House Band, Jack Standridge

As far as endings go, Jack Standridge had one of the best. He simply went to sleep and didn’t wake up the next morning. A Marine, who served in Korea, he came home to Decatur, Georgia, where he found a job with his father’s insurance agency, eventually taking over the business when his father retired. Along the way, he married Nancy Belmonte, a lively woman he met at Georgia State, and together, they had three children, two sons, Rex and Lawrence, and a daughter, Claire, who they lost at age eight to a congenital heart defect. Just before the kids started school, he and Nancy bought a nice home in Avondale Estates, now devoid of all but the two of them, though the day before the house had been filled with family, Rex, his wife and four kids, stopping in on their way from Florida to Chattanooga.

Nancy, always an early riser, discovers when she comes to rouse him for breakfast, that Jack is cold, not breathing, but wearing his customary smile. She mostly remains calm, allowing herself only a few sniffles as she goes into another room to summon the authorities, then begin the process of alerting the family. Grief will come later, when it’s official, when all the details have been ironed out. Then she will mourn.

By eleven that morning, Lawrence has arrived from Ansley Park, where he lives with his partner Elijah Parker, who’s in Washington until the end of the week, and Claire Belmonte is there. Claire came to their home at age sixteen, after running away from a nightmare situation in Middle Georgia. The Standridges welcomed her into their home and family, and Claire remained with them for nearly four years, taking Nancy’s family name as her own, completing her high school equivalency, and starting junior college as a sound technician. Though she moved into Atlanta just prior to her twentieth birthday, she remains close with the family, stopping in at least once a month, and her relationship with the Standridges has been more like that of an adopted daughter. By the time Lawrence, then Claire arrive, the medical examiner has come and gone, verifying what Nancy already knew, that Jack passed, quietly, in his sleep the night before, and transporting him to the coroner.

There’s already a small crowd there, mainly close neighbors alerted by the police cars and coroner’s van that something wasn’t right, and universally complimentary of the man now gone. Nancy alerted Rex, but insisted he and his family continue their brief vacation, and come by on their way back, when arrangements will be more formalized. Having finished most of her self-appointed duties, Nancy now finds herself seated on the couch, surrounded by Claire, and Barbara Stewart, her next-door neighbor, who have taken over the roles of chief comforters, Barbara constantly assuring Nancy that “Jack’s in a better place”, and Claire inquiring frequently if Nancy needs anything. From here, Nancy entertains a continuous stream of well-wishers as word of Jack’s passing filters throughout the enormous community of those who knew him. She finally relaxes, and settles into the role of grieving spouse, knowing fully well that she will need to make many difficult decisions in the days to come. The most difficult arrives a few days following the funeral, in the person of an agent representing Walker Development, inquiring about Nancy’s plans for her property, and promising a competitive offer on the home.

Depending upon one’s point of view, Walker Development is either a dynamic force for revitalization around Atlanta, or an unfeeling corporate behemoth, mercilessly dotting the landscape with gaudy, overpriced McMansions that only the super-wealthy can afford. As young people from the suburbs of the Atlanta Metro area have moved back into town, fueling gentrification in formerly minority neighborhoods, Walker, among others, has been there, encouraging them to demolish the older structures in favor of new, more upscale dwellings, which the developers will, of course, design and build. The previous residents, many of whom have lived in the neighborhoods their entire lives, suddenly find the costs of taxes and utilities becoming unbearable, and always, the developers are there, offering low-income residents just slightly more than the “book value” of the property, to encourage them to move on quickly. Once they’re gone, the modest homes are replaced with vastly more elaborate structures, which sometimes sell for a thirty to fifty times the cost to the developer, and which increase the stress on the crumbling infrastructure the city or county maintains. Along the way, old neighborhood names, kept alive by the elderly black residents, who learned them from their parents and grandparents, get resurrected, as the Fourth Ward becomes The Old Fourth Ward, and the areas south of the tracks from Chandler Park and Lake Claire become Kirkwood and East Atlanta Village. Once-quiet little neighborhoods find themselves overrun with coffee shops and corner bars, and choked with increasing traffic, as non-residents flock there, sometimes from as far away as Bartow or Henry County, to sample the local ambience.

