"I have to go and check the turkey," her mother said, and she was gone though the swinging door between the living room and the kitchen. Sabrina heard the DING! of the oven as the door swung back on itself.
Sabrina turned and ran. She couldn't say if she was running from the house, the hurt, or out of fear that her dad might actually hit her. She didn't really think it mattered. She nearly fell down the stairs of the porch and she desperately wished she was in another pair of shoes. The click of her heels sounded almost like nails being driven into a coffin, and when she reached the street where Leilani was waiting for her in her Charger, Sabrina wrenched open the car door. Tears started streaming down her face as she screamed "Go! Go! Go!" Then she dove in the car. Leilani punched the gas, and with a roar of the Hemi engine, the muscle car peeled away from the New England Colonial that until that moment had always been Sabrina's home.
It had been seven years since that Thanksgiving. Leilani was long since a memory - a casualty of Sabrina's decision to tell her parents that she was gay, but as Sabrina turned her desk calendar's page from October to November, she said a silent prayer that Leilani had found someone as understanding as she had been on that night. At the same time, Sabrina's Pandora station switched songs, and The Eagles "Take It To The Limit" starting pouring out of her laptop's speakers:
All alone at the end of the evening
And the bright lights have faded to blue
I was thinking 'bout a woman who might have
Loved me and I never knew
You know I've always been a dreamer
(spent my life running 'round)
And it's so hard to change
(Can't seem to settle down)
But the dreams I've seen lately
Keep on turning out and burning out
And turning out the same
That's the truth, Sabrina thought, as she scrolled through the names in her cell. Her mom and dad were still listed, even though they had never called her. She had called a few times though over the years. Usually she called from a payphone, but since nearly all of them had been ripped out, her calls had become less and less frequent. Twice there had been no answer and twice her parents had come on. The first time it had been her dad, and as soon as she heard his voice, she slammed the receiver down on the hook.
The second time her mother answered, and Sabrina had not hung up the phone. Just listened. Her mother said "hello" about six times before she simply hung up. Sabrina cried for the rest of the day.
The music faded, and Sabrina closed her laptop. She got up and walked around her small studio apartment for a while, and when she got sick of that, she opened her sliding glass balcony door and stepped out into moist, cold air. Just below her, she watched as the headlights haloed and gleamed from the cars of Boston's daily commuters as they crawled their way through the crowded city.
Sabrina often marveled at headlights. They were such a simple invention, and their practicality was beyond dispute. But to her they were almost magic. They didn't light up the whole world and give you a full, clear path. They just punched a tiny chink into the darkness that was enough for a person to get where they wanted to go. All you had to do was follow them, which to her way of thinking was truly magic. She often wished that life came with headlights.
She stayed out on the balcony until she was so cold that she thought she might catch hypothermia, and then walked back into her apartment and made herself a cup of Irish Coffee. She got into a hot bath and sipped her drink, while starting a trashy spy novel. Once the steaming water had cooled so far that she started getting cold again, Sabrina got out, but the song kept playing over and over in her head. Seven years of things turning out the same. It was time for a change.
Sabrina got dressed and then spent the next three hours tracking down Leilani's address. It took some work. Eventually she found a listing for her out in California. Sabrina smiled at that, because she knew Leilani had always wanted to be an actress. She hoped that she had made it. Hoped that she had found someone to smile with. It was with those hopes, wrapped in a silent prayer, that Sabrina addressed the envelope and then sat down and began to write a letter that was years overdue.
The first draft was only two paragraphs long before she crumpled up the paper and tossed it in her wastebasket. The second draft didn't make it past the opening sentence, before it was crossed out with enough force to rip the paper. But finally, by the ninth draft, Sabrina had something she didn't want to burn. The handwritten letter took up a page and a half on cheap notebook paper. For a moment, Sabrina thought of going out to buy a nice card, but then she stopped. Leilani has always been a tomboy, and it seemed right that this was the paper it was on. So she read it one last time, double checking the one paragraph that had been so hard to write: I know now that the things I said were not true. You were a better friend then I had a right to have, and I took my anger out on you. For that I'm sorry. Please know, that without you, I would not be the person that I am today. I hope that you are able to forgive me, but if not, please just know that I remember you with nothing but fondness. She added her phone number to the bottom of the paper, and then put the letter in the envelope.
