The darkness of the Wheeling Tunnel swallowed our sedan. In that instant, my chest felt as hollow as the mountain through which we drove. The light at the end of this particular tunnel looked far from inviting. That glare ahead, I knew, was Ohio. Sure, we still had a couple more hours of driving to go, but this was the final border.
I looked to the driver's seat and Lynn, my lover. Her eyes were forward, as they had been throughout the whole of West Virginia. Neither of us had spoken a word since Pittsburgh.
I judged from Lynn's granite countenance that she was still unwilling to give any quarter for my crime. She was beautiful, even when she was mad, and I'd never seen her angrier. Ok, maybe once. Still, I decided I had to find a way to make up before we reached our destination. I was certain if we failed to reconcile before we arrived, a weekend that already promised to be difficult might well be nothing short of a disaster.
The brightness of sunlight once again surrounded the vehicle, snapping me from my daze. I turned my face to Lynn. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to call Denise my daughter. I know I said it, but I didn't mean it that way."
Lynn kept her eyes fixed to the ribbon of asphalt that stretched into the rolling hills before us. "What other way can you have meant it?"
"The same way you would if you called her your daughter," I countered.
"I always call her our daughter," Lynn insisted.
"Even when I'm not around? Surely if you're in a store with Denise, you'd say, 'I'm here with my daughter.' Saying 'our daughter' instead just wouldn't make sense."
"We weren't in a store, were we?"
"And you've never said 'my daughter' before in my presence, have you?"
My gaze fell to my feet. "No."
"To know that you could even think that," Lynn paused to pan her face my way, "that really hurt. I don't think you would have hurt me that much if you had asked for a separation."
My eyes leapt from the floor to hers. "I never want to be with anyone but you!"
Lynn swallowed through a grimace. "Me neither." She popped her face forward, but not before I saw a tear emerge from her eye and start to make its way down her cheek.
"What do you want me to say?" I begged, hoping my expression conveyed all the sorrow I felt in my heart. "I said I was sorry. I really didn't mean anything. I was just stressed. I still am. Can't you forgive me?"
Lynn's diminutive frame swelled as she passed a mammoth breath. "You know there's only way you can ever truly say you're sorry; for anything."
"Never do it again."
I paused to swallow as I considered her words. Within seconds, I concluded she was absolutely correct. "I won't," I promised, my head bobbing as if my neck was a broken spring.
"Fair enough," Lynn agreed. "I'll forgive you. But it may take a while before I forget. It really did hurt!"
"I know," I said. "I really do."
"Alright then. Can we talk about something else?"
I glanced to the back seat where our daughter usually sat. "Do you think I was wrong to leave Denise with my mother?"
"That isn't exactly something else."
"Yes it is," I insisted.
Lynn's eyes wandered and her mouth twitched for a handful of seconds. "I still don't understand what it is you're afraid of. This isn't the dark ages and we're lesbians, not mass-murderers. They aren't going to stone us."
"Not with rocks," I countered. "But words can hurt just as bad, and the bruises last longer. You know that."
Lynn nodded, keeping her eyes to the road. "Yeah. I know."
"Do you still feel the same way about seeing your dad again?"
Lynn nodded again, this time with more resolution. "When my father disowned me because of who I loved, I disowned him back. I don't intend to acknowledge his existence and I hope he affords me the same."
I sighed as I thought of Lynn's immediate family, or more like ex-family. Her father had indeed renounced her existence in every way possible. I had always felt guilty about the breach, especially when I considered how open-minded my parents had been regarding my choice of partners. "I still can't believe your mom won't talk to her only child."
"Yeah," Lynn sighed. "That does bother me. But she is very religious and my dad has her ear. And the checkbook."
"All of your family can't feel that way," I noted. "Chad did invite you to his wedding."
"That's my point," Lynn began. "About you being worried for nothing. It is his wedding, after all; and if my cousin wants me there then I think everyone else will at least respect that and not make a scene."
"You said me," I noted.