The representative from Walker is a first contact, a young woman, who’s very deferential and self-effacing, complementing the home, and expressing sincere condolences for Nancy’s loss. She doesn’t stay long, and leaves a few brochures for Nancy to look at “when the timing is right”. Nancy knows, however, that once she’s on their radar, the contacts will increase, and become more insistent, phone calls, mailings, and visits, not just from Walker, but from any number of developers or real estate agents. She doesn’t relish the thought of having her family’s memories demolished, but without Jack, staying no longer seems desirable for her.

Ashes

Each year, close to her birthday on May 11, Claire Belmonte takes a trip to a little church yard in Houston County, just outside Perry to visit the grave of Christine Messner, whose life dates are 11 May 1973 to 4 September 1989. Christine “died” on the same day she was declared an emancipated minor in juvenile court in Houston County, and the headstone was placed there by her parents Zachariah and Selma Messner in late October of that year. No death certificate has ever been filed on her, owing to the fact that she is, still, very much alive in Atlanta, and has taken a new name, Claire Christine Belmonte.

Claire learned of the headstone from her friend, Jodie Newcombe, about two years after it had been placed there. Jodie found it while visiting the graves of her grandparents, and noticed a new stone several yards away. There had not been any funeral services at her church since Deacon James Frederick had been laid to rest at a sparsely attended service just after Christine left Perry in 1989, and his grave is on the opposite side of the cemetery. When she went to investigate, the name on the stone caused Jodie’s knees to nearly buckle, and she hurried home and called Claire in Atlanta to be sure her friend was all right. A few days later, Claire, accompanied by her former teacher, Lawrence Standridge, visited Jodie, and she, Lawrence, Jodie and her parents visited the cemetery. From that point on, Claire has come down every year to pay her respects.

She arrives around ten-twenty in the morning, alone, places two white roses, crossed, at the grave of James Frederick, then goes to Christine’s grave, where she places a bouquet of red carnations in the vase on the headstone. Claire bows her head and mouths a silent prayer. Finished, she crouches down and runs her finger over the letters of Christine’s name. She hears a car pull in and rises, then looks to see a familiar black, Buick Regal parking. She shakes her head. “You have got to be kidding me.”

Zachariah Messner exits his car and approaches Claire. He is much thinner than the last time she saw him, and leaning heavily on a cane. He doesn’t look to be in good health. “Well now, look who we have here. It’s been a while, Miss Belmonte.”

“What are you doing here?” Claire says. “Can’t imagine it’s to tend the grave.”

“It has been noted that around this time each May, someone places flowers here,” he says.

“Noted, yeah,” Claire says. “How is Selma these days, by the way?”

“She is as she always has been,” Zachariah says. “More or less.”

“I knew she was exaggerating about what you’d do to her,” Claire says. “You’ve always been more smoke than fire. She carried out all your violence.”

“Selma can be a troublesome individual,” he says. “But she’s there.”

“Since I’m certain you didn’t just stop by to chat, I have to assume something’s on your mind,” Claire says. “Perhaps we should just skip to that, or should I be on my way?”

“We are only allotted so much time on this Earth,” he says. “Sometimes a man takes stock of the time he has, and wonders if, perhaps, his efforts could have been better utilized.”

“Oh, give me a break,” she says. “Soul searching doesn’t suit you.”

“There comes a time when that’s all one has left,” he says. “Since turning my business over to an associate, I’ve had much time for reflection.”

“Don’t come out here pretending you’ve ever cared for anyone other than yourself,” she says. “Least of all me. If you’re trying to apologize, save it. It’s meaningless at this point.”

“I have no feelings for you one way or another, Miss Belmonte,” Messner says. “You served your purpose.”

“My purpose was not to lead a good man astray,” she replies.

