Short Story: Little Warrior

She was seven, maybe eight years old. Too young. Way too fucking young. The AK in her hands probably weighed as much as her. It had a foldable metal stock locked in place at its rear, tac-light on a forward rail, and a red-dot sight atop it. Even for the era the gear was ancient– Ex-soviet surplus rounds and mags stamped with Red Army designations in Cyrillic script. You could tell they’d had her clothes fitted, the tac-vest and camo-suit were just baggy enough to breathe but small enough to fit her.

She stood in the middle of the desert, rifle poised at-ease, curled hair blowing in the wind. She had eyes that didn’t fit her lineage; almost azure blue. There was something European in them– Scandinavian shape, maybe German corners. Her bushy mane almost said Latin, but her skin was white, bronzed from the Middle Eastern sun. In a way, I think she was all of those things.

I was on recon with the Airborne division of the Special Forces Command out of Fort Bragg, AKA the Green Berets. We’d been in country about six weeks, hadn’t seen any action. It wasn’t for lack of it, we were just that good. We’d migrated through about half the region without so much as a boot-print left behind, our paint and powder dry the whole time. We saw maybe one oasis in those six weeks. It’s just lucky we’d learned to sneak in and out of the villages without being tagged. Water’s gold out here, and the well-tender’s God. Well I guess even God’s gotta’ take a leak sometimes.

Our mission was straight forward; HQ wanted us on point to map and recon anything along the campaign trail. Then, we’d proceed to the rendezvous, pull out while the cavalry stormed the gates. The A-P and Bomber drones were meant to hit first; bombers would clear the way of any heavy artillery, give the anti-personnel regiment a fighting chance. They’d pull back to a carrier in the Gulf while the A-Ps handled the main resistance. The Marines would be hot on their tails to sweep and clear the villages, secure any VIPs or civilians.

But there’s an old quote about war, something like, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” It’s funny, we’re taught to always follow orders, that our Officers– direct superiors– are to be trusted with our lives. Kinda throws a wrench into the works when you hear that shit. No plan survives the enemy? Then what good’s having stars on your shoulders? In boot they tell us all this shit about training, trusting your intel or XO, or some such shit. Then, when you hit the field they tell you, “this what you’ve trained for,” and “everything’s on the line.” But you hear something like that, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” All you can do’s think, wonder what the fuck’s it all good for? Truth is, you’ve just gotta’ know how to improvise. We’re all just attack-dogs forced to improvise.

I think that was why it hit me so hard. They didn’t know we were coming. They couldn’t have. They were running off soviet gear that was sub-standard when it was new. It was forty to fifty years old by the time it ended up in that little warrior’s hands. We were rocking the latest tech– bone-conduction comms, full-rail stealth systems on us and our weapons, dragon-scale armor capable of shrugging fifty-cal rounds point-blank; shit that was so new, it didn’t have names yet. We were the field test. To hell with the well-tenders, we were Gods.

But like I said, or someone else did anyway, “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Sure we got in and out without a peep, the UAVs did their thing, and the campaign began. The Marines though? Fuck, those poor guys didn’t know what the fuck they were getting into. I guess it’s partially our fault. We could only get so close to the villages, only do so much recon from the outside. Getting in was out of the question, but it wasn’t our job to know what we were missing either. It was above our pay-grade. We were told to move in, maintain stealth, and map out what we saw with vids, comms, paper– whatever we could, then feed it back to HQ over our satellite up-link. From our perspective, we did a damned good job of it. Even our XO said as much right before he green-lit our ex-fil.

But those fucking Generals can’t improvise. I dunno, maybe once you reach a certain age or rank your mind just starts to go, you get lazy or something. All I know’s that someone fucked up, and it damn near wiped out the first wave of Marines. It was so bad our unit was diverted en-route, air dropped just outside the village to flank and reinforce.

Us and the Marines. There’s a thought. Two of the most baddest-ass military groups on the fucking planet; the Green Berets and US Marines. We were the cream of the fucking crop, man, and we damn near got iced by civvies with fifty and sixty year old weapons. Shit, if it weren’t for my dragon-scales, I’d be dead on the ground in that fucking village too. Just another of those poor patriots whose blood watered the tree of liberty– if you believe the bullshit lines we’re fed.

You know, I’ve heard stories about some of the terrible shit that’s happened out here. I was on patrol with a guy who’d been forced into a second tour, said he’d watched some of those fuckheads we were fighting lace an apartment building with demo charges, blow it just as his unit went in. Only thing that saved him was his positioning on-six. The squad-leader wanted him watching their asses when they were walking face first into a fucking explosion. Tree of liberty my nuts.

Shame, lotta’ good guys go down that way. You know, doing what they’re taught to, being fucked over for it. But that’s not even the worst shit either. We signed on. We were called. We knew the risks. Them? Never. Not a chance. Not the one’s that matter anyway.

It’s what those fucks do to the people– their own people, that makes us sick. You wonder why some of the guys out here go nuts or turn into racist pricks? It’s a defense mechanism against the most gruesome shit humans can do being broadcast live, 24/7, for you to see. And believe me, we see the worst of it. In a way, you can’t blame ’em for those loose screws. Sure they’re assholes, and sure one rotten apple shouldn’t spoil the bunch or some bullshit nonsense, but most of those kinds of guys are kids when they enlist. They’re country boys straight outta’ high-school, or city-kids hoping the G-I bill’s gonna’ keep ’em from the gang life. They’re just hoping for a better life through the Army, Marines, Navy, Air-Force– whatever. No matter what their situation, they’re not prepared. They never would be. Still they enlist. I guess the US’s propaganda’s better than we think if we sign on to this shit.

Like one story I know from a guy; he was on-base just after the first campaign ended. We took our chow outside on one of the days that wasn’t ball-sticking hot. We were just discussing some of the shit we’d seen– shooting the shit we called it– when he got real serious. Told me about a time some nut-job strapped a kid with enough C4 to incinerate a tank, then sent him up bawling his eyes out toward the front-gate. Kid couldn’t’ve been more than four or five, and he knew he was about to die. My buddy didn’t talk much more that day. In retrospect, saying something like that doesn’t require much more talking afterward. Think he signed up for that? I know I didn’t.

They didn’t have a choice that day. And I guess, neither did I. There’s a select few people alive who’ve been forced to show the world what a fifty-cal round does to the human skull. But as far as I know, that group’s a hell of a lot larger than the one that’s shown the world what it does to a child’s skull.

The squeamish say it’s unthinkable, disgusting, what-have-you– to think about, speak of, but that’s war, and war is fucking brutal. It wrenches your guts out with knives, replaces them with a festering pit of emptiness. It hollows you out, runs the pieces through a meat grinder, then force feeds it back to you– And people wonder why ex-soldier suicide rates are so high.

