Author’s Note: As always, if you’re looking for a “quickie” story or something along the lines of “Dear Penthouse”, this isn’t the story for you. It is as realistic and believable as I could create it. Hence, it moves at a more realistic pace.
I was sitting on the couch waiting for my daughter, Rachel, to finish getting ready. We were going to a gay and lesbian festival in the park – a fundraiser and luncheon – at the request of Rachel’s new girlfriend Kate. So, as a show of support for my daughter, I said I’d come along.
Almost two years prior to this, when Rachel was a freshman in college, she came home one day from school and, over dinner, broke the news that she was a lesbian. Or so she said. The only reason I had my lingering doubts was because of the way she acted about it, as if it wasn’t a big deal. Granted, it shouldn’t be, but she seemed to be taking it in rather casual stride, considering it was a bit more than simply changing your hairstyle or college major. Only a few weeks before, she had been talking about seeing a young man in one of her classes, even going so far as to have lunch with him twice. But now she was a lesbian and, although I had my doubts, and even though we did talk about it to some length, I accepted her decision and left it at that. If it were a phase, she’d likely get over it at some point. Even she admitted it could be such, which only fueled my doubts.
Rachel had been dating Kate for a little over three months. She was a nice enough girl, but a bit rough around the edges. Aside from several tattoos, she also sported a number of piercings, which seemed to do more to attract attention to her, than act as an outward expression of her personality. And, although I never saw her doing so, I assumed she smoked, due to the residual smoke I could smell on her from time to time. But, over all, she was a decent, kind person. Rachel seemed to enjoy her company a great deal, and, as long as she was happy, that’s what mattered.
Whereas Kate was an Art History major, Rachel was studying Anthropology. My understanding is that they met in an art class. And, while Kate was adorned with numerous body modifications, Rachel had none. Well, that is, until her new girlfriend talked her into getting her tongue pierced.
At first, it was a little unsettling to see them holding hands. I think any parent would feel that way. You know someone all their life, and then one day something shifts dramatically about them, and it takes some getting use to. When I saw them kiss for the first time – not that I was gawking, mind you; I simply walked into the living room at the wrong time – I didn’t cringe because my daughter had her tongue in another girl’s mouth. I did so because it was so utterly foreign to me. And, to be frank, I did so because I was seeing a relatively intimate moment between my daughter and her girlfriend, something I’d normally assume to be inherently personal.
It wasn’t a bad thing. I wasn’t mad or upset. It was strange, because it was all so new to me. But now, after a few months to acclimatize myself to their relationship, it wasn’t so unnerving.
Rachel at last came tromping down the steps.
“Ready?” she huffed, throwing her arms into her jacket.
A short time later, after picking up Kate at her apartment, we arrived at the park.
Just like with so many other things in her life, Rachel typically threw herself into whatever it was currently holding her interest, be it classes, music, clothes, friends, and the like. Now that she was a lesbian, she and Kate joined the student Les-Bi-Gay-Trans organization on campus. I never really gave them a second thought, to be honest. To me, they were just regular people. Maybe a bit strange, though only, as I said, in light of the fact that it was all so new to me. After all, it’s not every day you see a large bearded man strolling down the street in a dress, let alone your own daughter holding hands with another young woman.
After I parked the car, the three of us walked to the park, about a block away and smack in the middle of town. There were four streets on four sides of the park, so there was no way you’d miss seeing the event, should you drive through town. There were balloons, booths offering different sorts of foods and beverages, as well as various types of books and literature. And, of course, it wouldn’t quite be a party without games, clowns, and assorted one-person acts in the form of jugglers, musicians, and magicians.
I suppose it’s fair to say, although I was glad to see everyone smiling and happy and out in the open about their sexuality, in the back of my mind, I did have to question whether this sort of thing had a bit too much of a carnival atmosphere to it, seeing as how kids going by might form a different impression, wondering what the hubbub was all about. After all, there was a slight sexual undertone, and sometimes more than simply slight. Some of the prizes at the game booths were condoms and the like, and one of the jugglers did toss about a few adult toys.
Suffice it to say, though, I was pleased to be there with my daughter, as a show of parental support, but I did feel a tad squeamish, too.
