Chapter Four

Friday morning Jami was sitting on the ledge in her usual spot, looking out the window, lost in thought. Carys walked down the hall to stand next to her. Jami turned her head to look at Carys.

Oh, God, Carys thought, she isn't even smiling. "Good morning, Jami." She took a deep breath. "We need to have a talk today."

Jami bit her lip. "I know."

"Walk with me to clown alley?"

"Where's David?"

"I told him I need to be alone with you as much as possible today."

Jami slid off the ledge, slung her camera bag on her shoulder, picked up her pack, and finally smiled at Carys. "Ready."

Carys reached out hesitantly to take Jami's hand, making an 'is this okay?' face.

Jami took her hand, squeezed it, held on and turned to start walking. She wished she had some clue what to say. They walked in silence for a ways, though Jami thought she could hear both their hearts pounding.

Halfway to the auditorium wing Carys pulled them into a recess where doors opened on two classrooms.

"Jami. God. I am absolutely scared to death, but I resolved last night, while I was failing to get any sleep, that I would not let this day go by without talking to you, without telling you how I feel."

"I didn't sleep much last night, either, and I'm way beyond being scared, into being absolutely terrified. There's so much to say, and so little to say, and I have really serious personal issues I have to figure out, which, despite thinking about them for most of my life, I haven't figured out."

"That's okay, Jami. Just so we can keep seeing each other, and keep talking."

"Absolutely. I have a lot to say, if I can only figure out how."

Carys wanted so badly to drop her bags, fold Jami in her arms and kiss her. But she'd also resolved last night that she had to let Jami set the pace. She'd spent over an hour on the Internet, looking at web sites about intersex topics. She'd had to stop because she couldn't stand to read any more. How was she going to talk to Jami about any of that? It'd be hard enough if she only wanted to be friends, but that's not the way she felt. She had to let Jami know what she was feeling. But what if Jami didn't feel the same way?

They walked the rest of the way in silence, stopping outside the hallway to the dressing rooms.

"Lunch?"

"Of course, Car."

Carys made a face. "I will snarl and growl at people so they'll leave us alone for a change."

Jami laughed. They looked at each other, not wanting to stop holding hands, not knowing what else to do.

"Carys, don't look so worried. I need to see you again, and I want..."

At that moment David and another of the clown students rounded the corner.

"Whoops! Sorry guys, didn't mean to interrupt," said David, and went past them toward the dressing room with the other student close behind.

Damn it, thought Carys. This is not the place for an intense conversation. She gave Jami's hand a squeeze and let go. "I'll see you at lunch, and you're coming to my script class to take photos, right?"

"Yes. Ms. Steffani is using the afternoon photo session to show slides and discuss various artists' work, then talk about where students can go from here. She doesn't need me. I'm helping with the student exhibits this morning."

"All we're doing in the script class is the reading, so we should have maybe an hour after that to go off and talk before we have to leave."

"Good. Then we're basically spending all afternoon together."

Three other clown students came around the corner to go into the dressing room, saying hello as they passed.

"I have to go, Jami."

"Me, too. See you soon."

Carys went into the dressing room, dropped her bags at the usual spot, took her makeup kit from her locker, and sat down at a the counter, next to David.

"Hey, Car. How's it going? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, if you know what I mean."

"Stuff it, David."

"Ooops. Are things going sour between you and Jami?"

"No. It's too complicated. I don't want to talk about it."

"Okay, but if you need to, I'm all ears. I'm full of good advice for any situation."

"David, Leave it alone. If you want to stay friends with me, then cut me some slack about Jami."

"Jeez, all right already."

She didn't talk any more as she finished putting on her makeup. Carys felt like she was moving in a fog.

In the photography classroom Jami was trying to concentrate on helping the students arrange their prints on tables. Ms. Steffani was talking about how to compose an exhibit, what judges look for in a contest or juried exhibit, and preparing the students to do a mock judging of one another's exhibits. "A kind, thoughtful judging, using the prepared form," she stressed.

Jami knew she should be paying attention to what Ms. Steffani was saying, but she couldn't concentrate. Once the students set to work, Ms. Steffani pulled Jami aside.

"You seem preoccupied, Jami. This has been quite a week for you, hasn't it?"