The next morning, the wind cut through her coat and stockings, but she didn't care. Sabrina felt lighter. Something of her feelings must have shown, because the rental agent even said, "You look well today. Going on vacation?"
Sabrina just smiled and replied, "No. I'm going home. But listen, if you have it, can I get a Charger?"
The agent typed for a few moments and said, "Yes, but there is a pretty hefty supercharge on that car. Are you sure you want it?"
The truth was that Sabrina could not afford the trip normally, much less the expensive car, but something that had woken inside of her breathed, "Take it!" So Sabrina did. She quickly drove to her apartment, and after grabbing a few extra clothes and the spy novel, she got into the car and set out.
Her first stop was at an old beat up mailbox not too far from her house, where she revved the engine and then dropped the letter to Leilani in. As soon as the metal door banged shut, Sabrina gunned the engine, and with a visceral grow the car surged away from the box. Sabrina felt a shrieking whoop for joy tear out of the back of her throat as the back tires spun and then caught, launching the car forward. It was only when she glanced in her rear-view mirror and saw that lone metal box that the thought hit her: in a few years, like the public phones that had once been almost ubiquitous, there were would be almost no mailboxes left for her to use. That silenced Sabrina's screaming.
She kept the radio off during the four hour drive back to her home town, despite the fact that her mind kept chewing over what was to come the way a dog gnaws on a bone. But she didn't want to be distracted. She wanted to be alert when she arrived, which she did one pit-stop and a severe thunderstorm later.
The car rumbled down the the street where she had spent the first eighteen years of her life and came to a halt in front of the small New England Colonial house that her parents had lived in as long as she could remember. Sabrina looked at the clock in the dashboard. It said it was half past six, which meant that both her mother and father should be back from work, but she didn't see either of their cars.
"Just remember," Leilani said, "No matter how angry they get. No matter what they say, they will always be your family."
"What did your parents say when you told them?" Sabrina asked.
"Well my mom said they'd known for ages, and me dad just said to pass the salt."
Sabrina smiled as she remembered that moment just before her world changed. It had been so funny to her. It made it seem like it might be alright.
Sabrina put the car back into gear and drove off towards downtown. She went past The Stanley Theater, drove along a section of The Erie Canal, and even went past Proctor High, where she marveled at how the red-brick facade had not changed since she had been there.
Of course the high school held its own memories. One in particular: Tessa. Her family was 100% Italian, which meant she was about the only girl Sabrina knew whose skin was always a perfect nutty brown color. She had black, curly hair, and these liquid brown eyes, which were the first set of eyes that Sabrina wanted to get lost inside of. Her smile though was the best. Her mouth stretched just a little too wide, pulling her top lip over her gum just a bit and accentuating her bright, white teeth.
Tessa was on the same swim team as Sabrina had been. Tessa competed in the 100 meter freestyle, while Sabrina competed in the backstroke. Sabrina had never been more than just an average swimmer, but Tessa won silver her sophomore and junior year of school, and she might have earned gold in her senior year if things had worked out differently. All that didn't matter though, because what really stuck out in Sabrina's mind was the first time they had been in the shower room together. Particularly the way the water ran down her teammate's body, and how she was glad that she was not a boy at the moment, because they could not hide their arousal.
She also remembered the pang of sorrow and anger that flared inside of her when Tessa started dating the grey eyed Trevor Van Peebles. The anger was a beast inside Sabrina's chest that was all tooth and claw and wanted to rip into Trevor for dating Tessa. Or more precisely, for stealing her attention away from Sabrina; nevertheless, Sabrina knew intuitively that if she let Tessa know how she felt, she would be made an outcast. The sorrow came from pretending that Trevor's friend, Matt, actually interested her so that she could go out with Tessa when she was with Trevor. The difference between the two boys was that while Trevor was smart, Matt only thought he was smart.
"But he's cute." Tessa told her. "Besides, he not as dumb as you think."
"He caught his apron on fire in chemistry."
"Doesn't make him dumb," Tessa said, "just clumsy."
