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These two fictional people are as real as I can make them. I hope you like reading the story as much as I liked writing it.
It was the perfect day for a hike, especially for rainy Seattle. The sun was shining, the sky was clear, and there was just a little bit of a breeze, but I was too nervous to really notice. I actually had butterflies in my stomach.
I hadn’t had butterflies in my stomach since I asked Bobby Railes to the prom, half a lifetime ago. He wouldn’t be my date, but he did go as my friend, and the whole night was great. He even gave me my first real kiss. There was no heat, just pure sweetness. I’ve been waiting for another kiss that sweet ever since, and none of the men in life so far have measured up.
The butterflies today were for Meaghan Williams, and it’s not just a high school prom this time; it’s my whole life. I’ve known her for a little over two years — two years, two months and nine days to be exact — and she’s been my best friend for most of that time. And I’ve finally realized I’m in love with her. Not the kind of comfortable, we’re good together in love I’ve had up to now; crazy, head over heels, can’t live without you in love. I didn’t even know that was possible until Meaghan. I thought it was a myth, something that happens in fiction, not real life.
And today I’m going to tell her so.
I met Meaghan in mid-April, the worst part of the year, at least if you like the sun. Spring was hinting at arriving, but it was stilly gray and rainy, like it had been pretty much nonstop since October. There were a few breaks in the clouds that day, and some actual sun shone through, but not enough to count.
I was going down for coffee on a Thursday afternoon with the usual crowd and we ran into the designers, like we usually do. I noticed a new person with them, and that it was a girl (the long white skirt gave it away), but didn’t think much of it — I don’t work with the designers much. The closest I come to UI programming is adding a checkbox to an options dialog every once in a while. So while my compatriots waited in line at the espresso stand, I headed off to the kitchenette to get myself a cup of tea. I go for coffee most afternoons with the guys, but I don’t actually like coffee, even the fru-fru stuff they make with steamed milk.
And then the long white skirt walked into the kitchenette and got herself a cup of tea too. “Don’t like coffee?” I asked.
“Nope. I get that it’s the big thing in this town, but I can’t stand the stuff. But I’m the new girl, and I want to be social and get along. I’m Meaghan, the new designer.”
And then I don’t know why, but I actually looked at her. Most of the time, I don’t really pay attention to people, especially female people. In a crowd, I might notice a man or two, especially if he’s tall, and keep looking if he’s handsome, but beyond that, people don’t really register. Meaghan did, for some reason.
She was average height — maybe five six. I had to look up at her; I always do. Her eyes were deep green, like the evergreen forests where she now lived, set in a round, open, honest face. Her skin was pale and freckled, especially across the bridge of her button nose. It would definitely get paler living in this city of rain. She wasn’t wearing much makeup, maybe something around her eyes, but she did have something on her lips, and they sparkled in the little ray of sun that made its way into the kitchenette. A mess of brown waves framed her face, with just a bit of red, not quite down to the collar. It was natural and elegant at the same time, like she could get out of bed, run a brush through her hair and immediately look great.
There must have been a body underneath that face, wrapped in clothes and holding a cup of tea in one hand, but beyond the blur of the long white skirt, all I remember is the face. And the hair. I was jealous of the hair.
I’ve come to terms with most of the physical bits of my genetic inheritance. I’m okay with being short and slim and built a little like a boy. I rather like my kinda-but-not-really-Asian face. It’s distinctive, even in this city of Asian immigrants, and I even think it’s kinda sorta pretty. And now that I’m in my thirties, I love getting carded every single time I order a drink.
But I’m conflicted about my hair. It’s black and straight, and it goes down to the middle of my back. I keep it that way because it’s the only way it looks even halfway good. I’ve tried cuts, perms, bangs, curling, everything; it all looks silly, or worse. A girl likes to have options, and besides a ponytail, I don’t. But Meaghan definitely had options. I could imagine her hair as anything from pinup to punk rocker to fairytale princess with just a little bit of effort, and I’m sure it looked great even with no effort at all.
I think I was actually staring at her — I hope she didn’t think I was a crazy person or something. We work at a software company, so eccentric (i.e. defective) personalities are the norm, but still. I casino siteleri tried to recover and look normal.
