Ashley twirled her pen absently, her thoughts on Jean and what to do about their situation. She had tried to end their association because she wanted to have a real relationship with someone and because she knew that she had grown too attached to Jean. Really, she had fallen for the woman the first time she had been in court with her. The long, dark, wavy hair that had framed the oval face and those dark, penetrating eyes had captivated Ashley. She had been so stunned when Jean had shown up at the bar and claimed her, that she hadn’t even thought about refusing. Honestly, she couldn’t have refused if she wanted to. She had been captured by the molten chocolate eyes and hadn’t wanted to escape.
Now, things were much more complicated than mere sex. They weren’t playing the anonymous dominatrix/submissive roles. That other night at Jean’s house they had actually made love. Jean had been so gentle. She had never touched Ashley like that before, and it had pushed her over the edge. She tried to keep her head on straight about their relationship and the probability of it not having a future, but after the other night, Ashley started wondering if they might actually have a future after all.
Ashley worried about the results of Jean’s meeting with the governor and the Judicial Conduct Committee. Potentially, Jean could lose her job. But even if she didn’t, what did that mean for them? She would probably be on some kind of behavioral probation for a period of time. Would that mean that they couldn’t see each other? Would that mean that Jean would end things between them?
Ashley jumped. She looked up at Mary’s concerned face and blushed.
“Are you okay?” Mary asked. “You’ve been twirling that pen and staring off into space for almost an hour.”
Ashley looked at her watch, “Really?”
“Yeah,” Mary pointed to the file on Ashley’s desk, “I knew that case couldn’t possibly be that interesting.”
Sighing, Ashley pushed back in her chair. “I was thinking about Jean. She had that meeting with the governor and Judicial Conduct Committee today. I’m worried about what might have happened at the meeting and how it will affect us.”
Mary put her hand on Ashley’s shoulder. “This whole situation must be so crazy for you.” Mary looked over her shoulder to make sure neither one of the partners were roaming around, and then leaned down to whisper. “You guys had that weird sexual relationship for a long time and now it’s almost become romantic. I can just imagine how that must be messing with your head.”
Ashley looked toward the back offices too, and then agreed, “I am totally messed up about it. I’m so attracted to her, and I think I might even be in love with her, but, depending on what they tell her today, it might be all over.”
Giving Ashley’s shoulder a gentle squeeze, Mary said. “How about Jackie and I take you out for drinks tonight? We’ll go to Norma’s and have some greasy hamburgers, chicken strips and a couple of beers.”
“That really sounds good,” Ashley replied. She put her hand on the one Mary hand on her shoulder and gave it a pat, “Thank you.”
Mary nodded and turned to go back to her desk. “Now, get back to work,” she called over her shoulder.
“Yes, ma’am,” Ashley answered with a chuckle.
* * *
Ashley sat at the table with Mary and Jackie and sipped her beer. It felt good to be out with friends. She hadn’t gone out much too just hang out for the past year because her liaisons with Jean had taken up so much of her time. It was nice to sit in a fairly well lit bar and enjoy the din of conversation around her.
Norma’s was a community lesbian bar and grill. The bar sat at the opposite end of the room from a small stage, and the center was filled with about twenty wood tables and chairs. Ashley had been in here a few times when Norma brought in a good band. The place would be completely packed. Tonight, there was a decent crowd, more than half of the tables were filled. Ashley looked around the room and chuckled. There were a few of the closeted business women from their closeted-lesbian-only parties, sitting at tables trying to be as inconspicuous as possible despite the friendly surroundings.
Neither Mary nor Jackie appeared to be trying to hide the fact that they were a couple. Mary was sitting up proudly, leaning into Jackie as they talked, hand resting on Jackie’s leg, as if she didn’t care who walked into the bar.
“What?” Jackie asked when she noticed Ashley staring at them.
“I was just noticing how out you two seem in here.”
“Why shouldn’t we be?” Mary asked. “We’re in a lesbian bar. If someone comes in here, most likely they’re a lesbian too. And, if they’re in here and they’re not a lesbian, they may get hit on or beat up.”
“Beat up?” Norma inquired when she brought their plates of food. “Who’s getting beat up?”
Mary laughed. “I was saying that if someone came in here who wasn’t a lesbian they would probably get hit on or beat up, depending on how they were acting.”
“True,” Norma agreed. “But in all the years I’ve owned this bar, I’ve only had a few straight people wander in and stay. Usually, when they figure out it’s a lesbian bar they leave. Most of the non-lesbian visitors come in with their lesbian friends.” Norma studied the two of them for a moment. Mary and Jackie had been coming in together for awhile, but this was only the second or third time Ashley had come with them. “If you are worried about someone outing you from being in here, don’t. I’ve never heard anyone say they were caught in my bar, and then exposed later. Of course,” Norma observed, “if you were out, you wouldn’t have to worry about being caught.”
“Easier said than done,” Ashley murmured when Norma walked away.
