Mockingbird, Brian

Mockingbird Title Image
Brian Sanger sits in the Starbucks at 1776 Peachtree Street, halfway through a venti, black, dark-roast, Ethiopian coffee, and an almond scone, and looks over a piece of music he’s composing. He typically prefers Caribou to Starbucks, but has no car, since his was totaled in an accident early the previous year, and doesn’t live close enough to the Caribou at Ansley to pop in whenever he feels like it, plus, he’s hooked on the Blue Note blend his friend, Claire Belmonte, convinced him to try a week or so before. He can easily walk from his apartment to the Starbucks on Peachtree, near Coach and Six where he works as a maitre’d, so he stops in every few days to stock up on coffee, try out whatever dark roast they’ve brewed up that day, and work on his music. Certain days, Claire joins him if she’s worked a club nearby.

When Brian arrived in Atlanta, the Braves were in the middle of their “worst to first” season and the city had won the privilege of hosting the Olympics the previous year. While he never considered himself much of a sports fan, aside from high school football games he had to attend with the band, he found himself getting caught up in the fervor surrounding the team, but usually couldn’t afford to attend games, instead watching them when they were on the television at bars he inhabited. He was glad the Major League strike ended the previous season and is happy to be supporting the team again.

In addition to becoming a baseball fan, Brian has spent much of his first first few years in town familiarizing himself with the gay scene in Atlanta and it was here he met Claire, who had gone to work as a bartender at his favorite hangout as soon as she turned twenty-one in ’94. She explained that she’d been working as a waitress in restaurants and bars while attending junior college and had grown tired of the men hitting on her. In gay clubs, they either left her alone, or chatted her up on the topics of the day while she mixed their drinks. Plus, she found, the older men left better tips.

Almost as if on cue, Claire enters and looks around. Spotting Brian, she gives a quick nod, then stops at his table. Brian regards her as a rather formidable woman, very close to his own height of six foot three inches, and well-proportioned, with long dark hair she usually pulls back, especially if she’s working. Today, she’s letting it flow freely. She doesn’t meet the conventional standards of beauty, but Brian still considers her extremely attractive, with expressive brown eyes and a charming smile she only displays to those she knows well. To everyone else, she’s an ice princess.

“What are you having?” Claire asks.

“Today’s dark roast.”

She seems less than enthused and dumps her bag onto the seat beside Brian and goes to check out the pastry counter.

Claire has a non-distinct “Atlanta” accent, which she’s worked hard to cultivate since she arrived there as a teen, but when she and Brian are together, she ditches it in favor of her original middle Georgia vernacular. She grew up less than fifty miles west of where Brian had been raised, far enough away for it to take coming to Atlanta for them to meet. Claire has quite a complicated past, which she’s been gradually revealing to Brian as he gains her trust. He knows she came from a deeply religious family and can easily imagine what that meant for a young woman coming of age in rural Georgia. Her difficulty in trusting people tells him much of the story. Learning more about what Claire has experienced deepens his conviction to bring his sister Charlotte to Atlanta when she finishes high school, hoping to spare her from the fate of their two sisters, already married and starting families.

Brian is the oldest and only son in his family, raised mostly by their mother after his father died in an accident at the agricultural plant where he’d worked most of his adult life. Brian sang in the choir at his church and was the drum major in his high school marching band, as well as playing in the brass section. He’s also accomplished on the piano and organ. When she was a toddler, Charlotte would sit nearby while he was practicing, enrapt by the music. When she got older, and began exhibiting signs of echolalia, Brian worked with her to help her try to communicate and would intercede when one of their siblings or a kid from school made fun of her. When she started writing lyrics as a teenager, Brian set them to music. His background in music and his involvement in their church made it almost inevitable that he’d be approached about taking over the choir when Gladys Phelps, the previous director, retired at age ninety. It was here where Brian gained the attention of Todd, the son of their pastor, Kenneth Williams.

