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Author’s note: 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City. What better way to celebrate the progress society has made than with a story about coming out and finding love?
As always, I welcome your thoughtful feedback.
Staring at the stoplight, Kryssa Kowalski revved her Miata’s engine, anticipating the change from red to green. A light breeze ruffled her blond ponytail as the summer sun warmed her all the way through. She laughed with delight. Home! After years away at university and then learning her trade in a big Chicago architectural firm, she was finally back where she belonged.
Beside her, a car full of young men — boys, really — pulled up. As they frantically lowered their windows to get a better look, the light changed and Kryssa took off, enjoying their frustrated expressions in her side mirror. A perfect day had brought dog walkers and couples out in force, and a significant percentage eyed Kryssa as she drove past, hair rippling in the wind. She grinned. Ever since the spring day that her eight-year-old self had spotted a beautiful blonde in a powder-blue Mustang convertible, she had wanted this! Unconsciously, she pressed harder on the gas pedal, and had to brake abruptly when the next traffic light caught her by surprise.
A few seconds later, the carload of boys pulled up next to her metallic blue Miata and began shouting to get her attention. A slight frown touched her lips as she endured their catcalls. Meatheads, with unoriginal, crass lines. Like dogs chasing a car, they wouldn’t know what to do with me if they caught me, she thought. Seeing nothing coming down the cross street, she obeyed a sudden impulse to gun the engine and take off, waving as she went and grinning at the thought of thwarting them.
As Kryssa focused on her new surroundings, she slowed way down to check out the Victorian and Arts and Crafts-era homes that lined the quiet street. The Old West End was Toledo’s architectural gem — it said so right on the city’s website. She couldn’t count the number of times she had strolled down its streets as a youngster with her parents, both of them pointing out the features they loved on each home. Her smile returned as she rolled past the grand ladies of a century ago, sighing over the craftsmanship, the details that made each house distinctive. One never saw that anymore in residential or commercial construction, however well built or well financed.
Memories of all those walks around the Old West End returned, and a feeling of peace enveloped her as she drove further into its treasures, making turns as the mood hit her. What luck that the men in the car had irritated her so! She been away from Toledo for so long, she had forgotten enclaves like this existed. Perhaps she would buy a house here one day. She liked the thought of using her carpentry and construction skills, learned at her father’s side, to make it her own special jewel.
She spotted a woman hammering in a side yard and rolled to a stop, frowning. What the hell was she doing? Before she could think, Kryssa had parked and was running across the yard, shouting, “No! Wait! You can’t do that!”
The other woman dropped her hammer in astonishment as Kryssa charged up to her.
“You can’t do that!” Kryssa repeated, looking with dismay at the damaged dark wood and a new, blindingly white vinyl door propped against the side of the house.
“I can’t do what?”
“You can’t destroy any part of a historic exterior!”
The young woman scowled, her dark eyes snapping as she glared up at Kryssa.
“I own this house and I can do what I want with it. And it’s none of your business, anyway!”
“You’re opening yourself to action from the historic preservation board, not to mention installing an eyesore!”
“What do you mean, action?”
“This is a historic district. You have to get all exterior changes approved, or they will come down on you like the hounds of hell.”
The shorter woman stopped scowling, apprehension replacing anger.
“No one told me that.”
“Surely you know that if you live here. It’s Rule One of the Old West End.”
The woman sighed deeply. Nothing wrong with her lungs — or the full breasts that covered them, Kryssa noted absently. Or her trim waistline and curvy hips, for that matter.
“I just inherited this property, and nobody told me a thing,” the woman admitted, derailing Kryssa’s train of thought. “All I know is this old doorframe leaks air. My uncle always meant to fix this himself, but he never got to it.”
“Well, for heaven’s sake, stash that door away and nail the trim back up before someone reports you,” Kryssa said, looking at the splintered wood and wondering if that was even possible. The woman apparently had the same thought.
“Assuming I can,” she replied, her voice sour. “It never occurred to me that I needed to be careful. This is really not where my talent lies.”
“I’ll give you a hand,” Kryssa offered. “I know a little about home repair. bahis firmaları My dad’s a builder.”
“You don’t even know me,” the woman protested.
Kryssa stuck out her right hand. “Kryssa Kowalski.”
The other woman took her hand and a slight frisson ran up Kryssa’s arm.
