by Micheala Lynn
Still naïve in many ways from her sheltered upbringing, Sarah wants to shed her goodie-two-shoes image. She wants to live life, not let it pass her by. That’s why she enjoys the company of her cousin Skye so much. Skye lives life to the absolute fullest and Sarah wants to be more like her. Even the fact that Skye is gay is fascinating, albeit frightening as well.
Sarah has never found any man attractive. But she’s pretty sure that’s because her family is constantly attempting to fix her up with every eligible single man in the church in the hopes of making an honest woman of her. The family pressure is building and at the age of twenty-eight, it’s getting harder and harder to reject each new suitor. But what is she to do? There doesn’t seem to be anyone who can even remotely light a spark in her heart. That is until she meets Jewel Black, a fire dancer who goes by the stage name Enigma…
Pin’s Reviews - This is the fourth romance novel by Micheala Lynn, and the third I have read. She has a steady line of pretty solid romance novels with different themes and settings. I find Fire Dancer enjoyable primarily for its interesting setting of a Renaissance faire, as well as interesting and very likable main character Jewel the fire dancer and her family. They are very nice people with great family dynamics, and a unique family history.
“Sarah, I still can’t believe you’re here, my favorite younger cousin.” Skye stared slack-jawed, quickly dragging the young woman under her vendor’s tent at the Great Lakes Renaissance Faire, the largest festival in the state. Dressed in a long flowing medieval dress with a leather circlet around her brow, enough ink on her skin to print a small library and feathers affixed to her cheeks, Skye looked as if she had stepped directly out of Game of Thrones. Outside, the sun streamed through the dense foliage covering the wooded grounds. “Blessed be, may miracles never cease.”
Sarah felt her cheeks flame red, all the more obvious with her natural platinum blond hair and pale northern European complexion. “I’m your only younger cousin, remember?”
Skye pulled Sarah into another strong two-armed hug. “Still you’re my favorite. You’re the only one that doesn’t think I’m going to burn in Hell.”
Sarah quickly leaned back, hand to her chest and sucking in a breath. “I would never say that about you.” Even as she protested, she couldn’t deny that her family would say Skye was damned. They had said it many times, pretty much whenever Skye’s name came up. That girl will burn in Hell, mark my words. Her mother always had the same look of fear and disgust as one might when encountering a rabid skunk wandering through the back garden after peeing on the porch. Her family had left no doubt of their feelings toward Skye, but that wasn’t surprising. Could a New Age tarot-reading incense-burning pagan priestess be any more different than her ultra-conservative Evangelical family, tattoos and facial feathers notwithstanding?
Skye let out an easy unconcerned laugh. “Hence why you’re my favorite. You don’t judge.”
Sarah sighed. The biggest issue with her family was their never-ending judgment. Didn’t matter what it was either. She grew up being told that everyone was depraved, only some were more depraved than others. We all may be thieves and murderers but at least we’re not as bad as that person. She had grown sick of the constant condemnation. But they were still her family, her mom and dad and her two older brothers, so she had to love them no matter what but still it was hard sometimes.
At Sarah’s deep look of consternation, Skye threw her green vine of life-tattooed arm around Sarah’s shoulder and squeezed her tight. “Look, don’t let it bother you. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. At least you’re here now and that’s all that counts.” She smiled brightly, the line of feathers along her cheeks scrunching up.
Sarah laughed. As Skye said, she might not be everyone’s choice but she was a ton of fun. If only she had as much courage as her cousin to be herself without worrying about everyone else’s reaction. At twenty-eight years old, it was high time that she started living her own life for herself and not anyone else. However, that was easier said than done. Still deep in thought, Sarah traced her fingers along the long line of tarot decks.
“Hey, would you like a reading?”
A tarot reading? Heaven forbid. Sarah burst out laughing. She could imagine what her mother would say. Don’t you go messing with the devil’s picture book, missy. If only her family would lighten up. “Sorry, you startled me.”
“I can see that.” Skye grinned, a mischievous light in her deep blue eyes. “What was it? My voice or my suggestion?”
Skye knew her too well. There was no fooling her. “Maybe a little bit of both. I don’t think I’m ready for that.”
“No problemo, kiddo. Everyone has their own path to walk. You’ll get no pressure from me. If you’re ever interested, you know who to ask.”
“Thanks Skye.” Sarah couldn’t tell her how much that meant. Lately, Skye was the only one she didn’t feel pressure from. So when are you going to settle down? When are you going to meet a great guy and make him a good wife? When are you going to start popping out kids like a good Christian woman? Pressure from all sides—her parents, her two older brothers, the women at church, her minister. Why couldn’t they all leave her alone? It was her life, wasn’t it? If she wanted to settle down with some man—and she had been fixed up with every eligible single guy at church between the ages of twenty and fifty—then she would. Trouble was, she felt nothing for any of them, no attraction, no affection, nothing. More so, she was beginning to think that there might simply be something wrong with her. Maybe she wasn’t meant to find someone and fall in love. Without realizing it, a tear spilled down her cheek.
Skye gently rubbed it away with obvious concern. “Are you sure you’re okay, kiddo?”
Sarah laughed again, this time sounding harsh. “That’s the million-dollar question right there, isn’t it?”
“Hey, if you want to talk…”
With a sad smile, Sarah shook her head. “You should be careful. I just might take you up on that someday. But I like you way too much to dump my problems on you, especially today. I just want to have fun and forget about everything, understand?”
“Sure thing, love. I’m here whenever you need me.”
Sarah could feel a hard lump closing off her throat. She wasn’t going to fall apart, not today, not in front of Skye. It was her messed up life. It was her burden to bear. Besides she didn’t know where to begin. She couldn’t exactly start with, “You see, on the day I was born…”
As they stood under Skye’s tent, Sarah watched a whole host of costume-clad folk walk by. There were fairies and pirates, Vikings and nobles, wenches and witches. Every manner of fanciful dress. There was even a troll, a loud woman who liked to roll in a mud pit and harass passersby. All in all, everyone was decked out for the occasion except for her. She was dressed in jean shorts and a white tank top. No matter what, she always felt out-of-place and today was no different.
Through the woods, a haunting voice echoed over the din, singing a dark melody. “I see a red door and I want it painted black…”
Sarah immediately turned in the direction of the sound. “Whoa, what is that?”
“That would be singing. You know, when someone makes music with their voice.” Leaning in, Skye nudged Sarah in the ribs with her elbow.
“Oh, hardy har har. I know what singing is. What I meant was what song is that? It sounds familiar.” Sarah cupped her hand to her ear to hear better.