Growing up, Brian had been in several relationships with much older men, usually under the guise of taking private music lessons or performing odd jobs inside the house, always with the utmost discretion, given that these men had far more to lose than him. Todd was the first person close to Brian’s age who had shown any interest in him, and Brian didn’t know how to interpret that, given that Todd was married and had two little girls at home. Todd had been relentless in his pursuit, however, and finally coaxed Brian into a clandestine relationship, which was mostly carried out at Todd’s house on days when his wife was out running errands or attending church functions. Brian suggested that it might not be the best idea to have their encounters at Todd’s home, but Todd insisted they’d have complete privacy. This proved to be wrong when Todd’s wife, Myra Lynn, showed up unexpectedly, after her women’s devotional group ended early, having found the book of Revelation too cryptic to be digested in a two-hour lunchtime conversation. After most of the screaming and yelling had devolved into tears and apologies, during which time Brian hastily pulled on his clothes, he bowed politely to the couple and excused himself with, “I’ll just be on my way now.”

Two hours later, when the call came from Pastor Williams, Brian had already written his letter resigning as choir director, and packed his bags, and loaded up his car, since he knew it was probably best not to stick around. He gave his mother a somewhat expanded explanation about what had happened after she’d already heard an abbreviated version from the pastor, and left a letter for Charlotte, letting her know he’d stay in touch, and renewing his promise to bring her to Atlanta when she graduated. Once his meeting with the pastor was concluded, he hit I-16 west toward Macon, and from there, took I-75 north to Atlanta.

Mockingbird 


Charlotte Sanger sits on a tree stump in the middle of the forest, leans back, closes her eyes, and breathes in the cool air, listening to the sounds around her. The sun has been up for more than an hour, and Charlotte was here to witness it. She likes the woods, away from everyone and everything, and sometimes sits for hours, thinking, sometimes singing, writing, or interacting with whatever woodland creature happens to cross her path. She’s developed a talent for attracting animals, being very still and non-threatening, in essence, waiting for them to come to her. She’s not very imposing, just a shade under five and a half feet tall, thin but well-fed, with long, strawberry blonde hair that reaches down her back to below her waist and which she often braids to make it more manageable.

In school, Charlotte is known as Echo, because of her disorder which causes her to repeat back words and phrases said to her, accompanied by various facial ticks and contortions. Her brothers and sisters started out calling her that around the house when she was little, but now many of her classmates also derisively refer to her that way. Her friends still call her Charlotte, but they’re few and mostly kids she’s known since nursery school who’ve grown accustomed to her odd behavior.

Her teachers are often annoyed by her disorder at first, but come to realize she’s very intelligent and studious. Ms. Warner, a math teacher, on her first day dealing with Charlotte, quickly became frustrated with her constant repetition.

“Are you mocking me, Charlotte?”

“Mocking, mocking, mock—” Charlotte replied. “N-no ma’am, Ms. Warner.”

Some of the other kids told Ms. Warner, “She can’t help it. It’s what she does.”

“Perhaps you should come to the board and work out these equations.”

Charlotte complied and got them all right, which impressed Ms. Warner. By the following class, she’d read up on echolalia and afterward, gave Charlotte a wide berth in class.

While Charlotte has trouble speaking, she has no trouble singing and sings in the choir at church, where hers is considered one of the most beautiful voices among the members. Her older brother, Brian, who had been the choir director, realized that Charlotte could sing phrases she had trouble speaking and had been working with her to learn how to “sing” responses rather than say them. As a result, she often has a rhythmic cadence to her speech, similar to someone rapping and sometimes she slips into singing words or phrases. Even still, she finds it hard to communicate and often shies away from people. What she likes best about the woods is that she doesn’t have to talk to anyone, and the animals she encounters don’t judge how she communicates with them.

Brian had to leave town the previous year due to an incident most town folk refuse to discuss openly, though Charlotte still hears whispers around her church and school. It had something to do with Tad Williams, the pastor’s son, and while her mother never said what it was, Charlotte knows Brian well enough and pretty much guessed at what had happened. She heard Tad is taking special classes with Pastor Williams, to learn how to be a better husband and father, which pretty much confirms everything Charlotte suspects. Brian is her favorite brother, and has always been her protector, and Charlotte misses him terribly, but he told her before he left that if she wants, she can come live with him in Atlanta when she graduates. That’s now less than a year away.