Our trio walked around the park, checking out one booth after the next, Rachel and Kate occasionally stopping to chat with a friend. At one point, as they engaged in a lively conversation with another young woman adorned in tattoos and body piercings, I kept myself occupied by thumbing through a book of poetry at a nearby booth.
“You interested in that?”
I looked up and saw a short, portly woman with a broad smile standing on the other side of the table from me. She had long, straight black hair and large glasses that made her eyes seem unusually large; large, but friendly.
I glanced at the book in my hand.
“Oh, uh… Yeah… I guess. It’s interesting.”
I hadn’t even had a chance to read anything in it.
She smiled again.
“I wrote that,” she said, gesturing to the small book in my hand.
“Oh, I see.”
She leaned down under the table and pulled out a small plastic bag, and then reached for the book.
“Here ya go,” she said, taking it from me and placing it in the bag.
I took a deep breath, saying it was ok, too embarrassed to tell her I didn’t actually want to purchase it. But she seemed to sense this and dropped the small book into the bag and handed it to me.
“Yours to keep,” she said with the same friendly grin.
With my face turning red, I chuckled.
“Oh, really… No, that’s ok. I can’t.”
“S’ok,” she replied. “I gotta whole box of ’em down here and haven’t sold one all morning. You’re nice, you’re pretty… what the heck,” she exclaimed happily. “You’re the only person who’s opened one up.”
My apprehensions faded, though I was slightly embarrassed by her remark about being pretty. I took the bag, albeit reluctantly, and thanked her. She only shrugged, still standing there and smiling, looking at me with those big eyes. I stood there fidgeting for a moment, and then mumbled that I should probably get going, but not before thanking her once more.
“Sure,” she said, giving me a small wave.
I stepped back over to Rachel and her friends, standing with my back to the table, trying to hide my embarrassment.
After a tortuously long wait, the conversation between Rachel and Kate and their friend ended, and we continued on our way.
A short time later, the three of us found a bench to sit on. While Rachel and Kate went to get us a bite to eat, I sat on the bench alone, watching them stroll off into the distance, walking from one food vender to the next. I sighed and smiled and crossed one leg over the other and waited.
I guess I’m a people-watcher by nature. As I sat there, I looked out at the milling crowd. Maybe a few hundred people were there. Men holding hands, women holding hands, and a sprinkling of couples of mixed gender, obviously heterosexual. It was actually quite pleasant to see everyone, regardless of what sort of person they were on the inside, laughing and chatting and enjoying a beautiful afternoon in the park. I turned my gaze toward where Rachel and Kate stood in a long line. Rachel had her arm draped over her girlfriend’s shoulder, while the later had her hand in the back pocket of Rachel’s shorts. I smiled and just then saw Kate’s hand come out and grip Rachel’s butt. She jumped, as if startled, and playfully poked Kate in the ribs. I chuckled and turned away and down at the plastic bag sitting along side me.
Just as I picked up the bag and pulled out the little book of poetry, a large man, bald and chubby, with a small dog on a leash, came and stopped in front of the bench.
“You mind if I sit and rest a moment?” he asked in, dare I say, a rather effeminate voice.
I smiled and said sure, but glanced down at the girls to see if they were heading back any time soon. They were still waiting in line, though making progress toward the front.
“God, thanks,” he huffed, as he plopped down next to me.
The little dog yipped up at his master, and the man, fanning himself with some sort of leaflet, sighed.
“No, no, sweetie. Daddy’s gotta rest a minute, ok?”
Then he turned to me, saying, “Lord, it’s brutal out today, don’t ya think?”
I closed the book, trying not to chuckle, and looked up at the sky. We were sitting in the shade, and I was wearing sunglasses and my straw garden hat.
“Yeah, a little,” I replied, giving him a smile.
He rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“Yeah,” he said. “Just a little.”
After a few minutes, he finally hefted his heavy body off the bench.
“Ok, stinker,” he said to the little dog. “Let’s keep moving.” Then he looked down at me.
“Thank you so much, dear,” he said with a big grin.
I smiled in reply and watched them slowly trot away.
No sooner had I gone back to my book, than yet someone else asked to sit on the bench. This time it was a woman’s voice. I placed my hand in the book and put on another smile and looked up. A woman, probably in her mid-thirties, stood before me. She was tall and slender and tan, with long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, and a blue cap atop her head. She was smiling down at me from behind her sunglasses, holding a Styrofoam cup in one hand and a plastic bag with what appeared to be books in the other.