Skye snorted. “Seriously, Sarah, you don’t know that song? Sometimes I forget how much a goody-two-shoes you actually are.”
“Hey, I said it sounded familiar.” Sarah bristled at Skye’s comment. Goody-two-shoes. She hated that derogative descriptor. She couldn’t count the number of times she had been labeled as a virtuous pain in the ass. Just because she had led a sheltered life, that didn’t mean that she didn’t want to open herself to new things. She might be many things but she wasn’t a goody-two-shoes. Just being here with Skye should be proof enough. “Just because I may not know the name of a song—”
Skye once again snorted out a laugh. “I know. It’s not your fault. Aunt Viv and Uncle Mike wouldn’t let you listen to music like that. It’s “Paint It, Black” by the Rolling Stones. I take it you’ve at least heard of them?”
“Yes, I have heard of the Rolling Stones. I’m not that bad.”
Skye threw her arm around Sarah’s shoulders. “I know. Sorry for teasing you.”
“Fine.” Sarah rolled her eyes dramatically. “Still, whoever is singing that is doing an amazing job.”
“That’s the Hot Gypsies Dance Troop performing over on the nightshade stage.” Skye hooked a finger over her shoulder. “Why don’t you go check them out?”
“I think I will.” Sarah turned toward the music drifting through the woods. The voice was still echoing off the trees, seemingly calling her and luring her in like a siren’s song. Maybe it was simply the environment. If any place could bring fantasy alive, it was here.
“Don’t get burned.” Skye called as she walked away, a mischievous giggle in her voice.
Sarah shook her head as she strode up the path. As she rounded the corner, Skye’s warning made more sense. Three women were dancing on the stage, flames rolling off their wrists and sending smoke trails up into the air. Sarah quickened her pace and came to a halt, leaning against a thin maple tree between the path and the full benches.
Mesmerized by the flames, she stared at the stage. But what was even more consuming was the dancer in the middle, the one singing the hauntingly beautiful melody. She was dressed in a skin-tight black tank with purple leggings and a small frilled skirt that didn’t reach much past her upper thighs. Looking at that skirt made Sarah blush. Her mom would never have let her wear something that short, leggings or no leggings. The dancer whirled around, her back to the crowd. Sarah caught a quick glance at the woman’s toned cheeks peeking out from under the skirt. Sarah felt her face grow warmer. But that may have had to do with the heat boiling off the stage from the fire. At least that was what she was going to tell herself. It was the heat from the fire.
Still, Sarah couldn’t tear her eyes from the woman. It was as if her voice and the flames were putting her in a trance. That must be what a snake felt as a snake charmer played a flute. She could have been persuaded to do anything at that moment. When the dance finally ended, the performers exited the stage, their wrist flames quickly extinguished with a thick cloth by a guy with a ponytail and wearing a heavy apron.
An older woman with long silver hair tied back in a plait walked to the center of the stage. Her layered skirts floated in the soft breeze and silver coin medallions jingled from her neck, waist and ankles with every step. “Velcome, ve are the Hot Gypsies Dance Troop.” Her accent was thick and dark. “Is everyone enjoying the show?”
A loud round of applause rose from the crowd.
“Excellent, excellent. Be sure to like us on the book of face.”
Sarah chuckled to herself. Book of face? Whether or not the accent was real, it certainly added to the show.
“Now to introduce our dancers.” She gestured to the side of the stage. “First, let’s velcome, Mystique, our youngest dancer.”
The dancer who had been on the right during the last dance bounced onto the stage, giving a flourishing wave followed by a deep bow. She also wore leggings, a tight tank and a short, short skirt. All down the left side of her face was an intricate Celtic design. Sarah only hoped it wasn’t a permanent tattoo. Her family would kill her if she had done that or had any tattoo for that matter. Tattoos were the mark of the devil.
“Now velcome, Storm. Storm is our choreographer.” This time the dancer who had been on the left hopped onto the stage. In addition to the tight flame-print leggings and short skirt, Storm wore an old stovepipe hat, which she rolled down her arm as she bent into a low bow.
“And finally, velcome Enigma, our singer and poi dancer.” The woman who had been so mesmerizing in the center skipped onto the stage, giving a half-curtsey, half-bow. She was nearly the twin of the silver-haired woman, only younger. Same high cheek-bones. Same dark complexion. But instead of silver, her hair almost appeared black in the shade. Her strong, lean muscles rippled through her arms and legs as she dipped low, her head nearly touching the stage.
Sarah caught her breath. She wasn’t sure what poi dancing was but Enigma had certainly sung captivatingly.
Together, all three bowed again to the crowd before quickly exiting the stage. The older woman continued. “Remember, ve are professionals so don’t try this at home.” She walked off the stage.
Sarah barely heard what she had said. She was too focused on Enigma, offstage dipping two tennis ball-sized objects connected to long chains into a clear fluid. She marched up the short steps and to the center once again. Enigma glanced out with a wicked smile and a devilish glint. She began to spin the balls, slowly at first and then faster and faster until droplets of liquid flew from them spraying the stage.
Just when it seemed as if she couldn’t spin them any faster, Storm stepped on stage and lifted a flaming taper to her lips. She suddenly blew liquid out of her mouth across the flame, lighting a huge fireball. Enigma used the fireball rising up into the air to light the balls spinning on the chains and in one swift movement, scuffed them over the surface of the stage, igniting the excess liquid she had spun from the balls. Enigma stood inside a massive circle of flames. The intense heat blasted over Sarah’s face. She couldn’t imagine how hot it must be from Enigma’s position.
The flash of fire blinded her. Whether from light or the burning heat, Sarah sucked in another quick breath, her stomach rolling. All she could think of was Skye’s warning to not get burned. Perhaps it was already too late.
* * *
After the performance Jewel walked around the tall curtains draped behind the stage. She sat on an upturned five-gallon plastic pail, cracked open a small tub of silver sulfadiazine and gingerly dabbed the white cream on an angry red spot rising on her left forearm.
“How bad is it?” Her mom looked over her shoulder, her eyebrows narrowing.
Jewel blew on the spot as she scrutinized the damage. “Not bad. Damn poi dripped on me.” She shrugged it off nonchalantly but she knew she wasn’t fooling anyone. It burned like a sonofabitch. Still, she didn’t need to tell her mom that. They had all been burned at one time. “Occupational hazard, you know, Mom. As they say, burns happen.”
“I believe it’s shit happens, not burns.”
“I guess you’re right. Shit, burns, same difference.” Jewel managed to smile. Sometimes her mom knew just what to say.
