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DISCLAIMERS: While Xena, Gabrielle et al. are copyright MCA/Universal/Renaissance, you won’t find ‘em here, exactly....This is uber-Xena, and it’s outta control...as if you couldn’t figure that out by the title alone. Nonetheless, no copyright infringement intended, no profit gained.
LOVE?: Yes, girl-girl stuff. Nothing graphic.
DEATH?: No, I just stuck that in the title ‘cause it sounded good.
INJURIES?: No violence. No lime-green Jello molds, jars of mayonnaise, meatloaf, cans of Spam, or buckets of scrapple were harmed in the writing of this.
COMMENTS AND MASH NOTES: email@example.com
by Vivian Darkbloom
Gabrielle held the phone—the old beige one they stole from their mom—away from her ear in disbelief. The perky male voice on the line had asked for her, and when she said "Yup, I'm Gabrielle Hockenberry," the cheerful young man went on to explain that she was being asked to participate in the Jerry Springer Show, more specifically, the show tentatively entitled, "My Sister's Boyfriend Made Me Pregnant!" At which point she screamed, "No fuckin' way!" into the receiver and slammed it down.
She stomped through their apartment in search of Lila, who was on the recliner—the one that Uncle Pat gave him that had been sitting in his garage for two years—eating cold pizza and watching Geraldo. In fact, a half-eaten slice was balanced precariously on her swollen stomach.
Gabrielle snatched the remote out of her sister's limp, greasy grip and Geraldo's face, taut with concern, dwindled into darkness. "What'd ya do that for?" Lila bellowed, as if her sister had stabbed her.
"You know goddamn well, Lila! Some jerk from Jerry Springer just called me!"
Lila's wounded look metamorphosed into surprise and hope. "Yeah?"
"How could you, my own sister! I don't want our dirty laundry aired all over national TV!"
"But Gab," Lila whined, "it would be fun. They put you up in a hotel, you get to ride in a fuckin' limo—"
"Forget it, Lila! If you and Purdy want to embarrass yourselves, go right ahead! But I'm not gonna do it!"
"Come on, Gab—I promise you I'll go easy on you in the fight. After all, you're the wronged party, everyone'll be rooting for you."
The wronged party. Gabrielle clenched her teeth, remembering the night Lila and Purdy sat down with her and told her that they were "in love" and Lila was having his baby. After assaulting Purdy with an old copy of Cosmo, she promptly called up Effie, her best friend, and the two of them went down to the Saddle and got wasted. She had six Rolling Rocks, two pina coladas, and threw up in the bathroom.
Now Lila was five months pregnant. She'd grown accustomed to it all; in fact, when she got right down to it, she hardly missed Purdy at all. She actually saw the bastard even more so now than when they were dating—it seemed like he was over at the apartment constantly, fawning over Lila and the "demon spawn" (as Gabrielle secretly called it) inside her. Still, it all hurt. Being dumped, especially for your own sister, wasn't easy. Purdy had said mean things to her—she was cold, she was too wrapped up in her dreams of writing poetry and going back to school, they didn't have sex enough, blah blah blah....But she didn't blame Lila all that much—after all, Purdy was attractive, that's how he got the nickname, from the bullies in school who said he was "purdy as a flower." The name stuck, but as he grew even more handsome, it took on a favorable aspect.
Gabrielle put hands on hips and glared at her sister. "I could beat you with one hand tied behind my back, even if you weren't knocked up. I've been workin' out, ya know." With that, she stalked into her bedroom and slammed the door.
Once inside her sanctuary, Gabrielle flopped down on her bed and cried a little. To calm herself she clutched her stuffed sheep and stared at her old David Bowie poster. I need something in my life...I need love, I need to get outta here, I need to stop working in that freakin' factory...she chanted this over and over in her mind as the silvery gray of the diminishing day deepened into darkness. She'd had no idea how long she had been lying in bed when she heard the phone ring, and Lila's voice answering it. Then a shout: "GAB-RI-ELLE!!!"
She touched her face—her tears had dried, and she hoped that her eyes didn't look too puffy; she didn't want Lila to know she had been crying. She got up and went out into the living room. Lila stood, watching a rerun of Home Improvement, holding the phone. Her eyes didn't flicker from the screen as she thrust it at Gabrielle, who eyed it suspiciously. Lila did not break her gaze at the TV when she muttered, "It's Effie."
"Thank God it's not Jerry Springer." Gabrielle couldn't resist the jibe as she swiped the receiver from her sister.
"What's this about Jerry Springer?" Effie's voice crackled on the line.
"Nothin', Eff. What's up?"
"Hey, you gonna be there tonight?"
"Huh?" Gabrielle muttered. Then she remembered: Effie and her band, the Amazin' Amazons, were playing down at the Saddle Bar & Grill. "Oh, I guess Eff....although I'm not really in the mood."
"Don't worry. It'll be a short set. Pony hurt her arm at softball the other day, so she's not swingin' the drumsticks as good as usual. "
"Okay, I'll be there. What time you go on?"
"At ten. We'll be done by eleven." A pause. "You okay, honey?"
"Yeah...you know, just the usual bullshit," Gabrielle mumbled so that Lila would not hear. But Effie, of course, did hear her.
"Well, sounds like you need to get the hell out of there for a while. I wish you'd move in with us. We got plenty of room." Effie shared a big farmhouse with her son and her bandmates, Pony and Sally. They were frequently the talk of the town; everyone wondered what went on at "the Farmhouse." Rumors ran amok, of everything from crack houses and homosexual recruitment to orgies involving any number of species and genders. Gabrielle knew none of it was true.
