DISCLAIMER: Nikki & Nora are the property of Nancylee Myatt and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Much thanks for beta stormwriter's red ink and comma splice for looking this over.
CHALLENGE: Written for dogged_by_muses' Fragments of Sappho 2007 Challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Laurels of Glory and Pain
"So are you ready to face the inquisition?"
"Oh, Nora, you making this much worse than you have to. How bad can your family be? Wait, don't answer that. I do realize that there is an overabundance of policemen in your family but there has to be some relatives that don't have a license to carry."
"Worse than you can imagine. Even the women have scary levels of testosterone."
"Not a surprise after what you did to me last night."
"Stop it. Not here, the walls have eyes and ears."
"Look, don't you think it's high time you came out to them."
"Not having this conversation. I agreed that you could come to our family thing but you have to behave. My family is not like yours. Being gay to them means people like Bobby Breaux, a guy who sucks off anything that stays still long enough to moan."
"Wait, that is exactly what my brother says about me."
"Be good. You promised. I need time for them to get used to you before I tell them."
"I'll be marinated in a jar before that happens. I see all those pickled foods that you bring from home. Do you people eat everything with vinegar and peppers?"
"Yes, and you have to try everything they give you or they'll be offended. You wanted to come. Time to pay the piper. On second thought, you don't have to try Uncle Jim's hogshead cheese. Truly disgusting stuff. The dogs won't even eat it."
"Thanks for small favors."
Exasperated, the statuesque, refined brunette, looked back over the long gravel drive that they came from, dust from the wake of the Toyota finally starting to settle. It was late morning and nowhere near ready to rain. Nora's world was here, isolated in a small town of family farms strung along a highway that slashed through the prairies just west of the river and abutted by swampland. It was a place that whole families lived, worked, died, and left it for the next generation to do the same. If anyone wandered off, it was temporary. Called back like migratory birds to the comfort of the familiar, this existence was as stifling as the midday heat. This was way farther from her Garden District childhood than the thirty-three miles that they put on the odometer that morning. Still, Nikki knew that but she had to get Nora to lighten up about her sexuality. Nikki didn't buy Nora's argument that only the rich had the luxury of living openly gay in society. But she was playing along. Nora meant too much to her to push her too far, this early in the game.
All Nora's warnings had not prepared Nikki for the onslaught of the of the Delaney clan, a clash of a magnitude usually measured in nuclear payloads. It wasn't just the sheer numbers but also the deafening din that came out of the smallest framed of them, high-pitched sounds carrying over the low rumble of barrel-chested men that reverberated in the living room. Nikki swore that the front window cracked that day. Nora said that was from the last hurricane. Her brothers hadn't bothered to fix it because there was another depression headed this way.
These various characters could populate any late afternoon dive, the type that showed up early, fought at the drop of a hat, and left one fifth too late. By the early afternoon, the mingling and meeting the family members, backing up from the invasions of personal space, and trying to decipher the heavy bayou accents left Nikki as numbed as she was after walking out of her police entrance exam. Then there was that tense moment when someone's grandmother asked about where Tonya was: Tonya, the ex-girlfriend from hell, the one that Nora had a restraining order out on.
It was crystal clear to Nikki that the entire family knew the exact nature of their relationship. How could they not? Nora practically never dated boys as a teen and certainly, as an adult, brought mostly sturdy, handsome women and a few femme artsy types to the ancestral home. It was flabbergasting to think that no one would just come out and name the thing, the beast that was Nora's extreme dykiness. They stepped around the concept like they stepped through their animal yards, deftly avoiding the poop bombs left in the grass without even looking down or breaking stride. The whole day played like a string of videos on CMT. By the afternoon, people were literally crying in their beer and leaving the dog and the pickup to walk home, too drunk to put the keys in the ignition.
Nora caught up to Nikki upstairs as she ducked into the first open room for a breather and to give her brain a rest.
"Don't say I told you so." Nikki was sitting on the bed holding her head between her hands.
"Here, I'll get you some Advil. It should help your headache."
Nikki called out to Nora who disappeared in the adjoining bathroom. "So do your Taunt Agnes and Noc Feade ever let anyone to answer any of their questions, or are they just expecting dissertations when they finally develop laryngitis?"
Nora laughed. Her aunt and uncle were famous for their rapid-fire assaults on guests, both demanding that their conversation get the full attention of their victim. Each line thrown, louder than the next, competing with one another for the dominance of the unfortunate soul caught in their web. "You deserve a nice quiet dinner at Bayona's for this, tomorrow night. I was going to wait 'til later but it has been a pretty rough day for you."
"Rough? I'm shell-shocked. Bobby's been rescuing me all day. It's like a game of concentration, fitting the names with the faces."
"How come you not married, sha?" She imitated the older women's French accent. "I swear, one day I'll up and tell 'em and they'll be sorry."
"So do it, already."
"And destroy the delicate balance of denial and hope. Yeah, no."
"You know they sit together and talk about it in the beauty shop."
"But if I say it out loud, it's real."
Nora finally emerged from the washroom with a glass of water and a couple of pills. "Careful now, this is a commemorative Flintstones glass, circa 1969. The filling station was giving them out with every tank of gas. Daddy got three sets for the house and the camp on Bayou Blue."
Nikki popped the tablet and quickly downed the cool water chaser. It was unbearably hot without air conditioning, especially on the upper floor. Also, there was that dinner of salty, boiled crawfish with potatoes and corn that Nikki forced down earlier to counter. She absolutely hated crawfish, perhaps the only person in Louisiana that did.
