Sunday, September 23, 2012

Where the Heart Is

Picture from Image depicts a very pretty heart-shaped light pattern on a book. In case you couldn't tell.
Another one pulled from the recesses of my computer, although it was written more recently--for a summer writing program at Smith College. One of my very few pieces of realistic contemporary fiction, though I did consider an alternate version with magic involved before realizing it would betray the integrity of the story. Enjoy, and by all means, comment!

Note: contains LGBT romance. If for some reason you're uncomfortable with that, it is certainly your right to have that opinion, but please refrain from starting a flame war on my blog.

Where the Heart Is

The street is lined with houses painted in a multitude of different shades, but somehow they all manage to look the same. Driveways to the left with garages behind them, front yards where wives have spent all their energy making sure their rows of zinnias and hyacinths are perfectly straight. Cats on the windowsills, dogs with sad eyes peering out of the screen doors and longing to go out. Middle-class, middle-aged people sit on the porches, sipping lemonade and watching others walk by.

The house she is looking for is pale yellow, with a cat and a yard covered with lithidora heavenly blue flowers. There are no people on the porch; perhaps they're eating lunch inside or out back or in another house, street, or town entirely. But the house remains: 246 Owen Boulevard.

Rose hasn't dared to get this close to it in five years.

She takes in a deep breath and steps forward, the first step on her journey down the sidewalk and onto the porch and past the door. Beside her, Evy squeezes her hand in support. Her touch is soft and the lavender cream on her hand spreads onto Rose's palm, smoothing down the skin which is clammy with nervous sweat. Rose inhales, taking in sweet scent that clings to her partner in the hopes that it will keep her calm. She memorizes it all: Evy's face. Her smile. Her hair, strawberry blonde locks slipping out of her messy ponytail. Her eyes, shimmering in the light. Her smell. Lavender. Her touch... Every time Rose starts to get angry or flustered or scared, she'll remember that moment and hopefully it'll get her through. Newly emboldened, she marches down the pavement, feet beating against the concrete with every step she takes.

Evy walks a little less forcefully, but always stays at Rose's side. She's there to provide encouragement, though deep inside of her she's afraid that she won't be as effective as she needs to be. Her family had accepted her almost immediately, without judgment; she had of course experienced some prejudice but nothing compared to what Rose had gone through. Rose had tried to explain how she felt as best she could, but Evy simply doesn't know if it's enough. It's like the difference between sympathy and empathy, and if there's anything her partner needs now, it's the latter.

Soon the two of them are just in front of the steps leading up to the door of the house. Rose has to remind herself to breathe while the deepest hatred she has ever felt bubbles up inside of her, ready to burst. All those years ago, when all hell broke loose and her worst nightmares became a reality—that had all started with this house, started with these steps. It takes all her willpower not to pull a match out of her pocket and scream while lighting the whole street on fire.

“It's okay,” Evy says softly, placing her hand on Rose's shoulder, “you're fine, you're doing great.” She kisses her hand and draws her close, hoping to God that it helps rather than hurts. “It's going to be all right. Everything's going to be all right.” She can see tears brimming Rose's eyes and presses her lips against her lover's. The warmth and comfort of the embrace brings hope to them both. After a moment, they hesitantly pull away, neither of them really wanting to end it so soon. “I think I'm ready,” says Rose with a nod, and together they climb the stairs.

Evy is the one who rings the doorbell. After a dreadful minute of silence, the door is thrown open by a teenage boy whose eyes widen immediately upon seeing the couple. Rose's younger brother, Gabriel. He had been twelve years old when she had left.

“Gabe,” Rose breathes. He's grown so much since she last saw him: shot up at least a foot in height, cropped his greasy hair short, gained a stubble of a beard. She moves in to hug him, but he backs away almost reflexively, crossing his arms. She winces, memories of painful emails and attempted phone calls flooding her mind.

Noticing her hurt expression, Gabe tries to keep his voice soft but can't help the defensive edge creeping into his words. “Rose. Why... why are you here?”