She leans back on her hands and sings the lyrics to a new song she’s been writing to the tune of a song she learned from the radio. Brian was the one who added music to her lyrics, another reason she misses him. She clears her head of all concerns and allows her mind to wander, allowing thoughts to drift in and out without letting them occupy too much of her consciousness. Nearby, she has her notebook, where she can write down any poems, stories, or new lyrics that come to her. While she’s good at most subjects at school, her favorite is English, and her teacher, Mr. Maynard, encourages her creative abilities. She channels everything she wants to say into her writing, routinely filling notebooks and journals with her words.

Her thoughts are interrupted by the sound of pine straw and twigs crunching. Something big is coming toward her, and Charlotte opens her eyes, expecting to see a deer, or a large dog. Instead a young man trudges into the clearing, looking like he has no idea where he is or how he got there. He’s at least six feet tall and well-built, wearing gym shorts and a varsity T-shirt, and jogging shoes. His dark hair is curly, and he’s clean shaven. Charlotte recognizes him as Ned Branch, the captain of her high school football team, and the most popular guy in her school. He stands in the clearing a moment, as though trying to get his bearings, then turns toward Charlotte, and, seeing her, he smiles. She’s at a loss for words.

“Oh, hey,” he says. “I’m not lost anymore.” He considers this. “Unless you’re lost. Then I guess we both are.”

Charlotte still cannot find words, and struggles to contain the impulse to repeat what he says.

“Was that you singing?” Ned asks.

Charlotte nods with her lips pressed tightly together.

“You sound real good,” he says. Approaching her, he goes on, “Hi, I’m Ned.”

Charlotte opens her mouth to respond, but all that comes out is, “I’m Ned. N-Ned. Ned.” She grimaces. Half-singing, “I’m Charlotte. Pleased to meet you, Ned.”

“Hey, I know who you are. You’re that girl they call Echo, right?”

“Echo, echo —” Charlotte makes an effort to control herself. “S-some people call me that.”

“You don’t like it, do you?”

She shakes her head.

“Then I won’t call you that, okay? Why are you out here in the woods?”

Charlotte looks away from him. In a mixture of speech and song, she says, “I like it here. It’s quiet. No one’s around.”

“Nobody but me, right?”

“W-why are you here?”

Ned shrugs and leans against a tree. “Coach said it might be good to go running in the woods. Said it heightens our awareness or something like that. Of course, I forgot my phone with all my tunes on it.”

“It-it’s better to keep your ears open. Y-you can hear the forest sounds around you. The birds. The animals moving around.”

He nods. “Yeah, that’s a good idea. I wouldn’t want something sneaking upon me.” He strolls around the clearing. “What do you do out here all by yourself.”

“S-sing, write, think. S-sometimes I just listen.”

“Yeah, there is a lot of noise out here.”

“It’s the birds, mostly. S-sometimes squirrels. Sometimes other things. I thought you might be a deer at first.”

“That’d be something, wouldn’t it? What was the song you were singing?”

“J-just something I’m working on.”

“You wrote that?”

“The words. I d-don’t write music.”

“Can I hear it? I mean, I kind of already have, but can I hear more?”

Charlotte lowers her head. “If you want.”

“Sure.” Ned crouches down nearby.

Charlotte sings a few verses of her song, using the music from before. When she finishes, Ned claps. “You’re great. Have any others?”

Charlotte sings one she wrote with Brian. Ned seems to like it as well.

“You should get a recording contract. You’ve got a great voice.”

“Th-thanks.”

Ned rises and looks around. “You must know your way around out here.”

Charlotte nods.

“Think you could show me?” he says. “I was running around for nearly an hour before I heard you.”

“S-sure. I can do that.” She gathers her things and puts them in her bag and rises. “W-want to see the lake?”

“There’s a lake? Sure.”

Charlotte takes the lead, guiding Ned along a trail. As they move along, she moves her head left and right slowly, as though she’s looking for something.

“What are you doing?” Ned asks.

“L-listening.”

A short way on, she stops and holds up her hand. She focuses on something to her right, then points. Ned looks, but doesn’t see anything at first. Suddenly, as if from out of nowhere, a deer appears, followed by two fawns. They wander around, nibbling on leaves and grass, before disappearing back into the woods.

“That was cool. I guess you do need to pay attention out here.”

They continue on until they arrive at the lake. Several ducks are on the shore, but as Charlotte and Ned approach, they start quacking and get into the water, swimming quickly toward the middle of the lake.

