When Joetta pulls up in the bar’s desolate parking lot, she only sees a familiar red Ford bearing metal bumps and bruises and a silver Volvo she guesses belongs to Piper. The normally red, blinking OPEN on the front of the building stays gray but it doesn’t deter Joetta from striding right up to the bar’s entrance and knocking on the front door. She can see the yellow-orange glow of light inside thanks to the window, and the screen of her smart phone reads 3:03. The Great Basin starts kicking inebriates out at 2 AM on work nights. They’re probably still cleaning up for the night.
Initially, no one answers but then the door opens to reveal Piper, a curvy brunette in her thirties who could chisel ice with her jawline. She’s smirking, clearly laughing to herself about something Joetta doesn’t understand. “One, it was unlocked; two, we’re closed.” Joetta glances at the ground, realizing she hadn’t even tried the door, and her cheeks darken.
“Is Dallas still in?” She asks, and Piper pauses before answering, taking the time to look Joetta over.
“Lemme go check,” She finally says, going back inside and closing the door behind her. Joetta doesn’t hear the lock turn, but doesn’t try and test it. Instead, she waits and looks back over into the parking lot, double-checking to make sure she didn’t imagine the red Ford parked there. It’s there all right. Piper must want to check with Dallas before officially giving away that she’s here. Joetta decides she likes Piper, realizing that one action alone shows more concern for Dallas’s well-being than anything Rose ever did, and waits without a fuss.
Her patience pays off. Piper opens the door and holds it for Joetta. “Come on in.” She motions to the right with her head and, upon entering, Joetta sees Dallas rinsing glasses in the sink behind the counter. Joetta’s stomach flutters uncomfortably. She recalls a soft press of lips, the smell of her treehouse’s damp wood, and Dallas’s impossibly blue eyes. They had been kids then in Joetta’s backyard.
Now, they’re adults in The Great Basin and Dallas’s long gold hair has been shorn into a short pixie cut. Joetta can clearly see the falcon in flight tattooed across her uncovered, sunwashed shoulders and down her upper spine, her halter top leaving little to the imagination. Dallas rinses a glass and looks over shoulder at Joetta, who approaches the bar.
“Hey,” she says in a smooth, honeyed voice that makes Joetta’s heart both flip happily and clench sadly. “You lookin’ for me?”
“Yeah.” Joetta answers in a gentle, hushed tone. “Kind of in need of some life advice. Hoping you’d help.” Dallas locks gazes with her, tropic blue staring into autumn brown. Joetta remembers unanswered phone calls, weeks without talking, then lingering glances in Gibson High’s hallways and rare occasions of happy classroom conversations, friendship rekindled but limited. A mutual fear of heartbreak crippled them both. For a moment, Joetta forgets Piper is standing a few feet behind her, but Dallas doesn’t.
“Sure. Piper, you can head on out. I’ll finish closing up with Joetta.” She puts the glass she had been rinsing on one of the back wall’s shelves and leans against the counter, facing Joetta. Her eyes momentarily linger on the blue diamond on Joetta’s ring finger.
“Sounds good to me,” Piper says with little more than a second thought, taking a leather jacket off the coat rack by the door and sliding it on. “You need anything, you text.”
“Got it, Sheriff.” Dallas tips an invisible hat to the older woman and smiles, causing Joetta’s heart to flip happily. “G’night.”
“See ya later today.” She smiles back and, with a parting wave, exits the bar, leaving Joetta and Dallas to themselves. The first time they’ve been alone since her engagement to Elijah became public knowledge a year ago, a topic they have never breached.
“Is she good to you?” Joetta asks after the door closes behind Piper.
“Yeah,” Dallas says, still smiling and making Joetta’s heart flip. The happy lightness is cut short though when Dallas adds: “A hell of a better boss than Rose ever was.”
An image of Rose flashes through Joetta’s mind: the curvy brunette stands at her diner counter, wiping her hands on her apron and deliberately avoiding anyone’s gaze as Jarvis Johnson tell Dallas it’s a shame her beautiful blue eyes are wasted on a dyke. The memory doesn’t even make Joetta’s blood boil anymore, only saddening her.
“Fuck Rose.” Joetta says but it’s without much bite, and shakes her head. “Asshole Johnson deserved to have worse than some soda poured on him.”
“Agreed. Glad Piper thought the same, otherwise I might not have gotten a job so soon after Rose fired me.” That’s a definite. Thanks to the grapevine, Joetta knows Piper asked Dallas to mix drinks here mere hours after Rose fired her. The retaliation of a sister who deliberately disagrees with her older sister’s beliefs and isn’t scared to show it. “What’s the situation that’s got you here?” Dallas asks and Joetta settles in a seat across from the blonde. They’re so close, with only a bar between them. Joetta could just move forward and kiss her, but she knows better. They need to talk.
“I’m getting married in, like, twelve or so hours.”