I sighed and smiled, repeating my previous performance with the man and his little dog.
“Sure,” I said, placing my bag on the other side of me, so as to give her more room.
“Thanks,” she replied with a toothy smile.
As she sat down next to me, I turned back to my book. From the corner of my eye, I could see her do as myself, crossing one long tanned leg over the other. A runner, I thought. She had to be a runner or, at the very least, athletic. I could see the toned muscles of her legs bulge slightly, not to mention the running shoes. Then she set her bag down on the bench between us, and I quickly darted my eyes back to the book in my hands.
A minute or so later, I heard a slurping sound and looked up. The woman was holding the straw of her cup to her lips, and then pulled it away, giving it a dissatisfied expression. She must have sensed I was watching and turned to me.
“Empty,” she said, giving the cup a shake.
I smiled, and then she turned and dropped the cup into a trashcan behind the bench. Just as I went back to my book, she softly exclaimed, “Oh, I have that.” I looked up and smiled, raising my eyebrows.
She grinned and gestured to my book.
“I got that, too,” she said.
I looked down and held it up.
She grinned and chuckled and opened her plastic bag, pulling out the same book of poetry. Then she glanced over her shoulder, back in the direction of the stand from which we both found it, saying, “You got it from Darla, right?”
“Oh, um… Well, I guess. Don’t know her name.”
I looked over at the booth and saw the woman in question talking to someone in front of her table. They were laughing, and then she leaned down and pulled out a plastic bag from under the table, while at the same time reaching for the book in the other person’s hand.
“Uh, yeah. That’s who I got it from,” I replied. Then I turned back to the woman sitting next to me. She smiled, and, in an instant, something struck me as odd about it. But before I could put any more thought into her smile, she held out her hand.
“I’m Gayle,” she said.
I took her hand in mine, and she gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Jess,” I replied.
As she released me from her soft hand, I heard Rachel’s voice.
“Ok, hope you like what we got, because we’re not gonna go back and stand in line.”
I turned and looked up, as Rachel and Kate stopped in front of me.
“Oh, hey, Gayle,” said Kate.
Apparently, the two were acquainted.
Rachel glanced up from the brown paper bag full of food, splotched with round grease stains, upon hearing Kate, and said hello to Gayle, as well. Rachel then looked at me, and then to Gayle.
“Oh, uh, mom, this is Gayle. Gayle this is…”
But Gayle and I smiled, glancing at each other.
“We’ve met,” I said.
Gayle nodded and smiled at my daughter, and then to me.
Rachel blinked and stared at us for a moment, finally replying, “Oh, uh… Ok, then.”
Then came the awkward moment I’d almost forgotten about. Rachel and Kate stood before us silent, holding the bag of food, and then my daughter gestured to the bench.
“So, uh… how’s this gonna work?” she asked with a bit of a chuckle.
The four of us exchanged puzzled expressions, and then Gayle quickly gathered up her things.
“Oh, here,” she said hurriedly. “Sit. You guys sit. Sorry, didn’t mean to intrude.”
I looked up, as she stood, and smiled at her.
“No intrusion,” I replied with a friendly shrug.
Gayle paused for but a brief second and smiled. And then I noticed it again, something about that smile, something strange about it, almost mysterious.
Still grinning, I swallowed, trying to hide my embarrassment.
When she had everything in her hands, Gayle bid Rachel and Kate farewell, and then turned to me.
“Nice to meet you,” she said, wiggling her fingers, as she walked away.
For the remainder of the afternoon, we browsed and shopped, sampling various types of food and beverages, and finally sat in the grass near where the talent show would be taking place. And, as had been typical for most of the day, Rachel and Kate found another friend to go over and chat with.
As I sat on a blanket, I pulled out my book, and, no sooner had I opened it, than I heard a familiar voice. I turned and saw Gayle sitting not far away. She was talking to someone, another woman, and they seemed to be having a rather lively and friendly conversation. Smiling, I returned to my book, but found it difficult to concentrate, as every now and then, I’d hear Gayle laugh, a light, airy giggle. And every time she did, I found myself smiling in reply.