"Gosh, yes. I never imagined it would be like this."

"You learned you can, you should, exhibit your work. And I think you've made a couple of good friends who will stick with you."

"A couple of friends?"

"I'm one of them, Jami. I am very, very impressed by both your photography, and your teaching skills. You seem to have a natural talent for both, and I would like to help you continue with whatever you decide to do. That's part of teaching, but I also genuinely like you. I'm sure Carys does, too."

"Carys?"

"I'm pretty observant, Jami. You both positively glow when you're anywhere near each other. I suspect you're becoming more than just friends, and maybe that's why you're a little distracted this morning?"

"Well, yes," said Jami. Am I so transparent? What else do other people see about me?

Ms. Steffani gently put a hand on Jami's arm. "I've had, shall we say special woman friends, several times, though not at present. It's nothing to be ashamed of. You can talk to me about that, too, if you like. Though not here."

Jami didn't know what to say. "Thanks."

"You have my phone number and my email, Jami. Do get in touch about exhibiting your work. I have some ideas and I know some people. Now let's start the students on this mutual judging, which I'm not sure was such a good idea. But it should at least be educational."

* * *

Carys was waiting at the Cafeteria door when Jami arrived, instead of arriving late with the other clowns.

"You're early, Car! Did the clowns cut it short today?"

"No, but I did. I don't know what's wrong with me. I couldn't juggle, I couldn't get the timing right on my jokes, and I messed up the skit I was in. I just threw in the towel and left, rather than keep screwing up what everyone else was doing."

"I was kind of distracted, too. Ms. Steffani pulled me aside for a talk. She said something interesting."

"Oh? What?"

"Let's get food first, and sit down."

"I'm not very hungry. Maybe I'll just have something to drink."

"Are you okay? You're not feeling sick, are you?"

"No, but I feel like I'm stuck in my Lovelorn character."

"Come on. At least eat a little, or drink some milk. It'll help stabilize your blood sugar."

"I suppose I should have had something for breakfast."

"You didn't eat breakfast? Carys! Come on, you are eating some food, now."

Jami grabbed her hand and pulled her toward the line. She noticed then that Carys didn't have her gym bag with her.

"Where's your bag?"

"Huh? Oh, I left it in my locker. I have to take everything home with me today. I'll cram it all in the bag. I hope David isn't so pissed at me he won't give me a ride."

"Why is David upset with you?"

"He was teasing me about you. I kind of bit his head off."

"Oh, my. I'm sorry. Come on, let's get food and sit."

They went through the line. Carys held their packs and Jami put all the food on one tray. They headed for the most isolated table in the room.

"Everyone is assuming you and I have a relationship," said Carys, "even though we haven't managed to figure this out ourselves, yet."

"I noticed. Ms. Steffani said something about it this morning. She said she had had special friends, and that it's nothing to be ashamed of."

"Wow. She's a lesbian?"

"She didn't use that word, but I think that's what she was trying to say. She said I could talk with her about that, and photography, after this camp is over."

"God, I'm so sorry, Jami. This is all my fault."

"I don't understand."

"I've just totally lost my cool when it comes to you. I think being here, instead of in my own school, has thrown off all my instincts. I've noticed other kids doing it too, being freer with themselves and more emotional."

"How is that not good?"

"You are so lucky to not be in school, Jami." She sighed, ran a hand through her hair. "Here, I'm not marked as an artsy type, 'cause everyone is, Maybe I'm just dreaming, but most people seem okay with the queer kids here, too. It's so not like that at my school that the contrast is unreal.

"I'm not dissing my school, it's actually one of the best, and we have a GSA, but it is not comfortable being a known queer kid, and I would never just, like, casually walk down the hall holding hands with a girl I'd known for two days. But I've done that here with you.

"I should have understood the consequences of that. You don't, since you've never gone to school. I should have been on my guard and protected you, not slopped my label over onto you and painted you with Day-Glo queer paint!"

"Day-Glo queer paint? Wow, what a phrase! I like that."

"Jami, this is serious. I've been really stupid."

"Is it that bad, being in school?"

