Liana curled tighter around the body pillow, pushing her face into the blue plush snowflake blankets keeping her warm. While the swelling on her face had gone down over the last two weeks, the bruises all over her body still made it difficult to find a comfortable position in which to fall asleep. When Liana did find rest, usually it was in short spurts or it happened because she was too exhausted to keep her eyes open.
She shifted a bit more, finding a good spot and sighing blissfully. Liana felt fingertips running through her hair, and her own traced the slender side of the body beneath her. Jolting awake, Liana pulled up on one elbow to find Mare lying beneath her. Tears glossed Mare’s clear blue eyes as she reached a shaking hand up to cup Liana’s cheek, her voice hoarse, “I’m so, so sorry! I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to just come home to you—”
“You’re okay, sweetie—”
Mare shook her head, bringing a light kiss to Liana’s lips. “No, I’m not. Hadley had it right when she jumped on the very next plane out, and I’m sure I’ll catch a deserved hell from her, but I wanted to make sure that when I made it right, I made it wholly right.”
“I don’t understand.” Liana sank down to fully rest on Mare’s soft chest, holding the woman’s intense gaze. “Made it wholly right?”
“Baby, I mean that I didn’t want us to have to be parted anymore. I didn’t want us to subsist on phone calls, so I tied up loose ends in Hollyweird and put my house on the market and all my stuff in a storage facility in Henderson.” Her fingertips on Liana’s scalp sent waves of drowsiness through Liana’s body. “So I’m here with you, and when you’re ready, we’ll go home. I know you and Hadley are tight, I know it’s a package deal, but when we go home, we’ll go home together.”
Tears broke the dam of her eyelids and slipped down Liana’s cheeks. “I can’t believe this is happening. Stuff like this never happens to me. Ever—”
In a single fluid motion, Mare sat them up, holding Liana carefully in her arms, supporting her fully as she shifted so Liana rested comfortably in her lap. “It is now. I know that we happened fast, but the rest of the time we have together, in this life and all those that follow, I want to savor each moment. That means, Liana, that I’m not willing to spend another moment without you. Yeah, I know that work will part us temporarily each day, but maybe we can put our desks at least in the same room or something?”
Liana laughed through the tears falling steadily down her face. “You… gods, woman, you mean—” Liana shifted in Mare’s lap, wrapping her legs around Mare’s hips as she tried to get closer to the woman. A broken little laugh tumbled over Liana’s lips as their gazes locked in the bluish light of the moon pouring in through the window. “At risk of sounding completely stupid, dear lady, I’ve been waiting for this day, waiting for the day that someone would claim me.”
Mare giggled, leaning her forehead to Liana’s. “Consider yourself claimed, my lady.”
Liana pressed a kiss to Mare’s mouth. “What if—”
Mare shook her head. “We already know it’ll work and, ye gods, we’re so much alike, Liana! We’re old enough to recognize that a relationship cannot function on chemistry alone, and we’re wise enough to know that yeah, we’re going to have to put some work into us to keep us working.” Mare’s smooth hands gently framed Liana’s face. “And I already know that you’ve been through hell, so I want to be close. I want to stay by your side. Please allow me to do so.”
“What if one day… you decide you… love… someone more than me?” Liana whispered, almost afraid to lift her gaze to the woman she’d fallen for the instant she’d run into her in the airport now almost three weeks ago.
A single tear slipped down Mare’s cheek. “Oh, girl… that’s not ever gonna happen. Here… I’ll make this easy for you, okay?” At Liana’s nod, she continued. “In the Kennedy novel of our life, you’d be the Nico and I’d be the Caleb.”
“You read Safe?” Liana’s eyes flew open wide.
“On the plane ride to Texas. You said it was one of your favorites, so I read it.” Mare’s thumb passed over Liana’s lower lip. “And I’m never going to let someone hurt you again. Ever. I love you. Admittedly, there’s no logic to me knowing it, but neither you nor I are logical creatures. I’m also admitting that I’ve always believed in love at first sight—”
“In our case, love at first crash,” Liana joked.
“Right?!” Mare searched Liana’s eyes. “What I’m trying to say is fine, okay, let people say we’re moving too fast. I don’t care. What I care about is you and me and how we feel. Do you—”
“Yes!” Liana’s lips spread in a brilliant smile as she nodded. “Yes! I do! I mean, yes, I love you, Mare!”
“That’s all I need to know, then.” Mare tugged Liana closer still as her lips lifted to the kiss Liana gave—
Mare and Liana returned with Hadley to Henderson after New Year’s. Liana didn’t end up returning to her day job at the pizza shop for long. She went back to work for a month in order to train her replacement, but Mare wanted Liana to focus on her writing, so after the replacement was trained, Liana locked up after herself for the last time and finally moved on to what she had always dreamed of: being a stay-at-home author. The first day of waking up to a brand new life coincided with the first day of being pain free, which meant Liana was free to be herself entirely!
Rolling onto her side, Liana slid her hand over Mare’s collarbone. “Mornin’, beautiful lady.”
Mare’s hand slipped over the side of Liana’s neck, fingers burying in warm blonde hair as she pulled Liana into a sweet kiss. “Now it is.”
Liana smiled sleepily at her lady, falling back onto her back and tugging Mare along with her. Mare giggled, tossing her hair over her shoulder as she leaned down to press another kiss to Liana’s mouth, asking, “Writing on the boys today?”
Liana nodded. “Plan today was get up, take a shower—maybe with this beautiful lady I’m in love with—”
Mare laughed. “Would love to!”
“—go out to breakfast at this little place on Boulder Highway—”
A kiss to her chest above her heart. “Sounds like heaven.”
“Maybe dawdle around one of the two Psychic Eyes I like.” Liana arched her neck to the butterfly kisses dropped along the sensitive skin. Her hands buried in the thick sandy blonde hair she often buried her face in as she fell asleep, biting her lower lip as lithe hands slid under her tank top and up her sides.
“I’m good with that—” Liana’s words died on her lips as Mare crawled above her, an impish smile on her lips as she told Liana, “But first, my lady, you’re going to be made love to properly. No other way to start the first day of the rest of our lives than by joining our souls.”
Liana’s hands smoothed up Mare’s back, taking with them the black camisole she’d worn to bed. Mare smiled at her, sitting up on Liana’s hips. “Know that these last three months have been the best days of my life, that I wouldn’t change anything but what happened to you the first week we met.”
Removing her own top, Liana sat up, one hand cupping Mare’s jaw. “Not your fault.” Kiss. “It’s over.” Kiss. “It’s done and we’re here.” Heavy kiss, hands in each other’s hair. “And we’re together.”
Mare nodded, nipping at Liana’s lips. “We are.” Pushed closer to Liana. “Not letting you go.” Rock of her hips. “Ever!”
“Because I’d let you?” Liana rocked back, liking the friction of their curvy bodies. Her hands slid harshly over Mare’s full breasts. Her fingers pinched the taut, dusky nipples. “You’re mine—”
“Vixen!” Mare hissed, pushing Liana back onto the pillows, legs tangling in legs as Mare’s lips closed around the sensitive nipple of Liana’s left breast. Liana rocked, awash in the undertow of pleasure dragging her further and further out. Mare sped up the rhythm, her heat solid against Liana’s as she sat up once more, one hand on Liana’s bent knee. She tossed her head back, raining tousled gold over one shoulder, and Liana gasped at the sensual sight her lover made.
“Mare… gods, Mare—”
Hooded blue eyes trained on her face as Mare leaned forward, her hips quickening as Liana’s hands found home in Mare’s hair. Their mouths crashed together as Mare took them into the light—
Mare giggled, burying her face in Liana’s neck before whispering, “That was so very not how I wanted to make love to you, but Christ on a cross, woman—”
“Ye gods, Mare, don’t apologize!” Liana blushed, holding tighter to her lady. “That was singularly the sexiest thing that has ever happened to me. Baby, we didn’t even get our panties off!”
The laughter mingled into a tender kiss. Rolling to their sides, Liana pushed Mare’s hair over her shoulder, whispering, “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing.”
“Being loved. Being adored. Being needed.” Mare smiled at her. “And so much more.” Her smiled widened. “Can’t believe I forgot to say the most important one.”
Liana nuzzled Mare’s face. “Because the others aren’t important enough?”
“Well… they go with this one, I suppose, so equally important, but yeah… this one is super-duper stupid important.” Mare cackled, stealing a kiss, her hands raking through Liana’s hair. “I love the streaks in your hair! You’re gorgeous, Liana! You’re a goddess—”
“That’s you, Mare.” Kiss. “Tell me the important one.”
“Right!” Mare kissed her tenderly. “You’re the stars, you know that?” As Liana’s cheeks filled with new color, Mare tipped up her chin, bringing their gazes together. “Which brings me to my confession.”
“Confession?” Liana asked, pulling up on one elbow.
“You said you didn’t know what you were doing. I confessed what I was doing. I am loving you. I am adoring you. I am needing you. And I’m going to create a verb from a noun for this next one.” Mare leaned on one elbow as she slid her free hand over Liana’s shoulder, fingers following the slope of Liana’s neck. “I am going to wife you.”
Liana blinked, one hand following Mare’s on her shoulder, fingers threading through Mare’s longer ones. “Wife?”
“Yeah.” Mare squeezed Liana’s hand. “What do you think?”
“Say it again!” Liana fired back. “Say it!”
“Be my wife.” Mare grinned. “Let’s do this the same way we’ve done it all.”
Liana couldn’t stop the joy flooding the banks of her soul. “Only if you’ll be my wife.”
“Because I could resist the sun that is you, Liana? You are a bright light. I know that touching you will burn, but I want to burn, want to shine, within you. Let me burn—”
Liana placed a lone fingertip to Mare’s lips, giving a slight shake of her head. “No… let us burn. Together.”
“Like Amy said in Angels Take Manhattan?” Mare suggested and Liana felt the tears slip down her cheeks at her lover’s remembrance of a beloved line.
“Exactly like Amy said. Together, or not at all!” Liana rasped, fingers trembling as they brought Mare’s palm to her lips. “And you truly are my Rory Williams.”
“And you, my beautiful, loud Scottish Amy Pond… and a soul so bright I could see it on the other side of the universe.” Mare laid Liana back on the bed again. “So let me love you the way I wanted to now… and we’ll make breakfast downtown, okay?”
Liana nodded, and she reached for Mare, knowing in that instant she would always reach for her, she would always hold her and need to be held by her, and that inside the haven of her embrace, she would always know a love brighter than any sun.
She was falling.
Disoriented, Liana fought to stay upright, but nothing her hands grabbed slowed her progress and pain in her hip, followed by pain in her cheek, sent her eyes flying wide. She’d been dragged out of bed onto the guest room floor, the pain in her hip from the fall. The pain in her face, however, came from the punch dealt to her jaw—and a second one landing to her cheek—eliciting a startled cry from her lips.
“How the hell you think you gonna be allowed to make Daddy cry? Ain’t you s’posed to be the good one? The responsible one? Fuckin’ bitch!” Backhand. “Knew you experimented back in your twenties, but you a grown ass woman now.” Backhand. Liana couldn’t breathe, nor could she see what weight sat on her lungs. “You gonna listen now, or you gonna be judged momentarily.”
That voice. She knew that voice. That voice and those hands. That voice was what spurred her to move when Leigh and John had made the move from Fort Worth to Decatur. That voice had haunted her darkest nightmares and those hands, balled into fists, had left bruises so dark they’d attracted much unwanted attention. Needless to say, Liana had been forced to figure out different living arrangements to keep her from harm’s way. Off and on over the last ten years, her brother had slipped from one girlfriend and addiction to another girlfriend and sobriety, to another woman he actually married and a different addiction.
It was the addiction she hated in Darren, though at the moment, it wasn’t the addiction beating her, but the theology to which he subscribed. She curled into a ball between the day bed and the trundle, covering her head and allowing her back to take the brunt of his blows. She took herself out of the frightening situation as her brother shouted and screamed, attempting to garner a different reaction from her. Liana remembered he liked her fear, remembering whenever she’d allowed it to surface, Darren’s creative side would surface with it.
“Is that—who did that to you, LiLi?” Sherri, her general manager at the restaurant, barked, not realizing the sound would cause Liana to jump. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. Come into my office, please, Liana.”
