Mary looked up from her bowl of cereal when she heard the apartment door open. Ashley slipped inside, her hair still damp from a recent shower. “Good morning,” Mary said.
“Yes it is,” Ashley grinned broadly.
Mary’s smile was brief, “I’m afraid that it may not be for long.”
Ashley’s smile was replaced by a worried frown. “Why?”
She pointed to the morning paper that was lying on the table. “From the pictures in the paper, it looks like you and Jean were really enjoying the movie.”
Ashley gasped when she saw the picture of Jean and her looking at each other in the darkened theater. It was clearly taken by a very good Smart Phone. She didn’t remember seeing a flash, but at that moment Jean and she had been locked in an intense gaze. The picture was clearly of two people who were into each other, so there was no saying they were just acquaintances who went to a movie together. “Shit,” she hissed.
Mary nodded and took in Ashley’s disheveled clothes. She’d apparently showered before she came home, but her clothes were going to need a visit to the dry cleaners. “So should we call U-Haul?”
“Funny,” Ashley responded, but couldn’t hide the smile that played at her lips, “Probably not after she sees this.”
“Other than this, did you two have a good evening?”
Ashley sat down next to Mary and took her hands. “We said ‘I love you’ to each other last night, Mary.”
“Oh Ashley, that’s great, right?” Mary squeezed Ashley’s hands.
“What’s great?” Jackie asked as she came out of the bathroom, her hair still wet from her shower.
“Jean and Ashley professed their love for each other last night,” Mary gushed.
“That’s great, Ashley,” Jackie said, coming over and giving Ashley a hug.
Jackie’s cologne hit Ashley’s nostrils and she moaned, “No woman should have a right to smell that good first thing in the morning.”
“Keep your nose off my girlfriend,” Mary warned laughing.
“Thanks, Ashley,” Jackie grinned, “I like to get Mary all hot and bothered with it before I leave for work so she’ll think about me all day.” Jackie leaned down and kissed Mary on the lips.
“It works, too,” Mary agreed.
“I bet,” Ashley said, “I’ll have to get Jean something like that. I like the cologne she wears now, but it’s a little too fruity for me. That is if she doesn’t flip out about today’s cover story and end things again.”
“What cover story?” Jackie asked.
“This one,” Mary pointed to the paper.
Jackie picked it up and skimmed the article, “Christ. Do these people not have a life?”
“I guess not,” Ashley grumbled, “I’m going to get me some coffee and go change for work.”
“Do you mind to fix me a cup?” Jackie asked.
“Sure,” Ashley said as Jackie sat down and looked at the picture of her and Jean more closely.
“Whoever took this picture was sitting pretty close to you guys,” Jackie remarked.
Ashley tried to picture the people sitting around them. She brought Jackie’s coffee out and looked at the picture again. Whoever it had been had been closer to the screen than they were. The picture was taken during a scene where an explosion was going off on the screen. That was probably part of the reason they hadn’t noticed the flash.
“Man, it looks like you guys were getting ready to kiss,” Jackie observed.
Ashley blushed, “Yeah, there were a few times during the movie that things got pretty intense.”
“It says that there were several instances as you were leaving the theater where Judge Carlisle put her hand affectionately on your bottom,” Jackie stated as she read the article.
“What?” Ashley leaned over Jackie’s shoulder to read the article. Jackie pointed to where the quote was in the article. Ashley rolled her eyes, “She put her hand on my lower back, not my butt. Idiots!” Ashley’s phone went off with Jean’s ringtone. “Shit. She probably just saw the paper.”
“Answer the phone so we can find out what she thinks about this,” Mary said.
Ashley glared at her, but answered the phone. “Hey,” she said quietly.
“Have you seen the paper?” Jean asked.
“Yes, Mary showed me the article when I got home. I’m so sorry, Jean.”
“Don’t be sorry, Ashley. It was bound to happen sooner or later, though I was hoping for later.”
“So, what do we do?” Ashley asked as she paced next to the table while Mary and Jackie watched.
Jean let out a heavy sigh, “I’m not sure. A friend gave me the card of an attorney from the ACLU. I may have to give him a call and see what I can do about this.”
