Girls and Fences
LGBTQ Short Story
Jess and I whispered to each other and walked into the living room, heading toward the kitchen to make sandwiches. Our heads bumped together as we laughed, and I lightly touched her hip. We were still in our riding clothes, but our boots and helmets were at the front door. Our ponytails loose; mine was thin and brown, and hers was thick and blond.
Jess’s mom popped around the corner and asked if she could speak with us. I quickly removed my hand from Jess, and tried not to startle. Jess and I gave each other a look and followed her into the kitchen.
My mom was at the table, and my feet slowed, almost stopping, but my heart raced. She had a coffee cup by her and some folded sheets of notebook paper. My stomach dropped. They were love letters I had written to Jess. My face burned and I floated to the table in a haze, the blood in my ears swishing loudly. I guarded my expression and sat down, and Jess sat next to me. Mrs. Ferrell took a seat by my mom, and they squared their shoulders towards us. My neck itched.
“Alexia, Jessica, is there anything you want to tell us?” Mrs. Ferrell took a sip from her mug.
Jess and I didn’t move or make a sound.
“What you’re doing isn’t okay, and you know that,” she said. Both of our parents looked over their cups at us. “If it were right, you wouldn’t have tried to hide it from us.”
I frowned and was briefly relieved that my mom hadn’t dug through my room. Jess hadn’t wanted to tell people we were dating, and so we hadn’t. I had wanted to tell the world, because I was happy, but Jess had been practical with her reservations, I could see that now. My mom had told me I was allowed to date when I was sixteen, and I thought that meant I was old enough to make these sorts of decisions myself, but she had read the letters. My arms trembled, and I took soft and shaky breaths.
“You girls can still be friends,” my mom said and gestured toward the letters. “But you are too young for this behavior.” My face flamed and I glanced down at my hands. “You won’t be able to have overnights anymore. And you will be supervised when you spend time together. The door will remain open.”
Each sentence impacted my chest and made it harder to breathe. There were only so many places we could go to be together: the barn, my parked car, and overnights. I held the thoughts of that bliss at a distance. Now we would be stuck with our fast hands in the women’s restroom. I wanted to cry and scream, but instead I hunched and appeared small, so maybe they would stop talking and leave me alone. I didn’t look at Jess.
Our mothers told us that they loved us, and Jess ran from the room crying. Her footsteps pounded up the stairs, and a door slammed. I imaged tears down her cheeks, and her red blotchy face. I started to rise, but my mom shook her head. My jaw felt lose in my skin, like even if I wanted to say something, I couldn’t. I hovered there between sitting and standing as Mrs. Ferrell walked upstairs, and then my mom told me that we were leaving. As we saw ourselves out, I noticed that Mr. Ferrell’s car wasn’t in the driveway.
We drove the few blocks in complete silence, and when we stopped I turned to leave the car. My mom made a noise and I looked over at her frowning and pinched face. “Alexia, are you a lesbian?” Her voice hissed.
I jerked. “No! No! I’m not that,” I said. “Really.” I tried to look her in the eyes and managed a quick glance, but her expression was watchful and reticent. We entered the house, and I shuffled downstairs to my room and attempted to cry. I fenced myself in on my bed with pillows, and hid my flaming cheeks.
. . .
The next day, Jess and I were walking home from school. We veered off the road and ran down an old irrigation ditch, and when we were out of sight of the road, we stopped and dropped our packs. Jess hugged me close.
We had to be home on time or we would be questioned, so we were fast. My body was still buzzing when we zipped up our blue jeans and wandered back to the road, high color on our cheeks, and laughing. She took the long driveway up to her house, giving me a small wave and a smile, and I grinned and watched her for a moment before continuing down the block.
I was almost at my driveway, when Matthew stepped out of a corner and stiffly walked toward me with his hands stuffed in his pockets. I stopped. On his cherubic face was an unusually adult and grim expression. With his brows furrowed, he stopped many lengths in front of me.
“Hey, Matt.” I shrugged my backpack on my shoulders.
Matthew’s jaw looked like he’d been chewing rocks. “I saw you.” He looked away. “I was with my friends.”
My face was hot. Matthew looked at me again, waiting for something, but I didn’t know what to say. He shook his head and stormed past me, and I watched him go inside. I stood there for a time before I followed, feeling as if I had failed him somehow. I half expected he would have told Mom, but he had already retreated to his room, and Mom asked me how my day was. He hadn’t told her, and that inexplicably made my shame worse.
. . .
At the end of the week, I joined Jess for her babysitting job in the neighborhood, but told my parents I had a different one. The kids were in bed downstairs, and Jess and I sat on the couch. She moved up to me and kissed my neck, and then my ear and nibbled it. Her breath fluttered my hair and I suppressed a shiver. I stared at the dark fire place.
“What’s wrong?” She pulled back.
“I don’t want to tonight.” I braced myself.
Jess raised an eyebrow. “But we won’t see each other again until next Saturday,” she said. “I have to go to the barn before you get out of class, and going there has become too risky anyway.”
