Chapter Sixteen

"You're sharing expenses, and you want a one bedroom apartment, huh?" He looked them both up and down. "Are you dykes?"

Carys bristled, "Yes, we are. We aren't going to lie about it."

"Yeh? Well it turns out I forgot that this unit isn't available. Needs repairs. Go somewhere else."

Carys bit her tongue to keep from saying what she felt, grabbed Jami's hand, and pulled her out the door.

"Carys!"

"Quiet, Jami. Don't say anything until we get out of here and away from this building. Come on."

It was the fourth day of their search for a place to rent. They'd seen places they wouldn't want their worst enemy to live in, nice places with deposits or hidden costs they couldn't afford, and several places that turned out to not actually be available once they talked to the landlord. This wasn't the first time the reason had been made so obvious.

"One more place today, Jami. That's all I can stand. Then maybe we need to reevaluate our strategy."

They knew they could find a place with no hassles if they stuck to the complexes that rented to the college students. But those rents were usually higher than they wanted to pay. Jami could work more hours at the photo store. Carys could get a regular part time job in addition to her bookkeeping clients. But that would make it harder to develop the more personally rewarding, if less financially certain, ways they had to make money.

Jami looked over their list and checked the map. "There's another one about two blocks from here. Let's try that, then call it a day."

They walked the distance in silence. It looked like a house, so maybe it was the kind of place they hoped to find.

Carys rang the bell. They heard a voice yell out, "I'm coming!" Soon a sixtyish woman with grey hair opened the door. She had an oven mitt on one hand.

Carys was somewhat taken aback. Did they have the wrong address? "Hi? We're here to look at the apartment you have advertised?"

"Apartment? Yes. I'm Mrs. Carmichael." She looked at Carys, then at Jami, then back and forth. "Okay, what's your story. You're students? You have jobs? Boyfriends? This is a one bedroom apartment I have for rent."

Carys launched into their spiel. "I'm Carys and this is Jami. We're part-time students. I do bookkeeping for seven clients, and I do clown gigs as Lovelorn the Clown." She pulled out their business cards. "Jami works part time at a photo store, and she's a writer, web designer and photographer. She just had an exhibit at the Art Gallery, and she has two current photo assignments. We also do volunteer work. We have a budget worked out. Boyfriends will not be a problem." She smiled hopefully.

Mrs. Carmichael scrutinized them again. "You're both very young. Just out of high school? Why aren't you living at home? Where are you from?"

"We're both 18, from East Lansing," said Jami. "We just want to be on our own. Our parents haven't kicked us out or anything."

"You want to live together, in a one bedroom apartment? And you don't have boyfriends. What's this really about, now?"

Carys put a hand on Jami's arm to remind her they'd agreed she would do the talking. "We would be married, if that were possible."

The woman shook her head. "Well, I'm glad you're honest with me, but I don't know that I want to deal with this. I have other tenants. I have to consider what people would think. I don't know."

Carys sighed. "Thank you anyway, for listening, and for not being mean to us. We know you have the legal right in this city to turn us away because we're gay. Come on, Jami." She turned to go.

Now the woman added a frown to her shaking head. "People have been mean to you? I suppose they have. That's not right. I'm sorry, but, oh, I just don't think I can help you."

Four days of bad luck, and a personal taste of the discrimination with which Carys was already familiar, had become increasingly irritating for Jami. Usually the calmer of the two, Jami had now had it with being polite and invisible. She just had to vent.

"Actually, my girlfriend is a dyke, but I'm intersexed, so it's even worse than you think. We're a couple of freaks. I'm sure you're better off renting to normal people. Have a nice day." She turned to follow Carys.

"Oh, Jami!" Carys put her arm around Jami's waist. "I'm sorry this is so hard, honey." They walked down the steps together.

"Wait!" They stopped, but didn't turn around. "Wait. What you just said. Intersexed. My niece's second child is intersexed. Tore her heart up. Her husband couldn't handle it, he left her, the bastard, when she needed him the most. Her parents helped her, I helped her. Wait. Come back and let's talk. Please?"

They turned around, Jami somewhat in shock at the reaction her little rant had produced, Carys hesitant and wary. They went back up the steps and into Mrs. Carmichael's front room.

"Here, sit on the sofa. Carys and Jami, wasn't it? I'm Mary. Hold on just a second, I have to take something out of the oven." She walked out of the room.

"We run if she comes back with a meat cleaver, right?" Jami whispered to Carys, who did not smile at the joke.

Mrs. Carmichael returned from the kitchen, without the mitt this time. She sat in an overstuffed chair. "Okay, now. I'm sorry I startled you. You startled me, talking about it out of the blue like that. It's always on my mind, because of Brenda's child. Twelve years old, now, and it's been a hard twelve years for all of us, not talking about it outside the family. Then all of a sudden you're standing on my steps talking like that!"

"I'm sorry if I upset you, Mary," said Jami.