"Whatever. Clumsy or dumb, I don't want to hang out with him."
"Seriously. Can't you just do me this one favor?" Tessa asked.
"Fine," Sabrina said, "you are going to owe me big time when this is all over." And there it was. That toothy grin, which she would do anything for. As it turned out, that toothy smile subjected her to Matt's clumsy hand trying to hike up her skirt as she attempted to enjoy Goldeneye.
"You know, this sort of behavior could qualify as sexual harassment," Ms. Moneypenny was saying to James, as Matt put his hand on her knee.
"Really. What's the penalty for that?" 007 retorted, as Matt began to slide his hand up her thigh.
"Someday, you'll have to make good on your innuendos," Moneypenny shot back, as Sabrina shoved the probing hand away, which to Sabrina's mind should have been enough of a message. But of course, as the movie continued to run, Matt tried again.
"That's close enough." James said as Ms. Onatopp tried to get near him, while Matt again put his hand on Sabrina's thigh.
"Not for what I have in mind." Ms. Onatopp purred back, and then Sabrina drew blood as she stabbed Matt's wrists with her nails. He hissed and recoiled, but the theater was full of moviegoers that night, a few of whom looked over at Matt as he fumed at Sabrina.
When the movie ended Sabrina smiled as best she could and then said something about doing her homework and ditched the two boys and Tessa. Now, almost twelve years later, as she thought of that night so many Novembers ago, Sabrina could still recall the shocked look on Tessa's face.
Of course it was not long after that farce that the whispers started. Sabrina also noticed that suddenly none of her teammates wanted to be caught dead or alive standing next to her. There were other things too. She suddenly found that she was no longer invited to hang out with Tessa, and the boys stopped leering at her and began snickering. It might have broken her, if she had not found Tessa sobbing by herself in the showers one day when she went to get some extra practice at the pool.
It was Sabrina fantasy turned inside out and upside down. "Can't get clean," Tessa was saying over and over. "Can't get clean," and Sabrina was shocked to see that somehow the trait that she had loved so much--the lip pulled too tight--now gave Tessa's features a rictus quality that made her look feral, almost savage. Tessa was scrubbing the skin on her thighs raw, while blood trickled down her leg.
Sabrina fled the shower room and called the police. They came and took Tessa to the hospital. Questions were asked and fingers were pointed, but the police claimed "What evidence we were able to collect has been degraded. It's impossible to get a conviction on 'hearsay.'" Tessa's family raged but no charges were ever pressed. Eventually, in an attempt to begin healing, the family took a ski-vacation in the Adirondacks. The fresh air and countryside were supposed to act like the water at Lourdes, but not long into the trip, Tessa crept away into the night. Nobody was sure what happened to her, and while she was never seen again, they also never found a body. That at least was something. However, it didn't particularly matter to Sabrina since it was literally as if she had just been deleted from existence. Here one moment and gone in another.
After that, Sabrina was sent to a counselor, who would always ask her what she wanted to talk about and always seemed disappointed when Sabrina replied, "Nothing." Simultaneously, she became almost a ghost at her school. The whispers still followed her when she walked the halls, but she ignored them. They did however make her want to escape the cold. To leave the East Coast and go somewhere so outside what she knew that she could start fresh.
She picked the University of Nevada at Las Vegas mainly for the heat of the desert, but if she was honest with herself, it was also for the mystique: Sin City.
The name alone sent shivers up her spine and sent her mind careening down dark alleyways of thought. Each one enticed her like a snake-oil-huckster from bygone times, painting an image so alluring that she would willingly part not just with her money, but her good sense, in order to reach her new life.
Sabrina expected her parents to argue with her about her choice of school. In fact, she expected the reaction that she got when she told them she was gay nearly five years later. After all, her mother wore a rosary day and night, and her father was a deacon. Her first clear memory of them was setting up a manger for Christmas. Her father had given her a baby Jesus to hold, and she sneezed. She had not meant to sneeze, but she did. It caused her to drop the doll, which shattered on the hardwood floor. Her mother had gotten angry at her father, and even though Sabrina did not remember her mother's words, she felt hollowed out by each one of them, as if they were termites. They hollowed out her body, and left her feeling empty.
