If singles’ bars are hell, then lesbian bars are the deepest fucking circle. I was a newbie, a baby Dyke, fresh meat and everyone in the place knew it. In this bar, the other lesbians knew your stats: how long you had been out, your age, and your ‘label’ (Butch, Baby Dyke, Dyke, Femme, Soft-Butch, Grrl, etc.) and that is scary. The ‘community’ is small, so everyone knows everyone, but I’ve only been in Boston for three years.
I’ve got a small advantage: nobody knows me.
Women were hovering by the bar. A girl with leather pants and a see-through shirt seemed to be holding court amongst the chattering ladies. It was loud, so I wasn’t quite sure how anybody heard anything. I stood near the door praying Lauren would show up soon. I’ve been to a few lesbian bars, but never by myself.
A cute, pixie-like girl smiled at me as she came through the door. I stared, pushed my hair behind my ears, and totally forgot to smile back. God. I had no idea how to flirt or respond to someone flirting with me. Was she flirting or just being nice? No idea.
I could hear Ani DiFranco blasting from the speaker behind my head. The women were singing along, laughing. I still stood there, staring.
‘Sorry, my meeting with Professor Lyons took forever. Did you order yet?’
‘Not yet. I just got here. Let’s go sit.’
I took off my coat and smoothed out my striped boy’s polo. Baby Dyke. I’ve accepted the moniker. In fact, I embrace it, now.
Lauren was my first ‘gay’ friend. We tried dating, but dating someone you see for (roughly) 10 hours a day becomes a bit tedious. We both played for the women’s soccer team at Boston College and were history majors. So, we decided that ‘best friends’ and, eventually, roommates were better-suited labels for what we were.
‘What was your meeting about?’
The bartender walked over to where we sat nestled in the corner, hovering over the brass and mahogany bar. She looked us up and down.
‘Can I get you ladies something to drink?’
Lauren put her coat on the back of her stool, revealing a tight, white tank top under her ‘BC Soccer’ pullover. I think I heard the bartender’s jaw hit the floor. In fact, I am pretty sure everyone was now staring at us. Well, at Lauren. She had straightened her hair and mindfully applied a layer of shimmery lip-gloss, so she welcomed the attention.
I spoke up, ‘Um yeah, I’ll have a Bud Light. Lau?’
‘I’ll have a tequila shot and a Corona with lime.’
The bartender smiled and walked away.
‘Jesus, shots already? Bad day?’
‘Not bad, fucking long. Professor Lyons would not stop talking. He wants me to consider going on at BC for my masters in English. Blah. Blah. Blah. I told him I have a year and a half left. Let me get through that first.’
Awkwardly, I turned on my stool to find a woman standing behind me, somewhat staring. Lauren turned her head, trying not to laugh in the girl’s face.
‘Oh, do you need to order something? I’m sorry.’
‘Yes I do, but do you go to BC?’
It always scares the shit out of me when somebody I don’t know knows me.
‘Yeah. Why? Do you?’
I grabbed the bottle of beer in front of me and started drinking.
‘Yeah. Do I know you?’ I yelled as I squirmed on the stool.
‘Oh sorry! I don’t mean to be creepy or freak you out,’ she laughed. ‘I.T.A., your American lit class. I’m Cara.’
From the corner of my eye, I could see Lauren making faces. It was our unwritten rule to not leave a bar or club with anyone we did not arrive with. Since neither of us has family close by, we became each other’s family.
‘Hi, Cara. I’m Charlie, but you already knew that.’
‘Ha ha, yeah. Can I buy you a drink?’
Cara seemed nice enough, but I wasn’t into it, and she completely ignored Lauren who was sitting right beside me.
‘Thank you. That’s really sweet, but my friend, Lauren, sitting beside you, just bought me a drink. Thanks though.’
Cara turned to look at Lauren and smiled, ‘OK maybe another time? See you on Thursday… you know, in class.’
‘Sure, Bye.’ Cara headed back into the lesbian abyss.
‘Jesus. She stood right in front of me. Haha! Do you draw rainbows on your papers or something?’
‘No, but that creeps me out. How did she know I was gay?’
‘Are you seriously asking me that question right now? I’m pretty sure you wear men’s sweatpants, sweatshirts and sneakers all day every day. You look gay.’
‘Really? I guess I never thought about it. But, you wear the same thing!’
‘No shit. Have you talked to your parents yet?’
I motioned to the bartender.
‘What are you waiting for?’
The bartender made her way down to our end.