I lost my taste for war that day we were air-dropped in to bail-out those marines. We were just outside the village’s East wall. It was like one of those old, stone things you see on the rich oil-Baron’s compounds in the movies or TV, except it was a small town. We breached with a series of C4 charges over the barks of gunfire inside. A few Marines shouted distant orders over a guy that screamed from a gut-shot. I don’t even know if he made it, but it makes you wonder.

We were inside before the smoke of the breach cleared, fanned out to provide as wide a line of flanking fire as possible. My unit probably bagged half that town in the first minute and forty seconds of engagement. But me? All I can do’s shake my head.

I got one.

One kill. It was more than enough– more painful, more monstrous than all the combined death that day.

That little warrior? She was that kind of childish beautiful that makes you have hope for the human race. That maybe, one day, something this wonderful will help all this shit end. I guess it won’t be her though. It couldn’t be. I made sure of that, had to.

I was huddled in cover when I heard the AK rack up behind me. I did an instant one-eighty and there she was. All of that hope I had was gone when that AK zeroed on me. She didn’t know, couldn’t have. She was only seven or eight years old and my dragon-scales were brand new– not even named yet. I think something was already dead in her eyes when they met mine, like she knew she couldn’t be saved no matter what anyone did for her. It was almost like she wanted me to save what was left of her innocence, her soul. Maybe that’s just bullshit I feed myself to cope.

She let loose a burst that slammed my scales. I was on my back in the hot dirt. I couldn’t breathe, but I was alive. A few bruises later, but not a scratch otherwise. I inched up with a groan, and she reset her aim. I didn’t give her the chance. I couldn’t. No one else would have either.

One round. That was it. That was all it took. No-one heard her die. No-one saw it. But her death-grip on her AK, and the chewed fabric on my armor made sure there was no doubt of her intent later. It was her or me, and she chose for us.

I try to tell myself that things’ll get better, that one day I’ll get over it. But I can’t, and I know I won’t. War is fucked up. It destroys people– destroyed me– in ways you can’t imagine ’til you’ve been there. But I wouldn’t wish that on the worst people in the world. Even they don’t deserve that. No matter how evil, you’ve always got something redeeming. Fuck, even Hitler was an artist. Sometimes, I wonder how many of those guys we took out would’ve invented the next wheel, or discovered the next fire, if they weren’t so fucked in the head and out of options.

But it’s all moot now. What I’ve seen– what I’ve done, is monstrous. They call me a hero. Bullshit. I’m a ten-cent rifle-jockey with a penchant for survival and improvisation. That girl? She was a real hero. She didn’t understand, couldn’t. Fuck, she wasn’t more than eight years old, but she gave her life and innocence to show the world how fucked up it can be. She was a little warrior, no matter whose side she was fighting for, and she deserves a fuck of a lot more honor and respect than any of the rest of us.

Advertisements

Rehab: Part 1

1.

“Are the papers in order?” Carol Switzer asked through her Bluetooth headset. She shuffled papers on her desk into a manila folder, slipped them into her Italian-leather briefcase. “Good. I have an appointment. After that is lunch with the prosecutor. I’ll see you there.”

There was a short pause as she stuck a blazer-clad arm through the briefcase’s strap, pulled her overcoat off the office chair. She laid the jacket on her arm, whirled ’round for the door across the cramped office.

“No we’re just going over some depositions. The other work can’t begin until we get those files.” She slipped from the office into the large, open lobby. Her shadow sliced through the rays of sunlight that splayed over the marble entryway and reception desk.

She threw a casual hand at the receptionist there as she passed, continued her conversation, “Yes. Third street… Uh-huh. See you then.”

She tapped a finger against her ear, pulled open the door. Her heels clacked her path from the building, down short steps to the sidewalk. She tossed an arm up at an approaching yellow cab, slipped into its backseat, set her briefcase beside her.

“100 West, please,” Carol instructed. The cabby nodded, silent, and idled forward into traffic.

Single, thirty-three, and sharp-minded, Carol was a junior partner in what was once the second-most renowned law-firm in Oakton. She spoke quickly, was always organized, and would keep her weekly, noon appointment with characteristic punctuality as she had for nearly a decade.

Long ago Carol needed Kathy more than she was willing to admit, and while her trauma had passed, the two had grown close. The relationship was a mixed blessing; a crutch in the worst of times that Carol felt compromised her independence. While Kathy agreed, neither of them were willing to part with the other.

She rode down Oakton’s packed main-streets at a crawl. The cluttered roads sandwiched between high-rises and skyscrapers of downtown were sprinkled with low-roofed, single story buildings here and there. Her mind flitted over her past as the cab gathered speed and the buildings turned to a blur of neutral hues.

Despite a heavy lock on its mental imagery, her past had been especially relevant lately. Unfortunately, their case as Prosecutors on behalf of the State was much worse than Carol’s own victim testimony had been. The several young women kidnapped and raped, had been murdered. Unlike Carol, the victims had never escaped their captor, faced him in court to point the finger at him. She would have never considered her experience lucky until now.

Her stomach churned at the thought. Spurred emotions aside, her past had caused unwanted inquiry from her boss when he asked whether or not she would like to recuse herself from the case. Like the others in the office, he knew her history. In a way, his concern was comforting, but it was too important to her to continue the case. She had faced her own accuser, helped to put him behind bars without chance of parole. The dead girls couldn’t do that, but Carol could. In a way, she was the only one left to do it for them.

Moreover, she refused to show such a weakness so early in her career. These cases were the reason she became a lawyer. She wasn’t going to allow any of these sick bastards to roam free: a determination that had driven her through through law school, then from intern to junior partner. She wasn’t about to let her goal hold her back, no matter how gruesome the facts were.

The cab turned from the main streets into the suburbs. Old town houses jam-packed like cookie-cutter formed dough on a pan lined the streets with barely enough space between them to park a vehicle. Carol’s eyes scanned the area, came to a rest on a distant point as her mind raced onward.

Though cases like these were usually left to the state, a recent change in Ohio’s law made it possible for private firms like Carol’s to act as proxies. Provided a firm applied for review and certification, and passed, the State would relegate case in exchange for tax breaks. Despite mild outrage over the controversial process, it allowed struggling firms to pull themselves up little by little. It was a two-fold gain; the State was able to process cases faster where there was too much crime, and the firms were able to stay in business where too many lawyers had flooded the market place.

Despite their past reputation, Carol’s firm was one of those struggling minorities. There was simply too much competition to go around, a fact that never ceased to be humorous to some. There were too many legal vampires for them to feed equally. Even Carol saw the humor in it at times, but was otherwise too hungry. While her appetite for justice kept her sated when the office was forced to work patent law, review corporate contracts, or something equally innocuous, eventually it longed for her to return to her purpose. The Investigative Act, as it had come to be known, allowed her to continue fulfilling that purpose; legal attack dog for the weak and victimized.

The cab slowed to a crawl as Carol directed the driver toward Kathy’s two-story home and office, sandwiched between the other homes with their identical, two-story vertical climbs. Each one had exactly enough front and side yard to drag a trash can through, the “back-yard” was little more than a plot of cement and gravel.