"Sometimes. Anyone who's different is singled out, but being queer is like having a target painted on your back. To some people it makes me unsafe to talk with, to others it makes me a challenge. They ask me about having a girlfriend or a boyfriend, trying to figure me out. But they don't really want to talk about how I feel. Fortunately there hasn't been much harassment. The administration is pretty good about being tough on hate crime. But it gets tiresome."

Jami looked down at her plate. "Do you?"

"Do I what?"

"Have a girlfriend, or a boyfriend, at school?"

"Of course not!"

"Why of course not?"

"Jami, I may be stupid, but I'm not a liar and a cheat."

"Sorry. I just meant that you seem popular, and you're such an incredibly wonderful person that I assumed you'd have lots of friends, and maybe someone special."

"What about you, Jami? I don't know anything about your friends."

"That's easy. I don't really have any, at least not in person. I have several pen pals. But I'm pretty much a loner. If I was religious, I'd go live in a hut by myself and try to figure out the whichness of why, or the whyness of the which."

Carys took a sip of water and started coughing.

"You okay?"

"Yes. I'm just tense. Do you want to go out in the courtyard for a while? It's kind of stuffy in here."

"Okay." Jami stacked the plates on the tray. "Then we're going to your script writing class, and then we're going to have a talk, right?"

"Yes. Unless you want to talk now?"

"I think we should leave the talk till last. I need to be able to concentrate while I shoot, and our talk may be kind of upsetting."

They took care of their tray and the trash, then went out in the courtyard, to the far bench they'd used before.

Carys set her pack on one end of the bench and sat next to it. Jami set her bags on the other end and sat next to Carys. "It's kind of chilly with the sun under a cloud. I wish we had a blanket." She leaned against Carys.

"Oh, Jami! You are confusing the heck out of me."

Jami sat up, a hurt look on her face. "What are you confused about? Do you think I don't like you?"

"No, I mean, you're acting like you're my girlfriend."

"I'm not 'acting like' anything, Carys. I'm just being me and doing what I feel like doing, which is being close to you."

Carys put her head in her hands. "Oh, God, Jami, I'm sorry. I of all people should know better than to force a label on you."

"It's okay, Car. I guess it's not fair to you, to, I don't know, get you excited or whatever, before we've talked."

"Jami, what is it you want to talk about? This is driving me crazy. I don't know what to do, what to say. If you're not going to tell me you don't like me, what are you going to say?"

"I thought, when you said we need to talk, that it was the same thing. About what I am."

"That you're intersexed? I've been reading about that. I know we need to talk about it. But that wasn't what I wanted to talk about today."

Jami looked shocked. "You've been reading about it? What?"

"On the Internet. Web sites."

"You need to be careful what you look at on the web. Some of that stuff is trash, or worse. I can give you some good books."

"Then what do you want to talk about?"

"Me, Carys. I'm intersexed. I'm only pretending to be sweet and innocent, remember. You need to know the truth about me."

"You're scaring me, Jami. What are you doing when you lean against me, or hold my hand? Are you pretending to be sweet and innocent? Do you actually not like me?"

"No, I'm not pretending anything. It's what I want to do. I like you. I like you a lot. I don't see what's wrong with showing it."

"Didn't you hear what I said at lunch?"

"About the Day-Glo queer paint? Sure, I thought that was a neat phrase. But I don't see what the problem is. Everyone knows you're queer, right? Everyone is already talking about us, right? I don't go to school, or even know any of these people. So what's the problem?"

"When you lay it out logically like that, I guess I don't really know."

"Do you want to stop holding hands? Should I not lean against you?"

Carys took a breath. "No. I want you to do what you feel like doing. You're right, there doesn't seem to be any problem about what we do here. We are going to talk, after my class, so I don't go stark, staring, raving mad, right?"

"Right."

"Okay. I trust you, Jami." She looked at her watch. "We're about out of time, anyway."

"Can we go look at the room, so I can think about what I'm going to do, with my camera?"

"Okay, it should be empty now. No one's ever on time after the lunch break." They picked up their stuff and headed toward the music wing. They held hands and walked so close together in the hallway they bumped shoulders repeatedly. Each bump sent a thrill through Carys. What does Jami feel? How can I be so close to someone and have no idea what's going on in their head?