Tori, her tall older sister walked over still wearing her black stovepipe hat. “You okay, little sis?” She kneeled before Jewel.
“Yeah, no biggie. It’ll heal in a couple days.” She dabbed a second coating of cream over now blistered skin.
Their mother crossed her arms. “You’ve been a bit distracted lately. Is there something bothering you?”
Jewel dropped her eyes to her hands in her lap. One bad thing about traveling with her family all the time was everyone knew everyone else’s business. There were no secrets. Although she loved them dearly and wouldn’t give up traveling from show to show with them for the world, there were still times, like now, when she wouldn’t mind just a modicum of privacy.
“She’s moping about that girl from the last faire.” Christina, Jewel’s younger sister who embraced her stage name Mystique with an elaborate new face paint for each show, flopped down on the ground beside her, her legs crisscrossed. “You ask me, she’s not worth it.”
Jewel groaned to herself. This was a prime case in point—even her love life was known by all. It was hard enough trying to find romance, especially traveling around so much, without her entire family being involved as well.
Tori chimed in. Unlike a raging tempest like her stage name Storm might suggest, Tori was a relatively calm soul. “Don’t sweat it, sis. You can do much better than that one. Trust me.”
Just when she thought it couldn’t get any worse, her mom spoke up. “I agree. You do much better. But need to keep head in game. What we do is very dangerous. I shouldn’t have to tell you that. No girl is worth worrying about if you get burned.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Jewel let out a long, deep sigh. She didn’t need to be told this again. She had heard it all her life. Keep head in game. Don’t get burned. Sometimes burns just happened, right along with shit.
“Good. It’s settled then. No more distractions.” Her mom clapped her firmly on the shoulder before walking away to set up for the next performance.
Tori stood and also clapped her on the shoulder. Of the three girls, Tori behaved more like their mother while Jewel resembled her the most. “Mom’s right you know. No girl is worth worrying about if you get burned.”
Jewel rolled her eyes. “Thanks, Mom.” It was bad enough getting advice from her mom but her older sister too? She turned to Christina. “I suppose you’re going to say the same thing?”
Christina shook her head. Nine years younger than Jewel and twelve years younger than Tori, she was the baby. But with her small oval face and full cheeks, she looked the least like the others. They had all joked that she must be the mailman’s daughter, which would have been hilarious since their mailman growing up had to be at least eighty years old. “Don’t worry you won’t hear that from me. The way I look at it, romance and fire dancing are a lot alike. What’s the point if there’s not the chance of getting burned?” Although typically the clown of the family, Christina could throw out deeply profound statements when least expected.
Jewel tossed a half-full bottle of water at Christina. “I knew there was a reason we kept you.” A joke from childhood. The two older girls had always threatened to either sell or give Christina away. Typical sister stuff. Christina puffed up her chest, the Celtic design she had painted up the side of her face crinkling as she smiled. “You know it. Now don’t give up.”
As Christina bounced away with the rest of the troop, Jewel continued sitting on the plastic pail, staring out into the thick woods behind the stage. Sweat dripped off her forehead and into her eyes. She wiped it away absently. As she sat there, she admired Christina’s unwavering enthusiasm. At her age, she had probably felt the same. But now just on the other side of thirty, she wasn’t quite so hopeful. Maybe romance simply wasn’t for her. But as much as she tried to tell herself that, deep down she still felt that small spark of hope. If she could only find someone who could set her heart on fire without getting burned.
* * *
“What did you think of the show?” Skye looked up from the customer she was ringing up.
Sarah didn’t know how to answer. Her head was spinning faster than the fireballs Enigma had been whirling about. She fought to catch her breath. “They were incredible. You should see them.”
Skye thanked the woman as she handed back her credit card then turned to Sarah. “I have. Many times. They’re a regular at many of these faires.”
“I’m going to have to visit you more often. I had no idea that all…all…this—” Sarah gestured to the crowd and grounds “—was here. No wonder you like coming here.”
“See what you’ve been missing?”
“I guess. I always thought it was just a bunch of…of…” Sarah trailed off, her cheeks growing red.
“You can go ahead and say it—a bunch of weirdos, right?” Skye smiled as she watched her cousin squirm.
“Okay, yes. A bunch of weirdos.” There was no use denying it. Skye would only tease her more.
“There’s nothing wrong with that. Give me the weirdos any day. We’re a lot more fun. Plus we don’t judge people.”
Sarah felt the sting with Skye’s admonishment. She still had to work on not judging others herself, but a lifetime of it was hard to overcome. “I hear you. I really do.”
“You should come again tomorrow. The fire dancers will be performing again and I’ve heard the Vikings may be planning an attack on the Knights Templar.”
“I’m not sure. I’ve got church.” She might be visiting Skye today but if her family found out she missed church to go to a renaissance festival of all things, she’d never hear the end of it. There would probably even be meetings with the minister.
“You should. It’d be good for you.” Skye walked behind her tables to the folding canvas chairs set behind her tent. She motioned for Sarah to sit. Together they watched the crowd pass until two young teenagers, a boy and a girl dressed in ragged peasant clothes came running up the path with a bucket and brush, chasing the filthy troll. “Looks like someone’s on troll-washing duty.”
Sarah stared after the loud clamor, unable to tear her eyes away. “What’ll happen if they catch her?”
Skye looked at her and deadpanned. “Why, wash the troll, what else?”
Sarah’s sides ached with laughter. She couldn’t remember the last time she had had so much fun. “This is almost too much. Troll chasing, fire dancing, what’s next?”
“You never know. That’s the fun.”
Enigma from the fire performance walked by and Skye gave her an energetic wave in greeting. “Hey Jewel, staying cool?”
“You know it.” Jewel gave a small salute in return.
Sarah found her face growing warm again but this time she couldn’t blame it on the flames. Her eyes glued to the back of the fire dancer, she watched her until she turned the bend out-of-sight. “Jewel? That’s her real name?”
“You didn’t think her real name was Enigma, did you?”
She had actually thought that it might be. Given the wild outfits and makeup, she wouldn’t have been surprised. Skye’s real name was Skye after all.
Skye continued without waiting for an answer. “Jewel’s really nice. And she’s family.”
Sarah whirled around to face Skye, nearly upturning her folding chair. “Family? I didn’t know we were related to anyone like that.”
“Not family family, but you know, family, as in like me.”
Sarah stared at her blankly.
Skye shook her head. “As in gay.”