"Come down early, we'll have a beer before the set," Effie said.
"Okay, Eff. I'll be there around nine. How's that?"
"Great! See ya then, honey. Bye." Gabrielle hung up the receiver and headed toward the bedroom. Idly she flipped through the blouses in her closet. Oh what the hell, she sighed, peeling off the old Guns and Roses t-shirt she was wearing, I'll wear what I always wear. She selected the green polo shirt (puke green, everyone said—nonetheless it was her favorite top) and went into the bathroom. She washed her face, dusted her armpits with a fresh layer of Dial deodorant, added a little dab of perfume, washed her face with Noxema, and donned her shirt. She was brushing her flame-colored hair when she noticed Lila leaning in the bathroom doorway. "Goin' out?" her sister asked, noncommittal.
"Yeah," Gabrielle replied with equal neutrality. "Effie's band is playin' down at the Saddle."
Lila scrunched her face with disapproval. "I still don't know about Effie, Gab."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "Lila, Effie is not a lezzie, okay? I mean, she had a kid!" Although Gabrielle knew that Effie was open to the possibility, as once declared under the influence of several bottles of Miller Lite and shots of Jagermeister.
"Well, she lives with Pony and Sally, and those two..."
"So goddamn what, Lila. So they're dykes. So what." Gabrielle slammed the brush down.
"Well, I mean, I really don't care...what they do is their own business, just as long as I don't have to see it." Lila tried in vain to sound as liberal as her sister.
"I guess I'll have to tell them not to come over and perform for you tonight, then," Gabrielle growled sarcastically, walking toward the door.
"You're just impossible sometimes," Lila shouted after her. "No wonder Purdy didn't want to be with you anymore!"
Gabrielle picked her car keys out of the candy dish on the kitchen table and slammed the door behind her.
She had been nursing a Miller Lite the entire time Effie and the band were on stage; the set actually ran a little longer than Effie had told her—it was after eleven, and they were finally winding down, singing a version of "Layla." They was an odd group, Gabrielle thought, regarding her friends on stage: Pony at the drums, Sally on bass, Effie with her guitar, singing. Pony liked strictly country music, Sally liked classic rock stuff, and Effie, like Gabrielle, went for mushy love songs, although she was unsuccessful in her campaign to get the group to cover Celine Dion. At last, they launched into the final song of the evening, "Angel of the Morning," much to Sally's consternation; the willowy bassist rolled her eyes as Pony gently yet firmly launched into the melodramatic beats and Effie began to sing. Gabrielle smiled as Effie's voice washed over the inattentive crowd.
Out of the corner of her eye Gabrielle saw an interesting trio enter the bar: A large, burly man with long, sandy brown hair and a short, muscular fellow with curly blond hair were accompanied by a tall, beautiful woman with flowing black hair. They ordered beers at the bar, and while the large man engaged his smaller friend in conversation, the tall woman leaned back against the bar and watched the band. Her jeans, t-shirt, and work boots were as dark as her hair. She stood arms folded, drinking a Heineken. Gabrielle found herself staring at the striking woman, until the woman finally returned her frank, inquisitive stare. With a shudder—of what, she didn't quite know—she turned away and once again focused her attention on Effie. But, half a minute later, when she let her eyes roam once again to the stranger at the bar, she found those sparkling intense eyes still on her.
Half-hearted applause rose as the song ended; Gabrielle, in a nervous burst of energy, led the cheers and clapping. As Effie wished the crowd a good-night and exhorted them to sign a mailing list, Gabrielle climbed on the stage to help the group put their equipment away.
"Hey roadie," Sally greeted her with a grin.
"Hi Sal. How's it going?"
"Pretty good, although dumb-ass over there didn't listen to me!" She threw a glare at Pony, who was slowly dismantling her drum kit. "I heard that," the burly drummer retorted. "I'm fine, Sally, stop bugging me!"
"You're hurt, Pony, you need to rest that arm!" Sally shouted at her lover.
"Knock it off!" Pony yelled back.
"Christ, you two," Gabrielle moaned. Effie came over and gave her a hug. "Well?" she demanded. She always asked Gabrielle's opinion of a performance, because she knew her friend was always honest, yet gentle.
"'Angel' was good, Eff. 'Layla' was a little sluggish though."
"Thought so. Pony was getting tired."
"Shut up!" Pony roared.
"I wish you'd lay off 'Achy Breaky Heart' though..."
"Well, we gotta keep you-know-who happy," Sally growled as she watched Pony stalk off the stage.
"Oh Jesus, Sally, don't let her get tanked!" Effie said to the bassist.
"Don't worry, Eff." Sally leaned into her friends conspiratorially. "Eff—did ya see who's here?"
Effie nodded slowly.
"Who?" Gabrielle asked.
"Zina," Effie nodded over at the bar.
"The woman? With black hair?" Gabrielle said breathlessly. "You know her?"
"Yeah," Effie drawled mysteriously. "We go back a ways."
"I've never seen her in here before," Gabrielle remarked.
"She lives in Chakram Creek. She's a fireman over there."
"Fireperson," Gabrielle corrected.
"Whatever. I'd heard she went straight after getting out of prison."
"No!" Sally cried, horrified.
"Not that kinda straight, Sally," Effie smirked. "I mean, she's not a con anymore. No more dope, no stealin'..."
"What was she in for?" Gabrielle interrupted nervously.
"Oh, she was in and out a lot. Minor stuff at first, like grand theft auto, dealin' weed, then breaking and entering, burglary...she did two and a half years altogether." Effie regarded the dark, dangerous woman who was quietly talking with her large friend. "Some say she even set fire to that old house in Cirra, but they never proved that."