Her use of Liana’s actual name meant she was all business. Liana wouldn’t be able to misdirect or not answer questions. Dammit, Darren… dammit! Dammit! Dammit!
“Yes, ma’am.” Liana stubbed out her cigarette and left the breakroom to follow the older woman. As the door shut behind her and Sherri turned to face Liana, leaning against the front of her desk, Liana carefully hugged her arms, asking, “What can I do for you?”
“I should ask you that question, LiLi. Who put that bruise on your arm?” Sherri’s dark eyes hardened in anger.
Liana shook her head, not meeting her manager’s eyes. “I’m in the process of moving. It won’t happen again.”
Sherri reached out, drawing Liana’s attention without actually touching her. “Who?”
Liana’s hands slipped too high up her arms and she grimaced. “No, I’m taking care of this. I swear. If I need help, I will ask you. I’m not in trouble—”
“That wound says differently—”
Liana turned away, her voice trembling, not out of fear, but out of embarrassment and anger. “Am I going to be penalized if I leave this conversation here?”
“No, hon… I just—”
“And I appreciate it, but I can’t… I can’t do this right now.” Liana exited the office, out of breath, and made for the back stall of the girls’ restroom.
“Get off her, you fuckin’ psycho! Cat, get her! Get her outta here!”
Blake, her youngest brother, yanked Darren out of the room, and his wife darted into the room, slamming the door before locking it behind her. Catrina helped Liana to her feet—“Let’s get some clothes on you, hon!”—and helped her to dress.
Liana jumped as the front door burst open, and she heard her father’s voice add to the din coming from the kitchen. A light knock came at her door and Leigh called out to her, “Honey, let me in.”
Catrina hurried over to unlock it to let Liana’s mother in, keeping her eye on Liana’s weeble wobble towards the edge of the bed. Leigh gasped at Liana’s swollen and bruised face, but both ladies jumped when Liana wailed at the sight of her broken phone and laptop. Her knees went out from under her as her shaking hands touched the Toshiba which had, prior to its demise, needed replaced. Her phone… had been smashed with a boot heel.
“Baby, baby… we’ll get it replaced.” Leigh gently pushed a blonde curl over Liana’s ear. “We’ll get you fixed up and we’ll get your laptop and phone fixed up, too.”
“Can’t call her.” Liana closed her eyes and sagged against her mother. “Can’t get her calls.”
“All we have to do is get a replacement phone. I doubt that he thought to break the SIM card.” Leigh turned to look at Catrina. “Can you go do that for her? Go down to the Sprint store and get her upgrade. We’ll meet you there in a little bit. I’m going to take her to the doctor and maybe to look at computers.”
Liana shifted. “Momma… I can’t go out looking like this—”
Leigh kissed her daughter’s forehead. “We’ve done this before, remember? What did we do then?”
Liana laid in the hospital bed, watching the screen of her new phone. So far, she’d spoken to Hadley and Leigh had called Liana’s manager back in Vegas. Hadley was currently on a plane to Dallas and Leigh had informed Liana she liked her supervisor. Mare hadn’t called yet, and since the phone didn’t have enough space to back up, her number hadn’t been one of the ones able to be pulled from the damaged SIM card. Leigh had tried to get phone records from the phone company, but had been unsuccessful in her endeavor. All that remained to do was wait.
A text vibrated her device and she lifted her head as she unlocked her screen. Hadley.
Just touched down. Car should be waiting. Tell your mom to expect me shortly. Talk to M yet?
Liana sighed and sent her reply quickly as she called out, “Momma! Hadley’s on the ground. Should be here soon!”
“Good. Mare call yet?” Leigh asked, smiling up at Catrina when she and Blake brought in food. “Thank you, sweetheart.”
“O’course, Momma.” Blake kissed the top of her head. “Here, sis,” he murmured, setting a bag of Taco Bell food down on the pillow next to her. “Made sure you were allowed to eat it before we brought it. It’s all soft stuff so it doesn’t hurt your jaw.”
“She call you yet?” Catrina echoed. “Blake and I’ve been hoping she does!”
“Nothing yet.” Leigh shot a worried glance Liana’s way. “Still waiting.”
“Took forever, but I got it!” Everyone jumped at the strong voice of John Valentine. “Got it, dearheart.” He crossed the room in three steps, pressed a kiss to her temple and held up a box which had previously only held the remains of the computer she’d named Castiel on the Microsoft website. “My buddy was able to fix your computer—including that part on the back. I have him waiting outside, but I can bring him in if you’re okay with that.”
“That’s fine, Daddy. Blake, can you…?” Liana reached out to wrap her arms around her moose of a brother’s neck as Leigh brought her bed up into a sitting position. Catrina brought the bed table over to place the fast food on the left side as John removed the laptop from the box. The screen casing was now blue, the Toshiba logo still very much intact, and Liana giggled at the stickers still on the top right-hand corner: Twizzlers, TomboyX, Society6, and NaNoWriMo.
“Liana, this is my buddy from work, Dorian,” John introduced, shock still evident in his face even as he smiled. “Dorian, my eldest, Liana.”
“Nice to meet ya, Liana.” The man took off his Stetson and held it to his chest as he smiled at Liana, then up at Leigh. “Mrs. Valentine, nice to see you again.”
“You as well, Dorian,” Leigh murmured. “Thank you for this favor.”
“How did you get my stickers back on?” Liana asked, gratitude heavy in her eyes as she pressed the power button.”
“I used heat to remove them from the broken lid and reattached them in the same places on the new one. I also gave them a bit more adhesive to keep them smooth. I had to replace a few parts in the laptop itself, but all of the things that you need are there. You’re very good about saving and backing up to Dropbox, so you should be good with your manuscripts.” Dorian watched as she logged onto her computer, smiling at the wallpaper on the brand new screen. “I wondered if that was for one of your stories. At first I thought you were a graphic person, but your dad said you write books.”
“Yeah. I got one coming out next month, actually.” Liana opened Word and opened her current story. She took a deep breath as she saw it was still intact. “Oh, thank the gods!”
“That must be the important one, huh?” Dorian grinned. “I’m gonna give ya my card. I warranty everything I do, so… any problems, you call me, okay?”
Liana impulsively hugged the cowboy. “Thankee, thankee!”
He chuckled, hugging her carefully. “You just take care o’ yourself.”
Her phone buzzed as they broke apart, and she picked it up to see Hadley’s name on the screen. Smiling at Dorian, Liana answered it as she put it on Speaker. “Hey, Had, you’re on Speaker so Momma and Daddy can hear you.”
“Oh, all right. Hiya, Li’s mom and dad! Any news on the M front?”
“Nothing yet, Had,” Catrina replied, winking at Liana as she quipped, “By the way, Cat and Blake are here, too.”
“Hey, guys. I’m in traffic, but I should be there soon. Li probably will tell me—sorry, but you will and I know it after ten years, I think—she’s all right, but she’s been admitted so what’s the deal?”
Liana rolled her eyes, reopening all the programs she’d had open prior to the attack, as she listened to her mother’s answer, “The doctor’s mainly keeping her under a twenty-four hour observation because of the blows she took to her head. The rest of the contusions, though they’re pretty bad, they don’t concern him as much as the ones on her head. She’s got a few cracked ribs but no broken bones.”
“So she’s most likely just—”
“A little banged up, just like I told you,” Liana groused. “Nothing to worry about so you shouldn’t have wasted—”
Hadley laughed. “But it’s my money and if I wanna waste it, I will. You’re family and I don’t have much of that. Now I’m here, silly woman, and you’re going to have to just like it.”
“Wow, Li, she told you!” Blake teased. “You should take the 114 West towards Grapevine and Roanoke. Cross the 35 and take it until it hits the 287. Get on there and holler when you’re gettin’ close to Decatur.”
“I will do! You, Li, you just wait!”
The line disconnected and Liana leaned back gingerly against the pillows. Her vision blurred a little bit, but it wasn’t due to a malfunction with the new glasses Leigh had ordered on Walmart.com within an hour of admitting Liana to the hospital. Liana sniffled, and in seconds, John had dispersed everyone in the room, giving Blake and Catrina a couple of busywork tasks. Liana watched as he shut the door after them, and put her face in her hands to cover the tears.
The bed sank as John sat down on the side, taking her hands in his much larger ones. “Dearheart, I know you’re troubled and I know you’re scared, but this isn’t anything that He can’t handle. You just have to let Him—”
“I know.” He pressed a kiss to her hair. “Your mother told me… and it was one of the main things that your brother kept screaming at me.”
Liana lifted her eyes to catch her father’s green gaze, once brighter than emeralds, but age had weathered it to almost a jade color. Pain blossomed in those orbs, sending tears down her cheeks as she asked, “Are you… disappointed?”
John Valentine sighed heavily, never loosing her hands nor her gaze, and shook his head. “Not disappointed. Worried? A little.” His eyes shone with tears of his own. “A lot. A lot worried. The Word says nothing may take us from His hand, but Jesus, as I have been told by your mother, also says nothing in regards to—”
“Homosexuality?” Liana supplied, her voice small.
John sighed again, this one edged with exasperation. “There are so many references elsewhere in The Word, dearheart. It seems very like I’m being asked to pick and choose what I believe and I don’t like that.”
“I’m not asking you to do that, Daddy. I’m just asking—” Liana squeezed his hands. “I’m just asking you not to… not to—”
John shook his head, tears slipping down his weathered face. “Oh, dearheart… no, no, I never dreamed of it. Not once. I don’t know how or why you might think we’d—”
“Because of what it says!” Liana wrapped her arms around his shoulders and buried her face in his neck. “Because of Sodom and Gomorrah… and because it says in Leviticus and Romans—”
“I know. Leviticus is part of the Old Testament. The passages there pertain to the people of a different time and a different place. It’s also, as I’ve come to realize, quite a controversial subject. Some scholars—Christian scholars—debate whether or not it was the homosexuality that those two cities burned for or whether it was the treatment of foreign visitors and the threat of violence to them. And Romans… Romans is Paul’s words, his interpretation of His Word.” John kissed her hair. “You know, dearheart—”
Liana pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I would do nothing to jeopardize my relationship with you, Daddy. I waffled back and forth over the decision to tell you and then I didn’t even get to tell you, I was outed—”
“It’s over now. Whatever I might think of your lifestyle has no bearing on you being my daughter and Love certainly doesn’t require a martial punishment.” John held her tighter and Liana laid her ear to his chest, listening to the strong heart beating within.
“What’s going to happen to him, Daddy?” Her voice trembled, and she closed her eyes on the tears needing to fall now that she felt safer than she’d ever felt in her entire life. “What’s going to happen to Darren?”
“That all depends on you, Liana Jayne.” John’s tenderness—signified by his usage of the nickname he’d given her in childhood—blew her mind, and it made her almost sick to her stomach she’d ever entertained the idea her father would let her go because of his dedication to his faith. “Right now, Decatur police have him in their custody, but formal charges have not been filed. That can only be done by you.”
On to Part Four
Liana rolled onto her back as she stretched, yawning as she watched Mare sitting on the side of the trundle bed, answering a text message. The previous night had gone quite uneventfully, for the most part. John had set up the Christmas tree and Leigh, Liana and Mare set about decorating it. Leigh made them all hot chocolate and put on her favorite Elvis Presley Christmas album. It was a great time, ending in dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato basil soup. The night culminated with the two women watching television with Leigh… and John, until he fell asleep in his chair about a half hour after dinner. Curled up in front of the couch together, in a room lit only by the cheery glow of Christmas lights, they’d watched Leigh shuffle Liana’s father off to bed. As Liana had been trying to get Leigh back into Supernatural, the three of them managed to make it through two episodes before she, too, succumbed to fatigue. Afterwards, they’d retired to the room they shared for the duration of Mare’s stay.
They tugged the trundle out from under the daybed and set it up close enough that the mattresses were touching and the comforter and blankets were shared. Getting under the coverlets first, Liana watched as Mare turned out the lights and crawled across the trundle to snuggle closer to her. As her fingers threaded through Liana’s and tightened, Liana felt her heart speed up and she whispered, “Can I tell you something?”
“I want you to tell me everything, Liana.” Mare shifted a little closer, nuzzling her nose against Liana’s. “Our… chemistry… is unreal!”
