Chapter Seventeen

The meeting between Carys, Father Dave and Linda's brother Carl took place Saturday morning, in Father Dave's office.

When Carys arrived, Carl was sitting slumped in a third chair that the priest had moved into the office. He hadn't bothered to stamp the snow from his boots, which were beginning to leave puddles of water on the carpet.

Carys said, "Hi," to Father Dave, hung her coat on one of the pegs behind the door and sat in the unoccupied chair.

The priest rose to close the door, then returned to his chair. "I don't know if you two have actually met?"

Carl was sullen. He wouldn't meet Carys's glance. "I don't want to talk to you, and I don't want to repeat what I've already said to Father Dave. This is about destroying that disk. That's all!"

"All right," said Carys, deciding to skip any attempt at pleasantries. "But what about the disk? Why did you send it to me?"

"I was angry, that's all! I wanted to hurt you, and all the damned dykes that Kathy wanted to be with! But sending you the disk was a stupid thing to do, I admit." He glanced briefly at Carys, looked down again. "I was kind of out of my mind after she died. I really did like her."

"So if I destroy the disk?"

"Then I sure as hell won't ever talk about it again!" He looked quickly at the priest. "Sorry, Father."

"Thank you for sending me Kathy's poems," said Carys.

Carl looked at her for the first time. "That was a mistake, too. I should have burned them and sent you the ashes!"

Carys drew in a slow breath, staring at Carl until he looked away again. She said nothing.

"My understanding," said Father Dave, "is that Carys will destroy the disk, and all concerned will forget the matter. Is that correct?" He looked first at Carys, who nodded, then at Carl. "Carl?"

Carl looked at Carys again. "Yes! I'll forget the disk, I'll forget you, I'll try to forget about Kathy. All of it! I wish none of it had ever happened!" He looked at the priest. "May I go now?"

Father Dave nodded. Carl grabbed his coat from where he had tossed it on the floor, yanked the door open and walked off down the hallway.

"I'm sorry he was so rude, Carys."

"He seemed really upset."

"I had some words with him before you arrived. I don't suppose your paths are likely to cross in the future, but if they do, I'd be careful. He's a confused and angry young man."

Carys grimaced. "I'm always careful." She paused. "Did he tell you anything I need to know?"

"He pretty much confirmed what you had figured out." The priest gave Carys a synopsis of what Carl had told him.

Carys nodded. "Okay, so let's hope this is an end to all of that mess."

"I fervently agree." He stood. "I'm afraid I must run."

"No problem," said Carys, also standing. "Thank you so much for taking time to help me." She paused. "Would you like me to bring you a copy of the poems Kathy sent me?"

"I would love that, Carys." He smiled. "I would also appreciate it if you would let me know when your troupe is ready to perform."

She brightened. "Glad to! Well, I'm off." She grabbed her coat, paused, turned back. "Um, peace be with you."

"And with you, Carys."

Carys walked quickly down M.A.C. to the Union bus stop. She took out her cell and called Jami. "It's me. We're done. It's okay. I'll talk when I get home. I'm almost at the bus stop, so see you soon. Bye."

* * *

Carys opened the door to the house and went in. Jami, Tam and Mrs. Carmichael were sitting in the living room, waiting for her. She kicked off her boots, walking into the living room as she shucked off her coat and tossed it on a chair. Then Jami and Tam were on their feet, surrounding Carys in a hug.

Standing back, Jami asked, "You said it's done?"

"Yes." Tam and Jami took her hands and led her to sit between them on the sofa.

"It was pretty much as we thought. After the holidays, which were apparently pretty rough for him, because he couldn't tell anyone why he was upset, he decided to put the disk in a box with the poems and send it to me.

"He had been in love with Kathy, but she wasn't interested in that kind of relationship. He blamed her disinterest on her being gay, and blamed me for 'encouraging' her gayness.

"Kathy did not give him the poems and the note. He found them in her book bag after she died. They had had a fight. She left, angry and upset. That's when she had the accident in which she died." Carys paused. "Father Dave says that's the way Carl phrased it, that Kathy had an accident. Since he was the last one to see her, I'm going to believe that it was in fact only an accident."