Something flashes across Dallas’s face, an angry grimace on her mouth but brows drawn together in concern. Its hurt, Joetta realizes. A wrathful hurt and despairing hurt warring within Dallas, but all physical evidence of it disappears quickly beneath a flat-lined face before Joetta can examine it further. She thinks about asking, but then Dallas starts speaking,
“I’ve never gotten married, Ettie. Not sure how much use I’ll be to you in that department.” Joetta groans, not bothering to hide her frustration. She wants help, not to pull Dallas teeth out with pliers.
“Elijah’s gay, Dally.” Joetta confesses, sending out a prayer Elijah will forgive her for outing him to someone without his permission. In a county as homophobic as Tabernas, information about sexuality is held close. Otherwise, you make enemies and lose opportunities. Case in point: Dallas’s former job at Rose’s Diner. “I’m marrying a gay man.” Confusion forms on Dallas’s face as plain as a desert’s burning sun.
“Sense of security, mutual understanding, respect, love.” Joetta’s hands flail, twisting through the air, for emphasis (though mostly so they have something to do). “A way to keep my parents off my back for awhile and, if not that, then someone to support me when my parents are hassling me.”
“Do you love him?” Dallas asks as the explanation sinks in, gradually looking less and less like Joetta grew a third eye.
“Yes. Just…not like a lover. Which sounds horribly paradoxical, but it’s true.” Last night, Joetta curled up on the couch in Elijah’s arms. Warm, safe, and secure. She could imagine spending every night there, content. She pictures Elijah in a black tuxedo like the blue one he wore to prom senior year but standing in front of an altar waiting for her. His close-cropped hair and dark fawn flesh would contrast beautifully with her, long kinky hair in a puff on top of her head and tinder box brown skin accentuated by the white of her lace gown. They would be breath-taking.
But, they would not be in love.
“Are you okay with that? Would you be happy?” There is no judgment on Dallas’s end, and Joetta feels grateful for her. She’s not sure she could handle trusting someone with this only for them to turn out as horrible as the townspeople she hides herself from every day, holding her tongue and ideals — the very essence of her — in order to cohabit peacefully.
“I am,” Joetta says, and it’s not a lie. “Elijah is so sweet, and we take care of one another well. We don’t have to be in love to have a happy marriage.” Some people don’t even feel romantic attraction, and that doesn’t make them any less as people. Falling in love isn’t something Joetta needs. As an after-thought, she adds, “Plus, Mom and Dad love him,” remembering how they’d both gushed a little during the early planning stages of their wedding. Elijah tended to leave everyone a little star-struck with his charm. You could never tell he keeps part of his life in the shadows, but Joetta figures they’re all a little bit like that. You’re not much of a closet case if everything is out in the open.
“It could work,” Dallas says and pauses, drawing a circle lightly on the bar table with her finger. Thoughts clearly churning in her head, but no expression giving her away. She stops the movement and looks up, into Joetta’s eyes, before asking: “Is this what you want?”
The question stuns Joetta. No one has asked her what she wanted. Her mom and dad had never asked, just assuming Joetta wanted to after she told them she accepting the proposal. The same with her other relatives and friends. They had all assumed.
Joetta’s breathing stutters. Even precious Elijah, her dear friend had asked her if she would marry him, not if she wanted to. No one had asked.
No one until Dallas, and, as Joetta looks at her, she realizes she has never seen someone so beautiful even as a curtain of watery tears blocks her view of the woman.
“No.” Joetta decides, the dried cracks of her lie finally giving way and crumbling beneath her, and her voice whimpers. The salty tears building in her eyes overflow, trickling out the corners of her eyes. “No,” she repeats resolutely and tries to wipe away her tears, make them stop, but more come. She more so imagines than sees Dallas’s shoulders rise and straighten, no longer leaning on the counter.
“Do you still like being held when you cry?” She hears and shakes her head in the positive, even holds her hands out in front of her slightly.
“Please,” Joetta says and Dallas doesn’t bother walking around the bar. She slides over the countertop and wraps her arms around the other woman, Joetta’s arms immediately taking their rightful place around her waist. Her hands clutch to Dallas’s body. “I’m a mess, I’m so sorry.” Joetta gasps in between sentences, her wet lips dragging across the side of Dallas’s neck and the woman just pulls her in closer.
The generosity of the action causes her to sob. All she can bring herself to do is whisper a litany of “thank you, thank you” as she cries and clings to the ever presence that is Dallas. After harsh years in the shriveled small town, Joetta allows herself to indulge in the oasis another woman’s arms can be. Dallas presses her lips to the crown of Joetta’s head, a whisper of a touch which bursts Joetta’s heart and, despite it all, brings a smile to her face.
Dallas holds her, and Joetta never wants to be let go. Slowly, her thirst for something — something greater than anything a married life with Elijah could have given — begins to be quenched.
Daveigh Larkin is a North Carolina resident and student, currently earning a major in English and a minor in Religion. Her hobbies include crushing the patriarchy and spreading bisexual propaganda. Find her on Twitter @DaveighLarkin.