"Oh, no, you did right. You're so brave to speak up. And you, Carys, you're brave, too. Me, maybe I need to be braver than I am. How can I hope Brenda's child is going to have a fair shake in the world if I don't give the same? I know darn well the world isn't as simple and tidy as people want it to be. People try to ignore what upsets them. But you can't do that, now, can you, not when you know what I know about people?"

She pursed her lips, thought. "Now, let's see. You have jobs, you're not running from your parents, and you've thought about this. You said you have a budget worked out?"

"Yes," said Carys. "We don't have a car. The rent will be our major expense."

"Now that's uncommonly sensible of you. Insurance rates for young people are just horrible. You don't need a car. We're two blocks from a bus stop, and there's a convenience store not too far. Tell you what. I'll show you the apartment. It's upstairs, actually. That's part of why I'm being so particular. I also rent four apartments in the house next door, but this one is in my own house."

Carys looked around the small, neat sitting room, back at the woman speaking to them. "Mary, what you know about Jami isn't going to change the fact that people will think you're renting to a lesbian couple. Are you sure you want to do this?"

"You know that saying? If not me, who? If not now, when? Yes, I want to do it. But let's go take a look first. You may not like the apartment." She led them back out into the entranceway. "This door is to the stairs. It's your front door, so to speak." She unlocked the door. "Go on up, I'm right behind you, but a little bit slower."

The stairs opened onto a small landing to one side of a long room. At the end near the stairs, a doorway led into a small kitchen with stove, refrigerator and a table with two chairs. A window overlooked the back yard of the house. The center room was bare except for a large built-in bookcase. Storage shelves were built back into the sloping part of the attic.

The far room held a four-poster bed and a dresser, with space left over for a desk or table. There was a small closet, and more built-in shelves. Also in the bedroom was a wide window seat, with storage underneath. Just outside the bedroom, off the central room and over the stairs, was a tiny bathroom with a sink, toilet and shower stall.

"So, you see," said Mrs. Carmichael, "it's partly furnished, primarily so folks don't have to haul heavy furniture up and down those stairs. The previous renter had their own sofa, and mine was a little worn, so there isn't one now, I'm afraid. Small, but you don't need much, starting out. I usually rent to a law student or a young couple. You can't make much noise up here. But the bed doesn't squeak." Mrs. Carmichael winked at them.

"The rent includes all your utilities. That's why it's so high for a place this size. It's warm in the winter, but I admit it's a little too warm sometimes in the summer. I do have central air, but it doesn't do a lot of good up here. Keeps the humidity down, though. Fans help."

"This is fantastic!" Carys was thrilled. "We wouldn't need much more. You could put your computer in the bedroom, Jami, on a table. It's a lot like your upstairs room at home, isn't it?"

Jami was looking around. "Yes, it is. I would certainly feel comfortable here."

"Could we just put pillows and such in the center? Then I could use that space to practice a small skit, or you could lay out prints." Carys smiled at Mrs. Carmichael.

"Sure," said Jami. "That space might come in handy for shooting portraits, too. Call it our multipurpose space."

"So I take it you both like the apartment?"

"Oh, yes," they said together.

"Come on downstairs then. I have some papers you need to fill out and sign. I'm ready for some tea. May I fix some for you two?"

"Yes, please."

"That would be wonderful."

Carys gave Jami a quick hug before following Mrs. Carmichael back downstairs. While she boiled water, Carys filled out the lease papers. Jami had prepared a printout with their employment information and references, so it went quickly.

"Okay, here's a pot of tea, Earl Grey today. I just took a sponge cake out of the oven. Please have a piece of that. My late husband grew up in Ireland, though I'm second generation myself. I treat tea time seriously."

She looked over the lease and information sheet that Carys handed her. Jami poured the tea for all of them.

"Carys Douglas? I bet your ancestors are from Ireland or Wales, too, with a name like that?"

"Yes," said Carys. "My sister is Caitlin. But I don't know that much about my family history. I suppose I should research it."

"Oh, yes, do. Don't let it slip away from you." She returned her attention to the papers. "This all looks okay. I will call and check on your employment, Jami, and a couple of your bookkeeping references, Carys. I always do that, no matter how nice the renters seem to be. I did have a bad experience once, and it's simply my rule now."

"We understand."

"Good. I'll do that tomorrow, which is Thursday. If everything is okay, you can move in Friday if you want. I need one month's rent as security deposit, half a month's for what's left in this one, and then rent for July will be due on the first. That adds up to quite a bit, all in the next two weeks. Can you handle that?"

"That's okay," said Jami. "We both have savings. Do you want the security deposit and half-month's rent now?"

"If you please."

Jami and Carys each wrote a check for half the amount, and handed them to Mrs. Carmichael.

"That's fine. You give me a call after noon tomorrow to check that everything is okay, and let me know when you want to move in. I'll have keys for you then. The utilities are part of the rent, but you'll have to arrange for the phone and cable if you want them."