"You said, 'my cousin wants me there.' You didn't say us."
Lynn glanced my way. "My cousin is smart, just like you; but he's more subtle. The invitation was to Wendy Sullivan and Lynn Radcliffe. I know it was not an accident that he put your name first. He wants us both to come."
Gravity claimed my eyes for a few moments before I brought them back to my companion's face. "I thought maybe he was just being polite."
Lynn shrugged. "Even if that's all it is, aren't you worried about people being impolite?"
"I guess," I admitted. "But it seems like it would have caused a lot less waves if you'd gone without me."
"We discussed this last week!" Lynn snapped. "If we don't show up a couple, then they win. You know it's true!"
Ah. They. Anonymous plural people. Or in this case ubiquitous narrow-minded rural anonymous plural people. "Small towns just scare me." I noted with a shake of my head.
"We even get looks back in Philly," Lynn countered. "Remember?"
"True," I agreed. "It isn't always the city of sisterly love either."
Lynn beamed. "Exactly! It's not just the small towns. You're rushing to judge them in the same way you expect them to judge us. You have to give them a chance to be bigots before you hate them for it."
I stiffened at the accusation that I was guilty of the same sin as those I despised; or at least wanted to despise. My spine collapsed with my ire. I sank back into my seat. "You're right," I admitted. "I have to give them a chance first." I cut my eyes her way. "But don't think I won't enjoy saying 'I told you so' before I start hating them!"
Lynn chuckled. "I know you will."
As the journey continued, my partner's spirits appeared to climb, and mine alongside. By the time we bedded down in a Columbus motel, I was at least comfortable that my love had forgiven me. How the town would feel about us the next day, I was far less comfortable about that.
We kissed goodnight and cuddled as we always do, but I found sleep would not arrive. For hours my wide eyes stared toward the gloom of a tomorrow I could see no clearer than the other side of the dark motel room.
* * * * *
"Here we are," Lynn announced. "Beautiful downtown Melville, population a few hundred; maybe."
We weren't really downtown yet; that was few hundred yards away. I gawked at the houses and trees that lined Main Street amid the afternoon sun. It was the main street, indeed the only paved road, of the small town. Some homes, like the trees, were large, some small; some new, some old. But each was different. I thought back to our home in the suburbs, where every fourth house was identical. Of course, Melville's suburbs consisted of but a half-dozen streets. Then we were truly downtown; in the business district, which, near as I could tell, consisted of three bars, the post office, a gas station, and a grain silo.
"What's it like to live where you can walk across town in five minutes?" I wondered aloud.
Lynn chuckled. "Want to move here and find out?"
"Relax," Lynn counseled. "By this time tomorrow we'll be headed home."
I nodded through a sigh. "You're right. It'll be good to be home again." I thought about the week to follow, glad I had taken an extra day off and did not have to return to work until Wednesday.
Lynn piloted the car onto the gravel of a side street toward the tallest structure in town, if one did not count the silo or the water tower. The steeple rose above us as we approached. My eyes were locked on the pinnacle, recalling the days when the fanatical followers of the faith impaled or burned those who failed to adhere to the accepted interpretation of the scriptures.
"Here we are," Lynn announced, killing the engine. She looked beyond our car at the other well-dressed guests meandering toward the chapel. "And look, no torches and pitchforks."
I smiled. "Maybe they're in the trunks."
"Maybe they're in your head."
"Maybe," I admitted with a nod.
My eyes found Lynn's face. It was as angelic as ever. Her pale blue dress complimented her golden hair and matched her sparkling eyes, accentuating her loveliness. "You're so pretty," I muttered, thinking out loud more than anything else.
For the first time I fretted about my appearance, and how the people might regard me. I figured even those that did accept Lynn as a lesbian would probably think she could have done better than me.
"You're lovely too," Lynn replied, her face aglow. "Brunettes always look good in lavender!"
