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DISCLAIMERS: All characters in X:WP are copyright MCA/Universal/Renaissance Pictures. This story don't include 'em, exactly. But no copyright infringement is intended and no profit is gained. The story is mine, though, and if you muck with it without permission from moi, I shall force you to eat an undercooked Spamburger.
BY POPULAR DEMAND: Or, maybe just to assure all the people who said, "you are crazy" that they are, indeed, right .this is a sequel to the uber-Xena story "Love and Death in the Trailer Park." It is recommended you read that before proceeding here, if you have not done so already.
WARNINGS: Women in love (with each other), lots of swearing, lots of cars, lots of booze and pot, some classics of great literature, religious fanaticism gone utterly astray, and a dead cow.
COMMENTS, MASH NOTES, CHOCOLATE (there is a shortage, you know): firstname.lastname@example.org
WAYS TO BE WICKED
by Vivian Darkbloom
I never claimed to be your savior. I said I had a dirty mouth.
The trailer formerly known as Zina's sat contentedly on it concrete foundations, sporting a new paint job on its exterior—a blazing red to dazzle and blind the hapless occupants of the trailer park, to let them know that the reticent firefighter who once lived there—and who had quite successfully entertained a string of blondes, one after another, stray housewives on "vacation," waitresses, recent fire victims, high school cheerleaders, the manager of the local Uni-Mart, and finally the factory girl-cum-poet who stole her heart—was no longer the mistress of said dwelling.
Its lone tenant sat inside the fire-red mobile home twirling locks of her white-blonde hair and watched, for the twelfth time in twenty minutes, a little Chihuahua mouth the words "Yo quiero Taco Bell." She gritted her teeth and her flat tummy rumbled. Once again the baseball bat of commercialism had smashed against the addled brow of another complicit, blissfully unaware TV viewer. With a growl she jumped up, snatched the keys to her Camaro off the table, and went off into the night.
An hour later she sat stuffed with the bounty of Taco Bell, and her mind, always chattering, chattering, chattering well, finally the synapses gave out and she fell asleep.
And she dreamed. A voice, disembodied, spoke to her. Callie, it whispered fervently. Listen. She tossed her head about, hoping to shake the annoying voice. "No, stop," she moaned in her sleep.
Callie! Don't resist me, my child! Who was that? It sounded like
Callie, you must change your life. Zina has shown you forgiveness, you can show her the same you must release the rage in your soul, you must purify yourself again.
It was Charlton Heston! Wasn't he the old guy who played Moses in that movie? And he was speaking to her—the foggy image grew clearer—through the Taco Bell Chihuahua.
You must give yourself over to the Lord, Callie. Let Jesus Christ into your heart.
"No!" she cried aloud again. Silence. She was grateful, and started to drift into a deeper level of unconsciousness then
Why not? the voice demanded petulantly.
"I'm not worthy, I'm not worthy!" she wailed.
Ah, but you are, my child. You are worth saving. That's why I'm here. You have the fire within you, Callie.
"I do, I do!"
You must accept Jesus as your own personal savior. And you must go forth into the world and spread my word, for I am the light and the way to salvation. Do you know what to do now?
"I do, I do!"
Callie woke up. Aside from the massive, almost crippling pain in her stomach, she felt great. She rose from her bed, ran to the door and flung it open. A breeze blew back her hair, and the moon glowed.
"Lord, I hear you!" she screamed into the night. "I shall do as you say! From this moment I am born again!!!"
The crickets cackled their approval. The stars twinkled benignly. And a lone male voice, from two trailers away, shouted, "Shut up, you crazy bitch!"
Gabrielle laid on the couch and read aloud from the book she held: " 'I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness ' " She paused and closed her eyes. "Oh, wow you were so right about this the more I read it, the clearer and clearer it becomes " she said to her companion, as she clutched the thin paperback of Howl to her chest.
Cyrene, sitting on the floor, leaned over and handed the joint to Gabrielle, their second one of the day. "See, honey, I told you you just needed to relax and let your mind open up " she waved her hands around, and her jewelry chink-ed in affirmation.
"Yeah " Gabrielle sucked on the joint with a hiss. "When they assigned this to us in class, I just thought it was a bunch of bullshit written by some crazy hippie uh, no offense, Cyrene."
"None taken, honey." She took the cigarette back from Gabrielle. "Cause you know something?" She took a hit.
"It is a bunch of bullshit written by some crazy hippie!"
They dissolved into giggles, which turned into hysterical laughter once Gabrielle looked at the back cover photo of Allen Ginsburg again.
"Did you know—he was gay?" Cyrene informed Gabrielle, pointing at the photo.
"Really? Wow!" Gabrielle was still at the stage of her young life when one is continually astonished to learn that others in the wide world share one's inclinations.
"The 60s were a great time, Gabrielle." Here she goes again, Gabrielle thought. "Like, you could be gay and no one would care. No labels, man. You could experiment with sex and no one would care I mean, I am not ashamed to say I had an encounter with another woman." She placed her hand over her heart to signify her sincerity.