She flashed a coded credit-card at the cabby’s electronic eye-reader on his dashboard, then stepped out into the afternoon. The cab rolled away with a bellow of the engine, headed for the faded brick and cracked paint of the front porch. The few, budding flowers that flanked the doorway still showed the darkened wetness from the chilly dew the night before.

Her hand rose for the bell, stabbed a finger at it. A moment later the door opened on Kathy’s late-fifties gray hair and bright eyes.

“Hey. Come on in,” she beckoned with a sweep of a hand.

Carol stepped up, in, moved from the small foyer and into the office. It spanned one-half of house’s length, a warm, corduroy couch against the back wall in the outcrop of a large, floor to ceiling bay-window. Carol took her seat on the far-right, popped off her heels to massage an achy foot. Kathy maneuvered her rolling chair over, took a quiet seat in front of Carol.

The formality of these sessions had relaxed over the extreme length of time Carol had attended them. By all rights, Kathy should have retired at least five years ago, but she had never felt comfortable with the idea.

Kathy sipped from a coffee mug, “Tired?”

“Very. Last brief told us there was little evidence aside from the last girl’s testimony. For a fair jury that would be enough. Or it used to be anyhow. Now when a teenage girl points fingers at someone with that much money, there’s no guarantees.”

Kathy expertly skirted the NDA, “Company man, huh?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Carol replied as she tensed a pair of fingers at the corners of her eyes. “There’s no doubt they’re paying off the local media ’til its over to keep things quiet.”

Kathy frowned, “That sounds rather corrupt.”

Carol’s hand fell to her side. She heaved a sigh, “The whole system’s this way. Short of stopping the trial to investigate the defense firm, there’s nothing we can do. The other side’ll always play dirty when they know their defendant’s guilty. And it’s not like there’s much we can do anyway. We’re swamped as it is. I’ve learned to pick my battles.”

“Is that how you feel? That this is a battle?”

Carol sat upright, waggled an accusatory finger, “Uh-uh, don’t you do that to me. I know when you’ve got your game face on.”

Kathy chuckled, “Occupational hazard. I’m curious though, do you really think he’s guilty, or is it your own experience condemning him?”

Carol swallowed hard, steeled her nerves against the bile in her gut. “I’ll admit it doesn’t help, but my experience tells me he is guilty, especially considering the girl’s testimony.”

“What is it that makes you so sure?”

“Aside from the teenage girl that’s testified he raped her? Well there’s the seven other families who’ve presented internet chat-logs, photographic evidence, and witness testimony that their daughters all had contact with the guy before they were found murdered.” Kathy nodded to herself. “It’s the type, Kathy. I know them. The guy’s got money and power, thinks it makes him immune– can do anything he wants. Usually, no matter what the anything is, his money’ll let him get away with it. I’ve seen a lot like him. They’re all the same, their vices just change.”

There was a certain, stoicism to Kathy’s voice, “I guess I can’t really argue with that logic.”

Carol’s shoulder slumped, “Money is power, especially in this game.” Her eyes fixed on a distant point with contemplation, “These wealthy, powerful killers? They never change.”

2.

It was roughly 1:15 when Carol sat in a wrap-around booth at the Fine Divine steakhouse across from uptown Oakton’s courthouse. Her boss settled beside her, the State Prosecutor on across from him on the booth’s far-side. The latter looked like a caricature of Pee-Wee Herman with a darker face, and sunken, purple eyes beneath his thick-rimmed glasses. He even wore the brown tweed and bow-tie all too familiar to the aforementioned star to complete the look.

The lunch was supposedly a formality, but Edward Mordin, her boss and the lead partner in the firm had shown up in his street clothes with a less than sunny disposition. Since the statehouse had begun reviews into its proxies, the firms contracted were subject to frequent intrusions such as this. Most of the time, it was a luncheon conference or a day-long conference with a State Prosecutor. Neither was the most pleasant experience, but Ed appeared even more aggravated than usual.

Lunch went smoothly, joined mid-way through by Carol’s intern, Sheryl Hunter. Twenty-eight and still in law school, she met them with the latest transcripts between the defendant and his attorney. Fortunately for them, in recent years the largely useless ring of government surveillance across the country had allowed for transcribed recordings from any and all criminal suspects in state and county prisons. The hope was that anyone guilty might slip up in front of their lawyers, bring a hasty resolution to the trial.

In truth, it had made things much more difficult for those that invoked it. The existing stigma against lawyers as society’s pariahs only worsened when Congress passed the necessary Constitutional amendments. Now, they were not only pariahs but also the number one source of intrusions on citizen privacy; ground-zero for the downfall of liberty. In practice, it was much more complicated, and only possible because of the existing surveillance infrastructure. Moreover, only public or government-offices and buildings were applicable. In fact, the surveillance network had long been entrenched and utilized by the FBI, NSA, DHS and countless other government acronyms. The difference was these entities were secretive, clandestine, and harder to track. Law firms were required to file extensive paperwork, register every action they took with the State and Federal governments. It made them easier to spot, painted targets on their backs as the Grim Reapers of privacy.

The defense had done well in keeping this case quiet though. For the most part Carol was thankful for that. A lynch mob forming in the public would make it harder for all involved, from the defense to the jury, Carol included.

Sherry slid into place between Carol and the Pee-Wee wannabe, shuffled through her briefcase, handed out manila file-folders. In his usual manner Ed had filled more than a third of the table with his files, the manila folders obsessively laid-out before him. The five foot long table was considerably smaller now that Ed’s obsessive-compulsiveness had reared its ugly head. Even Art Warren, the look-alike, scrunched back uncomfortably, as if fearful of disturbing the precisely arranged folders.

For a long while they discussed the trial, ethics and etiquette, while Ed downed glass after glass of fruity, feminine drinks with an out-thrust pinky-finger. The other three stuck to soda and water, ate small meals before Art finally announced his departure. He excused himself with friendly goodbye, and left to a grunt from Ed. Carol and Sherry relaxed, called over a waiter to order more drinks.

Ed seemed especially disgruntled, unusual for him after so many drinks, but all the more apparent when he suddenly switched to scotch.

It arrived in time for Carol to mask her sincere concerns with amusement, “What bug’s up your ass, Ed?”

A corner of Ed’s mouth lifted with a grunt, “Bastard.” He threw back a gulp of scotch. Carol exchanged a confused look with Sherry. Ed smacked his chops, belched, “DA’s called for a quick end to the trial. Says the jury’s gonna end up deadlocked if we don’t move fast. Too many of ’em think there’s not enough evidence. Sonsabitches think eight witness testimonies putting the creep with the girls aren’t enough anymore.” He took another slug of whiskey, “It’s those damn cop shows! Everyone want’s DNA now. Seven dead girls isn’t good enough? Bullshit!”

The level of scorn in Ed’s voice was unusual. His glassy eyes met Carols, her face blank, lost for words. Sherry spoke her sentiments aloud, “Wait, what’re you saying, Ed?”