“Oh.” Then it clicked. “Oh…that type of family.” Sweat trickled off her face as if she had stuck her head directly into one of Jewel’s fireballs. “Sorry.”
“No need to apologize, Sarah. It’s not like it’s a secret.”
“I know. It’s just…I don’t know…” Sarah couldn’t quite get her tongue around it.
With a half-sad, half-amused look, Skye patted her on the knee. “It’s no big deal. There’re lots of gays and lesbians here.”
Sarah squirmed in her seat, her face growing even hotter.
“That makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t it?” Skye’s voice was soft with understanding.
“No.” Sarah immediately blurted out the word but at Skye’s raised eyebrow, she took a breath. “Okay, yes. It does make me uncomfortable but I don’t know why.”
“I’ve got a pretty good idea why.”
“No, it’s not that. Believe me, it’s not that.” She knew exactly what Skye was thinking but she didn’t want her to get the wrong idea. Sure, her parents and her church were some of the biggest homophobes around but there was more to it than that. She just didn’t know how to say it. “It’s just…I don’t know.”
“Well, you know there’s nothing wrong with being gay.”
“I know that. But for some reason, just the thought of it all makes me uncomfortable. I’m not sure why but it does.” Sarah wiped her forehead. She couldn’t have felt any hotter if someone had set her on fire. And at the moment, she wouldn’t have minded. Anything to avoid this conversation.
Skye smirked, nudging her in the side with her elbow. “You know what they say—sometimes those that are the most uncomfortable are uncomfortable because they’re hiding something.”
At Skye’s teasing, Sarah felt her chest clamp so tightly she couldn’t draw breath. Where her skin had moments before been hot and sweaty, it now grew cold and clammy. She had never told anyone before but she had secretly wondered the same thing about herself. Could that be why she didn’t find any of the men she had dated attractive? Could that be why she was still single at the age of twenty-eight, never had a relationship longer than a few weeks, even with the incessant prodding from her family? It would certainly answer a lot of questions.
All her life she had been told what would happen to that type of people. She had heard countless sermons vividly describing how God would cast homosexuals into the fiery pit to burn for all eternity. Even her own family considered it an abomination, a sin from which there was no repentance. No wonder the thought of being gay scared the hell out of her. And if just the thought scared the hell out of her—she couldn’t go there.
* * *
“Hey sis, there you are. I’ve been looking all over for you. You really need to join the twenty-first century and get a cell phone.”
“Chrissy, me and technology don’t get along. I’d just end up wrecking the thing.” Jewel looked up from braiding a hemp necklace to see her younger sister come around the front of her trailer. She shielded her eyes from the bonfire warming her feet. Even after dancing with fire all day, it still felt good to sit in front of the flames after the sun went down and the air chilled a little. “What’s up with you? I’d’ve thought you would be out celebrating with everyone else by now.”
Many of the vendors, artisans and performers camped on the grounds, so after the gates closed and the last of the festival goers were long gone, the place completely transformed into another world that most never got to see. And after such a hot day, one of the traditions was to take a dip in the dunk tank. It was a great time to get together and socialize, to share that comradery that can only be fully appreciated among those who have made traveling from festival to festival a way of life. But tonight, Jewel didn’t feel like socializing.
Christina flopped down in the chair beside Jewel, kicking her right leg over the arm. “I’m headed there right now. Bog brought a whole keg of homemade blueberry wine and they’re going to be partying at the Viking’s camp.”
Jewel laughed. “Has someone finally washed that filthy troll?”
“Yep. They were raffling tickets for the honor.”
Renaissance festival life truly was another world. Where else could homemade blueberry wine made by a troll named Bog and served in a Viking camp be found? Traveling from place to place, sometimes staying a week, other times a month or more was more than a hobby or even a career—it was a lifestyle. Whether performers, musicians or vendors peddling their wares—anything from weapons to handmade crafts to period clothing and armor—they were modern day vagabonds, tramps and Gypsies, setting up camp and coming together as a large extended family, only to hit the road again once the faire closed.
“So do you want to come with me? You won’t regret it.” Christina leaned forward, her eyes growing wider.
“As much fun as that sounds, little sis, I think I’d rather stay here where it’s quiet and work some more on this.” Jewel held up the half-completed hemp choker.
“Oh come on, sis. You need to get out. Mix. Party. Maybe meet someone new.”
And there it was. The real reason her sister had come over. Jewel was reluctant to quash her sister’s undying optimism. “Actually, I think I’d rather stay here and relax. I’m not really in the mood for large crowds tonight.” Not that she was in the mood for large crowds any night. Unlike her little sister, she’d much rather stay to herself, especially after what had happened with Laura, the girl she had been seeing at the last show.
She should have known better than to get involved with a townie, the name the regulars on the festival circuit used for the locals. How many times must she be fucked over—no pun intended—by a curious local woman looking for a little fun, someone more attracted to her stage persona than the real her? There was more to her than Enigma. She had thought she had made that perfectly clear to Laura. Thankfully, all that had happened was a little kissing under the moon before it had all come crashing down. Well, that’s what she got for not listening to her head and following her heart. Even though she had said it before, she’d say it once again. She was done with meeting townies.
Christina leaned closer and squinted, giving Jewel a fierce, determined look. “Not even for me? Your favorite loving little sister.”
“You know that’s manipulation.”
“Of course it is.” Completely unfazed, Christina smiled all the wider. “Is it working?”
Jewel smiled back at Christina, never averse to pulling the younger sister card. Still, she’d give up the world for her little sister. She’d give up the world for any of her family. “Nice try. Raincheck?”
“You’ve got it.” Christina hopped up, smoothing back her dirty blond bangs from her eyes. “And you’d better believe I’ll be collecting on it.”
Jewel watched her disappear into the darkness toward the loud cheering and laughing coming from the Viking camp. She had no doubt that Christina would make good on her threat to collect on the raincheck. She’d probably enlist help—her mom and dad, Tori. She wouldn’t even put it past Christina to recruit Bog. That thought raised the corners of her lips. She loved her family. And what she thought of as family included everyone here. Any other time, she’d like nothing better than to spend time with those she loved but tonight she simply needed to be alone.
After the service Sarah cringed inwardly as she saw her mom walking across the fellowship hall toward her with Matthew, a young seminarian, in tow. He had been coming to their church for the past month. She had deliberately been late to avoid talking to her mother before the service but now she had no choice.
“There you are, Sarah.” Vivian Vanderzant spoke in a sweetly upbeat tone that she saved for when a potential suitor was around. “I was worried you might not make it and we’d have to send out a prayer party. Are you feeling okay?”