"It's kinda funny she's a fireman then, isn't it?" Sally said. She and Effie cracked up.
"Wow," Gabrielle whispered. She permitted herself to take in the woman unabashedly. Sally and Effie exchanged a look.
"What're you so interested in, Miss Gabrielle?" Sally asked, smirking.
"Nothin'!" Gabrielle cried defensively. "It's just...she sounds real interesting. I'd like to meet her sometime."
Effie raised an eyebrow. "No time like the present, then!" She grabbed Gabrielle's arm and proceeded to drag her friend over to the bar.
"Effie!" Gabrielle squealed in protest. She hoped her hair looked okay.
The three friends at the bar turned their attention to the two women who approached them. "Zina!" Effie said effusively.
" 'lo, Eff," murmured Zina. She hoisted the Heineken to her lips and let her eyes roam over Gabrielle, who felt a strangle tingling sensation travel up her spine. They must have the air conditioning on too strong again, she thought, even though she was sweating a little. Zina, however, looked cool as a cucumber.
"Long time no see. How the hell are you?" Effie said.
"Heard you're living over in the Creek now."
"Workin' for the fire department, huh?"
Gabrielle let a dint of exasperation cloud her face. She's about as interesting as that bottle of Heineken, thought the budding poet.
"So what's up, Eff?"
"I wanted to introduce you to my best friend, Gabrielle."
"Hiya." Zina enfolded Gabrielle's smaller hand with her large, warm one. She nodded toward the large man on her left. "This here's Hank." Then a nod to the shorter fellow on her right. "An' this is Ed."
Hank's smile was warm; he too shook Gabrielle’s hand. Ed wore a John Deere cap, from which his mass of curly gold hair tried to escape. His eyes twinkled mischievously. Gabrielle liked him immediately. "Hi!" he said enthusiastically. "Wanna dance?" he asked.
She looked at the dance floor near the jukebox. No one was on the floor except Margie Peckerwood, who was, as usual, drunk and dancing with herself. "Uh, maybe later," Gabrielle said, with an apologetic smile.
"Well, maybe you’d like to go outside an’ look at my new truck..." Ed leered.
Gabrielle looked surprised. Hank shook his head sadly. "Some other time," she suggested. Now she wasn’t sure if she liked him as much.
"Smooth move, Ex-Lax," Hank drawled, playfully swatting Ed’s head and causing his hat to fall to the floor.
"Watch the hat, goddammit!" Ed cried.
"Come on, let’s go play pool. Table’s free." Hank turned to Zina. "You comin’, Z?"
"Not right now," replied Zina with another pull on the Heineken.
As the men sauntered away, Effie announced, "Well, I need to go help Sal load up the van. I’ll see ya later, honey," she gave Gabrielle a quick hug.
"Effie! Don’t leave me with her!" Gabrielle hissed in her friend’s ear.
"Too late!" Effie whispered back, gleefully. She smiled and waved goodbye at Zina, who nodded.
Gabrielle turned to the laconic firefighter. It was then noticed the intense blue of the woman’s eyes. "So, uh, how’d you get such an unusual name?" she asked.
"Mom was a hippie," Zina replied.
"Huh? I don’t get it."
Zina sighed; she hated making the effort to formulate a longer sentence. "Well, uh, you know how tree-huggers are. They’re a little funny, always gotta do things differently. Mom did say it was an old family name, but I don’t know...I mean, she named our dog Moonchild, for Christ’s sake."
Gabrielle giggled. Then stopped, hoping that Zina would not take offense. But a lop-sided grin lit up the tall woman’s handsome face. And Gabrielle felt herself return the smile. Maybe Zina wasn’t as bad as she thought—she did appear to have a sense of humor. "Is, uh, Hank your boyfriend?"
Zina chuckled. "Nope. He was, a long time ago, but not no more. He is my best bud, though. He helped me get on the fire department."
Eventually Zina went over to play pool with Hank. Gabrielle watched and talked with Ed a little, who kept telling her silly jokes.
"Hey, how come little girls don’t fart?"
"I dunno. Why?"
"’Cause they don’t get an asshole until they get married!"
She laughed so hard she spilled her beer. "That’s pretty funny—hey, it’s cool that you told that joke, since you’re a guy and all."
"I’m an equal opportunity bullshitter," Ed replied, swigging a Rolling Rock.
When Gabrielle left the Saddle it was a little after midnight. She climbed into her Ford Escort, inserted the key into the ignition, and heard the car give its old familiar sputter. But this time it would not turn over. She tried for fifteen minutes. Finally she got out of the car, and kicked a tire rather furiously. "Piece of shit!" she yelled at it.
"Not startin’?" said a smooth, sexy voice near her ear.
"Aaaaagh!!!" Gabrielle screamed. She jumped around and saw Zina grinning down at her.
"Sorry, didn’t mean to scare ya."
"S’okay," Gabrielle panted. "Uh no, my goddamn car isn’t starting." She kicked the Ford again.
"An Escort," Zina stated flatly. She tch’ed.
"I know, I know, everybody says it’s a piece of crap." She looked at Zina hopefully. "Know anything about cars?"
The firefighter nodded. "Open the hood," she said. Gabrielle reached in and did so. The tall woman ducked her head under the hood. "Battery looks bad," Zina said. "Might be dead."
"Shit!" Gabrielle cried.
Zina slammed the hood down. "Lock it up, call a tow service tomorrow," she suggested. "I’ll give you a ride home on my bike."
"Bike?" bleated the small woman fearfully.
"Yeah." She followed Zina over to a big sleek motorcycle. A Harley.