“To make things right.” She begins to tremble, then stops herself. She can't have the family seeing her this way, least of all Gabe. The boy glances over at Evy and then back at Rose, and she nods to answer his silent question. Yes. Yes, this is my girlfriend. Her name is Evelyn Adler and she's the most beautiful person I have ever met in my life.

The seventeen-year-old's careful mask of calculated indifference begins to crack. So many overwhelming emotions are rushing back to him, memories that he'd do anything to forget. Gabe wants to scream at her to get out, get out of this house and out of my life and ask her if she wants to destroy what little security he'd built up for himself all these years, to stir up even more conflict just as the scars of the first one are beginning to fade, and at the same time he wants to hug her back and cry and run away with her, this older sister whom he knows he loves even though he never really understood her. He stands there, feelings freezing up, eyes blinking in confusion as he stares at the couple.

Rose begins to speak, but she is cut off by a shout from the inside of the house. “Gabe! Did you get that?” She turns, ready to run, but Evy raises her hand and shakes her head lightly. Wait. Stay. I promise you, it's going to be better this way.

“Gabe! Who is it?”

“Nothing,” Gabe mumbles, but his voice is too soft to be heard and it's too late to go back now, anyway. His mother is already on her way to the door, and after a couple of seconds, she comes up behind him, trying to peer around and see whom he's talking to. When she does, her face pales.

“Hello, Lisa.” The warmth in Rose's tone of voice vanishes as she meets the eyes of the woman she refuses to call “mother.” They look alike—thick auburn hair cut at shoulder length, pale skin, willowy limbs and small noses—but that's as far as Rose wants the resemblance to go. A sick feeling builds up in her stomach as her mind oscillates between confidence, hatred, timidity, and longing.

“Rosalie,” she says with a curt nod, tone just as icy as her estranged daughter's. She glances briefly at Evy, the corner of her mouth twitching in an obviously disapproving expression. Evy straightens her posture and meets the woman's eyes with a cold stare of her own, but she has already turned her attention back to Rose. In a moment of spontaneity, Evy grasps her partner's hand and holds it tight. We can love just as much—or maybe even more—than you can.

Lisa's eyes are drawn immediately to this gesture, which years ago would have seemed like such an innocent gesture. She had been so naïve back then, so oblivious to what was going on right under her nose, in her own house. And now... she had tried to forget it for so long, but now everything's coming back, and her mind is a battleground between what she loves and what she thinks is right. Rose must think of her as bigoted and cruel and downright evil—even Lisa herself can easily see how that might be true. But it's not. She still loves Rose, and she wants so badly to mend the bonds and rebuild the bridges that were broken and burned away that awful day. But she has moral standards and she needs to be able to uphold them, if only for Gabe's sake.

She looks back up at her daughter's face, not knowing quite what to say. Finally it comes out: “Your father isn't going to like this.”

“Where is he?” Rose says softly.

“Work.” It's a lie—Michael is upstairs taking his usual afternoon nap. Lisa and Gabe and maybe even Rose know that. But none of them want to wake him up and make him relive those hellish memories of the mess their family has created.

There is a moment of silence. Rose takes in a breath and steps back, ready to turn away and leave the home for the second time and for good. Immediately, a word slips out of Lisa's mouth—wait—and as she begins to wonder why she said that, the oven makes a beeping sound from inside the house. “Peach crumb cake,” she explains and then remembers with a sharp pain that crumb cake was always Rose's favorite. They lock eyes for the third time, both of them seeing and feeling emotions that can't be expressed in words.

Gabe's eyes drift from Lisa to Rose and back again before stepping back into the house and saying, “Come in. We can talk it out.” None of them are sure if that will really help fix things or just add more fuel to the fire. After a tense pause, Lisa nods and goes in to check the oven. Rose glances at Evy, who nods and gives her a kiss on the cheek for what she hopes is encouragement, and both of them head inside.

There's no guarantee of anything, not yet. But they have to try.


  1. Wow, you can feel the tension simmering off the page! What comes next is anybody's guess (but the author's perogative) . . . especially when Dad wakes up (or is he secretly listening from above). I'm not sure I want to know what comes next, but eating dessert always helps everyone's mood!! -- Ninja Dad

  2. PS Cool graphic! (like a Scarlet A).