Charlotte and Ned sit on some rocks.

“This is nice,” he says. “I see why you like it out here.”

“Y-you’ve never been out here before?”

“No. I always played in the park downtown when I was a kid. Other than that, I’ve always been busy with practice and stuff. Plus I have to study a lot. I’m not doing all that great. Coach says if I can maintain my grades I could get a scholarship to UGA.”

“Y-you’re really good,” Charlotte says. “I thought we were going to lose that game last week but you threw that pass and brought us back.”

“Oh, I’m good. Coach says I’m the best QB he’s worked with but says football alone isn’t going to get me very far, not even in Georgia.”

“G-Georgia — Georgia,” Charlotte repeats.

“Why do you do that?” Ned asks. “I mean is there some medical explanation?”

“M-maybe. I’ve just always done it. Ever since I was little.”

“People at school tease you, right?”

“S-some do.”

“Tell you what. Next time kids at school start bothering you, let me know. I’ll stop ’em.”

Charlotte laughs. “Okay.”

They talk for more than an hour, then Charlotte leads Ned back to where he parked.

“Look me up on Monday,” he tells her. “Maybe you can help me with my homework.”

“Wh-what will your g-girlfriend say?”

“Cindy? She could use some help, too. Maybe you can teach us both something.”

A grey bird with a long tail lands on a bush nearby and begins singing.

“Mockingbird,” Ned says.

“Th-that’s right.”

“A family of them lives in a bush in our back yard. They repeat sounds from all these other birds and create their own special songs out of them. Kind of like you.”

Charlotte smiles.

“Take care of yourself, Charlotte. See you Monday.”

He gets in his car and drives away.

Charlotte turns her attention to the mockingbird, listening as it sings its song.

Worthy, Part 50 (Final)

img_9788-4
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

img_9788-4

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.

Worthy, Part 48

img_9788-4

It takes Abigail a little over a week to arrange an outing including Genevieve, Neil, and others in the band for Gloria to meet them. They’re playing at an open mic competition at a club in Norcross, not far from where Gloria lives, and this time, Abigail insists on picking her up. She and Gloria also have a surprise for the others, since they’ve been playing and writing songs together for several days. They’ll also be competing in the open mic as a duo.

“I can’t explain it,” Abigail tells Genevieve in a phone call, “the moment we met, I felt a connection. Ever since, we’ve just gotten closer.”

“I’m glad to hear you’ve found someone. I’m always worried you’re too driven to have a personal life. The band is the only thing you’ve done for relaxation.”

“I like to work. Sue me.”

“By the way, I may have convinced Steven to come to the show.”

“How did you manage that?”

“He was at the office the other day and I played him an MP3 from our last show.”

“And he wasn’t just saying he’d be there to get you to stop bugging him?”

“No. He sounded genuinely interested. But, he might bring a date.”

“You know, if you looked around, you could probably find some geeky guy at Tech you’d have a better shot with.”

“Yes. I know. Leah says the same thing.”

“Well, maybe you should listen to her. She knows Steven better than you do.”

“And she says he’s not looking for a long-term relationship currently.”

“Why does that encourage you?”

“Because I’m not either. Hopefully, by the time I am, he’ll be.”

“Sounds like a long shot.”

“Sort of like coming all the way to Atlanta and having a medical recruiter introduce you to the love of your life?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

On the night of the show, Neil reserves a block of tables for the crowd they expect. He and Zoë  get there first, followed soon after by Genevieve, Abigail, and Gloria. Abigail makes the introductions and everyone welcomes Gloria. They head over to the tables while Genevieve waits in front for stragglers.

Steven arrives with an attractive woman who appears to be of South American descent. He introduces her as Matilda Alavares, a public defender for Fulton County. As they’re shaking hands, Genevieve says something to her in Spanish. Matilda, a bit surprised, replies in Spanish, and she and Genevieve have a brief conversation, mainly relating to family origins.

“My friends call me Mattie,” she tells Genevieve.

“Genni.”

Genevieve leads them to the tables the band has reserved.

“Is Leah coming?” Neil asks.

“No, she has plans with her college friend,” Genevieve says.