Liana nodded, her smile bright. “I was thinking the exact same thing. It blows my mind that you’re here, that you’re this close, and that tomorrow morning, when I wake up, you’ll be here and not a dream.”
Mare’s lips lifted in a crooked grin. “I keep thinking the same thing.” She leaned up to press a kiss to Liana’s forehead. “I just don’t want this time together to ever end.”
Liana pushed closer to the other woman, loosing her hand to slide it into the warm silk of Mare’s hair. “Me, either.”
A giggle drew her from memory and Liana lifted her blue gaze to find Mare staring at her, chewing on the corner of her lower lip. “You have no idea how adorable you are, do you?”
“What do you mean?” Liana lifted up on one elbow, her eyes focused on Mare’s full and shiny lower lip. Gods, her lips are amazing!
A light knock came at the door as Leigh cracked it open. “We’re going to go in to town for some groceries. I know it’s early,” she whispered, able only to see Liana. “I’m fairly certain you aren’t ready to get out of bed yet. Anything you think you and your guest will need or want to eat? Also, is there anything you left back in Nevada?”
Ten minutes later, the two women listened as the front door shut and locked behind Liana’s parents. Rolling onto her side, Liana slid her hand over the flat plane of Mare’s belly, whispering, “Coffee?”
Mare’s hands slid up and into the soft waves of Liana’s blonde hair, drawing her face down as she answered, “In a minute.”
Liana nuzzled her face against Mare’s, her eyes fluttering shut as she breathed the other woman’s breath. “It feels very much like the air is charged—”
“It is,” Mare murmured next to Liana’s ear. “It’s been charged—”
“I have goosebumps all over—”
Lips pressed lightly to hers, interrupting her sentence, though Liana didn’t care as she surged into the line of Mare’s body, winding her arms around her neck, her fingers threading through warm golden hair. Opening her mouth wider to invite a deeper kiss, Liana moaned when Mare’s hands moved from her hair to rub over Liana’s chest and sides. Mare sighed against Liana’s cheek, relinquishing control to Liana even as she sucked lightly on Liana’s tongue.
Falling onto her back, she giggled as Mare crawled up over her, hooded Channel-blue eyes holding her own wide blue eyes captive. Liana’s fingers tugged Mare’s hair back, winding the thick stuff loosely around her hands as she lifted her lips to the other woman. Liana lost herself in the feel of Mare’s hands on her skin, the weight of Mare’s body on her own, the taste of her tongue and the softness of her lips, the sound of her pleasure… Mare fully intoxicated all of Liana’s senses and all she wanted was more.
Mare’s lips and teeth and tongue moved down her throat, nipping at the vein throbbing in Liana’s neck before whispering, “You… gods, I can’t seem to stop—”
Liana’s hands clenched as she arched into Mare’s touch. “Please don’t!”
Heavy footsteps in the entryway as the screen door slammed shut seconds later sent Liana giggling and shoving Mare off her as she squealed, “No, give it back!”
“Never!” Mare shouted, crawling to the other side of the trundle.
The immediate chill of their separation sent goosebumps all over her and Liana followed after her on her knees, reaching out to grab her hands as she cried out, “Give it back to me!”
“What will I get if I do?” Mare’s right eyebrow arched as her eyes sparkled in the morning sun. “A shiny nickel?”
A knock came at her doorjamb and Liana turned her face towards it, seeing her father’s face appear in the crack. “Your brother called. We’re not going to drag you out of here when you’ve not had time to get ready, but I needed to get my phone charger and I didn’t want you to worry if we were gone longer than your mother told you.”
“All right, Daddy. Thankee, thankee! I love you!” Liana favored him with a warm smile before getting off the trundle and running over to kiss his cheek. “I love you.”
John hugged her tightly, kissing the top of her head. “I love you, too, dearheart. We’ll be back soon, and I’ll call you on our way home to see what you want us to bring you home for lunch. We’ll even stop at Cracker Barrel.”
“Thankee, Daddy!” Another kiss to his cheek and seconds later, the front door shut and locked behind him.
Liana turned around to see Mare walking on her knees to the edge of the daybed, gnawing on the corner of her lower lip as she came to a stop. Her long ash-blonde hair tumbled in glorious disarray about her shoulders as she reached for Liana, whispering, “So we have a while… whatcha wanna do?”
At the arch of a slender right eyebrow, Liana could only think of one thing to do and she knew it would do nothing to get her into Mare’s heart. She also knew what she wanted to do wouldn’t slake her desire even a little bit. Be more like throwing a bottle of lighter fluid onto a bonfire. Padding over to wind her arms around Mare’s slim shoulders, Liana tangled her hands in the woman’s golden hair, her words quiet, “I feel like if I do what I want to do, the history of the world will say we’re moving too fast.”
Mare’s hands settled on Liana’s hips. “I know exactly what you mean.” She nuzzled her face against Liana’s, their lips brushing briefly. “Tell me what you want from me, Liana.”
“I think it would be easier to tell you what I don’t want from you.” Liana swallowed hard, biting her own lip as Mare caught and held her gaze, waiting for her to speak. Gods, what do I say? What do I not say? Exhaling a shaky breath, she gave in. “I want to know what it feels like to wake up to you every day.” Tearing her gaze from the other woman’s, she finished, “I want our conversation from last night to be a reality. I don’t want our time together to ever end.”
Slender fingers slid over her cheek and into her hair. “I don’t see why it has to end, Liana. I don’t have any pressing commitments. I know that you’re down here to visit your parents at Christmas, so I know that I can’t be the only thing you’re—”
“But you are,” Liana interjected, a shy smile forming on her lips. “You are the only thing I can seem to think about.”
Mare blushed. “You seem to be all I can think about right now, too.” Pressing a quick kiss to Liana’s lips, she continued, “I just mean, I know I can’t be your main priority—because Christmas—but I can be here when you do what you came to do and I can whisk you away if it doesn’t go the way you want it to go.” Her smile turned a little shy. “I mean… I understand that we can’t just jump into this, but gods, do I wanna.”
“I know, right?” Liana gave a dry laugh. “It’s like, if we were only ten years younger, then—”
“—we’d have the ten years to get to know each other, not react on desire, become a confusing insta-love slammed on Goodreads—”
Liana laughed out loud. “Don’t forget be likened in some way to a Hunger Games knock-off… or Twilight, if either of them were gay!”
Mare threw her head back and joined Liana in her mirth as for a long time, neither woman could do anything but succumb to comfortable joy.
It was with great reluctance that Liana helped Mare to the security checkpoint. They laughed as they joked back and forth about their favorite parts in the last Supernatural episode they’d watched with Leigh, one from the second season called Tall Tales. Mare clutched Liana, mimicking Sam, “I’m here for you! Brave little soldier! I acknowledge your pain!”
Liana giggled. “I loved that episode! Loved the Trickster. Next time, we should watch Changing Channels and we can say all the lines with them—”
“Son of a bitch!” they exclaimed together, quoting one of Dean’s opening lines from the mentioned episode.
Quieting down a long minute later, Liana murmured, “I’ve had a really good time, y’know, these past few days. I really hope we get to do this again.”
“It’s been exactly what I needed as well. I’m looking forward to seeing you again.” Mare wrapped her arms around Liana, hugging her tightly. “I’ll text you when I get in, okay? And I’ll tell you tonight when I’m going to come back, and sweetie, I’m really going to try to make it Christmas Eve day, okay? I want to spend Christmas with you.”
Liana nodded, pressing a kiss to the crook of Mare’s neck. “I will look for your text and your call.”
Mare tugged begrudgingly from their embrace, the joy in her smile glowing like the sun as she waved at Liana. “Talk to you in a bit.”
“I’ll look for your call, sweetie.” Liana hugged her arms, smiling back, before watching Mare show her ticket and identification to the checkpoint agent. Liana watched Mare load her things into the x-ray machine before passing through the body scanner. It wasn’t until Mare’s feet were back in her Uggs and her satchel strap was across her chest once more, that she turned to meet Liana’s gaze. Those blue eyes softened as they darted down to her phone, her fingers moving fast as they formed a text, one that lifted her gaze to Liana’s a final time as she waited. Liana dug her phone out of her pocket and it vibrated in her hand, startling her even as she chastised herself for not expecting it. Unlocking the screen, she read:
Do you want me to fall in love with you, Liana? I’m telling you I could.
Liana’s mouth dropped open and one hand went to cover it as her eyes sought out Mare’s face… and the woman nodded, as if answering the silent question of Are you serious? Liana typed her answer without second guessing herself.
What makes you think I’m not already in love with you? That I’m not already yours?
Her cheeks filled with color, but she hit Send and waited for the visual reaction. Mare bit her lower lip as she smiled shyly at Liana, mouthing, You are, y’know. You’re mine!
Liana nodded, bringing one hand up to cover her heart, a smile turning up the corners of her lips before she mouthed back, And you’re mine!
A hand slid across her shoulders and Liana turned to find her mother standing next to her. Leigh’s smile warmed her daughter’s heart and she slid her hand up to cover her mother’s as she turned her gaze back to Mare’s beautiful countenance. Liana tried to memorize Mare, every curve and shadow and wisp of flyaway blonde hair, whispering, “Momma… can I tell you something?”
Leigh pressed a kiss to her temple. “You can tell me anything, honey.”
Liana took a deep breath as her smile tightened, concerning Mare, who looked down at her phone, typing a text. Liana looked down at the screen when her phone buzzed in her hand.
Are you telling her?
Liana gave a single nod, turning to Leigh as she opened her eyes wide. “Momma… I’ve never ever known something as intensely as I know it now, and I know that you know what I write, and I know that you don’t like the content, but that you’re glad it makes me happy. It’s just, I never felt it necessary to tell you this until now because there… was really nothing to tell.”
Leigh furrowed her brow, her statement sounding more like a question. “Honey, I don’t understand?”
Liana cautiously met her mother’s worried look, swallowing hard. “Momma… I’m… I’m gay.” Taking a shallow breath, she glanced down before darting her eyes to where Mare stood, amazement and pride clear in the small smile sparkling in her eyes. Taking courage from her lady, Liana finished, “I’ve consciously known since college, and when I look back to some of my actions in high school, I think I probably knew then, too.”
Leigh nodded, her blue-gray eyes ticking to Mare and back to Liana. “Are the two of you seeing each other?”
Liana blushed, hissing, “I’d like to see her again, Mom, but you saw us meet for the first time. You were there.”
“Did the two of you—” Leigh broke off, shaking her head and hugging Liana, nearly bringing her to tears. “It doesn’t matter. All that matters is your happiness.”
Liana’s mouth fell open as the tears that had been so close slipped down her cheeks. “You—you aren’t—you aren’t disappointed?”
Leigh pressed a kiss to her daughter’s cheek. “I know what you must think sometimes, and is it a life I wish for you? No, but we can talk about that later. First, send her off properly.”
Leigh laughed, and Liana believed her mother in that moment. Whirling on her heel, she called Mare’s name. The woman who’d been an integral part of Liana’s life since her early twenties, ran to the exit door with her bag and tossed herself into Liana’s arms. Liana’s mouth found Mare’s full one as Mare’s smooth arms wrapped around Liana’s shoulders. Liana giggled, holding tight to Mare as she spun them in a slow circle and nuzzled Mare’s nose.
“I take it she’s okay, yeah?” Mare whispered, stealing another kiss. “She’s okay with us?”
“She told me to send you off properly!” Liana answered, enthusiasm heavy in her voice. “I mean, I know it’s going to be hard, but—” She cut herself off, lifting another kiss to Mare’s lips. “—I can kiss you and not worry!”
“Then kiss me, lady!” Mare teased, and Liana lost herself once more.
On to Part Three
Liana Valentine watched out the window as the airplane made its final descent, piloted cautiously by the captain she’d not actually caught the name of as she’d hurriedly put away her iPod and fastened her seatbelt. As she’d flown the three hours from Las Vegas to Dallas-Fort Worth, Liana had talked herself out of being a chickenshit.
After all, isn’t this whole trip about coming out? Isn’t it about finally being totally and completely me? Aren’t I strong? Don’t I have pride?
Looking down at the ground rapidly growing closer, her eyes following the curves of Denton Creek, Liana pushed the fat gold ringlet of her ponytail over her shoulder. Closing her eyes as she spun the rainbow ring around the third finger of her right hand, she whispered, “You are okay. You are not evil. You are not tainted. Always keep fighting, right?”
