I took care of everything earlier in the week so I could leave on Friday morning after a long run. Montgomery was about as far from Gardner as you could get and still be in the same state. We visited the farm enough that I knew the way without a map, but we had always been closer to Grandy and Gramma Iris. Sunday was Gramma Elaine’s seventieth birthday. If I hadn’t talked with Grampa Irv at Annual Conference, l never would have gone. All the way, I kept thinking about Wes and the sorority and Wes and the accident and Wes and Eric and Wes and Tyler and whether I should have brought clothes along and Wes. Even though he told me not to answer while I was driving, Wes texted me more than everybody else combined. Was that normal? If he was texting Damien that much, he must not have time for anything else.
The first signs for the Mill Stream Winery were about a hundred miles from Montgomery. It was the oldest winery in the area. A Methodist winery. Mom said Grampa had made big donations to Governor Dityne’s campaigns. Maybe I could convince him to call the governor about getting rid of the death penalty. Right after I convinced the sun to rise in the west. When I talked with Gramma and Grampa about coming for the weekend, none of us said anything about whether I would bring clothes. Was it worse to let down all my new sorority sisters or to offend my grandparents? The choice was clear in Coventry. Closer to Montgomery, it was clear but opposite. I was going to buy some clothes in the last big town before Montgomery, but I was talking with Gramma on the phone and drove right on by. Oh well.
The main building for the winery actually looks like you might see in a painting of an old-time watermill. There was a mill there in the nineteenth century, but this one just looks old. The waterwheel runs a generator, part of Grampa and Uncle Al’s trying not to pay for things they can make themselves. They generate enough electricity that they actually sell the left-overs to the power company. Grampa’s proud of never being without power since they put it in. The house is the one where Grampa and his father and grandfather all grew up. They lived in a different one when Mom was in high school, and the old one is basically all new inside.
Gramma was all excited when I got to the house. She looked like an older version of Mom. We had seen each other, of course, but it was the first time I had been to the farm in three or four years. I was all set to apologize about not having any clothes, but she was all jabbery and wanted to take me over to the winery to find Grampa, Uncle Al, and Aunt Kate. Kate was in charge of the shop and tasting room, and I was certain she didn’t allow naked people. Gramma took me in like it was nobody’s business. When Grampa came in, we were actually chatting with some of their friends from town. So much for being inconspicuous.
Before coming to Montgomery, I had spent some time – mostly while I was running – thinking about what I would say and how I would say it. Nobody was going to see things my way, but I could at least help them understand that some people on the other side were reasonable. Gramma didn’t seem to want to let even that much happen. Even this far from home and from Coventry, people had heard about me. Maybe that was because of my grandparents. The death penalty part would affect the whole state, but the sorority, the running research, the races, and the Run for Hope all seemed pretty far away.
“That’s not really true,” Uncle Al said after supper. We were sitting on a screened porch at the main house. A country band was just starting up at the millhouse.
I didn’t really know what to say. “You mean ’cause I’m visiting?”
“No. When Yvonne told us last spring that you were in the streaking research, it seemed like one of the dumbest things I’d heard in a long while. I started digging.”
“Always gotta know what the other side’s up to,” Grampa said.
“I wish we didn’t always have to take sides,” I responded. “We’re all trying to do what we can to make the world a better place.”
“The problem comes when one idea of what’s better is the direct opposite of another.”
“Streaking always seemed like a juvenile prank,” Uncle Al said.
“Or a sexual intrusion,” Aunt Kate added.
“Yeah, but you being in research about it didn’t fit either of those. And then we heard about your sorority and that big race there in Coventry and what happened at Annual Conference. They didn’t fit, either.”
“Congratulations on both of them,” Gramma said, “and the race on the Fourth, too.”
“You know about that, too?”
“Your mother told us. She’s awful proud of you.”
“I don’t agree with everything my big sister thinks,” Uncle Al said, “but I do pay attention.”
“Well, it’s just… Wow!”
“Go ahead and get to what you were saying, Al,” Grampa said. “I want to get on to another part.”
“Right. Before this spring, clothes were what everybody did first thing in the morning. Going naked was for home, the swimming hole, or nudist clubs. Now, whatever the Supreme Court does, you and your friends have made us think about whether it always has to be that way.”
“The Supreme Court’s the part I wanna talk about,” Grampa said. “I told you at Conference that the death penalty should stay on the books. This court action might change all that. I’ve been talking with our local Senator about redoing the law so only rare and exceptional cases can even consider death sentences, but he thinks that ain’t gonna happen.”