His hand tightened around his rock-glass, “They want rehab now. DA’s callin’ for it, defense is callin’ for it– ‘N then that little pee-wee Herman fuck wants to lectures me on ethics? I been in business thirty years and this’ first time I’ve seen a jury so hung it could choke a horse. Seems like everyone’s on that bastard’s payroll.”

Rehab? That’s it?” Sherry asked, confounded. “For multiple counts of abduction, rape, and murder?”

Carol’s heart sank. Failure coursed through her as she stared into her drink. Ed’s voice intoned over her distant stare, “DA’s really fucked the poodle this time. We’re gonna get it for this one.”

For all of his candor, Ed had always held a passion for justice. Like Carol though, he’d begun to see the system was just as corrupt as the people he’d used it to put away. His real reason for drinking so heavily was obvious now; he needed the courage to tell Carol about rehab. He couldn’t face her otherwise; look in her eyes, tell her they’d failed, and the bastard was going to walk. Eight teenage girls, eight lives wasted, and eight families who’d get no justice. He couldn’t bare to a tell a former victim that– someone who could’ve been one of them– that he’d failed her.

When the sentencing came down, Carol sat in the court room, stone-faced. She stared at the man as he stood to be read his verdict. His black Armani was pressed just above his wrist and ankle shackles, the mockery of a line of justice visible between those barriers of fine black and tarnished steel. A smug satisfaction huddled over his brow as she burned his features into her mind. When the judge spoke, she heard nothing; only saw the slow creep of perfect, white-teeth that appeared over a dampened echo, as if her ears were submerged in water. The killer turned in slow-motion, his dark eyes met hers for a half-second above that sickly grin and those perfect, white-teeth.

He followed through in his turn to exit the courtroom. Carol watched, muttered to herself, “I’ll get you yet, you son of a bitch.”

Short Story: Twelve Hours

Twelve Hours

Twelve fucking hours.

Those were the words in Connie Sutter’s mind. That was the time-frame the Indian in the maintenance call-center had relayed after she pressed the “Emergency” button on the elevator’s touch-screen panel. Stuck between floors, or at one, it didn’t matter, stuck was stuck. To make things worse that homophobe, Sheila, was beside her.

In many, physical respects the two were similar, though mentality dictated otherwise. They were both young, long, lean, and ample-chested with rigid postures and punctual professional lives. They also both lived in two of the eighty-floor apartments in the new, “Jackson” building of Chicago; the first, high-tech dwelling for the “new-aged middle-class”– or at least, that’s what all the papers touted.

Connie was a high-volume data-entrant across town, and a lucky one at that. She’d dated the building’s architect in high-school until discovering her sexuality. When she came-out, he was understandably upset, but the two remained long-distance friends through the end of high-school and college. When Connie learned she would be forced to move to Chicago for Graduate school, Emery was the first person she called. He pulled some strings, got her an extremely reduced rate on her apartment, and wished her luck.

Conversely, Sheila was an architect, or at least one in training. She hadn’t helped to build this particular building, but it was common knowledge among Emery’s friends that she was shrewd, outspoken, and aggressive; or as Connie put it, “She’s a heinous bitch.”

To be stuck beside Sheila without prior-knowledge of her might have put Connie at-ease, but unfortunately, that same set of Emery’s strings had imparted her own nature to Sheila. As Connie remembered it, they’d met outside their apartments in the brushed-steel hallway. Unbeknownst to either of them, the juxtapositions of a dozen LED-screens and lights had lit each of their faces to accent features the other found most distasteful. Even now it permeated their memories, tinted their features as they stood apart from one another.

Connie had been inputting the code-lock on her door’s panel when Sheila had arrived. A momentary glimpse at the woman’s high-fashion heels and “come-fuck-me” business skirt made her scowl internally. Likewise, Sheila was disgusted by Connie’s hastily applied eye-liner, lip-gloss, and unprofessionally causal denim. They’d caught one another’s eye at the apex of their own bemusement, forced by social norms to entertain pleasantries, introduce themselves.

“You’re the new tenant?” Sheila had asked as she attempted to swallow her own tongue.

Connie put on her best smile– given the circumstances, more of a grimace– and extended her hand. Sheila had eyed it with superiority, they’d already heard of one another. It was, after-all, a semi-historic floor in a semi-historic building. In other words, a coveted residence. The other inhabitants had fought tooth-and-nail to procure their top-floor dwellings, Sheila among them.

“Connie Sutter,” she’d replied as her hand fidgeted in mid-air.

The hand withdrew as Sheila crossed her arms, put on her best, faux-cordiality, “I’ve heard of you. Friend of Emery’s– the lesbian, right?”

Connie’s blanked features sank further to disillusionment, “Yeah. That’s me. I guess.”

Sheila’s disgust was clear in her huffed scowl, “Just keep your weird sex quiet, and we’ll pretend neither of us exists.”

Her fingers flew over her touch-panel door-lock as she disappeared into her apartment, left Connie to fume in a slump. That night, Connie made sure to masturbate as loud as possible, her back arched against the door to vibrate through it and echo through the empty hallway. Luckily, no-one lived beside her, but there was no doubt Sheila had heard. That fact was clarified over the few weeks that followed as Sheila’s disgust avoided her in the hallways and elevator. Connie no longer paid it any thought, she’d defended herself, won. It was over.

Until now.

They were stuck together now. They fidgeted awkwardly, angrily. The touch-panel Indian had been loud enough for both the whole elevator to hear, and they were the only two in it.

Twelve fucking hours.

The maintenance crews had all gone for the night, the building left in the hands of the automated floor-scrubbers and sweepers– glorified, over-sized Roombas meant to replace the “human
element.” Unless there was a life-threatening incident, the maintenance crews wouldn’t be called in until morning. It had been one of the few things Emery had warned her about; the building’s owners, the Jackson foundation, were miserly in their way. They wished to help humanity by integrating technology into every facet of life. Apparently, humans didn’t help humanity; janitors least of all. It was stunted viewpoint spawned of corporate-greed, but it didn’t change Connie’s situation. She was stuck, heinous bitch homophobe with her.

But they weren’t just stuck, they were also incommunicado. It was uncommon knowledge that the EM fields that propelled new-age elevators interfered with cell-phone signals. The only way to make calls was through the touchscreen panel, hardwired directly to the call-center’s network, but the “techs” there weren’t in the business of carrying on conversations to stave off boredom.

Connie and Sheila fidgeted back and forth in the elevator, shuddered respectively when their motions randomly synced-up. To say there was palpable tension was would be an understatement, Connie downright felt it smother her– as though she stuffed a whole burger into her mouth at once, clogged her face-hole with greasy meat.

She swallowed hard, slowly eased out of her pull-over sweatshirt. Sheila rolled her eyes, leaned against a wall to stare at her chrome-reflection.

Connie sighed, “Twelve hours…”

“This’d go a lot faster if you didn’t talk.”