Always. Proud of all my scars.
The wheels of the aircraft smoothly took to the runway and Liana pursed her lips, digging out her blue iPod and plugging in her headphones. One of her employees at work had told her the Beats headphones were not what an audiophile would choose, but Liana loved them. Slipping into them as the plane taxied to the gate, Hozier’s anthem, “Take Me to Church” worked to build her confidence once more. Slipping into the black sleeves of her hoodie and zipping up the front, Liana pushed her glasses up her nose and straightened her black cap before shoving the sleeves up her forearms. The six-month old tattoo screamed strength at her, Always Keep Fighting. Winchesters and Fire. Proud of All My Scars.
The gentleman sitting in front of her turned around, reaching up to the overhead compartment as he darted a glance back at her. Liana knew he was hoping to talk to her again, but she adjusted the volume on her iPod, hoping what she was doing was visible. Shoving the music into the hoodie’s left front pocket, she twisted her hand in the satchel’s long leather strap and tugged it up into her lap. Closing her eyes, she sent up a silent prayer to the gods for courage as she hummed along with the Irish bard. Looping the strap over her head, she checked for her phone and took it off Airplane Mode. Instantly, it adjusted the time and she shot off a text to her mother.
Almost to the gate. You and Dad at the baggage claim?
Her phone buzzed in her hand not ten seconds later, her mother’s reply sending a smile across her lips.
We are. Just waiting on you to get here. It’s been so long, honey. We’re both so excited to see you finally.
“Will you be when we speak over dinner tonight?” She couldn’t help but say it out loud as she moved into the aisle, following the slowly moving line of passengers disembarking. “Or will I need to find a hotel?”
Hozier’s song on repeat in her ears, Liana thought about the events leading up to this moment. Her original plan had been to never tell them until she had a lady she loved, one she knew she’d love forever, and most importantly, one who loved her back. When she’d come out to her best friend Hadley MacClay in 2009, that had been the plan. When you know you can exist without them, that’s when you tell them something like this, her best friend had told her. The advice had been sound, but as the climate changed towards the LGBT culture she’d finally allowed herself to become a part of, as gay marriage began to take the world by storm, Liana found herself unable to keep letting others fight for her. Becoming more at home in her own skin, dating girls who were just not the right women for her—driving to a different state for one of them—helped her to acclimate to her not so newly found sexuality.
It was, of course, then that her writing took a wild curve and she found her niche. Liana Valentine found both solace and joy in writing gay romance. It took a few years before she could bring herself to publish, but then… then she discovered an entire community of support. People without real faces but bright, bright souls, support and love and more positivity than she’d ever really known. Always having been a geek and knowing the love of true geekdom, when she discovered many of her new friends also loved the same television shows and movies she did, and when she found WinchesterBros.com, Liana felt like she was home. Finally home. While it was her little brother who had gotten her into Supernatural, the Winchester brothers themselves (and the actors who played them) had made quite the impression on her. Her social media friends had compounded that love with memes and discussion, and not long after the 2014 holidays, when Jared Padalecki lost a friend to depression, Always Keep Fighting was born.
Having suffered from depression since her early teens, and having desired another tattoo for years, when Jared’s need to fight back against the debilitating disease resulted in the AKF campaign, Liana knew what she wanted to put on her body. She also knew where she wanted to put it. A trip to a tattoo artist on Memorial Day resulted in a reminder on her left forearm she would see every single day, the words wrapping around the anti-possession symbol that would become her mantra: Always Keep Fighting and Proud of All My Scars.
How appropriate the tattoo became hers on Memorial Day. How appropriate it would heal so easily. Liana saw it as a sign from the Powers That Be she’d not possessed a lack in judgment when making the decision to put it on her forearm where she and everyone else could see it. I am proud of all my scars. Every single one of them.
After Memorial Day, things kind of slid downhill in both her personal and professional lives. Her personal life as well as her professional life as a writer suffered because the job at a pizza shop took over seventy-five percent of her days. Her day and half-day off went down to one day off a week. (Well, not actually off, considering she stayed in contact with her store during said day off.) Hadley had always monitored her, considering it had been her idea to move Liana out of Texas and into Nevada for a fresh start; when Liana became overwhelmed, it was Hadley who’d bring it to her attention. Once October hit and Liana’s vacation became available to schedule, she managed to get the second week of December. Hadley told her to go home and see her family, to get some rest… and to write!
Liana told Hadley it was time.
“Are you sure? I mean, really sure, Liana?” Hadley’s expressive blue eyes widened and she reached out one hand to touch Liana’s arm. “I mean… what if—?”
“What if they disown me? Well, then, I’ll come home and I’ll take some time off somehow, and maybe finish a book or three. Hope they sell.” Liana shrugged. “But it’s time. It’s past time. If they love me the way they say they do, the way they always have, then we’ll get through this the way that we got through me telling them that I’m not a Christian.”
Hadley nodded, saying nothing. The sad smile that stayed on her lips told Liana she was proud of her, but that she worried and that was okay with Liana.
Liana worried, too.
Dragging her blue suitcase behind her, the Scotland luggage tag clacking in time with the wheels on the tile in E Terminal, Liana touched the volume control on her headphones and soon, she heard nothing but “Take Me to Church.” Pushing through the exit out to baggage claim, she forced down her roiling gut to paste a tired smile on her lips—
The sound of pain sent her free hand shoving down the headphones as she turned to see a woman rubbing her elbow furiously with her other hand. The woman looked familiar to Liana, but her frazzled mind refused the identification, and Liana reached out a hand, whispering, “Are you okay? I was kinda lost in my own mind and I didn’t see you there on the other side of the glass.”
“Oh, it’s my damn fault for standing so close to an exit door a billion people are going to use, but yeah, I’m okay. Thanks for asking. Probably just a bruise.” Her blue-gray eyes sparkled ruefully, and when her lips quirked up in a crooked smile as she brushed her sandy blonde hair over her shoulder, Liana blinked, recognition hitting her like a brick to the head.
That… is Mare Wingfield. Freaking Mare Wingfield is in Texas? Why? And how did I get so lucky to meet her up close and in person?
“Oh, gods! My apologies for the injury. You’re… a writer, right?” Good one to go with. Don’t tell her that she was your first girl crush and that you wanted to be the girl who played her girlfriend on television! Tell her you’ve read her books. All of them. Liana smiled gently, tucking a stray lock of blonde hair behind her ear before readjusting the black cap on her head. “You wrote the Carmalogian Series!”
The woman blushed, nodding, pushing her straight, soft hair over her ears. “I did, yes! You’ve read it?”
“You’re Mare Wingfield. I’ve read pretty much everything you’ve published. You are kind of one of my heroes. Well, you and Cody Kennedy.” Liana felt her cheeks fill with more color.
“Oh, I like him. His works are so evocative!” Mare gushed. “And so perfectly poignant when it comes to our LGBT youth! My favorite is the one he released this year—”
“Slaying Isidore’s Dragons? Oh, I can’t decide which I like best. I’d probably go with Omorphi since it was my first Kennedy.” Liana grinned. “I’m a Kennedian for life!”
Mare laughed. “I like that! It should go on a shirt!” An announcement overhead interrupted their conversation and it made Mare groan. “Seriously? I swear that plane is never going to get here. My flight’s been delayed since five this morning… and the announcement just said that it would be delayed indefinitely since the airline has to call another plane to the hub.”
“Well, we were just about to take Liana to lunch,” Liana heard her father, John Valentine, interject before wrapping his daughter in a tight hug and kissing the top of her head. “I don’t see why you would need to stay here. Any friend of Liana’s is a friend of ours, right, honey?”
Liana smiled brightly as she looked over at her mother, who nodded. “Right, honey! And I think it’s super that Liana finally gets to meet you, Miss Wingfield. She’s loved you since you were on that—”
“Mom!” Liana hissed. “No!”
Mare laughed out loud, folding her hands as she covered her mirth with them, but her eyes twinkled as she looked at Liana. “I would say busted! But if I did, I’d have to say that about most of my fans! It’s how I got started!”
Liana snorted, winking at the woman. “But how many of them can say that they tried to run you over at the airport?”
“Definitely, you are second to none, Liana!” Mare giggled quietly, shouldering her satchel as Liana’s dad followed with, left eyebrow arched. “She’s my oldest, and she’s always been stubborn—”
“Oh, I wonder where I get it, Daddy!” Liana quipped, her smile growing wider as she watched her father grasp the handle to her suitcase and hold out his hand to Mare. She touched the woman’s arm, saying, “He wants to carry your bag for you.”
“Your suitcase, Liana!” Her mother moved over to tug Liana’s bag over the rim of the bag belt as Mare allowed John to shoulder her carryon.
Sharing a long look with Mare, Liana felt her cheeks flush with color. Ye gods, she’s even more beautiful in person… and I just can’t take my eyes off her! “It’s no use arguing with them. They always win!”
“My mom’s the same way,” Mare replied with warm smile. “And please, call me Mare, everyone.”
“I’m John!” Liana’s father grinned. “And this is my wife, Leigh.”
Leigh Valentine offered her hand. “I’ve read a couple of your books, too. You’re a wonderful writer.”
Mare blushed, shaking Liana’s mother’s hand. “Thank you for the compliment.”
“Now, let’s get out of this place. We’re heading out to Liana’s favorite restaurant, El Fenix.” John flashed a smile at them before taking off at his own pace, expecting them to follow immediately.
Leigh shook her head, giving Liana a sidelong glance. “Your Daddy is so excited to have you home.”
The simple comment intended to convey familial love, sent a cold stone dropping into the pit of her stomach, but Liana thought she covered it well as she smiled back at her mother. “I’m excited to be home, Momma.”
I’m not excited to steal away the happiness of this moment, but man, it’s going to be bad. It’s going to be so, so bad.
Liana leaned back in the booth, taking a long drink of her Dr. Pepper as she listened to her dad telling a story about Liana and her brother Darren when they were young. Reaching out one hand, Liana touched Mare’s leg as she leaned in to quip, “He exaggerates. I would never—”
“—do a dead drop off a roof? I must admit, it’s hard to imagine, but then again, I have been thirteen and bored.” Mare grinned, one hand covering Liana’s on her thigh. She didn’t move her hand, just covered Liana’s, squeezing it.
“Well, I think I’m going to go to the bathroom,” Leigh interjected, patting John’s leg. “Why don’t you go pay and we’ll meet back here in a few minutes?”
“All right, Mama.” John turned to kiss Leigh’s cheek before sliding out of the booth and holding out a hand to help her stand.
“Liana, baby, we’ll be right back. No rush.” John smiled warmly at Liana before hurrying over to the cashier.
Mare still held her hand, threading their fingers as she turned slightly in the booth, whispering, “They don’t know, do they?”
“No. It was my intent to tell them today.” Liana leaned her head back against the tall seat, sighing, unwilling to stop holding the other woman’s hand.
“What’s stopping you? Is it me being here?” Mare’s lips spread in a crooked smile, her blue eyes sparkling. “I would think that having someone at your side would be a boon, not a bane.”
“And it is, but I just met you. I don’t want you to be caught in the middle of the war I helped to instigate by coming out—”
Mare squeezed Liana’s hand gently. “Liana, I’d be honored to be at your side during that moment, so if you want it, then just tell me and we’ll make it happen.”
Liana blinked, unable to quell the smile on her lips as she nodded. “It’ll be ugly—”
“Only if they make it so… but if it is, I don’t want you to be alone.” Holding out her free hand, Mare spoke again. “Give me your phone.”
Liana did as she was asked, watching as Mare put herself in Liana’s contacts before handing her own phone to Liana. “Would you do me the honor?”
“This day… man, this day is just—” Liana laughed out loud as she took the proffered device and put her info into the contacts database. “—it’s just blowing my mind.”
Mare turned Liana’s left arm over as she saw the tattoo, one fingertip tracing the star inside a circle of flames. “Always Keep Fighting… so you’re a survivor, too?”
Liana nodded. “It wasn’t an easy childhood, and adolescence was no picnic, either. At the first sign—” She took a deep breath. “I think I probably knew when I was seven.”