"Here we are." Carys opened the door and entered the room, with Jami behind her. Two people were standing at the front of the room on the recital stage, looking out the window and holding hands. They turned around at the noise of the door opening. Carys recognized Adrianna and Robert, two students in her class. "Sorry guys, didn't mean to intrude!" she said.

"No problem, Carys," said Adrianna. "We were going to practice a little. The staged reading, that is." She smiled and looked at Jami. "Are you two looking for a place to be alone?"

"Uh, no," stammered Carys, "Jami is going to take pictures of the reading. She's doing a photo essay on the whole Arts Camp. We wanted to check out the light and stuff."

Adrianna walked over to where Carys and Jami were standing. "It's okay, guys. I'm cool with it. So is Robert. Right, dear?"

"Yeh, sure. I'm so cool that ice cream doesn't melt in my hands. But Adrianna does," he said with a grin.

"Hush. You're embarrassing them. We've been an item all year, they're just getting started. Come out in the hall. I want to get a drink. Then we'll find a corner of our own for a few minutes." She winked at Carys.

Jami pulled her camera out of the bag. "I really am going to take photos."

"Hey, I believe you, Jami! Your photos are awesome! We'll be back after a discrete interval, and the three of us can pose for some test shots. Come on, Robert."

After they left, Jami turned to Carys. "This has been happening all day?"

"Yes, Jami. I'm sorry."

"You need to stop saying that. It's not their fault that people are picking up on how we feel about each other."

"But we haven't even talked about how we feel about each other!" Suddenly Carys turned and hit the wall, hard, with a fist. "God! This is what I hate about being queer. It's too complicated, and people won't leave you alone to figure it out!"

Jami dropped her camera equipment on the floor and grabbed Carys's hand. "Don't do that!" Jami smoothed Carys's hand. "Don't hurt yourself, please?"

"It's just so dammed frustrating! If we were a couple of hets I'd just say I love you and you'd either slap me or kiss me. We wouldn't have to waltz around the subject for days on end with everyone staring at us."

"I wouldn't slap you! Do you think that?"

"I don't know what to think! I'm going crazy!"

Jami leaned forward quickly and gently kissed Carys, then pulled away again. "There. Does that help?"

Carys was stunned. "Oh, my God. Is that all I had to do?"

"Say that you love me? Yes."

"But how do you feel about me?"

"Did I slap you?"

"No, though that kiss still makes me see stars."

"Well, then. We'll talk in an hour. I have a lot to say. It just isn't simple for me."

"Okay. I'm..."

Jami put her finger on Carys's lips. "Stop saying that! You have nothing to be sorry for."

Carys kissed Jami's finger, then made a zipper motion across her own mouth and stood stock still.

"You theater people are so much trouble," said Jami, with a mock sigh. "You may speak, just don't keep apologizing for the world being a screwed-up mess."

"You dropped your camera stuff."

"It's just stuff."

"But you need it to take pictures."

Jami picked her equipment up from the floor. "It's okay. I dropped the camera in the bag. This is pro equipment." Quickly Jami checked it out. "It's fine."

"Is it expensive?"

"Yes, very. Like I said, it's professional equipment."

"What does that mean, other than that you can drop it on the floor when your girlfriend acts stupid?"

"I would rather not continue doing that. But lots of little things that are important to me. Like the battery lasts all day on a charge, I can take pictures in light where I can barely even see, and it uses several thousand dollars worth of lenses I already have."

"Yikes! That expensive?" Carys's eyebrows went up and her mouth made an 'O'.

Jami shrugged. "Good tools cost money. Some people save up to buy a car. I spend a lot less than that on my photo and computer equipment, and I earn some of it back selling photos and helping people with web sites and stuff. It's all part of my home-schooling, too. It's more than a hobby. I may end up making a living this way."

"As a photographer? That would be cool," said Carys.

"A photojournalist maybe. I have some projects in mind. Things that need to be done. A world that needs to be educated and changed. You know." She chose a different lens from the bag, put it in place on the camera, checked some settings. "Do you think the teacher and the class would be willing to leave the ceiling lights off, so it's just the light from the windows?"

"I think so. Mr. Sharp is pretty cool. Why just the light from the windows?"

"I'm going to mostly take faces. I want strong shadows. The ceiling light bounces off this white tile floor and washes the faces out. Go up there. I'll show you."