“Hi, I’m Sarah. I don’t like coffee either; I just need the break in the afternoon. I’m a dev, but you probably won’t see me very much — I don’t really do any UI work. It’s nice to meet you, though. I hope you like it here.”
I was suddenly sad that we wouldn’t be working together. She seemed like somebody I might actually have something in common with, unlike the other designers. They were nice enough, but I’m not really a hip Capitol Hill kind of person. I think maybe Meaghan had just a little bit of inner geek waiting to come out. I hoped I’d see her again at afternoon coffee, or around the building, even if we never worked together.
After that first afternoon coffee, my group ran into hers most afternoons, except on Tuesdays when weekly meetings got in the way. We said hello to them as everyone waited in line and chatted a bit. I always smiled and said hello to Meaghan, and she always smiled back. When people got their drinks, we’d sit at one table, and the designers a table or two away. I found myself looking over at Meaghan and wondering what she and the rest of the designers were talking about.
About a month later, Meaghan startled me when she walked into the women’s restroom — it’s usually empty. The male/female ratio in the building isn’t exactly well-balanced. Something was up, and trying not to be too nosy I said “I’ve missed you guys at coffee. I heard something happened last week.”
She looked about ready to cry. “There was a big shake-up, and I don’t know all of what happened, but everyone I liked left. Some people found other teams; some left the company. My boss is gone too; I don’t know where. I don’t think it was voluntary. I’m starting to think this job was a bad idea.”
I knew a bit about what happened behind the scenes, probably more than she did, enough to reassure her about her situation. “It’ll be okay — things like this just happen sometimes. You still have a job, and everybody’s happy with how you’re doing it. Steer clear of the drama and you’ll be okay. It’s only work.”
“I know, but I’ve only been here less than two months and now I have all this work and no idea what I’m doing, and soon I’ll have to deal with a bunch of new hires who are even more clueless than I am.” She was still upset, but calmed down a little and managed a smile.
I felt a lot of sympathy for her — I’d been through a crisis or two at work, and when you’re in the middle of them they always feel worse than they really are. “You can come talk to me anytime you want to. I’m not a designer, but I do know how this place works, and how it’s different for women. You know where my office is.”
“Thanks, that means a lot. Really.”
That afternoon, when I started rounding up the guys for coffee, I popped my head in to Meaghan’s office first. “Coffee?”
She hesitated before saying anything. I could tell she wanted to go, but didn’t want to feel uncomfortable around that many devs. So I cut her off before she could speak. “Come on — you need a break, and the guys never talk about work stuff at coffee. You’ll fit right in.”
She got up, still a little hesitant, and said “okay” with a warm little smile.
When we got downstairs, we headed off to the kitchenette together for the customary cup of tea while the guys ordered their espresso concoctions, and we went and grabbed a table while they waited. Meaghan didn’t say anything, but the tension in her shoulders eased a bit when I smiled at her as we sat down. Carl and Darren walked over with their coffees and resumed a conversation from earlier in the day — Carl said to Darren “Dude, you have to watch Spirited Away. I can’t believe you’ve never seen it.”
Meaghan jumped right into the conversation “Ooh, I love that movie. Did you watch it in English, or Japanese with subtitles?”
Carl responded “I watched it in English — it’s not live action, and they did a great job on the English voices, so it seems natural. I tried to watch it in the original language, but it was too hard to focus on the wonderful visuals while reading the subtitles.”
He looked over at me and smiled. “Sarah can probably watch it in Japanese without subtitles.”
My ears turned a little red, and I said “I can, mostly, but only if I really pay attention. Sometimes they talk too fast.” Nana keeps telling me I need to work on my Japanese, and she’s right.
Turns out Meaghan is an actual practicing artist outside her day job, and also a bit of a geek. Her knowledge of and interest in comic books, anime and the like are extensive. The guys were quite impressed, and her remaining discomfort vanished.
Carl’s office is right next to mine at the end of the hallway. He’s always been kind of like my work big brother, and he’s the one who started the afternoon coffee group years ago. When it was just the two of us walking back to our offices, I said to him “I hope you don’t mind slot oyna me inviting Meaghan to coffee.”
