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