Chapter Three

Jami arrived extra early Wednesday morning to put up her photo exhibit. In the open space at the building entrance she set her camera bag and pack on the floor, and set the box she'd brought with the prints she'd made last night on the check-in table. She looked at the display case where she'd been told to display her prints,

This won't do, she thought, I can't fit half my prints in there, the light is bad, and only a couple of people at a time would be able to look at them. She asked the teacher sitting at the table, "Do you think it would be okay for me to tape my prints up along this wall, instead of using the display case? I'd like to spread them out more, and let more people look at them at once."

The teacher looked up from the magazine he'd been reading, noticed Jami, looked at the display case and the wall, and said, "I don't see why not. People stick things to the walls all the time. Do you have tape?"

Jami reached into her pack and pulled out a roll of tape. "Gaffer tape. It's what stage hands and roadies use to stick stuff where it needs to be. It'll hold my prints for a day or two." She took the stack of mounted prints out of the box. She'd just tacked the 8x10 prints to 11x14 boards, so they'd be light weight. Besides, she hadn't had time to fully mat them. She'd been up until 2:00 this morning as it was.

"Sounds good to me," said the teacher, returning to his reading.

Once Jami had the prints hung to her satisfaction, she put the empty box and roll of tape in the bottom of the display case so she wouldn't have to carry them around with her. She positioned one last board, with notes about the photos and a larger version of her business card, in the center of the display case, then slid the doors shut. Picking up her bags, she walked to her usual spot in the connecting hallway to wait for Carys.

Settling down on the ledge with her laptop, she typed notes. Could it really be only Wednesday? It seemed to Jami as if an awful lot had happened in just two days.

 
It's the third day of this so-called Arts Camp. I guess the camp part derives from summer camps, which have a reputation as a place for parents to dump their kids for a few weeks. This is a place for kids to be during a week they can't be in school, if they aren't lucky enough to be going off on vacation. The arts part comes from the fact that so many schools have had to cut classes and programs in the arts. This is a tiny attempt to make up for that.

Some of the kids are here because they really want to be in these classes, and meet kids from other schools who have the same interests. The classes here aren't organized by age, but by topic. So I guess it is quite different from what most of these kids do the rest of the year.

There is some pretty neat stuff going on, though.

The clowns, for example. This is a great opportunity for them. Then there's a class writing a script; they'll do a staged reading on the final day. Those are examples of things that don't fit into the way schools are structured. I know about them because Carys is in both those classes. I should ask what David does in the afternoon session.

Nominally I'm here as the photography assistant. But really I'm here to spend more time around people my age. I'm not very outgoing (she writes, sitting on an out-of-the-way window ledge) but I am fascinated by people. Their differences, their samenesses, their secrets.

Speaking of differences, there is one person I've met here who stands out. Way out. Her name is Carys. She's a clown, she's funny, she's perceptive, and she's in the GSA at her school. I astounded myself by telling her Monday that I'm intersexed. She's shown no signs of freaking out or wanting to avoid me. On the contrary. We spend all our free time together. I like her. I don't want to think about not seeing her again once this week is over.

Okay, Jami. Ask yourself the really hard question: Why am I sitting here feeling like the most important thing in the world is seeing Carys again? Deep breath. Come on, answer the question: Could I be falling in love with her?

Wow. That's scary. It's something I want, of course, even though I'm not certain what it means. Maybe we're just becoming friends? But it doesn't feel the same as it did with Joanne. We were always together, until they moved away. But that was just fun. This is different, like a part of me is missing, and Carys is that part. More than that. I want to be as close to her as I can get. I want to touch her. And I want her to touch me.

Which is beyond scary. What do I do next?
 

Jami saved the file and closed the laptop. She sat watching the light change in the hallway, thinking about how little of the beauty of the world could be captured by a camera. She was totally lost in thought when Carys found her.

