Meet Lisa: An Outtake from ‘LIFTED’

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“Why do I get the distinct impression you’re not listening to me, Lisa?”

Maybe because she wasn’t listening to her.

“I am, Mom. I’m just exhausted. I had an entire day of hearings and another tomorrow. And then I fly back on the red eye.”

“Well, your career is important. I wouldn’t dispute that. But at the moment, your father and I are concerned about Tyson. You’re sure he hasn’t called you?”

“I’m sure,” Lisa said.

It wasn’t quite a lie. Ty hadn’t called her. At least not since he told her he was leaving school and wanted to crash at her place for a little while. She hadn’t heard from him in five days, and could only assume based on this frantic call from their mother that the dumb-ass had gone through with it—took off and left school in pursuit of some indistinct ‘new life.’ This was not their family’s first dog-and-pony show with her brother.

Ty had always been wild and hard to control, restless and unpredictable. And as he grew older—though never wiser—everyone was beginning to come to terms with the fact that maturity wasn’t the issue. Ty was just one of those people. Telling him the stove was hot had never sufficed for him as a kid, he had to touch it to find out for himself. Well, this time, he was definitely going to get burned, because their parents were at the end of their rope with him. Lisa could hear it now in her mother’s voice—the exhaustion, the resignation and defeat beneath the worry.

“If he does, will you call me? Right away?”

“I promise,” Lisa said, looking at her watch.

It was almost nine-thirty, and some of her colleagues had gone for dinner in Georgetown to a steakhouse one of them read about someplace. Lisa begged off as being too tired, but now she was beginning to feel a restless energy and thought she might hit the streets after all. Since she was in DC at least once a month, she had her own favorite haunts in the city, and was already running inventory in her mind, trying to decide which one to visit.

“You don’t think he’s just … left, do you?” her mother asked, a thin reed of apprehension in her voice.

“No, Mom. I wouldn’t worry about that. Of course he hasn’t. Where would he go? He’s probably just taking some time to think or something.”

“When Ty ‘thinks’ he rarely seems to reach the correct conclusions.”

Lisa bristled for a moment on her brother’s behalf. That was the kind of thing they said directly to his face, as well as behind his back. No wonder he kept trying to escape the gilded cage of their parents’ so-called love. No wonder he was always running away.

“Okay, Mom. I’ve got to get something to eat. It’s late and I have another early day tomorrow.”

“Alright, well, call me if …”

“Yes, yes,” Lisa said, rushing her off the phone.

This time she was staying at the Mayflower Renaissance, the historic and upscale hotel where then-NY governor Elliot Spitzer had his tryst with a high-priced call girl, ruining both his reputation and political future. Lisa liked the Mayflower though the rooms were in need of some modernization. But the Old World feel of the place was what attracted its guests, Georgetown dowagers, and socialites in town from Virginia horse country for a tea with friends. Or at least, that was who it used to attract. Elliot Spitzer’s reputation and career hadn’t been the only casualty of the call-girl scandal.

By the time she’d showered and changed out of her power suit, Lisa had decided to grab a quick bite at a Thai place she knew in DuPont Circle and then head to Cobalt. Though she definitely went to gay bars back in San Francisco, it was funny how much more ‘out’ she felt in DC. Maybe because no one knew her here, and she could be one of the anonymous crowd. Her coworkers were safely some distance away in stodgy Georgetown, so she could be whoever the hell she wanted to be tonight.

Being in the closet in San Francisco of all places made her feel like a coward. And she kind of was.  Coming out in San Francisco wasn’t like coming out in the conservative small Connecticut town where she and Ty grew up. In San Francisco, coming out was joining an already-established community. Even at her job, where she was most careful to conceal her sexuality, there were dozens of gay men and women living their truth.

But instead of just declaring herself one of them (not in word, because she would never do that, but in deed at least) Lisa pretended. She pretended and then went out on Fridays to places like Hood Range, where women like Tessa Denison strutted around like they owned the world and casually amassed lover after lover after lover.