“Really? I thought it was likely to go the other way.”
“It’s like a baseball game. Ain’t over till the last out.”
“And you’ve really been working against the death penalty? I thought you were for it.”
He looked at his wine glass, and we all waited. Finally he said, “One thing you gotta understand. After two tours in Nam and twenty years in the Marines, I’ve done a Hell of a lot more than my share of killing. That’s why I don’t go hunting and don’t even own a gun. You’re doing the right thing working to keep more from dying.”
Knock me over with a feather! Or even the breeze of a feather falling inside a locked wine cellar!
It was long past dark when the little party on the porch finally broke up. I had been drinking sparkling grape juice all evening, but the last round was from Grampa’s special reserve. I didn’t say anything. We were going to toast Gramma and family. I wasn’t going anywhere, and there was nobody to create regrets with.
Grampa stood at the end of the table and held his wine glass in the air. “Here’s to the finest woman I ever knew and the best family anybody could hope for.”
I drank with all the others. I knew what would happen. It was like filling my vagina full of industrial strength stimulating jelly. I managed to behave myself until I got to the guest room. I was in bed when my phone signaled a text from Wes, and it was all over but the shouting… and the fireworks… and the aftershocks… and more fireworks. Even in the middle of the day when I was busy at work, my majorly fine fox of a friend had that effect on me. The text was just asking about the visit with relatives.
‘Tomorrow,’ I replied and fell asleep.
Grampa and Uncle Al set up a running route for me the next morning. Gramma suggested that Grampa go along on the four-wheeler to explain everything, but I wanted to be alone to think. It wasn’t really about my conservative relatives who surprisingly weren’t totally against what I was doing. It was about Wes and my dreams. I had been fantasizing and once in a while dreaming about him since we met again in February. But it was nothing like this. Not even when I slept in his bed over the Fourth and could smell him. Well, actually that was close. I had some pretty vivid dreams, but that time there was no alcohol. This time… if it was still my old party days, I would have been feeling awful in the morning because of everything I had done with everybody willing. This time it was only one guy. And he was halfway across the state. Could I have dreamed all those other times? That’s what Victoria thought.
After breakfast, Grampa gave me the grand tour in a Jeep. He had some new land, but I had seen most of the operation before. This time I paid more attention. When Gramma and Grampa died, Mom and Uncle Al would each own half of all this, and then it would come to the next generation. The biggest part was the vineyard and winery, but there was a lot more. If I was ever going to have to help run it all, there would be a lot to learn.
We ended up at the winery, where it was a lot cooler than outside. The head vintner didn’t bat an eye about giving me an insider’s tour and showing me the whole process. And then we got to the part where they work on new blends. Grampa had named one of the works in progress ‘Running Maiden.’ The cover of the notebook where they were keeping track of all the details had a pencil sketch of me running, hiding nothing. Inside was a photograph from the Mayor’s 10-K that Aunt Kate had used to make the sketch.
“We’ll probably have to make the picture less explicit for the labels,” Grampa said, “or we can change it however you want.”
No black bars, that’s for sure. Then came the bombshell.
They wanted me to try the different blends and tell them which one I liked best.
It was still morning, and I wouldn’t be swallowing the samples. Maybe I should have passed. But Grampa naming a wine after me was way better than any of the publicity I had gotten in the past few months. He had names for Lily and Chip’s wines, too – Lily of the Lake and Chip Shot – but they hadn’t started blending for them. If tasting the blends lit me up, then I would know what happened at those parties.
Tasting wines like that is a lot different than drinking at a party. The vintner led me through the whole thing, and it was all pretty clinical. My hormones disagreed. One of the blends made me think of Paolo, but there were other reasons to put it lower on the list. Two others made me think of Piña and Cassie, and they were near the top. When the vintner put those two together, I swear I smelled Wes. I real close to doing something really inappropriate. I settled for a nap right after lunch. I hadn’t actually drunk the wine, and my dreams were clearly only dreams. Very sexy, but only dreams.
In the middle of the afternoon, I called Jake Lawrence. He and Becki Bradford were the only people I was still talking to and who had known me when I was into parties. “How many guys did I make it with at the parties we used to go to?”
“Whoa,” Jake said. “I never counted.”
“One? Fifty? Give me an estimate.”
“Well, to tell the truth, I don’t know if you ever went all the way with any guys. What’s this all about?”
“Just trying to figure some things out.”
“You lost your clothes pretty easy, and you weren’t shy about getting yourself off or going down on people.”