I smiled as my eyes fell to the purple of my dress and the soft figure beneath it. I knew Lynn really did find me attractive, no matter what anyone else thought. Not for the first time, or the last, I resolved not to care what anyone else thought. With a smile, I reached for the door handle.
Lynn and I walked to the church side-by-side. Though we often strolled hand-in-hand back in Philadelphia, neither of us made any move to grasp the other's palm. Lynn presented our invitation to the usher, who promptly escorted us to the next open pew on the groom's side.
"I didn't see your family," I whispered as we took our seats.
"Fourth row," Lynn replied in a most stoic tone. "Far left."
I craned my neck. "Your mom, is that her in the yellow dress?"
"Yes," Lynn said, without so much as a glance that direction.
I sank back into my seat. Unsure what to make of her curt response, I decided to let the issue die. My eyes roamed the chapel in the awkward minutes that preceded the ceremony. I was certain I had scoured every detail in both the statues and the stained glass before I finally heard the first welcome notes of "Here Comes the Bride."
And what a bride! My chest and the heart within froze as I beheld her beauty. Her face was chiseled elegance, at once too perfect to be real yet too majestic to be otherwise. Her eyes sparkled as they moved in a pattern timed with each methodical step. The dress was lovely, made lovelier by the consummate figure beneath it. As she passed, I saw her jet-black hair shimmer as it trailed onto her back in much the same manner that the train of her dress sparkled where it slid across the crimson carpet.
My lips formed a bitter pout as I realized I would most likely never make that long walk nor wear a wedding dress. I shifted my gaze to Lynn. Sure, I considered us to be a permanent couple, but it had never been driven home quite so clearly that society would not allow us make our love officially eternal.
Lynn leaned her head closer to me. "Rachel does look lovely," she whispered.
I leaned my face toward hers. "Yes. She does," I agreed. As I watched the bride approach the altar, I realized I was not jealous of her beauty; I was jealous that she had the right to proclaim the feelings she harbored for her beloved to all the world; while I did not.
The clergyman proceeded to deliver his discourse and then led the couple through their vows. With each word, my resentment grew at the establishment that favored what I had come to know as but a narrow band of all the love two humans can share. By the time the minister introduced the couple as man and wife, I was steamed.
"Slow down," Lynn insisted as I stomped ahead toward our car. "What's the rush?"
I forced myself to walk at a more deliberate pace. "I don't know." A second later, I realized that was an outright lie. I stopped and faced my partner. "Ok, I do know. It pisses me off that institutions that claim to serve a loving god won't allow people to love one another as they see fit. There's what, a million ways humans can hate one another, but only one way we're allowed to love? That's just bullshit! Oh, they claim to love the sinner, but hate the sin, but that's bullshit too. They hate both. They hate us for loving one another. How stupid is that? Well I hate them back! Every damn one of them!"
"Oh, Wendy," Lynn whispered with a gentle sigh. "I'm just thankful I'm allowed to love you at all. Sure, I thought about marrying you while we were in there. And it wasn't the first time I thought of it, but I don't need to announce to everyone that I'll love you forever. I only need to announce it to you. And you know it, don't you?"
I sniffed back a tear as I nodded my agreement. "I wish we could just go home."
"I know," Lynn said. "And, frankly, so do I. But look, no one stoned us yet, right? No one even said anything rude."
I twisted my lips as I considered her words. "No one said anything, period."
Lynn shrugged. "Most of them don't even know us. Those that do will probably pay us a visit at the reception, which is why we have to go. Who knows, it may even be fun!"
I shrugged. "Ok. Let's go get it over with." With that I started again for the car.
"Look," Lynn prompted, stopping me in my tracks. "I cherish how emotional and compassionate you are. You have to believe we are doing something today simply by being here. It's our small part, but at least we're doing it."
"You're right," I said. "It just doesn't seem like anyone else cares."
"They do," Lynn insisted. "Just because we can't see the difference in a single day doesn't mean it's not happening. A few generations ago, we couldn't have been an open couple. In the course of human history, that much change in such a short time is a minor miracle."