“I know what you mean. I knew I liked both when I was twelve.” Mare lowered her eyes, irises such an incredible blue Liana had never been able to look away from them, looking up at Liana through long pitch lashes. “I had this huge crush on Lynda Carter. I remember that, uhm, my mother thought I wanted to be her—and I did, sure—but what I wanted to do more than anything in all of my twelve years as I watched her and Patrick Duffy kiss and make love in Daddy, was be Patrick Duffy. I wanted to kiss her, feel her body soft against mine.”
Liana laughed softly, nodding. “Me, too.”
“Liana, did you want to stop by The British Emporium on our way home?” Leigh asked as she slid into the booth once more. “Your daddy suggested we get you some tea and some of those chocolates, now that the embargo’s lifted.”
“British Emporium?” Mare echoed. “Tell me that you’re not holding out on me, Liana! There’s an English food store close by?”
And so, an hour later found Liana and Mare with Leigh in the small specialty shoppe in Grapevine, giggling over Doctor Who memorabilia and loading their baskets up with candies and biscuits and tea. Leigh chuckled as she followed them through the shoppe, leaning through them to take the basket when they stopped to talk. “It’s like you took a step back, Liana Galatea, back to high school!”
Blushing at the usage of her middle name, Liana shot back, “How?”
“Unable to walk and talk at the same time?” Leigh kissed Liana’s cheek. “I’m just playing with you. I’ll take this up to the counter to pay. Does she know when she has to be back at the airport?”
Liana glanced over at Mare, who’d answered a telephone call while she spoke to her mother, and shook her head. “I don’t think so, no, but I’ll find out.”
“No rush. I’ve an idea that might make things easier for us all. I know that your daddy’s getting tired, so I’ll pay for this stuff and I’ll be right back.” Kissing Liana’s cheek, Leigh headed over towards the counter while Liana turned back around, reaching out to touch Mare’s arm as an edge crept into the other woman’s voice.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She shook her head. “This kind of service is completely unacceptable and you are lucky that good things have come of this delay. We’ll do this, then. You’ll note the horrible service your company has given me the past twelve hours and continues to give me, and when I’m ready to fly, you’re footing the bill. Do I wish to what? Well, I’m going to have to get a hotel room, so I’ll—”
Liana shook her head. “You can stay with us. Mom and Dad won’t let you stay by yourself out here and it’d be an honor for me. I can pick your brain all night!”
Mare took Liana’s hand, her cheeks pinking as she turned back to the call. “I’ll be in touch.” Hanging up, she leaned her forehead to Liana’s shoulder. “They called to tell me that if I wanted to fly on their airline, it would be morning before I’d get out of DFW. If I wanted to travel on another company, they’d certainly call around to get it covered, but it’d likely be late before I’d get a flight.”
“Holidays.” Liana commented, squeezing her hand. “Come home with me.”
Mare locked gazes with Liana, nodding towards Leigh standing in line to pay. “And if they don’t react well, then what?”
“Then we’ll get that hotel you told the rep about on the phone.” Liana wondered how Mare would react to the word we.
“Deal.” Giving Liana’s hand an encouraging squeeze, Mare smiled shyly over at her. “I don’t know why I trust you so quickly, Liana, but I do and I hope you feel the same. I’m glad we met.”
Liana smiled back, unable to resist teasing the beautiful woman. “So then… you’re glad I hit you with a door?”
Mare laughed. It was the single most beautiful sound Liana had ever heard and she memorized it, searing the moment onto her soul before joining Mare in a fit of giggles that had Leigh shaking her head as she watched the two of them. Liana held tightly to Mare’s hand, leaning against her as their laughter dissolved into a hug, only one thought in her mind.
Is this what it feels like to find your one true?
On to Part Two
For quite some time, I’ve been needing this silly story to come out of me. I tried once, years ago, to write a full story about two lovely ladies who fall in love, but I slammed into a wall about four chapters into it. After a couple of years, I tried to pick it back up, but still the infernal women resisted.
When Kellie Dennis of Book Cover By Design posted this pre-made cover, I snatched it up without a second thought. I knew what I would title it– my friend Rai had told me I had to write a story about GLITTER. I told Kellie, “It’ll be called Glittering Soul.”
As a closeted lesbian to my blood family, I began to write a story–not so loosely based on my own life–about a woman who finally goes home to see her family at Christmastime. She’s made the decision to come out to her parents, though she has no clue as to how they will react. This was a decision I’d made when I thought I was going to be able to go home this past Christmas. I’d decided it was time. Now, I write gay romance, though my choice genre is usually M/M. Finally, finally… the ladies were talking, and I bring to you, Glittering Soul.
Liana Valentine has lived with her best friend Hadley MacClay in Las Vegas, Nevada for almost ten years. In that time, she’s become her own woman, and she’s finally started to live the dream she’s dreamt for so long, being a published author. After a bad bout of depression early in 2015, she’s committed herself to being strong, to being herself, and that includes finally coming out completely. She books a ticket home to Texas for the holidays, set on becoming secret free sans a woman to love. Stars collide in a crash at baggage claim, setting her vacation on an entirely new course… one she isn’t certain she’ll be able to live through!
On to Part One
(Takes place during the months of October to December 1992)
18 December 1992
Jonathan woke up with a headache.
He made it out of bed, ran to the bathroom and emptied the contents of his stomach twice before his eyes opened fully. Throwing up made him feel better, and oddly, the pain in his skull wasn’t quite so piercing. He brushed his teeth and washed his face, shaving off the fuzz David never allowed himself to have.
Jonathan looked over to find Cody in the doorway, dressed in green corduroys and suspenders, long-sleeved white button down shirt, and a red bowtie. “Hey, buddy, what’s up?”
“Are you dressing up today?” Cody asked him, his expression one of hope. “I mean, in case you see David?”
Jonathan nodded. “Yeah, I’m going as High King Peter from the Battle of Aslan’s How.” He gave a small smile. “Remember?”
Abby smiled as she leaned around the door. “You’re still looking like my Jonathan. I thought you were supposed to be High King today?”
“Yeah, yeah… I’m getting there.” Jonathan pushed past them and moved to his room. Opening his closet door, he took down the costume he’d pulled together. It didn’t take him long to change out of his pyjamas into his faux Narnian battle dress. Slinging a silver shield emblazoned with a crimson lion in a defensive pose, to his back, he tightened his sword belt and stood. Moving over to his dresser, he inspected his reflection for flaws.
“High King Peter the Magnificent, I believe he was called,” his mother commented. “And you are indeed magnificent.”
“I’m doing my best to breathe. The irony of my choice in costume is not lost on me, Mama. Peter was a warrior… and I’m—”
“You are fighting the only way you know how, baby,” Abby interjected, crossing the room to his side. “And if I have to keep fighting to keep you breathing, then I will. Jonathan, baby, please—”
“Mama, it’s been forty-one days apart—minus three infractions that all but one lasted less than half an hour. I think we know by now that nothing is going to change Dad’s mind on this—”
A finger pressed to his lips, coupled with an arch of a slender eyebrow, stopped his words. “You will fight. You will be reunited.” Abby stepped close to him, holding his gaze captive with her stronger one. “I believe this. Now, get your butt in gear or we’re going to be late getting you to school.”
Christmas carols the accompaniment on the drive to drop off Cody at school and then himself, Jonathan remained lost in thought, never speaking a word outside of the “Thanks for the ride, Mama, I love you” as he got out of the car. He joined up with Chad and Travis, dressed as Rudolph and Hermie the Elf from the stop-motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special. Bailey joined them, and Jonathan chuckled, seeing he’d dressed as Linus van Pelt from Peanuts, sporting the red and black striped shirt under a tan jacket, a green knit pom-pom beanie on his head, carrying a blue blanket.
“He here yet?” Jonathan watched Bailey’s face for the answer, but his friend’s headshake was honest. “Do you even know what to look for? He hasn’t given a single clue as to his costume.”
“Nova!” Travis hissed. “That’s Mrs. Wolff driving, man. That’s him!”
Jonathan pushed through them to watch the emergence of a slender beauty. He bore tight leggings, boots, and a vest the color of soot and ash. On his arms were shiny gossamer sleeves up to his elbows, and on his back were stunning gray and white faerie wings. To complete the look, a navy cloak trimmed with pitch attached to his shoulders with some kind of silver broaches. Henna ink dipped and swirled in Celtic patterns down his arms onto the backs of his hands, while he wore his hair loose around his shoulders, though warrior braids had been plaited in various places. Jonathan swallowed as he watched his boyfriend stride proudly up to the front doors and let himself in through the ones closest to the choir students dressed as Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby at the beginning of White Christmas when they lip synced “Sisters”. He took a deep breath, his voice low as he told his friends, “That man… that man is mine.”
Bailey took off after David, still watching after him to keep him safe. Travis and Chad flanked Jonathan, the latter asking, “Anything we can deliver?”
Jonathan handed him a card. “Please, get that to my babe.”
“You got it, man. And here’s your Christmas from us.” Travis offered a gaily wrapped package and card to him. “Oh, and we’re talking about going to the drive-in tonight. You are coming. Team requirement!”
First period was required because roll was taken during class. Second period, they watched The Charlie Brown Christmas Special. David had sent a letter via Chad and Travis, and he’d included a poem on the envelope, called “Wish” and written about the day they made love at Travis’ house. He read it three times, committing it to memory as he thought about spoken of day. During third period, Jonathan stared out the window at the snow flurries, daydreaming about that night and hoping they’d be able to finagle David to go with the team to the drive-in.
The bell rang, signaling the start of the school Christmas party in the cafeteria. He gathered his books and trudged to the boys’ bathroom at the opposite end of the third floor. It’s the closest one and I need to get this shield off my back… and I might actually need to pee, too. Slipping out of his shield, he set his bag down in front of it to hold it upright. Detaching the sword, he stuck it in the space between the wall and the shield. Crossing to the sinks, he splashed his face with cold water, staring at his slightly gaunt face and the circles under his eyes. I really do look terrible—
“Hey!” Travis snuck into the room with him. “Chad and I got you something awesome this Christmas. I just need you to get into the stall and wait there. Can you do that?”
“Is this a joke?” Jonathan furrowed his brow as he watched his friend crack the door and look out. “Cap?”
Travis whirled on his heel. “No! Get in there. Go!”
“Okay, okay!” Jonathan shook his head, but did as instructed, leaning against the wall and listening with intent for any clue as to what was happening. The door opened suddenly, a sorely missed voice filling his ears, “What’s going on?”
He stood up straight as the stall door flew open and a faerie was shoved inside with him. Chad and Travis left the room in a hurry, pulling the main door shut behind them, leaving Jonathan and David alone together. All Jonathan could do was stare as David shook his head before looking around him and jumping as he caught sight of Jonathan, whose lips spread in a happy smile.
David tossed himself into Jonathan’s arms, laughing with the joy they both felt. “I don’t know how they did this, but I’m not asking questions. I’m just—”
“I’m going to kiss you, so shut up!” Jonathan tried to wrap his whole body around David, his lips finding David’s as his boyfriend gasped out a “Yes!”
Their hearts pounded in time as Jonathan deepened the kiss, loving the way David melted against him. Only breaking the kiss to breathe, his fae-dressed love whispered, “I miss you so much! Not being able to touch you or kiss you—seeing you is a tease that is so hard to endure!”
Jonathan breathed in David, breathed his breath, his hands lighting on David’s chest, slipping up to his hair as he divulged between kisses, “My parents are talking about getting a divorce because they can’t agree on what to do with me. Cody doesn’t sleep in his own room anymore. He barely sleeps now. He’s afraid Dad will stop loving him if he turns out like us.”
“Dad’s kept me all cooped up—”
“But you made this kick-ass costume while you were!” Jonathan broke the kiss when David tossed his head back to blush, exposing the slender column of his neck. Unable to resist, Jonathan smothered it in kisses, his teeth nipping at the vein pulsing visibly beneath the skin. A light moan tumbled over David’s shiny lips when Jonathan bit him, his hands moving to Jonathan’s hair, and for a moment, Jonathan could only stare at the marvelous young man he loved. “You’re breath-taking, baby… and watching you from afar, all I’ve kept telling myself the whole morning is—” he smoothed one hand up David’s throat, sliding it back to cup his skull as he lifted that incredible blue gaze to his own “—that man is mine… he’s mine!”