Sarah bit her tongue. “Yes, I’m fine. Just running a little late, that’s all.” She had no doubt that if she hadn’t shown up for the service at nine o’clock, she’d have had a porch full of concerned parishioners knocking down her apartment door by noon. She loved her church family but they could be a bit suffocating in much the same way as a plastic bag over the head.
Vivian beamed, not hearing Sarah’s response. She pulled Matthew up beside her by the arm. “You remember Matthew, don’t you?”
Sarah closed her eyes. One. Two. Three. Four. She counted. “Of course, Mom. How could I forget?” Vivian had introduced them at every chance for the last month. She smiled over at the nervous young man. “Hi, Matthew.”
“Hi…ah…hi, um…Sa…Sarah.” Matthew stammered, not quite meeting her eyes.
He was painfully shy. In a way, it was sweet and enduring and with his bright orange hair and freckles, he was what most would consider cute. But Sarah didn’t feel a thing toward him. No attraction. No interest. Nothing. She never felt anything.
Vivian gushed. “You two would make such a delightful couple.”
“Mom!” Sarah hissed and shot her mom a pointed look. When was she going to stop playing matchmaker?
“Come on, Viv.” Sarah’s father Mike stepped up and threw his arm around his wife, giving Sarah a wide, bright smile. “There’s no need to be pressuring anyone.” He shot Sarah a wink.
“I know that.” Vivian pursed her lips. “But sometimes it doesn’t hurt to give a little nudge.”
Across the fellowship hall, Sarah spotted Lisa, her best friend from church. She was married to her older brother, Judah, and carrying her newborn baby, Emily—their fourth. “Oh, I see Lisa. I’ve got to see her little one.” It afforded the perfect opportunity to duck out from this awkward situation. Before either parent could respond, she darted off, leaving them with the silent and uncomfortable Matthew.
Sarah wrapped her arms around Lisa before pulling back to look at the tiny baby. “Awwww. She looks just like you.”
Lisa laughed. “Let’s hope not. I swear these dark spots under my eyes are permanent. And don’t even get me started on the stretchmarks.”
Lisa had a self-deprecating sense of humor, one of the things that made them such great friends since they were teenagers. But complain as she might, Sarah knew Lisa absolutely adored her children. “Do you mind?” Sarah held out her arms.
Lisa quickly slipped Emily into Sarah’s outstretched arms. Taking a step backward, she eyed Sarah up and down as Sarah smiled and cooed at the infant. “You’re a real natural, Sarah. When are you going to have some of your own?”
Sarah slowly closed her eyes and her shoulders slumped. She could feel her stomach churn. “Oh dear God, you have got to be kidding me. Not you too?” At the tone of her voice, Emily began to squall. Sarah quickly handed her back to Lisa.
“Good one, sis. You made our baby cry.” Judah came up behind Sarah and gave her a tight one-armed hug.
“It wasn’t my fault. She’s just squally like her dad.” Sarah nudged her brother in the ribs.
Judah rolled his head back with a deep booming laugh. “Oh…oh…you think so, huh?”
Sarah had always enjoyed a teasing relationship with her brothers and that hadn’t changed into adulthood. She rarely enjoyed it with her next oldest brother, Caleb, since he moved across the country for his job five years ago.
While Judah and Sarah bantered playfully, Lisa comforted the tiny baby with all the ease of a fourth-time mother, something that Sarah couldn’t see herself doing as adeptly. Of course she liked kids. She volunteered in the nursery every chance she got and always helped out with the summer Vacation Bible School. But Lisa was just a natural. For some reason, Sarah had always felt a slight discomfort whenever she was around children. It might have had more to do with her mother’s insistence that as a good Christian woman, it was her duty to produce good Christian children.
With Emily settled in her arms, Lisa looked over at Sarah, her forehead crinkling. “Hey, are you all right, Sarah? You seem a little…I don’t know…tense or something. And if I can notice it on three hours of sleep, you know I must be right. Now out with it.”
“Sarah’s always been a bit different. That’s nothing new.” Judah gave Sarah another firm squeeze.
Sarah laughed, ignoring her brother. She could never hide much from Lisa. The girl was a bloodhound. She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Lise. I didn’t mean to sound so…so…”
“Yes, bitchy. Thanks for summing that up, smarty-pants.” Sarah shot her a wry grin.
“And I’m the one that’s supposed to be hormonal. What’s eating you, Gilbert Grape?”
“Oh, girl talk! I’m out of here.” Judah tussled Sarah’s hair before leaving, something she thoroughly hated.
Sarah watched her brother walk away before turning back to Lisa with a warm, reminiscent smile. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape had been their favorite movie when they were growing up. Even now, almost twenty years later, it still made her laugh. “Thanks Lisa. It’s just that I keep getting bombarded with the same questions from everyone. So, when are you going to get married? When are you going to find some fine young man and make him a proper wife? When are you going to start popping out kids? You know you’re not getting any younger. You would think that I’m a shriveled up old spinster from the way people talk. Just because I haven’t found someone yet. And it just keeps getting worse the older I get.” She hadn’t meant to rant but once she opened her mouth, she couldn’t stop.
Lisa listened, her concern growing with each word. “You know, Sarah, I don’t envy you. I’ve got it easy compared to you. I’ve got kids and a husband and the whole church is behind me. But just because you decided to go through college and grad school and build a career, everyone thinks it’s their duty to hook you up, like you’re not quite as good without a husband and kids. It’s not fair at all. And it’s one of things that really pisses me off about people, not only from this church but from others. Honestly, it’s none of their business. It’s your life, not theirs.”
Sarah stared, her mouth agape. She had never heard Lisa take such a fierce stand against their church family before. “I…geez Lisa…I don’t know what to say.” She chuckled. “Maybe I should have you give that speech to my mom while you’re at it.”
“No. Thank. You.” Lisa quickly darted a glance over at Sarah’s mom who was across the fellowship hall speaking with their minister. “You know your mom—a force of nature. I’m only her daughter-in-law, not her daughter. I don’t envy you a bit but if it makes you feel any better, I’ll always be here to support you, no matter what.”
When Lisa had headed off to the nursery to breast-feed Emily, her powerful words resonated in Sarah’s head. Her mom truly was a force of nature, a dark, powerful raging thunderstorm, complete with thunder and lightning and torrential rain. And watch out for occasional hail. A storm was on the horizon but damned if she knew how to avoid it.