I scratched my ear with my shoulder. "I suppose you're right."
We resumed our trip to the car and made the short drive to the local community center.
"What do you know about the bride's family?" I asked as we got out of our vehicle.
"Rachel? Not much. I guess her family is one of the more influential ones in the area. Her father is, like, the mayor or the sheriff, I forget which."
I nodded, then chuckled. "Probably both."
Lynn shared my amusement with a snort. "Probably."
I got my first glimpse of Lynn's parents as we took our seat at the reception. As if to make his already understood position clear, her father changed seats at his table so his back was to us. I could not help but smile when Lynn at once reciprocated the gesture.
Thus Lynn and I sat on the edge of the hall, generally ignored by everyone, even those at our table. Having little else to do, I most likely consumed a chalice too much of wine after dinner. I found myself looking at the clock and willing it to move faster, yet the stubborn timepiece had no intention of heeding my plea.
"At least they aren't stoning us," Lynn quipped.
"No pitchforks either," I noted with a smirk. "Not yet anyway."
It was true. Throughout the day, not a soul had openly assaulted us with either word or deed, but there had been the looks, and the pointing. I was fairly certain I'd heard some snickers, but that was the extent of any overt discourtesy. For the most part, everyone just ignored us, which was fine with me. I prayed it was fine with Lynn.
My eyes moved to the clock again. Two minutes since last time I had looked.
"I think it's been long enough," Lynn said, noting my interest in the timepiece. "If you want to leave, I think we can do so and not be rude."
I glanced to Lynn's parents then back to her. "You know you want to wait and give your mom a chance to stop by. I know she's thinking of doing just that. She has to be."
Lynn shook her head. "She's had her chance. Besides, if it was that important, I could go over there. Sometimes stubborn people get what they deserve."
I wasn't sure if Lynn was referring to her mother or herself. "I think we should stay," I suggested. "That way they can ignore us some more. Makes me feel like we're winning."
Lynn managed a slight grin. "That a girl!"
The second hand on the clock had made but four revolutions before I was already regretting my hasty decision to remain.
"We're gonna speed things up a bit!" called the DJ through his microphone. I hoped he meant the clock, but true to his word, the man started a fast, hard song; one not even suited for dancing. Those over college age left the floor en masse.
My focus shifted from the dance area to the head table where I spied the groom chatting with a few guests. He parted with the small group and walked our direction. I looked once over each shoulder, confirming there was no one else near.
"Chad's headed this way," I noted. "Maybe he'll prove me wrong and dance with you after all."
Lynn looked to me and smiled. "Who knows? Maybe he'll prove you way wrong and dance with you!"
I snorted my general contempt. "Care to make a wager?"
Lynn shook her head. "I wouldn't want to take your money."
"Good evening, ladies," said Chad as he reached our table.
"Hi," replied Lynn with a broad smile.
I nodded politely. "Hi."
The groom turned to his cousin. "I was wondering if I might have this dance?"
Lynn looked to me. "You sure you don't want to go first?"
I vibrated my head to and fro. "No! I'm a lousy slow dancer and a worse fast one."
"Ok," said Lynn, giving me a wink. "Your loss." Rising, she accepted her cousin's hand and they walked onto the dance floor.
I watched them for a minute or so before shifting my attention to the onlookers. I expected to find a few people whispering and pointing, but no one seemed to take any notice of the groom and the lesbian dancing together. I hoped I would be just as invisible when my turn came, if I couldn't find some way to avoid the obligation altogether.
The song had just begun to wind down and I was thinking of making a dash to hide in the washroom when I heard a voice over my shoulder.
"Would you care to dance?"
I was startled anyway, doubly so since the voice was feminine. Turning, I found Rachel standing behind me, her face alive with cheer. My head snapped right, then left, before returning to the bride.
Rachel flashed a wide smile and extended her hand. "Why not you?"