Of course that was not the only time as a child something had occurred to make her wonder about how her parents viewed their daughter. The church she attended as a child, Old St. John, had not been openly anti-gay, and if Sabrina was pressed, she could not recall any exact point when anyone said something openly hostile about gay people. She could, however, recall hearing about John Travis, who was whipped by his mother when she found out he had a porno magazine full of lesbians. That had been when Sabrina was eleven, and her mom had said, "I know boys will be boys, but why do they always have to pick the dirtiest books."
"Don't blame John. The magazine belonged to his father. He was just curious."
"Which is fine, but if you are going to look at smut, why not at least look at something normal?"
"Probably because he isn't gay. So why would he want to see another guy? Or maybe that was the only book there was. I mean how bad is it, really? What if you caught Sabrina looking at a porno?"
"Why would I? You don't keep any of that trash in the house."
"That's true, but what if she walked in on us while we were playing confessional?"
Sabrina smiled as she turned the Charger back toward her parents house, remembering how confused she had been by that. I mean, you did not play confessional with the priests. In fact, when that little wooden panel slid back, she often found herself so embarrassed that she squeaked when she spoke. Yet as an adult, it almost made what followed seem inevitable.
A light snow began to fall as she drove, and going through the snow she thought of Leilani. Her parents had dropped her and her boxes of clothing off at college and then gone to Caesar's Palace to gamble while she got her room set up. She had just finished plugging her computer in, and was in the process of pulling out her bed sheets when then was a knock at the door.
Sabrina turned to look, and framed in the doorway was a woman with skin the color of caramel, straight black hair that came to her waist, and delicate features, who was also wearing ripped up jeans and a faded green T-shirt. "Hi, I'm Leilani," the girl said, holding out her hand. "I guess we are going to be roommates." Sabrina took the proffered hand and shook it, noticing as she did that Leilani had a tattoo of a turtle on her forearm.
"Nice to meet you. I'm Sabrina"
"Like the witch?"
"Something like that," Sabrina said, trying to suppress the look of annoyance she knew she got when anyone asked her that.
"Hey, move it there" said a deep voice from behind Leilani, and suddenly a man who must have tipped the scales at three-hundred pounds and who stood over six feet tall crammed himself through the door, carrying several boxes. He set them down, and then with a contemptuous flick of his eyes at Sabrina, she said to Leilani "This the haole that is gonna be your roommate?"
"Jesus, Iokepa. Can you be any less friendly. Got the rest of the boxes," Leilani said, and then with a surprising amount of force shoved the behemoth right back through the door.
Leilani flushed slightly. "Sorry. I'm from Hawaii, and that's what we call white people there.
"Do I want to know why?"
"Mostly because they tend to make a lot of noise."
"I see," Sabrina said, as she tried to decided if that was the whole truth and if she was offended or not. "Well, I guess that's not as bad as it could be. Who was that guy anyway?"
"Just some lolo kanapapiki that my brother thought I would like."
Sabrina did not understand the words that Leilani used, but she got the tone. "I take it you don't like him much."
"Oh, he's fine if you need to move boxes or blocks of marble, but let me tell you, he's never going to be known for his conversational skills or," and Leilani wrinkled her nose, "his hygiene."
Sabrina laughed, and she and Leilani had become fast friends. It soon become apparent to Sabrina that there were a lot of Hawaiians at UNLV. "How come there are so many of you here?" Sabrina asked one day.
"Because you haoles have overrun our island, but let me tell you, there is nothing more disturbing than the lily-white asses your kind flaunts at the beach. But, the money they bring in... It's a huge part of the economy. And," Leilani waved her hand around the sweltering dorm room, "this place has one of the best hotel management programs, period."
"You'd have a lily-white ass as well if it snowed half the year and you couldn't go outside."
"Then remind me never to go to New York,." Leilani said, "because I'd die without the sun."
"Well, it's a good thing you cam here then. Lots of sun."
"True, but you've got to admit the beaches around here--totally pathetic. Makes laying out absolutely no fun. I mean," Leilani said, looking at Sabrina, "there's so little eye candy around here worth looking at, and what little there is doesn't go out into the sun."