Messner chuckles. “There are those within the congregation who might take issue with that particular characterization.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Claire says.

Messner doesn’t respond right away. He looks toward the sky, contemplating something. At last, he says, “I believe you were in school with Davis Franklin’s boy, Ernest, were you not?”

“He was a year or two ahead of me, but I remember him,” she says.

“He’s a rather tall young man, as I recall,” Messner says. “Doesn’t look much like either of his folks.”

Claire considers this. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“One hears rumors,” Messner says. “There were always whispers about those who had received the Deacon’s private counseling. Selma didn’t just come up with the idea on her own.”

“How many were there?” Claire says.

“Hard to say,” Messner says. “More than a few, if memory serves.”

Claire shakes her head. “Deacon Frederick should have been held accountable under the law for what he did. His victims had the right to confront him. You took that away from us — away from me.”

“It was not my will that was served,” Messner replies.

“You don’t really believe that and you know it,” Claire says. “It was a vendetta, plain and simple.”

“Water under the bridge,” Messner says.

“You still haven’t answered my question,” she says. “Why are you here?”

“There is no answer,” he says. “I’m here because I chose to be here. That’s all.” He puts his weight onto the cane and begins to slowly move toward his car. “You take care of yourself, Miss Belmonte.”

She turns and watches him walk away, aware that it will be the last time she’ll ever see him. This thought neither fills her with relief nor regret. In fact, she finds that she feels nothing at all for him. Claire watches as he shambles back to his car, gets in, and drives away, then she resumes erasing all trace of him from her memory.

Ned Branch

Edward Abraham Branch, III, called “Ned” by his family to distinguish him from his grandfather, “Big Ed” and his father, still called “Eddie, Jr.” despite the elder Edward being dead for ten years, carried on the fine tradition of Branch men playing football at UGA. A quarterback, Ned was a natural player, and, as such, had not been much in the habit of working very hard in high school, despite his winning record on the field. When he arrived at the University, he found he could no longer get by on talent alone, and spent his first year on the bench, developing a work habit that would, eventually, earn him a starting spot on the team. His coaches recognized him as a solid, if not stellar player, who could be depended upon to go the distance, and elicit enough occasional brilliance to pull out the wins. About the same time he gained his starting spot, Ned married his high school sweetheart, Lindsay Maddox, who was also taking classes at UGA in financial planning. They decided to forego starting a family until their studies were behind them.

Ned’s attendance at UGA had been cast in doubt, when a local girl, Charlotte Sanger, identified him as the father of a child she was carrying. Charlotte was considered a mousy little thing, who was mostly known for singing in her church choir, and for being the sister of that guy who’d been caught fooling around with the son of the pastor at their Baptist congregation. She also had some weird disorder that caused her to repeat things people said to her, which earned her the nickname Echo at school. She’d befriended Ned and Lindsay their senior year, which led to her unexpectedly being named Homecoming Queen. Not wanting to involve the family in any messy controversy, Eddie, Jr. called Ned’s coach, Harold Ricketts, into his office at the car dealership, and impressed upon the coach a need for him to handle things. Coach Ricketts came up with a sweet plan to shift responsibility away from Ned and onto a teammate, but Charlotte made the issue moot by sneaking off in the middle of the night one evening, leaving behind no trace of where she’d gone.

In the Fall of 2000, Ned and Lindsay, expecting their first child together, move to Suwannee, in the Metro Atlanta area, where Ned, a fourth-round draft pick for the Falcons, is beginning his tenure as the backup quarterback. It’s here the couple learns what became of their friend, Charlotte, as they discover that the singers who’ve been invited to perform the National Anthem at the season opener are Charlotte and her brother, Brian, who call themselves Echo. The team does not interact with the opening duo, but Lindsay finds herself in the Skybox with them, and after a few awkward moments, during which she meets the boy Charlotte introduces as her son, they reconcile, and Lindsay promises to have the family over to their home in Suwannee. When Lindsay tells Ned of the encounter, he’s secretly somewhat relieved to learn Charlotte did not name the boy fully after him, as he has no intention of being the father of Edward Abraham, IV.