My jaw fell and my eyes with it. I intended to decline. I wanted to decline. This is a trap, my timid side cautioned. You are about to be the butt of some cruel joke. Don't fall for it!
Hoping for a clue to what I ought do, I looked to the floor where Lynn and Chad still twisted to the rapid beat of the music. Their focus was upon one another. I forced my gaze back to the bride's face. She was even lovelier up close. I saw not a hint of malice in her features. If she's going to play a joke on me, I reasoned, then that's her sin; not mine!
"Thank you," I said, placing my palm in hers. My eyes flitted in every direction as I tried to gauge the reactions of various onlookers. I was certain every eye was upon the pudgy lesbian and the elegant bride walking hand in hand.
As Rachel and I hit the floor, the DJ killed the bright lights and went to a soft song, one that would have made Lawrence Welk proud. The young crowd vacated the dance area at once. Some of the older crowd started to return, but stopped. I inhaled a stiff breath as I realized we were the only two people left on the floor.
My eyes must have been wide with fright.
"Relax," Rachel said. "Everything's going to be alright." She grasped my hand and began to lead. The leggy brunette was a truly excellent dancer; she even managed to seem graceful dragging me around. But my attention was not on her.
As the bride spun me about the floor, my focus roamed the room. Every face my eyes landed upon seemed to be looking our way. In hindsight, I'm confident this was the case; who could fail to notice the two of us on the floor by ourselves? Just as disquieting as the stares was the sound my ears detected; or more appropriately, the sound my ears failed to detect.
Where moments before there had been a din of conversation to be heard even above the loud, fast song, I now heard nothing but the slow, soft melody. My eyes tried to find Lynn as we rotated, but she eluded the search. Thus the bride and I spun across the floor, all eyes upon us.
In spite of her loose embrace, I felt quite alone.
Perhaps Rachel sensed my anxiety. "You're quite pretty," she said. "I always thought us brunettes look good in lavender. You and Lynn make such a cute couple."
I stiffened. She sounded sincere, but I was reluctant to believe it. "I, uh," I stammered, "was just telling Lynn how beautiful you were earlier." My eyes widened. "In a good way, I mean!"
Rachel chuckled. "I know exactly what you mean; and thank you. Do you not dance much?"
Rachel tilted her head as she continued to guide the both of us through gentle circles. "Why Lynn, of course."
"Oh," I stammered. "I guess I never was much for dancing."
"You should give it some thought," the bride suggested. "You're a natural. And it is rather fun; no?"
I felt my spirits perk up as her words registered. Can she really enjoy dancing with me? I dared wonder. But it is rather fun, isn't it? Within a minute I had admitted to myself the experience was a pleasant one, even given the awkward circumstances.
As the final notes of the song ended, Rachel stopped, but she did not release me. If anything, the arm around my waist exhibited a stronger hold than before. Her other hand grasped my palm like a vice. We stood alone, clutching one another, in the center of the floor.
Then I heard it. A clap. It echoed like a gunshot in the silent hall. A half-second later another followed from the same direction. Then a third one, louder and more emphatic than the previous two.
I started to spin my head to seek the source, but Rachel's voice stopped me.
"Don't look," she whispered. "It's the best man. This is the moment of truth. Keep looking at me."
For a fraction of a second my soul begged me to break her grip and flee. Then the trust I felt for Rachel suppressed my cowardly urge. Still unsure what she meant, I did as she requested. She simply looked back at me. Her expression did little to calm my nerves. There was no confidence, no smile. My eyes started to wander again, but I reined them in before they had roamed far.
After the sixth clap, I heard it; another clap from a different direction. Though Rachel's head did not budge, her eyes shot to the source of the second echo. Her lips curled upward, but just. Within a heartbeat, a third set of hands responded from another compass point. A second later, the hall erupted in applause.
Only then did Rachel dare to flash a full smile. In that instant, what the woman had done became clear to me. It was the farthest thing from a joke. I felt like the lowest slime of the planet for thinking she was even capable of such a thing.
