frowned upon quite as much as it is! Is it that I choose to live by myself? That I'm independent? Good heavens! Can't I enjoy my solitude? Enjoy my work? Without being homosexual? What could possibly have given you this perverse idea? What is it?"
Fred was taken aback by her outburst and stammered, "Well I "
"You what? I think I deserve an answer. What is it? What could it possibly be?" She wanted to know.
Fred blinked, he'd never seen Marjorie so worked up. "To be perfectly honest, Marjorie, it's the way that you look at my wife."
After sitting stunned for a full minute, Marjorie stood up, and without saying a word, left the room.
It took several minutes before Fred realized that she'd also left the house, and was actually out in the back, gardening.
Little, tiny cracks sometimes appear in great, huge boulders the result of water finding a way in, freezing, expanding, creating pressure. The cracks work their way in, and sometimes grow so large from this creeping, slow process, that one day, for no apparent reason, the boulder falls apart.Marjorie threw another small stone off to the side, away from her vegetables. At one time that small stone had probably been part of such a boulder.
She hadn't spoken to Fred again. When he'd come out to say goodbye she'd continued her work. She hadn't gone back into the house when the sun had set. She weeded and tilled and sat. Sat in her garden, midst the vegetables, between a row of cucumbers, next to the sugar snap peas. What, she wondered, would her neighbors make of it if they caught sight of her? Sitting there, doing nothing, stalled in the garden. Maybe they'd be kind and say something like, "Looks like the old maid's finally lost her mind. All that solitude must have caught up with her."
"Thank you for coming in," Marjorie closed the door to her office and returned to her desk and sat to face Fred. "I'm sorry about the other night.""So am I," he sighed. "Do you want me to resign?"
"Resign? No, of course not." Marjorie insisted. "We need you, Richmond Elementary needs you."
"That's a speedy about face. You seem to hold a rather dim view of my kind."
"I don't hold a dim view of you. And the real question is not how can I trust you, or Samantha, but how can I trust myself? And that? that is a question I can't afford not to have an answer to." Marjorie was having this conversation with herself as much as she was having it with Fred. She stared at the papers on her desk, considering her long career in the schools. What on earth, she wondered, would she possibly do with herself?
Fred, seated across the desk from Marjorie, reached over and lay his hand on hers gently. He smiled and sighed, "You're not a woman I'd have expected to succumb to melodrama. But if you keep this sort of thing up, I'll have to change my mind. Tell me you're not thinking of quitting."
Marjorie couldn't look him in the eye. She'd barely been able to look at herself in the mirror without sighing in disgust.
"Look," Fred continued. "No one has all of the answers, no one's perfect. But if I know anything, it's that you were born for this job. No one can negotiate with the school board the way you do, the PTA eats out of the palm of your hand, you're terrific with the faculty, the children love you you work like a dog And most of the town lives in terror that one day you'll leave and Bernard Johnson will get your job and this place will go to pot. So forget about quitting at least until I make VP. Then feel free to do what you like. Only I have to tell you, I prefer your tweed jackets to the hair shirt you're considering."
Marjorie smiled weakly.
Fred patted her hand and sat back. "And for the record, I really don't mind."
"Mind what?" Marjorie sighed.
"The way you look at Bess she's always felt flattered by it."
Marjorie flushed scarlet. "Fred, I "
"I really shouldn't tease you, it's not fair. I just, well, I'm almost giddy talking to you. Since the other night I feel like I can breathe for the first time in years. You're someone I respect a great deal, the idea of disappointing you doesn't sit well with me. It's hard to explain, but surviving the other night, the feelings I had it was liberating. You're the only person at work I've ever mentioned it to. Pretty much the only person but Bess I've talked to about it."
"You haven't disappointed me confused me utterly, but not disappointed me. This is overwhelming, to say the least. I can't take it all in, my brain keeps freezing. It's going to take time to absorb all of this - I guess I'm not sure what to do." Marjorie sighed, it was an expression that was bordering on habit of late. "I do know that you're the person I turn to for advice when there's a particularly difficult personal issue with the faculty that I feel needs attention. And here we are at work so what, if anything, do you think I should do about Samantha and Helen?"