Carys turned the corner from the entrance and saw Jami sitting on the ledge, still, staring across the hallway. She silently walked up and stood in front of her, waiting for Jami to notice her. When Jami looked at her, Carys extended her arms and Jami took her hands. Carys drew Jami up to stand before her.

"Jami. Those photos are all yours!" Her eyes were shining.

"At the entrance? Yes. I had to agree to make the exhibit so I could spend time with you and the clowns, yesterday morning."

"Everyone's gathering down there. They are absolutely gaga about your photos! Your teacher is there, just about pulling out her hair, not knowing where you are. I said I'd find you."

"Oh, no! Is Ms. Steffani upset?" Jami stuffed the laptop in her pack and hopped off the ledge.

"Upset? Jami, do you really have no idea?"

"What?" She backed up against the ledge. Have I done something stupid? I asked if I could tape the boards to the wall!

Carys realized that Jami was freaking and stepped closer to her. "Your photos are wonderful. You're wonderful." She put her arms around Jami and hugged her. Jami hugged back. They stepped apart again. "You've got to go down there. Now! They want to talk to you. Go! I'll bring your stuff. I left mine down there."

Jami set off toward the entrance, suddenly conscious of the noise of people talking.

Carys picked up Jami's camera bag and backpack and followed her. "I'm right behind you, Jami!" Jami, Jami, Jami. It felt so good to hug you. What did it feel like for you? Will you let me do it again? Do you want me to? How am I going to tell you what I'm feeling about you?

Jami walked quickly down the hallway. She thought the photos had turned out well. She'd taken a couple hundred shots, plenty to choose from. She'd done very little cropping. Just some adjustment for color casts, because the light was pretty strange for some of the shots. But she'd spot-metered, so it wasn't too bad. She thought her selection for printing had been decent. But she knew there was a fine line between portrait shots that people liked, and ones they found upsetting. Maybe she was on the wrong side of the line? She steeled herself and turned the corner, not knowing what to expect.

"Jami!" Ms. Steffani yelled at her. "Over here! Come here!"

The area was packed with people. The whole photography class, all the clowns, tons of people. Jami felt overwhelmed, but made her way to Ms. Steffani.

"Jami. I'm going to have to be careful what I ask you to do! This is stunning work! How could you have done this all in one night?"

Okay, so I guess I'm not in trouble. "Thanks. I didn't do much of anything else last night. I just made a selection and printed them. They didn't need a whole lot of work. I don't like to do tons of post-processing on my photos."

"Then I am even more amazed. Your eye for composition is, well, amazing. If these are 'just prints' you really know your camera equipment. I'm very proud of you, Jami."

Several people started talking with Jami. She noticed Carys standing off to the side with their bags and packs. Carys was just watching her and smiling. She smiled back and made a small wave.

"May I have your attention please!" It was Mrs. Giddings, head of the Arts Camp. "These wonderful photographs will remain up for the rest of the week. Correct?" She looked at Jami, who nodded. "Yes. So let's please get to our morning sessions now. Thank-you."

As the group of people gathered around Jami dispersed, she walked over to where Carys stood. "Thanks, Carys. I didn't expect this. I'm a little flustered."

"Haven't you exhibited your photos before?"

"Not really. I've entered some contests, done work for a few people. I didn't think that what I did was all that great."

"Haven't people said they liked your work?"

"Well, sure. I know I'm competent. So many people don't even know how to use their cameras and their software."

Ms. Steffani had walked over to stand by Carys. "Your work goes way beyond competence, Jami. We need to talk. There are some people I want you to meet. I'll help you with a portfolio. You need to do an exhibit at the Old Towne Art Gallery."

Jami was speechless for a moment. "I'm not that good!"

Ms. Steffani put a hand on Jami's arm. "Yes, you are, Jami. You must, you simply must. I'll help you. I know it's terrifying to come out in public." She noticed Carys flinch at that phrase, winked at her and added, "With a photo exhibit, I mean, Jami."

Carys, making a sudden decision, reached for Jami's hand. "I'll help, too, any way I can. I'll go with you, if you want."

