by Lana Phillips
Copyright © by Lana Phillips, January 2002
The phone rang as Rachel Jones was just about to take her evening shower. She started not to answer, but since
Caroline wasn't home yet, she was afraid to let the machine pick it up. She ran to pick up as the third ring sounded.
"Hi, Rachel. It's me. Just wanted to let you know that the group ran late tonight. I'm on my way--be there as soon as I can. Wait up on me, will you? I want to talk." Caroline was always careful to call when she would be late--that was one of the things that made Rachel love her so much. But Rachel knew that tonight would only end in another argument, not the gentle bedtime talks that usually followed those phone calls.
"Caroline, don't you think it's time we stopped talking about it? You're already six months along. The doctor said he would still do it, but you've got to make up your mind soon."
"Damn it, Rachel! Why do you have to make an argument of this every time? I love you, and I want to raise this baby with you. We've waited so long! All I want is to be a family! Why can't you understand that?"
"Caroline, we're already a family. You and I have been a family for sixteen years now. You're the only family I've ever really had. I don't want to risk losing you! Why do you have to put us through all this?"
"Don't you remember how we both wanted to take care of people the world had thrown away? I can't throw away our baby--I don't care what you say. She needs us, and damn it, I need her!"
"Caroline, I need you, too! Don't you understand? This baby may not make it anyway. The doctors say there's only a 25% chance that she'll make it to full-term, and even if she does, she'll probably die before she's five! Do you want to put yourself and me through all that? Come on, be reasonable, sweetheart! I know it'll be hard to get an abortion, but I swear we'll get through it together! We'll call tomorrow and make an appointment. Let's just get it over with. We can have another baby, and if we can't, we can adopt!"
Caroline snapped, "Listen, Rachel--I love you, but I love this baby, too. I will not give her up, not for you, not for anybody! If you won't help me, I'll do it alone. I don't need you. If that's the way you feel, fine. I'm not coming home until you change your mind." Before Rachel could respond, the connection was broken. She put her head in her hands and began to pray.
Caroline's tears fell swiftly. Where could she go? She drove around aimlessly for a few minutes. Then it hit her. She could go stay with Tami and Jane--they were such good friends, she knew they would take her in without taking sides. She began a U-turn. She never knew what hit her.
Senator Julie Ferguson was awakened by the loud ringing of the phone. She squinted to see the time on her bedside alarm clock. "11:30 PM? Who in the world is calling me at this hour? She nearly dropped the phone.
"Senator Ferguson, is that you? My name is Rachel Jones. I'm Caroline's partner. I'm afraid I have some bad news for you."
"What? What happened?"
"She was in a car accident coming home from a support group meeting at church. I think you'd better come as fast as you can."
Julie swallowed. "How did you know how to reach me?
"She had your phone number in her wallet. She made me promise I'd only get in touch with you if it was a matter of life and death; and, Senator, I think this may be."
Julie didn't know how to respond for a few seconds. She said, "Of course, I'll be there as soon as I can. Which hospital is she in?" She quickly jotted the information that Rachel gave her. "Here's my cell phone number--555-3287. If anything changes, call me right away. I don't know how long it will be, but I will get there." She hung up the phone.
She closed her eyes as she remembered how close she and Caroline used to be. Since they were identical twins, they always seemed to have a mysterious bond. She remembered switching places on school tests and, as they became teenagers, on dates.
Even when they attended separate colleges, they met for weekends at home together. Sometimes Caroline brought her roommate Rachel with her. They all went to church together on Sunday mornings.
When they were twenty-five, Caroline confessed to Julie that she was a lesbian. She had been sleeping with Rachel for six years, and they had finally decided to move in together.
Julie had never suspected that Caroline was keeping a secret from her. She had already become involved with local politics and was actively and conspicuously a member of the Southern Baptist church the girls had grown up in. She didn't mean to distance herself from Caroline--it just happened that way. Now would it be too late?
She called her personal assistant. "Needless to say, this has got to be hush-hush. It's too close to election time to take chances. You've got my cell phone number, so you can call me. I'll keep in touch."
Julie stepped into a pair of blue jeans and pulled a dirty yellow sweatshirt over her head. As she went out the door, she felt a chill. Was it the cool November weather or her own fear chilling her?
She drove down the narrow streets she knew so well. The dark and silent library reminded her of endless hours spent with Caroline pretending to study, but spending more time shoving notes at each other about their latest crushes. As the stop light turned green, she saw their church. She and her sister had been baptized when they were thirteen--they did that together just as they did everything else. The faint glow through the stained glass windows reminded her of the candlelight service the church had held for her when she began her term as Senator. They had believed in her, had known that she would remember their teachings. Not even they knew that Caroline was gay. They remembered her and Rachel as two devoted friends who served the Lord.
Julie sped down the interstate. The cell phone rang. "This is Julie."
"Senator, this is Rachel again. The doctor just left. She's out of danger, but he doesn't expect her to walk again. The spinal injury was right at the waist." The words echoed in Julie's head.
"What do you mean, she won't walk again? Tell me everything, damn it!"
"Senator, about six months ago, Caroline was artificially inseminated. The amniocentesis showed some abnormalities. The doctors all wanted her to have an abortion. But she refused. She wanted a baby so damn bad. I tried to talk her out of it--oh, God, how I tried. We've been fighting a lot over it. In fact, I talked to her on her cell phone a few minutes before the accident.
We had another argument, and she told me she wasn't coming back home until I changed my mind about her having the baby. I think she just started to make the U-turn without even looking to see if anything was coming."