David climbed Jonathan’s hips, holding his stare. “All yours, Jonathan!”
“And I’m yours!” Jonathan vowed, one arm bracing David, his other hand cupping David’s face, his thumb tracing David’s cheek. Time… it’s running out.
They heard the door crack open, Travis’ voice hissing, “Five minutes until we have to be down in the cafeteria!”
“Five minutes?” David’s eyes glossed over. “This isn’t fair!”
Jonathan leaned back against the bathroom wall, lifting his other hand to frame David’s face when David’s ankles locked at the small of Jonathan’s back. “No, it’s not. Not having you is killing me, and I don’t know how much longer I can do it. Go with me to a movie tonight.”
David brushed his lips over Jonathan’s. “How? How are we gonna do this? I’m still grounded!” He took another kiss from Jonathan’s mouth, pulling Jonathan closer to him as he deepened the kiss briefly. Jonathan followed, his fingers threading through David’s warm hair. I need him… I need him like this, every day. I need him every day, not just… not just once in a blue moon.
Jonathan broke the kiss, breathing David’s breath as he whispered, “Travis and Chad are going with the team and a bunch of their friends—the ones that keep Vince off of us—to the drive-in. They’ve offered to take us with if we wanna go, to give us time.”
“Two minutes!” Chad called this time.
“Yes!” David murmured. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get there!”
Their mouths crashed together, David deepening the kiss as far and as fast as he could. Both boys tasted salt when the kiss broke, Jonathan feeling a tremor shimmy up his spine as David let his legs down. “Jonathan—”
Jonathan nodded disjointedly. “I know.” He forced a smile to lift his lips. “You go out first, and I’ll follow in about five minutes.” Jonathan ran the pad of his thumb over David’s full lower lip. “Fix the lips, babe… and god, but you’re gorgeous.”
“Time, fellas!” Travis called, and Jonathan watched as David took a brightly wrapped gift and card out of his Santa bag, handing them to Jonathan. He stretched up Jonathan’s body to press a brief kiss to his mouth. “Know that you are the love of my heart, my whole world. I can’t live without you—you are everything.”
Jonathan followed David to the door of the stall, watching as his love ran to the sinks, removing and reapplying his lip color and gloss. David stopped at the bathroom door, turning a merry smile to him. Jonathan held the gift to his chest, unable to stop the smile as David mouthed, Tonight.
Jonathan got ready, slipping a thick blue, white and black plaid flannel shirt over a white turtleneck. His thick acid-washed denim jeans clung to his legs and he wondered again if David would really be able to make it. The doorbell rang and Jonathan looked at himself in the mirror, muttering to himself, “I’m so going to freeze my butt off tonight.”
“Not if you take your sleeping bag and these blankets, you won’t,” his mother answered, crossing the room to whisper next to his ear, “and not if you snuggle close to him in the bed of that truck, tonight.”
Jonathan met her gaze in the mirror, furrowing his brow. “Mama?”
“He’s in the truck, trying not to be seen. He’s watching for you.” She smiled brightly. “Have fun, baby boy.”
Jonathan kissed her cheek, grabbing the sleeping bag and blankets from her. “Thank you, Mama!”
Abby tossed his coat on top of the bedding, and he ran out to the living room, finding Travis waiting for him. His friend grabbed the blankets from him so Jonathan could put on his coat. Tugging his hair out of his collar, Jonathan grinned. “Ready to go?”
The two of them hurried out to Chad’s truck, tossing the bedding into a truck bed already boasting quite a bit of warm stuff. As Jonathan got into the back of the truck, he smiled at the beautiful man waiting there for him. Diving into his arms, Jonathan knew he’d never get enough of his beautiful man. As his mouth met David’s in a tender kiss, he recalled the dream he’d had during his nap after school. Nuzzling David’s nose, he murmured, “I took a nap so I’d be rested for tonight.”
“Me, too!” Stealing a kiss, David smiled at him. “Did you dream?”
Jonathan nodded. “I dreamed we’d just gotten married, and we’d had our ceremony under the tree at the creek. It was twilight, but you could see almost every star in the sky. We were holding each other and you pressed a kiss under my chin. Just as you did that, a meteor shower started and it was gorgeous. In the middle of it, we saw a comet traveling across the sky and you gasped. I asked what was wrong and you said it had just surprised you. I said what? You pointed then, and said, Look, it’s Halley’s Comet!”
David smiled at him, running his fingers through Jonathan’s hair. “Next time that comet comes through, we’ll be almost ninety years old.”
“I know. I told you that, and you shrugged, saying, I don’t make up the rules. I just know the comets by name and they all come through so fast.”
“Weird. I wonder what that means!” David grinned, pressing a kiss to Jonathan’s mouth. “Wish we could hit the library to figure it out.”
“Traditionally, comets in dreams mean change.” Jonathan smiled. “I took it as a sign that something big was about to happen… and then I remembered that we were going out on a date tonight. That’s big.”
David laughed. “I can’t believe you know that already!” Stealing a kiss, he met Jonathan’s eyes in the dim light of the truck. “I’m ready for it. I’m ready for the change that will bring me you.”
Another kiss took over Jonathan’s whole body and he tugged David close to him. “I’m ready to have you back in my life. I don’t want this once in a blue moon stuff… I want you. I want you back in my orbit—this time, forever.”
David smiled tenderly up at him. “I am in your orbit, forever. Aeternum.”
(Takes place during the months of October to December 1992)
The third time started during a fire drill. The school was almost completely evacuated when Travis jerked his arm, nodding towards the parking lot. Jonathan arched an eyebrow, asking, “You want to skip school?”
He glanced over at Chad, who stepped closer to them, saying quietly, “Tomorrow’s a teacher in-service day. Ain’t none of ’em gonna give us a test today. Let’s go hang out at Travis’ house, have a beer, watch some football.”
“I can’t. Who would be here to watch out for David?” Jonathan scanned the crowd, looking for a beloved gold head.
Travis laughed. “He’ll be watched out for, Shea. You got my word.”
“How?” Jonathan demanded to know, but his friends took hold of his arms and backed out of the crowd to join the others in the student parking lot. Once they got to his car, Travis grinned at him, calling over his shoulder, “Follow me to my house!”
Jonathan rolled his eyes, unlocking his door and opening it only to stop dead in his tracks. David laid stretched out across the seat, his head propped on the palm of one hand. Jonathan shook his head, unable to fight the pull of his heart. Getting into the car, Jonathan reached for his boyfriend, elated when strong fingers grabbed both sides of his jacket and yanked him down for a hard kiss. David’s hoarse words struck Jonathan’s heart as those incredible blue eyes found his amber ones and held them captive, “I feel so lost… so adrift… without you. I need you.”
A horn honking lifted Jonathan’s spirits, and his lips in a wicked grin. “Wanna be bad?”
David’s shiny lips curled in a lazy smile. “I only ever wanna be bad with you.”
Stealing another kiss, Jonathan sat up and nodded at Travis as he jammed the key into the ignition, turning over the engine. Glancing down at David, he whispered, “Stay down.”
David nodded, playing with his hair as he watched Jonathan. “I can’t believe we’re actually living a Romeo and Juliet kind of life, can you?”
“No,” Jonathan groused, following Travis and Chad. “I really can’t. We’ve never been parted like this before and I swear to you, babe, I will never let something like this happen to us again.”
“Remember the kisses at Wesleyan?” David shifted in his seat, carefully wriggling until he’d completely switched ends and leaned his gold head against Jonathan’s leg. “I’ve been thinking about that night with you so much these past few weeks.”
Jonathan slid his hand into David’s warm hair as his smile grew wider. “I keep thinking about falling asleep with you, our bodies still slick from lovemaking, and I can feel your heart pounding next to mine.”
David pressed a kiss to Jonathan’s leg, rubbing it with one hand. “I can’t wait until the day you never have to take me home.”
Jonathan sighed. “Me, either. Looks like we’re almost to Cap’s house.” He ran his fingers through David’s hair as they pulled into Travis’ driveway. The four of them exited the vehicles and hurried into the house. Minutes later, Jonathan laid David back on the couch in Travis’ media room and tugged a blanket over them as he fell into his arms. He knew he couldn’t stop kissing David if his life depended on it… and when it naturally progressed into a powerful lovemaking, Jonathan memorized the feel of their bodies sliding against each other, the taste of David’s tongue, the friction caused by David’s dick rocking against his own.
“I’m here—oh, please don’t stop!”
Jonathan pressed his face into the crook of David’s neck, biting down as he sped up his pace… and seconds later, lost in an ever-deepening kiss as David cried out in his mouth. His boyfriend’s nails dug into his hip and back as he arched, breaking the kiss to gasp as he hit hard. His tremors became Jonathan’s own as release neared and Jonathan clung to David as sacrosanctum crashed over them—
Day Before Thanksgiving
Jonathan tugged his knees up to his chest, holding close the precious gift given to him at school. He’d started to pour through it the second it had been transferred to his hands via the Mail Drop. Chad, like both their coach and Jonathan’s mother, had noticed Jonathan’s weight loss, and decided he and Travis had to help. They created a Mail Drop using Travis’ locker (he shared Chad’s on the second floor since most of his classes were on the second floor). After lunch, Chad spent much of his time on the third floor, so he’d check his locker for Jonathan’s morning love letters and put a book or two in there to cover the pick-up. He’d pass the letters to David in the halls and by the end of the day, Jonathan would have his replies.
David’s written words and poetry were all that really sustained him since Elisha had told Jonathan’s dad about the last time. Everything in his life had become affected since that trust had been severed: his grades were slipping, his guitar sat on its stand collecting dust, and his appetite left entirely. Disallowed the privilege of driving the Suburban, his mother now picked him up from school, but he made no conversation on the drive and from the moment he arrived home, Jonathan made a home in the silent dark. He showered by the light from the bathroom window, then went to his room and laid down on his bed, and he never joined them at the table. He didn’t sleep well, and oftentimes when he did find rest, his dreams centered on David and ended in a nightmare made up of his worst fear: David always died at the end.
Jonathan was never able to get to him in time, always reaching him as he took his last breath.
Closing his eyes, he focused on the words given him that day, unaware at first that his door opened. His mattress shook, and Jonathan lifted his head to see Cody crawling onto his bed. Reaching an arm out, Jonathan gathered his little brother close, kissing his blonde head.
“Mama and Daddy fighting?” Jonathan asked Cody, who nodded.
“I’m sorry, little brother. This is all my fault… all of it.” Jonathan sniffled, ruffling Cody’s hair. “I wish I could fix me, make me better, but—”
“You wouldn’t have David if you did that, and you know it. That’s not septical, Jonny.” Cody rolled onto his side to face his big brother. “You and David would be torture-ified. It’s not right and it’s not fair. You just love him like Mama loves Dad. How’s that bad?” Cody pushed his face into Jonathan’s chest, breaking down into tears. “What if Dad hates me because I end up liking a boy?” he whimpered.
Jonathan curled around Cody, tears for his brother mixing into the tears he cried for himself and David. Cody was right: it wasn’t acceptable to feel this way. Not for him, and definitely not for his little brother. He held Cody tightly, pushing his own face into the boy’s shoulder, whispering, “Dad could never hate you, Cody. Nobody could. It’s like Dave says all the time, you’re the stuff sunshine’s made of!”
“He also says that you’re the bee’s knees, baby boy,” their mother said from the door, a smile on her face. “It’s because my boys are the best and most wonderfulest people in the whole world.”
Cody launched himself from the bed into her arms and Abby caught him, rocking him as she shushed and reassured him. “Love my Cody-bug. Ain’t nobody ever going to be able to not love my Cody-bug.”
“Love you, too, Mama!” Cody tugged his head from her neck to say something, and Abby took the opportunity to cover his face in kisses, making him giggle, the familiar mirth his mother elicited from his little brother giving Jonathan’s heart a lift.
“Whyn’t you go get your shoes on and I’ll get your brother up and we’ll go get an early dinner and dessert from Stardust?” Abby suggested, both she and Jonathan startling at the squeal of excitement bursting from the wriggling boy in her arms. She laughed as he ran to his room a moment later and she moved across the room to sit down on the edge of Jonathan’s bed. “Baby boy… my heart hurts as I watch you stumble through each day, and I know your pain is raw, but Jonathan, you have to start eating. You can’t keep doing this to yourself. It’s not good for you and how does it benefit David if you weaken yourself?”