Jami closed her hand on Carys's. "Please. I'd like your help."

"We'd better get to our classes, now," said Ms. Steffani. "Don't be too long Jami. I'll see more of you, Carys, I'm sure." She headed off down the hall to the photography classroom, leaving Jami and Carys alone.

"I've got to go get into clown, Jami. I'll see you at lunch." She didn't want to let go of Jami's hand.

"Yes. I'll save a table." Jami bit her lip.

She looks scared, thought Carys. Is it because of the attention she's getting about her photos, or is it about me? She let go of Jami's hand. "I'll see you soon."

Jami nodded. Carys picked up her bags and jogged off toward the auditorium wing.

Too much is happening to me, too fast, thought Jami. I feel like my whole life is about to change, if I let it. Do I go forward, or pull back? She picked up her pack and camera bag and walked toward her class. Forward!

* * *

Lunch was chaos. So many people came by their table to comment about Jami's photos or ask about the clowns that Jami and Carys didn't have time to talk. They went to their afternoon sessions with a feeling of loss.

At the break Carys headed to the second floor and the computer lab. She was almost to the stairwell at the junction of the two classroom wings when David saw her.

"Hey, Carys! Hold up a minute."

"Hi, David. How's the acting class?"

"Good. We've been doing a lot of exercises, theater games, monolog practice, and some method and character work. The instructor knows his stuff. Where are you headed?"

Carys hesitated. "To see Jami."

"I should have guessed." He smiled. "I take it that the attraction you felt the first day has turned out to be mutual?"

"I think so. It's not like we've been able to spend much time together."

"Which, I take it, is a hint that you'd rather I not tag along?"

"Well..."

"Hey, no problemo. I need to go get something to drink, anyway. See you at the usual time and place, kiddo."

"Thanks, David. For the ride, and for understanding."

He gave her an exaggerated wink and a thumbs up, then took off down the hall to the cafeteria. Carys took the stairs to the second floor.

As Carys left the stairwell on the second floor, she saw Jami in the hallway, looking out a window. She walked quietly up to stand beside her, thought about putting her arm around her, but settled on a soft, "Hi."

Jami turned toward her. "Hi, Carys." She smiled. "I was hoping you'd be able to come." She moved a hand toward Carys, who eagerly took it in hers.

"I thought about you last night, Jami."

"Let's walk," said Jami. She led them down the hallway, away from the computer lab. "I thought about you, too. I'm surprised my prints turned out decent, actually. I wasn't concentrating very well."

"Your prints are fabulous!"

"I'm a little disturbed by the reaction, to tell the truth."

"Why?"

"I'm serious about being distracted last night. I think I could have done better with more time and more concentration on what I was doing."

"You sound like an artist, unsatisfied with work that everyone else thinks is great."

"If it happens again I'll have more confidence. Ms. Steffani is right that I should do an exhibit. It's easy to be endlessly self critical. I need to know what other people think about my work."

"I think it's great, and I think you're great."

Jami stopped walking, turned to look out the window again. "You know what I am." She pulled her hand away from Carys's.

"Jami? Do you want me to go away?"

Jami turned at the agony in Carys's voice, saw her face gone pasty white. "No! I don't want to hurt you. I'm afraid of what will happen if..."

"If we get involved?" said Carys.

"Yes."

"I thought about that last night, Jami. It's a risk I want to take. I know you're intersexed, but don't forget I'm queer. Maybe that looks normal from where you are, but I assure you I already know something about being hurt, and I know that being hurt is going to be part of my life."

"I'm sorry, Carys." Jami reached for her hand again. "I'm in a strange place, with everyone paying attention to me, and I also have to figure out what to do about the way I feel about you. I had maybe four hours of sleep last night."

Carys squeezed Jami's hand. "I'm sorry, too. I wanted so much to talk with you today, and we haven't had time. Not that I really know what to say."

"Tell me more about how you feel, your queerness," said Jami.