Ned finally meets the boy, Edward Ishmael, who his family calls Izzy, when Charlotte, her brother, Brian, and Izzy visit a few weeks later. In their discussions leading up to the visit, it was decided that they weren’t going to hide the fact that Ned is Izzy’s father from the boy, but when they introduce Ned as such to Izzy, he seems to take it in stride, being far too young to realize the implications of it all. Izzy turns out to be an energetic child, with a natural curiosity about the world around him, and no shyness toward new people. He and Ned hit it off immediately, and Brian and Ned spend nearly an hour chasing him around the yard and playing catch with him, while Lindsay and Charlotte chat in the kitchen.

After the meeting with Izzy goes well, Ned discusses with Lindsay the possibility of Ned formally acknowledging Izzy as his son. Lindsay voices no objections, though she is concerned the timing might overshadow the arrival of their child, who, they’ve learned from the ultrasound, is also a boy. Ned agrees to discuss it with the team’s legal counsel, and to bring Charlotte into the discussions before they go very far. They both agree, however, to leave his family back home out of the conversation, until after decisions have been reached, since they would almost certainly object and cause difficulties.

Lawyers for the team outline the process of acknowledging paternity, but caution Ned that he should confirm with a paternity test that he is Ishmael’s father. Ned doesn’t believe Charlotte will appreciate this step, since he believes she’s telling the truth about Ned being the only man who could be the father, but agrees to broach the subject with her. Officials with the team express concerns over the publicity such a move might bring, but Ned argues that his position on the team will only become more visible as time goes on, and Charlotte can be counted upon to be discrete, especially if she’s respected throughout the process. Acknowledging this, the team gives him leave to quietly pursue the matter.

Ned leaves it up to Lindsay to approach Charlotte with the idea, since the two of them get along a bit better than he and Charlotte do. As it turns out, Deanna Savage, the mother of the family Charlotte’s living with is a social worker in Gwinnett County, and is well-acquainted with the process. Charlotte arranges a meeting with Deanna where she and the Branches discuss the matter in more detail. During the meeting, Ned mentions the idea of a paternity test, and Deanna agrees it would help establish Ned’s role as the father. While she doesn’t totally feel it’s necessary, Charlotte agrees to it, as well as amending Ishmael’s birth certificate to add Ned and to change Ishmael’s name to Branch. Deanna recommends several attorneys who specialize in such cases. After some discussion, everyone agrees Izzy’s name will become Edward Ishmael Sanger Branch.

Before any of this can take place, Lindsay goes into labor, and delivers a healthy baby boy, who she and Ned name John Isaac, though, from the start, they nickname him “Ike”. Izzy is thrilled to have a baby brother. Ned’s family is disappointed the child isn’t named after his father, but otherwise welcomes his arrival. Shortly after Ike’s birth, Charlotte receives the results of the test, which yield no surprises, and Ned completes the Paternity Acknowledgment form, has it notarized, and sends it off to Vital Records. Over the next several years, Ned and Lindsay have two daughters, Ansley Mae, and Emily Kaitlyn.

A year and a half into his contract, Ned, who’s being considered for a trade to Buffalo, gets his first and only start, in an away game against the Dolphins in Miami. He leads the team to a respectable 24-20 score, but in the final drive of the game, he gets tackled hard by a defensive end, just as he’s completed a long pass for a touchdown. The momentum of the opposing player, along with the angle Ned hits the ground, combine to give him a serious head and neck injury, which proves to be career-ending. Fortunately, Lindsay had the foresight to insure Ned has good personal injury coverage, over and above what the league provides, plus she’s been very prudent in investing his guaranteed earnings, which are considerable. As his rehabilitation begins, wheels start turning behind the scenes to capitalize on his popularity in the community. Officials with both political parties send out feelers to gauge his interest in running for local or county office. At no point is mention made of Ishmael’s existence.