“Well,” Jackie explained, “Norma has been out since the sixties and has always worked in a bar. She has no idea how hard it can be in professional settings like where you guys work.”
“Yeah, but I’m getting tired of worrying about it,” Mary said, “In fact, I’ve pretty much stopped worrying about it. I mean, nothing has really changed. I still act the same way in the office that I always have, but I give Jackie a warmer smile when she comes in, and I don’t act all freaked out if the partners are out and about when she’s there. I’m a good legal aid, and if they figure out that I’m gay and fire me, I’ll get another job,” She put her hand on Ashley’s arm and smiled at her ashen face, “But I’m not going to announce it or anything like that.”
Ashley let out her breath, “Good, I was worried there for a minute.”
“I’m not going to start wearing rainbow flag buttons nor have Pride literature lying around,” Mary laughed, “But I’m not going to hide it either. I enjoy coming to the bar and being with lesbian friends. I like going to gay bookstores and coffeehouses. I didn’t even realize how big our community is here until Jackie started taking me places. And if one of the partners sees me out with her or at one of the bookstores or even here and questions me about it, I’m not going to lie to them. Like I said, I’m a good legal aid and if they decide to fire me for being gay, I will find another job.”
Picking up her beer, Ashley agreed, “You’re right. We shouldn’t have to hide who we are. I’m not quite ready to jump completely out there, but I agree. I’m not going to lie about it either.” She held her class up to Mary, “Let’s drink on it.”
Mary and Jackie both touched glasses to Ashley’s. Ashley was about to pick up her burger and take a bite when her phone buzzed. She looked down at it and it was a text message from Jean. She picked it up and showed it to Mary, “Well, I’m getting ready to find out something. Wish me luck.”
“It’s going to be okay,” Mary assured her as Ashley opened the message.
Jean’s message said, “Things didn’t turn out as bad as I thought they would, but they aren’t that good either. I didn’t get fired, but I am going to have to be careful until the next governor’s election if I want to keep my job.”
“What does that mean for us?” Ashley wrote back. She looked up at Mary and Jackie’s expectant faces, “She didn’t get fired, but she says she has to be careful until the next governor’s election.”
“I was really worried about that,” Mary fumed, “Governor Michaels is a homophobic dick.”
“For real,” Jackie agreed with a nod, “But what about you?”
“Well, that’s what I’m waiting for now,” Ashley responded. “I asked her what that means for us.”
Mary and Jackie went on eating and tried to change the subject to vacation time. Ashley picked at her burger and french fries while she waited for Jean’s reply.
Finally, Ashley’s phone buzzed again. She slowly picked it up and opened the message. “I honestly don’t know,” Jean had written back.
“Ok.” Ashley wrote and sat the phone back on the table. She looked up at Mary and Jackie’s expectant eyes.
“She doesn’t know what that means for us.”
“Oh, honey,” Mary said, taking Ashley’s hand in hers. “I’m so sorry.”
Ashley got up from the table. “It is what it is,” she stated in a flat tone, “I’m going to go home. I’ll see you guys later.”
Mary and Jackie watched her walk away, leaving her uneaten dinner behind.
* * *
Jean stared down at the message on her phone. “Ok.” She let out a heavy sigh. It was not okay. She wasn’t sure what else she had expected Ashley to say, but it was not, “Ok.” She pitched the phone onto the other side of the couch and put her head in her hands. She was losing her mind.
She got up and looked out the front window of her house. The paparazzi seemed to be gone finally. Jean wanted to call Ashley and ask her to come over so they could talk, but she knew they would end up doing more than talking.
She turned from the window with a sigh. She had no idea what to do. For the first time in a long time, she felt completely out of control of her life. That was something she had worked hard to prevent ever since she graduated from college and got out from under her father’s control. She had been determined to never allow someone else to have power over her. It was the reason she had worked so hard at becoming a judge. It gave her control over other people’s lives as well as her own. Ashley had accused her of being a control freak once. She smiled wryly at the memory now; she was a control freak.
Looking around the large open room that made up her living room and den, Jean sighed. She had spent the past twenty years building her career so she could have a home like this.
She had always known she was gay, even though she had dated guys when she first started practicing law and preparing to be a judge, just to keep people from knowing her true sexuality. She had been in very few relationships with men or women, none of them lasting for most than a few months because of her refusal to be out, and because her career always came first.
Her relationship with Ashley, even though it had primarily been sexual, had lasted longer than she had been in any kind of a relationship with anyone. She would never have suspected that she would slowly fall in love with a young woman, almost half her age, but she had.
She slowly walked through the house, turning off lights, checking doors and windows. She paused in front of the fireplace where she and Ashley had made love just a few days ago. Would they ever be able to do that again? Would Ashley be willing to wait for her? Jean switched off the fireplace and turned to go upstairs to bed. She was going to have to decide how she wanted to live the rest of her life. One direction could bring her and Ashley together forever; the other would push them apart forever. Jean knew she had to decide if her career was still that important.