Before she could be waylaid by anyone else or heaven forbid, her mom find her in hopes of fixing her up with yet someone else, she ducked out the side door. As she walked out into the bright light, she took a deep gulp of fresh air. She didn’t know if it was her imagination but with the click of the door behind her, she could breathe easier, as if a huge rock had been lifted from her chest. She’d been planning on going home, getting a salad for lunch, and sitting out on her back deck underneath the shagbark hickory trees, maybe starting one of the dozen or so novels she had been meaning to get to. Instead as she pulled herself behind the wheel of her bright pumpkin-orange Jeep Wrangler, another thought hit her. With a slow curling of her lips and a sharp nod, she threw her car in gear. She knew exactly where to go.
* * *
Jewel glanced up as her younger sister stumbled bleary-eyed to her trailer as she prepared a breakfast of bacon and eggs over the open campfire. With a chuckle, she called out in her cheeriest voice. “Good morning, starshine.”
Christina winced and held up her right hand, waving Jewel off. She immediately grabbed her head as if to steady herself. “Arg.”
“Damn, sis. You look like death warmed over. I take it Bog’s blueberry wine had more of a kick than you thought.”
Letting out a long, deep groan, Christina flopped down at the picnic table between their two trailers. “You can say that again. That troll is just plain evil. Blueberry wine my ass. More like blueberry moonshine. It’s a wonder I didn’t go blind drinking that hooch of hers.”
“Now you know why I took a pass last night.” Jewel scooped a plate of eggs and bacon and slid it under Christina’s nose, which hovered just inches above the tabletop. “Here, eat up, you’ll feel better. Where’s Tori?”
Christina shoveled food voraciously, mumbling around a mouthful of eggs. “She’s still asleep in our trailer. You think I look bad?” She chuckled as she grabbed a piece of bacon with her fingers and chomped on it.
Jewel walked over to her sisters’ trailer and slapped her hand hard against the side, the bang echoing throughout the campground. She cleared her voice and yelled in through the open window “Wake up sleepyhead. Breakfast’s ready.”
Tori tottered out, giving Jewel a die-bitch-die look. “Come on Jewel, give me a break. Must you be so loud?”
Jewel slid a plate in front of Tori. If Christina had looked rough, it was nothing as compared to Tori. From the looks of it, she might just join Bog in her mud hole for the day. Increasingly, she was glad she had stayed to herself last night. She didn’t want to risk meeting yet another townie with a wicked hangover to boot. No, she was much better staying to herself. That troll truly was evil but none of this would be nearly as much fun without her or any of the other of her festival family.
Just as she was about to sit down with her own plate, her mom and dad walked around the front of her trailer to join them. With their three campers, they were one of the biggest campsites. Although she could have easily bunked with her two sisters, Jewel needed her own place. It wasn’t as if she didn’t enjoy their company, but sometimes she just needed time to herself. She had always been the most introverted one of the family.
Taking one look at the two hungover women, their mom Lu shook a finger. “You look like something the dog dragged in. Better shape up—we have a show in one hour. So you’d better eat up and get dressed.”
Their dad, Angelo, stood behind her, hiding a smile.
Tori and Christina quickly finished their breakfast and left to get ready. Lu and Angelo Black sat across from her. Her mom lifted a cup of steaming hot, burn-a-hole-through-the-picnic-table-strong coffee to her lips. “You didn’t join your sisters last night?” Her accent was dark and thick, even more so in the early morning.
Jewel laughed. “I wasn’t stupid enough to party with the Vikings and drink whatever gut-rot Bog brewed up.”
Angelo smiled again, his dimples barely visible through his thick salt-and-pepper beard. “Probably wise.”
Lu watched Jewel from across the table. Pictures of her mother as a young woman looked nearly identical to her, and she could only hope that she would age as gracefully. Her mom drummed her fingers on the tabletop. “You’ve been staying more to yourself lately.” Not a question, merely a statement.
Her eyes glued to the plate in front of her, Jewel let out a deep sigh. She had been expecting this. Not much slipped past her mom. Since it was no use denying it, she might as well come clean. “It’s really no big deal, Mom. It’s just…I don’t know…I love what we do, I love my life, but sometimes it really does make it hard to meet someone and develop any kind of romance.”
Lu reached across the table and took both Jewel’s hands in hers. “I know moving around so much can be hard, Cricket. Sometimes it seems impossible to really meet someone only to move to next town. What about any of the regulars? Any chances there?”
“Not really, Mom. Everyone’s like family here. It would be like dating my cousin.”
Lu slowly nodded her head. “I can see how that would be. You’re the romantic one amongst your sisters, always dreaming about finding that one special one. But don’t fret so much. It will happen when it happens. Just look at your Da and me. I wasn’t looking when he fell into my life, like getting hit by lightning. It be the same for you—boom, lightning.”
Jewel gave her mom’s hands a gentle squeeze. “Thanks, Mom.” She knew her mom was right. There was someone out there for her. She had believed it her entire life. She was always the happily-ever-after one, kissing toads and wishing upon stars. Someday, that one special person would fall out of the sky and like her mom said—boom, lightning. But lightning wasn’t the problem. She could always find lightning. The problem was finding that lightning and not getting burned.
* * *
“Twice in two days, may miracles never cease.” Skye stood with a hand on each hip, staring at her cousin in utter disbelief. “I thought you were going to church with your parents.”
Sarah groaned, waving her hands around her head as if shooing away a particularly aggressive fly. “Don’t get me started. After the morning I’ve had, I needed to be as far away from Mom and church as possible. I tell you what, it’s enough to make me want to pull my hair out.”
“So that’s what happened.” Skye brushed her fingertips through the extremely short hair on the back and sides of Sarah’s head.
“Oh, very funny. Ha, Ha, Ha. You’re an absolute laugh-fest.” Sarah rolled her eyes while protesting but try as she might, she wasn’t able to hide a smile. Skye was exactly what she needed to take her mind off things. Skye’s free spirit never ceased to make her smile. “Maybe I should have come here this morning instead of the Old Maid Inquisition at church.” As she heard her own words, she was surprised by their bitterness.
The look on Skye’s face grew serious, her eyebrows knitting together. “Hey, kiddo, what’s going on? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this down.”
Sarah threw her hands up again and began pacing. “It’s…it’s…it’s just all this pressure to find a husband and have kids. It’s enough to drive me insane. I mean, what if I don’t want a husband? What if I don’t want to have kids? It’s my life, shouldn’t it be my decision?”
Skye nodded, her eyes growing wider by the second.