Atlanta Stories Available August 1


Coming soon! Atlanta Stories: Fables of the New South. Eight stories about people coming to Atlanta to reinvent themselves. Stories include:

  1. Mockingbird 
  2. Journey From Night
  3. A Debt to Pay
  4. Dead Man’s Hat
  5. Remains 
  6. Bare-Assed Messiah 
  7. Atomic Punk
  8. Phoenix 

Release date: August 1.

Available at online bookstores and direct from the author. 

Another Mother World Premiere in August

Artwork for Another Mother by G. M. Lupo, by Lauren Pallotta, featuring Rylee Bunton as Genevieve.

My play, Another Mother, will have its world premiere at the 2017 Essential Theatre Festival, which starts July 28. My play premieres August 4, at the West End Performing Arts Center, directed by Peter Hardy. Another Mother tells the story of Genevieve Duchard, a young woman who learns that the circumstances of her birth aren’t as she’s always believed them to be, and sets out to learn the truth. Tickets and Festival passes are available at the Essential Theatre’s website. Another Mother runs in repertory with Lauren Gunderson’s play, Ada and the Memory Engine, which begins July 28.

Worthy, Part 50 (Final)

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In late-October, Abigail receives an invitation for an interview at Emory Medical School scheduled for January. She once again consults Winn, who gives her an overview of what to expect. 

“Your grades are exceptional, your MCAT was in the top percentile, and you have professional experience in a clinic, not to mention your extracurricular activities. It might not seem like editing a book or playing music would matter for medical school, but it shows you’re a well-rounded individual and that you can multitask.”

“Great. How do I handle the interviews?”

“Be yourself. They want to get to know you. In my experience, they were more like conversations than straight Q&A sessions but it differs from school to school and between interviewers. They have certain things they want to know, but they’re more interested in how you conduct yourself, how you’ll fit in and adapt, how you perform under stress.” He leans forward and rubs her shoulder. “Don’t worry. They’re going to love you.”

Since she’s local, Abigail arranges to stay at Leah’s the two days she’s to be at Emory so she can better utilize public transportation. She hasn’t yet told her mother because Rhiannon is coming to town in early-November, and Abigail wants to tell her in person. Rhiannon has stated she wants to meet all the friends and family Abigail has connected with in the short time she’s been in town. Winn and Roger insist on hosting another party for them. Abigail requests that Rachel and Claire be included on the guest list as well as Gloria. Genevieve requests that Steven be added. 

In the meantime, Abigail, Genevieve, and Gloria continue to gather and edit Rebecca’s blog entries. Genevieve has noted several themes in Rebecca’s writing and proposes grouping them together accordingly which meets with the approval of the others. At length, they weed it down to fifty articles from which to choose, several of which are multi-part posts which they combine into single essays. They meet at Leah’s to hammer out the final selection and the ordering and to finalize a rough draft — Abigail feels they should be grouped by publication date, whereas Genevieve believes they should be grouped by theme. Gloria proposes a compromise, grouping them thematically, but ordering them by date, to which the cousins agree. At length, they settle on twenty-four articles for the first collection. Once the final rough draft is done, Gloria volunteers to work through it, editing for grammar, punctuation, and continuity, with Genevieve backing her up. For a title, they agree to use the name of Rebecca’s blog, The Frantic Feminist. 

Rhiannon arrives November 3 for a week-long stay, and books a room at the Hyatt Regency downtown where her conference will be. Abigail meets her there, and over dinner at the Polaris, the blue domed restaurant at the top of the Hyatt, she tells her mother about her interview with Emory. 

“I am so proud of you, kiddo,” Rhiannon says, putting her arm around Abigail and giving her a squeeze.

“Don’t you think I’m a little too old for you to call me that now?”

“Okay, how about Dr. Kiddo, then?”

“That’s better.”

Abigail spends the night in her mother’s hotel room, catching up on news of her grandmother, and friends from Seattle. The following evening they have dinner with Genevieve and Leah, and the evening is spent trading stories about Rosalind. Leah’s easily rival those of Rhiannon. Genevieve shares a few, but mostly listens. 