And I was the lowest slime on the planet. On the night of her life, she had done the most compassionate and courageous thing I have ever personally heard of, let alone witnessed. She'd risked her reputation, perhaps even her honor, for someone and something she had no personal stake in. My lips formed a hard white line as I realized I was most unworthy of the risk she had taken on my behalf.
When we imagine bravery, our culture leads us to conjure images of heroes in battle, risking life and limb; or a fireman rescuing a baby from a burning building. I mean no disrespect to soldiers or firefighters, but that's their job; to be brave and take risks, it's expected.
No one expects a bride to take a stand on a volatile social issue on her wedding night; in front of her friends and family. In hindsight, I am sure Rachel did not know what the reaction would be when she took me onto that dance floor; more so when the best man demanded that everyone in the hall get off the fence and choose.
No, Rachel did not have to do anything. She could have ignored me and gone on with her life. Not a soul would have thought the less of her for it. But she didn't; and that is what makes her courage so extraordinary.
I began to pant through an open mouth as all the pieces fell into place within my insufficient intellect. My eyes welled, then overflowed. "Th, th, thank you," I managed to utter before it was all I could do to breathe.
Rachel grinned. "It truly was my pleasure."
I moved my moist eyes around the room once, across the host of standing people, all of whom still both stared and applauded. With a shudder, I broke down and began to sob. Rachel embraced me, cradling my face to her shoulder. There I wept, my tears bleeding into the white of her dress.
Thus I cried in front of a town I thought hated me, but I found did not. It was only a few, a vehement few, who had felt such animosity. And they had lost. Before they even knew what was happening, a valiant young woman had through an act of utter compassion exposed their hostility for the evil it truly is.
Though most of my tears were of joy, there was also shame in my sobs; for I also had judged others, and my opinion too had been found wanting.
Rachel released me as the applause subsided. "You should dance with Lynn now," she suggested.
"You're right," I managed between breaths. "Thank you again."
The bride put her hand to my shoulder. "Don't mention it." With that, she issued a gentle nudge, urging me on my way.
I spun. My still-soaked eyes found my Lynn. Her beaming and ruddy face said more than words could. Another slow song started as I scurried across the floor. But I never made it to my beloved.
"Could I have this dance, young lady?"
It was another feminine voice, a familiar one. My spine stiffened as I turned to face an older lady in a yellow dress. My lower lip fell, quivering as I recognized the woman. I snapped my eyes to Lynn. The little blonde's head bobbed in the most adamant of fashions. I returned my focus to Mrs. Radcliffe, tonguing my lips once before gasping, "I'd love to."
Lynn's mom and I had made but one circle before each of us began to sniff back tears. We both muttered, "I'm sorry," at the same instant and then shared a chuckle before trying to figure out how to dance with no one leading.
Rachel was not honest to a fault. Upon the point of me being a natural, she had lied. I'm still an awful dancer. But that didn't stop a half-dozen women from the small town from dancing with me just the same. Nor did it stop me from enjoying each one more than the last.
We didn't see Lynn's father again that night, or ever for that matter. He and those few of a similar mind had made a hasty exit, like cockroaches running from the light. I'm sure they thought of themselves as the vast majority, but a single act of compassion had revealed the truth to be quite the opposite.
No one seemed to miss the few departed as we danced what remained of the night away. My string of female partners was interrupted as the evening waned by a tap on the shoulder and a masculine voice, "May I cut in?"
Spinning my head, I found the best man behind me. My eyes flushed the instant they met his. I nodded through a sniffle before I could speak. "Yes, please."
The man grinned as he took my hand. "Please?" he quipped. "It's the man who should do the asking, especially with one as lovely as you."
I knew he was just being a country gentleman, but I couldn't stop myself from beaming through a blush anyway. "Thank you," I said as we began to move. "Justin, isn't it?"
"Yes, but it is I who should thank you for the privilege of the dance."
"No," I replied. "I meant for earlier. What you and Rachel did. Thank you."
