Chapter Fourteen

Saturday afternoon Carys and Jami took the bus to East Lansing and walked to Tam's house. When they rang the bell, Tam let them in.

"Who is it Jen?" asked a young girl who came out of a room down the hallway that led to the right from the door.

"Friends of mine, Alex. We're going to talk to Mom."

"You have friends?" she guffawed.

"Yes, I actually do. Come here."

The girl walked warily down the hall to stand next to Tam, who put an arm over her shoulder.

"Alexis, this is Carys, and Jami."

"Pleased to meet you," said Carys. Jami smiled.

"They look okay," said Alex to Tam.

"I'm glad you think so. Are your sisters home?"

"No. Alia is out with some boy, and Alanis has practice. I'm doing homework."

"Good for you."

Alex looked at Carys, then Jami, smiled and said, "I like your necklace." She turned and walked quickly back down the hall into her room.

"She's the youngest, fifteen," said Tam. Lowering her voice, she added "I have suspicions that she may not be completely straight."

"Oh, horrors," said Carys.

Jami grabbed her arm and said, "No recruiting! We already have Tam."

"Come on. Let's talk with my mom," said Tam. "Mom!"

"I'm in the den, dear."

Tam led Carys and Jami into the den. Her mother was sitting in a chair by the large window, reading.

"Hi, Mom. I brought Carys and Jami with me for you to meet."

The three sat on a sofa as Tam's mother looked on the end table for a bookmark, inserted it in the book, closed the book and looked at them.

"Good. I've been looking forward to meeting the people Jennifer seems to spend all her time with."

Tam looked at Carys and Jami. "Uh, I did tell you my real name is Jennifer, didn't I?"

"Yes, dear," said Carys.

"Sorry. I'm just nervous. Uh, Mom. This is Carys, and this is Jami."

"Pleased to meet you. I'm Kirsten, and you may call me that."

"Thank, you, Kirsten," said Carys.

Kirsten looked at Carys and smiled. "I'm glad one of you has some social skills."

"Mom!" Tam blushed furiously.

"Now, Jennifer. You have the social skills of a philosopher who spends all her time with her nose in a book. That's okay, because you do. But one must occasionally deal with people, and that takes a certain set of skills."

"Actually, Kirsten, I work in a photo store and talk with the public all the time," said Jami.

"And hate every minute of it. Right?"

Jami looked at the floor, trying not to smile. Carys burst out laughing. "You got that right! Before Jami punked out a little, she'd come home and pound on the floor because she was so frustrated. Now she attracts more of the right kind of people."

"People like Jennifer?"

"She helped me change my look," said Jami.

"I liked Jami before that," said Tam. She looked chagrined when she realized what she had said.

Carys put one hand on her mouth to try to stop laughing.

"You're the clown, right?" asked Kirsten.

Jami pointed a finger at Carys, but couldn't speak.

Tam grabbed Jami's outstretched hand and the hand that Carys did not have on her mouth. "Mom, you're making this difficult."

"What is it that I am making difficult? Is this about more than introducing your friends?"

"They're kind of more than just friends, Mom."

"Oh, my. It's not enough that my oldest child proclaims a new gender and decides to devote her life to a course of study that cannot possibly support her. Now you're going to tell me you're engaging in group sex? I do hope you're all being safe about it?"

Tam put her hands on her forehead. "Next time, I'm going to just send you email." She looked at Carys and Jami. "Like I said, Mom can be difficult."

"Oh, all right. I'll listen to what you have to say." Kirsten sat back in her chair.

Tam looked from Carys to Jami, then spoke to her mother. "The three of us are not having group sex, but we have formed kind of a relationship. We get along really well, we can talk about anything. I just want you to know them, because I spend so much time with them."

Kirsten smiled. "I'm very pleased to meet you, Carys and Jami. May I ask you to come here sometimes for dinner?" They nodded.