‘Yeah and two more tequila and lime shots, please.’
She brought the drinks over. I took both shots.
‘Jesus, Charlie. Are you trying to spend your night on the bathroom floor?’
‘I can’t think when I talk about this. It scares the shit out of me. They’re going to stop talking to me. So, I’m trying to drag it out until graduation. At least school will be done.’
I swallowed back the panic lodged in my throat and took a sip of the piss warm Bud Light.
‘You don’t know that. You’re their kid.’
‘My parents…There is a reason they visit once year. I don’t even know how to describe it. They just don’t care. I’m an only child on purpose.’
Lauren put her hand on mine. I could tell she was trying, but just couldn’t understand. Her parents were supportive. I often pretended that my parents knew: that they did not care that I was gay. It was easier than thinking about what their true reactions were going to be.
How could I wrap my mind around something so scary? I had to tell them. I knew that. They’re my parents: the only family I have, but I knew that wouldn’t be the case after the conversation.
The bartender came over with two more shots. ‘You ladies look like you need these.’
We pushed them down.
‘Gross. What was that?’ Lauren yelled, lowering her mouth in disgust.
The bartender laughed, ‘Something that will help you forget, well, at least for tonight.’ She smiled at me and walked away.
I liked her.
A few shots and beers later: life was light and the room was a little hazy. I remember dancing on a barstool to a Joan Jett song. I was drunk. It was getting close to last call. So naturally, we ordered two more shots.
‘Hey. Hey! We gotta go soon or we’ll never get a cab,’ Lauren yelled over at me.
I found myself wrapped up in a conversation with an older woman. Rachel? No. Ann? Anyway, she did something important. Lauren maneuvered through a sea of women, over to where the woman and I were standing.
‘Charlie! We have to go now.’
‘Yeah, sorry to spoil the fun, but we have to go now.’
The older woman grabbed Lauren’s arm. ‘Charlie’s coming home with me. She’ll be fine. I live over on Boylston.’
‘I’m sure you’re great and all, but she’s shattered, so she’s just going to go home.’
The woman got a little possessive and stood in front of me. I saw Lauren’s face go sour. She was a little tipsy, tired and annoyed. I walked away.
‘Charlie, hey Charlie,’ the woman called after me.
My brain was trying to tell my mouth to say something, but neither wanted to cooperate, so I just kept walking. Lauren must have gone over to the bar to grab our stuff, because I could no longer see her in my line of vision.
Somewhere between the exit and the sidewalk my balance collapsed, hurling me onto the cold, sticky sidewalk. My jeans were now covered in someone’s spilled beer. My knuckles were bleeding from a sad attempt at breaking my fall.
‘Hey, are you OK?’
I felt someone lifting me up. She kept talking, as she brought me over to the curb and sat me down.
‘What? No you’re fine. We’ve all had nights like this.’
‘No. You’re pretty, and I’m drunk. My parents are going to disown me, sorry.’
Words just kept spewing from my mouth, and she sat there and listened. Spools of dark chocolate waves pooled around her face, giving way to iridescent blue eyes. I did not want to look away. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t. When she broke into a smile, even though it was one of pity, I felt like somebody had electrocuted my body. She could see right through me.
‘Jesus. What happened to you?’ Lauren ran over yelling.
‘I fell, so I’m sitting. Oh, this is…’
‘Hi. I’m Audrey. Your friend fell. I just moved her from the foot traffic.’
‘Thanks. I’m Lauren and this mess here is Charlie,’ Lauren said as she attempted to put my coat on me.
I tried to stand, but failed. Audrey grabbed my arm. I wanted to touch her tiny, pale hand.
‘Audrey, do you want to hang out?’
She giggled, ‘Well, it’s late. So, I’m gonna head home, but I’ll write down my number. Maybe another time?’
She took a pen out of her messenger bag, ripped the first page from some book and wrote down her number. As she placed the folded piece of paper in my jeans pocket, I (sloppily) fell on her and kissed her right on the mouth.
‘I’m pretty sure I love you.’
Lauren rushed over and grabbed me, apologising for my drunkenness. I could see Audrey blushing and smiling. I tried to push my hair from my face, so I could see her, but I just kept making it worse. I couldn’t let her leave, but Lauren’s strong hold prohibited any further movement. I waved bye.
She put her hands in her pockets and walked away.
Lauren smacked me on the head. ‘I love you? God, you’re drunk.’