Jonathan shifted in his bed, putting his head in Abby’s lap. “Don’t we have church tonight?”
“Don’t change the subject on me. Your dad is going to a deacon’s meeting, but I have pies to make for Thanksgiving tomorrow. If you remember, your cousins and aunt and uncle are coming tomorrow afternoon.” She ran her fingers through his hair. “I want you to ponder on a message I came across during my daily devotion this morning, okay, baby?”
He nodded against her leg. “Yes, Mama.”
Her voice softened as she murmured words of hope from Paul the Apostle. “Second Corinthians 4:16-18 is its physical address for your reference later. Paul has this to say about hope in his letters to the Corinthians: Therefore we do not lose heart. Outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly, we are renewed each day. For our light and momentary troubles achieve for us an eternal glory which far outweighs them all. We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what can be seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
“He’s not talking about love, Mama. He’s talking about Christ—”
“Jonathan Abraham Shea, he’s talking about struggle, about pain like you’ve never known—pain like yours—and he’s saying that it will get better. Don’t lose hope. This isn’t the end. This house arrest won’t last forever—”
Jonathan lifted his face, looking up at Abby. “Mama, he said ‘my son will never date another boy.’ I do believe he’s thinking about making it last forever.” He sighed heavily. “I didn’t even get to see David on my birthday. Heck, he wouldn’t even let me have a birthday party for my one and only eighteenth birthday.” Jonathan laughed, but the sound held no joy. “I didn’t even get a birthday card from him. I mean, I guess I should be grateful that he remembered to wish me happy birthday when he dropped me off at school that day.”
She cupped his face. “What do I always tell you, baby? What do I always say when things get rough?”
“This, too, shall pass. You always say it’s from the Word, and I always tell you that Confucius said it,” Jonathan answered, blinking back tears.
“Whoever said it, baby boy, it’s true. It won’t always be like this. It won’t always hurt so bad that you think you won’t withstand it, because if you and David are meant like I think you are, like you think you are, like he thinks you are—if you are, then you’ll look back at this dark time and you’ll realize then how strong I know you to be now.” Her dark eyes searched his amber ones. “How strong he knows you’ve always been.” She smiled, pushing his hair over his ears. “Can I point something out to you?”
“Ever wonder why David wanted to change his eye color to the one you told me?” Abby smiled softly, tracing his ear with a fingertip.
“All the time. I can’t understand why he’d wanna change that gorgeous blue to anything else. It’s still my favorite color,” Jonathan answered, his voice hoarse.
“I’ll tell you why, baby, and it’s going to blow your mind.” Abby pressed a kiss to his temple as she pulled him into her arms. “Because your eyes—the ones you got from your grandpa—they’re his favorite color. He wanted to see the world through your eyes.”
Jonathan pushed his face into her soft chest as the pain became too much for him to contain, and he broke a little more. Abby held him tightly, whispering, “I know she’s not your favorite singer, baby boy, but the girls at work listen to her album all the time—Sheryl Crow? They played this song today, and it was called “I Shall Believe”. I bought the album on the way home from work just so you could listen to the words.” Pulling back to look at his face, tears slipped down her own cheeks. “Oh, baby… hold on for me. Just a bit longer. I have faith that He doesn’t give us more than we can handle. I have faith that you are strong enough to weather this, and I have faith that David can weather this storm with you.”
Jonathan sniffled, dragging the heels of his hands over his eyes. “I will listen to it and Mama, I’ll do better. I promise.”
Tuesday Night Music Club would remain forever the only Sheryl Crow album Jonathan would ever own, and only two songs on the album would ever be played. “Strong Enough” would be David’s song for him later on, but “I Shall Believe” was Jonathan’s song for the remainder of the time they were kept apart.
(Takes place during the months of October to December 1992)
The second time it happened wasn’t even a week later. Coach Caruthers had facilitated it after Jonathan experienced a dizzy spell and had to be replaced during practice. Angry at his body’s betrayal, he threw himself onto the bench and put his head in his hands. The coach approached him quietly, knelt down, and put a hand on Jonathan’s shoulder, whispering, “Listen to me, boy. Listen good.”
Jonathan lifted his gaze, blinking at the uncharacteristic tenderness in the high strung coach’s tone. “Of course, Coach.”
“Remember what was said back in Kelley’s office? Remember? How you fellas loving other fellas didn’t have nothing to do with how you play ball?” Coach Caruthers murmured, his brown eyes holding Jonathan’s amber steady.
“Here, Coach. You called me?”
Jonathan looked up at the first baseman, Bailey Strittmatter, though they all called him Bay. He was a good friend of Chad and Travis, and ever since the meeting in Ms. Kelley’s office, he’d been instrumental in keeping an eye on David in the halls as many of his classes were in the same hallways. Jonathan smiled at Bailey, who returned it warmly, saying, “Don’t worry about it. We gotcha.”
“Bay, need you to do a 3-2-1. Now.” Coach Caruthers squeezed Jonathan’s shoulder as Bailey left them, returning to their conversation. “I know that, technically speaking, it don’t. I know that, technically speaking, what caused this was you not being able to eat… or sleep. I’m not askin’ you to be inhuman. I’m askin’ you to push through this, boy. You gotta. He’s countin’ on you to keep breathin’, and you are the only reason he keeps comin’ to school. I seen him in his P.E. classes. He keeps tryin’ to hide the evidence of some pretty serious anger, and ain’t none of it as bad as the one time, but Jonathan… you gotta…” Coach looked up at the sky and then out at the field, pausing for a long moment before he continued. “Jonathan, you just gotta find whatever it is that fires you up, keeps you runnin’, because you two got a hell of a time coming. A hell of a time.”
“Complete, and exactly as you said, Coach!” Bailey called as he ran back onto the field.
“Thanks, Bay! Jonathan, come with me.”
He’s right. He’s so very right. God, I am letting myself succumb to despair when David needs me most. I’m an idiot. I’m such a freaking idiot.
Jonathan followed the baseball coach back into the school, so lost in his mental chastising he didn’t notice Coach turned the lock on his office door after he let Jonathan into the room.
“I’ll give you some time, but you need to close the blinds. God forbid someone see the two of you together,” Coach Caruthers stated, a familiar edge to his words as he smiled tightly before shutting the door behind him.
Jonathan turned to see David sitting in the chair closest to the door, his blue eyes wide as he looked up at Jonathan. Jonathan closed the blinds, swallowing hard before he moved over to David, running a gentle hand over the gold curls he loved as he whispered, “I’ve been a bad boyfriend.”
David stood, wrapping his arms around Jonathan’s neck. “You don’t know how to be a bad boyfriend.”
“I see you all the time, and all I can think about is that it’s been forever since your voice has been in my ear, that I can’t remember the last time I was able to walk next to you, and that all I want is to be able to not leave marks on you—”
David shook his head with a grin. “Babe… you leave the deepest mark on me. Your mark on me is a tattoo on my soul. Your name is all over me and when I go to sleep at night, I pretend I’m in your arms, that your breath warms my neck—” David pressed a kiss to Jonathan’s jaw. “—because I know that one day those things will be commonplace.”
“How are you so optimistic?” Jonathan murmured, amazement clear in his words as he held his boyfriend tighter. “Jonah hurts you—”
“You’re a man of your word. If you say it, it will happen. I am well aware that should we leave today, it would be hard for either of us to make our dreams happen, that likely, should we run away together, we’d be living on the streets and that’s a nightmare, not a dream, even if we were together.” David set his chin on Jonathan’s chest. “So, we graduate and then we get the hell out of this town.”
Jonathan smiled at him, sliding his hands over David’s trusting face. “I wonder how it is we never got here until this year.”
“Because it wasn’t time. It took a kiss—” David stretched up on tiptoe to kiss the same corner of Jonathan’s mouth Veronica had kissed. “—from a girl to ignite in me a truth which can never be extinguished.”
“Say it to me… tell me again.” Jonathan didn’t mean for the words to carry the same perpetual tremor his whole being bore. “Please, David.”
David nodded. “I belong to you. I belong to you and you belong to me. Amor meus in aeternum.”
“Forever—mine, forever!” Jonathan’s lips found David’s in a greedy kiss, his heart pounding in his chest in time with David’s. Their stolen time together, spent breathing each other’s breath as their hearts beat as one, was over quickly. A quick rap on the door broke them apart into two beings once more, and David darted out of the office, the smile he threw over his shoulder at Jonathan giving balm to the wounds he knew Jonathan carried.
As he walked out of the locker room seven minutes later, Chad and Travis on one side, Bailey on his other, Elisha leaned against the wall across from the doors, backpack on his left shoulder, eating an apple. Jonathan didn’t miss the irony and he arched an eyebrow, asking, “Why are you here?”
“Why was he?” Elisha answered, waggling his eyebrows.
“I’m sorry?” Jonathan clipped, his heart pounding. No… no, no, no, Elisha… please!
“Not sorry enough.” Standing up straight, he tossed the apple, two bites taken out of it, to Jonathan. “Catch you later.”
That night, when he got home, his father was waiting for him in his room, holding his telephone in his lap. Jonathan hit his knees in front of Bill before he could say a single word. “Please—please, please, please… I haven’t called him. I’ve followed your instruction, Dad. I swear it! You can’t take that—what if he needs help? Dad, please! Don’t take away his only lifeline—please!”
Bill furrowed his brow. “I think you’re exaggerating the situation a bit, Jonathan. Lifeline? That’s a word you don’t use casually.”
Jonathan shot to his feet, growling. “He missed an entire week of school and Momma Claire had me and Eli drop by his classes each day to get his work! One of the bruises on his arm was worse than the one I got in Little League. I accidentally touched it before I knew it was there and he passed out from the pain… but please, tell me that I’m exaggerating the situation!”
Bill stood up as well, his eyes flashing. “You’re suggesting that Jonah did that to his son?”
“There were two people in the house when it happened—that would be the day that we waited and waited for David to get here and he never called or showed. You remember that day, don’t you? You kept badgering me to call him and then you had to go because you had that deacons’ meeting?” Jonathan watched his father’s face for a sign of recognition.
“I remember. What’s your point?”
“That was when Jonah was beating him.” Jonathan took a shaky breath. “Please, Dad. Remember that I’ve never lied to you about anything, that I never make a big deal about things unless they need a big deal made—”
Bill’s free hand curved up under Jonathan’s jaw. “And you have to learn that certain things in life are non-negotiable. My son dating another boy? Never going to happen. It’s against God’s laws and I will not allow it. The idea that Jonah would hurt his boy in the manner you described is also ludicrous and disrespectful and I expected more from you in regards to Jonah Wolff. If you ever expect to get telephone privileges back, do better at the not lying to me part. I knew almost the minute you and David decided to break the rules again today. That’s twice now.” He loosed his hold on Jonathan’s face before turning and crossing to the door. “Phone is gone until I see improvement.”
(Takes place during the months of October to December 1992)
I Corinthians 13:4-8
4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
Jonathan hugged his arms, still feeling David’s shaking body in his arms. His tongue passed over his lower lip as his dad pulled the truck into the garage. Cody hadn’t said a word since they’d turned onto their street, but his little hand had found Jonathan’s and held tightly to it. Jonathan knew it meant he didn’t merely feel discomfited, but terrified.
What if coming out results in exactly what he thinks will happen?
Bill looked up into the rearview mirror as he put the big vehicle in park, and Jonathan met his gaze as the older man asked, “How long have you known?”
Jonathan sighed, glancing over at Cody as his grip tightened on his older brother’s hand.
“Don’t heave and sigh at me, young man. You will answer my question and you will answer it now!” Bill clipped. “Jonathan—”
“I’ve known since forever, Dad.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t know why it’s such a big deal who loves who. I thought love was the point—”
“I thought being loved was—”
Bill turned to face him. “That’s enough!”
Jonathan surged forward, shaking his head. “But it’s not. There’s nothing wrong with David, Dad. Just like there’s nothing wrong with me.”
Bill Shea’s eyebrows almost hit his hairline as he stared hard at Jonathan. “I don’t follow?”
“Yes, you do, Dad.” He reached for the door handle, but a large hand covered his own, barring his exit, his father’s voice low as he growled, “Explain yourself, young man.”
