"It's the upshot of being the beauty queen
It's a damn good place to be seen
Oh, must be quite good
Oh, must be so nice, yeah
Oh, lucky dog...
And I wanna be like Wendy
I wanna be like Wendy
All-star tease, all-star tease
Bang 'em up, bruiser queen
I wanna ride on your trampoline."
~Cake Like, "Wendy"
1976: Age 17
From the diary of Karen Delaney: "I shouldn't feel this way. Nobody talks about feeling this way. But what is so wrong about it? I can't help that she likes me more than she likes him. I want to tell everyone what we're doing, but I know that she would deny it. But at least I get to tell her to her face that she's beautiful."
Beauty queen. Homecoming queen. Karen's queen.
When she found herself in Maine last year, under the care of her father's sister Caroline, Karen knew she had almost everything going against her. She had to fill her aunt in on everything her mother had done since her father's death, why she was so fed up with Lois and ran away from home, leaving her little sister behind with so much reluctance, and calling Caroline frantically from the nearest payphone begging her to take her in. The last place Karen had ended up with her mother was one town away from Caroline; it was a no-brainer.
Lois never called after her, and in all honesty, Karen never minded. She didn't want to be found; if she was found, she would only be dragged back to the life she was trying to distance herself from. But the baggage of her past kept her from flourishing in this new town. High school was always a danger zone, but now that she was in her Senior year, she didn't see the point of even trying to make friends. So she had resigned herself to being a wallflower, trying to save herself from the awkward social free-for-all that was contained in that building. As long as she made it to graduation day, she could break free from it all, do whatever she wanted.
And then in walks Wendy. Dating a boy from the football team. Sitting pretty in the highest social circle in school. Untouchable by the likes of Karen, by the likes of most people. Assigned to be Karen's lab partner in Chemistry. Karen had always excelled in her studies, always made sure that she performed the best that she could, and it didn't take long for Wendy to appreciate the grades coming to them as a result of the pairing. And because Karen was the main reason behind the way they excelled in class, Wendy took it upon herself to try to make some conversation, if only to show her appreciation. They never expected to like each other. And they were careful to make sure that no one else knew that they did, only confining their public interaction to Chemistry class, sneaking off whenever they wanted to see each other outside of the judgment that always came along with high school.
Karen wasn't sure if it was a joke on her when Wendy kissed her under the bleachers the first time. It was only when it happened again, underneath the metal seats while Wendy's boyfriend was on the football field practicing that she let herself relax, that she let herself kiss this girl back.
The flame would burn out faster than it took to spark; Wendy would move to California for college and realize any long distance relationship would take more effort than she could give, severing her ties with both Karen and her boyfriend. But when it did burn, it was intense. It was uncharted territory, not only closing the gap between cliques, but also feeling the kiss of another girl. It was exhilarating. It was liberating. It made Karen come out of her shell.
A few weeks before the end, Karen got a call from Wendy asking her to come over, to meet her in her backyard. Karen rode her bike in the dark, stepped quietly through the trees in Wendy's yard until she found her blonde beauty queen sitting on the trampoline by the porch. Whether it was because they knew it would soon be over, or simply because they didn't want to wake Wendy's parents, they didn't speak. Wendy had a pageant tiara in her hands and put it in Karen's hair before she took her hand and helped her onto the trampoline. She had always told Karen that she was beautiful; Karen had never believed her. Looking back on it, Karen would wonder if Wendy realized how significant of a gesture it was, to crown her as her private beauty. They spent that night lying on the trampoline looking at the stars. And for the first time in years, Karen felt as though she belonged.
She loved someone the outside world told her not to love. But she didn't care. She knew she wasn't wrong.
1998: Age 39
She wasn't sure how long this had been growing inside of her—for all she knew, it began when they first met—but as she felt Grace's hot breath on her shoulder as the redhead leaned over her and showed her what she needed faxed, Karen knew for certain that it would be hard to contain it.