I sighed. “Different kind of slut.”
The answer from Becki was about the same. Other than with her, she didn’t know of any times I really went the lesbian route. Where did that leave me? Had I really only imagined doing all those things with all those people?
The shop and tasting room were even busier than usual for a Saturday afternoon. Gramma was helping already, and she asked if I was willing to help. I always want to help anybody any way I can. On the other hand, even after last night, I was still a little surprised Aunt Kate was willing to have me around their paying customers. It didn’t take long for people to figure out who I was. So much for publicity. How do real celebrities ever deal with it?
Gramma wasn’t having a big celebration for her birthday, but her brother from Oregon and her sister from California arrived late in the afternoon. I don’t know when I last saw them. They seemed to know who I was, but I was actually serving them at a table in the tasting room before I figured out who they were. Without my help, they were having quite an argument about all the things I was involved in. Aunt Kate asked them to cool it so the other customers wouldn’t join in. Gramma and Grampa were taking them to town for supper and offered to take me, too, but I stayed to help Aunt Kate. I didn’t know much about all the different wines, but I could help in other ways. I was pretty tired by the time they got back from town and I went over to the house. The iced tea I was drinking wasn’t enough to keep me awake.
The humidity was really high when I went out to run on Sunday morning, so I was dripping before I had gone very far. I did about three miles without seeing anyone else and was back at the house just as Grampa was getting up. He was going to make breakfast in bed for Gramma, so I offered to help after a quick shower.
“I’ve been thinking about what Al said the other night,” he said as he was cutting up fruit. “I hope your sorority and everything works out.”
“Wow. Thanks. Before we talked at Conference, I figured you’d be totally against everything I’m doing.”
“Before you started, I was. A man’s gotta listen to new ways. I’m not so sure about being naked all the time, but mornings like this are a good time for it.”
“I’m sure winter’s going to be hard, but I’ve managed to survive every one so far.”
He chuckled. “Sounds like something I’d say.”
“The way I remember it, your exact words were, ‘I’ve survived every worst day of my life so far.’ You were talking about being in the war.”
He was pretty impressed that I would quote him. Gramma was still asleep when we took breakfast to their bedroom, and she wasn’t wearing pajamas. They wanted me to go to church with them, but it was a long drive to Coventry. Grampa offered to send a case of wine with me, but away from a family home, it would be illegal. He said they were going to unveil the new wine around my birthday if I wanted to come back for it. It would be legal then for me to drink, and maybe I would have my imagination and memory figured out. Maybe Wes, too.
Wes called twice while I was driving, once before chapel when I didn’t have good enough coverage to talk and again in the afternoon. I told him some of the stuff Uncle Al and Grampa said but not what I was trying to figure out about my old party days. Before we hung up the second time, he said, if I wouldn’t let him give me a ride back to campus from the gathering in the evening, he was going to find another way out and run back with me. I promised to ride with him.
[Transcript Jason Green Show, Aug 8, 20__, 95.5FM, Coventry, Nitoma]
Six months this has been going on. Six months the Crazy Ass Drunk Perverts have been getting’ in people’s faces all over our state. Nobody wants to be lookin’ at that. What’s wrong with these people? What’s wrong with the cops that let ‘em do it? What’s wrong with the politicians on the take that are givin’ orders to the cops? I can’t go on. Maybe you can make sense of it better than I can.
One thing I got, though. One politician we can be proud of for standin’ up to this bull crap is Governor Alonzo Dityne. He isn’t givin’ in. That crazy strip-off has gotten popular all over Nitoma since the weather warmed up last spring. Know what’s gonna end it? Winter. It’s comin’. Don’t seem like it as hot as it’s been. Let’s see how many o’ those Crazy Ass Drunk Perverts keep it up when the bottom drops out.
Okay. Our lines are open. Give me a call at nine-fifty-five-fifty-five-fifty-five-fifty-five; that’s a nine and nine fives. I’m Jason Green, and this is the voice for common sense. Call and give us your nickel’s worth. You’re worth more than two cents, and you know God gave us brains for a reason.
The next Tuesday evening, I was walking to the Java Station to meet Piña when Wes called and asked if I had ever witnessed oral arguments at the Supreme Court. “Oh, yeah,” I said, “that’s how I like to spend a lazy afternoon.”
“No. I’m serious. Senator Parsons didn’t think I should be there in person, but we were all watching the live feed in her office.”
“Sorry. I’ve never done that.”
“The feed doesn’t go out to everybody. You know today was the oral arguments Senator Hogue asked for, don’t you? the ones about making nudity illegal anywhere in the state.”