“Now I know you,” Kryssa teased.
Michelle smiled suddenly, showing an unexpected dimple, and Kryssa rocked back on her heels, heart pounding.
“I’m glad,” Michelle said, oblivious to Kryssa’s inner agitation. “Help me get the door on the porch and then we can tackle the doorframe.”
Two hours later, Michelle and Kryssa sat at a table in the backyard, sipping cold drinks and snacking on diced watermelon.
“That was truly impressive to watch,” Michelle exclaimed. “The way you figured out how each piece fit together… I never could have done that.” She glanced over to the repaired doorframe, bulging with C-clamps purchased on a quick run to the hardware store. “It’s a miracle.”
Kryssa snorted. “It’s really not that hard. My dad’s business is new construction, but he and my mom both love old buildings. We always had some project like this lying around.”
“It still takes talent,” Michelle insisted. “My parents were both computer programmers, but I don’t know a thing about writing code, and I don’t want to. It never interested me.”
“My brother was the same way with buildings and projects! All he ever cared about was animals. Now he’s a vet, and I’m an architect, come home at last to join my parents’ business.”
“Why didn’t you come home right after college? That’s what most people going into a family business do, right?”
Kryssa laughed. “True. My parents and I talked it over and they wanted me to learn from others first, get exposed to different ideas and ways of seeing things. And, truth be told, I wanted to get out of Toledo for a while and experience life in a big city like Chicago. So that’s what I did.”
“What made you come back now?”
“Good question. I’m not sure. It just felt like my, um, inner timer rang and I wanted to come home. Does that make sense?”
Michelle nodded. “Oh, yes. It makes perfect sense.”
“Have you always lived in Toledo, Michelle?”
The other woman wrinkled her nose, and Kryssa felt her heart pound once more. Really, this was ridiculous! She didn’t even know if Michelle was single, and/or gay.
“Mostly. I was born in Cleveland, but my family moved here when I was four. I don’t remember living anyplace else, except my four years at Ohio State.”
“Go Buckeyes!” Kryssa said, grinning.
“And anyone who’s playing Michigan!” Michelle replied.
They laughed together, easy and comfortable with each other.
“Of course, I’m a Mud Hens girl now.”
“You like baseball? Me too!”
“Love it. I get to a few games a year. The stadium’s a few blocks from my office downtown.”
“Oh, that’s right. It’s downtown now.”
“It’s been downtown for, like, 15 years now.”
“Whatever. It’s not the stadium where my family went when I was little.”
“Get with the times, darling. That was then. This is now.”
Despite the watermelon, Kryssa’s stomach rumbled. Glancing at her phone, she realized she was 15 minutes overdue to meet her brother.
“Sorry,” she muttered, sending him a quick text and rising to her feet. “Speaking of ‘now,’ I’m late for dinner with my brother. It’s been fun meeting you, but I really need to run.”
Michelle looked dismayed.
“You’ve been such a help, and I’d like to repay you. Can I take you to dinner some other night?”
Again, Kryssa felt her pulse race.
“I’d love to have dinner with you! What’s your number? I’ll text you now so we can keep in touch.”
That accomplished, Michelle walked Kryssa to her car.
“I love Miatas,” she remarked wistfully as Kryssa got in. “So adorable.”
“Who knows?” Kryssa replied, her blue eyes shining with mischief. “Maybe I’ll take you for a ride in it one of these days.”
“You can take me anywhere.”
As Kryssa’s jaw dropped, Michelle turned to hide her sudden blush and strolled back to her house, unaware that Kryssa was staring at her curvy backside. Really, with her wavy dark hair and eyes and petite frame, Michelle could not have matched Kryssa’s ideal for a beautiful woman more if she had tried. As she disappeared into the house, Kryssa finally shook her head to clear it and started the engine.
After a moment, Michelle heard the little car roar down the street, and smiled, thinking of the beautiful blonde. Too bad they could never be more than friends.
Dinner with Karl was its usual mix of laughter, good food and smart conversation. With their wide cheekbones, fair hair and identical blue eyes, the two made a striking pair in the dining room of the Italian bistro he had recently discovered. Even to themselves, they looked like a male and female version of the same tall, fair Eastern European athlete.
“So who’s this kaçak iddaa chick who made you late?” he asked. “You just got back, and you’ve already met someone? My God, you move fast!”
