Al Kristopher presents…
A story of lesbian love and wacky hijinks.
Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction, but only because the characters have been altered from their points of inspiration so as to seem original, and that the alterations vary in their greatness, in order to protect, disassociate, or differentiate from their precursors. The setting and the circumstances surrounding it may be fantastic, but that does not mean they are impossible.
1: The Old In-Out
Oddly enough, Darryl Holland had other things on her mind during her high school graduation ceremony. The principal was listing the graduates, in alphabetical order, and he was well past her name (into the ludicrously long "Ms" now), giving her further cause for distraction. Chief among the myriad thoughts that ran through her head was the looming threat of finding a new place to live. Mom and dad had finally been able to score the jobs of their dreams, but unfortunately, they were in Switzerland (of all places), and seeing as how their daughter was old enough to start living on her own, they figured they could make the move and not overtly traumatize her. They weren't exactly correct, but at least they sprang it on her weeks ahead of time, so she'd have some leeway to adjust.
Still, the thought of no longer having a home complicated things a bit. Darryl didn't have anywhere else to go, unless she wanted to live with one of her brothers, but that was hardly a better option. The eldest had a wife and a newborn on the way, with no room to put up for little sister; the twins were off at college on the other side of the country; her younger brother was off on a mission in South America, and wouldn't be home until next year (if at all). The relative closest to Darryl was her aunt, but situations at her house were complicated, to say the least. There was another aunt, and an uncle, but they lived farther away, and had plenty of other "guests" at their place. She had thought about asking a few of her friends, but that crowd was mostly boys, and she had lived in a mostly male-dominated house long enough. With her options dry, Darryl would effectively be homeless by the end of the month.
To make matters worse, she had never held down a job before (unless you counted student temporary employment services during summer break), and had very little money— enough for a month's rent and some food, perhaps, but certainly nothing substantial. Here was where mother and father pitched in, though, and gave her lists and brochures and recommendations. There were apartments all over the place that fit right into her budget; they narrowed them down to a handful they thought their daughter would like. Darryl's mission the next day would be to visit several of them, either in person or over the internet, and hopefully find a good location.
The principal called the last student, and the audience congratulated the class on graduation. Darryl applauded politely, her mind loose and adrift. She endured countless photos from parents, relatives, and friends, then sat quietly as the family drove to a nearby restaurant. Mom and dad couldn't tell where this silence was coming from— if it was because of the move, or her graduation, or leaving a familiar world behind, or what— so they decided to leave well enough alone. Darryl's sleep that night was fitful and short, and the air conditioner was broken, so it was hot, too. At least she didn't have to share it with her brothers anymore.
Day one was disappointing and unproductive. After a tasteless breakfast (toasted English muffins with no butter, Corn Flakes, milk, an apple), Darryl left the house and began her search. The first apartment she went to required a down payment, which she could afford, but then looked into her work history, which ended that transaction. Two more apartment complexes did the same song and dance, with no pity for her delicate situation.
"I've never had an actual job before," she shyly admitted to Prospect Number Four. "I did some temp jobs over summer break, but that's it. I have enough for one month's rent, if that's what you're asking…"
"That's not the issue here," Landlord Number Three replied (one of the illustrious four had been female). "We need to see your work history so we know that you'll reliably pay the rent. I'm sorry, but that's our operations here."
"Could you at least rent something to me for a month? I'm sure I'll have a steady income by then."
"No, I'm really sorry, but that's our policy. We perform background checks like this on everybody. But don't feel too bad. There are plenty of places that rent on a month-to-month basis."
"Do you know of any?" she wondered, starting to sound a little desperate. She received a very familiar pamphlet from the landlord, thanked him on her way out, and tossed the paper into the back seat of her car. She returned home for a meager lunch (tuna sandwich, baked potato, blackberry pie, tea), then went on the family computer to check her online progress. Zero, zip, nada. Every place she went to required her to first have a job, and the ones that rented month-by-month were either too expensive, or had locations she wouldn't even drive through. Grumble. Sigh. She went to the local gym to work out her frustrations. Her parents' membership was about to expire, so they gave her their card; it came in handy since there was no exercise equipment at home, and Darryl had dreams of continuing her athletic history.
