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by Micheala Lynn
People don’t understand. Jodi Price knows she still has her guitar and her music and her life. But the accident took her singing voice and left behind the jagged reminder that she isn’t whole. Feeling anything means feeling pain.
Computer geek Sam Werstler doesn’t need to get out more, she tells her friends. She’s been perfectly okay all by herself since she threw out that cheating, lying witch. But they finally coax her out to a concert.
At first, Sam’s drawn to Jodi’s stage presence, then they’re two wounded loners passing time in the same place. Then…it’s so much more. Terrifyingly so much more.
Will the raw scars of the past destroy their chance at a future?
Newcomer Micheala Lynn plays out a love story you won’t forget!
“Girl, it’s about time you got out and did something.” Cheryl threw her arm around Sam as they walked along the line of vendors, pulling her close and laughing.
Sam crossed her arms and grumbled. If it were up to her, she’d much rather be at home, working on her computers, but Cheryl, her best friend since college, had bugged her all week until she finally gave in. She had just landed a new job to create a huge corporate website and she couldn’t get her mind off it. Even without that, she’d much rather be working instead of being dragged around Pride.
“Yeah, Sam. There’s much more to life than sitting in front of a computer.” Angi, Cheryl’s partner of five years, now chimed in, seemingly reading her mind. “And a little sun certainly wouldn’t hurt, either. Good God girl, you’re starting to look like a vampire.” Given their propensity for dressing alike and sporting the same hairstyle—long on top and shaved on the sides and back—Angi and Cheryl were often mistaken for sisters instead of partners but that didn’t stop them from being the most adorable lesbian couple Sam had ever seen.
“Yeah, whatever.” Sam hid a small grin. She couldn’t deny that it had turned out to be a lovely afternoon. All week, the weatherman had been predicting rain and she had kept her fingers crossed for just that. Yet, as she looked up, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Well, that was just her luck. She hadn’t been to Lansing Pride in three years, not since she and Jennifer, her ex, had come. Since then, she really hadn’t had much interest in anything but her work.
Still grumping to herself, she wiped back the sweat beading on her forehead and trickling into her eyes. Already it was hot and it was barely noon. If the feel of the sun on her skin were any indication, she was probably going to end up with a wicked sunburn to boot. Just what she needed. She continued to grumble under her breath when Cheryl quickly tugged her to the left, nearly ripping her off her feet. “Hey, watch it.”
“Oh, come on. I want to check this out.” Cheryl beelined up to a vendor selling hats and T-shirts. In the background, music drifted over the festivities from the live bands on stage. While Cheryl and Angi checked out the shirts, Sam ran a finger over a black cap with a barbwire rainbow embroidered on the front. The black would certainly look great with her fiery shoulder-length red hair and with a little luck, it might even keep her from getting too scorched under the sun. Besides, if she had to be there, she might as well have something to show for it. But when she flipped it over, she nearly choked. “You’ve got to be shitting me. Thirty-five dollars? For a cap?”
“That would look really good on you.”
She whipped around, her chest tightening. “Excuse me?”
A woman with tousled brown hair and mirrored sunglasses smiled at her. “I was just saying that cap would look really good on you—especially with your red hair.” She tilted her head as if getting a better look at her.
She had been out of the lesbian scene for so long, she wasn’t sure how to respond to such an obvious flirtation. Running away came to mind. She shot a quick glance toward Cheryl and Angi but they were still busy looking through shirts. With no help there, all she was left with was biting her lip and spinning the cap around in her hands, hoping upon hope that her new friend would quickly lose interest and move on.
“Well, I’d better get going.” The woman leaned in closer and then let out a laugh as Sam contorted her body in what looked like some bizarre yoga position to keep the same distance between them. She lowered her voice. “I’d buy the cap, though.” Then with a wink, she walked away.
Still spinning the cap around in her hands, Sam watched as the woman walked out of sight.
“Hey, she was cute.” Cheryl threw an arm around her shoulders. “What did she want?”
“She was just being nice. Said this cap looked good with my hair.” Sam held it up to emphasize the point. She tried to sound casual but her hands were still shaking.
“Wow. You should have asked her out. It’s been like how long?”
“Oh, yeah, right. Believe me, that’s the last thing I need.” Sam avoided Cheryl’s gaze as she pulled her wallet from her back pocket and paid for her cap.