"You did, Cyrene?" Gabrielle was impressed.
"Yeah. It was after I broke up with the drummer of Strawberry Alarm Clock. Man, that was a bad scene. Anyway, I kinda didn't want to deal with guys for a while, so I got involved with a chick. It was a beautiful, healing experience."
Gabrielle had ingested enough talk show fodder over the course of many years to know that "beautiful healing experiences" were usually pretty boring ones you could do without. Nonetheless she nodded solemnly at Cyrene. Then she heard a faint rumble. At first she thought it was her stomach. Man, I just ate two burritos half an hour ago .Then the sound grew louder, and more distinct. It was Zina's Harley. She sat bolt upright. "Shit! Zina's home!"
"Damn!" Cyrene crushed the lit end of the joint against the floor using her beer can. Then, in a panicky fit, she used the copy of Howl to brush the roach and all the ashes under the couch.
"Get the Lysol!" Gabrielle cried as she ran to the window. She and Cyrene had been sitting upstairs in her "study." She hoped that if she opened the window it would fumigate the room before Zina's hypersensitive nostrils could detect any aroma.
She flung open the window and looked down. She yelped again. The one flaw in her plan was that the room overlooked the front of the farm house; in fact, it was directly under where Zina usually parked her bike. The noise of the opened window caused her firefighter girlfriend to look up at her in surprise.
"Hi honey!" Gabrielle shouted, at a loss.
"Hey," Zina called up with a smile. She climbed off the Harley. "Anything wrong?"
"No! Nothing! Not at all."
"Why'd ya open the window?" It was cold out.
"I just wanted to say hi to you, baby!"
"You coulda done that inside." Zina was strangely logical at the oddest times.
"I know but, baby, I just love you so much I couldn't wait!" Gabrielle heard Cyrene behind her, her jewelry making the middle-aged woman sound like the percussion section of a Hare Krishna contingent as she waved around the hissing can of Lysol.
"Uh huh," Zina grunted skeptically. Carrying her fire helmet, she headed for the front door. Probably smoking reefer with Mom again, she thought, casting a look at Cyrene's powder-blue Volkswagen bug. As she entered the house she saw Gabrielle coming down the stairs with Cyrene. The little blonde ran right at her and jumped into her arms, smothering her lips with a kiss. The fire helmet dropped to the floor with a clang.
"Man, the honeymoon is never over with you two!" Cyrene said. It had been almost eight months since they had moved in together, six since they had been living at the farmhouse at Effie's behest; Effie, her new paramour, Hank, and her band, the Amazons, were all in Memphis, recording a new rockabilly album.
"How was your day, stud? Want some chicken pot pie?" Gabrielle cooed.
"Yes, please. Let me help you " Zina carried Gabrielle into the kitchen. Cyrene shook her head. "Crazy kids," she muttered, then dashed upstairs to retrieve the roach she left under the couch.
Callie careened down Chakram Creek Road in her Camaro. She sang loudly with the radio: "I fell down, down, down into a burning ring of fire down, down, down and the flames, they ran higher and it BURNED BURNED BURNED, this burning ring of fire " She was on her way to see the one person she was certain could help her in her mission to serve the Lord and save Zina. She had to save Zina, she realized, for the woman, corrupt as hellfire as she was, started her on her Journey to Jesus by giving her a home to live in.
She pulled into the parking lot of the Morpheus Mini-Mall, a desolate little stretch of under-utilized stores and buildings. There was a liquor store, a video store with a yellowed poster of "Ernest Goes to Jail" in the window, a frozen yogurt shop, a fabric store, and, near the end of the complex, a plain white sign on a door, which read "Ares Ministries, Inc."
Callie, of course, expected him to be alone, and he was. Artie, Zina's former friend, ex-sometimes-boyfriend, and maybe sorta either her first cousin or half-brother (Cyrene wasn't talking), sat at a desk in his fake-wood-paneled office reading "Guns and Ammo." He wore a scratchy looking light gray suit he bought at K-Mart for $29.95, and his green and brown knit tie was loosened at his throat. When Callie entered he looked up at her in utter shock, and, disbelieving, ran his hand through his long dark hair and then stroked his goatee. "Callie," he murmured.
"Artie." They stared at each other.
"I can't say I'm surprised to see you here. I always knew you'd find your way to me and the Lord."
Callie blinked. "Really?" She wanted to believe, oh so much
He nodded solemnly. "My prayers have been answered, Callie. You are here, and I know why. "
"You do?" Callie said impatiently.
"Yes!" he stated firmly. He tried not to look too closely at the cutoff shorts she wore even in February. He hoped she wasn't here to borrow money again, but he had a feeling, this morning, as he prayed that God would send her to him. "You are ready to serve with me at the head of Christ's Army, Callie."