As she waited for the doorman to hail her a cab at the curb, Lisa wondered whether she’d made a mistake letting Tessa stay at her place when Ty was expected. Would she say something, do something, that would give Lisa’s secret away? She hadn’t been thinking clearly when she asked Tessa to house-sit for her. She didn’t even need a house-sitter, for heaven’s sake. She had a wireless security system that would text her if there was anything awry at her apartment, and if that failed, a bunch of nosey neighbors would be her fail-safes.

But Tessa was like no one Lisa had ever met before and she was a little high on her when she made the suggestion, wanting to know that as soon as she got back from DC, she would see her. And because she was somewhat of a live wire, you never knew with Tessa whether she might just up and disappear or something.

For weeks before they hooked up, Lisa had watched Tessa at the bar, admiring her ease in her own skin. She picked up women the way other people picked lint off their shoulder—casually, thoughtlessly, and with the barest modicum of effort. It seemed like all Tessa ever had to do was smile at someone and they were hers for the asking.

If ever she was in a serious relationship, Tessa was definitely not the kind of person Lisa would do that with. She could only imagine the agony that awaited anyone who came along who was dumb enough think Tessa Denison could be held down. But for now, she was perfect—perhaps some of her bravery, her brash manner of living would rub off, and Lisa could stop carrying this oppressive, heavy lie of a life.



“So, San Francisco, huh? What’s that like?”

Lisa tore her eyes away from the slender, dark-haired woman a few seats down the bar and back to Kim, the woman next to her.

She’d approached just as Lisa sat down and asked whether she could buy her a drink and Lisa agreed, because she didn’t want to sit alone while eyeing someone longingly from afar. But Kim was not her physical type at all. She was blonde, for starters, and had what looked to be about twenty extra pounds on her. Lisa thought being overweight was a sign of indiscipline. She could stomach many things, but lack of discipline was her biggest pet peeve. In some things she could let it slide, but control over one’s own body was just basic. If a person couldn’t manage that, she had no time for them.

“It’s like living in any other large city, I guess,” Lisa said, her eyes shifting once again to the dark-haired woman. “Different enclaves, that kind of thing.”

Kim picked up on her inattention and looked over her shoulder, catching sight of the woman Lisa had been staring at. “She’s pretty,” she said. “More your type, I take it.”

A tone in Kim’s voice made Lisa look at her again. She wasn’t interested, but she didn’t want the woman to feel she was a complete nonentity, either. So she smiled at her.

“A weakness for dark-haired beauties,” she admitted. “What’s your weakness? Physically I mean.”

Kim gave a little smile. “Women who look like you, I guess.”

Lisa took a sip of her wine. “Oh.”

“That wasn’t a play for a pity-lay by the way. Just an honest answer.”

“I wouldn’t think … I didn’t think that,” Lisa blushed. “And besides, I doubt you need to make people sorry for you to want to sleep with you.”

“No,” Kim acknowledged. “But since my divorce, I guess I’m a little down on myself.”

“You were married?” Lisa sat forward.

She’d always been fascinated by those gay couples who just …went for it. It was one thing to be out—something she couldn’t even begin to consider doing just yet. And quite another to just live out loud like that, get married and everything like straight people. Again, Lisa thought about her cowardice.

“I like to tell people that my ex and I were among the first wave of gay marriages. And the first wave of gay divorces.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Since then I put on thirty pounds and started questioning every little thing about myself. So if I sounded a little down on myself before, that’s all it is. Residual divorce stuff.”

“What was your …”

“Wife,” Kim supplied.

“Your wife’s name?”

“Candace. We were Kimberly and Candace Merchant.”

“Big wedding?”

“Huge. A real show wedding.”

“Were your families ..?”

“Yeah. On both sides. It was a great party. Great day.”

“Then I’m sorry it didn’t work out,” Lisa said sincerely. “That must have been very painful.”

“It was.”

“Want to … tell me about it?”

Kim grinned at her. “This has to be the worst date etiquette. Bending your ear about my failed marriage.”

“Well, we’re not on a date.” Lisa shrugged. “So you should feel free to bend away. And besides, I asked. I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t interested.”