"Wow," Gabrielle said, awestruck. Zina handed her a helmet. "What about you? Don’t you have a helmet?" she asked, strapping the dark thing on her head.
Zina smiled at her and tapped the helmet. "You’re wearin’ it, kid. Hop on. Where d’ya live?"
"Potadeia Road. The yellow house just past the church."
"I’m a little scared—I’ve never ridden on a cycle before."
"It’ll be okay, Gabrielle," Zina replied soothingly. Her simple words, spoken in that rich, clear voice, put Gabrielle at ease. For some inexplicable reason she trusted this woman. "Just hang on to me tight, okay?"
"Okay." Gabrielle climbed on the bike behind the tall woman and gently wrapped her arms around the t-shirt-clad torso. Her grasp tightened as the Harley exploded into sound and motion. The taut, rippling muscles of Zina’s stomach were a pleasant distraction to Gabrielle as they flowed across the parking lot and onto the road.
Zina was a careful driver, Gabrielle noticed—she was confident, yet she did not drive the bike too fast—probably ‘cause she doesn’t want to scare me, thought the young woman. It pleased her that her new friend was so considerate. She sighed happily as they moved through the night. The wind was cool, and Zina’s dark hair whipped behind her, the strands tickling and touching Gabrielle’s face.
The next morning at work, Gabrielle sought out Effie during their 10:15 coffee break.
"So you had car trouble?" Effie said. They didn’t have time to talk before punching in earlier; Gabrielle only had a moment to mention that her car was dead.
"My car broke down outside the Saddle last night. I had to get a ride to work with Purdy," she scowled. Purdy had stayed over last night, and this morning, upon hearing of her dilemma, offered to drive her to work, the big suck-up. Reluctantly she had accepted, since she knew it would be out of Eff’s way to come and give her a ride.
Effie smirked. "Hmmm...you gonna get Purdy to fix it, too?"
Gabrielle sighed in defeat. "Yeah, he’s gonna get Bob to tow it over to the garage this afternoon, and he said he’ll get Bob to give me a discount." Purdy worked at Bob’s garage. I might as well take advantage of the bastard’s guilt, Gabrielle had thought.
"How’d you get home last night?" Effie took a drag off her Marlboro Light.
"Zina gave me a ride." Gabrielle struggled to sound casual, and fought the happy grin that tugged at her mouth at the mere mention of Zina’s name.
"Oooooh," Effie giggled. "You two got kinda chummy there..."
"Eff, stop. It’s not what you think."
"Yeah, right. Pony and Sally think you have it in you."
"No!" cried Gabrielle. A blush traveled across her face.
"Yes. Speakin’ of which, we’re having a birthday party for Pony this weekend, remember? Saturday night."
"Oh yeah...damn, what am I gonna get her?" Gabrielle was relieved at the change of subject.
"Hey, if you just bring her a six-pack she’ll be happier than a pig in swill."
When she woke up on Saturday morning, Lila was gone—she was probably off somewhere with Purdy. Gabrielle poured herself a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and sat down to a leisurely breakfast in front of the TV. As she waited for the Cocoa Puffs to get mushy, she noticed a videotape sitting atop the coffee table. It was label-less. Ever curious, she popped the tape into the VCR; the old machine heaved and clicked and whirred, and a picture came into view. It was the Jerry Springer Show. Gabrielle always thought that Jerry—with his messy blond hair and tiny eyes hiding behind those glasses—looked like a Muppet. The title of the show floated by: "Why Did You Knock Up That Slut?" Impatiently Gabrielle started in on the Cocoa Puffs—they still weren’t mushy enough, but she was hungry.
Thus spake Jerry: "On today’s show, we have people who disapprove of their family’s behavior..." The camera swung onto a young man, who looked vaguely familiar: he was thin and scrungy, with hollowed-out eyes, stringy hair, and patchy facial hair. "This is Gary, who is unhappy with his brother’s choice of a girlfriend."
Gabrielle spat out a mouthful of cereal. It was Gary. Purdy’s brother.
"Yeah, Jerry, my brother’s girlfriend is a total skank." She was outraged. That fucker, she thought. How dare he call my sister skank!
"Why do you say that, Gary?"
Gary rolled his druggy eyes. "’Cause she is!"
"Well, er, how about we meet your brother, Peter"—Purdy’s real name—"and his girlfriend, Lila."
Purdy swaggered out onto the set, resplendent in his best flannel shirt. Lila trailed behind him, looking grossly pregnant. Gabrielle felt like putting her foot through the TV, although she was comforted by the fact that Lila looked so huge in the tent-like maternity dress which said "BABY ON BOARD!"
"So, Peter, what do you say about your brother’s claims?"
"Man, he’s so *bleep* up on crack, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about!" Purdy drawled.
"Bull *bleep* !" said Gary. "You got no taste in wimmin whatsoever. Your last girlfriend was a stone cold bitch, and this one’s a slut!"
Purdy hurled himself toward his brother and the set erupted in chaos. Shakily, Gabrielle turned off the TV. She stared into her cereal bowl. He called me a bitch...and they didn’t even defend me. Not Purdy. Not Lila. No one. And they left the tape out in plain sight. Like they wanted me to see it. Why? Why doesn’t anyone ever take my side? She tried to fight it, but tears came to her eyes and she slumped into the recliner, surrendering to the sadness.
Pony eagerly peeled away the wrapping paper. "Bubble bath?" she said, puzzled. "Uh, thanks, Gabrielle." She sat it alongside her other gifts: a whoopie cushion and fake blood (from Hank and Ed), a bottle of Jack Daniel’s (from Effie) and a new softball glove (her most treasured gift, from Sally).