I flew off of the couch and strode away with my hands in the air. “Damn it, I’m not a freaking light switch! I don’t turn on and off at your whim!”
“Shh!” Jess said. “Don’t yell at me. You’ll wake the kids.”
I slowed and listened for any doors opening, but I didn’t stop pacing behind the couch.
She held her knees to her chin, watching me with wide eyes. “Why are you being like this?”
“I don’t know.” My arms flopped uselessly to the side.
“You’ve been picking fights all week.”
I stirred up a little bit of that leftover anger. “I don’t like being on your freaking schedule.”
“But this is what we have.” She tried to soothe me with a smile.
I frowned. “My parents watch my every move, and Mathew spies on me. I have to have an eye and ear open all the time. Even here….” I came back around and sat on the couch, an arm’s length away from her, and pinched the bridge of my nose.
Jess scooted over and sat in my lap, and I dropped my hand from my face and held her so she didn’t fall off of my knees. “But it’s worth it.” She kissed me.
“I’m tired.” I kissed her back. A blanket fell over my thoughts and I… didn’t know what I had been angry about. She was right. She was always right. My breath came out faster.
“I think I know how to wake you up.” Her gaze was heavy into mine.
I let her.
. . .
On Monday, I gave Matthew and his friend, Ben, a ride to school, and Matthew insisted on sitting in the front. I didn’t want him to complain to Mom, so I allowed it, and Jess sat sullenly in the back.
My mom didn’t need another excuse to lecture me, because every chance she got she told me that Jessica was too bossy, and that there were women who were bossy at her work, and nobody liked them. Somewhere along her rant, I’d grumble and tell her that all women were bossy, but she never responded to what I said.
Matthew had his head toward the back and whispered to Ben. They chuckled, and Jess stared out the window with her arms crossed, refusing to look at me.
Ben leaned forward in his seat and spoke up, and Matthew lost his smile. “So, are you two lesbians, or what?” Matthew’s cheeks bloomed color as he turned around and pretended to look out the window.
I stilled and glanced at Jess through the rear-view mirror. Her face was pale. “We aren’t.”
“Yeah, right.” Ben laughed.
Matthew snorted like he was dislodging something vile from his nostrils.
“Shut up, Matt, or I’ll kick you out,” I said.
Matthew turned his head to me, face lit with retribution. “You can’t. Mom’ll kill you. You have to take me to school.”
A fire licked at my heart and tried to work its way out, but it couldn’t without getting me in trouble, so it smoldered in my breast. I told myself he was young and didn’t know what he was saying.
“Let me out,” Jess said. Her face was flushed now, her jaw was hard, and she still wouldn’t look at me. Her body was already turned toward the door and Matthew watched almost eagerly. I knew deep down what she wanted.
“But,” I said.
“Let me out,” she said again and jiggled the door handle, already pushing it open even though we hadn’t stopped.
I slowed the car down and pulled over. Through the mirror, I saw her and get out, and she slammed the door. I shut the engine down as she was crossing in front of the car to the sidewalk, and ripped my keys from the ignition, and burst out of the car. “Wait!”
Jess stopped and looked at me with a pained expression. She clenched the straps to her backpack tightly.
Matthew scrambled out of the car and yelled, “We’re going to be late!”
I shot him a hard look over my shoulder, and he turned away sharply, leaning against the car with his arms straight at his side. I turned back to Jess. “Come on, get back in. I’ll take you to school.”
Jess shook her head. “Are you just going to let them call me names?”
I stared at the cement. “There isn’t anything I can do.”
Her voice quavered. “Yes there is.”
“I’ll get in trouble,” I said softly, knowing my brother could hear anyway. My fists balled.
Jess made a noise and I looked up. She was walking away, and I knew I was losing her. This time I watched her go, a heavy knot tightening in my chest. She would make it to the bus in time.
“Can we go now?” Matthew said.
I whipped my head to him, my vision pulsing. My arms and legs quickly ate up the distance between us, and before I knew it I was pinning him to the side of the car. My entire body smashed against his and I held his arms to his side. Ben and Matthew started yelling at the same time.
Matthew hollered and thrashed, and I thought for sure he would be able to weasel his way out of my grip, but he couldn’t break loose. Blinding hate and rage boiled inside me and I brought my teeth down to his shoulder. The whites of his eyes were showing, and he looked frightened like an animal. He screamed louder and Ben shouted again, pounding on the window.
I sighed in disgust and released him. He took a swing at me, but it had little direction and it was easy to dodge. After he missed, he didn’t take another.
“Get in the back,” I said, pointing. I expected Matthew to grab his books and leave for the bus, but he didn’t. His eyes were red and watery and his chest heaved, but he opened the door and Ben scooted over. I stomped around the hood, and ducked into driver’s seat. “Come on,” I said, starting the car. “We’re going to be late.”
Matthew and Ben gave each other a look, and the door shut.
I drove wild and fast, but they didn’t say another word the rest of the way to school.
Brock, Beth. (2014). Girls and fences. Alchemy, volume 40, 40-45.