“Okay,” Kim nodded. “Since you insist, I’m going to hit you with it. The Kimberly Merchant Marital Tale of Woe.”

“Hit me,” Lisa said.



Lisa still couldn’t believe they ended up in bed. The entire time she kept telling herself that Kim was not her type, definitely not her type, not that attractive, dammit, not her type. But after their conversation in the bar, Lisa had found herself overlooking the extra pounds, the blondeness, the somewhat dumpy and unfashionable clothes. All of it fell away and instead she focused on the bright intelligence in Kim’s eyes, the pleasant crinkling at their corners and their overwhelming and vivid shade of green.

When Kim was naked, Lisa didn’t even have to look away from the slight paunch, the soft indistinctness of her arms, and the way her breasts splayed slightly to the sides with their own weight. Lisa had looked at her head on and still, to her oft-repeated surprise while they made love, wanted Kim just as much as if she was the most perfectly-sculpted bombshell of a female specimen.

Now though, it was almost four a.m. and she had to think about preparing for her hearing on Capitol Hill that morning, which meant that her enjoyment of Kim’s company notwithstanding, she needed to be alone and get her game-face on. The Senate hearing was the long-awaited crescendo to a hard-fought legislative campaign, and it had to go well. Though she knew she had little control over that, Lisa still liked to be prepared. She would be sitting next to her company’s CEO, feeding him information that it was up to him to deliver with all the sincerity and conviction of the Pope delivering Mass in the Vatican. And though she couldn’t deliver his lines for him, she believed her confidence might fuel his.

She hoped that the sound of the shower would awaken her guest, and she would discreetly exit the suite before Lisa was done. That way she could review her notes, gather her thoughts and spend some time on choosing among the five suits she brought along as options. But when she got out and heard signs of movement in the next room, Lisa sighed, realizing her hope was in vain. Kim was still there.


She was dressed and sitting at the edge of the bed at least.

“Hey,” Lisa said. “I had a good time last night. But I hope you don’t mind if …”

Kim broke out into laughter that sounded like it had been barely-repressed up until that moment. “I made a bet with myself,” she explained. “About how long it would take before you asked me to leave. I lost. I thought five minutes at least. You took five seconds.”

Standing there in the hotel robe, Lisa blushed. This was the second time Kim had made her blush in their very brief acquaintance. Something she rarely did.

“You make me sound like such a bitch. I’m sorry, but I just have this …”

“Yes, you told me last night, remember? The hearing. That’s a big deal. Don’t worry, I’m getting out of your way in just a moment.”

Kim slid on her flats and stood, going to the mirror to rake her fingers through her hair. Lisa watched her.

“You could … I’m about to order room service coffee if you want to have a cup,” she offered.

“No. Thank you,” Kim said. “Last night was lovely. But I know we’re not in that place anymore. You’re here to work and I was …” She shrugged. “It was very nice spending time with you, Lisa.”

Kim turned to leave.

“Wait,” Lisa said.

Kim turned, her expression quizzical.

“I’d like it if you’d stay.”

“Would you really?” Kim didn’t sound insecure, just skeptical.

Now that she knew her a little better, Lisa was quite certain Kim wasn’t insecure as a rule and that it was just like she said, that her marriage had thrown her for a loop.

Lisa held up a hand. “Swear.”

“Maybe I can give you some of my tips for Senate hearings in the meantime,” Kim suggested.

“Tips for ..? Wait, are you a lobbyist too? How come you never said anything last night?”

“Not a lobbyist, no. I’m on staff for the Senate Judiciary Committee. And we never talked about my career last night. We talked aboutyour career, and my marriage.”

“You must think I’m a self-centered bitch.”

Kim shook her head slowly. “No. I don’t.”

Lisa smiled. “Well, let’s order that coffee and then, yes, I’d love to hear some of your tips for testifying at Senate hearings.”

Note to the Reader: The preceding excerpt is NOT a part of the novel, but a segment that wound up on the cutting room floor. Nevertheless, I hope you’ll check the book out.





LIfted cover final


“Have you ever … been with a guy?”

Anzu’s gaze lifted from her nails to Tessa’s face. “Lots. Why?”