“Boy, Sam, you’re a bright ray of sunshine today. You know what you need? You need to get laid.” Cheryl poked her in the ribs.
Sam let out a loud snort and rolled her eyes. “Oh, like I’m just going to find someone out of the blue here and get laid.”
“What better place to meet someone?” Angi waved an arm at the large crowd milling between the vendors. “Look—hot girls everywhere.”
“Well, like I’ve said a hundred times, I’m not interested in meeting anyone right now.” Her friends certainly meant well but since breaking up with Jennifer over a year ago, she had sworn off all romance—who needed all that heartache anyway? She had been with Jennifer for nearly three years and everything had seemed to be good. That was until she came home and found her in bed, their bed, with some woman she had picked up at the local coffee house. As if that weren’t bad enough, Jennifer blamed her for the affair—if she had known how to pleasure a partner, she wouldn’t have had to find it somewhere else, thank you very much. Grinding her teeth, she tried to push the memory away. No, she certainly didn’t want to go through that again anytime soon.
“I just worry about you, Sam.” Cheryl once more wrapped her arm around her waist. “I want you to be happy.”
Sam pulled her hair into a ponytail and fed it through the back of her new cap. “I am happy.” At Cheryl’s look of utter disbelief, she stomped her foot. “Really, I am.”
Cheryl pulled her in closer, hugging her tight. “Okay, okay. Just keep an open mind. You never know when the right person will just appear and sweep you off your feet.”
Angi burst out laughing. “Yeah, like you did?”
Cheryl slapped a hand to her chest, doing her best to look innocent. “I swept you off your feet.”
“Knocking someone flat on her back is not sweeping her off her feet.” Angi wagged a finger at her.
“I didn’t knock you flat on your back.”
“You knocked me down on my butt—that’s bad enough.”
“Well, I was in a hurry. At least I helped you up.”
“Not until after you got your coffee. Only then did you look down and go, ‘oh geez, are you okay, miss?’” Angi wrinkled her nose at Cheryl.
“Oh, I wasn’t that bad. Besides, I really needed that coffee.”
By now, Sam was laughing so much, her sides hurt and tears ran down her lightly-freckled cheeks. She had heard this story more times than she could remember but each time it subtly changed. A detail here. A detail there. Cheryl and Angi were constantly reinventing their first encounter, but it always amused her. They never seemed to tire of each other.
Angi stood up on her toes and wrapped her arms around Cheryl. “Well, you certainly got my attention.” She gave Cheryl a tender kiss.
Cheryl had her eyes closed. “I’m so glad I ran you down.”
Sam turned away, letting out a soft sigh. If only she could find what they had. Was that too much to ask? Apparently with Jennifer it had been. Maybe she was destined to always be alone. Then again, maybe Cheryl was right—the right person would just appear and sweep her off her feet.
“Hey, where you at?” Cheryl waved her hand in front of Sam’s face. “You’re like a million miles away.”
Sam blinked twice and then giggled. “Just lost in thought as usual.”
“Wow, I guess.” Cheryl took Sam’s hand in one and Angi’s in the other. “Well, come on. Why don’t we get something to eat? I’m pretty hungry.”
“Now, that sounds good.” Angi swung her and Cheryl’s arm back and forth, swaying as they walked.
At the mention of food, Sam’s stomach gave a massive growl. Other than a banana and coffee, her usual breakfast of champions, she hadn’t eaten all day. “So, what do they have here that’s good?”
Cheryl skipped a couple of steps. “I saw a booth selling Thai food. That’s what I’m having.”
“Oh, that sounds good. I haven’t had Thai in forever.” Angi licked her lips, making a big scene of it.
“Yeah, that actually sounds really good.” Sam couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten Thai either—probably with Angi and Cheryl. Left to her own devices, she lived on Ramen noodles and TV dinners. Granted, she was a computer geek.
* * *
“Hey, Jodi, there you are.” Kat stepped around the far side of the enclosed trailer hitched to the back of Jodi’s Ford Escape. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
Jodi sat on top of her large Fender amp, strumming her guitar lightly, eyes closed. At the sound of Kat’s voice, she slowly lifted her head and gave her a wry smile. She had been hoping no one would find her until the show. With her little pixie bob haircut and super petite build, Kat seemed small and delicate, almost childlike. However, her fiery personality would fit someone three times her size.
