Tessa pulled boxes out of Lisa’s pantry, hoping that behind one of the dozens of boxes of pasta and wheat germ cereal, she would find a bag of Oreos. This woman wasn’t normal. Who could live on this tasteless crap? Who would choose to? Finally, in defeat, she grabbed a tin of Cadbury drinking chocolate. It was the genuine article. Lisa had mentioned that she made monthly trips to London for work and often brought back delectables. While an actual bar of Cadbury chocolate would have been preferable, the drinking kind would have to do.
Tessa danced out of the pantry and crashed into the chest of a complete stranger. Shrieking, she grabbed for the closest weapon, a gingham dishtowel which she held up in front of her, as though that would do anything.
“Tessa?” the stranger said.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
Tessa’s shoulders sagged. Lisa’s brother. She knew he was coming. Now no longer afraid for her safety, Tessa instead focused on the fact that she was standing in front him in a tissue-thin tank top and underwear.
“Oh,” she said. “Hi. Tyson, of course. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Well, you were really busy foraging about back there,” Tyson indicated the open pantry door.
“Looking for chocolate,” Tessa explained. She held up the drinking chocolate. “Want some?”
Tyson dropped an army green duffle bag at his feet. “Did you check the expiration date? The last time I saw my sister have anything sweet, she was in high school.”
“Good point,” Tessa said checking the bottom of the can. “Well . . . looks like we’re safe. I’ll boil some water.”
As she pulled the tea kettle out from the cabinet and grabbed mugs for them, Tessa pretended not to be as spooked as she was. The goal had been to get dressed and out of there before Tyson arrived. Her plan had been to meet him after she got back home late in the afternoon, when she’d picked up a couple hours at work. By then she would have had her game face on and been able to carry out the charade Lisa insisted on. Her family rarely visited, she explained. They didn’t know she dated women and she wasn’t ready to tell them. “Dated women.” That was the way she put it and for the three months they’d been together Tessa had humored her. Hey, some people just weren’t ready to come out yet. She had a live and let live attitude about that kind of thing, even though her brother, Trey, had known since she was thirteen and she couldn’t imagine lying about it. Of course, she didn’t have parents to worry about, so hell . . . who was she to judge?
So when Lisa’s brother Tyson visited her from U. Penn, Tessa was to be “a good friend who was crashing for a while” and that was all. It would explain why she slept over, and each night, she would make a bed on the couch, only going into Lisa’s room when Tyson was safely in his own bed. But as things had turned out, Lisa was called out of town to DC for work and would be gone for the first couple nights of Tyson’s visit.
“You can tell him you’re taking my bed while I’m gone,” Lisa said. “He won’t ask any more questions. Tyson’s head is pretty much stuck up his own ass most of the time.”
Head stuck up his ass or not, Tyson Clark was a handsome bastard that was for sure. Sandy brown hair, blue eyes and a body just slightly beefier than that of a male model. Tessa wondered whether he might be gay as well. In her experience, straight men did not come in packages this perfect.
“So how was your trip in?” Tessa asked as she filled the tea kettle.
“Ho hum. Sat next to a guy who snored the whole way. And then he gets off the stop before mine.”
Tessa laughed politely. She was actually thinking about a way to casually mention that she ought to go put on some pants. But she didn’t want to seem presumptuous. He probably hadn’t noticed that half her butt was hanging out, anyway.
“So where’d Lisa say she was going?” he asked.
“Washington. Some Senate hearing blah, blah, blah,” Tessa said.
Tyson laughed. “I can’t say I understand what an international trade lobbyist does either, but it sure helped pay for some sick digs,” he said looking around.
Tessa nodded her agreement. Lisa’s apartment was definitely something to behold. A twenty-five hundred square foot loft, it had been remodeled to make the most of the original wood floors, exposed ductwork and red brick walls. Each piece of furniture, all in white, was more expensive than Tessa’s car. The first night she’d seen it, she wondered vaguely how someone who was barely thirty could afford something like this right in the heart if San Francisco. Lisa had been cagey about her work for at least a week, until Tessa pried it out of her that she worked for one of the most recognizable names in the country.