“Lots? Is that what you just said? Lots?

Anzu shrugged. “Yeah. But that was a long time ago.”

“You never told me …”

“It’s not the kind of thing that comes up in casual conversation, if you know what I mean,” Anzu said her eyes dropping once again to her nails. “I have a long and storied past as a high school floozy.”

Tessa sat back so she could look Anzu directly in the eyes. And before she could stop it, her mouth fell open.

“You mean with …”

“With guys, yeah,” Anzu said. She shrugged again. “Look, I was a Japanese girl from a very traditional family, growing up in conservative Orange County. How the hell was I going to tell my first generation Japanese-American parents that I was having dirty thoughts about blonde cheerleaders?”

Not too much rendered Tessa speechless, but for some reason this did. Of course, she knew that the path to self-acceptance was rocky for far too many lesbians and gay men, but very few of her friends had ever shared their coming-out stories. Coming-out stories were more of interest to straight people. If you were gay, it was the same ol’-same ol’.

“So you had sex with them? These guys?”

Anzu looked her directly in the eye. “Yup.”

“But …” Tessa replaced the cap on the nail varnish and watched as Anzu began blowing on her fingernails to dry them.

“Why?” Anzu finished for her. “Is that what you’re about to ask? Because I was determined to be straight, that’s why. It was like my little secret afterschool project. Screw as many guys as I could until I started to really like it. Why d’you think LGBT youth have some of the highest rates of unplanned pregnancies?”

“Well did you ever? Start to like it I mean.”

Trying to make eye contact with her friend, Tessa realized after a few failed attempts that Anzu didn’t want to. Finally, she got up and went into the bathroom and after a moment, there was the sound of running water. Anzu was running cold water over her fingers to help speed the process of setting the color.

“Why’re you so curious about hetero sex all of a sudden?” she asked without answering Tessa’s question. “Are you …?”

There was a long pause, and then Anzu was sticking her head out of the bathroom, her eyes as wide as saucers.

“Oh my god! Did you and the pretty boy …”

“No!” Tessa said quickly. “Why does everyone think that Ty and I..?”

Anzu leaned against the doorjamb and stared at her. “You serious right now?”

“Yes, I’m serious right now! I want to know precisely why everyone thinks that Ty and I could be screwing. Particularly since I’m the gayest person you know.”

Anzu laughed. “Let’s not go overboard on the ‘gayest person’ stuff. Just because you sleep with a lot of girls doesn’t mean …”

“Stop.” Tessa held up a hand. “I think I’ve heard this speech. From Lisa, remember?”

Anzu came back to the futon and sat cross-legged directly in front of her, shaking her head. “I’m not about to say anything as vile as that bitch said to you. I’m just sayin’, it’s not about what’s here …” Anzu indicated her crotch. “It’s mostly about what’s here …” pointing at her head, “…and here.” Her heart.

“What does that have to do with me and Ty?”

Anzu smiled. “Seriously?”


Meet Tessa …

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From ‘Lifted’:

This time, though full of breakfast food and still somewhat drunk, they didn’t pass out when they hit Tessa’s futon mattress. This time, though she still stripped down to her boy-shorts and sports bra, Tessa lay on her side and talked to him. Ty kept his clothes on at first but soon grew uncomfortable in the warm apartment. Doing so slowly, checking Tessa for any sign of discomfort, he finally stripped off his shirt and jeans so he was lying next to her bare-chested and wearing only boxer briefs.

The lights remained on and neither of them made any move to change that, so Ty got a good look at Tessa, her face only about two feet from his. When he stared at her, she stared back, right into his eyes like babies do, completely without artifice or pretense. Ty wondered whether she would ever look away if he didn’t.

Her eyes were dark, dark brown, like burnt molasses. Her skin was the color of warm caramel and so smooth he wanted to touch it to see whether it was real. And her hair … Ty could imagine wrapping his hands in strands of her hair, which was as wild, uncontrolled and beautiful as its owner. On a whim, he reached out, slowly to see whether she would flinch. But she didn’t. Instead, she just blinked and smiled with her eyes when his hand made contact with her hair. It was soft and coarse at once, each strand thick and substantial, not silky like his.