Gabrielle shrugged. Everyone at the party could not help but notice her downcast mood; she felt lousy about it, but couldn’t help herself. Ed tried to cheer her up with some bad jokes, but even that didn’t work for long. So she sat morosely on the couch beside Effie, who every now and then would give her friend a concerned glance.
"I think it’s nice," Effie said. She gave Gabrielle’s leg a squeeze.
"Let’s have cake!" Sally announced. She and Effie moved into the kitchen. Hank, who appeared to have a crush on Effie, followed. Ed took the opportunity to go to the bathroom, and Pony got up to put on a new tape.
"No more Randy Travis, Pony!" Sally shouted from the kitchen.
"Hey, it’s my goddamn birthday!" Pony yelled back. The doorbell rang. "Gab, would you get that?" Pony called.
Mechanically Gabrielle got up and skulked to the door. She opened it. Zina, dressed in a Metallica t-shirt and Levi’s, mirrored sunglasses masking her brilliant eyes, grinned at her. "Am I too late?"
Gabrielle stood speechless. A sense of relief, of warmth, washed over her, and she didn’t know why. Why was she so damned happy to see this woman? "Oh...no," she said quietly. "You’re...right on time." She did not move, but continued to stand in the doorway and stare at the woman before her.
Zina pulled off the sunglasses. Her deep blue eyes showed concern. "Hey, you okay?" she asked gently.
"Uh, yeah. I am now." Gabrielle broke into a grin.
"Can I...come in?"
"Huh? Oh...duh!" Gabrielle stepped aside. "You’re just in time for cake."
"Cool. Where’s the birthday girl?"
"Hogging the stereo," Gabrielle replied.
As Zina moved gracefully into the house, Gabrielle trailed behind her, like a puppy.
It was not lost on Effie that Gabrielle’s mood improved after Zina’s arrival—although she was concerned with how much her little friend was drinking. Her fears were realized when she saw Gabrielle lurch into the bathroom, and heard the tell-tale retching sounds.
Effie surveyed the little party. Ed was passed out. Sally and Pony had "retired" for the evening (thank God for thick walls, she thought)...she wanted to be alone with Hank, who was, remarkably, still sober. She knew that Zina would take off if Gabrielle left, and she hoped the vomiting was the beginning of the end of the party.
She hovered outside the bathroom door with Zina. She knocked lightly. "Gab, honey, you okay?" she called.
"Uh...yeah," Gabrielle moaned.
"Can we come in?"
"What...all of ya?"
"No, just me and Zina."
There was a lengthy pause.
"How about I just send in Zina, okay?" Effie suggested. Zina shot her a panicky look. Sometimes I’m just too smart for ‘em all, Effie thought proudly.
Another pause. "Okay."
Effie turned to Zina. "You’re on your own, Buster Brown." Before the befuddled firefighter could reply, Effie was back on the couch with Hank.
Slowly, Zina opened the bathroom door, expecting the worst. She was much relieved to see that Gabrielle had indeed hit her target, the toilet bowl. The small woman sat on the floor in front of it.
"How ya feelin’?" she asked Gabrielle.
"Better. I’m sorry...I guess I just...had a lousy day."
"Yeah?" Zina asked. "What happened?"
Gabrielle proceeded to tell her about the whole thing: Lila, Purdy, Jerry Springer.
"That sucks," Zina said.
"Thanks. I just felt like shit. Like no one likes me."
"That’s not true, Gabrielle. I...like you." Zina mumbled, nervously rubbing the back of her neck.
"Really?" Zina nodded. "Yeah, well..." Gabrielle giggled.
"You don’t want to...you know."
"I mean, you don’t like me that way...you wouldn’t want to kiss me or..." Her green eyes met Zina’s. Or would you?
"Uh, no I wouldn’t..."
Gabrielle felt as if she would throw up her heart.
"...’cause your breath would smell like puke." Zina smiled. "But if you brushed your teeth..." she added, hoping it sounded enough like a joke so she wouldn’t alarm the girl.
"Get me my purse!" The redhead barked imperiously.
Zina opened the door and yelled to Effie: "Effie! Bring Gabrielle’s purse!" The firefighter saw Effie look up from her position on the couch: stretched out, with her feet in Hank’s lap. The big man was gently massaging her dainty feet. "Oh Christ," Effie moaned. Reluctantly she rose, and did as she was told. Zina smiled gratefully as Effie handed her the huge shoulder bag. "Jesus, what you got in here?" she said, closing the door and giving the purse to Gabrielle.
Gabrielle ignored her and began to ransack the bag with admirable focus. Several objects flew out onto the floor: Tic Tacs, tampons, pens, a tattered-looking notebook, a library card, sunglasses, and birth control pills. Gabrielle stopped for a second and stared at the pills. Then she tossed them into the trash. Then she stuck her arm inside the bag again. "Ah!" Gabrielle cried in triumph, holding aloft a toothbrush. She grinned devilishly at Zina, whose blue eyes went wide in shock.
"Whatsamatter, Zina? You all talk and no action?" She stood up and rinsed the brush, then squeezed some Crest out of the tube.
Gabrielle glared. "You don’t want to kiss me?" She stuck the brush in her mouth, scrubbing her teeth in a furious lather.
"Let me tell you somethin’, Dorito-breath, you’re getting the better end of this deal!" she said through a mouth of foam. She rinsed, and flashed her teeth at Zina. Then, for good measure, she took a swig of Effie’s Listerine and gargled.
"Gabrielle, are you sure..."