“You’re the one who delivered Alyssa’s and Tim’s daughter, aren’t you?” Steven asks Neil.

“Yep, that’s me,” Neil says.

“Oh, I have got to hear about this,” Matilda says. “Someone in the office was talking about it when it happened.”

Neil and Abigail tell them the story.

The band is scheduled to go on toward the middle of the show, which gives them time to get acquainted. Abigail is pleased to see Gloria seems to fit in well. Matilda recognizes her from a poetry slam a few months ago in Decatur.

“I think I should let everyone know why I can’t play tonight,” Abigail says.

“Yeah. I was wondering about that,” Neil says. “Hang on. I saw a group in the lineup called Ab & Glo.”

“That’s us,” Gloria says. “We’ve written a few numbers we’d like to try out.”

“You’re stealing her away from us already,” Neil says, shaking his finger at Gloria.

“Does that make me Yoko?” Gloria says.

Neil considers it. “No. If you’re Yoko, then I can’t be John Lennon. You can be Linda Eastman.”

“What’s the big deal?” Genevieve says. “I can play everything Abby can.”

“That’s true,” Zoë says. “And I can play just about everything else.”

“Stop,” Neil says, holding up his hands. “You’re not kicking me out of my own band.”

“What’s up with Freddy, by the way?” Abigail says.

“Annie insisted he return to Portland,” Zoë says. “She gave him an ultimatum; either he comes back or she’s going to drive his Mustang off a cliff.”

“Okay.” Abigail shakes her head. “I thought they were in therapy.”

“It actually seems to be working,” Neil says. “Before she’d have just done it.”

The show runner signals to Neil to get ready.

“That’s us,” he says. To Abigail he says, “Hope you brought your A game, sis. We’ll be hard to beat.”

“You’re playing one of my songs,” Abigail replies.

“Then we’ve got this in the bag,” Neil says over his shoulder.

With Freddy absent, Neil takes the drumming duties, while Genevieve and Sarah team up on vocals. They do an Abigail original and a Neil and Zoë collaboration. Each group gets two songs, and if the audience likes them enough to make the final three, they get another song. The band’s set is very well received.

There are two acts between them and Ab & Glo, and while the second group is finishing their first song, Abigail gets the nod from the show runner.

Their set consists of two collaborations, combining alluring harmonies with complex guitar work, which also has the crowd on their feet. Neither group is surprised when they both get called back for the final three. The crowd seems to respond to the trio a bit more, so they end up in first place with Abigail and Gloria second. Still, they regard the evening as a success.

“So, what did you two think?” Genevieve asks Steven and Matilda.

“I had a great time,” Matilda says.

“Same here,” Steven echoes. “You’re very talented, Genevieve.”

Genevieve later confides to Abigail that she also regards the evening as a success.

Worthy, Part 47

img_9788-4

Abigail’s recruiter follows through on his promise to set up a meeting between Abigail and his other client, Gloria Savage. After making sure both are okay with the idea, he texts each one the other’s number. Abigail wrestles with the decision to call or wait to hear from Gloria. She lets a day pass before deciding to take the initiative herself, but just as she starts to dial Gloria’s number, a call comes in from Gloria.

“Gloria? Hi, I was calling you. Yes. I just keyed in your area code.”

They talk for about twenty minutes, mainly comparing likes, dislikes, and entertainment preferences, and discussing where they should meet. They learn that they live reasonably close to one another, Abigail in John’s Creek, and Gloria in Norcross. At length, Gloria proposes meeting for coffee after work at Cafe Intermezzo on Ashford Dunwoody Road, where they’ll have numerous options for dinner if they don’t fill up on pastries.

That night, while helping Alyssa tend to Leah Naomi, Abigail brings up a sensitive topic.

“How would you feel about me having guests over?” she asks Alyssa.

“You should consider this your home. If you want to bring someone over, we’ll accommodate them.”

Abigail hesitates a moment. “What if that someone wants to spend the night?”

Alyssa smiles. “Ah. Of course.” She considers her answer. “Your room is at the end of the hall, and I’m pretty sure you’d be conscientious of the noise level.”

Abigail laughs. “I’d do the best I could.”

“Just let us know someone’s here so there aren’t any awkward encounters.”

“No problem.”