Too bad she couldn't afford college— not even with a scholarship.
Once she had cleaned up (and scouted the gym's bulletin board for possible housing leads), she went back out into the wide world, determined to investigate two more possibilities before retiring for the day. One place was very promising, and even let her rent on a monthly basis, but it was on the edge of town and utilities didn't come free. The other place was very inexpensive, but it was basically a halfway house, and Darryl didn't think she wanted to end up there. Another name, another black slash. Maybe tomorrow would have better leads. Dinner was nice (ham and eggs, asparagus, toast, ice cream, juice), and she treated herself to cartoons and a favorite movie, because she felt she had earned it.
Darryl grumbled as she tilted the box of Corn Flakes, finding only a handful tumbling into her bowl. It wasn't even enough to snack on; she easily fit them all in her mouth and chewed them dry. She made herself some chocolate milk— it was going to be one of those days— had the rest of the banana pudding, a bagel, and some grapes. She was good at improvising meals, having to survive four voracious brothers her entire life. Darryl's goal was to hit five different apartments every day until she hit jackpot (ten if she counted the ones online); hopefully she wouldn't burn out or have her options run dry.
As expected, the first two places turned her down flat. The fourth seemed more like a joke than an actual prospect: it was called "Wesley Mansion", and the photo spread covered two entire pages. A description of the mansion was listed on the next page over: it had every amenity one could hope for, and then some, and best of all, it was listed as a "women's exclusive lodging", which would be a refreshing change for Darryl. Along with her brothers and her father, she had made more guy-friends at school than girl-friends, and had always been seen as "one of the boys", even when she was in elementary school. Perhaps it had to do with her tomboyish figure, or her interests, or her sharp lack of feminine influence. Whatever the case, Darryl liked the idea of being around other girls for once (especially if they were around her age), but living in a mansion seemed too good to be true. Fortunately, she didn't need to worry herself over that last part: the price was just in her budget. Having nothing to lose, she decided to go for it, if only for a lark.
Aside from the ludicrous idea of living in a mansion, not all was perfect about Wesley estates. It was slightly off the beaten path, a mile to the nearest grocery store and more than that to the nearest post office, auto shop, and shopping mall. But a mile was nothing to Darryl; she could run one in seven minutes, six at her peak. The road to get there was convoluted and a little confusing: Darryl got lost and almost had to pull over and ask for directions (the brochure was both useless and inaccurate). She also feared rejection, but that was a possibility no matter where she went, so Darryl put up with the inconvenient location and pulled into the visitor's section. The parking lot was small; she caught herself gawking a little as she saw an honest-to-goodness garage.
"I think I'm a little over my head here," she murmured to herself, but she rang the doorbell regardless, and was welcomed by a dark-skinned, somewhat disheveled young woman around her age.
"Um, hello, can I help you?" she said politely.
"Uh, yes, I hope so. I'd like to see if I could, uh, sign up for rent in this place— I mean— I could find a place to rent." She felt flushed. By now she should have been a pro at handling the opening spiel, but the mansion intimidated her. The other woman looked taken aback.
"Oh. Um…do you mean here?"
"Yes, please. I have enough to cover the down payment, plus a first month's rent…"
"Oh, well, um…I think we sort of have a different problem here."
"You mean there's nothing available?"
"Uh, no, no, we've got plenty of room left. I just don't think we can…uh…how can I put this? We can't…let…you stay here. Um, sorry." She winced, teeth flashing apologetically, hands kneading. Darryl looked hurt and a little offended.
"Why not? Usually, people don't say that until after they've performed a background check."
"I know, but…" The woman paused again, sputtering, unknowingly driven into a corner. Her face turned reddish-brown as she grimaced, "This is a place for women only. We don't discriminate or anything; it's just the landlady's rules. Sorry."
"I know about that." Pause. Darryl looked just as determined as before. The other woman floundered— and then she realized her epic blunder.