"I am, Artie! I truly am! I had a vision last night. The Lord spoke to me, and—"
"—and what did he sound like?" Artie narrowed his eyes and his voice lowered a register.
"Like oh, that old dude, what's-his-face....You know, Ben-Hur." Wisely she omitted the part about how He looked.
Artie nodded with approval. He knew then her vision was real. "Go on."
"And God said I must spread the word! And I knew, Artie, I knew you were the only soul to help me. And God said I must save Zina."
"Zina?" His interest piqued at the mention of his ex-lover's/cousin's/half-sister's name. He cursed himself at the hold this devil still had over him. Zina was his cross to bear, she was a test from the Lord, and sweet baby Jesus she looked divine when she was working out. (Sorry, Lord.) He stroked his goatee again. He knew the incredible guilt Zina felt about Callie, about the house in Cirra. Technically, he had been involved in that whole mess, but Callie didn't need to know that—it would only confuse her and detract from her mission. Besides, he'd paid his debt to his Savior. If Callie could use that guilt against her, she could bring Zina into the fold, and they would lead the Lord's Army of Love together! He could do it, with Zina at his side the cable show would be revitalized, he'd get another book deal, he might even be asked to be a guest host on the 700 Club.
He stood up and walked to Callie. Grasping her thin shoulders, he said, "Sister, it shall be done. I shall send you on your first mission. I shall send you to save that poor backslidden soul."
"Praise God, Artie!"
"But first we go shopping."
Callie pulled at the tight collar of her white frilly blouse. She wasn't used to wearing something so close to her neck. But, she thought with a sigh, her body was no longer just something to flaunt, to use mindlessly—no, her body was sacred as a church, and it needed to be covered and protected as such. She adjusted the skirt of the light pink suit that Artie had selected for her at Sears. Drawing a deep breath and clutching the new Bible that he had given her as well, she opened the door of the parked Camaro and walked warily toward the farmhouse, the den of inequity. How much sin has gone on in this place? she thought righteously, remembering its former occupants. Of course, Zina lived here now with that little tart Callie's nostrils flared at the mere thought of the slut. She stopped. Then she took a deep, cleansing breath. "In with love, out with anger " she muttered to herself. Steadying herself once again, she walked toward the farmhouse. I am a pillar of strength, I am filled and blessed with love, I shall be strong in the face of evil she drew another deep breath and rang the doorbell. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall
Zina opened the door. She wore nothing but a sleeveless white under-shirt which clung to her broad shoulders, muscled torso, and perfect breasts; black lycra shorts clung even more ferociously to her firm, luscious thighs. She cradled a barbell in one hand; a sheen of sweat covered her exposed skin, making her entire body glow and glisten. She shook her damp black hair and fixed her luminous blue eyes on Callie.
want. She maketh me lie down in black satin sheets, and stop stop stop!!!
All thoughts of God had flown from Callie's head, except a brief fleeting thanks to the Allmighty for making such a magnificent creature.
"Callie?" Zina said, utterly confused at the presence of her arch enemy. "Uh, is somethin' wrong with the trailer?"
" zugzug ." She tried to speak but could not. But what were these noises? Hey, I'm speaking in tongues! Cool!
Zina looked her over, taking in the suit. "You got a job interview or something?"
Lord, I am fading fast. Help me! Send me a sign!
Zina shifted a little nervously; in doing so, she gripped her barbell tighter, causing a perfect bicep to flex. Her eyebrow twitched.
It was all too much.
"Oh Zina!" Callie cried. She flung her arms around the firefighter's neck and planted a wet kiss on her lips. Her wildly flailing tongue sought to break the barrier of Zina's warm mouth, but alas, her lips were in as good a shape as the rest of her (thanks to Gabrielle), and withstood the onslaught. She placed the tip of the barbell on Callie's chin in an effort to pry away the born-again beast. Callie didn't know how it happened, but before she knew it she was kissing a barbell. She withdrew, sputtering.
"What the hell's gotten into you?" Zina growled.
"Oh Zina," Callie moaned at the memory of those perfect lips on her own, "I have been sent here to save you, my child." She thrust the Bible into the firefighter's face.
Zina was so shocked at the turn of events that her barbell slipped from her sweaty grasp and fell onto Callie's foot, shod in a pair of pumps from Payless.
"Oh Zina!" This time it was a howl of agony.
Gabrielle burst through the door of the farmhouse, expertly carrying a pizza, a six-pack, two bags of Doritos, a two-liter bottle of 7-UP, and a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey...with most of said items balanced on top of the pizza. "Honey, I'm home!!" she bellowed. She heard the radio from upstairs, and figured Zina was in her weight room, working out. Her assumption grew even stronger when she tripped over the barbell near the door and sent the precariously balanced food sailing merrily off the top of the pizza as she fell to the floor. She landed on her stomach, the weight of her backpack pinning her down (why did I have to take Fat Novel 101 this semester?). However, she managed to keep the pizza upright. Turning, she glared at the offending object and shouted, "Goddammit Zina, I told you not to leave your weights lying around down here!" Last week she had stubbed her toe on a hand weight that had been on the kitchen floor, for Christ's sake.