"I think that's best, Carys," agreed Mary.

"Finding the poems and the note infuriated him. Maybe he thought there was something between me and Kathy other than friendship. Whatever. He started thinking about some way to hurt me, and hit on mailing me the disk. Later he realized how stupid that was, and what could happen if I went to the police with it. So he was quite willing to agree to silence if I destroyed the disk."

"What about the drugs and porn?" asked Tam.

"I don't know. We agreed to limit discussion to how and why the disk came to me. If Carl said anything about that to Father Dave, he didn't tell me, and I didn't ask." Carys rubbed her nose. "I'm fine with never knowing to what extent Kathy was involved with that crap."

"I guess we'll never know who the real Kathy was," said Jami.

"Do we ever truly know who anyone is?" said Carys. "I don't mean that in a bad way, but I expect you to always be able to surprise me, no matter how well I think I know you. It's the human condition."

"So what now?" asked Tam.

"Now we destroy that disk!" said Carys.

"I can do a total wipe on it," said Jami.

Carys looked at her. "I would really like to destroy it in a physical sense, something I can see with my eyes. Can we do that?"

Jami thought a moment. "Yes. My parents are out of town this week We could spend the evening at the house. A roaring fire would melt the aluminum platters if I take the disk apart. All that would be left would be little blobs of melted metal."

"Okay. Let's do it." She looked at Mary. "Can you get the disk out of your safety deposit box, please?"

"Gladly I will, and be rid of it forever! Let me get my keys and I'll go right now." She stood up.

"May I come with you, Mary?" asked Jami.

"I'd like that, Jami. I'm not superstitious, but if I don't touch that disk, I'll not be sorry."

Jami followed her into the kitchen.

"So this will be the end of this affair?" asked Tam.

Carys leaned back against the sofa. "I hope so, Tam. I believe it will. Certainly none of us has any reason to ever mention the disk again. I trust Father Dave."

"And Carl?"

"The existence of the disk can only hurt him. But I don't trust him enough to give it back to him. I suppose we'll be committing a crime of some sort by destroying the disk."

"Oh, probably," agreed Tam. "But this is the kind of situation in which a mechanistic system of law breaks down. Sometimes one must do what is right, rather than what is legal."

They were silent for a few moments, then Tam asked, "Are you going to wonder about what else of Kathy's was on the disk?"

"No. Now that I understand that what she meant for me to have is the poems she picked and printed, I'm content to leave her with her privacy. God, I'm so tired."

"Hang in there. It'll be over soon," said Tam.

Carys leaned against Tam, who put her arms around her. They stayed that way until Jami and Mrs. Carmichael returned.

When Mrs. Carmichael and Jami returned, Jami brought the box that contained the disk into the living room.

"I want to keep the original of Kathy's note, since we now know it had nothing to do with the disk," said Carys. "Everything else can go in the fire."

Jami extracted the poems and the note and handed them to Carys.

Carys took the note and looked at it. She ran a finger over the signature.

"Are you okay?" asked Jami.

"I will be." She shook her head. "I feel totally wasted. No way I'm going to be good for anything today."

"Then how about we just head for my house and take the rest of the day off?" said Jami. She looked at Tam. "Can you do that?"

Tam nodded. "I don't have anything due next week. It'd be good for me to take a break."

"Great," said Carys. "I need to put this upstairs and get a few things." She looked at Jami and Tam. "Are we staying overnight?"

"We can," said Jami. "Order pizza, watch a video or two. Just relax." She thought a moment, smiled. "Yes, let's do. Nothing will disturb us there."

Carys looked at Tam. "We have to watch at least one Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes video, for old time's sake, unless there's something in particular you want to watch, Tam?"

"I was kind of thinking of The Net. You know, about the Praetorians getting into everything computer-controlled and chasing Sandra Bullock all over the place?" Tam tried to look innocent and failed.

"No fucking way!" said Carys. "You want me to have screaming nightmares for the rest of the month?"

"My parents have the box set of Firefly," said Jami.

"That will do nicely," said Carys.

"We will go to sleep eventually?" asked Tam.