Connie rolled her eyes, sat on the freshly waxed floor, propped herself against the back-wall with her sweater as a pillow. Her eyes fixed ahead at her own reflection, occasionally caught the twitches of Sheila’s legs before they darted back from the “strip-me” stockings beneath her knee-length skirt. Sheila subtly watched her in the chrome, suppressed shudders with each look until she could barely contain herself. Her fingers clawed at her arms. Her eyes bored out Connie’s brains from a corner of her caricatured reflection. She caught a dart, swallowed hard, and chewed the inside of her lip. A dart at her, then back. Sheila trembled against fury. Her chest fluttered with held breath. Another dart.

“Jesus Christ! Keep it in check!” Connie’s face drew a scrutiny of Sheila’s sanity. “Don’t look at me like that you dyke!”

Her words echoed into silence. Connie swallowed terror from the froth of Sheila’s rageful face.

She stammered with shame that turned to exasperation, “I-I… what?”

“I said don’t fucking look at me! I’m not a piece of meat. And I’m not like you. If I’d wanted to be an object I’d’ve chosen it like the rest of you!”

Connie’s disbelief doubled, “What the hell’re you talking about?”

“I see that look!” She snapped.

Connie failed to suppress a laugh, “You think I wanna’ fuck you?”

“All you fags are alike. Sex crazed. That’s why you choose to flock together. You know you stand a better chance of fucking.”

A throaty snort slipped out, “You’re nuts.”

Sheila’s eyes were lethal. She huffed, turned away. Her body trembled in rage for a full-hour– one that Connie made sure to fill with long, nude gazes. The truth was, she wouldn’t have been attracted to Sheila even if they were alike. Sheila was too much like herself, bland, self-conscious, trying too hard to be taken seriously. Connie liked athletic girls– gymnasts, runners, and the like. They made for more acrobatic sex, could do mind blowing things with their petite flexibility that she could never manage. More to the point, Sheila was an idiot, and Connie like smart girls.

Connie somewhat remarked to this latter point, “No-one chooses to be gay, you dolt.” Sheila whipped toward her, opened her mouth, but Connie spoke before she could, “Don’t you understand science? Christ, the whole reason I’m stuck with you right now’s ’cause science’s screwed us.”

“Then explain it,” Sheila said, matter-of-factly. “If you’re so god-damned smart.”

“Aren’t you an architect? Didn’t you have to go through school?” Connie shook her head, “It’s simple biology; pheromones, hormones, genetics”

“Then we should wipe it out,” Sheila countered.

“Yeah, sure thing Mein Fuehrer, we’ll get right on that.”

“You’d dare–”

“The only reason you exist’s ’cause your parents’ pheromones attracted them together. Then their bodies secreted hormones that– unfortunately– led them to fuck and create you.”

Sheila’s eye twitched, “Oh and I suppose that’s different from you.”

“It is, actually,” Connie dead-panned. “My family’s all girls–”

“So you’re one of those freaks too, huh​?

“What?” Connie asked, dumbfounded. “No you idiot, pheromones influence physiology.”

“What’s that even mean?” She asked snidely.

“It means my four sisters– who are all straight– had too many raging hormones when my mom was pregnant. It forced certain changes to me in my mom’s wound from too much estrogen. Evolution happened.

“So you think you’re better than me, huh?”

“Really? Is that what you took from that?” Sheila was silent, her eyes lethally narrow. Connie rolled her eyes, laid her head back against the wall, “Idiot.”

Sheila huffed, turned away again.

Eleven more hours of this bullshit…

She stared up at her top-down reflection in the chrome ceiling, drifted into memories of her first girlfriend, Emily. She saw a mocha-skinned ear flush red as she nipped at the lobe, and felt her giggle and shudder beneath her. She and Emily had been gentle, loving people who’d hidden their relationship from their high-school peers to save themselves the same grief Sheila enjoyed imparting. Connie’d never dealt with her own, familial grief caused by her coming out. Instead, she took off for college to gain her BS in Mathematics, moved to Chicago for her graduate program.

Though she was “out” it was never her intention to be. Emery’d let it slip just before she started dating Emily, was the cause of their meeting, and word of mouth made it spread like wildfire in a drought. His accidental mistake became unending altruism toward her. Regardless, whatever Emily was doing couldn’t have been half as bad as this; she knew how to keep her mouth shut, had a monk’s patience. Connie didn’t.

She drifted in and out of a sleepy-daze for a full two-hours as Sheila fumed in the corner, her mind swept up in Connie’s disrespect and her own prejudices.

Why wouldn’t she want to fuck me anyhow? What, am I not good enough for the dyke-club? Do I not arouse her? I’d rock her fucking world. That’s what I do. How I get where I need to go. I’m good at it– even Emery knows it.

Connie shook awake as she dazed too near to sleep. Her eyes snapped open in time to catch Sheila steal a glance at her reflection. She ignored it, checked her digital wristwatch.

Nine more? Really, it’s only been three hours?

She lowered her watch, caught another stolen glance, saw Sheila’s legs tremble– either from exhaustion or fury, though Connie suspected the former.

“You can sit down, you know,” she said innocuously.

“I’m fine!”

“Yeah, okay, whatever,” Connie said. “If it helps I’ll stand– or would that be too submissive for you?”

“Go to hell.”

Connie eyes rolled audibly, “Just shut up and sit down. Last thing I need’s for you to faint and hit your head.”

“I won’t.”

“Yeah, okay, whatever. But you know if you do, I might have to give you CPR.”

Sheila swallowed hard, shuddered. She blew a burst of air from her nose, turned and sank against the chrome corner she’d been staring at, her legs cross-wise. She studied herself in the wall across from her, avoided Connie’s eyes as she ensured nothing beneath her skirt showed.

Connie snarked, “Feel better?” Sheila glared. “That’s what I thought.”

Sheila’s head rested against the wall, her eyes shut at the LEDs in the ceiling. She tried to calm herself, drift off. Connie slumped, contented by the silence, and dozed again. She woke abruptly to a tone on the elevator’s touch-panel. Sheila snapped from sleep, groggy. She sighed, rose to approach the panel, pressed “enter.”

The Indian came through, tinny from the panel’s small speaker, “I am calling to inform you. We have run our diagnostic program and discovered a fault in your elevator’s EM-rail system.”

“Okay. And what’s that mean to me?” Connie asked.

“Normally, in case’s such as this we might call the building manager back to work should there be an emergency. I am calling to see that no-one is injured inside, correct?”

“Yeah, but if you can report it why–”

“That is excellent. The next shift starts in six hours. The building manager will–”

“Wait, why can’t you just–”

“Arrive at six AM, local time. Sorry for the inconvenience.”

“This is ridiculous! Put me through to the manager and I’ll–”

The screen dimmed, the remote call ended. Connie heaved a sigh, rolled her eyes.

“Unbelievable,” Sheila spat.

“I’m taking the stairs from now on,” Connie muttered facetiously.

