Chapter Eleven

With May, the weather had warmed up. Jami and Carys had taken to sitting outside in Jami's 'thinking place.' They snuggled together on a stone bench, leaning against a wooden wall. The bench was still too cool for comfort, so they sat on one blanket with another over their legs.

The 'thinking place' was an enclosed rock garden that Jami's parents had created soon after they bought the house. It made a secluded spot to one side of their patio, enclosed by a redwood wall entered through a gate. Even in fall and spring, the sun warmed the rocks and made it bearable.

Jami had turned on the water pump that ran the waterfall. The sound of falling water covered the sounds of traffic. She loved to sit out here and think and dream.

"Okay, Carys. Let's just relax for a little while. You don't have to do anything for an hour or so. Just relax."

"Relax! Jami, I cannot believe how much is going on!" Carys ticked things off on her fingers as she spoke. "The performances are this weekend. I have projects to finish for school. Your photos are on exhibit. My mother is driving me crazy. She talks about my open house while ignoring the fact that I'm not going to college in the fall and I am going to begin living with you this summer. I'm having meaningful talks with my dad for the first time in my life. I have my bookkeeping clients who need work done no matter what. It seems that the only thing that can give way is the time we spend alone together."

"I know," sighed Jami. "We see a lot of each other, but it's mostly busy time."

Carys nodded. "Speaking of which, on top of everything else, I just agreed to do a clown gig. I've turned several down recently. I'm simply too busy. But this is for a special needs group I've worked with before. They're having an end of school year party, kind of a graduation into next year, with parents and siblings. They want me to provide some fun for the kids. It's the last weekend in May, at Foster Community Center. I know that's the last free weekend before our own graduations and stuff, but I really want to do it."

"Sure. Do you need my help?"

"Well, it's a way for us to be together, so..." Carys sat up and put on what Jami thought of as her eager maniac expression. "Yes! If you'll come along you can help me manage things. With this group I can't count on the kids to not mess with my supplies and such. You can take pictures, of course."

"Of you with the kids?"

"I was thinking just in general, but that's a thought. End of school year photo with Lovelorn the Clown. Hmmm. Yes. I think they would like that."

"I have a small portable dye transfer printer I can use with my laptop," said Jami. "It makes nice four by six inch prints, and it's pretty fast. I'll shoot with the camera connected to the laptop. I can take several shots, select one, and have a print in two or three minutes."

"I think that would work. I'll start off with balloons, do some magic tricks. With this group I do storytelling. Then at some point we can set up and do pictures. Will the prints cost much? I charge this group a really small fee. Just enough to cover my supplies. It'll only be about ten prints, though."

"Then it's no problem. I'll print stickers with your email address and web site address to put on the back of the prints. It'll help advertise your clowning."

"Jami, I don't have a web site."

"Oops. I guess I forgot to mention that I've been putting one together for you."

"Just like that?"

"I can create web pages in my sleep. I have photos of you in clown. All I need to finish up is details about what fees you charge. I can finish it off in a few hours. We can add to it as I take more photos."

"Okay. I guess I do need to think about doing clowning as a business. It's just been something I do for fun and to pick up a little money to pay for my clown stuff. If I'm going to continue to do this as part of what we live on, it needs to be a business. Your photography, too. Anything we do that makes money."

"How about Carys and Jami, incorporated? Seems only fair, since we can't get married."

"I'm serious, Jami. We have to think about this. Fortunately I do know more than a little about running a small business. But not as much as I should know. Arghh. Something else to do!" Carys held her head in her hands.

"Poor Carys," said Jami. She kissed her forehead and pried her hands away from her head. "We'll have more time in just a few weeks, honey."

Carys looked totally frazzled. "God, I hope so. I am about at the end of my rope."

"Anything I can do to help," said Jami, "ask. I'm done with my schooling, remember."

"Okay, but mostly it's stuff I have to do."

"You'd probably be less frazzled if you didn't have me in your life, you know," said Jami with a pout. "Your parents would sure be happier."

Carys grabbed Jami's hands, put her face up to Jami's face. She said in a low, even voice, "You are all that's keeping me sane. Knowing that you are here whenever I need you. That you and I are going to be together. That there is something beyond all this craziness. Your love is what's keeping me going!"

"I wish I could do more, now, to help you out," said Jami.

Carys smiled. "Kiss me. Tell me you love me."

Jami was happy to oblige.

* * *

They arrived at the Theatre on Friday about an hour before the performance. Melissa and Liam were checking that the stage was set for the first act, props in place, everything ready for the set change after Act One. The performers changed into their costumes as they arrived. Once everyone was there, they gathered in the greenroom for last minute notes and a pep talk from Derick.