Gabrielle spat out the blue fluid. "Look, Zina, do you like me or not?" she cried petulantly.
The tall woman, leaning against the tub, smiled her mysterious smile—which turned Gabrielle’s insides out. She reached out and snared Gabrielle by the waist. The short woman was pressed against the muscular firefighter; her hands went flat against the strong shoulders and then glided instinctively around Zina’s neck. "Judge for yourself," Zina said, and lowered on her lips softly onto Gabrielle’s.
They were locked in a kiss when a voice shouted outside the bathroom door: "Comin’ through!" The door burst open and Ed hurled by, crouched over the toilet, and proceeded to throw up. The two women were oblivious to this burst of unpleasant activity. Effie and Hank, who had followed Ed, stood outside the door and stared at the sight of Gabrielle and Zina all over each other.
"Holy hell, Z," Hank muttered in shock.
"Woo-HOO!" Effie chortled.
The noise had roused the birthday girl from a sound, sex-induced slumber. Effie and Hank stood aside, affording Pony a view of the busy bathroom. "This was a pretty fuckin’ awesome party," she observed thoughtfully.
Two weeks passed.
"You’ve been goin’ out an awful lot," Lila commented to her sister one evening, as she watched Gabrielle apply strawberry-kiwi-banana lip gloss in the bathroom.
"Well, I don’t want to be in your way, Lila."
"Bullshit." Lila paused. "It’s not like you were in my way before, Gabrielle." Another pause.
I swear she’s jealous, Gabrielle thought, and let a smug smile cross her face.
"Are you seein’ someone?"
"What if I was?" she retorted in a sing-song voice.
"Who is it?" Lila asked eagerly. She loved gossip, and she was hopeful that Gabrielle would finally get involved with someone, so she could stop feeling guilty.
"You don’t know...this person."
"Well, what does he do?"
"Firefighter," Gabrielle supplied.
"Ooooh," Lila cooed in approval. She conjured up a vision of a tall, dark handsome fireman. Aside from gender, she was not far off the mark at all. "That’s great, Gab. I can’t wait to meet him. Why don’t you invite him over for dinner or somethin’?"
"Uh, maybe sometime soon." She glanced at her Tasmanian Devil watch. "I gotta go. Say, are you and Purdy going to the fair on Friday night?"
"Yeah. You...wanna come?"
"Actually, I was gonna invite Effie and the gang over to watch videos. Their VCR is busted," Gabrielle lied. Her real plan was to invite Zina over for dinner.
"That’s cool. We’ll probably stay over at Purdy’s place that night...so you guys can party all night long."
Perfect, thought Gabrielle with a grin.
There was something about firefighting gear, Zina thought pleasantly: the metal hat and visor, the glossy black and yellow coat, the boots...young children looked at her with awe, adults with admiration and respect, and Gabrielle leaped on her like a tick on a dog as soon as she came home. She sat happily on the couch in her mobile home (she hated to call it a trailer), allowing her lithe companion to crawl all over her like a jungle gym, smother her with kisses, caress her body, nibble her ear and moan throatily: "Ooooh firefighter, save my child...."
The world was perfect, until she heard the screen door slam. "Honey!!!" A shrill voice called. "I got your echinacea tea!"
"Oh shit," Zina moaned.
Gabrielle stopped her assault and turned around. A pleasant middle-aged woman, with a paisley scarf around her head, wearing a flowered skirt and lots of dangling jewelry, stood grinning at them. "Hey honey, who’s your sauce?" she addressed Zina.
Zina sighed. "Gabrielle...this is my mother. Mom, this is Gabrielle."
"Hi, Gabrielle!" Zina’s mother said brightly. "It’s nice to meet you...sorry to interrupt." She winked.
"Hi, Mrs. Zina," Gabrielle blurted, blushing furiously.
The woman laughed heartily. "Honey, you just call me Cyrene. I was never ‘Mrs.’ Anybody." She sashayed past them into the kitchen, carrying a small bag. "So I got you the tea, and some tempeh, a different brand though, I hope you like it..." She opened the refrigerator. "OH MY GOD!" she shrieked.
Gabrielle jumped off Zina’s lap. "What? What’s wrong?"
"There’s something from BURGER KING in here!"
"Mom, chill out, they’re just fries..." Zina mumbled.
"So you say!" Cyrene retorted. "You could’ve had a burger for all I know...and it’s not like fries are any better for you."
Gabrielle looked at Zina in confusion. Just last night she witnessed Zina wolf down a burger from Roy’s. Zina shook her head at Gabrielle and pressed a finger to her lips. Gabrielle nodded in complicity.
"Looks like I got here just in time," Cyrene sighed. "Go get the rest of the groceries out of my car, honey." Grumbling, Zina got up, shed her coat, and lumbered out to the car.
"Now tell me the truth...she’s been eating meat, hasn’t she?" Cyrene asked Gabrielle.
Gabrielle paused. She hated to lie, and she didn’t want to get off on the wrong foot with Zina’s mom. "Yes," she admitted.
"Oh, hell," Cyrene said. "I might as well give up. I’m never going to make her a vegetarian." She shook her head, causing a chain reaction of clinking from her earrings down to her bracelets. "So tell me about yourself, Gabrielle. What do you do?"
"Well, I work at the cannery right now, but I’m hoping to take some night classes at Olympus Community College this fall..."
"Groovy! What kinda classes?"
"Uh, well, I wanna be a writer," she said shyly.
"Wow! That’s so cool! Did Zina tell you that I knew Bob Dylan?"
"No, really?" Gabrielle breathed with awe.