“There,” she’d said when Lisa finally spit it out. “Was that so hard? I have no trouble sharing that I’m a part-time bartender, part-time artist, and part business owner of a failing bakery.”
“I just know that people sometimes start making judgments based on what I do,” Lisa had explained. “And I didn’t want you to do that. Because I like you.”
“I like you too,” Tessa had said, leaning in to kiss her.
Tyson sat at the kitchen island and looked around.
“I’m going to have to call the folks,” he said. “And let them know that sis done good.”
“Maybe you should send them pictures,” Tessa suggested leaning against the kitchen counter. “I know if I lived in a place like this, my brother would sleep a lot sounder at night.”
“So what do you do?” Tyson asked.
“Really?” Tyson looked puzzled. “So how do you and my sister know each other?”
“We met where I work,” Tessa said truthfully. In her experience, it was better not to lie unless absolutely necessary. She only ever lied to her brother, and that was for his own good. Telling the truth had the very practical purpose of making sure you had less work trying to remember what you said later.
“Hmm,” Tyson nodded. “Hey, where’s the bathroom around here?”
“Oh, of course. Sorry.” Tessa showed him to the bedroom where he would be sleeping. It had its own private bathroom which Lisa had filled with clean towels before she left.
While he freshened up, Tessa took advantage of the opportunity to put on her jeans and grab a t-shirt that covered her tits a little bit better. She figured she could make chit-chat with Tyson for about thirty minutes and then beg off for work. The less interaction between them while Lisa was gone the better. Lisa might be able to pull off being straight, but she definitely could not. She couldn’t even remember what that was like.
Dating Lisa was against type for Tessa in more ways than one. She was so femme, with her soft brown eyes, long curly hair and doe eyes. And she had a job that firmly entrenched her in the world of responsible adulthood. All Tessa’s girlfriends were generally like Tessa herself – soft butch with a wardrobe that consisted almost entirely of torn jeans, boots and tank tops. And unemployed, or at least underemployed. They also tended to drink a lot more than Lisa did, beer rather than wine. And if they worked out at all, it was sometimes, not religiously like Lisa did. And they had no hang-ups about being gay—Lisa had many. She wouldn’t hold hands in public, for instance. And she sometimes cried after sex. But hey, Tessa was fine with the neuroses because Lisa was pretty hot. And it was all casual at this point anyway.
They’d met at Hood Range, the country and western gay bar where Tessa worked a few hours on weekends as a bartender. Lisa was a regular who came in alone on Fridays, sitting at the end of the bar and ordering a glass of house red. She would sit there and drink it alone, in her well-tailored pastel suits. When women approached her, she sometimes talked to them and more seldom, she left with one. Most of the time she just sat there, drinking alone. She didn’t look lonely, or even shy, just like someone who preferred to be alone. While many of the other patrons wanted to talk or flirt, Lisa just ordered her wine, drank it, settled up and left when she was done.
One Friday, when it was pretty slow, Tessa had spent the majority the night leaning over the bar talking to Radha, a pretty East Asian girl she was trying to make something happen with. Lisa had come in as usual and ordered her wine, which she sat drinking alone, as she had so often before. This night however, she’d downed the first one pretty quickly and ordered another. When Tessa brought it over, she’d slapped her money down on the bar as though annoyed.
“Took you long enough,” she snapped.
“Excuse me?” Tessa laughed.
“Maybe if you weren’t spending all your time gabbing with customers, you might be a little quicker about serving those who are actually buying something,” Lisa said.
Tessa took the money and turned away, saying nothing. What she really wanted to do was tell her to go fuck herself, but she couldn’t afford to lose her job. She gave Lisa her change and turned her attention once again to Radha who looked amused.
“What was that about?” she asked.
“Bitch,” Tessa said under her breath.
She made plans to meet up with Radha later and when things got a little busy, forgot all about her snooty customer at the end of the bar. Even though things picked up, by the time her shift was over, Tessa still hadn’t made much in tips. She was literally dressed and ready to walk out into the night when Lisa put a hand on her shoulder. When Tessa turned, she’d expected to see Radha. She hadn’t even known that Lisa was still there.