"Um…OH, GOSH!! I'M SO SORRY! I COULDN'T TELL! Oh, jeez, I didn't mean to insult you or anything— I'm really sorry— you just fooled me for a second there!"
"It's okay," Darryl grumbled, "I'm used to it." Darryl was taller than most girls, skinny from years serving on the track and field team, somewhat flat-chested, and her hair was boyishly short, black and shaggy. She didn't mean to come off as androgynous; it just happened.
"Gosh, I can't believe I made such an ass of myself!" the woman exclaimed, standing back and holding the door open. "If Feb gets wind of this, she might just give you a free month's rent! Urgh, I am so stupid…"
"Really, it's okay," Darryl assured her quietly. "I get mistaken for a boy all the time. I guess that comes from living with four brothers, and having only boys as friends— and I guess you could say I'm kind of a tomboy myself. …I'm Darryl."
"Jeez, and you were born with a guy's name, too," the woman teased, grinning. Darryl frowned.
"Darryl can be a woman's name, too— like Darryl Hannah."
"Or that chick from Final Fantasy six," she pointed out. "I'm Winnie."
"As in 'Winnie the Pooh'?" Darryl laughed, shaking her hand. Winnie rolled her eyes.
"No, but I guess I deserve that. It's short for 'Winifred', but please don't call me that."
"Fair enough. So do you think I have a shot at staying here?"
"Yeah, pretty sure. I mean, I live here, right? So where do you work?" Darryl fidgeted. She was afraid the conversation would turn in that direction.
"Uh, is 'nowhere' a place? I work nowhere? I just graduated from high school, so I've never held a long-term job."
"Oh. That's nothing to be ashamed about. Can't you stay at home, though?"
"That's not an option," she sulked, shaking her head. "My parents are moving to Switzerland in the summer, and I don't have any family that can put me up."
"Oh, gosh, are you serious?!" she balked. "They're really moving to Switzerland?!"
"Mm-hmm, they found the job of their dreams. Out of everyone in my entire family, I'm the only one still living with them."
"So what happens if you can't find a place by the time they leave?" Darryl shook her head again, looking pale.
"I guess they assumed I'd land on my feet and be okay."
"Oh, honey, we've gotta do everything we can to get you in the door! We can't let you live out on the street!" Darryl's mouth crested into a warm smile, and she spared Winnie a thankful glimpse. She had not heard such heartfelt kindness in years.
"You really mean it? Well gee, I'm speechless. Nobody's ever bent over backwards for me like that before."
"Yeah, well, you gotta watch out for that in this place," she murmured, resting her hands on her head. Darryl didn't hear it and pestered Winnie to repeat herself, but she ignored her potential housemate and resumed walking. The mansion was as large as Darryl expected, boasting only two stories but plenty of rooms— and very few of them were sleeping quarters. Winnie promised she'd give Darryl the "grand tour" later, if she managed to draw up a lease. That got the doomed heroine worried, but Winnie assured her she wouldn't have a problem.
"You wouldn't believe the kind of people Feb lets stay here! …Oh, Feb's our landlady. She owns this mansion and rents it out to other women."
"Wow, is she rich?"
"Hmm, I think so. She's kind of eccentric, but she's really cool, too. Just don't ask what she does for a living. Believe me, you're better off not knowing!"
"Oh," she grumbled. "Is it bad?"
"Some people would think so," she shrugged. "I did too, at first. Hey, I'm just sparing you the gory details! Anyway, she's out of town right now— she comes and goes a lot, so don't freak out if she's not around. I would normally introduce you to her second-in-command, but I doubt you have the constitution for it. No offense," she smiled.
"What do you mean? Is she like, offensive?"
"No, she's nice, just really creepy. Kinda like a cross between Marilyn Manson, Jane Goodall, and a drunken perverted frat boy. Mix well with an ADD child and bring to a sanity-sapping simmer!"
"Oh, god," she blurted, sticking her tongue out. Winnie laughed.
"I told you Feb lets strange people in here! But the rest of the girls who stay here are basically good people. Most of us are actually friends and stuff, and we get together and do fun things now and then. …Although one of them is a raging lesbian nymphomaniac. Do you think you'd be okay with that?"