"Eventually, but I'm so wired and on edge after today," said Carys. "It's going to take me a while to loosen up enough to fall asleep."

Carys headed for the stairs. Jami and Tam lingered behind.

"I'm so glad this is over," said Jami.

"You can say that again!" agreed Tam.

* * *

"Knock-knock?" said Carys.

Father Dave rolled into view. "Carys! Am I expecting you?"

"Nope. I was downtown and stopped by on the chance you'd be in. I brought you a copy of Kathy's poems, and a flyer for the performance troupe."

The priest stood to take the pages from Carys. He glanced at the dates on the flyer. "Thank you. I will try to come see one of your performances."

"That would be cool, but I know how busy you are. And I'm still figuring out what to do with the poems. I may use a few in performance. Well, I have to go keep an appointment."

"Perhaps when things slow down, for both of us, this summer we can chat again?" said Father Dave.

"Sure," said Carys. "I'd like that. Well, see you!" I wonder what my mother would think if she knew I was on such friendly terms with a priest? she thought. The wrong thing, no doubt.

Carys walked to a restaurant where she had agreed to meet a person who said they needed to talk about gender issues. It was a little after the lunch hour, so they could sit and talk.

Letting her eyes adjust in the dim bar area of the restaurant after she entered, she looked for Chris and spotted her standing by the doorway into the restaurant area, clutching her purse and looking nervous. She heard snickers from the bar. If people who are nervous about gender would just shut the fuck up, the world would be a much nicer place, she thought to herself.

Smiling widely, she walked over and said, "Hi, are you Chris? I'm Carys."

Chris smiled with relief. Carys led them through the doorway and away from the bar. She looked around. Soon the owner noticed them. She and Jami ate here at least once each month. They quickly were seated at a table off the main path through the rooms.

"Your menus, ladies. A waitress will be with you in a moment. Enjoy."

"Well, he's polite," said Chris.

"He knows me," said Carys, "and he's as queer as a three dollar bill." Carys laid her menu on the table. She already knew what she would order.

Chris was looking at her menu. "Are the salads good?"

"Everything is good."

"I shouldn't eat much."

"Not hungry?"

"I'm fat. I'm ugly. I don't pass. I don't think I'll ever pass!"

"I think you look fine," said Carys. "Try to relax a bit."

Chris looked at her. "Of course you'd say that."

Carys shook her head. "No, I'm being honest. I think you look fine. I'm not comparing you to anything or anyone. I'm looking at you. I'm seeing the person in front of me. I'm saying I think that person looks fine."

The waitress walked up to their table. "Hi! Are you two ready to order?"

"I am," said Carys. "How about you, Chris?"

"Well... Yes. I'll have the chimichanga with a side salad, and coffee, please."

"And you'll be shocked that I would like a Reuben, with coffee," said Carys.

"Oh, yes, quelle shock!" said the waitress. "How is Jami? And, oh...?"

"Tam," said Carys, grinning. "We're fine, and thank you so much for asking, Sasha."

"She's gay, too, I suppose," said Chris, once the waitress had walked off toward the kitchen

"Sasha? Hmm, I don't think so," said Carys.

"She was nice to you."

Carys shrugged. "Jami and I, and now Tam, come here often."

"People usually make fun of me," said Chris.

Carys reached across the table to pat her hand. "It'll get better, Chris. But really, if you relax and feel more comfortable about yourself, people will be more comfortable with you. Now tell me how you're doing."

* * *

The members of the troupe were gathered in the apartment for an acoustic rehearsal in preparation for their gig at the high school. This would be their first performance with an audience of any kind.

Carys handed out a sheet of paper with the line-up. They would open with a quick set of spoken word pieces, do a couple of sing-along songs, then a skit, and finish with an interpretive dance.

When they finished, Carys went over the schedule. "Crystal, you and Sandy will already be at school, of course. You'll take your instruments with you?" They nodded.

"Alyssa? Emiko? Jami and Tam and I could meet you at the Union, and all take the bus together out to the library, then walk over to the school?"

"Yes, please. I do not know the way."