“No, no, no, bro,” Kryssa answered. “It’s not like that. For all I know she’s married to a nice man and has a couple of kids.”
Karl regarded his sister for a moment. “Tell me about your afternoon with her.”
Over hot, yeasty bread, and then their entrees, she told the tale, starting with the carload of cat-callers (“Morons!” he snorted) and taking him through the next two hours.
“And you don’t think a statement like ‘you can take me anywhere’ means she’s interested? Of course she is! Look at you! You’re beautiful, smart, hilarious, and generally one white-hot almost 30-year-old babe. And you have a great job! Anyone would be lucky to land a girl like you. If you were straight, half my guy friends would be fighting each other for the chance to take you out and win your heart. And the other half would be wishing they were single too.”
“I don’t want to assume. I hardly know her,” and Kryssa looked away from Karl’s direct gaze, “but she fits my ideal of the perfect woman. I kept getting a feeling that she could be the love of my life. Silly, since we just met, but I kept feeling it.”
“It’s not silly at all. That’s exactly how I felt when I met Andrea, and you see how that’s worked out.”
Kryssa lifted one pale eyebrow philosophically and took another bite of the chicken Francese. Her brother’s romance with his wife had sent the entire family into a delighted frenzy when he had brought her home from veterinary school. Karl had towered over the tiny woman as he stood with his arm around her to introduce her to his parents and sister, and everyone couldn’t help but laugh at the physical contrast between them. Kryssa and her mother had extracted Andrea from Karl’s grasp and taken her to the kitchen, where she fitted in immediately, helping them with the intricate stamped cookies her mother insisted on making every Christmas. Andrea’s whip-smart intellect and obvious love for Karl had impressed both parents right away. Kryssa grinned at the memory. Despite their differences — or maybe because of them — Karl and Andrea were the happiest couple she knew.
“True — but can lightning strike twice in the same family?”
“Of course it can,” Karl replied. “Weirder things have happened. You’re inherently a happy person, sis — so why not? You know Mom and Dad would be thrilled for you to bring a nice girl home.”
She shrugged. “Time will tell. Michelle said she wants to take me to dinner to say thanks for helping her — so we’ll see. In the meantime, I had fun this afternoon and I’m having fun now with my big bro, and that’s what matters.”
Karl smiled and raised his wineglass to her. “To destiny.”
“Or density,” Kryssa responded, capping off their old joke.
“Whatever,” Karl said. “I’m betting on my sister to win.”
During the next two days, Michelle started to text her new friend at least a dozen times, but never hit “send.” She sternly told herself to quit acting like a lovestruck 15 year old, and concentrate on her work.
Trouble was, she had been concentrating on her work for years. As the police reporter for the Toledo Saber, she had one of the busiest and most consuming beats at the paper. In her six years on the staff, Michelle had won awards for her investigative work, including Ohio’s top journalism honor for a series on human trafficking. That series had taken months to report and had haunted her throughout. She still heard the voices of some of the victims — especially one girl in particular — in her dreams.
Sitting in her backyard on Wednesday evening, she sipped a beer as her thoughts turned to Lindy, a teen she had met at a truck stop as she did her reporting. Over the next two evenings, Lindy had spoken freely with Michelle about her life — how her mother had sold her to a middle-aged pimp who had auctioned off her virginity online, about the brutality of an existence that reduced her to a commodity to be sold but never valued, about the crippling depression caused by knowing she had no future.
“I’m not the only one,” she had told Michelle, “and it’ll never stop. But maybe if you write about me, it’ll save another kid.”
Michelle had gulped to keep from crying, but Lindy had shaken her head and given her an odd little smile.
“Don’t worry about me, just tell my story. Save the others.” And with that, Lindy had slipped away into the shadows.
The next night, Michelle returned, determined to get Lindy into a group home, or at least off the streets. But the girl had disappeared.
The series ran two months later. The day after it ended, a group of kids skipping school found Lindy’s body by the Maumee River. Overdose. Possibly suicide, but ruled accidental since no witnesses came forward and police found no evidence of intent.