Sarah whirled around, facing Skye head-on. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But nooooo! You’d think I was a child the way everyone keeps dropping not-so-subtle suggestions concerning my love life. You really need to go out and find a good man who will take care of you, put a roof over your head, and make sure you are well provided for.” Sarah mimicked the voice in a syrupy sweet singsong tone. “I don’t need a man for that. I can take care of myself. I already have a successful career and don’t need anyone to take care of me.”
“Hey, you won’t get any argument from me. I’ve never subscribed to the notion that a woman needs a man to survive.”
“But you’re gay.”
“So? You think I don’t deal with the same societal pressures? All women do, gay or straight. Just because I’m a lesbian doesn’t mean that I don’t constantly hear that I need a man. Every day there’s some anti-gay minister, politician or garden-variety homophobe nut job out there telling me that all the wrongs of society are because I don’t have a man. So yes, I know exactly what you’re talking about.”
Sarah lowered her head at Skye’s rebuke. She had been so wrapped up in her own drama that she hadn’t realized what a whiny brat she’d been. When had she become this way? When had she become so embittered, so negative that she couldn’t see beyond her own existence? Her mom may be pushing her to find a man, her entire church may be pressuring her for the same, but that didn’t mean that she was the only one to have ever gone through this. She wasn’t alone. And knowing that Skye had also faced the same made her feel better. What better company than her brash, free-spirited cousin. Sarah peeked up. “I know, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. I’ve been wallowing in my own self-pity for way too long. It’s time I stood up and said enough is enough.” She stomped her foot on the ground.
With a single firm nod, Skye clapped her hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “You go girl. It’s your life, it should be your decision what you do with it. That’s what my mom always told me and look at me now.”
“Tattooed and feather-covered?”
“You know what I’m talking about, smart ass.” Skye chuckled. “I live my own life, I have my own business, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. So yes, if tattoos and feathers work for me, who’s to say any different. Maybe you need to find your own tattoos and feathers.”
Sarah’s eyes grew wide. “Tattoos and feathers? I could never do that. Don’t get me wrong, it looks great on you and I wish I could be as brave as you but I just couldn’t bring myself to do that.”
Skye offered her a soft smile. “Metaphorically! Everyone needs to find their tattoos and feathers, cuz. For me, that’s skin ink and body art. For you…” She shrugged. “…probably not. But don’t be afraid to find your own tattoos and feathers in whatever form they may be.”
Sarah pondered her cousin’s words long after Skye had ducked behind her tent for a tarot reading. It made a lot of sense. Find her own tattoos and feathers. Find her own identity. Which strangely enough, with the exception of her job, she didn’t really have much that she could point to that truly showed who she was as a person. All this time, she had been Mike and Vivian Vanderzant’s daughter. Even at church, she was always Mike and Vivian’s daughter, not Sarah Vanderzant, college-educated independent woman who worked as a successful freelance artist. That should be her identity. She was her own person, and it was high time that she started living that way and not subordinate to someone else’s identity whether it be her parents, the church, or heaven forbid some guy.
It wasn’t until she heard that haunting voice drifting through the trees, singing of painted doors and girls walking by in their summer clothes, that she finally broke her reverie. That voice. Drawing her like a moth to flame, she couldn’t resist. She could feel the dark, smoky voice filling her somewhere deep inside. Since Skye was still with a client, Sarah gave her a quick wave over her shoulder and hustled down the path.
* * *
Jewel stepped out on stage with her fire cane and quickly lit the wick from the flame pot at the corner of the stage. This was her favorite solo dance, second only to her poi number. Probably the part that she liked the best was how sensual it was—slow and sultry. She spun the cane over her head and around her body, switching hands as the flames roared a path through the air. The smell of lantern fuel hung thick in the muggy still air. She could feel the intense heat as the cane flew around her body.
With the wireless microphone slung over her ear, Jewel sang an a cappella version of Barns Courtney’s “Glitter & Gold,” a slow dark melody. She swayed her hips to the rhythm of the song, working the flaming cane around her to accentuate the movement of her body. As she hit the chorus, she slammed the flaming end of the cane to the stage and with both hands on the other end, she danced slowly, her back arched provocatively while gyrating her hips and undulating her belly. As she worked her way around the cane, the flames grew higher and higher. She could feel them beginning to lick her hands just as she stepped into the next part of her routine.
The feeling was mind-blowing, the heat, the passion, the sensuality. To her, the dance was like making love to the flames, bordering between intense pleasure and burning pain. Forget about those other girls. Why was she worrying about romance anyway? It couldn’t compete with this. Nothing could.
Finishing, she looked out at the crowd in front of the small stage. Almost every seat was filled, a miracle for the first performance on a Sunday. Usually Saturday was their biggest day. But just as she was about to extinguish her fire cane and get ready for the next number, a fire fan dance with both of her sisters, someone standing in the back, leaning up against a tree, caught her eye. She could have been a ghost she was so pale. Even her hair shone white. But then the light streaming down through the dense foliage shifted. She had been mistaken. It wasn’t white hair but a light blond.
Still thinking about the apparition, Jewel stumbled down the steps beside the stage. Such a fair complexion. And compared with her own dark olive skin and deep brunette hair, the woman truly was a ghost.
“Hey, are you all right?” Tori grabbed her by the shoulder to keep her from falling. She laughed. “I thought you said you hadn’t been drinking last night.”
Jewel poked her older sister in the ribs. “Trust me, I haven’t. And certainly not that swill.”
Christina harrumphed. “What’s up with you anyway?”
“I just thought I saw something.” Jewel glanced back over her shoulder, the ethereal woman still leaning against the tree. She could have been mistaken but for one brief second, it felt as if their eyes locked. But with a blink, it was gone, if indeed it had been there at all. Still, as she turned back around to pick up her fire fans, she was sure she could feel those eyes burning into her back. Even in the heat, a quick shiver ran up her spine.
“Earth to Jewel, come in Jewel.” Tori waved her hand in front of her face. “Are you ready?”
Jewel blinked and gave a quick nod. “As I’ll ever be. Let’s light ‘er up.” With her fire fans pressed together, she bent down and dipped the end into the fire pot on the corner of the stage. The five wicks on each lit with a loud flumph. Immediately, it felt as if a blowtorch blasted against her skin. Sweat beaded on her forehead but she smiled. This was what it was all about.
They started the sequence, carefully waving the flaming fans back and forth and in between each other through delicate choreography. Flames passed flames, intertwining in an aerial ballet. Jewel concentrated on every move. The timing had to be precise. One screw-up and someone could be seriously injured. She kneeled down between her sisters. She flung the fans out in front of her as one from each side passed over her head, the flames cackling in the heat hitting like a fiery slap to the head. With the next beat, she thrust her fans straight up just missing her sisters’ as they drew them in. But as she concentrated on move after move, Jewel noticed the woman against the tree watching intensely as if she had been hypnotized. Wherever the flames went, her eyes followed.