"Ah," Fred nodded. "I don't think you need to do much of anything. Unless Samantha complains, and I doubt she ever would."
"Samantha complains? About what?" Marjorie asked.
"Helen harassing her."
"I'm not sure I follow you." The idea of petite Helen Vargus bothering the formidable Samantha Hill did not register.
"Helen's been at Sam since they split up about two months ago. Helen didn't want to break it off. Sam regrets it ever having started. She'd resisted it for a long time, but you know Helen, she's relentless when she wants something. And unfortunately, she'd gotten tired of someone else she'd been seeing and decided to go to work on Sam again."
"But she's married! Helen, I mean."
"And so am I." Fred reminded.
"Yes, but " Marjorie felt a headache coming on. "Oh lord, I think I need some time off."
Her palms were sweaty, she was having trouble breathing, and her stomach was upset. She'd nearly burned the rice. She'd stepped on Captain Jack's tail twice.She hadn't been so nervous making a meal in her entire life. She'd only been more nervous two other times in her life. The first was when she'd had to stand in front of a classroom of children alone for the first time, the second was the night before, when she'd called Adele to ask her to come talk. Why she was cooking when she hadn't invited Adele to dinner, she couldnt explain if she'd stopped to consider it which she hadn't.
The doorbell rang. Captain Jack hissed as Marjorie walked passed him to answer it.
Awkward couldn't describe their greeting, or Marjorie's realization that she'd cooked a meal for a woman who wasn't expecting one. They stood in the kitchen, Marjorie gestured at the food on the stove. "You see," she smiled, "I appear to be losing my mind."
"It's alright," Adele said.
"Well I'm glad you don't mind. I'm finding it difficult to negotiate."
"I meant about the food, about your being nervous."
"Nervous?" Marjorie asked. "That's what my mother used to call her Uncle Thomas, the one they all whispered about having had a lobotomy. 'Oh, he's fine,' they'd say, 'he's just nervous.' I'm not nervous. I'm borderline hysterical!"
"What is it? What's the matter?"
"I should think you'd know! I'm a lesbian." Marjorie's tone was accusatory as if this might possibly be Adele's fault.
Adele had no idea how to respond.
Marjorie continued, "Or at least I think I may be. How do you know something like that? Or do you spend your life uncertain and hysterical? You don't seem hysterical. Do you get used to it? How does it work? Is there a book or manual they give you?"
Adele smiled and shook her head. "No, there's no book or manual at least none I've ever cared for. It's something we more or less stumble about, figuring out on our own. If we're lucky."
"Lucky? You call what I'm feeling right now, this jumble of discomfort and anxiety, lucky? You're not a masochist too, are you?"
"Haven't you ever " Adele decided not to finish the question. Instead, she walked over to the counter where Marjorie was and stood facing her. Slowly, and carefully, she leaned forward and kissed her. Marjorie didn't slap her or push her away, so Adele kissed her again. Marjorie allowed her to continue, and so Adele did, gently, on the cheek, the neck and lips again.
It was too much for Marjorie. She felt like an overloading electrical circuit about to blow a fuse. She stepped back from Adele. She found that she was breathing hard, possibly on the verge of hyperventilating.
"You alright?" Adele asked, her heart having struck up a rhythm that was up-tempo from its usual steady beat.
Marjorie nodded, unsure as to what, exactly, had just happened. She couldn't think over the pounding noise in her ears. Her pulse must be through the roof. Then there was the matter of the distracting sensations elsewhere, making themselves known in a most persistent manner.
It was more of an impulse than a thought that gripped Marjorie - had it been more of a thought, and not an impulse, she might not have followed through with it. But she had, and that's how she found herself, surprisingly enough, kissing Adele again.
"I bet its Roberts on the school board," Jim said. "Ever since his divorce, he's been up every skirt he could manage.""It's no such thing! You're horrible!" Rose admonished.
"I wholeheartedly agree." Marjorie walked through, collected her messages, and retreated to her office. She'd never understood why they carried on about her right in front of her door and then were surprised when she showed up. The probability that she would, after all, was relatively high.