Ty twisted several strands about his fingers and brought the hand back to his face and sniffed. Coconut. He smiled.

“Why didn’t you show for the brunch?” he asked, not even knowing he was about to.

“I didn’t want to be there to see it if your parents hurt or embarrassed you,” she said. And she seemed surprised by her own answer as he had been by his question.

Ty let his eyes drift away from hers, then he closed them and took another whiff of her hair. The scent was calming.

“They didn’t embarrass me,” he said.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come,” Tessa said. “If it mattered to you that I wasn’t there.”

“It mattered.”

She took a breath and opened her mouth to speak, pausing for a moment before continuing. “I’m not the best friend to people who befriend me,” she pronounced.

She didn’t just say it, she pronounced it, as though it was in capital letters and she wanted him to take note.

“That doesn’t sound true,” Ty said.

“It is. I’m the friend you hang out with on Friday nights who’ll get you fucked up; the one you call when you want to do something crazy like scale the side of a city monument at two in the morning.” She stopped for a moment and caught his gaze again. “I’m not the friend you call if you’re stuck at the airport and need a ride. Of if you were stranded at the Mexican border with no money in your pocket. I wouldn’t show up.”

“That sounds like bullshit,” Ty said. “It sounds like something someone said to you and now you believe it, even though it’s not true.”

At that, Tessa gave him a wry smile. “No,” she said with complete certainty and more than a little sadness. “It’s not bullshit. It’s true.”


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Trey had begun to get curious. He was there sometimes, in bed with her when the dreams came. So far he hadn’t asked, but Shayla could feel the questions brimming over inside him when he turned to hold her in the dark, or when she slipped out from between the sheets and went to shower. She could wash away the perspiration but not the memories of Justin’s hands. Funny how she remembered every detail of his hands, while the contours of his face had grown fuzzy and indistinct.

Occasionally at work, she was tempted to look him up online, just to see one of the old pictures of how he used to be, to refresh her memory. She’d done that once, a long while ago now, when she was living in New York, and the image on the monitor had immediately transported her back to that time . . . It had not been a good feeling and she was in no hurry to repeat the experience, but sometimes, still, she wanted to see his face.

Nowadays she was constantly getting new reminders of how much of that time still remained with her. Like when Trey touched her unexpectedly; she tensed and it took her mind and her body a moment to realize that it would not hurt. And she hadn’t been so good about hiding it either. Once in awhile she saw something flash in his eyes, like he recognized her apprehension and wanted to say something to alleviate it.

He knew.

Even if he didn’t know that he knew, Trey had begun to realize something about her. If she let this continue, their sleeping together, spending all this time together, he would eventually ask and she would have to decide whether to tell him, or to move on.

Get to know Darren . . .



The plan had been a warm shower and early night, but when Trey got in around eight, he apologized for missing their workout and explained that Darren was on the way over. Didn’t matter to her; they would eat dinner and go their separate ways like they always did.


But when Darren showed up around eight-thirty he was wearing faded jeans, a yellow long-sleeved shirt that clung to his very impressive chest and made the most of his dark-as-molasses complexion; and as a bonus, cologne that made Shayla want to swoon. He seemed to occupy the entire kitchen with his overwhelming masculinity, all biceps and shoulders and booming laugh. It was impossible not to flirt with a man like him, and he clearly enjoyed flirting back.

“What you doin’ tonight?” he’d asked as they all finished up with the meal. “Go on get dressed and come out with us.”

Shayla noticed that Trey said nothing, so she refused at first, looking at him out of the corner of her eye. For all she knew, he had plans to pick up some woman and bring her home, and if she was along for the ride, it would make things a little awkward to say the least when his conquest realized she lived in the same house.

“Don’t look at him,” Darren said, noticing the glance. “You’re rollin’ with me.”

Feeling caught, Shayla said nothing.

“No, you should come,” Trey said finally but without enthusiasm. “Go ahead. Get ready. We’ll wait.”