Most of the poetry in the book was only so-so. Not all that interesting or unique, to be honest. But it was something to do, while waiting for the show to begin. But soon I noticed something had changed. Over the din of laughter and voices all around me, I didn’t hear Gayle’s voice any longer. Curious, I turned to where she had been sitting, to see if she had left, but, no, there she was, sitting like myself, with her legs crossed and hunched forward reading her book.
She had taken her cap off, her hair still in a long brown ponytail. Gayle was slender, but not skinny; small in the bosom, but not without a figure. Her face was narrow, tipped off with a thin nose and high cheekbones, and her arms seemed long, but maybe that was because of the shirt she was wearing. It was white and sleeveless with a low-cut neck. As for her shorts, they were fairly routine: khaki with snapping pockets on the thighs. Below all of this, she wore small white tennis shoes and no socks.
In a word, Gayle was a handsome woman, with sharp features you’d expect to see of a model adorning the cover of a magazine. I could almost imagine that, if she were dressed more formally, she would strike quite a charming image. She did seem, as best I could tell by our very brief conversation, to be somewhat of a strong woman, strong in character that is; an independent spirit of sorts. She seemed to be the type of person who would sit in an office somewhere high up in a skyscraper making great financial decisions; a woman of business prowess, clever and deft and intelligent.
As I sat staring at her, I began to wonder who she was, what she did for a living, the things she liked and disliked. And then she stretched her long arms over her head, pushing her chest out, and smiled over at me, when our eyes met. I smiled back and she grinned more broadly in reply. That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that I had been staring at her, probably longer than was considered polite. Embarrassed, I quickly glanced down at the ground, trying to think of something to say.
“You, uh… by yourself?” I asked.
Gayle smiled and leaned closer, holding a hand to her ear.
I fidgeted and turned more toward her.
“You alone?” I called a bit louder.
She sat up straight and looked about with a forlorn expression, holding her hands out, her book clasped in her fingers. Then an exaggerated frown crossed her lips and she nodded very unhappily. I laughed, then Gayle laughed, and I asked if she’d like to come over and sit with me, gesturing to my blanket. Apparently confused by my offer and unable to hear me clearly, she, in turn, gestured to me, then to her, and then, bewildered, held up her hands. We both laughed, and I cupped my hands around my mouth, calling out loudly, “Would you like to sit with me?” A few conversations that had been taking place around me suddenly came to a halt, as all eyes turned in my direction.
“Sorry,” I mumbled with a blush to the couple sitting closest.
A moment later, Gayle was slowly striding over to me. As she sat down, she looked at the couple to which I had apologized.
“Sorry ’bout that,” she said with a big grin. “She’s a bit hard of hearing.”
They only smiled half-heartedly and nodded, and then resumed their conversation.
Gayle plopped down next to me, crossing her legs and smiled.
“Thanks,” she said.
I shrugged. I wanted to apologize for staring, but thought better than to bring it up. Maybe she hadn’t noticed.
She unscrewed the cap off a bottle of water and, while taking a gulp, gestured to the book in my hand.
“Oh,” I replied, holding it up slightly. “Yeah, still sorta… you know, pluggin’ away at it. Trying to, anyway.”
Gayle nodded and brought the bottle down and replaced the cap.
“Where’s Rach and Kate?” she asked, looking around the crowd.
I gazed about, as well, until I saw them sitting not far off.
“Over there,” I replied, pointing in their direction.
Gayle slowly nodded, playing with the bottle in her hands. Now came the moment of awkward silence.
“So,” I asked, planting my hands on my lap. “What is it you do? For a living, I mean.”
Gayle smiled and uncrossed her legs, pulling her knees up and wrapping her arms around them.
“Um, physical therapist,” she replied.
My hands twitched, as I quickly shot back, saying, “Oh, I shoulda guessed.”
“Why’s that?” she asked with a grin.
And there it was once more – that suspicious smile of hers. There was just something about it, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
I could feel my face turning red, as I tried to think of a way to word my reply. No matter what I said, it was going to be painfully obvious that I’d been staring at her, specifically her body.
“Well, you know,” I mumbled.
“No, I don’t,” she said, shaking her head and still wearing that smile.
I thought about it for a moment, and then decided to simply give in.