I hesitated. “Why do you keep pestering me when I don’t know about things that are so important to you?”
“I’m not pestering. I wish you could have been there to see it. All the Justices made it pretty clear they weren’t much impressed with what Hogue’s lawyers were saying. They asked the other side’s lawyers good questions, too, but they really chewed on Hogue’s.”
“Does asking good questions mean one side was right?”
“Of course not, but that’s the kind of question the Justices were asking. Hogue’s lawyers were trying to make their point, but the questions just blew the whole thing out of the water.”
“Okay. So where does this leave us? Are the running research and our sorority legal now? What about the death penalty protest?”
“Well, nothing is changed yet. Shirley says they may not actually change anything when they issue their decision, but that might be a good thing. It looks likely they won’t side with Hogue and Green. Oh, Damien’s here. We’re gonna go out and celebrate, so I’ll talk to you later, okay?”
I wanted to say it wasn’t at all okay for him to go out with his boyfriend. Instead, after I left the Java Station, I went for a run.
On the Sunday afternoon a full week before the beginning of the fall semester, thirty-six of us activated as charter members of Gamma Upsilon Mu. Wes is the only one outside the sorority who knows what we did. In the week before classes started, I spent a lot of time in the Student Affairs office, the Panhellenic Office, and at the Women’s Center getting the sororities and other women’s groups on campus involved in the Run for Hope. I was also speaking around town and working in the lab. Wes was back on campus along with everyone else. I seemed to run into him every time I turned around.
On the Friday before classes started, I was just jogging as I crossed campus, wondering if I should check the latest text from Wes. Most of the time it was just some silly little thing. The grassy square outside the Campus Center was where they were showing an old movie. Lots of people were there. I slowed to a walk so I wouldn’t step on anybody. And then Wes found me. And Damien was with him. And I was standing there talking to the guy I really wanted and his boyfriend. I could have screamed. They both said I should stay, but I went back to my room for a long shower. I seriously thought about going out for a drink. Or twenty.
About an hour after I went to bed, I woke up with a nightmare. A guy was forcing me to go down on him while he was fucking me – I have no idea how that could ever work – and Wes was holding hands with Damien and watching, not doing anything, just watching. Everybody in the sorority was watching, too. Wes flipped a quarter in the air, and it turned into a blue protest medallion and then a bat. I hate bats! It bit me or maybe Wes on the neck. I couldn’t scream because the guy was so far down my throat he was knocking against himself coming at me from the other end. Then there were screeching tires and blaring car horns and a horrible crash, and Wes was lying on the pavement, and Damien was laughing at us, and I couldn’t walk. I was drenched in sweat when I woke up and was sure it was blood from the bat bite. My ankle ached like it had when my pain meds wore off right after the accident that broke my ankle. It took a lo-o-o-ong time to calm down and go back to sleep.
I was grumpy all day on Saturday. There actually was a lot to do for the sorority and all our studies. I would have avoided Wes on Sunday, but with how I had turned my life around, way too many people would have asked if I wasn’t at chapel or the evening gathering. Adriana, McKenzie, and Cassie ran with me out to Ross and Donna’s. I could have gone with them when they took off before it got dark, but I was trying not to put too many miles in. Piña and Evan were giving me a ride, so I didn’t have to ride back to campus with Wes. Complicated, I know.
The first week of classes made all the busy times before it seem like a lazy day at the beach. The range of responses from others on campus was as broad as usual. Not everyone who was nude was wearing a blue medallion for the death penalty strike or the GYM letters, so it was hard to guess who was part of what group. My two classes met only on Tuesday and Thursday, so for the first time since kindergarten, I didn’t have class on the first day of school. That didn’t mean I had nothing to do.
We lost our first sorority member on Thursday. I probably should have noticed something was going on with Becki Bradford. It wasn’t just that she really liked dressing up to turn heads. Most of the GYM members were going natural, but she had her pubic hair trimmed in a fleur de lis shape. Even Wes and Damien looked; you couldn’t help it. The problem was all of us all around her, and she had promised herself she wouldn’t put the moves on any of us. She said it was like asking an alcoholic to stay dry at a kegger. She really wanted GYM to succeed and was sure it wouldn’t if she stayed in it. She was going back home to take classes at a community college and live with her high school boyfriend. All the hugs and tears as the GYM members told her good-bye couldn’t have helped her peace of mind. Even Wes came over, and watching my best friend hug an openly bi friend did anything but calm me down.