Tam hugged her mother. "Thanks, Mom. You are just fantastic beyond words!"

"I only suggest that your sisters don't need to know too much about certain things. Alia and Alanis are at difficult ages, and Alex, well, I'm not so worried about Alex. You two have always been very close."

"Sure, Mom. We'll be discreet."

As they were putting their coats on back in the hallway, Alex walked down the hall from her room. She stopped, looked at Carys, and put her hands on her hips.

"You're Carys Douglas, aren't you?" she asked.

Surprised, Carys simply nodded.

Alex gave her a thumb's up. "Cool! You've got a rep at the high school, you know?"

"Uh, yeh. I kind of left in a blaze of glory," said Carys, remembering the last incident of harassment that lead her to storm out of the building, vowing never to return.

Alex grinned. "Okay, Jen-Tam, I approve of your friends." She turned, winked, and walked back to her room.

"I think I'd better have a talk with her, soon," said Tam.

* * *

Carys had called Crystal on Friday night to see if they could talk again on Saturday. Carys felt she needed to reach some kind of understanding of Crystal's place in what was happening, or she would feel very awkward at the support group meeting Sunday.

Crystal said she should be free Saturday afternoon, so Carys said she'd call when they left Tam's house, hoping that would go well.

They met again in the Union. Jami and Tam were in a far corner of the lounge area, just in case.

Carys watched for Crystal to arrive, standing near the M.A.C. entrance. They bought coffee and walked to the lounge area without speaking and selected seats away from anyone else. They sat close together so they could talk quietly.

"What's going on, Carys?"

"I needed to talk to you."

Crystal frowned. "About the disk?"

"Yes."

"Did you look at it?"

Carys hesitated. "A little bit. Enough. More than enough."

Crystal's shoulders slumped. "How bad was it?"

"Bad. Crystal, I need to know what you know about this, because I may be in trouble."

Crystal looked off into the distance, thinking.

Carys put a hand on Crystal's arm. "I'm scared, Crystal! We're talking about serious crime here. The kind where they put people in prison and throw away the key. And beyond that, it's bad, it's nasty, it's evil."

Crystal looked back at Carys. She sighed, and put a hand on Carys's hand. "Before I met Sandy, Kathy was my girlfriend. My first girlfriend. I left her, for Sandy."

Oh, no, thought Carys, this is much more complicated than I thought. "I didn't know. I'm so sorry."

"Very few people did know. Kathy's parents watched her like hawks. We could almost never be together alone. Kathy was terrified something would get back to them.

"Kathy felt angry and resentful and totally trapped. She had no hope of talking sense into her parents. So she started getting in trouble, doing things she knew would tick off her parents, but that didn't have anything to do with being queer.

"I didn't like it. I didn't like the people she was getting involved with. You know, the 'my parents are well off and don't give a shit so I'm going to mess around crowd.' And Kathy's parents didn't understand that the supposedly respectable kids Kathy started hanging out with were doing drugs and booze and having sex and distributing porn and anything they could get away with, which was a lot. Oh, yeah, ever so much better than being gay."

Crystal paused, sniffling and wiping her nose.

I so misjudged this, thought Carys. How could I have thought that Crystal would be involved with something down and dirty?

"Kathy wouldn't stop running with that crowd. I knew she was getting herself in trouble. So I broke up with her. It wasn't much of a relationship, but it was my first, and it still hurt. This was last year."

"Oh, Crystal! I'm so sorry." Carys moved to give her a hug.

A couple of students walked by. One of them muttered, "Dykes," under his breath. Crystal tensed.

"It's okay. Jami and Tam are in the corner keeping an eye on us."

Crystal both snickered and sniffled. "Oh, what? Jami and Tam are going to stand up and say, 'Boo?' Jami's working on being scarier looking, but Tam is such an adorable little puppy. You're lucky you have friends like them, Carys."

"You and Sandy seem pretty close," said Carys.