Abigail is surprised to learn of the educational resources available through her company. When she mentions to her supervisor that she hopes to attend medical school, she’s pointed to a host of programs Bickering Plummet provides to employees who want to pursue higher degrees. Since Abigail’s focus is on becoming a researcher rather than a practicing physician, that’s viewed as a potential asset to the company, and funds are available to assist. She begins to wonder if she’ll need the money Leah and Alyssa set aside for her. 

“I’ve never had so many people who wanted to just give me money before,” she confides in Rhiannon. “Plus Emory offers scholarships.”

“You’re worth it,” her mother says. “If you don’t think so, it’s time to start.”

At the party, Rhiannon hits it off with Winn, Roger, and the Caines, who bring the baby. Leah Naomi quickly becomes the center of attention for the other guests, everyone wanting to have a turn holding her, or fawning over her. Abigail is happy to see Gloria seems to fit in with everyone, especially her mother. Rhiannon is happy to see Rachal again, and Claire seems to hit it off with Roger and Winn, spending much of her time talking to them. When she’s introduced to Genevieve, and hears how she came into being, Claire takes an extreme interest in the process. Leah and Genevieve give her a brief overview, explaining about the remaining embryos. This sends Claire back to talk to Winn about a confidential matter. Neil and Zoë are there and Neil teases Winn about the circumstances of Leah Naomi’s birth. Winn takes it in stride. “You did good little brother.”

By mid-December, Abigail, Genevieve, and Gloria have settled on a final manuscript of The Frantic Feminist, and print out copies for Steven, Rachel, Claire, Alyssa, and Leah to read over and offer comments. The final version contains twenty-four essays covering several of Rebecca’s favorite topics, including movies, music, relationships, and politics and is around two hundred pages. Steven is extremely happy with the manuscript, and treats the trio to dinner at a nice restaurant. Claire requests that several references to “the girlfriend” be altered, as she feels they too closely identify her, and Genevieve, who has come to know Rebecca’s writing the best, undertakes the assignment. Everyone else responds positively, including Tim, who’s read Alyssa’s copy. Satisfied, Abigail contacts the literary agent who knew Rebecca, who requests a full copy of the manuscript. 

As January rolls around, Abigail becomes more anxious about her interviews, despite reassurances from everyone she knows. Rhiannon tells her during one of their regular phone calls that she wants to know immediately how Abigail feels she did. The night before, Leah takes her and Genevieve out for dinner and a musical event at the Rialto downtown to help get her mind off things. 

The following morning, Abigail heads to Emory’s campus where she spends the next two days in a whirlwind of activity, meeting faculty and students, discussing her goals, interviewing for two concentrations, and hopefully making a good impression. She befriends several other prospective students including a guy from Oklahoma, a woman from Kenya, and a married couple from Columbia, and they all hang out between scheduled events. When it’s all done, she heads back to John’s Creek to assess all that went on and begin the process of worrying again.

Fortunately, she has her music to distract her. She and Gloria have been writing songs and playing at open mic nights as Worthy Savage and have been getting much positive input. She especially likes it when they’re on the bill with Neil’s band, who, with the core of Neil, Zoë, and Genevieve, have undergone a number of personnel and name changes. Recently they’ve been going by Kneel, suggested by Zoë to placate her boyfriend over the fact that she and Genevieve get most of the attention. Neil doesn’t seem fazed, though, as he’s integrated himself into a group of musicians who perform jams around town, playing covers of classic bands like The Stones or Steely Dan, and genres like Prog or Country Rock.