Sheila scoffed, “You live on the top-floor of an 80-story. You’re not walking all that way.”

I wish I had.

Connie returned to her spot against the wall, “Yeah, whatever.”

Sheila closed her eyes again. How melodramatic. Jesus, no wonder all of them take drama.

Another hour, more thoughts, and more restless sleep. Neither of them seemed to regard the other’s presence as much now. They drifted in and out of their mutual, inconsiderate thoughts, their only similarities the underlying wish to no longer be trapped. Water and food would’ve been nice, but Connie’d gone longer, and Sheila seemed fine.

Connie’s thoughts eventually drifted back to their first interaction in the hallway. She knew she had been ambushed even then, but why? Why even make the introduction? Neither of them seem to care much for social conventions, Connie’s loud orgasm had been evidence to that– as had Sheila’s obvious snap in the elevator. Why force themselves to pleasantries at all? Was it merely their mutual desire to dominate the other’s psyche, assert themselves?

Connie found herself amused at the thought of a towering intellect that forced Sheila to her knees with a cowering, introspective terror. She chuckled aloud without realizing it.

“What!” Sheila snapped.

“Huh? Oh nothing, just thinking about something.”

“Oh, yeah, like what, vagina?” She derided.

Connie’s mental filters were too fatigued to work properly, “Oh yeah, a big ‘ol hairy muff right in my face. That’s what I’m laughing at.”

“What the hell’s so funny about a vagina?” Sheila spat.

Connie shook her head, “I’m not laughing at that, you idiot. Although, now that you mention it, it would be pretty funny if you put some googly eyes over it– you know the kind you buy in a pack of hundreds?” Sheila’s face blanked. She visibly struggled with a dilemma. Connie continued with rising laughter, “Maybe if you glued ’em on above the muff, and– well one time I saw this vid of a naked-chick skydiving, the air was pushing her lips all around. Add the eyes with some screaming sound-effects as everything’s going wild, maybe make it look like its diving toward some enemy for battle–”

Connie couldn’t contain her laughter. Sheila’s eyes were wide, she dared not picture a vagina in the presence of one of them lest some sort of sapphic voodoo consume her.

“What is wrong with you?” Sheila asked at Connie’s apexing laughter.

“Oh c’mon, haven’t you ever looked at your own pussy in the mirror, or are you just a brood-mare for the state? Hell everyone thinks their junk’s weird looking. Even most’a the guys I know.”

“I like male genitalia,” Sheila chided.

“Yeah, I bet you do. But even they think it looks like some kind of wrinkly hot dog– or an elephant’s trunk. Haven’t you ever seen one do a helicopter impression?”

Connie’s tongue thwop’d against her lips. Her finger bounced side to side in the air with her head as she bellowed the noise with glee. Sheila’s face wrote a thesis on the difficulty of containing her momentary amusement. Thankfully, Connie was too consumed to notice.

“How would you even know what that looks like?” Sheila asked, genuinely confused.

Connie stifled her laughter, “Oh like I’ve never seen a rod before. You must not know much about lesbians.”

“I know all I want to, thank you.”

“Then you know we actually use a lot of penis-shaped toys.”

“I don’t want to know that.”

“Oh like you don’t have a vibrator.” She quickly corrected herself, “Well you probably don’t. No woman could be so uptight and still pleasure herself.”

Sheila huffed disgust, “That’s none of your business.”

Connie rolled her eyes, snorted, “Yeah, whatever.”

“You never told me how you knew.”

Connie gave a snort, re-focused, “Right. I knew a guy in college. He was very effeminate, too gay to function, but he also thought women’s bodies were much more geared toward sex with men.”
“I agree. It’s why your kind are wrong.”

Connie scowled, “C’mon, don’t ruin it. We’ve been through this.”

Sheila sighed, threw a hand up, “Fine. Tell your story.”

Connie returned to her recollection, “Anyway, we were drunk ‘n he had this idea that we should… well, compare. Since neither of us would be interested in the other, we figured what the hell, right?”

“See? Sex crazed,” Sheila interrupted with superiority.

Connie tilted her head in disbelief, “Oh please, like you didn’t do stupid shit in college.” Sheila visibly bit the inside of her lip, refused to admit agreement. “That’s what I thought. Anyway if you’ll let me finish; basically I agreed with him, said it looked like some kind of weird, alien-face all drawn up and cold, or maybe an elephant with the balls as ears.”

Sheila stifled a laugh with a burst of air, but Connie rose to her feet. “He was so drunk he goes–” she thrust her hips, gyrated them, trumpeted like an elephant. “BRROOWWW! I am the motherfucking king of Africa! I lost it. Fell over laughing.” Sheila visibly struggled as Connie shifted her thrusts, thwop’d with her tongue, “Now I’m a fucking Cobra-attack chopper.” She darted forward, gyrating, banked around in the tight elevator. “Roger, echo Charlie-One, we see the target.” Connie’s hips gyrated faster, her mouth spit machine-gun noises. “There I am, on the floor crying my eyes out, totally naked, and he’s–” She riffed a classic rock song in time her movements, headbanging with it.

Sheila’s mouth quivered in odd shapes. Her cheeks bloated, red. Her eyes watered against sharp breaths that suppressed laughter. Her composure cracked. She burst into a raucous fit as Connie’s head and hips banged in time to a long-past chart-topper.

She stopped to catch her breath, leaned back against a wall in a pant. Sheila was in tears.

Connie laughed between deep breaths, “When we’d settled down, he said something about gay guys loving Jethro Tull ’cause they could always imitate playing the flute.”

Sheila’s laughter pitched higher. Her chest bucked for air, “What the hell’s that even mean?”

Connie shook her head, “I still have no idea.”

Sheila sniffled, the imagery vivid in her mind. She swallowed hard to regain her composure. She huffed, upturned her nose, “They are funny looking.”

Connie snorted, “To say the least.” She considered something a moment, heaved a breath, “So, now that you’re not entirely angry– why do you hate me so much?”

Sheila looked to her, dead-panning, “’cause you’re a lesbian and it’s a filthy thing.”

Connie was taken aback by the sudden, autonomous reversal, “So… you can laugh at my jokes and still hate me? What, did your husband cheat on you with a man or something?”
“I’ve never been married,” She said matter-of-factly. “And no, that’s never happened. And it wouldn’t either, because I’m an excellent lover.”

Connie choked on a snort, “So? We’ve established this; if someone’s gay, they’re gay. You can’t change that. So what is it really? Were you raised to believe it was wrong or something?”

“Of course I was. My parents were good people. They took care of us. They’d’ve never let one of you corrupt us.”

Connie slapped her forehead with a palm, massaged her face and eyes as it slid downward, “Christ, you can’t really be this dense.”

“Do not insult my intelligence,” Sheila spat. “I’ll have you know I graduated top of my class.”