The guilty party sauntered down the steps. "Hiya, baby. Sorry 'bout that." Zina proceeded to pick up the scattered groceries. "How was school?"
"Uh good." Zina noticed that Gabrielle hadn't moved; she laid there on the carpet, staring into space.
"Didja hurt yourself?" she asked, padding over to Gabrielle.
"Zina?" The tone was icy. It was that tone Gabrielle used when she was either really pissed or PMSing big time.
The firefighter gulped. "Uh, yeah, baby, what is it?"
"Why is there lipstick on your barbell?"
"Arise from your numb existence, readers. Awash yourself in Christ's beautiful and healing waters, awake in forgetfulness of the sins of the past. For the chariots of war are upon us, Satan's deceptive dreamworkers will rob you of your cradle of hope. Together, we shall embark on a quest for our destiny, to repay a debt and to sacrifice our wrongdoings for the greater good."
—Rev. Callie de Ash, from her book I Didn't Find God, But He Sure Did Find Me, p. 25
Callie awoke from her painkiller-induced slumber. Her dreams had been pleasant enough—she dreamt she owned a Porsche and had won the Indy 500, and then she drove through a huge daisy-filled meadow crushing every single daisy and ran over Gabrielle and a bunch of silly bunny rabbits too and grabbed Zina and threw her in the car and
then she was fully awake and staring into Artie's faintly disapproving and totally condescending face. The minister sat at the foot of her hospital bed. "You poor child," he sighed. He moved his chair closer to her, and took her hand. "The demon proved too much for you, didn't she?"
Defeated, Callie nodded sadly. Zina's barbell had broken innumerable bones in her foot and then, while she limped to the car (refusing any assistance from Satan's Handmaiden) her heel got tangled in some weeds and she fell, spraining her ankle.
"Callie," Artie clucked, "this is just as much my fault. I never should've sent you to her. She's a powerful one, Zina is. I have no doubt she will be dragged kicking and screaming into salvation. I know you wanted to be the one to bring her to God, but perhaps " He stroked his chin. " perhaps I need to try. At any rate I must confront her, after what she did to you." Callie had told him that the sadistic firefighter had jumped up and down on her foot with her shit-stomping boots, and had even trod upon her pristine Bible!
"I reckon you're right, Artie. I was too weak—too tempted by her. Don't believe anything she says, though!"
"Don't worry, child. I am prepared to battle the devil."
Cyrene turned off her sputtering Volkswagen. She grabbed the grocery bag, which contained organic yogurt and tofu burgers (she had been much horrified by the spectacle of Zina devouring a Spamburger last week and began anew her campaign to make her daughter a vegetarian). She got out of the car and headed to the house. With some confusion she noticed that the Harley was there but the Escort was not—she was supposed to be "studying" this evening with Gabrielle—in fact, she had brought her best bong, knowing that they would be tackling Modernism and that Gabrielle would need all the help she could get.
She entered the farmhouse and found Zina sulking in front of the TV, watching NASCAR.
"Hey honey," Cyrene called.
Her daughter grunted.
Trouble in paradise, Cyrene thought. "Where's Gabrielle?" she asked gently.
"Oh. Will she be back soon?"
"Aw come on, honey, spill it. Did you two have a fight?"
Cyrene sighed. It was going to be a long night. "I'll be back in a few minutes." She definitely needed to have a few tokes before dealing with this. Patting her macramé purse, she retreated to the bathroom.
"I told you your unnatural relationship would fall apart," Lila said. She held a squalling baby—her daughter, named Tiffani Amber.
Gabrielle sat at her kitchen table, arms crossed. "Shaddup," she snarled at her sister.
Lila blew a stand of hair out of her face; shaking her head sadly, she took the baby into the bedroom for her nap.
Purdy, who had moved in with Lila after Gabrielle moved out, stood awkwardly in the kitchen. He had just got home from work to find his former girlfriend sulking in the kitchen with Lila, his current one, who was berating her sister at every turn. He actually felt sorry for Gabrielle—and he even liked Zina once he got to know her. Every time he saw her they had pretty cool conversations about motorcycles. He pulled two cans of Bud out of the fridge and handed one to Gabrielle. "C'mon, Gab, it'll make you feel better."
"Thanks," she said, taking the can from him. She popped it open and took a big gulp. "Purdy, you don't think I'm weird or unnatural, do you?" Her green eyes begged for understanding, while her upper lip was covered in beer foam.
Was she weird? He had been surprised by it all, but not too—he remembered that when they were dating he made the mistake of looking through her diary and had read a rather detailed and explicit sexual fantasy involving Kate Jackson. He had found it very interesting, in a stimulating kinda way. No wonder she always rushed home from school to watch Charlie's Angels. "What? Naw, hell no, Gab. It's your life. Not for me to judge. 'Sides," he added shyly, "Zina's pretty cute."