“Do you think the Judicial Conduct Committee is going to withdraw your probation period because of this?” Ashley fretted. She was terrified that Jean would get in more trouble with the judicial regulatory committee.
“We’ll see. I’m sure I’ll have several messages by the time I get to my office,” Jean grumbled. She hesitated for a moment and then added softly, “But this doesn’t change how I feel about you. I love you, Ashley. I hadn’t wanted to jump out there with my sexuality, but now that this has been in the papers, I don’t want to run from it either, you know what I mean?”
Ashley took a deep breath. “Yes, Jean, I know what you mean. I’m not ready to come out like this either, but I love you, too, and I’ll be right by your side through whatever this brings.”
Jean let out the breath she was holding. She had been so afraid that Ashley would bolt over this. She wished she was there with her so she could grab her up in her arms and kiss her. “Good. That’s a huge relief. I have to get off here and finish getting ready to go in. I’ll call you later and let you know what happens when I get to work.”
“Okay,” Ashley said, “Definitely call me later.”
“I will,” Jean said, “Have a good day, Baby.”
Ashley turned to see both Mary and Jackie sitting with the chins on their fists waiting patiently to hear what Jean said. “Okay, Baby, what does she say?”
Ashley’s face turned beet red at Mary’s reference to Jean calling her baby. They must have heard at least a little of the conversation. “That no matter what comes of this; we’re going to face it together.”
“That’s awesome!” Mary cheered. She got up and hugged Ashley.
Jackie got up and hugged both of them together. “Well as much as I would love to stand here and hug some more, I have to get going.” She kissed Mary on the lips and Ashley on the side of the head.
“Yeah, I need to get changed,” Ashley said. She turned and walked down the hall to her room.
Mary looked at Jackie, “I hope this doesn’t get too ugly.”
“Me, too,” Jackie agreed.
* * *
Jean was prepared for the press who were waiting for her at the courthouse. There weren’t as many there as she had expected, but there still had the front of the courthouse blocked. Two security officers were also waiting for her. They met her at her car and escorted her to the building.
“Judge Carlisle, who was the woman you were with at the theater? Is she your girlfriend?” One reporter called out.
“Did you lure that woman to the theater?” Another asked.
“Judge Carlisle, are you a lesbian?” Yelled another.
The questions kept coming. Jean held her head high and walked with the guards through the crowd and into the courthouse. Once inside, she let out the breath she had been holding. “Well, that went well,” she said, “Thank you for the escort, Jacob and Ethan.”
“You’re welcome, Your Honor,” Ethan Nichols said. They both walked over to the metal detector and waited as Jean went through it.
When they started following her to the elevator, Jean turned and gave them a questioning look. Jacob Daniels smiled, “Chief Wilson said that we are to escort you to your office and keep out the reporters.”
Jean smiled at the two men, “Thank you.”
They got in the elevator together and rode up to the third floor where Jean’s office and courtroom was located. Sara looked up when Jean came in. “Good morning, Judge Carlisle. I have several messages for you.”
“I’m sure you do,” Jean replied with a smile.
Sara raised an eyebrow, “You seem to be in good spirits considering.”
Jean gave her a dazzling smile, “Yes, I am in a fabulous mood this morning.”
Sara grinned at that and blushed slightly, surmising the probable reason for Jean’s good mood this morning, “I’m glad.” She handed Jean the messages and the case files for this morning’s hearings.”
Within minutes of Jean going inside her office, Elizabeth Stanton called. Jean had talked to her last week about how she was feeling about Ashley and what was going on with her father’s case against Governor Michaels. “Good morning, Beth,” Jean answered when she saw it was Elizabeth calling.
Elizabeth chuckled, “Well, we’re in an awful good mood this morning.”
“Well, I’m sure you can guess why I’m in such a good mood.”
Laughing, Elizabeth responded, “Yes, I’m pretty sure I know why you’re in such a good mood.” Her tone became serious though, “So what are you going to do about today’s news?”
“I’m going to come out,” Jean replied.
“I talked to my father about it this morning. My family already knew, so that wasn’t going to be a big deal. He is going to make arrangements for me to meet with the Judicial Conduct Committee with him. He said that they can’t punish me for having a love life, and if I officially come out it will put that picture in perspective rather than it looking like I’m luring another woman to a hotel for secret sex,” Jean explained.