"I've never known any homosexuals in my life," Darryl admitted sheepishly, "and as for the raging sex-addicts…"
Winnie giggled. "I'm just kidding! She's a really great person— she's just had some bad luck with relationships. I'll introduce you if we run into her."
"Um, all right. So if the landlady's out, and her number two's not an option, who'll be doing the paperwork for me?"
"Ah, I'm glad you asked!" she exclaimed zealously. "We have an excellent number three around here who is the arbiter between the two parties. Feb's usually out of town, and Kiki's more or less on a leash— umm, that's her number two— so we just get Lucy to do all the paperwork. And I have to say, we couldn't have picked a better girl to do it! She's a Harvard graduate!!"
"Wow," Darryl sang. She took in as much of the mansion as she could on her way to the office: their destination was set in a nice, well-lit room with plenty of space, shelves neatly organized, a water cooler off to the side, and in the center, a beautiful dark-skinned woman typing on a computer. Darryl actually recognized her from several pictures and plaques: this woman had been an all-star athlete at her very own school.
"Hey, Lucy, look what I found!" Winnie announced, thrusting herself into the room. The woman looked up from her work, rubbing her eyes. There was a telltale bindi in the center of her forehead, indicating that not only was she Indian, but evidently arranged to be married.
"I do so love these distractions of yours. …Well, it's a person this time. How do you do?"
"Hello," Darryl greeted, shaking her cool hand. "Um, pardon me for asking, but are you Lucinda Nehru?"
"That's so cool!" she grinned. "We went to the same school! You were on track! I saw your trophies all the time!"
"Oh, those old things," she murmured humbly. "I'm surprised the school hasn't gotten rid of them yet, though people do like to cling to the halcyon past. That wasn't even my best work."
"So do you still run?"
"Yes, but mostly for recreation, and my health."
"Oh, cool. And you live here, too? Maybe you and I could go out running together." Lucy took a moment to study Darryl and meditate on her words— and then, just like Winnie, understood the identity and purpose of this young woman.
"So you're applying for a lease, I take it? Well, sit down, then, and we'll draw something up."
"All right, but I gotta warn you— I don't have a job right now, and I can only pay for the first month."
"That shouldn't be a problem. Where do you live right now?" Darryl related her situation to Lucy, and while very little emotion flicked over her face, it was evident that her circumstances were concerning. Winnie excused herself once all the "boring paperwork" appeared, and promised to give Darryl a proper tour later.
"How long has she been here?" she wondered. Lucy paused to think about this.
"Two years, maybe. She's in seminary right now— she had to move out just like you, since her family moved away. But she had much more time on her side. As for me, I've been here since I graduated from Harvard a year ago." Lucy handed Darryl the paperwork, nothing she hadn't seen before, and her wrist got a good workout. While she was doing this, Lucy rose and stretched— she had been sitting at her computer for a long time.
"Are you sure it's okay that I don't have a job?" Darryl said, looking up. Lucy gave her a level stare.
"For now, yes, but we're not running a charity or a halfway house. Feb will let you off easy for one month, but then she'll expect you to pay. That means you get a grace period of two whole months before you're in this situation again. But I wouldn't worry. If you're truly desperate, you'll be able to work something out. Feb's kind of a sucker that way: she's never been able to turn down a woman in need."
"So do you think she could help me find a job?"
"Maybe, if she's ever around. I wouldn't recommend working for her, of course."
"Right, Winnie told me not to ask what she did for a living."
"Good advice," she smirked. Darryl had to get a drink from the cooler before she was finished, and rubbed her hand vigorously as she handed the sheets back to Lucy. The older woman skimmed over them, smiled faintly, and filed them away, returning with two keys on a ring.