Carl replied “You don’t need to ask my permission, for that or anything else. You can do what you want around here — you’ve earned it. Besides, I like Meaghan. She’s the best designer I’ve worked with since Michael moved to Boston. She seems to have some idea what developers actually do and how software actually works — I think she had a CS minor in school or something. It makes the conversations so much easier. With most designers, it’s like I’m speaking English and they’re speaking German.” After a short pause, he added with a smile “And she’s quite pleasant to be around.”
So Meaghan the shy designer started coming to afternoon coffee with a bunch of geeky, mostly male devs. The guys were always really nice to her (she is a girl, after all), and her inner geekiness put her right at home with us and our typical conversation topics. Her video game tastes are eclectic, and line up with mine more often than the guys. She’s often more interested in the art than the mechanics, and generally goes in more for exploring and building things than blowing them up. We both agree that Psychonauts is an unappreciated masterpiece. She also shamed Carl into finally watching Firefly. She can even hold her own in conversation when we talk about work, even if her eyes do glaze over at some of the details.
And a funny thing happened — afternoon coffee became the highlight of my day, at least when Meaghan came. It had always been a nice break, but after that I started looking at the clock more often around one thirty, waiting for three to come around. On Tuesdays, the guys all had feature team meetings to go to — mine was usually Wednesday morning — so coffee was just Meaghan and me, and that made Tuesday the best day of the week.
Conversation got more personal when it was just the two of us — two girls talking is different from a bigger group of mostly guys. My whole life story came out first, which is unusual. I’m normally the quiet one, but around Meaghan I’d babble on about anything and everything and not feel self-conscious. I was born in Seattle to two Japanese-American half-breeds. Mom’s a marine biologist, and Dad’s a writer and English professor. They both worked at UW when I was growing up, so it’s natural that’s where I wound up.
Life was pretty normal until the middle of my junior year in high school, when Mom got a grant to study the effects of pollution on cetaceans in the Mediterranean. She and Dad had to move to the middle of nowhere, Spain, south of Barcelona, with about a month’s notice. I really wanted to go with them — how cool would it be to live in the Spanish countryside? — but I also wanted to be a programmer, and finishing high school and going to UW was the way to do that. So I stayed, and Nana (Mom’s mom) moved in with me. My parents came home for the holidays, and I went to live in Spain during the summers. The two year grant turned into five, and they moved to LA after that while Nana stayed here, so in a lot of ways, Nana’s been as much like a second mom as a grandmother.
I told Meaghan about everything else too — school; boys; work; playing the cello (not as well as I’d like); being female in this industry; men. Brian. I lived with him for over two years and we almost got married. I thought I loved him, and I thought he loved me. Life’s not always what you think it is.
Meaghan told me her story too, or at least the Cliff’s Notes version. Dad’s a plant manager at a factory in a smallish town in Michigan that makes parts for machines that make parts that go into other parts that go into cars. Mom’s a high school teacher. English, like my Dad. Two older brothers. Tim is doing well; Danny not so much.
She grew up drawing and painting and wanted to be an artist, but Dad pointed out that artists usually can’t pay the bills, especially without a husband. So she went to school to get a BFA in art and design. That should have been enough to make a decent living as a designer or illustrator or something similar, but the financial crisis hit right in the middle of college, and the market fell out, in Michigan worst of all. She scraped by for a couple of years on freelance and contract work, just enough for a master’s degree, which got her an interview here. Two days after her twenty fourth birthday, she was sitting in employee orientation at her new job, not knowing a soul and hoping she could be happy here.
She told me a lot about her art, and even showed me some of her work, mostly digital illustration. The pieces she showed me were typical of the style she’d been working in recently: sharply drawn and shaded cartoony figures, on top of colorful, dreamy watercolor-ish backgrounds, full of natural scenery and detail. It’s fun, and often quite lovely. She also paints, with real paint, but I’ve never seen anything she’s painted. I think her paintings are just for her right now.