"Everyone ready? You've been doing fine in rehearsal this week, so there's no reason tonight should be different. The primary advice I can give you, if you haven't been on stage before, is to ignore individuals in the audience. If you pay attention to any one person, you'll get lost. Look at the back wall, don't look at people's faces.

"This isn't a comedy, but there are one or two places that might get a laugh. If people begin to laugh, wait it out. The really important thing is to make certain people can understand you. Speak slowly, enunciate, project.

"I have no idea what our audience will be like. I'll go look when we're a little closer to starting. It's likely we'll have very few people in the seats to the sides of the stage. That's good, since you're all holding scripts. You don't have quite the freedom to let the audience see you that you otherwise would.

"During intermission you come back here. You need to drink some water, use the restrooms, and rest your voices. At the close of the final act, do the simple curtain call we've rehearsed. When the applause dies down, go out into the lobby and greet anyone who wants to talk with you. Mandy and I will be out there. Elena and Shay, you may go out also. Then change out of costume and you're free to go. Any questions?"

No one had questions. They were all nervous, looking over their scripts, reviewing in their minds what they had to do between acts. Hoping that everything would go well.

When Derick checked just before 7:00, there was still a little under 100 people in the audience. The ushers had been seating people in the center section only, which had a capacity of about 150. To the performers on stage it would look like a pretty full house. Derick was surprised they had as large an audience as they did. Jami's stomach fluttered at the thought of being in front of that many people.

Then it was time to take places, and begin!

The performance went well, with no major glitches. Derick sat in the audience and watched. Mandy took care of the scripts--there were separate sets for each act--and helped with the set change between the first and second acts.

At the close of the final act, the cast lined up, took a bow, then walked quickly out to the lobby. They lined up along one wall and waited to greet the small but appreciative audience.

Jami's parents had come, of course, and had nice things to say about the performance. Several other people complimented both Jami and Carys on jobs well done. One person remarked that he hadn't seen Jami on stage before. He said he hoped she would consider further roles.

Ms. Steffani, the photography instructor from the Arts Camp, came. She praised both Jami and Carys. She also spent some time talking with Jami's parents.

Jami was somewhat surprised to see the owner of the photography store where she worked. "Well, done, Jami!" he said, adding that he was an enthusiastic supporter of community theater. He was pleased to see her involved.

Two of Carys's teachers had come. Her drama teacher, and Mr. Smithson, who had talked to her after the incident in the cafeteria. They each stopped to compliment Carys. To Mr. Smithson, Carys introduced Jami. He smiled and praised her, too. She didn't see anyone else she knew from her school. That wasn't surprising, she thought, with graduation so close. Everyone was very busy this month.

David's parents had not come. He said he expected at least his mother would see one of the other performances.

As the crowd quickly thinned, Carys turned to talk to Jami. "Shall we go get out of costume?"

"Sure. I don't see anyone else I know. I could definitely use some water."

As they turned to go, a last group of stragglers came out from the center doors.

"Carys?"

Carys turned toward the voice. She recognized Kathy, the shy girl from the cafeteria incident. Kathy was with her parents, who did not look very happy. Carys decided that simply smiling and not letting on that she knew anything about Kathy would be the safest course. So she stood and waited for the girl to speak.

"Hi, Carys. I don't think you know me. I'm Kathy, a junior at East Lansing. I've seen you do your clowning, and in some plays at school. I talked my parents into taking me to this. I'm glad I came. You did great, and the play was interesting."

"Thank you, Kathy. I'm glad you liked it." She smiled at Kathy's parents, but they paid no attention, clearly eager to leave.

"Who was that?" asked Jami, after Kathy's parents had almost dragged her out of the Theatre.

"The shy girl who talked to me in the cafeteria the day Linda called me a pervert dyke. I hope she doesn't get in trouble for talking her parents into bringing her to this. But I'm glad she came."

They went down the long hallway to the backstage area and quickly changed clothes. They returned to the lobby to ride with Jami's parents, who were taking them out to dinner.

"Are your parents going to see one of the readings, Carys?" asked Anne.

"They say they're going to come tomorrow. They usually see everything I'm in, so I think they really will. But I don't think my mother is very happy that I have the lead male role."

"You do very well with Jacques," said Jami's father. "The kiss with Françoise is most impressive."

There was silence from the back seat. Jami and Carys looked at each other.

"Did I say something wrong? You're not upset about Carys pretending to kiss someone else, are you Jami?"