“I want to apologize for earlier,” Lisa said, her voice shaking. “I don’t know why I was so rude.”
Tessa smiled. “No worries. Life’s stressful.”
Lisa shook her head and took a deep breath. She was working up to saying something but Tessa had no idea what, and frankly didn’t care too much. She was wondering where Radha was and worrying that maybe she’d been stood up.
“That’s not it,” Lisa said finally. “I . . . I want to know you. I come here all the time and I’ve wanted to talk to you, and I was just . . .”
Tessa looked at her with interest now, waiting.
“I saw you talking to that other girl and I guess I was envious of her. That she was able to talk to you so easily and I wasn’t.”
“What’s your name?” Tessa asked.
“Lisa, I think you’re used to having women approach you,” Tessa said.
Lisa smiled uncertainly.
“Give me your number,” Tessa said.
Lisa wrote her number on a receipt from her purse and handed it to Tessa who stuck it in the back pocket of her jeans.
“I’ll call you,” she said.
When Lisa left, Tessa looked at her number and smiled, shaking her head. The plan was to dial the number if Radha didn’t show. But Radha did show, and Tessa spent the night with her. The following Friday, just as Lisa walked in again was the next time she remembered that she had the number. When she served her her customary glass or red, she paused.
“I’ve been planning to call you,” she said.
“Don’t,” Lisa held up a hand. “It’s fine. I was tipsy, it was stupid.”
Tessa leaned closer. “You liked me and you told me so. What’s so stupid about that?”
“Look, I never do stuff like that,” Lisa said.
“You should try it more often,” Tessa said. “Wouldn’t you rather be the chooser than the chosen?”
Lisa grinned. It was the first time Tessa had seen a genuine smile from her and it made all the difference in the world.
“You’re pretty,” she told her. “You want to hang around for awhile? I get off early tonight.”
It was a lie. She didn’t get off early, but she knew she could and now that her curiosity had been piqued, she would see it through. She left with Lisa that night and they went to her place rather than Lisa’s. It was a small, somewhat squalid place, but none of her usual dates ever cared. Lisa did. She carefully draped her suit over the back of a chair when she took it off, and when barefoot on Tessa’s bedroom rug, stood on her tiptoes as though not wanting to get her soles dirty. But she was great in bed, and Tessa knew she would want to see her again. For the three weeks, they only got together on Fridays and only after Tessa’s shift until one afternoon Lisa called and invited her over for dinner that evening. That was when Tessa had seen the apartment where she was now about to sit, drink hot chocolate and pretend to be straight.
Tyson was back in the kitchen waiting for her when she went back down and had already poured the hot water into two mugs and mixed in the chocolate. He handed one to Tessa as she entered and they both sat to the center island.
“I defy you to find any sugar in this place,” he said.
Tessa laughed. “There’s stevia in the pantry. Is this not presweetened?”
“Yeah, just not sweet enough,” Tyson said.
They sat in silence for a moment, and Tessa thought about the likelihood that Lisa would forgive her if she just left and did not return until after Tyson was gone back to Pennsylvania. She could see the next couple of days clearly. She would make stilted, polite small talk with Lisa’s brother, afraid to offend him because of course, he was bound to be as conservative as his sister was; and she would over-think every outfit for fear of looking too gay around him. It was going to be a fucking drag.
“Hey,” Tyson said, pulling something out of his back pocket. “I know it’s only ten in the morning, but want to get lifted?”
Tessa looked down at the object Tyson had dropped on the kitchen counter between them. Her eyebrows raised a fraction of an inch and then she grinned. She looked up at Tyson and then down again at the joint.
“You transported cannabis across country on a train?” she asked, amused. A man after her own heart.
Tyson shrugged. “Hey, I’m crazy that way,” he said. “So how about it?”
For a moment Tessa imagined Lisa and how pissed she would be. But oh yeah, she thought, Lisa isn’t here.
“Why not?” she said reaching for the joint. “Let’s go for it.”