Finally, they finished the song and rushed from the stage. They each dropped their fire fans onto the thick, fireproof blanket their dad had waiting for them. As he snuffed out the flames, Jewel turned to Tori. “Did you catch that woman up the back leaning against the tree? I swear she couldn’t take her eyes off the fire.”
Tori glanced over her shoulder. “What woman?”
Jewel whirled around so fast she would have fallen if not for Tori once again catching her.
“You sure you haven’t been drinking?” Tori chuckled as she helped right Jewel but Jewel didn’t hear her. The woman, that platinum blond phantasm was gone.
* * *
“There you are. I thought you’d left.” Skye relaxed in her chair at the back of her booth. She patted the chair beside her. “Have a seat.”
Sarah dropped beside Skye, wiping the sweat from her face.
“Where have you been? I haven’t seen you in hours.”
Sarah kicked up her feet, mirroring Skye. “I’ve been roaming around, checking out the stalls and watching all the performances. I saw a woman in long dreads playing the hurdy-gurdy and then a group of Vikings invaded the Knights Templar camp. Some guy was even working a forge in this heat, can you believe it?” She found her voice rising as she recounted all she saw.
“Never a dull moment. That’s for sure.” Skye hid a smirk behind her hand. “I’m glad you’re having a good time.”
“Yeah, me too. This is just what I needed. Forget about everything and have fun for a change.”
“Tell you what. Why don’t you come next weekend too? We’re here for the next six weeks. I’ll get you a pass, say you’re working at my booth.”
“You’re going to be here for that long?”
“For this festival, yes and then on to the next. That’s why I have a camper. There’s a whole circuit of festivals starting in early May and running through to October. Most of the people here travel the circuits as well. Some even head south for festivals during the winter months but I have my store to tend to or I’d probably join them.”
“I had no idea.”
“We’re just one big family traveling around together, peddling our wares. So, you up for that, at least for the next few weekends?”
Sarah thought for a moment. What would it hurt? She’d had a great time yesterday and then again today. Why shouldn’t she? It might just be the stress reliever she needed plus it would get her away from her mom. “Sure, why not?”
“Great. You can camp with me too. I get here Friday night and stay all weekend.”
“What, stay the night too?” Sarah felt her chest tighten. “I don’t know about that.”
“Oh, come on. It’ll be fun. Trust me. Besides you’ll be able to get to know a lot of the other festival folk, including a certain hot fire dancer I know you’ve had your eye on.”
“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Sarah quickly turned away, the heat from the day feeling like a cold blast compared to warmth radiating from her skin. If only Skye knew. She couldn’t take her eyes off the fire dancer. She had caught all their shows that afternoon, but always from the shadows. But if Skye could see what was happening to her, who else could? All these years, she had tried to hide those feelings. Everything she had ever been taught told her it was wrong. She wouldn’t judge anyone for what they did but it was different when it was herself—much different. She had her family and her church to think about. She couldn’t let them down, especially her mom. If she let her mom down—Sarah shuddered—well, she didn’t even want to consider that. Her mom’s temper was the stuff of nightmares and she should know. She’d had enough of them growing up, hearing her mom yelling Bible verse after Bible verse.
Skye nudged her lightly on the arm. “Hey, are you okay? I was just teasing. Didn’t mean to wig you out or anything.”
Sarah turned back to her cousin and not for the first time, really envied her, her freedom, her confidence, or her joie de vivre, her zest for life. If only she could be more like Skye, just maybe without the wild hair and tattoos. “Don’t worry about it. It’s no big deal. Just any talk about…well, you know…”
“Homosexuality?” Skye smiled.
“Yes homosexuality.” Sarah let out a sigh of exasperation. “I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to say that—homosexuality. It’s just another word, right?”
“Not with your background, hon.” Skye gently laid her hand over Sarah’s and squeezed. “It’s hard to overcome that level of conditioning. You’ve heard your entire life that homosexuality is an abomination.” She gave a wry smile. “You don’t feel that way about me, do you?”
“No, oh God no.” Sarah clapped her hand to her mouth. “I hope you don’t think that I do because I don’t. I’m totally fine with your lifestyle.”
Skye laughed and shook her head. “Sarah, it’s not a lifestyle. I didn’t just wake up one morning and think, hey I think I’m going to become a lesbian. It’s not like a choice to be vegan or a Republican. It’s who I am. Who I’ve always been.”
“But how did you know that? How did you know that you’re gay and weren’t just mistaken or perhaps confused?”
Sarah gritted her teeth. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.”
Skye’s look softened. “Look, it’s okay, Sarah. I’d rather someone ask me questions, even if they may be a bit ill-informed, than to simply dismiss me out-of-hand. If you really want to know, I just realized one day that I’m attracted to women instead of men, not that there’s anything wrong with men. They’re just not for me. I tried dating a few but nothing—no chemistry, no feelings, no nothing. But women…” She fanned herself, making a big show of it. “That’s another story. When I’m with a woman, it just feels…right…natural. That’s how I know.”
Sarah sighed, looking out at the patrons strolling beside Skye’s booth. “You make it sound as if it was easy.”
Skye rolled her head back and laughed. “Easy? Hardly. If it was easy, coming out wouldn’t be called a process.” She leaned in close and dropped her voice. “Why are you asking, Sarah? I know I tease you a lot but is there something you would like to talk about?”
“No, why? Why do you ask? There’s nothing I would like to talk about.” The words tumbled out. Suddenly, Sarah wished she were somewhere else, anywhere she wouldn’t have to answer that question. Did she want to talk? Talk? Maybe if she knew what to say or where to begin. She tried to laugh it off but it sounded more like a squirrel trapped in a washing machine.
Skye eyed her closely. “Are you sure? You seem like there’s something troubling you.”
“Seriously, Skye, there’s nothing troubling me. Honest.”
Skye continued to stare skeptically for a long moment before finally conceding. “All right, if you say so. But if you ever do need to talk, I’m here for you. No judgments. Okay?”
Sarah nodded. Maybe if she did talk to someone, maybe it would help. But how could she when she didn’t know where to start?
Skye clapped her on the back. “Don’t worry about it, cousin. Trust me, it will all work out in the end. Just know, I’m always here.”
“Thanks, Skye. That means more than you’ll ever know.”