Carys walked to the front. "What should I do?"

"Do stuff with your face. Pretend you're interacting with someone. Move around. Talk if you want."

Carys thought a moment, then began having an animated conversation with an imaginary person. Jami began snapping photos. Carys ended by reaching out to grab an imaginary head and draw it toward her for a long kiss. She stopped, composed her face, then turned to look at Jami. "Was that okay?"

"Bravo!" Yelled Adrianna and Robert from the doorway. Carys blushed. Jami was using the LCD panel on her camera to look at the shots she'd taken.

"That was great," said Jami, oblivious. "Come see." The others crowded around her. Carys leaned against Jami, Adrianna and Robert flanking them. Jami slowly went through the photos. "Most of these I won't keep, of course."

"They look great!" said Robert.

"If you all perform for half an hour, I'll probably shoot two hundred frames, at least. They won't all be usable. I can't really tell until I look at them at home on my computer monitor, of course."

While they were looking at the test shots, other members of the class began showing up, and the instructor, Mr. Sharp. Carys saw him come through the door, and introduced Jami, explaining about the photos. A few more people came in to sit and watch the reading; teachers and staff who happened to be free, and a couple of students who were skipping their own classes to watch friends in this one.

"May we leave the ceiling lights off, Mr. Sharp? I like the shadows from having the only light come from the windows." Jami showed him a few of the test shots.

"That's fine with me," said Mr. Sharp. "I'm mostly going to listen to the spoken word."

The students in the class gathered around the desk and sorted the script pages one of the students had prepared. Once they were ready, the students took places on stage, and one stepped forward to speak.

"Good afternoon, and welcome, everyone. This is the script as it was at the end of class yesterday. All I did was spellcheck and format and print it. Everyone was supposed to go over their parts last night, and of course we all helped write it, so this isn't quite a cold reading. But we haven't exactly rehearsed, either."

She stepped back into the semicircle and they began.

Jami walked back and forth around the stage and to various points in the classroom, taking pictures. She changed lenses twice, but took a steady stream of shots.

When the reading finished, everyone clapped politely. Mr. Sharp stood up and thanked the students, then turned to Jami. "Will we have a chance to see your photos?"

"I'll be putting a web page together about the Arts Camp, and there will a section about this. If any of the shots are really good, I'll send you some prints."

"Thank you, Jami. Okay class, I want to give you some final feedback, and then you'll be free to go. Please be seated."

Carys walked over to where Jami was putting away her photo equipment. "Are you going to stay?"

"I think I'll go sit in the courtyard and load these into my laptop, then do some thinking, if that's okay with you?"

"Sure, hon. See you there, soon."

Jami smiled. "I'll be there."

* * *

Jami was sitting on the bench in the courtyard, earphones on, swaying gently, CD player in hand, eyes closed. Carys walked over, sat down, watching her. Jami opened her eyes, saw Carys, took off her headphones. "Hi."

"Hi, yourself. What are you listening to?"

"Sarah Pinsker. Her first CD. I like her voice. She has this one song about life being sweet and strange, that seems very appropriate."

"Life is sweet and strange."

"So am I. Let's talk." Jami stuffed the CD player back into her pack.

Carys set her pack down and sat on the bench, crosslegged, facing Jami. "I'm all ears."

"No you're not." Jami leaned forward and gave Carys another quick kiss. "That's to remind you that I remember what it is you had to tell me, and how I reacted to it. Now listen. This is complicated, and not easy for me to say."

Carys nodded, but did not speak.

"I realized almost immediately that you and I were attracted to each other. I thought you were interesting and quirky and fun to talk with, and I looked forward to seeing you again. You started talking about rainbows, and the GSA, and your being a Q. It seemed natural for me to say that my letter is I. But that shocked me, that I told you that so easily. It's about as personal as one can get, and I just blurted it out.

"And it didn't bother you. I figured you didn't really know what it meant, but then we talked about all that identity stuff on Tuesday, and I realized that you have a pretty good handle on things, at least at the intellectual level.

"Tuesday night I was really busy, working with the photos of the clowns. There were a lot more photos of you than anyone else, and I found myself feeling lonely and wishing you were with me. The only close friend I've ever had moved away a year ago, so I spend a lot of time alone, which usually doesn't bother me.