"This was your room." She pointed out the walls covered with posters of sports figures, primarily female singers, and cars.
"How could you tell? It could have been one of my brothers'."
"There's only one bed in here. How many brothers do you have anyway?"
"I should know better than to try to fool a master detective."
"That was my best friend, Jackie."
The two entwined girls frozen in time intrigued Nikki. Their fresh flushed faces stretched joy to its limit, it seemed. The white sleeveless numbered shirts trimmed in purple and gold clung to their young coltish bodies bathed in battle sweat that glistened through the gloss of the photo. Her lover, fifteen years earlier, held that same look of triumph that Nora saw every time she made a collar. Her head was bound in a band of purple, pulling back hair streaked with gold, brighter yellow than a pinetorch at midnight. She was placing a crown of flowers like an Olympic champion's wreath around her friend's jet-black tresses.
"Jackie was a bit of a hippie. She always said she was born too late."
"This was the state championship?"
"Yep. The best day of my life and the worst."
"That night, Jackie told me that she had finally fallen in love."
Nora nodded. "She met this girl from camp in Coteau and they started to hang out weekends. After that, we hardly ever saw each other. They stayed together about six months and then she started dating girls from Charlene's in the city."
"So she never knew you were in love with her?"
"I think that she did. But it just wasn't what she felt, you know. She was protecting me. My family loved her. They couldn't understand when she disappeared."
"Do you still keep in touch?"
"Nah, she moved down the river died five years ago of leukemia."
"Nora, I'm so sorry."
"It's OK. It was a long time ago."
"But she meant a lot to you."
"Yeah, she did." Nora briefly brushed the frame, golden-gilded with elaborate scrolling in delicately vined flowers. "Hey, we better get back down there before they miss us."
"Oh please, we can't let them think that we might be doing nasty things in your old room."
Nora slapped Nikki playfully. "They would not."
"For heaven's sake, give them some credit. There isn't a person down there that doesn't know what we are doing in our one bedroom on Toulouse. Well, maybe not Darlene, she doesn't seem to be playing with a full deck."
"Look, the women might gossip amongst themselves but the men never do. Weather, sports, TV maybe, but this? Never in a million years."
"Well, it doesn't stop the wheels from turning in their minds. I've caught quite of few of your cousins leering, darlin'." Nikki pulled Nora into an embrace as she spun her around, their weight an effective doorstop. "How was that for a nice pivot, Miss Basketball 1992?"
Nora's face popped the question as she gave into the forbidden affection that Nikki was giving.
"Bobby told me. He's quite proud of his big sister's prowess. He thinks you're great on the court too."
"That's not fair. Your brother doesn't tell me your deep dark secrets of your wild adolescence."
"He couldn't know. He was off at Jesuit and I at Sacred Heart."
"I would have never survived an all girls school. Those uniforms alone would have driven me insane."
"I still have my senior year uniform at home." She shifted her weight as seductively as she formed the words that came next, "Maybe I'll wear it for you sometime."
"With the tie pulled loose, open necked, "
"Hhmm, down to here," Nikki interjected.
" sexy oxfords?" Nora, now grinning, was beginning to feel her skin tingle, the rush of Nikki's brilliant and practiced foreplay had left all her reservations behind.
"Definitely not. Maryjanes."
"You are very good at this."
"You should hear what kind of Miss I was named in 1992."
"No fair, at least, wait 'til we get in the car."
"I'll even roll the skirt up way past Sister Agatha's line of demarcation." Nikki buried her lips in Nora's blonde locks and whispered until Nora's cheeks flushed like the burning blood of Christ, reducing her to taking His name in vain.
"Jesus, you would have killed me if we met in high school."
"So you're saying you aren't up to it?"
"Well, certainly not here, in my mother's house."
"But it would be so hot."
Nora's mind traveled in an instant to a time, in that room, where she had, indeed done quite a few of the very things her girlfriend was suggesting. It was sinfully dangerous in all its stifled climaxes and pillowed gasps. She was reckless in her youth, entertaining her semester buddies from college behind these thin walls. If Danny and Mike ever heard, they never let on. Then again, the entreaties for Nora to bring her friends home more often seemed sincerely earnest.
She shook herself back to the present. Her very enthusiastic partner was about to round third. "Ssssstop." She pushed out of the base lane and frantically rearranged her clothing into some semblance of propriety.
Nikki hummed the way she did when she didn't get her way, "Then I suggest that this reunion take things up at home, babe." Smugly, she picked up the keys to the car and beckoned to her bundle of nerves that stood frozen in the middle of the room. "Meet you outside. I'll make my farewells."
Nora waited until she regained the ability of motion, splashed her face with water in the sink, and checked her visage in the mirror. She was the same girl, the one at fifteen that pined away hours in this room, who, when she finally got into the flow of dating, found it hard to be daring outside secluded rooms, dens of iniquity. Sex became a hidden pleasure to be denied and categorized. One day, she would come out to the people out there, but not today.
She emerged fully refreshed and anxious to get on the road with the woman that she found so irresistible. She picked up her bag from the bed and her eye caught the color of advent again, adorning the players. Her Jackie. A painful ache started every time she looked at that picture, but each time, it carried less pain and more of the magic of the ecstasy that marked carefree days. It's why she kept it there so she could face it on every visit home. It was a reminder of the purity of their bond, before everything else, before the world crashed their party.
Before she left the room, Nora reconsidered, turned back, took the picture, and deposited it in her handbag. This ornament was coming home with them.
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