Fuck. My mouth was dry, and my head was throbbing. I still had the shirt from last night on, with only my underwear and one sock. My face was stuck to the leather sofa and bathed in drool that had pooled at my chin.
‘Good morning, Sunshine. You want coffee?’ Lauren sang at an octave I was currently unable to handle.
‘Oh my god. No. I need a bucket, though. I feel like I’m gonna puke.’
The more I moved my head, the more the room kept spinning. I had to put one leg off of the couch to keep balance.
Lauren laughed at me. ‘I’m not surprised. You were taking down shots like they were water. It was gross.’
‘Please tell me that I wasn’t an asshole or did anything stupid.’
She didn’t answer.
‘I’m just gonna tell that you that, at the very least, you owe me dinner. I did save you from some woman that looked like she was ready to take you home and put you in a cage, and you were all for it.’
‘Jesus. Thank you.’
‘Oh. You kissed some girl and told her that you loved her.’
I jerked my head from the couch so fast that I gagged. ‘What? Who?’
‘I don’t know. Audrey, I think? She gave you her number. She seemed nice enough.’
I tried sitting up, but forgot my leg was hanging off of the couch. Instead, I fell and whacked my face on the table, spilling the full glass of water everywhere. I laid back down. Lauren grabbed paper towels from the counter and threw them at me.
‘Relax. You were too drunk to be an asshole. You fell or something. She helped you. I found you with her sitting on the curb.’
‘I was that messy, and she still gave me her number. And you didn’t recognize her?’
‘No. I’ve never seen her. You should at least call to apologise.’
I grabbed my jeans (that were now covered in water) from the floor and searched through the pockets. I was giddy. I didn’t remember a lot from last night, but I did remember her. There it was, on the page of some book: 617-222-1003, and below there was a little note: Hi. I’m Audrey. Call me sometime. She must be either crazy or a glutton for punishment: either way I resolved to call her.
‘What time is it?’
‘It’s 11:14. Are you going to call her?’
‘Yeah. Now I’m curious. Is she crazy? Why would she give me her number?’
‘I don’t know.’
The cordless phone was dead, so I had to sit in the living room and call from that phone. Lauren sat and stared at me as I dialled.
‘Hello? Is Audrey there? It’s…’
‘Charlie. Hi. I recognised the voice,’ she laughed.
‘Oh, yeah sorry. I, I just wanted to apologise for, well, being so drunk. Lauren said I may have kissed you? I’m sorry. God… that’s not really like me.’
‘It’s ok, really. We’ve all had those kind of nights’
‘Thanks. I just wanted to call to apologise…’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, do you want to try it again?’
‘Try what again?’
‘You’re killing me,’ she laughed. ‘Meeting. Would you like to try meeting again? I mean…you do love me. So, I think we should re-meet.’
‘If I remembered that, I’d probably be a lot more embarrassed and politely decline. But, clearly, I was a mess, so yes. Yes, I’ll re-meet you.’
‘Good. How about Lucy Café? It’s on—’
‘I know that place! It’s about five minutes away from me.’
We arranged to meet later and I offered to buy dinner to make up for my debauchery the night before. She didn’t say no. When I hung up, Lauren grilled me for details.
‘You heard the whole conversation.’
‘But you’re smiling. What do you think?’
‘I don’t know. It’s weird. It’s like I know her. It feels like it isn’t new…it’s so weird.’
I told Lauren I needed to eat and sleep, since I was meeting Audrey at seven. I didn’t want to be sick or hungover.
My bed welcomed me, but my brain was going a hundred miles an hour. I was twenty two years old and had not had any type of substantial, adult relationship.
With Lauren it was less of a relationship and more of two young girls figuring out if they were truly not-straight, and it didn’t end badly because it never had a beginning; it just happened and then changed.
I was happy things had unfolded the way they did: Lauren was my rock, my family.
I had never even met this girl, and I was already thinking about our relationship? Maybe this is what a soul mate was? Or love at first sight? I don’t know.
Calm the fuck down, Charlie.
I needed to just slow down, so I ate half of a bag of Doritos while I watched some ridiculous infomercial on TV.
At 5:30 my alarm went off, so I opened my eyes. Fifteen minutes later Lauren came in and threw a pillow at me.
‘Shut it off. Get up!’
‘I’m up…What are you doing? Did you even leave the house today?’
‘I may not have drank half of the tequila in Boston last night, but I had enough to make me feel like shit today. And no, asshole, I didn’t go out of the house, but I did watch, like, three movies. I feel like a zombie.’
‘What should I wear? Do I need to dress up?’