So she’d gone down to shower and change, managing to find a pair of close-fitting jeans and a yellow slip top which she wore with black high-heeled sandals. At the last minute she even pulled her braids up into a swing ponytail and put on a little lipstick and eyeliner. She had no idea how she looked—she was so out of practice with that stuff—until she walked into the kitchen and saw an expression of unmistakable appreciation cross both men’s faces.

“You clean up good, girl,” Darren said, his eyes running over her. “You’re most definitely riding with me. Trey, you can take your car.”

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Get to know Shayla . . .


It was almost an hour later and Shayla sat staring at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair stood upright, wiry and springy, away from her skull like a cartoon character who’d stuck their finger into an electrical outlet. It was as uneven as she’d feared, and a little dry. And long, but not nearly as frightening as she expected. Whenever she’d gotten her braids redone—about every seven weeks or so—she never paid attention when they were removed, never even looked in the mirror until the job was done. This was the first time in two years that she’d taken a good long look at her own hair. Longer, in fact, because before the braids, she’d used a relaxer on her hair and had since she was thirteen.

She stared for a moment more and then reached up to test the texture, raking her fingers over her scalp.

Oooh. That felt good.

Next to her, Trey smiled. “I like it,” he said.

Shayla laughed out loud. “You’re nuts if you think I’m going to leave it like this,” she said.

Trey’s face fell. “What’re you going to do to it?”

“Well for tonight, wash and moisturize and hope to God I remember how to do a fishbone braid or something so I don’t look like a lunatic at this party tonight. And then tomorrow I’m going to a hairdresser and get a trim and . . .  I don’t know, but something.” She shook her head, still not taking her eyes off her reflection. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”

“I’m glad I did,” he said. And then he nodded. “I can see you now.”

Shayla’s eyes met his in the mirror and they stared at each other. Sometimes when they looked at each other like this, she felt a literal chill over her entire body, like he’d reached inside her and unexpectedly touched some secret place that was not meant to be touched.

“Get out of here,” she said after a few moments. “I have to go wash this bird’s nest and figure out what the heck to do with it for tonight.”

When she was alone, Shayla took a closer look at herself. Her hair was just something short of black. Darker than she remembered it, and certainly much darker than she used to keep it. Back then she used to get highlights. There were long hours in the beauty salon while the hairdresser painstakingly pulled strands through the highlighting cap. Sometimes she would be there for five hours or more, making sure it was absolutely perfect. Justin would pick her up afterwards and he would look her over with appreciation and for that moment in time, she would once again feel as though she pleased him.

Pleasing Justin had once been her primary mission in life. Seeing that smile on his face could alter the trajectory of her entire day. Her entire existence was colored by his moods. If he was happy, she was too and her day would go well. If he was in a bad mood, she knew that it wouldn’t be long before he ensured that she knew it.

In the mirror, her face had changed. Just thinking about him made her look different. Sometimes lately, she caught herself wondering how he was, where he was and whether he ever thought about her. It was hard to imagine that she could ever live a life that did not somehow include thoughts of him, and of them, and of what they had been to each other. It frightened her to think that in that way, he still owned part of her, just as he had then. But that wasn’t exactly right. Back then he hadn’t owned part of her, he’d owned all of her.

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Get to know Tessa . . .


TessTessa Denison was as beautiful as her brother, with wavy dark hair that hung like black licorice, the same intense almost black eyes and smooth coffee-and-cream complexion. She was in Shayla’s kickboxing class and was to many of the men at Olympus what her brother was to the women. But personality-wise, she couldn’t be more different.

Tessa talked to everyone who crossed her path, and made friends with people within minutes, smiling and laughing her way through her workout, making fun of herself and cracking smart-ass jokes. She had a slender, graceful body that she hid in thick sweatpants that sagged at the seat and basketball jerseys that were way too big, under which she wore a sport bra. The one time she’d worn a close-fitting pair of running tights, just about every man in the room had spent a good portion of the evening checking her out.

But it was all for naught, because as Tessa had explained to Shayla within minutes of her meeting her, she didn’t “do men” and was “as gay as the day is long.” Her type, she told Shayla was “girls who look like boys. Not actual boys.”

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