"I'll be there as soon as I can. Tell her I love her, will you, please?"
Julie hadn't noticed that her gas pedal was all the way to the floor. But when she heard the siren, she knew. "Oh, shit. What have I done now?" she muttered.
"Officer, I'm Senator Julie Ferguson; and I'm in a hurry. My sister is sick, and I've got to get to her. I'll pay the fine right now. Just tell me how much it is."
"Little lady, don't you worry your pretty little head about the fine. You just hurry up and get to your sister. I'll ride alongside you and make sure you get there safe." Julie never saw him grab his cell phone.
Julie pulled into the hospital parking lot and ran through the emergency room doors. Rachel had said ICU was on the third floor. The elevators were out of order, so Julie ran up the stairs. Noticing that the door was ajar, she took a deep breath before she walked in.
"Senator, she's been asking for you. Do you want me to leave the two of you alone?"
"No, Rachel. You've loved her for a long time. You're part of her now. Please stay."
Julie was afraid to face the sister she hadn't seen in ten years. "Caroline, honey. Caroline, it's me, Julie. I love you, funny face. Remember how we used to call each other that? I'm here. I'm right here."
Caroline opened her eyes and looked deep into her sister's blue-eyed gaze, so much like her own. "Julie. You're here. Why? Why now?"
"I should have been here the whole time. I didn't know how to deal with you and Rachel. So I just didn't deal with it at all. But I always loved you."
"We were always mirror images of each other. Some people couldn't tell the two of us apart. But from the time we were thirteen, I knew there was a big difference between us. 'Member Lisa Kelly, the girl who moved from California? Her big brown eyes, her beautiful black hair--I fell in love the first time I saw her. But I couldn't tell her. I couldn't even tell you, Julie. I pretended to have crushes on guys--we just had to be alike. I got baptized when you did because I believed that God could take away the feelings and the guilt.
"When we were sixteen, I went to an associational youth retreat. I was matched with Rachel as a prayer partner. She smiled at me, and my heart skipped a beat. After we prayed together, we talked for hours under the stars. I fell in love that night, but I went home and pretended all was as it should be."
Julie saw Caroline's gaze fell somewhere to the left of her. As she dragged it back to Julie, she said, "I have to face you as the person I truly am, not a mirror image that reflects a lie."
"I went to college. For the first time, you weren't there for me to look up to, to remind me of how I was supposed to be. I met Rachel again in English class our freshman year. We got to be good friends, so the next year we decided to room together.
"One Friday night when we were up late drinking and talking, she took my face in her trembling hands and kissed me. I mean, a real kiss. I didn't know how to respond at first, but I found myself kissing her back. The thrill that went down my spine took my breath away. We made love for the first time that night." .
"We spent all of the next day talking." Caroline's tears had overcome her. She couldn't speak, so Rachel continued the story.
"I wanted her so badly when we first met. I still can't believe that she wanted me, too. Our first night together was like coming home.
"The next day we went to a little street church where gays and lesbians were welcomed. We walked in holding hands. I never dreamed it could be that way. The women there were like the women we had always known in church. They knew the Bible, they prayed, they sang hymns. But instead of sharing a smile over a hymnal with a husband or boyfriend, their eyes met those of another woman."
Caroline was finally able to continue. "After the service Rachel and I knelt before the altar. We held hands and prayed together. We asked for God's blessing on our love; and to this day, Julie, I believe He gave it to us. That night when we made love, it was like a prayer of gratitude. But we had to keep it quiet so we wouldn't be thrown out of school.
"After we graduated, we lived apart for a while. But I spent more time at her place than at my own, so we eventually decided to move in together."
"Caroline, I understand. You don't have to tell me all this."
Julie watched as Rachel gently picked up Caroline's hand and kissed it. Then she noticed the identical thin gold bands both women wore. Her eyes flew to Rachel's face.
"Yes, after we moved, we went to church and asked the minister to bless our union and commitment to one another. All our friends were there, but I know how sad Caroline was that you weren't with her. "
"I felt so betrayed. I wish I could do it over again."
"I knew that you would have a hard time with it. And as you got more involved with politics, I knew that I couldn't be part of your life anymore. I knew what your church would say. So Rachel and I moved to a place where we could live our lives without causing trouble for you. And we've been so happy together--but I prayed for you every night, Julie. I always loved you."
"Oh, Caroline, sweet Caroline. I'm so sorry."
"No, Julie, I'm the one who's sorry. I couldn't be another you. I tried. But I just couldn't. When we left home, I lost a part of me--the part that's connected to you. But I've been so proud of you. You've become somebody."
"Oh, Caroline. . . ."
Rachel said, "Baby, I think you should rest now. Julie and I will be just outside in the hall." She kissed Caroline's forehead. "I love you."
Caroline was already asleep. Julie and Rachel went out into the hallway.
"Rachel, whatever it costs, I want her to have the best care. I'll pay for it. She's got to walk again. She just has to."
"May I call you Julie?"
"Of course, you're my sister-in-law." The two women laughed sadly.
"Caroline needs more from you than money. She needs your support and love right now. Can you do that for her, Julie?"
"She's my sister. I'll do everything I can to make her walk again. That's a promise. And I don't break promises." Rachel held out her hand, and Julie took it. The women grasped each other's hands as they thought of the fight to come.
Lana Phillips' e-mail address is unavailable.
Click here for a list of all of Lana Phillips' Stories and Poetry at Sapphic Voices Authoresses.
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