"After I went to bed I was still thinking about you. I still wanted you with me. I started thinking about you being in bed with me, and what that would mean." She paused. "I cried a lot that night."

"Oh, Jami." Carys reached to take Jami's hands.

"I'm almost finished. By the end of the day Wednesday, I was pretty certain you were feeling the same way about me. I don't really remember what we talked about on the phone Wednesday night, but I know what I was thinking about.

"Thursday was frustrating, because we didn't have much time to talk, except on the phone, and I couldn't talk about this on the phone. I have to see your face."

Carys sighed. "I'm not going to grimace and run away."

"I think I believe that. Obviously I trust you or we wouldn't be here, doing this. But if you and I are going to be..." She stopped.

Carys softly supplied the word. "If we're going to be lovers?"

"It's such a huge thing for me."

"Isn't it a huge thing for anyone, especially the first time? It will be my first time, too."

"But you're not intersexed."

"If I say I don't care, will you believe me?"

"I know what you're trying to say, Car. I believe that. It's like saying that if I get hit by a car while crossing the street and end up in a wheelchair you'd still love me and we'd figure out some way to have sex."

"Exactly."

"But it would still change things, especially for me, the person who would be in the wheelchair and an object of pity. It would totally change the relationship, like it or not. I wouldn't be equal any more, in your eyes, or anyone else's. It might still work. Love can do amazing things. But it would be a hell of a lot more difficult."

"Okay," said Carys, slowly. "I'm beginning to see what you're getting at. I was whining earlier about how hard it is to be queer and in school. That was insensitive."

"No, not at all! That's your reality, what you have to deal with. I don't have to put up with that every day of the week. I don't want pity. I want and need understanding. I am different, and that does mean certain things, but it doesn't mean I am pitiful."

Carys nodded. "I'm not drawn to you out of pity, Jami, or because you're exotic or politically significant. My heart did flip-flops the first morning I saw you, before I knew anything about you. My feelings have only become more certain the more I know about you."

"Sorry, Carys. I'm not saying I suspect your motives. I'm just trying to lay everything out."

"I understand."

"Remember the Day-Glo queer paint?"

Carys nodded. "Yes."

"If there is such a thing, then there's also something rather nastier that you're going to be painted with when people know you're involved with someone like me. I don't know what names they'll make up for you, but they won't be nice."

Carys was silent for a moment. "That's a lot to chew on, Jami, and I'm not going to pretend that I thought of all of that already. But I have thought about it. I'm not just going into this blindly."

"I know, Car, but I have to be certain. There's also an irrational part to this. You and I can talk until we're blue in the face and it won't change the fact that I am scared shitless at the thought of actually making love with you. It's not likely to be the wonderful, ecstatic experience it's supposed to be. Not the first time, and maybe not for quite a while."

"I don't see how it can be so bad, Jami."

"I know. Like I've been saying, the problem is me, how I feel about being different."

"But..."

"No matter what we say in words, that's all abstract. When it eventually comes down to doing it, it's going to be terrifying for me. That's not going to make it fun for you, either."

"Okay. I'm not in a hurry, not for anything in particular, just to say," this time Carys leaned forward and gently kissed Jami, "that I love you."

Jami returned the kiss. "I love you, too."

"I am so glad you said that. Can I see you this weekend?"

"I was hoping you'd want to. My life is pretty much unscheduled," said Jami.

"Cool! Would tomorrow be too soon?"

"Not at all," grinned Jami.

"I'll see you tomorrow, then, and we'll talk some more. But not until we're blue in the face, I hope."

"Deal. Call me when you know when you can come over."

"It'll be tomorrow morning. I'm going out to dinner tonight with my parents, and to a show afterwards."

"Okay. I'll work on the photos I took today. Quite a few of them seem to be of you, surprisingly enough."

"Imagine!" She looked at Jami for a moment, then said, "I have to go pack my clown stuff and find David. I'm going to sleep much better tonight."

"Me, too."

They stood up, hugged, kissed once more, still gently and quickly, then went their separate ways. They were both greatly relieved and full of hope, but more than a little afraid.