Gabrielle smiled gratefully. "Thanks."
"Wanna go down to the Saddle and get wasted?"
"Trust me, honey, I had two years' worth of est seminars."
Zina shifted nervously in her chair. Her mother's attempts to help in these significant arenas of her life left much to be desired. She recalled when, at the age of 12, she began menstruating; she had the typical feelings of confusion and ambivalence about it that most teenage girls encountered. Cyrene chose to mark the occasion with what she called a "feminist ritual": When Zina came home from school one day, sanitary napkin chafing, she found their house dark and eerie, lit only with candles, and "White Rabbit" echoing ominously from the stereo. Cyrene, wearing a purple-red muumuu, blathered something about how Zina will drink her own menstrual blood "because Germaine Greer said it's the true test of a woman." Zina didn't know who the fuck Germaine Greer was, but it was all weird enough to make her think her mother was involved in some cult and so she ran screaming from the house, spending the next month living with Artie and his family, until she made her mother swear that (1) she was not in a cult, and (2) she would cut down on the hallucinogens for a while.
So here she was, sitting at the dining room table with Cyrene, who said that her "under-emoting" child needed to get in touch with her feelings and she would be happy to help her do so. She said it would improve her "communication skills" with Gabrielle whatever that meant and that she would learn to "take responsibility" for her actions even though IT WASN'T HER FAULT that Callie went insane and kissed her, it wasn't her fault that Gabrielle didn't understand this and had hit her unconsciously she touched her cheek. Never had she been so frightened—not even in a crumbling, burning building—than when Gabrielle had pulled out of her knapsack the thickest paperback book Zina had ever seen, stalked over to her, and swung the mighty Modernist tome—Zina barely had the chance to read the name Ulysses—against the side of her head.
Cyrene sat across from her with a paper and pencil. "Now, I want you to tell me all the things you love about Gabrielle. Be as specific as you like."
The firefighter dropped her dark head against her strong forearms, which were propped on the table. Just like she used to do in high school.
What I do love about Gabrielle? Well, she's got a nice smile her hair is pretty she smells good she makes a great chicken pot pie yum! I love her abs, the way they ripple when she's about to come oh, and the meatloaf is pretty awesome her skin is so soft and she's a great kisser and and I love how smart she is, how she figures things out so quickly I love it that she's so kind so gentle like how she cried when she heard about baby seals getting clubbed I love it when I hear her sticking up for herself and screaming "Fuck you!" at that dumbass sister of hers I even love it when she recites stupid poetry to me that I don't get at all
"Sure you don't want a little...?" Cyrene mimicked puffing on a joint. "It might help."
"No," Zina snapped. She sighed in frustration. "Aw, fuck, Mom, I love everything about her," she growled reluctantly. She hated getting all mushy.
Cyrene smiled and scribbled something down on the pad..
It was almost 3 in the morning. Zina had slept fitfully since midnight, when her mother had left. However, she was in a decidedly deeper state of consciousness when a noise brutally ripped her from a pleasant dream about becoming the first female quarterback for the Broncos:
"SMOKE ON THE WATER! A FIRE IN THE SKY!"
The entire house pulsated to the sound of Deep Purple. She sat upright, eyes bulging. She groped under the bed for her baseball bat, although it was doubtful the intruders were really thieves. Nonetheless, she thought evilly as she hefted the bat, I'm gonna fuckin' kill whoever is down there.
As she bolted out of the bedroom and approached the top of the stairs, she heard a figure treading lightly toward the top, oblivious to her presence. She snapped on the hall light.
Ed looked up at her, John Deere hat backwards and a little askew on his head. More than slightly trashed, he swayed on the steps. "Z!" he cried in greeting. "Hope we didn't wake you."
The long reach of Zina snared his flannel shirt and hauled him up the remaining few steps, until her snarling face was within an inch of his. "What the fuck are you doing here?" she said in her lowest voice.
"Hey, chill out! We brought Gabby home."
She released him and he staggered against the steps, almost falling down until she grabbed him again. He giggled. "Me and Purdy. They're downstairs." He regained his balance and she released him tentatively. "But man I gotta tell ya I, uh, got into a little trouble with the truck, Z "
She leaned on the baseball bat as if it were a walking stick and sighed in resignation. "Don't tell me you wrecked it again."
"Well, not exactly I hit something."
He shook his head.
"What? Someone's dog? Cat?"
Again, his head responded no.
She was losing patience. "What then, Ed?"
"A cow," he mumbled apologetically.
She grabbed him by the shirt again. "A cow? Is Gabrielle all right?"
He nodded in the affirmative.
"How the hell did you hit a cow?"
"I tried a shortcut," he moaned. "Look Z, I really gotta piss."
She released him again. "Go, then," she growled, giving him a shove toward the bathroom. She stomped downstairs.
She saw Gabrielle's red-gold hair splayed across the arm of the couch. "Gabrielle?" she called gently as she approached.