The tears ran down Michelle’s face as they always did when she thought about kaçak bahis Lindy. In her own mind, she felt sure Lindy had taken her own life. She sniffed, wiping her cheeks. The stereotypical crime reporter was stoic, hardened, emotionless in the face of tragedy, much like the police he or she covered. Michelle shook her head. She would never reach that point. Although her sensitivity often made her job more difficult, she felt it also deepened her writing, and that mattered more to her than a few tears.
Two years had passed since the series had run, and Michelle had continued to follow the issue with occasional updates. She felt she owed it to Lindy.
Finishing off the drink, she almost felt the girl’s presence, not in a threatening way, but as a peaceful spirit. She closed her eyes, seeing Lindy’s face with its crooked nose in her mind’s eye. The vision remained silent but that little smile reappeared, and Michelle suddenly had the oddest sense of being admonished for not moving on.
I need to tell your story, she told the girl. I need to save the others, just like you told me.
Lindy shook her head, and words filled Michelle’s head as if the dead girl had spoken.
You need to tell your own story. You need to save yourself.
Michelle shivered and opened her eyes. She was quite alone, except for the crickets making a ruckus as darkness fell, and the faint sounds of traffic a few blocks away. She picked up the beer bottle and went inside.
Her phone vibrated with new messages from sources and the newsroom, but she ignored them all for once and tapped out a text.
“Michelle here. How about dinner Saturday?”
Kryssa responded almost immediately.
“I thought you’d never ask!”
Kryssa pulled up to the restaurant with three minutes to spare. After some back and forth with Michelle, she had suggested the bistro Karl had introduced her to, and Michelle had agreed with enthusiasm. Smoothing her cotton wrap dress — its peach color flattered her complexion better than anything else she owned, and showed her cleavage and slender waist to perfection — she looked around the parking lot, trying unsuccessfully to guess which car might be Michelle’s, then walked through the door, peering around.
Spotting her, Michelle waved from a table halfway to the kitchen and Kryssa surged forward. Her dazzling smile brought Michelle to her feet, and Kryssa spread her arms for a hug. Michelle couldn’t have refused if she wanted to — and she didn’t want to.
Both women seemed to glow as they settled into their chairs. At the next table, two men discussing that afternoon’s Mud Hens game fell silent for a full 30 seconds as they stared.
“You look beautiful. Thanks for coming out tonight,” Michelle said, shooting an amused look at the still-speechless men.
“You look pretty great yourself,” and Kryssa gestured at Michelle’s deep red blouse, which did marvelous things for her coloring and figure. “And thank you for the invitation! I was beginning to think you had either lost your phone or you didn’t like me.”
“Not a chance of either one. We reporters can’t afford to lose our phones, and how could I not like someone who spent two hours helping me undo a mistake?”
Kryssa shifted in her seat and grinned.
“True enough. I was rather awesome on Sunday.”
“And so modest too!”
“Oh, so you do know how to tease me back,” Kryssa said. “I was wondering.”
“It takes me a little time before I feel comfortable with that. In fact, I’ll have you know, this is very fast track for me.”
“I appreciate that. I love to tease, but never in a mean way. And I expect to receive my share.”
Michelle eyed her.
“You and I are going to get along great. Now, tell me what’s good here. I’m famished.”
Over dinner, the conversation flowed easily, as if the two had known and liked each other for a long time. Michelle described her job as a crime reporter — “just as grimy and all-consuming as it sounds” — and Kryssa asked a number of questions about The Saber, which she had grown up reading.
“When I was little, I didn’t realize actual people wrote those articles,” Kryssa confessed. “In our home, The Saber might as well have been divinely inscribed and handed down from Mount Sinai. My parents loved that paper.”
Michelle laughed. “Anyone who’s ever been in any newsroom, anywhere, knows the hand of heaven seldom touches us. It’s all hard work, and scanners squawking, and people yelling, and TVs blaring, and getting a crick in your neck from holding the phone against your shoulder while you type…”
“Don’t you people have headsets, or cell phones?”
“Not good headsets that cut through all the noise. And a lot of people, especially tipsters, don’t like calling a cell phone because it’s so easy to trace a number. So they use our landlines. Plus, our building is old and built like a dungeon, which means it has dead zones. I’ve gotten to where I prefer the landlines because they don’t drop calls.”
“Yeah. These days, journalism is mostly high-tech, but with some anachronisms that keep the whole enterprise as quirky as it ever was.”
“Do you ever wish you could have worked in the old days?”
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