Kat looked up at Jodi and gave her a bright smile. “Why don’t you come and walk around with us. Terra and Lynn want to check things out. There are a lot of cool vendors here today.”
Jodi merely shook her head and glanced down at her feet. Just the thought of walking around in a crowd of people made her stomach churn. She’d much rather sit back behind the trailer, alone with her guitar.
“Oh, come on. It’ll be fun.” Kat grabbed her by the hand, trying to pull her off the amp. “Besides, it will do you some good to get out instead of sitting back here and sulking.”
Jodi yanked her hand back. “No.” She mouthed the word, barely more than a whisper. Kat may only be trying to help but she wished she’d leave her alone. She wished everyone would leave her alone.
Kat peered up into Jodi’s eyes as she hung her head. “Sweetie, are you okay? I’m worried about you.”
“I’m fine.” Again, she breathed out the words, her lips moving but no sound coming out.
Kat let out a long sigh, her shoulders falling. “Jodi, I just want to see you happy, girl.”
Her eyes now began to sting and she quickly turned away, staring off into the distance. She wanted nothing more than to be happy too but she just didn’t see how that would ever be possible. How could she go out there with all those people walking about? She couldn’t even stand to be around herself. Finally, she lowered her head and began to fingerpick a simple chord progression, concentrating on the movements of her fingers, hoping to keep away the tears that threatened to spill.
Kat let out another deep breath and patted Jodi lightly on the leg. “Okay. I’ll leave you be, but I sure wish you’d come with us.” She stood and peered down one last time before she shook her head again and slowly walked away.
Once Kat was out of sight, Jodi ground her palm to her eye, quashing away a tear. She hated feeling like this. Three years—not a day went by that she wasn’t reminded of that terrible accident. It just wasn’t fair. Why did a drunk have to blow through a red light and wreck her life? Why did she have to lose her voice, the one thing besides her guitar playing that meant the most to her. Why did she have to have deep, jagged scars up and down her body as if someone had chiseled away her flesh? She couldn’t count on both hands the number of skin grafts she had endured and for what? She still looked like a slasher film reject. And what about the endless counseling sessions? You just need to work through the stages of grief—you have to accept this is your new normal. What a joke. Couldn’t they see? She would never be normal again. How was that for fair?
Again she closed her eyes and slowly plucked through one of the ballads she had written. It was a new song, written since her accident. That was how she had come to think of her life—before her accident and after her accident. She didn’t play her songs from before her accident. It was too painful a reminder of everything she had lost. At first, she had thought her music career was over. How could she ever face a crowd again after what had happened? But she couldn’t give up her music. She could still play the guitar. At least that hadn’t been taken away. Another tear spilled down her cheek as she continued strumming her guitar, feeling the notes wrap around her like a warm, comfortable blanket, shutting out everyone and everything.
* * *
With a Styrofoam bowl of Pad Thai in one hand and a glass of Thai iced tea in the other, Sam scurried to keep up with Angi and Cheryl, weaving her way through the small groups dotted across the hillside along the Grand River. Finally, they found an empty spot and kicked back in a small circle. Music mixed with a dozen different conversations drifted across the hillside. Angi sucked in a noodle, slurping loudly. “God, I love these.”
“Mmmmm. Yeah, not bad.” Sam smacked her lips. For an outdoor festival, the food was quite impressive.
“So, babe, when’s Lynn’s band playing?” Cheryl leaned against Angi’s shoulder as she ate.
Angi glanced at her watch. “They’re supposed to be on at three—about another twenty minutes.”
“We certainly can’t miss that.” Cheryl wiped her mouth and stuffed the napkin in her empty bowl. “Lynn would never forgive us.”
“Who’s Lynn?” Sam squirmed, a sharp pain digging into her. She’d probably be a whole lot more interested if she could only get comfortable. No matter what she tried, something kept biting into her butt. She again shifted her weight to no avail. Finally about to scream, she rocked over on her left side and swept several broken nutshells out from under her. No wonder she couldn’t get comfortable.
Angi stretched out her legs, smiling as she watched Sam fidget. “Oh, she’s a friend of mine from college. She’s in the band Blind Pariah with her partner, Kat. Lynn sings and Kat is the drummer.”