“What about Ashley?” Elizabeth asked.
“I have to call her first. I talked to her this morning before I talked to my father. She said she would be by my side no matter what happens. So we’ll see if she really meant that, but I think she did,” Jean said.
“When are you going to do that?”
Elizabeth sighed, “Okay, let me know if you need me or my office’s services.”
“Thanks, Beth. I really don’t think that it’s going to turn into that big of a deal. That was one of the things my father said. If I just come out, that stops the rumors and lies. I’m not a celebrity. This news will blow over in a few weeks, and I can get on with my life,” Jean said.
“I hope he’s right,” Elizabeth responded.
“I think so,” Jean assured her. “People are much more accepting of public officials being gay than they’ve ever been before.”
“Not necessarily in Kentucky under an extremely conservative governor,” Elizabeth said.
“Well, I don’t think the people of Kentucky are happy with this governor,” Jean observed. “I also think there are a lot more progressive thinking people in this state than you think. Sadly, the more prejudiced people make more noise than other people do.”
“That’s true,” Elizabeth agreed. “I have to run, but call me later.”
“I will, Beth. I’ll call you before I make the official announcement.”
“Okay, talk to you later.”
Jean briefly glanced over the messages to make sure there wasn’t something that required her immediate attention. Almost all of them were from reporters. There was one from her father and one from her brother. She decided to call them before she called Ashley, just in case something had changed.
* * *
Ashley was so glad that there were new clients in the office this morning. It gave her something to keep her busy so she didn’t think about what was going on with Jean. She was worried about what the Judicial Conduct Committee and Governor Michaels might do with today’s news.
The office phone had been ringing off the hook. Fortunately, it wasn’t because someone had recognized her in the picture with Jean. Both partners had people in their offices so they hadn’t had time to question her about the picture. She knew they both read the paper first thing in the morning and would have recognized her. She was just waiting for them to call her on it.
The woman who had been in Mr. Winslow’s office came out with Jerry right behind her. After he walked her to the door he turned to Ashley, “Ashley can I see you in my office for a minute?”
Ashley’s head shot up, “Yes sir, of course.” Ashley looked over at Mary who gave her a reassuring smile.
Mary told her this morning not to worry about losing her job. Jackie made enough money to pay all of the rent if they both lost their jobs, but Mary didn’t think that would happen.
Ashley got up and followed Mr. Winslow into his office. He shut the door behind her and pointed to one of the chairs in front of his desk, “Please sit down, Ashley.”
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Ashley did as he said.
He moved behind his desk and sat down. He put his elbows on his desk and put his fingers together in a long thin steeple. “I’m sure you know that Tom and I have seen today’s paper.”
“Yes sir,” Ashley answered quietly steeling herself.
He stared at her for a long moment, “As you know, Tom and I are both fairly religious men.”
“And I suspect that you and Mary have kept your sexuality a secret from us for fear of losing your jobs,” he continued.
Ashley could feel the blood drain from her face. It never occurred to her that Mary might lose her job too over this. “Yes sir,” she answered quietly.
Mr. Winslow smiled reassuringly, “You two don’t have to worry about your jobs. Tom and I both come from religious standpoints that your sexuality is not a choice. You are who you are. God created us all the way we are for a reason. We also are big in practicing compassion and understanding. Otherwise, neither of us could be in this business.”
“You and Mary are both very good legal aids, and we are blessed to have you as part of our business. So we have no intentions of letting you go for something as trivial as who you have a relationship with. That is none of our business, and as long as you continue to be the professional you have always been, we will never have a problem with that.”
Ashley let out the breath she had been holding in a huge sigh of relief. “Thank you so much.”
Mr. Winslow got up from his chair and came around his desk. He took Ashley’s hand, pulled her to her feet and into a hug. “Tom and I consider you and Mary a part of our extended families. We both care very much for the two of you. We may not always show it, but we really do.”
“Thank you,” Ashley said. “Mary and I both love our jobs here, and we have both been worried about what would happen if you found out we were both gay.”