"Okay, I can do that. Anything else?"

"Music and books. What we have in common. Just talk. What we haven't been able to do here."

"Sounds like a plan! But we'd better walk back toward the lab, and I need to head back to my class soon, and duck into a restroom."

* * *

At the end of the afternoon session, Carys was waiting for Jami outside the computer lab. "I can't stay and talk. David has to get to his job on time. Are you sure it's okay if I call you tonight?"

"Please do! I won't be busy tonight. But I'm going to take a nap when I get home, so make it after 8:00 or so."

"Okay, deal!" Not trusting herself to say more right now, Carys gave Jami a quick hug and ran off. Jami walked to the entrance where her mother would pick her up. She was staring into space, thinking, when her mother arrived.

"Jami? Hello? Earth to Jami?"

"Oh, hi, Mom. It was quite a day, and I'm really tired. I'll tell you about it on the way home."

She told her mother about the reaction to her photos. She didn't say anything about Carys until they were home.

"Mom? I'm going to go take a nap, but a girl is going to call me tonight. Carys. I met her at the camp. We've talked a lot. She's one of the clowns and she's doing script writing. We didn't have much chance to talk at lunch today, though, because of everyone going crazy about my photos. She's going to call. She said she would call. I hope she calls. I need to talk with her."

"Okay, dear. I'll make sure you get the call." So Jami has found a friend? She glanced at Jami, who was leaning against the wall by the stairs up to her room, eyes closed, with a silly smile on her face. "Jami?"

"Yes, Mom?"

"This girl who may call, is she nice?"

"Oh, yes. Very nice." The smile widened.

That answers that question, thought her mother. Well, it was about time for Jami to fall in love. She'd suspected it would be with a girl. Just little hints she'd noticed because, with Jami, nothing was certain. Let's hope this girl is nice, open-minded and, if it lasts, hard as nails.

* * *

Carys met Jami at the usual place Thursday morning. Instead of typing on her laptop, Jami was reading a small magazine.

"What are you reading?"

Jami showed her the magazine's cover.

"Ah, science fiction."

"Do you partake? I didn't think to ask last night. I know you read Sherlock Holmes and postmodern queer theory."

Carys laughed at the combination. "I read everything I get my hands on. I do read science fiction, especially the hard stuff with gender themes; Melissa Scott, Ursula LeGuin, Samuel Delany and of course, Tiptree."

"Why am I not surprised?"

"Because we have a lot in common, in spite of our differences."

"Do you know that there's a science fiction convention that meets in town every year?"

"Now that you mention it, I've heard something about it."

"I think it's in October. Con-something, of course. Conclave? They have speakers and discussions and displays and a costume contest, which is what made me think of it right at this moment, with you standing there."

"Have you ever gone?"

"No. I don't know anyone to go with, and I try to limit the number of things I force my parents to take me to. But I need to do more things on my own now, scary or not. Which is why I'm at this Arts Camp."

"This is scary?"

"For me it is. All these people I don't know. The whole school thing. Public restrooms. Long hallways lined with anonymous doors opening on who knows what. The lurking horror of the athletic facilities and the hideous locker rooms. Okay, hideous when they aren't full of clowns. I'll probably have nightmares."

"You know me, now. Does that make it less scary?"

"Yes, and no."

Carys was silent for a moment, thoughtful. "Is there something about me that's scary?"

"Not exactly. It's something about me that makes knowing you scary."

"Me, in particular?"

Jami nodded. "Uh, huh."

"I don't think you need to be scared about me."

"I can't help it. It's not you, it's me."

"Does talking, about some of the things we talk about, help?"

"You mean the solidarity of fringe labels?"

Carys grinned. "Yes."

Jami smiled now, too. "That helps."

"Then we need to keep talking. I'd like you to not be scared, at least not about me."

"So would I."

Carys held out her hand, palm up. "Solidarity?"

Jami put her hand on top of Carys's hand. "Solidarity."