“Wow, really? I’ve never seen them.” Sam gulped down the last of her Pad Thai, wincing as it seared her throat.
Cheryl let out a loud snort. “Well, that’s what you get for never getting away from your computers. They’ve been touring the last couple of years throughout Michigan and northern Indiana, playing most of the women’s festivals and hitting the clubs.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Cheryl had her there. She really hadn’t been into the club scene since Jennifer. Jennifer hadn’t liked clubs. Then, after they broke up, she just didn’t feel like going out. “So, where on earth did they get the name, ‘Blind Pariah’? That’s pretty esoteric.”
“That would be Jodi.” Angi gave her head a firm nod. “She put the band together and came up with the name. Something about needing to be blind to nasty people who are blinded themselves by their own hatred. How being an all lesbian band makes them outcasts, pariahs of music, so they might as well embrace it—hence ‘Blind Pariah.’”
“Okay, I get it but it just seems a bit odd.”
Angi laughed with Cheryl. “Yeah, well, that’s Jodi. You’d have to know her. She’s a bit…different. If you stay with us, we’re going out with the band later and you can meet them.”
Fed up with the hard ground and the nutshells still poking into her butt, Sam finally stood. “I’ll probably head home before then.”
“Jesus, Sam. Live a little.” Cheryl jumped up and offered her hand to Angi.
“Yeah, we’ll see.” Sam rolled her eyes. What she’d really like to do is to start working on that new website. That sounded a lot more fun than sitting around and talking with strangers.
With her hand in Cheryl’s, Angi gathered up their trash and threw it in the barrel. She then grabbed Sam by the arm and pulled her closer. “At least you can listen to them. They’re actually really good.”
Together, they meandered through the crowd, making their way to the stage. A band had just finished up and now the emcee dashed out on stage, starting her monologue and working the crowd.
“Hey, over there.” Cheryl marched off toward the sound control booth where it cast a shadow across the grass.
Her legs burning as if she had in a moment of true stupidity decided to enter the Pride 5K—she just wasn’t used to all this walking, not when she spent the better part of her life in front of a computer—Sam flopped down on the ground and settled back on the cushy grass, immediately welcoming the shade. Sweat again trickled off her forehead and into her eyes. Even as cool as her new black cap was, it wasn’t any help.
Cheryl threw a leg around each side of Angi and pulled her back against her chest. Angi then craned her neck, brushing Cheryl’s lips with hers. “This is a great spot, babe.”
“Nothing less for my baby.” Cheryl nuzzled against Angi’s neck.
Sam let out a sigh as she watched her two best friends. She couldn’t help but feel a tinge of envy. What they had seemed effortless. Why couldn’t she find that? She had to work at everything in a relationship, and even then, it always seemed to fall apart. Cheryl and Angi were so lucky. She had never been with anyone who looked at her as Cheryl and Angi looked at each other, as if no one else at that moment existed. Then again, she had never found anyone herself who she looked at like that either.
The warm breeze, a combination of freshly mowed grass and automotive exhaust, swept across her face as she leaned back on her elbows and closed her eyes. Although she wouldn’t mind sitting in front of her computers in air-conditioned bliss, she couldn’t deny the heat against her skin felt great. And she had to admit, she could use the break, especially after the long hours she had been keeping lately. But just as she was about to nod off, a squeal of feedback pierced the air and the emcee screamed into the microphone. “Now, put your hands together and give a big welcome to Blind Pariah.”
Sam jerked fully awake, the emcee’s voice still echoing in her head. She then glanced up at the stage and nearly fell flat as her elbows gave out under her. Nothing could have prepared her for the sight in front of her—a tall, slender woman clad in jeans, a tight black tank top, and clunky black boots bounced across the stage, wailing on a bright blue electric guitar. “Holy shit, who is that?”
“That would be Jodi.” Angi jumped to her feet, pulling Cheryl up with her, keeping her arms wrapped around her waist.
With her mouth still gaping, Sam scrambled to her feet, her eyes glued to the lithe young woman hammering out a screaming heavy metal solo, playing her guitar with both hands on the neck Eddie Van Halen style while she danced around the stage. She had never seen anything like it before—both girl and guitar a mere blur. “Oh my God, she’s amazing.”