The man smiled. "Oh, that. I must confess it was her idea. Chad mentioned something about you two sitting off in a corner by yourselves and next thing I knew she'd pulled me aside with the most incredible scheme."
Just when I thought there was no higher pedestal in my mind, there was Rachel upon it.
"No matter whose idea it was," I began, "you helped. It's so amazing it still feels like one of those dreams; the ones where you wake up and wish it was true."
Justin nodded. "Yeah. We all have those."
"You don't know how much it means to us that this dream is real."
The man twisted his lips. "Oh, I think I do."
"If you do, then you must accept our thanks," I insisted.
Justin nodded again, this time with a smile. "Ok. You're welcome."
Lynn and I finally got our chance to dance; by then we were each drained, physically and emotionally. We looked into one another's bloodshot eyes, shared a chuckle, and then embraced. Thus we hugged more than danced our way through the final song.
"I can't believe it," Lynn whispered. "Do you realize Rachel did that almost on the spur of the moment?"
"Yes," I gasped as I nodded my agreement. "She certainly knows how to strike when the iron is hot!"
"Someone else did too," Lynn said. "At least better than me, anyway."
"What do you mean?"
"We're invited to a get together at the bar tomorrow," Lynn whispered in my ear as the music faded. "Kind of a post-reception party."
The bar? The words thundered through my consciousness. Images followed. A smoky, poorly lit old building with dusty wooden floors. Country music. Old men with wrinkled bronze skin and cowboy hats drinking bottled lager. Everyone giving an evil eye to strangers; especially strange strangers.
I pulled away from Lynn to look her in the eye. "The bar?"
She grinned as her head bobbed in a brisk nod. "Yes. The bar."
"Isn't that, like, the last bastion for the narrow-minded?"
"I know," Lynn said, almost squealed. "Isn't that amazing? All the more reason we should go."
My head moved in a slow nod. "You're right; it is amazing and we should go."
"I was right about a couple things," Lynn noted. "Wasn't I? Including how somebody I love was being narrow-minded too. Especially toward Rachel. Do you suppose you owe her an apology?"
I nodded. "Then I'd have to admit what I was apologizing for. I'm not sure I could."
"You do want her to know how you feel about what she did, don't you?"
I looked to the bride, then back to my love. "If me bawling on her wedding dress in front of everyone didn't say everything about how I feel, what else will?"
Lynn issued a single chuckle. "Good point."
* * *
Lynn and I slept much more soundly that night than we had the previous one. We slumbered well through the morning until the motel's cleaning crew stirred us just prior to checkout time. The midday sun found us driving back to Melville instead of Pennsylvania.
Main Street looked exactly as it had but twenty-four hours earlier, yet it seemed like a different place. I told myself it was my perception that had changed, but I didn't believe it. The place felt warm and welcome. Deep inside, a part of me knew that while I looked upon the town with a new sense of respect, it did the same to me.
Faces aglow, Lynn and I strode into the bar hand-in-hand. Those friends we had made the prior evening welcomed us at once.
"So, baby, you come here often?" Justin asked of me, his eyebrows bouncing in an obvious jest.
"No," I replied, turning to his wife with a sly grin and a bounce of my own brow. "But for the right person I could make an exception."
Everyone shared a laugh. If it had not been already cracked, that broke the ice completely. Lynn and I felt like celebrities as we fielded the simplest of questions, the subjects of which grew more forward as everyone became comfortable with us.
"So," one woman eventually began, "does either of you, you know, act like the man in the relationship?"
Lynn chuckled. "Wendy has the job and I tend the house if that's what you mean."
"Well," the woman stammered, "I sorta meant, well, you know..."
"In bed?" Lynn asked.
"No." Lynn replied. "We're both girls there."
"When did you know you liked girls instead of boys?" one of the younger women inquired of me.
I was still considering the matter when Lynn answered for me, "Actually, Wendy's bi."
I turned to my partner, my mouth just agape.