Marjorie dried each dish and utensil as Adele finished washing it. She knew where each went and between drying she returned them to their proper place. Or at least she put it back where Adele generally kept it, organization being a relative issue where Adele was concerned.Adele handed Marjorie the last dish. She looked on as Marjorie dried it, turned, and placed it in the cabinet next to the sink. Marjorie turned back, catching Adele in the act of open appreciation.
Adele watched as Marjorie stumbled over the reality of their relationship. Not just good friends, finishing up the dishes - as much as she might have liked to maintain that illusion in her own mind. It wasn't an illusion that Adele had any interest in - though she was doing her best to give Marjorie the space and support she needed to adjust to and hopefully accept the physical aspect of their relationship. Or at least the idea of it, as it was more idea than actuality.
Adele was accustomed to being discreet publicly with the women she was involved with - but the idea of being discreet with them in private as well was daunting. Especially so that evening as Marjorie had been utterly charming and was wearing what looked to be a new skirt which complemented her figure in a way that was particularly distracting for Adele, who'd admired Marjorie's figure from the first. Adele wasn't a martyr. And Marjorie wasn't going to make any progress without the occasional push. Which Adele was more than happy to provide.
"You're looking lovely this evening," Adele took the dishtowel from Marjorie, placed it on the counter, and stepped forward, closing the distance between them.
Marjorie's brain was receiving multiple contradictory messages; the result paralysis. She had no frame of reference for the terrain she found herself inhabiting. She felt lost and overwhelmed. Especially so, when Adele was so close - so very close. Marjorie's body reacted and rebelled in ways that made it impossible for her to maintain anything like the level of composure she was accustomed to. In frustration, she blurted, "I don't know what to do with myself when you're near me!"
Adele smiled, and rested her hands on Marjorie's waist, "That's the nicest thing anyone's said to me in a long while."
"I wish you wouldn't tease me." Marjorie complained, trying to back away, only to find the counter preventing further retreat. "I'm at a loss. Not to mention a disadvantage."
Adele's smile widened, as did Marjorie's discomfort. Adele noted that while Marjorie may have leaned away, she hadn't walked away.
"I'm not teasing you," Adele assured her. "If anyone's teasing, it's you. Only you're not doing it on purpose so it hardly counts. Whether you know it or not Marjorie, you're a terrible flirt."
"I'm not!" Marjorie protested weakly. Adele's close proximity was profoundly unnerving. Feeling Adele's body pressing in on her was at once the most intriguing and frightening sensation. If only there was some way she could get used to it! Marjorie jumped slightly when she felt Adele kiss the skin at the base of her neck.
Adele stepped back, still smiling. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
Marjorie wasn't so sure she agreed, but she also wasn't so sure how happy she was that Adele had moved away. She found it awkward and confusing, but she didn't mind the kissing, not so much.
Adele, on the other hand, felt she had no option other than moving away. Given her mood horny - and her proximity to Marjorie, she felt she was close to losing what control she possessed. And she didn't think Marjorie would respond well to begging. Had she thought so, Adele would have been on her knees in a heartbeat.
"You can't be serious Marjie. Letting Muffin Daniels loose on border design that's practically criminal! Or have you forgotten what she did along the sidewalk at City Hall? Place looked like a Martian landscape something out of science fiction. Flowers aren't supposed to intimidate people, Marjorie! I know you're busy, but surely you can lend us a hand at the park this weekend. You always do." Gwen's voice was gravelly and insistent as ever.Marjorie had to hold the phone's receiver several inches from her ear for Gwen's more adamant remarks. "You know I'd love to, but I can't this year. And while Muffin's designs may leave something to be desired, she makes up for it in enthusiasm. I'm sure that with your guidance and influence, some of her more extreme choices could be negotiated."
"Burned is more like it," Gwen groused. "I never thought I'd live to see the day when Marjorie Humboldt stepped aside to the likes of Muffin Daniels. First it's hippies on the school committee, now this. Used to be you could count on a few things. What's the world coming to?"
Gwen Peterson was the wife of the former, much loved, now deceased Mayor - Earl Peterson. She had no patience for the upcoming female generation's priorities and thought that society might not be so poorly off if people just took a little more pride in their civic responsibilities and today, planning the new border arrangements for the town common was high on her list.
"Gwen, I'm simply too busy this weekend, and besides, my giving Muffin an opportunity to redeem herself hardly heralds the downfall of western civilization."