Maybe it was the fact that Grace had been so warm right from the start, when Stanley had turned to ice. Maybe it was the fact that Grace was so willing to help without asking for much. But she found that her thoughts of her redheaded savior had lingered with her long after she left the office. And at first, she didn't think much of it, had chalked it up to the fact that Grace was the one she spent most of her day with, so naturally it would be hard for Karen to get the red head out of her mind. But then she felt the warmth of Grace's words on her skin, the warmth of Grace's body so close to her own. And she discovered, whether she wanted to or not, that she was toeing a line that once crossed could never be returned to again.
But, god…every time she thought of even crossing that line, she thought of Wendy. Wendy, who was forbidden not only on a level of what her small Maine town thought was normal, but because of high school hierarchy as well. Sure, some may have considered her boyfriend as something else that made her off limits, but Wendy had never been too concerned about him, so why should Karen have been?
Grace was forbidden too. It was hardly the fact that she was another woman; Karen had always been comfortable with her sexuality, even more so since she moved to New York City. It was more because she was now working for the red head. It was more because they had become tentative friends under the circumstances. But in spite of it all, Karen couldn't help herself. She wanted Grace. And she could swear that the red head wanted her, too. It was in the way Grace lingered during the day, her hand leaving Karen's shoulder just a second too late. Her smile staying on her face a moment longer than it should. The slight blush that occasionally rose to her cheeks when Karen spoke. The dark haired woman knew all the signs; she had lived long enough, and gone through plenty of relationships to know how this went. And she was so close, she was. She would have gone for it; that is, if she hadn't met Danny.
Karen always knew that Grace had a boyfriend; it was the reason she ended up in the dive bar, the reason they started talking. But she had never seen him, just like she had never seen Wendy' s boyfriend, wasn't sure which member of the football team he actually was. And like Wendy, Grace's current relationship became irrelevant to Karen. Until one afternoon when she had come back from her lunch hour earlier than Grace had.
She had been absently flipping through a catalog from home when she heard voices through the open door, coming from the stairwell. Automatically, she could pick out Grace's laugh. The other voice, on the other hand, belonged to a man she could not place, and she figured that it went along with Grace's best friend she keeps talking about, Will something-or-other. But then she saw the kiss through the doorway, and knew that it must be Him. The capital-H Him who she could not refer to by his first name ever since she realized these things about herself, about her connection with Grace. The red head caught the dark haired woman's stare and broke away from her boyfriend. "Karen," she said with a smile as she walked into the office. "This is Danny." Karen slipped her hand lifelessly into Danny's grip and murmured a half-hearted hello before he left. And when she was certain he was out of earshot, she let something slip out of her lips under her breath that she would later regret, but knew was necessary if she wanted to keep her head above water.
"Kissing in the office? I didn't realize owning your own business meant you could slack on professionalism."
It didn't matter how softly she said it; it cut through Grace and Karen could tell. The red head physically jerked, as if she had been startled by someone coming up from behind her. Karen couldn't blame her. After all, they had been nothing but warm and cordial to each other up until then; it simply didn't make sense for the dark haired woman to say something so cold. Grace's lips parted as if she would respond, but nothing came of it; she simply lowered her head and made her way back to her desk.
As much as she didn't want it to, the comment sparked in Karen a mean streak. Slowly working in criticism, slowly watching Grace's skin grow tougher. And while she knew it left the red head confused and defensive, Karen was not about to explain herself. Because the truth was, she knew she had to drive a wedge in between them in order to keep her heart intact. She had been kind to everyone she loved, and when they were gone, the hurt was too much to bear. This time would be different. She knew she couldn't have Grace. So she distanced herself as much as possible; that way, when the inevitable happened, and the red head grew tired of her friendship, the wouldn't feel it as deeply as she usually does.
Everyone leaves. And she was not about to feel the pain that would surely come with Grace leaving.