A day or so later, Abigail heads over to meet Gloria. As she’s walking in, she looks up and comes to a stop. Standing a few feet in front of her, also stopped and staring, is the woman she recognizes from the photo Robert sent her.

“Gloria?”

“Yes. You must be Abigail.”

They shake hands and remark on the coincidence of them arriving at the exact same time despite their different modes of travel.

“I usually plan to arrive a little early,” Gloria says.

“Tell me about it. The traffic is terrible over here. That’s why I took the train.”

They enter and find an out of the way table. Abigail immediately feels comfortable around Gloria.

“The desserts here are excellent,” Gloria says. “You spring for coffee and I’ll get the dessert since it was my idea.”

“Sure.”

They check out the desserts and decide what they want. Back at the table, Abigail says, “What do you do for Allied?”

“I’m a nurse in one of their clinics — my first job since graduation.”

“Where’d you go to school?”

“GSU, School of Nursing.”

“My mother’s a nurse. Very challenging profession.”

“It is, but very rewarding.”

“Definitely.”

“What do they have you doing over at Bickering Plummet?”

“I conduct genetic research for their pharmaceutical division.”

“Cutting edge work. That’s pretty challenging as well.”

As the date goes on, they find themselves getting along very well.

“I’d really love to continue this evening someplace less public,” Gloria says.

“I was just thinking the same thing. How far is your place from here?”

“I’d rather not go there. I’m currently living with my family until I get some of my debts paid off.”

“You haven’t told them?”

“Oh, I have. They’re just not very good with privacy.”

Abigail thinks about it.

“The couple I’m living with are pretty cool. But there’s a baby.”

“You’re not sleeping in the nursery are you?”

“No. The baby actually sleeps in the room with her parents.”

“Sounds perfect.”

They settle their bill and head out to Gloria’s car. Once inside, they look at one another and, on a whim, Abigail leans in to kiss Gloria. They end up making out for several minutes.

“Wow,” Abigail says. “I have never acted like that before.”

“Yeah, me neither. How far is it to your place?”

“John’s Creek, just off Peachtree Parkway.”

“Good. I know a short cut that should get us around traffic.”

When they arrive at the Caine residence, they find Alyssa and Tim entertaining friends, who’ve come to see the baby, out by the pool. Abigail introduces Gloria.

“You’re welcome to join us,” Alyssa says.

“I think we’re going to head upstairs for a little while,” Abigail says. “She really wants to see my room.”

“Well, then, have fun,” Alyssa says with a wink.

A little over an hour later, they rejoin the group outside. They’re holding hands and are very affectionate toward one another.

“I guess she likes your room,” Alyssa whispers to Abigail at one point.

“Definitely,” Abigail replies.

The following morning, Abigail wakes up beside Gloria, who appears to still be asleep. She rolls over to watch her.

Gloria opens her eyes.

“Morning. Did I wake you?”

“No. I was just lying here with my eyes closed. Remind me again, when did we meet?”

“Yeah, I know. I think this fulfills all the qualifications for a whirlwind romance.”

“Robert wasn’t kidding when he says he does his research.” She rolls over to face Abigail. They kiss. “So, we’re together. It’s Saturday. What do you want to do?”

“Why do we need to do anything?”

“Good question.”

“I dread when we start learning all the horrible things from each other’s past that will come between us.”

“Have you been picking up men at rest stops and murdering them?”

“Would that be a problem?”

Gloria shrugs. “Depends on the men, I guess. For my part, I promise I don’t moonlight as a stripper named Glory.”

“Too bad. You’d probably make a fortune in tips. Get those loans paid off quicker.”

“Okay, at some point, we can head over to my place and you can meet the family. If that doesn’t scare you off, it must be love.”

“Sure. Later I’ll introduce you to Neil and Genevieve. But we don’t have to do anything right away, do we?”

She leans back and Gloria puts her head on Abigail’s shoulder. “Not at all.”

After much discussion, they come to an agreement that if they’re still together in three months, they’ll start looking for an apartment together.