"Yeah, I dated him...right around the time I was dating Zina’s dad...I always wondered if Bobby was Zina’s real father..." she twirled a necklace and contemplated her monosyllabic child. "Nah!" She laughed. "Anyway, I think Dylan is a true poet. He is this century’s Shakespeare, man."
Gabrielle nodded vigorously, even though she had to admit to herself she never understood a goddamn thing that Dylan sang.
"Hey!" Cyrene pulled a joint out of her skirt pocket. "Care to partake?"
The budding poet opened her mouth to eagerly consent, only to hear Zina shout from the doorway, "Goddammit, Mom, put that away!!! D’ya want me to get arrested again?"
"I don’t see any cops, honey," Cyrene grumbled. Nonetheless she put away the joint for later. "Man, busted by my own kid!"
"I’m glad you eat meat, ‘cause I made a meatloaf," Gabrielle said proudly.
It was Friday night. Wearing her best Levi’s, Zina had showed up at the apartment...with flowers, no less. Damn, she’s smooth! thought Gabrielle, sniffing the roses. Purdy never bought me flowers!
"Uh, nice place," Zina awkwardly, sitting on the plaid couch. Then she added: "I do like meatloaf. In fact, I haven’t had a home-made one in a real long time." Like try never, you moron, Zina thought, recalling the endless parade of beans and rice and tofu and tempeh in her childhood.
"Good," responded Gabrielle, who bustled in the kitchen. "You like potatoes?"
"Hey Zina, just what were you in jail for?"
Gabrielle poked her head out of the kitchen. "Sorry, I’m just curious...Effie told me you were in prison for two and a half years."
Zina sighed. "Yeah...I had all sorts of priors, and, um, when they caught me breaking and entering, I had a gram of coke on me, and uh, the getaway car was stolen..." Well, so much for romance, the tall firefighter thought.
"Wow," Gabrielle said.
"It’s not somethin’ to be impressed with, Gabrielle."
"Scared, then?" The firefighter’s blue eyes issued a dangerous challenge.
Gabrielle met it. "No...hell no, I’m not scared. Why should I be?"
Zina said nothing. Gabrielle crossed the room and sat beside her and linked her arm with Zina’s. "Hey, that’s all in the past. I know that. You’re a different person now...you got a good job, you’re doing right." Gabrielle paused. "You’re trying to make up for what you did, right?"
"I...I’m tryin’, but it’s hard." Zina sighed again, and stared down at the orange shag rug. "You don’t know the worst of what I did." A gentle hand touched her chin and guided her gaze back to Gabrielle’s face.
"Tell me, Zina," she requested softly.
"I guess Eff told you...about the house. In Cirra." Zina’s voice was tight.
"It’s true, then?"
Zina nodded. "No one got hurt, but the whole family...they were homeless. They lost everything. They had no insurance neither." She breathed deeply, for the courage to tell Gabrielle the rest of it. "It was my girlfriend’s house, Gabrielle. She lived there with her parents and sister. One day we had fought somethin’ awful, she said she never wanted to see me again, and I just went nuts. Later that night me and a buddy of mine, Artie...we went by the place...I just meant to like, throw eggs or something, but he lit a newspaper on the porch...an’ it just spread..." Another deep breath. "Callie knew, of course. She knew it was me. I even admitted it to her. But the cops could never prove anything, and since she’s always been mad as a hatter anyway, they just never really believed her." She closed her eyes. She thought Gabrielle would jump up, demand that she leave...call the cops, the state troopers....
Instead, she felt the warm sensation of arms wrapping around her, squeezing tightly. And, for the first time in years, since she was a kid, she let herself cry.
After the fair, Lila and Purdy had gone to his place, but much to their dismay they found Gary crashing there—his cash had run out, and he had no place to go. Feelings were still a little raw from the Springer show—not to mention Purdy was understandably scared of his psycho brother—so Lila and Purdy opted to go to Lila’s.
Purdy woke up Saturday morning around 6:30—he had to be in at the garage by 7, so he had just enough time to wash up and grab breakfast from Dunkin’ Donuts. Lila, of course, was out like a light as he climbed out of bed and wandered down the still-dark hallway. To his dismay he noticed that the bathroom was occupied—what the hell was Gabrielle doing up at this hour? He knew that the woman never voluntarily rose before 10am on a weekend. Well, he thought, I’ve seen her on the can before—and he opened the door to find a tall, strange nude woman with damp hair, glaring at him with irritation. "You might try knockin’ next time," she growled. In a panic he slammed the door shut and stood there in the hallway, puzzled as all hell. "Hey!" he shouted through the door. "Who’re you?"
"Shoosh!" hissed Gabrielle, who was suddenly standing behind him. He yelped loudly in surprise. Gabrielle wore a long black t-shirt which hung down to her knees. It’s not like her to dress in black, he thought. "Gabrielle, what the fuck is going on? I hafta get ready for work!" he yelled.
"Quiet! You’ll wake up Lila," she whispered.
"Who is that in the bathroom?" he asked, lowering his voice.
"Her name’s Zina. She’s a...friend."
"We didn’t see anyone on the couch when we came in last night."
"She was sleeping in my room, Purdy."
He frowned, confused. "Where?"
"In my bed, you idiot."
"Where did you sleep?"
She glared at him.
The faint dawn of understanding crossed his dopey features. "Oh...man. Jesus!" He spun on his heel and ran back into Lila’s bedroom.
"You’ve gone queer on me!" Lila wailed.
"Oh for Christ’s sake, Lila..." Gabrielle groaned.
"I knew I shouldn’t have taken Purdy away from you," she blubbered.
"What are you talking about?"