Sabrina remembered how flushed her cheeks had become then, and just the thought of it made her face a little warm.
The Charger pulled back onto her street, and even though she was several houses away, she could tell that her parents were now home. She pulled up to the house and watched for a moment as a large shadow moved against the window curtain. It was the right shape for her father, and suddenly, she wished that she had let them know she was coming. On the other hand, she reasoned, that would have given them an easy way to say they wanted to see her, and something inside of her did not want to make this easy.
She killed the engine and as the heater died, she looked in the rearview and thought of the last time she had sat in a Charger in front of this house. Leilani was putting on a brave face. "Look. It will be OK. They will love you no matter what."
"You've never meat them. Trust me. They will not be OK with this... With us.
Leilani grabbed her hand, and pulled it up to her lips, brushing Sabrina's knuckles with her mouth while squeezing her hand. It was something that normally brought butterflies to Sabrina's stomach, but this time, it just felt like she was falling. "No mater what, you should not be ashamed of who you are, and if they can't accept you, you have to make your family where you can. I will always be here."
"I promise. And, as a victory celebration...I bought you something."
"Right, like I'm going to tell you. It spoil the best part. Just look under your seat."
Sabrina reached down and found a box of Louis Vuitton shoes. She felt her jaw drop, and she instantly began running her eye over the box, looking for a price tag. "Don't bother Ku`u Lei, I took the tag off as soon as I bought them."
"You shouldn't have."
"No." Leilani said. "I had to. You've been to every audition. Every play. You've never missed a thing. Not once. I know these are something you want, and I want you to have them. You deserve them, and I want you to wear them when you go in there. Wear them and know that I'm with you."
Sabrina knew before she opened the box which pair of shoes Leilani had bought, but even still, she only took the lid off the box just a fraction of the way, and peeked in the crack to see if she was right. There, in the weak light of the street lamps, she could just make out the glossy black leather that was completely covered in half inch spikes. The red soles gleamed just beyond the heals, which looked to be four and a half inches high. Sabrina could not contain her excitement anymore, and ripped the lid off the box, letting out an audible gasp.
She lifted the shoes out of the box reverently. "So, what do you say, haole? Did your island delight do your right?" In response, Sabrina pulled Leilani close and kissed her. It was a warm, full kiss that was full of heat, promise, and expectations. Leilani smiled. "Good. Now put on those shoes and march that sexy butt of yours into the house, because I want to meet your parents. You sure you don't want me to come in with you? "
Sabrina shook her head. "No. This is something I have to do on my own."
Leilani nodded. "OK. Then I'll see you on the other side."
Sabrina nodded, took off her old shoes and slipped her foot into the metal studded shoes, which to here felt like clouds. She marveled at how perfectly they fit, and then with a quick kiss on Leilani's cheek, she got out of the car and walked towards the house. She rang the bell, and immediately felt the heels working, as she was a good two inches taller than her mother, and almost as tall as her father.
She hugged her parents and followed them into the living room, as they exchanged pleasantries.
"How was your trip?"
"Sorry, but supper isn't ready yet. Just a few more minutes. thought."
But then Sabrina heard her mother's slightly pinched voice say, "Those shoes. They look a little...uh...provocative. Where did you get them?"
"My girlfriend gave them to me. Do you like them? They're Louis Vuitton."
But even as the final words were leaving her mouth, Sabrina could see her mother grab for her rosary and the corner of her mouth tighten. At the same time, her father's face began to turn red, and it was with barely a whisper that he said, "I'm sorry. I don't think I heard that right. Where did you get them?"
Sabrina knew at once what she had done. Even when Tessa had come over all those years ago she had only ever call her a friend. Girlfriend was a radioactive word. But it was already out, so Sabrina crossed her fingers and hoped that fortune truly would favor the bold. "From my girlfriend, Leilani. She's the one that drove me home. She's out in the car now," Sabrina said as cheerfully as she could, but it was like her insides were a water-balloon that burst.
"I don't understand," her mother said. What do you mean your girlfriend. Like just a friend?"
"No. I mean..." And she stop and took a breath. Again it was in that moment of only a breath that she saw the knuckles around her mother's rosary go white, and he father's face go from slightly pink to nearly cherry-red. "My girlfriend. I'm gay."