Connie looked away in thought, then sank back against the wall, “Look, just shut up about it. You really don’t know what you’re talking about. We don’t choose anything. None of us. We don’t choose our names, or eye or hair color, or who our parents are– and trust me, even with as much as I love women, we don’t choose to be gay. Life’s beyond our control. All of it, but especially these things. If you really believe the bullshit us-verse-them stuff, I can’t change your mind. And I’m not even going to try.”

“Good,” Sheila said, despite a hint of dissatisfaction.

Three more hours crawled by, Connie dejected by the momentary glimpse of possible camaraderie. In truth, she was mostly friendless in Chicago. Emery was always gone on business, or else never had time to hang when he in town. Beyond that, grad-school courses involved too much socialize without an excuse. She’d even considered online dating, but ended up surfing forums, shirking projects, or lurking in place of interacting. She certainly didn’t want to be friends with people like Sheila, but the lack of human interaction plagued her.

Sheila finally broke the silence, compelled by whatever path her thoughts had taken, “I don’t really hate anyone.” Connie’s head rose, angled toward her. “I don’t have time for it. Hate requires a lotta’ extra thought.”
Connie’s brow furrowed, “Could’ve fooled me.”

She rolled her eyes with a huff, “Like you’d know anything about me.”
“Or you me, or any of… us. How many gay people do you even know?

“I don’t need to know anymore. I know the one gay woman that had a screaming orgasm after I asked her to keep it to herself.”

Connie snorted a laugh, “I wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t been so hostile.”

“Well it was rude.”

“And well-deserved.”

“Still rude.”

Connie shook her head, “Look, I’ll admit it didn’t help things, but… well, you’re a bitch. So am I. I also tend to antagonize people.”

“I’m only a bitch when people make me one.”

“So the very act of my existence, despite never speaking to you, made you into a bitch?”

Sheila’s eyes narrowed, “I saw that look. That “she thinks she’s better than me” look.”

“Didn’t you?”

“I am.”

“How?”

“Because I am.”

Connie shook her head, “No. Ugh-uh. That’s not how that works. Saying a thing doesn’t make it a thing. Maybe, in the interests of keeping the peace, maybe I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did, but that doesn’t change what you did before.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes. Don’t you get that?” Connie said, flustered. “All I did was exist, and you hated me for it. That’s what that bullshit us-versus-them thing is. It’s people turned into assholes at the very thought of others unlike them– like the Hitler thing.”

“Fuck you for that by the way,” Sheila spit. “I’m not a monster.”

“I’ll paraphrase what you said; “let’s exterminate a group people based on their genetics, cause they’re not like me.” Who’s that sound like?” Sheila’s mouth made funny shapes to retort, but her brain came up empty. She looked away, conceded defeat, but Connie pressed her. “Look, I get it. Whatever your reasons, you dislike certain people, but don’t try to act superior to them. There’s a difference between disliking someone because you do, and because you believe you’re supposed to.”

Sheila remained silent, clearly thinking on was being said. Unbeknownst to Connie, Sheila had always considered herself a good person– aggressive perhaps, but never such a monster as Connie suggested. In fact, the comparison stung deeper than she let on; her great grandfather had been one of the Germans that had helped the Jews escape the holocaust. It had always been a point of pride; he’d proven his obvious tolerance so she wouldn’t to.

But gays, really? Is that really an apt comparison? I don’t thrown them in camps, but…

Her train of thought ended there, and she realized, had carried on much longer than she could recall. She caught Connie checking her watch, sucked up her pride.

“Do you have the time?”

Connie eyed her, bit her bottom-lip, “Two more hours.”

Sheila sighed, “Thank you.”

Connie’s head laid backward. She shouted at the air, “Fuck, I just wanna’ get outta’ here!”

“Am I really bothering you that much?”

Connie was flabbergasted, “Not everything has to do with you.”

“Maybe not, but you seem rather impatient at my presence.”

“Trust me, I’m just naturally impatient. Always have been,” Connie replied spitefully.

Another hour of silence passed. One more to go. Sheila had been mulling over something she was afraid to admit. Mostly, it was a buried, natural inclination toward know-it-allism that fueled curiosity. She wouldn’t have admitted nosiness, but most certainly curiosity. It was a good thing in all respects, helped her learn, regardless of how others felt about her. Without such knowledge however, the question that escaped her lips seemed ill-timed, ill-advised, and shattered a fragile calm in Connie that had become shaky from hunger, boredom, and cabin-fever.

“How did you know you were a lesbian?”

“What?” Connie asked, stunned by the question.

“I said, how’d you know you liked women?”

Connie’s mind was plagued by her state. She looked Sheila dead in the eyes, as an alien studying a new species might. The answer was literally contained within her second sentence, but she was too ignorant to realize it.

Connie’s stomach rumbled, forced a tremor to her hands shook, “Think about the two sentences you just said, then report back.”

Sheila’s eyes darted over the floor, “So… you knew you were a lesbian because you like women?”

“Sounds difficult, doesn’t it?” Connie rebuked sarcastically.

“Maybe.”

“How’d you know you liked men?

Sheila thought, replied simply, “When I hit puberty I found them attractive.”

“So why would it be so different for me?” Connie pressed.

Sheila looked around, shrugged, “Because you’re not supposed to.”

“Says who?”

She shrugged again, “I dunno, it’s just not part of the world.”

Connie’s arms were locked in a cross, “Are you serious? Do you realize what you just said? Let me rephrase it so you can hear. How’d you know you were gay? Oh, puberty? Aren’t you not supposed to be gay? Says who? I don’t know, being gay’s just not a thing.”

“Yeah, and?”

“And?” She said, irate. “Do you not realize how retarded that was? You’re gay? Oh there’s nothing gay in the world.”

“That’s not what I–”

“You’re a fucking moron.”

“Hey that’s–”
Connie wasn’t listening. She’d been forced along an angry tangent that spiraled onward with a flailing hands and arms, “Fucking hell. I swear! It’s people like you that make life awful. People like me, who’ve been persecuted their whole lives, attacked in the most malicious ways, all because you’re too ignorant to stop and think about the damage you’re causing.”

“I never did anything to you!” Sheila countered.

Connie rose to her feet, furious, “Except you’ve treated me like shit for the last eleven hours cause I like tacos instead’a sausage. Do you have any idea how ridiculous that is, or how much that shit hurts a person? Do you really think you’re better than me because you prefer to cum a certain way? Jesus Christ, d’you know how many kids kill themselves each year– young children, teenagers, even adults– because of the kind of shit you’ve been spewing?”

“That’s not my fault!”

Connie shook her head, possessed by her anger, “God damn it, yes it is! Morality may be a gray area, but this isn’t. You’re either spreading or enabling hate, or you’re against it. And the kind of hate you’ve been spitting out tells me enough to know this isn’t the only place you do it– it’s also the same shit that makes people kill themselves!

“You’re being dramatic,” she said, weakly defensive.

