By Melissa Norris
Sweat beaded on Alison’s neck and her breathing came shallowly in the musty heat of the car. She reached for Jacqui’s hand and as their fingers brushed she whispered, “Let me wind down the window. It’s stifling in here.”
“No,” Jacqui murmured. “I don’t want them to see.”
The windows were so thickly tinted that it was difficult to see the two girls inside, clasping hands as Jacqui meandered through the school car park. They passed hoardes of students, many smiling at the thought of going home after a long day.
“What do you think they’re all thinking about us?” Alison murmured, giving Jacqui’s hand a gentle squeeze.
“Probably nothing unusual, so let’s keep it that way.”
As Jacqui pulled onto the street Alison wound down the window, sighing with relief as the air, albeit warm, flowed around the car. The air conditioner was so old that it was still ten minutes from working efficiently and when it had come down to it, both girls had preferred Jacqui get the tinted windows instead, if only so they could share moments in private without the entire school knowing they were more than best friends.
But now summer had rolled around Alison was getting sick of the heated darkness of the car. “Why do you care so much about what other people think?” She closed her eyes and turned her head toward the window, but opened them in surprise when Jacqui took her hand away and placed it back on the wheel.
“Things are fine the way they are.” Worry pinched the corners of Jacqui’s eyes and Alison watched as she gnawed in fear at her bottom lip, which was coated in bright red lipstick. She wanted to reach out and brush her thumb over those lips, to lean forward and kiss her until they were both gasping for breath.
Jacqui glanced at Alison’s face and frowned. “You really should stop doing that.”
“The way you look at me sometimes – people are starting to get suspicious.”
Alison’s gaze fell. “I can’t help it if I find you attractive.” Her eyes roamed over Jacqui’s sun-kissed skin, so much of it revealed by the skimpy tops she wore on hot days, and she closed her eyes, remembering how it felt to be wrapped in Jacqui’s arms, to breathe in the alluring scent of her perfume as her arms held her so tight that they might never let go. Such moments were fast becoming a rarity, something her girlfriend insisted on keeping a secret.
Jacqui sighed, running one hand through her long brown hair as her forehead creased with worry. “Let’s go back to my place. My mum’s not home until six.”
Alison sighed. Though she didn’t agree with Jacqui’s decision, Alison couldn’t blame her for not wanting to come out during high school. Everyone knew her girlfriend as the girl with the bubbly personality who could make friends in an instant and turned any get-together into a fun time. The guys thought she was a flirt, too full of energy to settle down, even for the night. The ruse was always easier than coming out and telling the world about their love for each other, but every time Jacqui pushed her suggestions away Alison knew her patience was breaking.
Jacqui’s mother was just the same. Their house, a stately two-story affair with sharp corners and white columns, was the mark of success for the woman who had bitterly divorced her husband and thought she had something to prove. Alison couldn’t understand why both women were so concerned about their reputations. To her, being happy was the most important thing.
“Don’t forget your schoolbag,” Jacqui muttered as they stepped out of the car. Alison pulled it out after her with a sigh, flinging it over her shoulder and resenting the weight of it under the glowing heat of the sun. It was always so much easier to pretend she was over Jacqui’s house for a study session when they actually brought their books inside with them. Still, Alison longed for the day when it would no longer be necessary.
The house inside was clean and in pristine shape. It always reminded Alison of a showroom in a house on the market that you take people to see before they buy it, somewhere made out for living where no one actually seemed to spend any time for fear of dirtying the furniture or spilling wine on the rug.
Thankfully Jacqui’s bedroom was cosier with its flowing curtains closed over the window, leaving the room in quiet semi-darkness that Jacqui quickly broke with deep, thrumming music from her CD player.
“This is nice,” Alison whispered, crawling over the quilt to lie beside her.
Jacqui gave a soft giggle that echoed along her throat and brushed her fingers along Alison’s face. “You’re so beautiful,” she whispered in a slightly husky voice before leaning in.