‘I mean it’s not a five-star place, so probably not anything too dressy.’ She started fanning through my closet. ‘What about this? You can’t go wrong with a little black dress.’
‘A dress? Yuck. I hate eating with a dress on. I smell. I need to shower.’
‘Yeah, you do. Wear black converse with it. You’ll look cute. God. Open a window or something. It smells like a brewery in here. Gross.’
I crawled out of the bed, opened the window and shuffled into the shower. I mustered up the energy to get dressed while Lauren made me coffee.
‘You look nice. Don’t be too awkward.’
I grabbed my bag and left.
The street was bright and moving fast. People were swirling past me.
Get your shit together.
The cold air was breathing life back in my body. When I saw the sign for the restaurant, I stopped, pushed my hair behind my ears and fixed my dress. My legs looked like long, white sticks. I doubted my choice in dinner attire, but it was too late to change.
She was already sitting when I got there, but stood when she saw me. Her smile drew me in. The waiter took me to the table.
She smiled, again. ‘Hi, I’m Audrey. Nice to meet you.’
‘Hi, Audrey. I’m Charlie.’
She was beautiful. Her hair was perfectly messy, and her olive skin radiated under the form-fitting white v-neck shirt. The waiter made his way over to the table, breaking me from my obvious staring problem. He approached Audrey.
‘Good evening, ma’am. Welcome to Lucy Café. Is this your first time dining with us?’
‘Oh, no. I’ve been here before.’
‘Great, can I start you with a beverage?’
I stared at the menu. I was unsure of the country the food we would be eating was from. Nothing was recognisable, so I just sat there.
‘Is there anything you recommend?’ Audrey inquired.
‘Well, if you like a sweet wine, I recommend the tej. It’s an Ethiopian honey wine. Or, if you like beer, there’s tella. It’s a beer made from cereal grains. We also have domestic bottled beer, house red and white wine, and soda.’
‘Charlie? What would you like?’
The waiter kept his back to me.
‘I’m just going to have water, for now.’
Audrey giggled, ‘I’ll try the tej, along with a water. Thank you.’
I wanted to ask her about everything: her family, her life, but words were not forming in my mind fast enough. I watched her move the plate and napkin to the side, so she could rest on her elbow.
‘Hi.’ That was all I had.
‘Hi. How are you feeling?’
‘I’m good. I mean, I feel ok. This morning was rough, but I’m good now.’
The waiter came back with a tray full of beverages. He served me, then Audrey.
‘Did you decide on your meal, yet?’
He nestled close and leaned into her with a menu. It was weird. He pointed out the food he liked and stared at her, waiting for a response. She looked over at me.
‘Oh, hi. I’m ordering too. There are two of us here, eating.’
He stood up. ‘Right. Do you know what you’d like?’
‘Yes, I’ll have the bayon-ee-too?’
‘Bayenetu, and you ma’am? Have you decided?’
‘I’ll have the same.’
The waiter took my menu and stood near Audrey.
‘I have to tell you, your eyes are beautiful.’
Audrey squirmed in her chair, ‘Um, thanks.’
I wasn’t sure if I should tell the guy to leave her alone or let it go. Either way, Audrey looked uncomfortable.
‘Should I go knock him around? Let him know you’re here with me. I’m not sure he’ll care, but hey, I made an ass of myself last night. I could be on a roll. But wait, this is a serious question: what did I order and why are people eating with their hands?’
Audrey laughed so hard that whatever she was drinking spilled out from the side of her mouth. She stood up and leaned over the table, motioning for me to come closer.
‘My turn,’ she whispered as she kissed me.
I kissed her back.
I didn’t care, for once, about people watching.
We both sat back down. I looked over to the waiter’s station. The waiter looked pissed off or disgusted, and I saw him mouth the word, Dykes, to the guy next to him.
Audrey saw too. She grabbed my hand from under the table, ‘You wanna get out of here?’
I nodded and threw $40 on the table.
We put our coats on, grabbed our bags and each other’s hands, and walked out.
Jillian (Jill) Butler recently graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Boston with a Master’s degree in English (Creative Writing and Education). She currently teaches high school English. In her ‘spare’ time Jill is a freelance editor and is also the founding editor of Provocateur, an LGBTQ+ literary magazine. As of this summer, three of her short stories will have been published in various anthologies and literary magazines/journals. When she is not editing, writing or teaching, Jill can be found hanging out with her wife and almost three-year-old daughter in Burlington, MA.