"All right," said Carys. "Then we have the gig at State on the twelfth, that's in the main lounge of the Union, on the stage they set up for noon-hour events. It's okay for us to use amps at low volume, so we want to go all out for that."

Everyone nodded agreement. Carys finished with, "Okay, I think we're ready. We'll meet you at the Union at nine thirty, Emiko, Alyssa."

* * *

The gig at the high school went well. They performed in a classroom for a small number of GSA members and a few other students, with two teachers keeping an eye on things. Carys was nervous about being at the high school again, after her rather dramatic exit the year before, but one of the teachers who had supported her, Mr. Smithson, was there.

Following the performance, the troupe members stayed for a while to talk.

"This was good, Carys," said Mr. Smithson. "I liked the variety. Are you still doing your clowning? Have you done anything else with Riverfront?"

"Thank you," said Carys. "I've only done a couple of gigs as Lovelorn recently. Jami and I are changing that act around, but haven't gotten very far on doing it. Derick wants me to co-direct a full play with him. We're doing research and will probably submit a proposal to the Riverfront board for two seasons from now. The board decides on each season way in advance so Riverfront can do promotion and sales during the summer. The upcoming season is already decided."

A young girl Carys didn't know raised her hand and asked, "Those poems you read. Who wrote those?"

Damn. I hadn't counted on that question, thought Carys. She chose her words carefully. "The poems were written by a friend who needs to remain anonymous."

That answer seemed to work. The girl said, "It'd be neat if you could host a poetry slam for queer kids."

"Me?" said Carys.

"Sure. I think you'd be a great MC," said the girl. "But I don't know how you could do it so kids could get together and be safe." The girl shook her head. "I am so looking forward to going away to college and not having to get permission from my parents for everything I do!" She scowled. "That's almost three more years!"

Carys realized that 'safe' in this case meant safe from her parents finding out that their kid might be queer.

"Do your parents know you're in the GSA, and come to events like this?" asked Tam.

"Oh, I'm not officially in the GSA. I'm not out. And my parents don't know nothin'. They just know I'm at school. My name's Debby, by the way."

"Well, Debby," said Carys, "if I can think of a way to do something for teens, I'll get the word out."

"If there was something to actually do," said Debby, "I might risk having the big talk with my parents, you know? But I'm not going to come out to them for no good reason."

One of the boys who'd stayed to talk spoke up. "Big cities have teen centers or GLBT centers. There's nothing like that closer than Detroit."

"There's all kinds of online stuff, chat rooms, groups and whatever," said another. "But none of that is any good if something goes wrong in your real life. Like that girl some people say killed herself. Where did she have to go to get help?"

Carys suddenly felt dizzy. She quickly sat in the desk she was standing next to, and put her head down on the surface.

"Hey! I'm sorry. Did you know her?"

Carys raised her head. "Yes, I did." She looked at Debby. "That's who wrote those poems. Her name was Kathy." Carys let her eyes unfocus. "And you're right. She was in an online support group, but when stuff went wrong in her real life, she had no place to go; no place except the wrong place."

Mr. Smithson walked over to Carys and put a hand on her shoulder. "It wasn't your fault, Carys."

She twisted around. "Oh? If it wasn't my fault, whose fault was it? Was it no one's fault that the Holocaust was allowed to happen? Was it no one's fault that slavery was allowed in this country? Why didn't Martin Luther King, Jr. say that the lack of civil rights for black people was not his fault, and preach sermons about doing what one is told to do?"

Carys struggled out of the desk and stood up again. "It is my fault!" She continued through gritted teeth. "It's my fault that Matthew Shepard is dead. It's my fault that Brandon Teena is dead. It's my fault that Kathy Hansen is dead!"

Jami had pulled a small notebook from a bag and was quickly writing. Tam leaned close to her and whispered, "You getting all this?" Jami nodded and continued writing.

The class change bell rang in the hallway.

Carys took a deep breath, looked around at the faces watching her. "Sorry, guys. I got kind of carried away."

Debby jumped up and started clapping. The other students, including Crystal and Sandy, joined in. Alyssa and Emiko did cartwheels at the front of the room.