Worthy, Part 46

img_9788-4
The office where Abigail will be working is in Chamblee, but for her initial orientation phase, she’s stationed at the main office downtown for several days, until all her paperwork goes through. There, she takes all the required coursework, ethics, time charging, security awareness, and other topics, all designed to insure she’s acknowledged every rule and regulation and can begin her employment well informed. Since she’s still relatively new to town, it’s also recommended she sit in on the Atlanta newcomers orientation, which tells new hires how to navigate the city along with places of interest to check out. Leah has already supplied her with a similar list, which, she stated, are all the generic tourist spots which show up in every guide to the city and which should mostly be avoided. 

On her first day with Bickering Plummet, Abigail learns of the odd reputation of its president, who everyone refers to as Mr. Bickering. It is said that those who address him otherwise run the risk of being “busted back to a banana” which is a common threat of his, with no explanation as to what that means. When she came to process in, while waiting for her supervisor to usher her into the restricted areas, Abigail noted an older gentleman seated in the lobby, just sort of hanging out. When she made eye contact with him, he gave her a friendly smile and nodded, with a pleasant, “Good morning.” She later learns that this is Mr. Bickering, who frequently hangs out in the lobby watching people come and go, until such time as he’s needed upstairs and someone goes to fetch him. Once she knows who he is, she sees him quite a bit, wandering around the floors, seemingly deep in thought. Sometimes, over the intercom, she’ll hear an announcement, “If anyone knows the whereabouts of Mr. Bickering, please call the front office.”

This afternoon, Genevieve is driving Abigail home so she can visit Alyssa, Tim, and the new baby. Abigail is expecting Genevieve around five, and she plans to be in the lobby in time to intercept her cousin to limit the time Genevieve spends at Bickering. 

Around four-fifteen, her phone rings.

“Abigail Worthy, you have a visitor in the lobby.”

“A visitor?”

“A young woman who says she’s your cousin.”

“Genevieve? She’s not supposed to be here yet.”

Abigail hangs up and gathers her belongings, then hurries to the lobby to find her worst fears realized; Genevieve is seated, talking to Mr. Bickering. They appear to be having a nice conversation. 

“When I was your age, I was working at Six Flags,” Mr. Bickering is saying as Abigail walks up. “I worked Rides.”

“That must have been fun,” Genevieve says.

“No, not really. I didn’t get along with anyone on the crew. They never let me operate the rides, just cleanup.” He notices Abigail. “Oh, hello, you must be Abby.”

He rises and offers his hand.

“Yes. Mr. Bickering. I am.”

“So nice to put a name with a face.” He indicates Genevieve. “I’ve been having a lovely chat with your cousin.”

“I see that. What are you talking about?”

“Mr. Bickering was telling me about some of the places he’s worked.”

“Oh yes,” he says. “Mostly my employment history is somewhat boring — various family endeavors — but once, I struck out on my own and worked at Six Flags.”

“Interesting,” Abigail says.

“I was so surprised when Genevieve walked in. I haven’t seen her since she gave that remarkable speech at her school in Seattle.”

“You remember that?” Abigail asks.

“Oh, indeed. It was one of the best student presentations I’ve heard.”

“I’ve never understood why you liked it so much,” Genevieve says. “I really trashed your company. All your handlers were totally pissed off.”

“Young lady, nothing you said in that essay was untrue. Your talk was well-researched, well-prepared, well-written, and very well delivered. It took a lot of courage to stand on that stage and give that speech especially with me sitting right behind you. I hear a lot of student speeches that sound like they were written with faculty advisers reading over their shoulders, but you spoke your mind, and I was very impressed.”

“Thanks,” Genevieve says. She looks at Abigail. “Would you mind taking a picture of us, Abby?” She looks back to Mr. Bickering. “I’d sort of like to make up for the one I took at school.”

“Sure,” Abigail says and takes out her phone.

Genevieve and Mr. Bickering pose with their arms around one another and with big smiles. 

“Please send me a copy as well,” Mr. Bickering says. 

“I will, just as soon as I’m set up on email,” Abigail replies. 

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’m supposed to be in a meeting now.”

Genevieve watches as he boards the elevator. “How can such a sweet man be in charge of such a rotten company?”

“Seriously, Genni, a lot of what Bickering does is very beneficial.”

“Yeah, that’s what I hear. A lot of it isn’t.”

Abigail says, “Even though you’re early, I’m ready.”

She and Genevieve head out to the parking lot.