The young woman was curled up fetally, clutching an empty mason jar which reeked of beer. She was snoring. Zina took the afghan from the back of the couch and tucked it around her sleeping form.
Purdy was standing in front of the stereo playing air guitar when he spotted Zina. "Hey old buddy!" he shouted, stumbling over to her. He was even drunker than Ed. He flung an arm around her. "We brought your woman home!" he said proudly. With a burp.
"That's great, Purdy. Thanks," Zina replied sincerely, while flinching from the smell of the burp.
Suddenly he started to cry and hugged her. "I love you, man!"
"I love you too," she replied, whatever thread of patience she possessed threatening to snap. "Now get the hell out of here."
Alas, she had not gotten Ed and Purdy to leave for another hour; she felt obligated to help Ed wipe cow blood and gore off the front of his Ford pickup (apparently his "shortcut" was through Farmer Draco's pasture). There was a huge dent across the front of it, but she checked out everything under the hood and it seemed to be running fine. When Ed was sober enough to drive, she sent the boys on their way.
Gabrielle was still passed out on the couch when she dragged herself off to bed at 4:30. She had considered carrying the girl up to bed, but didn't want to disturb her sleep. And, frankly, she was pretty tired and had to get up for work in less than 3 hours.
Zina hadn't slept for more than 2 hours when she felt something heavy lying across her body. A sickly sweet breeze, smelling like cough medicine (like Jagermeister, she thought later), trickled across her face. Then she felt something warm and wet against her cheek, like a dog licking her.
She opened her eyes. In the fuzzy light of predawn, she made out Gabrielle's grinning face above her. "Pumpkin pie!" Gabrielle burbled happily.
Zina did not know if this was an endearment or a craving.
"Gabrielle?" she mumbled sleepily.
"Baby, I'm really sorry about yesterday I got so jealous. I didn't want to come home at all, but Ed and Purdy got me too drunk so I couldn't protest much. Then I read what you wrote on the fridge."
"You know!" Playfully she slapped Zina on the arm. Then Zina remembered: Her mother had posted the results of their "therapeutic session"—the message that "Zina loves everything about Gabrielle"—on the refrigerator with a Coke magnet.
"It's true," Zina said. It was, and didn't matter who wrote it, she figured.
"Ooooh, I love you, stud muffin!"
If you want to woo her
You will surely delight her
With a sweet tasting kiss
From a big ol' firefighter!
--"A Fire in the House of Love," performed by Effie and the Amazons. Music by Effie Phantes, lyrics by Gabrielle Hockenberry
The hangover was so atrocious that to even listen to anything on the radio was horrible. Especially Celine Dion. The lung-devouring wails of the woman were like a hang nail being torn across her consciousness. Maybe I kinda understand now why Zina doesn't like her, Gabrielle thought, switching off the radio with one hand and clutching her head with another.
She was sitting in the kitchen, wincing at the bitter taste of the instant coffee, when the doorbell rang. Still cradling her head, she wandered to the door, wearing her Olympus County Community College t-shirt and the baggy plaid boxer shorts she wore around the house.
A handsome man stood at the door, dressed in a dark suit and tie. His long dark hair touched his shoulders and he had a goatee. He was very striking, she thought, and vaguely familiar. Her mind raced and in her excitement the hangover lessened.
"Oh my GOD," she squealed, taking him by surprise, "you're the lead singer from Metallica, aren't you??"
His dark eyes grew wide with horror. "What?" he said.
"You are! Wow, this is SO cool! Are you lost or something? Hey, my girlfriend LOVES Metallica!! Would you autograph something?" Before he could respond she ran into the living room and retrieved one of her notebooks and a pen. "Okay, could you just write something like, 'Zina, you are an awesome chick' and sign it?"
He rolled his eyes. "I am not the lead singer of Metallica!" he growled. "I'm Artie Guerre. An old friend of Zina's..."
Gabrielle's excitement dissipated and was replaced by mistrust. So this was the infamous Artie. "You're Xena's cousin," she stated flatly, green eyes glinting suspiciously, "or is it half-brother?" she added accusingly.
"Nobody's even proven that," he said, shaking a finger into her face. "Where is Zina? I want to talk to her."
"She's at work, duh. D'ya see her cycle anywhere?" Gabrielle waved her arm around.
"Look, young lady, don't you take that tone with me. I am minister," Artie said proudly.
Gabrielle cackled in disbelief.
"You may laugh all you like, Satan's strumpet, but I know the nature of your relationship with our dear Zina is less than pure."
"Pure?" she snorted. "You're a fine one to talk about pure, Artie. You set fire to a house and slept with someone who might be your sister. So don't you lecture me. I love Zina."
"Love her enough to see her go to jail again, missy? 'Cause that's what's gonna happen unless I get to speak with her!" Artie demanded.
"What the hell are you talkin' about?"
"Zina assaulted one of my disciples. Callie."