"Oh, no, Dad. I get plenty of the real thing from Carys. The problem is Rachel, the woman who plays Françoise. She's been something of a pain. She has some kind of issues with the rest of us that no one can figure out, and she isn't telling."

"Well, it doesn't show on stage. Too bad, though."

They had an enjoyable dinner, finding many things to talk about. Jami's parents were interested to hear the history of the play. They commented that it showed that progress was being made in accepting gender and sexual diversity, even if progress did seem painfully slow to those directly affected.

They dropped Carys off at her house. By then she and Jami were having trouble keeping their eyes open. They both slept very late on Saturday. Around 3:00 Carys walked to Jami's house. They walked downtown to work off nervous energy. When they got hungry they grabbed a couple of slices of pizza, then took the bus to Riverfront.

Carys's parents did come to that evening's performance. The audience was larger than Friday's. Her parents surprised Carys by saying they thought she had done a fine job with a difficult role. Carys's mother loved the period dress that Jami had found. She had no comment about Carys's suit.

They went to dinner with her parents. The discussion kept to talk about other plays, shows at the Wharton Center and the circuses that had spurred Carys's interest in clowning. They had a good time, but Carys felt somewhat miffed that it was only because all mention of her relationship with Jami, and difficult topics such as their plans for the future, were avoided.

Following the final show on Sunday the entire cast and crew went to Clara's Diner to celebrate. The restaurant was a converted train station and a favorite with the theater crowd.

Derick's partner, Richard, came along, as did Mandy's roommate and Tina's sister. Mandy had taken Rachel aside and told her that her boyfriend would be welcome to come. Rachel had admitted that part of her problem was that her boyfriend wouldn't have anything to do with the group. He had refused to come to any of the performances.

Once they all had ordered, Derick made a short speech. "I think you did a fantastic job! You would have given a stunning performance if we had taken this to full production. I'm hoping to direct a full production of a different play sometime in the next year. I would be pleased to have any of you audition for whatever it happens to be." They all clapped and toasted Derick and Mandy for their hard work.

Suddenly Rachel stood up. Everyone looked at her, more than a little surprised.

"I think you're all great people, truly. I apologize again for behaving like an idiot a couple of times. Earlier today I realized I was feeling very sad that we wouldn't be getting together again after today. I'm going to be living at home this summer, working at Barnes and Noble on Grand River. If any of you are looking for books, I'd be pleased if you'd look for me and say hello."

"Anyone else have definite plans for the summer?" asked Mandy, after Rachel sat down.

Carys and Jami looked at each other. Carys spoke. "We don't have all the details figured out yet, but after we graduate Jami and I are going to rent a place and live together. We'll invite all of you we can contact to come for a house warming."

"Way cool," said Shay. "I'm happy you two know what you want and are willing to buck the system for it. I wish you luck."

"Not to be a downer, but you may need some luck," added Luis. "I've known guys who've been kicked out of places once the landlord figures out they're gay. Maybe it'll be easier for girls. No offense. I wish you luck."

"Thanks," said Carys. "I know we'll need it."

"The thing to do," said Richard, "is buy a house. Once you're reasonably certain you're staying together. It isn't as hard to do as it sounds. Then you don't have a landlord, which is cool. That's what Derick and I have done."

"Rent for a while first, though," said Mandy. "Not that I'm trying to cast doubt on how committed you are, but it's good experience, and it helps establish your credit rating."

"I know a friendly lawyer you guys should probably talk to at some point," added Tina. "There are things you need to think about if you're going to try to own property together and be responsible for each other. There are things you can do, legally, to help make up for not being married."

More advice was given, then talk turned back to theater. David offered a ride home, but Jami and Carys declined. They wanted to be alone together. Clara's was on the #1 route, so they went out to wait for a bus.

"Jami? Let's get off near Brody Hall and walk along the river through campus."

"That sounds like a super idea!"

Carys signaled for a stop. They left the bus, crossed Harrison by the Kellogg Center, and walked through campus in the cool night.

Carys was in a wonderful mood. "Just two months ago I was dreading this summer, leaving for college and an unknown future where I'd have to come out to everyone all over again. Now I have you, Jami, more queer friends than I've ever had, and a future that's just as unknown but that I actually want to have happen. I am so happy I feel like I could explode!"

She grabbed Jami's hands and twirled them around in a circle on the wide sidewalk, then drew Jami close for a kiss. They continued their walk, holding hands.

"It won't be easy," said Jami.