Someone opened the door from the hallway side. The two boys who had stayed to talk with the troupe quickly scurried out the other door.

"We need to be on our way," said the GSA's advisor. Sandy and Crystal picked up their instrument cases and gave Carys a thumb's up as they slowly walked out to go to the band room to store their instruments.

Debby turned to the other girl who had stayed. "I've decided I want to join the GSA, officially."

"You sure?"

Debby looked at Carys. "I'm sure."

"Walk with me and let's talk." They headed for the far door.

Several of the girls who had walked into the room for their class were staring at Debby. She noticed them, waved. They flinched and backed away. Debby flipped them off and walked out the other door with the GSA president.

Carys looked at Mr. Smithson. "What have I done?"

"Added to the legend of Carys Douglas, would be my guess."

The rest of the troupe joined Carys and Mr. Smithson. "We can take this trouble maker off your hands, sir," said Jami.

"You have the courage of your convictions, Carys. But please be careful," said Mr. Smithson, as he left to teach his next class.

They walked out through the school hallways. "Good speech!" said Emiko. "Perhaps should be our finale, or add to skit?"

"I don't even remember what I said. I was just letting my emotions run away," said Carys.

"Jami wrote it down," said Tam.

"Crystal said she's going to bring a little MD recorder for the next gig. Get it all down," said Jami.

"That's good, guys." said Carys. She hit the palm of her hand with her fist. "I really would like to do something about kids not having any place to go!"

"We go eat pizza and talk?" suggested Emiko.

"Sure, let's do that," said Carys. But she knew there wasn't any easy solution to this problem.

* * *

The gig at State two days later was the Friday before spring break, so they weren't expecting a large turnout. Carys had wanted to do this one mainly as a full practice for the more serious gigs she hoped would be coming soon. They set up their equipment at one end of the first floor lounge in the Union, to provide a show for whoever chose to come by during the noon hour.

Just before they began, Crystal grabbed Carys's arm. "Look, over by the windows."

Carys scanned the seats. "It's Father Dave!" She saw him notice her looking, so she waved. He waved back.

"You two get along, don't you?" said Crystal.

"Yes. Like you said, we have a lot in common. Now let's do this."

Keeping an eye on the lounge area, Carys figured that maybe ten people sat through their entire performance, and maybe another twenty or so stopped to listen for a few moments.

Father Dave walked over when they were done. "Hello, Carys, Crystal, Sandy. That was well done." He paused. "I recognized the poems. I'm glad you're using them."

Carys introduced Jami, Tam, Alyssa and Emiko.

"Pleased to meet all of you. Jami and Tam, I've heard much about you. Alyssa and Emiko, you dance fluidly, but with reserve. Have you studied for long?"

Emiko blushed. "Thank you. I not study formally. I learn from aunt. I would like study, but here is not easy to do."

To Carys he said, "Thank you for letting me know about this, and please stop by whenever you feel the need to talk."

They loaded out the equipment, then headed to their favorite pizza place for lunch. Sitting around a large table, the troupe discussed the two gigs.

"It was kind of like rehearsing with other people there," said Sandy. "I mean, it wasn't very tense, like being in front of a crowd of people who paid to see us would be." She took a drink from her mug of root beer.

"Well, I thought it was tense," said Tam, "but then I guess I have much less stage experience than anyone else."

"I dance with Alyssa. Other people not there," said Emiko.

"I think we did good," said Carys. "We're easing into this, and that's fine."

"What's next?" asked Crystal.

"I'm looking into a couple of gigs in April and May, with Alyssa's help. Then of course there's Pride in June. I assume we want to do that?" Everyone nodded.

"Are we only going to do gigs, Car, or are we going to get involved in protests and political action?" asked Jami.

"I'm certainly up for action, but I think we need to discuss that on a case by case basis." Carys took a long drink. "Especially if it might mean being arrested."

Tam set her drink down with a bang and looked at Carys, who reached over to take Tam's hand. "That's why we'd discuss anything like that, Tam. For you, and Jami, I understand what the risks might be. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Today, we did good."

They clinked their root beer steins together in agreement.