That's when her father had thrown the picture at her, and she ran. As the Charger roared into the night Leilani said, "I'm so sorry Ku`u Lei. I know you wanted it to turn out differently..." But whatever else Leilani had said that night was lost to Sabrina's sobs.
The car door opened, and Sabrina marched up the pathway to the house. She was wearing old sneakers which felt friendly but did not make her feel loved. She knocked on the door, and watched as the knocker handle bounced with each impact of her fist.
Sabrina waited. And waited. She knocked again. The door never opened though. It hurt her that she was not going to get to speak to her parents, but this time she had a plan. So she reached into her pocket and pulled out the second letter that she had written last night. The envelope felt heavy, but as she slipped it through the mail-slot, Sabrina felt herself grow lighter.
She turned and walked back to the Charger. She fired the engine and began the drive back towards Boston, first North and then East, taking the scenic route through the Adirondacks As she drove, she turned on the radio and rolled the windows down and screamed. She wasn't really sure why she did, but she hoped that somewhere out there, the sound would find Tessa.
It was a revelation that shocked her at first. She probed her feelings trying to figure out why she hoped the sound reach Tessa, and then it came to her, pure and simple: because Sabrina hoped that she was alive. She hope Tessa knew that even though the pain of horrible events can linger for a lifetime, that you didn't have to let broken people brake you too.
Eventually, Sabrina got cold enough that she was forced to close the window. She was still warming up when her headlights caught a neon gleam in the darkness that distinctly read, "TATTOOS." As soon as she saw the sign, the image of the turtle on Leilani's arm came to her mind. She pulled into the parking lot, and went inside the shop.
Inside she found a man who had silvery hair and bright, grandfatherly eyes. "Are you open?" Sabrina asked.
The man smiled, and Sabrina noticed that his upper lip was pulled just a little too tightly when he smile, accentuating his teeth. "Yeah. I'm open. What can I do for you?"
Sabrina dug into her purse and pulled out her smartphone. It did not take her long to find a picture of the shoes that Leilani had given her. "I want these shoes, only with the insole drawn as puzzle pieces, and there should be one piece missing."
The man looked over the pictures. "I can do that." Anything else?"
"Yeah, can you have one of the heels stuck in my skin?"
The artist just nodded, and after a little tweaking, Sabrina laid herself out in the tattoo chair and began to read her spy novel as she felt the first bite of the needle that was injecting ink into her skin. Two hours passed, but Sabrina didn't want to spoil seeing her tattoo for the first time, so she kept reading. After another hour, Sabrina finished the book, and the old man finished all the shading and touch-up work. Sabrina stood and looked at the Louis Vuitton pumps inked onto her thigh, which, despite being irritated by the work, was covered in gooseflesh.
"Whaddya think?" her artist asked as Sabrina looked in the mirror. She smiled and then howled, which caused the older man to jump. "Uh, I take it, that's good," he said.
"It's perfect," Sabrina said and then she howled again and gave the man her credit card. Once she had settled the bill, she got back in the Charger. The cellophane that her artist had wrapped her new tattoo in crinkled under her pants, and the tattoo itched horribly, but the pain was minor, all things considered.
Sabrina returned the car the next day, and then she went went to work. The spy novel that she had read was not too bad, but Sabrina did not feel that her agency would represent the author as well as some of her competitors. It was sad, but part of the business; still she hated rejecting anyone for any reason. She wrote a note to the author telling him not to give up, and included the name of a colleague at a different agency.
Sabrina returned home that night with a manuscript she had picked up off the slush pile on her way out the door. It was something most agencies no longer allowed, but Sabrina liked that her office still had one. She was just settling in to start the novel when the mail flap on her door clanked. Curious, she got up and went to investigate. On the floor in front of her was an envelope that had been mailed in Los Angeles. Sabrina recognized the writing, and felt herself go a little weak in the knees.
Picking up the letter, she tore it open and pulled out a thank you card printed on heavy card stock. Sabrina smiled and flicked the letter open: Ku`u Lei, I can't tell you how glad I am that you sent your letter...