"No, it won't be. But it may be fun, like climbing a mountain is fun, even though it's difficult and dangerous. We need to appreciate and cherish the moments of triumph and glory, the goals we win for ourselves, and the beautiful sunrises we just happen to see."

"And the stars and the moonlight."

"And especially each other."

They spoke very little on the rest of the walk, occupied with thoughts of the busy weeks to come.

* * *

"Hi, Cait. I just wanted to let you know that the performances went okay. Mom and Dad came on Saturday. They took me and Jami out to dinner and they more or less behaved themselves!"

"I wish you could have seen it! It's too bad we live so far apart. I'm really looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks. Jami is excited about seeing you, too."

"Yes, I'm so happy you two are talking in email. Jami's such a cool person."

"Dad's being pretty good. Mom has unbent a little, but she still has a real problem about me and Jami. Maybe you can talk with her some when you're here?"

"Oh, I'm a little down right now because I miss working with the group that did the play. It was the first time I'd been with a group of people where I didn't have to hide who I am. It made me realize that I do hide it, most of the time."

"I guess there's no way to grow up in this culture and not learn you have to hide being different. I mean, kids go on about trying to be different, but it's mostly being different in an accepted way. Even the goths and punks are tolerated better than people like me."

"Nothing major, usually. Stares. The words I hear people say once I turn a corner. It'll be over soon, and I won't miss it. I swear, how anyone can look back fondly on their high school years is beyond me. Oh, there are moments. But I suppose if you're in prison for four years there are moments."

"Okay, it's not that bad. Like I said, I'm just down because I miss being with a group that accepts me. I need to figure out how to make that happen more often. One thing this area really lacks is anything but a couple of bars and clubs where queer people can hang out."

"Huh? Start my own group? What do you mean?"

"Well, yes, that is something I'd really like to see happen. You have a point, Cait, a definite point."

"Okay. Thanks for talking, Sis. You've cheered me up no end, just by suggesting I get off my butt and change things. I love you, too. See you soon. Bye."

* * *

Carys had gone to Jami's house after school, as usual. They were lying on the bed talking, before Carys began on what little school work she still had to complete.

"Jami? I talked to Cait last night. She had an interesting suggestion. That I start my own group."

"What kind of group?"

Carys turned on her side, put an arm across Jami's stomach. "We were talking about my feeling kind of let down and lonely now that the play has closed and I don't meet with those people. I see a few kids at school, there's a GSA meeting once a month, but there's no place I go that's like play rehearsals were. School's almost over. Then what?"

"You don't necessarily mean a performance group?"

"Right. I guess I mean a place to go where I can be with people, but feel safe, where I don't have to hide who I am. People who know me, that is. I'm not talking about walking through the mall with all the ordinary people."

Jami was silent.

Carys thought about what she'd been saying. "Honey? Did you feel safe at rehearsals? I know that Rachel was a pain in the butt, but everyone else seemed accepting and supportive."

Jami turned to face Carys. "Toward the end I guess I did sort of began looking forward to rehearsals."

Carys put her head on Jami's chest. "I'm sorry Jami. I keep forgetting how different you and I are."

"No, I see the appeal of a group. I don't think I would have understood it before being in the play with you. I'd never done anything like that."

"It's just something I want to think about. As if I have time to think about anything new right now."

Jami kissed her forehead. "In our case, people in a group need to have two things in common," she said.

"What do you mean?"

"You and I aren't going to be really comfortable in any group unless we can be out. But just being queer isn't enough. All kinds of people are queer. That alone doesn't guarantee a common interest. The thing about the play was that it was a group of mostly queer people who were together doing theater. That's two things in common."

Carys rolled onto her back. "That's true, Jami. Which explains why GSA meetings are such a dud if we don't have a good agenda. We don't have anything else in common."

"Right. Your GSA is like a support group. You probably have nothing in common with those people outside the mission of the GSA. David is your friend because he also does clowning, not because he's gay and in the GSA."

"That's true," said Carys.

"Big cities have LGBT community centers that host groups of queer people who have other common interests. We don't have that here," said Jami, "but that doesn't mean you can't figure out how to start a group."

"Maybe we need a virtual community center, a community center without walls, or something? A way for people to link up?"

"I dunno," said Jami. "Lot of problems with privacy and safety. There are local email lists for gay people looking for social opportunities. It's hard to do more than that and be safe."

"Which comes back to us being second class citizens without civil liberties or legal rights." Carys sighed. "Thanks, Jami. I will think on this, in the spare time I do not have. Which reminds me. I really should work on that last paper for my literature class."