"Just the phone line, for a DSL connection for my computer," said Jami. "We don't have time to watch television."

"I can believe that, with all the things you said you two are involved in. Myself, I don't have a lot else to do with my time in the evenings. Now if you'd like to go back upstairs and measure and look around again, go right ahead. Just give me a holler when you leave so I can lock the door again."

They thanked her and went back upstairs. Jami had a camera with her, of course, and took photos of everything. They measured the space in the bedroom for a table, looked in all the cupboards, and made notes.

"This is so fantastic, Jami. I cannot believe our luck in finding this place!"

"So maybe sometimes it pays to not be invisible?"

"Yes, it does. You are so brave, Jami. I know it's hard to speak out the way you did. Because most of the time you're going to be hurt for it."

"But this time we were lucky. So let's head home, and start packing."

"Soon this will be home," said Carys. "I can't believe this is so cool!"

* * *

They began moving Friday and finished on Saturday. Jami's mother helped them, using the minivan. Ted came along on one trip, to see the apartment, which he thought was a real find.

Anne said not to worry about taking everything they would need, since it'd be easy to make additional trips. In fact, they would have to wait to move Jami's big computer until their DSL line was installed.

After the last trip on Saturday, Anne took Jami and Carys to the grocery store and helped them stock their kitchen. Once they had unloaded the groceries and put them away, Anne said, "You have the essentials now, I think. Where are you staying tonight?"

Jami and Carys moved to put an arm around each other.

"Here, Mom."

"I figured as much. I remember how I felt when Ted and I moved into our first apartment. I suspect you'll want to spend the day here tomorrow, just the two of you."

Jami stepped forward to hug her mother. "I love you, Mom. I'm going to miss you."

Anne hugged Jami tight, reached out to include Carys. "Of course you will, honey. I'll miss you. Both of you. But you're not far away at all. Don't be strangers. Once you settle down, let's set up a schedule for you two to come over for dinner, okay?"

They nodded.

"Oh, Jami? Just so I don't forget to tell you, now that I won't see you every day. I've made a decision of my own that you need to know about."

"What, Mom?"

"You know that many of the classes at Community are moving next year to the new campus in south Lansing? Departments are being shuffled around and reorganized. I've decided it's a good time for me to retire from teaching, or at least stop teaching on a regular schedule."

"Retire? Mom, you're not even fifty yet!" said Jami.

Anne laughed. "I'm not planning on spending the rest of my life sitting and watching television, Jami. I want to do some different things than I've been doing. I have writing to do. I've also decided to become more active with PFLAG and with ISNA."

"Wow, that's great!" said Jami, with Carys adding her approval.

"So we may end up working together," said Anne, "as adults."

"Cool. Good luck, Mom."

"Thanks. I'll see you when you come to use your computer. Call if you find you forgot anything important. Bye now."

* * *

Sunday morning Jami woke at first light, and realized she was in bed with Carys, in their own apartment. She lay there for a while, then slipped out of bed to use the bathroom. When she returned to bed, Carys mumbled in her sleep, but did not wake up. Jami snuggled up against her and fell asleep again. An hour or so later they woke up together.

They spent most of the day putting everything away, arranging their work areas and making lists and plans. They were happy and excited, not quite believing it was real. Occasionally one or the other of them was struck by how large a step they had taken.

At one point Carys found Jami sitting on the widow seat, looking at the clouds building in the early summer sky. Carys walked up behind her and gently stroked Jami's hair. "What are you thinking, love?"

"There's whales and seals and dolphins, all swimming in the sky," whispered Jami.

"What?"

Jami turned to look up at Carys. "It's a line from a rather sad song by Kathy Mar, about what we are doing to our planet and to ourselves."

"Are you feeling sad?"

Jami reached up to take Carys's hands. "Not for myself, no. I'm very happy, lover mine. But we've been so lucky. There are so many people less fortunate than we are. That makes me sad."

Carys sat beside her in the window. "I know, love. We can't help everyone, but we can make a difference, with the way we live our lives. Everyone who is out and proud makes it easier for others to do the same."

Jami looked at Carys. "I have a feeling we're going to do a lot, together."

"Of course, together." said Carys. "How about we invite all our friends over next Saturday? Do you have that email list from The Captive?"

"Sure do. I'll send out email next time I go by my parent's house. It'll be a week or so until we have a connection here."

"How about we take a walk now, before it starts raining, then come back home and fix dinner?"

"Sounds good. Especially the come back home with you part."

* * *

As the month of June neared its end, Carys settled down to make the first entry in her journal in quite some time.

Three months ago I had just met an interesting girl named Jami. Now I live with her. Lovelorn is no longer lonely.

To say that the past three months have had their ups and downs is a vast understatement. I've been reduced to tears of hurt and rage and frustration. I've also experienced tears of fear and recently, of joy.

Perhaps what I've set out to do is crazy and doomed to fail, but one cannot succeed without risking failure. If I'm a fool, I'm a fool for love. So be it.

—End—