Mr. Winslow leaned against his desk and crossed his arms over his chest, “We don’t want you two to worry about that anymore. We’ve been trying to figure out how to have a meeting about it ever since Mary started seeing our UPS woman.”
“You knew about that?” Ashley asked, astonished.
Mr. Winslow laughed, “You would have to be blind not to see the affection that exists between the two of them. They both try to hide it, but the way they look at each other says volumes.”
Ashley blushed, “They are very fond of each other.”
Taking a deep breath, Mr. Winslow said, “Now, to the business between you and Judge Carlisle.”
Ashley took a deep breath too, “Yes. I guess there is definitely no hiding that anymore.”
He nodded, “Do you know how Judge Carlisle is planning to deal with this?”
“I’m not sure. I know her father, who you know is a successful lawyer in Louisville, is working on the problem she’s having with Governor Michaels and the Judicial Conduct Committee,” Ashley said. “I talked to her this morning and she said something about calling a lawyer with the ACLU, but that’s really all I know so far.”
“Honestly,” he explained, “if I was her attorney, I would advise her to go ahead and come out. That would squelch the rumors and gossip. But, if she does that, if you two have an ongoing relationship, you will probably have to come out with her.”
“My biggest concern about that was losing my job,” Ashley responded. “And now that you’ve assured me that isn’t going to happen, I’ll be fine with coming out with her.”
“What about your family?”
“My family knows. We haven’t had a good relationship for a long time, so that’s not a big deal,” Ashley shrugged.
Mr. Winslow reached over and squeezed her hands, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Mary has been my family for a long time, and then Jackie came along. We are all very close. And then there’s Jean, Judge Carlisle,” Ashley blushed.
It was his turn to blush. “Have you two been seeing each other long?”
“For over a year, we had sort of broken up, and that’s when the John Garrett mess happened. I feel partially responsible for all that, but it’s all in the past. He’s going to get what he deserves, and we have to move on,” Ashley said.
Mr. Winslow squeezed her hands that he was still gripping again, “Well, you don’t have to worry about your job here. Tom and I will completely support whatever decision you make about how you and Judge Carlisle are going to deal with this.”
“Thank you so much, Mr. Winslow,” Ashley said.
“Jerry. After all the time that you two have worked with us, I think it’s okay for you to call me by my first name.”
“Thank you, Mr…Jerry,” Ashley laughed, “It may take a little while to get used to that.”
“That’s okay,” he let go of her hands, and laughed. “Now, get back to work,” he said with a wink.
She nodded and left his office.
Mary jumped up as soon as she came into the outer office. Her face was completely white and her eyes wide with worry. “What happened? Did he fire you?”
“No,” Ashley replied with a broad smile, “We don’t have to worry about being fired.”
“Really?” Mary asked and looked toward Mr. Winslow’s office.
“They both have known about us, especially you and Jackie, but they are okay with it.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yes,” Ashley answered and hugged Mary. “He assured me that they both understand that we are the way were are, and they consider us part of their extended family.”
“Wow,” Mary said as she let go of Ashley. She went to her desk and sat down heavily. “So they know about Jackie and me.”
Ashley’s grin widened. “I warned you about the looks you two give each other. He said they would have to be blind not to see the affection between the two of you.”
Mary looked toward the offices again and asked in a low voice, “What did he say about you and Judge Carlisle?”
“Mr. Winslow, Jerry, he said we could call him Jerry. I feel a little weird saying it. Anyway, he said that if he were her attorney, he would advise her to just come out and get it over with. And, I agree. If she comes out, that ends the gossip, and the reporters won’t really have a story to feed on.”
Mary nodded and then asked, “Are you prepared for her to do that? It will be outing you too.”
“Yeah, I’m okay with it, especially now that I know I won’t lose my job,” Ashley said.
The phone rang and Mary answered it. “Good morning, Lowry and Winslow law offices.” She paused and said, “Yes, she’s right here, Judge Carlisle.”
“Put her on hold,” Ashley instructed, “I’ll pick her up at my desk.” Mary put the call on hold and Ashley picked up the phone, “Hi.”
“Hi,” Jean replied, “Well, I’ve made my decision how to handle this situation. Are you sure you want to be by my side through all of this?”