"You’re too sensitive Gab, you always were. Obviously, the shock of it—losing Purdy to me—was too much, and it made you gay."
"Lila, you can’t make people gay. The therapist on Jenny Jones last week said so."
"That’s just crap!" Lila cried. "What’re you gonna tell Ma and Pa?"
Gabrielle shrugged. "The truth, I guess. That I’m happy. That I’m in love. That I’m going back to school and I’m gonna make something out of my life."
Gabrielle recalled how, when she was little, her parents always told her that the lowest of the low lived in trailer parks. And, she had to admit, trailers in general were pretty ugly...although Zina’s was nicely kept and simple. She smiled. I don’t care if we have to live in a tent, as long as we’re together, it doesn’t matter.
They had decided to move in together. Zina had said, with her salary, she could support them both while Gabrielle went to school full time. At first Gabrielle had resisted—she didn’t want to be a charity case—but later reconsidered. She knew she would get a better job with a college degree, or so she hoped. And she could do the same for Zina someday, like if she wanted to retire early...in the meantime she was happy to return to school, cook, clean, and wash Zina’s seemingly endless supply of black t-shirts.
Things got better and better. One day, not long after they had moved in together, Effie showed up after work, in a state of excitement that Gabrielle had never seen her in. "Guess what!" she shrieked.
"What??" Gabrielle squealed in return; the emotion intensified the shrillness factor.
"We got a record deal!!" screamed Effie.
"Oh my GOD you’re kiddin’!!!" They clasped arms and jumped wildly about the trailer so much that Gabrielle was half-afraid the thing would fall off its foundation.
"It’s true, Gab! It’s all ‘cause of Hank, too!" Effie said proudly. "He made a tape of us one night when we were performing at the Saddle, and he sent it to this record company in Memphis!! The dude who owns it—Colonel Tom Artemis, I think his name was—says he wants us to come down and make a record!"
They collapsed on the couch together. "Wow, Eff, that is so cool! I’m so happy! I’ll be your number one fan, always."
Effie turned serious. "Look, honey, I got a favor to ask..."
"Anything, girl. You know that."
"I want you an’ Zina to stay at the farmhouse while we’re gone."
Gabrielle’s jaw dropped.
"Look, you know that house has been in my family for a long time. Well, we’re not gonna be there, at least maybe for a long time...we really want this thing in Memphis to work...and I want someone there, to watch over the place, to take care of it. And I can’t think of anyone better than you two, ‘cause you really are family to me."
Together they cried so much that they went through an entire box of Puffs.
They stood outside the trailer. Or rather, Gabrielle stood and Zina paced. "I hope this idea of yours works," the firefighter muttered.
Gabrielle smiled confidently. She had a feeling it would.
A red Camaro swung in the trailer park from the highway. As it careened down the road, the driver’s wild blond hair became visible and the car seemed to gain speed as it approached them. Gabrielle panicked for a moment and thought the driver might kill them. But Zina seemed undisturbed, so she figured it must be okay.
The wild Camaro abruptly stopped a mere three feet in front of the stoic Zina. It had happened so fast Gabrielle didn’t even have time to be afraid. But Zina’s face betrayed nothing as the driver exited gracefully from the car.
She was tall, although not as tall as Zina, thin, wearing a yellow halter top and the shortest pair of cutoffs that Gabrielle had ever seen. "Hello, Zina," she sneered sarcastically.
"Callie," Zina returned the greeting in a hostile, bored tone.
Callie turned her attentions to Gabrielle. "What is this, Little House on the Prairie?"
"Callie..." Zina growled.
"What is it you wanted to see me about, Zina? Or did you want to try to set me on fire this time?"
"I want to give you something, Callie. I know I can never repay you..."
"I’ll say, you firemen don’t make that much...I thought it was pretty funny, Zina, when I heard you became one...I thought, boy, they must be pretty desperate."
"I wanna give you my home, Callie." Zina jerked her thumb toward the trailer. "As payment. For you to do with whatever you want. You can live here. Your parents can live here. Hell, you can set the thing on fire if you want." Zine held up a thick envelope. "I signed it all over to you."
Callie stared at her in disbelief. Then she stared at the trailer and, walking around it, made a slow circular inspection. Then she opened the door of the trailer, and peeked inside at its immaculate emptiness. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she looked at Zina, her sneer firmly back in place.
"So you think," Callie began in a low, menacing voice, "that if you give me this piece of crap, that it’ll make up for everything you’ve done to me, that it’ll equal the loss of my HOME?" she screamed out the last word, which echoed over the park.
Gabrielle winced. Man, she’s even shriller than Eff & I put together.
Zina raised a sculpted dark eyebrow. She held out the envelope to Callie. The crazed brown eyes met the cool blue ones.
Callie blinked, then shrugged. "Okay. What the hell." She snatched the envelope from Zina. Hands on hips, she regarded her new trailer. "Ah...things I could do with this place..." she murmured in delusion.
God, she’s even crazier than Zina said, thought Gabrielle.
"Well, it’s been real, Callie, an’ it’s been fun...but it hasn’t been real fun." Zina started to walk toward her Harley, followed by Gabrielle.
Callie ignored her and idly twirled a strand of her wild hair. She was picturing the exterior of her trailer in day-glo orange.
"That worked out pretty well," Zina commented as she straddled the Harley and started it with a kick. "Thanks, Gabrielle. How’d you come up with that idea anyway?"
Gabrielle tucked her red-gold hair under her helmet and then flung her arms around her companion’s waist. "Oh honey, don’t you worry your pretty little head about it."
Laughing, they tore of out the trailer park together.
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