"What does that mean?" another lady asked.
"It means..." Lynn began.
"It means," I interrupted, "that when seeking a partner for a serious relationship I do not discriminate based on the genitalia a person happens to have been born with."
The silence caused me some concern that I had with my haughty reply undone any goodwill we might have fostered. I need not have worried. Lynn bailed me out. She leaned my way, draped her arm around my neck, and flashed that wonderful smile. "But I do discriminate!" she declared. "Wendy's the only one for me!"
I often envy the way my partner can relieve what seems to be the most odious tension with a quip and a smile. I could almost feel the anxiety dissolve as faces once again brightened around us.
"So, if you're bi, does that mean you have a boyfriend too?" the younger woman eagerly inquired.
"No!" I responded, giving my head an adamant shake. "Lynn and I are completely monogamous, as faithful to one another as any couple. Just because I'm open to the idea of a male as a partner does not mean I need one!"
"But, what if you broke up?" another asked. "With Lynn, I mean."
I twisted my neck as I attempted to consider a situation my heart told me was an impossibility. "I never really thought about that," I said, my eyes on my lover.
"And you never need to," Lynn whispered in the most reverent of tones.
I felt the corners of my mouth draw upward of their own will. "I suppose," I began, "if Lynn was to die and I didn't perish of sorrow, then I'd consider another love interest. In that case, I suppose I'd be open to either gender, but I'd still give and expect complete fidelity."
"I hear you have a daughter?"
I spun and opened my mouth to reply, but I never spoke. Closing my lips, I turned my head and my eyes to Lynn.
My partner's blue eyes brightened as our gazes met. An instant later she shifted her attention across the table. "Yes," she declared. "We do have a daughter."
"Where is she?"
"Our Denise is staying with my mom," I said. "In Pittsburgh."
"How old is she?"
"You should have brought her!"
"We thought about it," Lynn replied. "But we decided she might be bored, not knowing any of the other children and all."
"Well, you should have brought her," the woman repeated. "We'd love to have met her and the local children always like having someone from the city visit. The kids out here feel like they're missing everything."
"We'll bring her next time," Lynn said.
Next time, I thought as I snapped my face toward my lover. I saw her smile and realized my knee-jerk reaction was most out of place. I turned my attention back to the lady. "Yes," I agreed. "Next time we'll all come."
And we did.
* * * * *
I like to think we'd still visit Melville even if Lynn's mom had not moved back to her hometown, but who can say? Regardless of our motivation, we look forward to our semi-annual trips to rural Ohio and the friendliest small town on the planet. It is hard to imagine the place once frightened me so; but, like most who experience fear, it turned out I was really just afraid of the unknown.
On our third trip to Melville, Lynn and I had a modest ceremony in the local park. We both wore white and said what we wanted to say in front of those most dear to us. Our daughter was our flower girl. An old high school friend was Lynn's maid of honor. Rachel was mine. Both mothers gave their daughters away. Afterward we had a party at the community center and everyone danced with both brides.
I don't know that Lynn and I will ever wed in the eyes of the law, but we don't care. We are married enough for us and that is all that matters.
Even so, it is comforting to witness the day fast approaching when all of society will recognize that love comes in many forms, all of them benevolent, all of them valid.
I know too how that change will occur. I have seen it. There will be no great battle waged or momentous debate won. Instead the revolution will progress a mind, or maybe a town, at a time. It will happen each time a good person stands up for what they know to be right; in spite of the narrow-minded few who still hold themselves to be a righteous majority; even though they were never the former and are no longer the latter.
I will always think it something of a pity that there will be no great statues raised or epic poems read in honor of all the unheralded individuals who simply do the right thing at the right time, but their deeds mark them as heroes and heroines nonetheless. To this day, when I hear the word heroic, I always picture a gracious young brunette twirling in a flowing white dress.
Dancing with the Bride
Copyright 2005 by Penelope Street
Posted with permission at The Athenaeum
All other rights reserved.