"Bullshit! The crazy slut assaulted Zina!"
Artie raised one of his black brows. "Really?" asked smoothly. "Well, who do you think a court of law would believe—a follower of God or some dyke with a record?"
All Zina knew that one minute she was looking at a rerun of the Simpsons, the next she was staring at Gabrielle's midriff. Her little companion, in an effort to get attention, had planted herself in front of the TV. This meant either one of three things:
Zina was a brave woman, and resigned to her fate. "Okay, what did I do now?" she sighed.
"How come," Gabrielle began slowly, her hands on hips, "everyone you sleep with either dies or goes crazy?"
"Come on, tell me."
"It's not true I mean, I slept with Hank, and he's alive and pretty normal, don't you think?"
"Well, he's the exception to the rule, I guess. Although who knows, maybe listening to Effie and the Amazons 24/7 might just push him over the edge."
"...and there was Ed, he's kinda normal..."
Gabrielle blinked in shock. "Ed? You slept with Ed?"
"It was only once, Gabrielle. I just did it to make Hank jealous." She grinned with sheepish pride. "Worked, too."
Gabrielle moaned and shook her head. "I met Artie today, Zina."
"He came out here looking for you. What a fuckin' nutjob he is."
"No shit, Sherlock. What did he want?"
"He's very pissed about Callie. Went on about how you assaulted her, said he was going to get her to press charges against you "
Zina threw up her hands (after placing her can of Rolling Rock on the end table) in disbelief. "Fine, let 'em press charges! I didn't do anything wrong!"
"He said he and Callie are willing to let bygones be bygones if you come on his cable access show. He wants you to repent on TV, accept Christ into your heart, and ask for some pledges."
The firefighter's blue eyes grew icy. Which both chilled and thrilled Gabrielle. "I always knew it would come down to this," she muttered.
Gabrielle grabbed the ringing phone. "Den of inequity!" she cried in greeting.
"Jesus H. Christ, you sure are learning big words in school," Effie’s voice responded.
"Effie!!" The squeal reverberated around the house, causing Zina to wince and grind her teeth, and a village of termites to vacate the premises. "How the hell are you! I MISS YOU!!!"
"I’m great, Gab honey. Our new album is coming out next week, with your song on it, of course! Hank loved it."
"Cool. How’re Pony and Sally?"
"Well, they had a rough time of it recently "
"Uh oh. What happened?"
"Well, uh, promise not to tell anyone "
"Well, Sally had an affair with Wynonna Judd "
"Yeah! It was wild. But they worked it all out."
"How?" Gabrielle asked, mystified. Pony was not the most reasonable creature on God’s green earth.
"Well, then Pony slept with Wynonna and they decided to call it even."
"Can I tell Zina?"
"Oh sure, what the hell. Can’t quite see Tall, Dark, and Sullen running around telling people."
Gabrielle saw Zina in the kitchen, pulling on her leather jacket. "Eff, I gotta go. I hafta go help Tall, Dark, and Sullen with something "
"And knowing you two, it’s something in the bedroom. Okay, Gab, I’ll talk to you later."
She hung the phone and ran into the kitchen. "Okay, I’m ready. Let’s go."
Zina gave her a blank stare. "Gabrielle, I don’t want you to come. It might get ugly." She was on her way to meet Artie at Roy Roger’s, in the hopes that they could reach an amicable solution to the Callie problem.
"Oh no, bitch. You’re not leaving me behind. We’re a team, remember? You may need me. And I promised you I’d always support you no matter what." She paused and gazed into her beloved’s deep blue eyes. "I may have been stoned when I said it, but I still meant it."
Zina broke into one of her lovely lop-sided grins. "Okay, baby."
"Besides, I really want a Triggerburger."
Artie sat at a table at Roy’s. His tray was littered with the ruins of his dinner. Arms folded, he glared up at Zina and Gabrielle, who were walking toward him. Zina was sucking on a shake, Gabrielle held a tray piled with three burgers and an order of fries.
They sat down across from him.
"You’re late," he growled.
Zina shrugged. Her ravenous small companion ripped the paper wrapper off a burger and started to devour it.
"Dear Lord, what a savage," Artie said condescendingly, looking at Gabrielle’s puffed out cheeks.
"Look Artie, knock off the bullshit. Gabrielle told me what you want. I’m not gonna do it. I’m sorry about Callie’s foot, but it was an accident."
"Hold your tongue, sinner!" Artie raised his hand. "I’ve had just enough of your lies and deception, Zina. You injured a member of my flock. A woman who has turned out to be more valuable to me than I ever could have imagined. I have placed my trust so thoroughly in Callie that I have given over to her the leadership of my ex-gay ministry, Homo Helpers."
Callie reached out and gently grasped the shoulders of the young man. "We’ll start out slowly, okay? No nudity at first. I just want you to get an appreciation of the female form."