"We are. Her parents know about us and don't deal with it very well. Their marriage is kind of on the rocks, and they seem content to let Sandy fall through the cracks. I want to get her away from them."

Carys nodded, sitting back. "So Kathy was involved with a bad crowd."

"Yes. I saw who she ran with at school. I heard things."

"Okay." Carys lowered her voice. "What I received was a sheaf of poems and the note I showed you, which does not mention the disk. And Jami could tell that the disk was used for a couple of weeks after Kathy died. So someone else decided to add the disk to the package. Maybe they wanted to hurt Kathy's memory, maybe they wanted to hurt me, maybe both.

"I've talked with a lawyer, twice. That disk may end up going to the police, if only to protect my ass. If there's anything you know, that I ought to know before I do that, now is the time to tell me."

Crystal looked stricken. "I know who it was. I know who it was Kathy was spending time with."

"Who?"

"You remember Linda?"

"That asshole? No way!"

Crystal shook her head. "No. Linda got pregnant and married her jerk boyfriend and is off at college somewhere. It's Linda's younger brother, Carl. Kathy was pretending that he was her boyfriend, and maybe he was, or wanted to be. The buzz is that he was selling at school and is trying to get out of it now, before he goes to college."

"That could add up," said Carys. "If he heard Linda talk about me, knew Kathy was active online in the support group that I started, knew that Kathy was truly not straight, but wanted her as a girlfriend. Yes, that could add up."

"Carys? Warn me, if you know that something is going to happen?"

"I will. I'm going to talk with Father Dave again, too, as soon as I can."

"How did that go?"

"Kind of unsettling, but in a good way. I like him." She sighed.

"I understand. The Church all but spits on people who are queer or trans. It's so sad." She reached out again to touch Carys's arm.

A loud giggle from a group of girls interrupted them. "Damn!" said Crystal, standing up. "Why don't you straight people get a life? I am not here for your entertainment!"

At the noise, Jami and Tam had stood up at the other end of the lounge and were now walking toward Crystal and Carys. Realizing what was going on, they began holding hands.

"Yes, it's a queer invasion," growled Crystal. Carys stood up next to her and crossed her arms.

The group of girls exchanged glances and moved on.

"Everything okay?" asked Jami, as she and Tam neared Carys and Crystal.

"Just fine," said Crystal, back to her usual self.

Carys looked at her. "You definitely need to be in my gender theater troupe, Crystal. Do you have time for ice cream?"

"Sure thing!"

"Great. I'll buy," said Carys, taking her hand. "Come on, guys." The four strode off down the hall toward the Union Dairy Store.

* * *

Turnout for the support group on Sunday was small, just a few of the regulars.

"You seem somewhat subdued, Jami?" said Zoe. "Anything you want to share?"

Jami looked up from where she sat, knees drawn up, on one end of the sofa with Tam and Carys. "I just have a lot to think about. A new photography project. The stuff we're working on for the performance troupe. And of course, that which shall not be mentioned."

"Anything you want to, or can, say about that, Carys?" asked Zoe.

"I think I can say that I received some poems of Kathy's in the mail, about ten days ago. I'm trying to figure out how we can use them. I've talked with a lawyer about that."

"What took so long?" asked Isaac.

"That's part of the situation I'm trying to unravel. I may be able to say more next week."

Since it was clear Carys couldn't or wouldn't talk more about that, talk turned to plans for spring break.

After that discussion played itself out, Zoe asked, "Anything else, folks? I need to run off and work on a paper."

"This isn't really support group business," said Carys, "but most of you know that Jami and I, and Tam, are trying to figure out how to change around our Lovelorn the Clown act into something like a gender theater or improv troupe. We'd love to have some more input. Crystal and Sandy are interested. Anyone else?"

Quiet and shy Emiko said she was, much to everyone's surprise. They agreed on Wednesday evening.

"Great. I'll provide some food and soda pop. See you all then."