They spread their fingers and intertwined them.

"I hope we can talk at lunch today, without the mob scene."

"I'll call you again tonight, anyway, if you want."

"Aha! Caught you!" David had silently walked up to stand next to Carys.

"David, you're going to give Jami a heart attack, and I'm going to give you a permanent clown nose if you don't cut this out."

"Hey, I'm just practicing to join the morals police when I grow up. Work from within to change the system, you know?"

Carys glowered. "That was so effective for the Log Cabin Republicans in 2004, wasn't it?"

"Okay. I can take a hint. How about if I mosey on down to clown alley by myself and leave you two alone? But don't dally-dilly too much, hear?"

"Excellent idea, David. I'll be there soon."

Carys watched David saunter off down the hallway. She turned back to Jami and held her hand out again. Jami took it and let Carys pull her off the ledge.

"Don't mind David, Jami. I think he's just jealous. I'm the only safe person he knows here, and I'm spending all my time with you now. Which I'm going to continue doing, and he'll just have to lump it. I'll talk to him this morning. It's not like I'm going to stop being his friend just because you and I..." She stopped. "Sorry, I was in motormouth mode again."

"I guess life is always complicated?"

"That, I think, is a sure thing. But it'll be okay." She sighed. "I have to go, Jami."

"See you at lunch."

"Yes. Bye."

They slowly spread their fingers and pulled their hands apart, trailing one last finger slowly until they had to break contact completely. Neither of them trusted themselves to say anything else. They looked, and smiled and turned away.

As they walked to their classes, they were each thinking the same thing. This is Thursday. Tomorrow is Friday. But this cannot end. I have to keep seeing her. I have to say something. I have to tell her how I feel.

* * *

Again, lunch didn't work out as they had hoped. Several people sat at their table and wanted to talk. That was okay, but it meant they weren't alone. There were things they wanted to talk about, things they needed to talk about.

During the afternoon break, Jami and Carys went up to the third floor in the same wing in which the computer lab was located. They sat in a sunbeam at the top of the stairwell.

"This is weird," said Carys.

"Oh?"

"There's no one up here, and it's not locked off."

"That's weird?" said Jami.

"I keep forgetting you're a stranger to school culture. Yeh, it's weird. Who knows what could be going on, unsupervised, up here? Drug deals, group sex, gang meetings."

"Two friends sitting in a sunbeam, talking?"

"That's our alibi," said Carys, "but who would believe it?"

"And of what would we be accused?"

"Your teacher seems to think we're already an item."

Jami's heart started pounding. "Ms. Steffani? What do you mean?"

"That you and I are more than just friends."

Jami stared into space, biting the nail on her little finger. Carys reached out and gently pulled Jami's hand toward her. "I'm not trying to rush you. I'm just thinking that tomorrow's Friday, and I don't know what happens after that."

"I want to keep seeing you," said Jami, looking at Carys.

Carys let out a deep sigh. "Good. Let's leave it at that for now. How about if we just walk? No words?"

"Okay."

They stood up and headed down the deserted hallway. Jami continued to hold her hand, and Carys was content to simply be in the moment.

* * *

Carys called Jami again that evening. They talked for two hours. That was better than nothing, but it wasn't enough. They each had things they needed to say for which they wanted to see each other's face.

After they hung up, Carys lay on her bed and thought. I have to do something tomorrow. It's Friday. It's impossible to think about Saturday, and beyond, without Jami. What do I have to loose? I know I'm in love with her. But what does she feel about me? Will I scare her away if I say how I feel? What am I going to do?

Jami had been sitting on the sofa in the living room while she talked to Carys. When they hung up she huddled into herself, hugging herself.

"Jami?" Her mother sat on the sofa next to her. Jami uncurled and hugged her. "Honey, do you want to talk?"

"I need to figure this out for myself, Mom."

"Okay, dear. I love you, and I trust you. Trust yourself, honey."

"Thanks, Mom. I'll try."