The young man, terrified, nodded quickly. One minute he had been sitting in the office space of the Gay & Lesbian Student Union at the Olympus County Community College Student Center, then the next thing he knew this crazy chick in a pink suit, with a big cast on her foot, comes in, hits him over the head with a big black Bible, and he passed out. Then he woke up in this strange office with the crazy chick who started babbling to him about being saved, changing his ways, and so on .and he was tied to a chair, the ropes cutting into his thin little torso, clad only in an old Absolutely Fabulous t-shirt. Boy, if I get rope burns on this Patrick is going to get really suspicious, he fretted.
The crazy blonde, who said her name was Callie, sat on the desk in front of him. She had a stack of photos by her side. "Now don’t be scared what’s your name again, kid?"
"Chad," he whispered.
"Chad! See, no wonder you’re gay, with a name like that. Okay, Chad, take a deep breath "
She held up a photo of Gillian Anderson, wearing a black bra. "Take it all in, Chad. Doin’ anything for ya?"
He stared at the photo.
"Talk to me, Chad. What do you like about her?"
"Uh that’s a fabulous bra she’s wearing."
"Like to see more, huh?"
"Yeah, like I’d love to see her all in black lingerie. I’m sure it’d be a really kicky outfit. My friend Kevin is majoring in fashion design "
"No!! Dammit, kid, stop being a fairy and focus on her body! Her face! Whaddya see?"
"They did a good makeup job on her. Her lipstick is perfect. It’s a good shade for her."
"You’re doing this deliberately to drive me crazy, you little brat. Look at her! She’s gorgeous! Look at those knockers! They’re lovely! They’re perfect!" Callie peeked at the photo herself. And became mesmerized. "They’re oh Lord, they’re divine," she moaned. Defeated once again, she buried her face in her hands.
"Uh Callie, is it?" Chad ventured gently.
"Sweetie, I don’t think this is working. Look, it’s Gay Night at Dahak’s Temple. Why don’t we go have a nice drinkie together "
She looked up.
"Margaritas are half-price," he added hopefully.
"Baby, are you okay?" Zina asked anxiously, peering down at Gabrielle. At the mention of the Homo Helpers the little poet had laughed so hard that she spat half-eaten burger all over Artie’s best suit (from Sears) and fell off the seat in a fit of hysterics. Zina’s reaction, given her personality, was more subdued; she had merely blown out some milkshake from her nose.
"Homo Helpers," Gabrielle giggled helplessly.
"What’s so darn funny?" Artie demanded as Gabrielle climbed back into the booth.
"I think you should think ‘bout changing that name, Artie," Zina guffawed. "Have you been getting a lot of calls from people wanting to know where the nearest gay bar is?"
Artie glared at her suspiciously. "How did you know?"
"Just a wild guess."
"It was the best I could do under the circumstances! Nonetheless, Zina, I have Callie all prepared to press charges against you. She can hardly get around at all. It was a very serious injury."
At that moment they saw, from their window booth at Roy’s, Callie’s red Camaro pull up to the stoplight. The crazed blonde took the opportunity to stand up in the car and dance to the throbbing beat of the Pet Shop Boys which emanated from the car stereo. A young man, seated beside her, did the same. The light changed. A pickup behind them blared its horn. Callie flipped him the bird. After another minute of frantic dancing, she finally put the vehicle in drive and they were gone.
The trio sat in stunned silence.
"Who was that dude with Callie?" Zina asked no-one in particular.
"Oh, it looked like Chad. He’s president of the gay student union at OCCC," Gabrielle said. She merrily returned to the task of eating.
"Hell’s bells," muttered Artie. "The Lord is making my work very difficult indeed." He thrust a finger into Zina’s face. "I blame you for this, Zina. Obviously the injury has affected her judgment."
Zina flicked a French fry at him.
"Watch the suit!" he cried. "it’s bad enough your little tart spewed half-eaten cow all over it."
"Fuck off, Artie," Zina drawled in a bored manner.
"You haven’t heard the last of me yet!" He rose from his seat and stalked off. He half-turned to give Zina one last glare and tripped over a poorly placed mop and bucket. He snarled and staggered off.
"Man, he’s just like Snidely Whiplash," Gabrielle complained.
The firefighter laughed. "So which one of us is Dudley Do-Right?"
"You, of course, stud muffin." Gabrielle paused. "Although you’re smarter than Dudley Do-Right and not quite as goody-two-shoes. You’re more a classic anti-hero."
"A what?" Zina scrunched up her angular face. "I dunno if I like the sound of that."
"It’s a good thing, baby. Trust me. I learned it in school."
"School? You’re learning about cartoons in school?"
"No," replied Gabrielle haughtily, "I am merely learning how to apply my analytic skills in other fields of interest and art forms."
"Shit if I knew college was all about cartoons and smoking dope, I woulda gone."
"You don’t need to go to college, baby. You already have many skills."
The firefighter lounged back in her seat. "I have many skills," she murmured to herself, although her beaming companion heard her as well. "I kinda like the sound of that."
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