The best part of the story, the part that brought a smile canlı casino siteleri to her eyes, was her niece Grace and nephew Sam. They’re her oldest brother Tim’s kids, and Skyping with them on Saturday afternoon was the highlight of her week. Missing them was the hardest thing for her about living in Seattle. Tim was looking for a new job somewhere — anywhere — outside Michigan, and Meaghan nagged him every week about how wonderful it is out here.
I knew there was more to the story, but at the time I didn’t know what. I figured it out later — I can be so dense — no mention of men, or even of friends other than one girl in high school. She was guarded with me, and probably everyone else, and I didn’t push.
On Wednesday nights, I usually get dinner somewhere near work, eat in my office or a conference room while watching a TV show or something, and go back to work for a few hours before going home. I like to cook, even for just me, but I also have a weakness for fast food — greasy burgers, teriyaki (it’s a Seattle thing), burritos, that kind of thing — so I indulge that weakness on Wednesday nights. I ran into Meaghan one week and invited her to join me, and it became a regular thing.
Meaghan was more relaxed in the evenings, and a little less guarded. One Wednesday evening, I was going on about some guy I went out with the previous week. It went the same way the rest of my (very infrequent) dates had for the past few years — with an early evening at home for me, and no second date. And without thinking, I asked if she had met anyone interesting. And male.
“Sarah, I’m gay.” she said, looking a little surprised I didn’t know.
“Oh, god. I’m so sorry sweetie. I had no idea. And here I’ve been babbling about men and assuming you were just shy and hadn’t met anybody.” I was mortified that I didn’t know something that important about somebody I thought of as a friend. My face turned three different shades of crimson. I can be such an idiot.
She looked at me for a while, like she was testing me. Apparently I passed, and she answered “It’s okay. Really. I am shy, and I haven’t met anyone, at least not anyone interested in going out with me. But if I did, it certainly wouldn’t be a man.” She smiled after that, to make sure I didn’t take it as a rebuke.
“Well, you deserve to find someone. And when you find her, I hope she’s really good for you.”
After that conversation, the wall that I hadn’t even noticed she kept up in front of me was gone, and she told me the rest of her story. How it was easier to be friends with boys than girls, because boys were simple and girls were complicated. And then she started talking about Chrissy.
“She was a cheerleader and the captain of the math club — not something you see every day — but she had a hard time making real friends, just like me. We got assigned together as lab partners, and we just clicked. My junior year, I think she spent more waking hours at my house than her own.
So one day Chrissy and I were in my room and I was talking about kissing Nick Kelvin. I talked about boys a lot, and she let me babble, but she never seemed interested for herself. I said ‘It didn’t do anything for me. Nothing at all. I like hanging out with boys, but kissing Nick was just like kissing a tree. He seemed to like it a lot, but for me it was just … there. Maybe there’s something wrong with me.’
Chrissy smiled at me and said ‘Maybe you just don’t like boys, at least not that way.’ After a long pause, she added ‘Maybe you like girls.’ I was stunned. I had never even considered the possibility. I knew gay people existed, on some level, but they were completely outside my experience. Girls like boys and boys like girls. That’s how the world works. I’m a girl, so I can’t like girls. But something told me she was right.
And then she asked me ‘Do you want to kiss me?’ I just stared with my mouth open and nodded. ‘Then kiss me.’ I did, and it was wonderful. It was soft and sweet, and it made me go a little wobbly in the knees. It felt right, and I was so grateful. I knew she wasn’t in love with me, and that was okay; she was my best friend, and she gave me something I didn’t even know I needed.
Chrissy graduated a year ahead of me and went to Stanford. Senior year was hard — if there were any other girls at school or around town like me, I certainly didn’t know about them, and was too scared to look. So I shut down that part of my life until I left. College was easier — Ann Arbor is a pretty welcoming town, and I found out about the LBGT student association in the first few weeks of school. I learned enough there to know that I would be okay, even if life wouldn’t be easy, and I met people I could talk to.”
She got quiet after that, and we finished dinner in an easy silence. The next week, she told me about coming out to her parents.
“It was over Christmas my freshman year. Mom just cried a lot and hugged me and told me she loved me no matter what. I was a lot more worried about Dad, but he surprised me. Looking back, I shouldn’t have worried. He was always conservative and stern, but never hateful or mean. And he always showed me he loved me, in his own way.
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