“Oh really,” she said, taking a knee in front of Sheila. “Then answer this; what would you do if this little spiel of yours ended here, and later you found out I killed myself– slit my wrists or put a bullet through my own head ’cause of it? Would you even care?” Sheila’s face scrunched up. Connie pressed her for an answer at nose-length, “Tell me, would you even give a fuck about a person taking their own life away ’cause of something you said?”

Sheila sniffled. Tears edged into her eyes. She spat with a whimper, “I’m not a bad person!”

Connie froze, “What the hell?”

“I’m not a bad person. I’ve never done anything to deserve that.”

“What’re you–”

Sheila balled up in the corner, wept, “Shut up! Just shut up!”

Connie was confounded. It was as though Sheila had been confronted by some terrible thought or memory. Connie shook her head, returned to her spot, confused. She watched Sheila for a few moments before she regained a shaky composure.

Connie slid sideways to look at her dead-on, the two now at opposite sides of the elevator, “You wanna’ tell me what that was all about?”

Sheila breathed, her face full of grief, “You wouldn’t understand.”

Connie swallowed her pride once more, “Look, I dunno what it was all about, but… I’m sorry if I upset you. I really just–”
She wiped at her runny mascara, examined her hand with stuttered breath, “My father killed himself when I was young.”

“I’m… sorry?” Connie replied, confused. “I was just trying to make a point.”

“You did.”

Connie’s head tilted in agreement, but she countered, “Look, I don’t know what to say about that, but… d’you blame yourself for it or something? You–”
“He always said I was a “bad girl” that I’d never grow up to be good because… I was a bitchy little brat who didn’t ever learn from anything. And then, after he said it one day, I ran out. When I came home there were… cop cars all over and–”

She sank back into tears. Connie was stung. She chewed her lip, checked her watch; half-hour ’til shift-start. She swallowed her pride, slid across the floor to Sheila’s side, and put an arm around her. Sheila tensed up, shied away.

Connie shook her head, pulled her in, “I’m not coming on to you.” She breathed, rocked Sheila to comfort her. “Look, I’m sorry.”

Sheila sniffled again, “Yeah, I know. Y-you… you couldn’t have known.”
“I don’t… I don’t know why it happened, but I know it wasn’t your fault.”

Sheila nestled her head against Connie’s chest, “I know.” They sat in silence for a long moment, as time ticked away. When Sheila finally spoke again, she did so with distance. “I don’t wanna’ be a bitch, but I have to be aggressive. The men I work with… well, I guess it just, transfers over.”
Connie nodded, “I don’t fault you for asserting your place in the world, but treating me like you have, I can’t excuse that.”

The two parted organically as Sheila sat upright beside Connie. She cast a glance at her, noticing for the first time that her bright, round eyes were stunningly beautiful.

She looked to her skirt, preened a corner of it, “What was it like for you?”

“Huh?”

“You said it was bad, but… what was it like?”

“Oh, um, well,” Connie stalled, the memories to painful to be dredged up without at least some, mental preparation. She swallowed hard, “Mostly just the same kinda’ shit as this. That’s why I eventually got through it. You can only hear the word dyke or fag so much before you just get tired of it, or loses all meaning. Besides, sexuality’s only one, small part’a human being. Every one of us has different things that make us unique. Sexuality’s not even in that category.”

“Did it make you… suicidal?”

Yes.

Connie sighed, “Emily made it better.”

“Emily?”

“My first girlfriend,” Connie replied as she sank into a bittersweet memory. “She was sweet, beautiful. I think part of it was made more difficult for her ’cause she was mixed– black dad, white mom– so she clung all the harder to me. We were good friends, but everyone knew I was gay. I think it made them suspect it of her for a long time too, but we hid it anyhow. Otherwise, it was all directed at me. A couple people said some things about her but… well, the point is, you get through it ’cause you have to. If you’re lucky, you have a friend, or a girlfriend– someone– to help you along the way. I had Em, and she was… ”

Connie trailed off. Her eyes welled with tears. She cleared her throat to keep her composure.

“Did you love her?”

“More than that, but yes,” Connie admitted.

“What happened?”

Connie shrugged, “High-school ended. We went our separate ways. She wanted to do one thing, I wanted to do another. We loved each other in a way no-one could top or change. Each of us was the others’ first. There’s just… that place, you know?”

Sheila nodded, “I guess it’s just human nature then. It’s romantic though– a good story.”

Connie agreed, “That’s why it upsets me so much when people don’t consider that. Apart from obviously hurting someone’s feelings, people don’t think of all the love they’re denying them. Emily and me… we were just two of millions who’ve been told we shouldn’t be allowed to love because of the way we do it.”

Sheila shook her head, “No wonder you hate me.”

Connie countered, “I don’t hate you. That’s the thing. Generally speaking, people who are oppressed or persecuted don’t hate, they’re just frustrated, scared, or sad. I do hate ignorance. It’s an universally unfair thing, but especially in this case. I mean, we’re both women– professionals. We’re already handicapped in so many ways by our society, have to work that much harder because of it. I hate that too, and ignorance on top of it just makes us separate ourselves even further ’cause of ingrained prejudices.”
Sheila twiddled her thumbs as she fought to find her words. She rose and extended a hand to Connie, “Go ahead.” Connie shrugged, pulled herself up. Sheila hugged her, “I’m sorry I’ve been such a heinous bitch.”

Connie hugged back, “It’s okay, I guess.”

The elevator jolted, parted them. The lights flickered, as a vertical ascent began. The elevator rocketed upward along its E.M. fields, like a rail-gun that fired them at the building’s top-floor. It slowed to a stop, and the doors opened with a ding.

Connie checked her watch, “Right on time.”

They eased themselves into the hall together, followed the chrome to their apartment doors in silence. The LED screens and lights had dimmed in the morning hour, the hall lighting supplemented by the sun that rose beyond a window at the hall’s end. The two stopped across the hall from one another, at their respective front-doors.

Sheila hesitated as Connie keyed in her pass-code. She looked back at Connie as her door slid open, “Look, I’m gonna’ take the day off after all this– I’m pretty tired, but…” Connie faced her from a lean in the jamb that blocked its motion tracker. She gazed across the hall, urged Sheila onward, “You… uh, wanna’ have a drink later or something? You know, as friends?”

Connie considered it, “Maybe, but… why?”

Sheila shrugged, looked to her feet, “I dunno. I just thought, maybe, since we’re both lonely we could … you know, hang out?”

Connie straightened, “Just c’mon. I’ve got a bottle of wine you might like.” Sheila hesitated, Connie met her eye, sighed, “You’re not my type anyway, I like smaller girls.”

Sheila chuckled, “Oh please, you’d do me, don’t lie.”

Connie’s eyebrow rose, “Full of yourself, are you?”

Sheila shrugged, stepped up to her, “I have to be. It’s a man’s world.”

Connie shook her head, motioned Sheila after her as she stepped in, “Yeah, fine, whatever.”

The door slid shut as Sheila spoke, “Twelve fucking hours, can you believe that?”