You didn’t come out, Jonathan. Just me. You didn’t say—
“Of course I knew, Dad,” Jonathan managed, his throat dry. He shoved a hand through his hair as he lifted a defiant gaze to his father’s matching one. “Of course I knew. David’s my boyfriend and I love him.”
Jonathan sat in his room, his back to the door, still in his Sunday best. His eyes were closed as he relived the weekend prior to service that morning. His lips remembered the countless kisses shared with David. His arms recalled the strength of each embrace. Curling around him in the night, face pressed to long hair as warm and golden as sunlight—
God… God, what happens now?
His elbows met his knees as he buried his face in his hands. What if they do tell me I can’t see you anymore? Jonathan’s stomach clenched at the mere thought of not being able to see David. He ran his hands harshly over his face and hair, whispering, “We’ll get through this, you and me, babe. We’ll get through this and I’ll have you back in my arms in no time.”
“You tryin’ to give your dad a heart attack?”
Jonathan whirled around, finding his mother coming around the end of the bed to sit next to him, sliding her hand over his. He swallowed thickly, unprepared for the tears falling from his eyes and he turned his face away, lifting a shaking hand to his cheek to wipe away the wetness. “Hadn’t actually considered it, no. What do—what do you mean?”
Her soft fingers stroked the back of his hand as she laughed; the sound was comforting. “I think I always assumed that your closeness with David would just translate into a friendship that lasted a lifetime. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that it’d turn romantic. It didn’t surprise me. I meant what I said to David at the church when I told him I should have known.”
I don’t know if the tears are more for fear or for the fear that I’ll never get to see you again—but I promised you. I promised you! I won’t let them take us apart!
Jonathan looked at her, sniffling. “What do you think of me? Of me loving him? Of me loving David so much that the idea I’d live a life without him makes me not able to breathe, Mama? What do you think of that?”
“I think it sounds like you’re in love… like you’ve always been in love.” Abby Shea slid her hands over his cheeks, her thumbs drying the skin under his eyes, her own eyes shining with tears brought on by his pain. “Baby boy, you are my son, and nothing will ever take that from us. You are a beautiful young man, and you’re smart, and you’re fierce, and you’re honorable, and you love the Lord. Whatever you do, it all reflects on the One who loves us most. I don’t think that He’s ever been disappointed in you, not once.”
“But what Pastor—”
Abby took one hand from Jonathan’s cheek, placing a finger to his lips as she shook her head, her dark eyes sparkling with anger, her voice hard as steel. “Oh, Pastor Beals and I will have a conversation about what he did today, that’s for certain, but I want you to hear one thing, and Jonathan Abraham Shea, you will listen to your mother.”
“Yes, ma’am.” He took a deep breath.
“You will not just hear this with your ears, you will listen to it, and you will keep it in your heart, my beautiful boy. Am I perfectly, crystally clear?” Abby searched his eyes, and Jonathan understood then, with her utterance of a word he’d put into usage when a seven-year-old David mispronounced it. Not so long ago… but it seems forever ago we were that small.
“Crystally,” he echoed, swallowing a second time.
“You. Did. Nothing. Wrong.”
Jonathan started at her words. “But—”
“He might be a pastor, baby, but I read my Bible, too. I’ve read it cover to cover, and one thing that I know is this: Jesus’ words are the ones we follow. The message of hate in Leviticus is Old Testament. Old Testament isn’t supposed to be taught, baby; it’s like taking history and for me, it’s great poetry from David and Solomon, and it’s wonderful to read tales to children.” She smiled tenderly. “How many times did I read you Daniel and the Lions’ Den? And Esther and Boaz? And Shadrach—”
“Meshach and Abednego?” Jonathan finished. “Too many times to count… and don’t forget David and Goliath.”
“Quite pertinent to our conversation now.” Abby smoothed his hair. “Because what’s coming is going to be a Goliath. How you both choose to handle it will be a win or a lose for Team David.”
“How we handle it?” Jonathan echoed, furrowing his brow. “How are we supposed to handle it?”
“By knowing this: Jesus never spoke against homosexuality. His words were simple. His words, baby boy, endorsed love. Remember John 14:21?” Abby smiled at him, knowing Jonathan still had that particular verse committed to memory after helping a then twelve-year-old David memorize it for Bible School.
“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them,” Jonathan quoted, his voice steadying a bit.
“And John 16:26-27? Do you remember that reference?” Abby asked him. When he shook his head in answer, she quoted the Word to him. “Jesus said in verse twenty-six, In that day, you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. Now verse twenty-seven is important, beautiful boy, so listen and hold it to your heart. Jesus said, No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and believed that I came from God. God loves you because you love Jesus and believe in Him. God loves you because you love His son and believe He came from God.”
They both looked up to see Bill filling the doorway. Behind him, further down the hallway, stood one of the deacons from church. His mother stood up, shoulders thrown back, keeping herself between Bill and Jonathan.
“May I talk to Jonathan?” Bill asked, and Abby looked over her shoulder, arching an eyebrow in silent question.
“Yeah… it’s okay, Mama.” Jonathan sniffled, reaching up to hug Abby when she bent down to wrap him up.
“You are perfect and exactly who you were made to be. Remember that.” She pressed a kiss to his hair. “I love you.”
Jonathan shut his eyes tight as he held close to her. “Love you, too, Mama.”
A moment later, as he watched her leave, his father stepped into the room and closed the door. Jonathan turned, tugging one knee to his chest as Bill moved over to sit down across from him. Facing him, he pushed Jonathan’s leg down. “We are not at war, son. You need not take a defensive stance.”
Jonathan nodded, bowing his head. “But you’re angry at me. You’re angry at what I said.”
Bill took a deep breath. “Son, I’m not angry. I’m worried and I’m a bit sad.”
What? Why? This cannot be good.
“I don’t understand. You’re not angry, but you’re sad? For what?” Jonathan wanted to pull both his knees up against his chest, because he was certain his heart was about to take another beating.
“As I am responsible for this family, both in this world and in Heaven, it saddens me that you would rip yourself from us. You are my son, and you are my heir, and to be parted from you would hurt my heart.” Bill’s chin quivered for a moment. “You need to think about this decision you have made very carefully, Jonathan—”
“It’s not a decision! I didn’t decide to fall in love with him, Dad!” Jonathan’s eyes widened. “I didn’t decide to need him to breathe! I didn’t decide—”
“You decided to act on feelings that aren’t real! Jonathan, you’re seventeen! How could you possibly know—no, there’s no way you could—”
“Dad, with all due respect afforded you for your position, I’ve heard the stories you and Mama tell about your relationship, about how you were working three jobs to get up enough money to buy a small house for her, so that you could get her out of her parents’ house. You were nineteen and she was seventeen. You were married when you were still nineteen and the day after she turned eighteen. I was born not even two years later and you were still working three jobs to keep things easy for her and me. Mama’s always told us that you were also going to school so that you could get down to just the one job.” He shot to his feet. “How is that different from me and David? How? Two years from now, I’ll still be in love with him and he’ll still be in love with me! I’m gonna marry him—”
“That’s ridiculous. Men don’t marry other men, Jonathan.” Bill’s eyes glittered. “What you’re feeling—”
“Are you seriously about to tell me that what I feel isn’t love?” Jonathan laughed, but no mirth lived in the sound. Tears slid down his face. “What I’m feeling right now, Dad, is terror that love is going to—how did you put it? Oh, yeah! That’s right!” Another mirthless laugh ended in a half-sob. “I’m terrified that because I’m in love with my best friend, a person who just so happens to also possess a penis and not a vagina as genitalia, that my father will rip me from his side or worse—” Jonathan hugged his arms, meeting Bill’s eyes. “He’ll tell me that he forbids me to ever see him again.”
Bill stood up, shoving his hands into his trouser pockets. “You’re a responsible young man, then, as you already know how this ends.”
Jonathan didn’t move as his father moved over to press a kiss to his forehead. “I trust that you understand the ramifications of breaking the rules.”
So it’s like this now… oh, babe… this is going to be hard.
Two Weeks Later
Jonathan sat at the dinner table, pushing his food around his plate, but he wasn’t hungry. Cody reached out for a warm roll and tossed it onto Jonathan’s plate, gasping when it landed in his mashed potatoes and gravy, splattering gravy all over Jonathan’s tee-shirt.
“I’m sorry, Jonny!” he cried out, hopping down from his chair to hurry over with his napkin to try to clean his big brother off.
Jonathan smiled gently at his little brother, shushing him but allowing him to clean his shirt. “It’s okay. It was an accident.”
“I’m so sorry!” Cody wailed.
Jonathan wrapped him up in a hug, whispering, “I know. I know, and me, too.”
“Cody, you will sit down now.” Bill met Jonathan’s eyes. “Jonathan is comforted, and perhaps the roll will find its way into his belly.”
Reluctantly, Jonathan loosed his younger brother, watching as Cody climbed up onto his chair, and when he was seated, Jonathan nodded and took a bite of the roll. Usually, he loved his mother’s homemade rolls, but lately, nothing tasted good.
“How is David?”
He blinked, the note in his pocket feeling suddenly less than safe. “I’m sorry?” Jonathan asked. “What did you say?”
“I heard that the two of spoke today. I wanted to know how he was doing,” Bill replied, his voice almost amiable as he let Jonathan know he knew the rules had been broken.
He stood in the dark part of one of the theatre entrances, watching as David worked with Travis on stage. Jonathan purposely skipped Government to watch the progress on the scene with Chad. No, that was a lie. The real reason he’d skipped class was to see him and to hear his voice. Not being able to touch him was killing Jonathan.
The bell rang.
“Work on your scenes, people! Performances begin Friday!” Mrs. Sanchez called out over the din of voices. “If you need me, come see me in my office!”
Jonathan ducked farther into the shadows as students rushed past him out the doors of the theatre. He listened for David’s voice, finally hearing it as Chad and Travis walked him towards the doors, Chad asking, “You, uh… you doing okay, man? I mean—considering?”
“I’m…” David sighed heavily. “I’m as good as can be expected without the other half of me around. It’s… it’s really hard not… not having someone who’s always been around—I keep thinking that this must be what it’s like to lose someone. I mean, we’ve always been each other’s go-to person—”
“Shea’s not well, either.” Jonathan grimaced as Travis went on, nearing Jonathan’s hiding place. “He’s actually more like the definition of fucked without you.”
David gasped, his voice tenuous. “No! I never wanted that to—”
Jonathan waited until the three of them passed the brick wall he hid behind, before he stepped out and grabbed David by the hips, interrupting his sentence. Travis caught David’s bag as the boy turned to throw himself into Jonathan’s arms, Jonathan taking them back into the safety of shadow. “I miss you! I love you!” Jonathan hissed before losing himself in the beauty of David’s kiss.
David’s hands flew to Jonathan’s hair, slender fingers disappearing in the thick russet waves as Jonathan held him tighter to his chest. The kiss broke only for them to breathe, David whispering, “Love of my heart, strength of my soul… my everything.”
David stole a brief kiss. “You’ll make good on it.”
“We need more than this—”
David smiled, kissing under Jonathan’s chin. “One day, we’ll have everything.” He tucked something thick into Jonathan’s front pocket. “Read it when you get home.”
Their mouths found one another’s in a hungry dance until Travis laughed, signaling someone’s approach. Seconds later, Jonathan watched as David disappeared in the throng of students heading upstairs.
“Jonathan? Did you hear me?” Bill repeated, jolting him from memory.
Jonathan lifted his gaze, nodding. “Yeah… I mean, yes, sir. I heard you. I just… I’ve had a headache all day. It’s made it hard to concentrate.”
“Baby boy, whyn’t you go ahead and go to bed? I know your homework’s done.” Abby smiled at him. “Cody and I’ll do the dishes. You go rest.”
Abby turned a glittering gaze to her husband. “Billy, let the boy go rest. We’ll talk rules later, when he can concentrate. Right now, his head cannot manage it, so it’d do no good to have that talk.”
Jonathan nodded. “Thanks, Mama.” Excusing himself from the table, he pushed his chair in and left the room for the bathroom. Washing his face and brushing his teeth, he escaped to his bedroom, crawling into bed in his jeans and tee-shirt. His face was wet a second time before he even got the coverlets pulled over his head.