"I can see you've made up your mind. Just don't blame me for the waves of nausea you'll experience when you drive by the Common. As a matter of fact, I may let Muffin express her inner demons along Grant street, the street you pass the Common on to go to school, practically every day "
Marjorie laughed, "I'll just have to take my chances."
As much as Marjorie enjoyed her activities with the gardening club, she'd agreed to spend the afternoon with Adele. She was of two minds about their friendship, and felt a need to continue seeing Adele, in order to clarify something about her feelings. Gwen and the others would get over her absence and Marjorie knew there would be a follow up call with a blow-by-blow retelling of Muffin's misadventures in landscaping. She looked forward to it.
"It won't hurt, I promise," Adele smiled."That's probably what you say to your patients before you assault them with that thermometer."
"Marjorie!" Adele was shocked.
Marjorie stood up from the couch. "I just can't. Not now, not yet."
"Not yet? What are you waiting for? A special occasion?" Adele's frustration overwhelmed her understanding.
"I'm waiting until I'm relatively sure I won't suffer a heart attack because of it."
Adele stood and walked over to interrupt Marjorie's pacing. "Sweetheart, it's normal to be nervous, everyone gets nervous."
"No wonder humanity is in the state it's in then." Marjorie recoiled when Adele tried to touch her. There was no getting used to it, no getting used to that charged bolt of current that shot through her when Adele was on her mind. It was worse when Adele was standing right in front of her and practically excruciating when Adele touched her. And then there were the feelings of discomfort and indecision that crushed in on her when Adele wasn't there.
"Can't we just sit quietly?" Marjorie pleaded. "Like we usually do? I've been looking forward to it all day. To seeing you, being with you."
Adele sighed, "Yes, but we need to talk about this."
"I just need time, that's all." Marjorie insisted.
"We've been seeing each other for nearly three months." Adele took Marjorie's hand and led her back to the couch. They were in Adele's apartment, and had recently finished eating dinner. It was a routine they'd more or less fallen into.
Adele noted Marjorie's reaction to her comment. Direct allusions to their relationship still caused a brief tensing of the shoulders, sometimes a pinched wince. Marjorie, she'd learned, was not a woman who adjusted easily. Marjorie she feared, might also prefer her carefully constructed routine and her gardening, to just about everything else.
Adele had known women who were so conflicted about their sexuality - had divorced themselves so thoroughly from it, for a variety of reasons - that they were practically incapable of intimacy, of almost any kind. There was so much self-loathing and fear. The fear wasn't irrational; the consequences of having your homosexuality made public were still severe. The self-loathing, however, Adele couldn't fathom. She understood it intellectually as internalized hatred, but had never felt it, and so had trouble relating to women who did. And she'd met her share of those.
Given the state of things she couldn't blame women who were aware of their homosexuality, but chose to live conventional lives with husbands and kids. How could you? When you considered the life that being open to those feelings led you to; sneaking around, lying all of the time, never fully acknowledging who you wanted to be with or loved in public - otherwise known as "being discreet". Who could blame Marjorie for preferring the life she had the job she loved, her gardening, her friends and her pets? Adele couldn't.
But Adele had also never been able to settle. Not just for friendship, not just for work. And not for a husband and the social acceptability that brought with it like some of the women she'd been with had. Given her experience, she was certain of only one thing in regard to sexuality; it was, at best, complex.
She'd noted, generally, that things seemed to be changing. There were minor shifts visible, here and there. "Gay rights" was an actual term she'd heard spoken aloud, in public, not just in the dim corner of a bar or among select political friends. She wondered if it would ever be possible to live a normal life. To go about your business, and not have to worry about people finding out. She had no idea what would happen to her practice if people knew.
Which wasn't to say no one noticed that she was a lesbian. Jill and Stephen at work knew, she was sure of it. She'd never discussed it with them, but here and there they'd made reassuring comments about "changing perceptions", and "openness". She'd been reassured, but hadn't pursued the conversations. It was all well and good for them to be open and casual, they were straight, it wasn't any kind of gamble for them.
Adele sat next to Marjorie again. She lifted one of Marjorie's hands and kissed it. Marjorie smiled gratefully.
Continued in Part 3 =>