Abigail receives notice in mid-February that she’s been accepted for matriculation at Emory, and is invited back for a revisit in March. At about the same time, she hears from Rebecca’s friend who tells her a publisher is very interested in The Frantic Feminist. She and Steven meet to discuss how they’ll proceed. Since he doesn’t have a background in literary contract negotiations, he arranges a meeting with a colleague who does. After a few meetings with the agent and publisher’s representatives, they agree on terms, and a timeline for publication. Separately, Steven and Abigail agree on the percentage she and the others will receive on any royalties or other profits the book earns, and the terms meet with the approval of Genevieve and Gloria. The remainder will go into a separate account which Steven plans to use for philanthropic endeavors in Rebecca’s name. 

At her revisit with Emory in March, Abigail makes her final decision to attend. She’s happy to see a couple of friends she met during interviews are there as well. When the session is over, she gets a packet containing the form she needs to return once she’s made her decision.

“Can I just fill it out and give it to you now?”

With that, she completes all the requirements for admission. As she heads home on MARTA, she finally sits back and allows herself to relax. She has no idea what the future holds, but for once, she’s confident she’ll be ready. 

Note: This concludes the serialized episodes of Worthy. Please use the link in the blog’s header to catch up on previous sections. I’m hoping to have the editing completed before Summer. Keep an eye out for the finished book.

Worthy, Part 49

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To fill her free time until she hears from Emory, Abigail volunteers to help Steven with a project. His sister, Rebecca, who died in a car crash in 2005, had a blog and published numerous articles in online publications around the region. Steven has wanted to compile them for publication, but has never had the time or know how in tracking down all Rebecca’s posts. A few years earlier, Leah managed to salvage a number of files from the hard drive of Rebecca’s laptop, which was severely damaged in the crash, and supplies Abigail with a CD of the text files she was able to save, and Steven has continued to pay the annual fees on Rebecca’s main blog account, so those posts are still there. For the rest, Abigail will need to mine the Internet. She employs Genevieve, who’s more than eager to assist, and whose research skills rival those of Abigail’s. 

For background, Steven suggests that Abigail meet with Claire, who was dating Rebecca at the time of her death. Claire invites Abigail to meet her at a club where Claire works as a sound engineer one afternoon while she’s setting up and testing some new equipment. Abigail hopes to gain insight into Steven’s sister, but also has some curiosity about Claire and Rachel’s relationship. 

“Steven said you and Rebecca had a rather contentious relationship.”

“That’s an understatement. He should know, though. He saw enough of it close up, poor guy.”

“Why’d you stay together?”

“Rachel’s always saying I’m drawn to lost causes. Becky was certainly that. She was so out of control when I first got to know her, I was afraid she’d harm herself if I left.”

“That sounds serious.”

“I guess the psychologists would say it played on my need to save someone.”

“What finally happened between you?”

“After she settled down, we both started to lose interest, but she got killed before we could resolve anything.”

“Steven told me you didn’t date for a while.”

“I don’t date now. Steven used to attribute the tendency to my relationship with Becky, but the truth is I just don’t like to date. It’s certainly not for lack of offers. Some of the women who hit on me are more aggressive than some of the men. Becky sure was.”

As they talk, Claire lets down her guard and her speech drifts from the indistinct Atlanta accent she’s developed back into more of a slow drawl common to middle Georgia where she’s from.

“Becky liked being with other women. She thought she was hiding it from me but she wasn’t very subtle about it.”

“I’m guessing that was a problem.”

“Sometimes. I kinda understood it though. They gave her something I never would.”

“You’re telling me you and Rebecca never had sex?”

“I only had sex one time in my life and that was forced on me. If it ever happens again it’s going to be my choice.”

Abigail lets the topic drop, not wanting to pry too much into Claire’s private history. Instead, she decides to ask about Rachel.

“Would you mind if I ask you a personal question?” 

“Ask. I’ll let you know if I mind.”

“Are you in love with Rachel?”

“I love her and I’d do anything for her because she’s the kind of woman I’d be if I could.”

“But you’re not together. At least, not a couple.”

“That’s her decision and I understand her reasons but it’s not for me to say what those are. I care enough for her to honor her decision.”

“She cares about you, that’s obvious.”

“Lost causes. It’s enough for me to be near her.”

“You don’t identify as a lesbian.”