“So are you.” Alison drew Jacqui against her, smiling as her girlfriend’s arms locked around her hips. She drew Jacqui closer, delighting in the familiar scent of her perfume and the feel of her long hair brushing against her face as their lips crushed against each other. Jacqui’s gasping breath echoed in her ears and she pulled at Jacqui’s clothes, the music beating with her raging heart.
The music was so loud that neither girl noticed the sound of footsteps along the hall. Light burst into the room and they pulled away from each other in shock, Jacqui hitching up her low-cut top as Alison sprawled onto the floor, pretending to be getting books out of her bag. Thankfully Grace, Jacqui’s mother, had her hand over her face as she opened the door, and even now was rubbing her forehead with her eyes downcast and sighing in a tired voice.
“I’ve had a hell of a day and really don’t feel like cooking tonight. I’m going to go take a bath, Jacqui, and then we’ll just get some takeaway for dinner, okay?”
“And you’re welcome to stay for dinner if you want, Alison,” Grace added in a tired voice.
“Thanks,” Alison said, looking up with a smile at Jacqui’s mum as she tugged her pencil case from the bottom of her bag. She tried to keep her breathing regular and her face natural, but as Grace met her eyes her smile faded and she frowned, looking from one girl to the other.
Alison met Jacqui’s eyes, noticing at once that her girlfriend’s red lipstick was smudged around her mouth, and much of it had probably ended up on her face too. She held back a gasp as Grace glanced at the CD player, seeming to only just notice the significance of the thrumming music. She watched in horror as Grace clenched her jaw, breathing through her teeth for a moment before turning away and closing the door behind her.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe that just happened.” Alison wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, unsurprised when it came back red. “Didn’t I tell you not to buy that cheap lipstick?”
“You know I can’t afford anything better,” Jacqui shot back in a pained whisper. “She knows, doesn’t she? Oh my God, she knows.”
Alison met Jacqui’s eyes, seeing the pain and fear beneath. The strong and beautiful girl had turned so quickly into a worried teenager, tears in her eyes and her face as white as the sheets. Alison sat back down on the bed beside her and took her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. “I know this is probably the last thing you want to hear, but I think it’s time to come out.”
Jacqui shook her head. “I can’t.”
“But you are the strongest girl I know. You have no problem getting in people’s faces. How come this should be any different?”
“Because all that other stuff is just a ruse,” she muttered. “This is personal. What we are… I don’t know if I can.”
Alison sighed. She was so grateful that she’d managed to find Jacqui, but in many ways it wasn’t enough. She was sick of being told she was wrong, unnatural, that she was doing bad things. She was sick of being stared at in public.
“Why can’t we just be open about our relationship like any heterosexual couple?” she asked. “Why can’t we kiss in public or hold hands without people gawking at us from every direction?” She brushed a hand down Jacqui’s arm, searching for her eyes in the shadow she cast over Jacqui’s face. “Sometimes all I want is to hold your hand on the bus or to kiss you as the lights dim in the cinema. I’m sick of hiding away, of being afraid that someone’s going to find me with my limbs locked around another gasping body with breasts and beautiful curves and long brown hair cascading down her back.”
Jacqui smiled through her tears and Alison wound her hair through her fingers and kissed the delicate neck beneath.
“My mum’s going to disown me,” she choked.
“No, she’s not.” Alison gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead. “She won’t, honey, because we’re going to tell her exactly what she needs to know: that we’re in love and that nothing she says or does is going to change that.”
Jacqui gave another watery smile and pulled Alison against her.
“Just give her some time,” Alison murmured. “You and me, we’re ahead of the pack. It’s the rest of the world who haven’t caught up yet.”
MELISSA NORRIS is a journalism and creative writing student who believes that everyone deserves to be treated fairly and with equal respect and rights.
Through writing she hopes to help to break down the stigma surrounding homosexuality and to foster empathy and understanding for same sex couples.