“What does that even mean? The man I grew up thinking was my father thought I was just because I had a good friend when I was in school. We weren’t doing anything and I didn’t even think of her that way. He just looked at us with his twisted and perverted mind and decided he had to stop it. I don’t even ask myself that question anymore because he and my mother beat any curiosity I might have had out of me when I was sixteen.”

“You don’t have to—”

“No, that’s all right. Leah and Rachel helped me to see that I don’t have anything to be ashamed of. All I can tell you is I don’t like men, but I got a lot of good reasons that don’t have anything to do with that. Maybe if I’d stayed home, didn’t have so much trouble with my family, I might have met some guy, got married and settled down. That’s what was expected of me and I didn’t have reason to question it.”

She turns so she’s facing Abigail.

“When I first came to Atlanta, I got a job as a waitress and when I was old enough I worked in bars. Guys there would hit on me all the time and I hated it. Not just their words but the way they’d look at me. Even when I wasn’t dressed sexy, they’d stare like hungry animals. It’s why I started bartending in gay clubs, because the men there left me alone. With the exception of Steven Asher, almost every decent man I’ve ever known has been gay. I can be any way I want in front of them and they don’t care; they just accept me or ignore me.”

“I can understand that.”

“I am who I am because of the circumstances of my life. Rachel accepts that. Becky never could. You ask me if I’m in love with Rachel. How could I not be?”

They talk for another fifteen or twenty minutes and when they conclude the interview, Abigail gives Claire a long hug. “Take care of yourself, Claire.”

Abigail ends her day back at her room at the Caines’ with Gloria, discussing their favorite topic.

“We can always get married in Seattle,” Gloria says. 

“But your family’s here. Mine is mostly here now, except for Mom, and I don’t think she’d have a problem traveling. Even if we get married there, it won’t be recognized here.”

“Think we’ll ever be able to get married in Georgia?” Gloria says. 

“Maybe. Probably not for a long time, though.” She lies back and leans against Gloria. “Just one thing. If we decide to hyphenate our names, yours should come first.”

“Why do you say that?”

With a laugh, Abigail says, “Otherwise, we’d be Worthy Savages.”

Gloria thinks about it, then they both burst into laughter.

“Hey, that would be a great name for our act, though,” Gloria says. “Worthy Savage.”

Abigail considers it. “You’re right.” She sits up in bed. “I think before we talk about marriage, we should at least have our own place. As accommodating as Alyssa and Tim are, I know they want to raise a family of their own.”

“Agreed. House or condo?”

“Condo. Who wants to cut the grass.”

“I don’t know. I kind of like working outside. Having a garden would be nice.”

“There you go, then. That’s the issue that finally comes between us.”

Gloria swats her with a pillow. “Considering we’re nowhere near affording a studio apartment in Atlanta, we have quite a while before we need to decide on long-term accommodations. I’ll wear you down.”

“Something to look forward to.”

“How’s the project coming along.”

“Steven thinks his sister wrote enough for a book, but honestly, I think there’s too much for one book. She published an original blog post once a day for nearly two years, plus she published weekly in five or six local publications for more than a year. For all her faults, being diligent in her writing wasn’t one of them. On top of that, Steven says she kept a diary for as long as he can remember.”

“Need any help?”

“Yes. Genni’s helping me compile things and she’s a decent writer and editor, but she’s taking classes now so her time’s limited.”

“Put me in, coach. I edited my campus newspaper in college, and I know my way around a computer. You can attest to my literary skills.”

“Welcome aboard, then. What do you know about this Cloud stuff?”

“Quite a bit. They’re using it at the hospital.”

“Wonderful. We can set up some type of collaborative effort with Genni.” She sits up. “I heard from one of Rebecca’s former friends who’s an agent. When she found out I was working on this, she asked me to send her a sample chapter when it was ready. Turns out she was talking to Rebecca about it before she died and knew a publisher who was interested.”

“That’s a good start. Show me what you have so far.”

They move to the computer and start reviewing files.