"Do you have a car?" she said, handing them over. Darryl felt giddy, and couldn't stop grinning. She did it! She actually managed to find a place to live! …Even if it was for only two months…
"Huh? Oh, uh, yes. I noticed the garage when I pulled in…"
"That's where you'll park. We should have enough space for you, but if we don't, feel free to park wherever you want. I'll just need a copy of your license plate number so we know which one's yours." They had to go outside for that, since Darryl didn't know it by heart; along the way, they ran into Winifred again— and what seemed to be another prospecting hopeful.
"Hey, guys! Did everything go all right for you two? Look what I found!"
"Didn't you already use that line?" Lucy sighed. She glimpsed at the visitor— blonde, young, naïve, intimidated. Poor thing. Winnie was far too gregarious for her own good. "Everything's set," she answered. "Darryl's going to be living here for a bit. Don't forget you said you'd give her the grand tour of the place."
"Yeah, I will. I'll trade ya! This is Virginia Powell. Ginny, this is Lucy and our newest resident, Darrie."
"Darryl, if you please," she corrected. The two girls greeted each other and traded places, Virginia looking slightly relieved as she headed back to the office with Lucy.
"Is she always that…um…outspoken?"
"Yes. Charismatic, isn't she? So, do you have a job?"
"Uh, no, not really." Lucy rolled her eyes.
"I'm beginning to think Winnie doesn't understand the concept of leasing."
"So?" Winnie squealed, giving Darryl a cunning smile. "What's the good word?" Darryl responded, ironically, not with words but a gesture, hoisting her new set of keys up, one for the door and one for her mailbox. Winnie laughed and threw her arms up in the air.
"That's great! See, I told you you'd get in! And now we go on the grand tour."
"Well, I have to give Lucy my license plate number first— and I have to move in, of course."
"Right, right. How long did you say you had until your parents moved out?"
"Until next month, I think. Early June, I'm guessing."
"That's plenty of time," she smiled. Darryl was starting to like Winnie: she always seemed to be cheerful, upbeat, smiling, basically in a good mood. Perhaps a better term would be "spastic and scatterbrained", but she couldn't deny her infectious spirit. It made her day better— heck, it made the whole week feel nicer. After everything Darryl had been through, a few smiles and chuckles were just what she needed. "So do you need any help moving out?"
"Oh, about as much as I can get," she murmured. Winnie grinned.
"Have a lot of stuff?" Nod. "Jeez. Away with material goods! Cast them aside and embrace asceta…asketish…ashketish… Bleagh! A-SCE-TI-CI-SM! Whew, that's a tough word to pronounce— and even harder to spell!"
"I don't even know what it means," Darryl admitted.
"Basically, it's this religious teaching that says that self-denial is a principle of life. It's kinda Buddhist, kinda Jainist, kinda Hindu…"
"Oh yeah, Lucy said you were at seminary. Are you studying to become a…uh…a whatever you said it was? A-set-a-something?"
"No way!" she blurted, "I could never give up all my things! I'm just studying theology in general. I want to teach world religions some day."
"Oooh. So are you religious?"
"Well, I guess you could say so," she murmured. They were finally outside again, heading to Darryl's car. "But some religious people would say I'm not. I mean, my best friend's a lesbian, and I'm comfortable with that. Plus I do a lot of things that would've gotten me excommunicated in the past— or burned at the stake!"
Darryl giggled. "Like what?"
"I'm not telling you!" she blurted. "Secrets are secrets for a reason! …Is this your car? Neat stuff. I'm stuck taking the bus."
"Bound by your religious duties? Oaths of poverty and whatnot?" she teased.
"Oaths, no. Poverty, yes."
"So you don't have a job, either?" she winced. Winnie smiled weakly.
"Well, strictly, I do…but it doesn't cover a whole lot, if you know what I mean. So let's begin the grand tour, and I'll lead you back to Lucy's once we're done."
"All right. Wait— wasn't there someone with you earlier? Another applicant?"
"Yeah, Virginia. Really sweet girl. Not very talkative."
Nobody could get two words in edgewise with you around, Darryl thought to herself. Out loud, she said, "Wouldn't it be easier to do the tour with her, too? I mean, if she's moving in."
"That's a good point," Winnie indicated, stopping in her tracks. "Let's head to Lucy's office and see what the word is. I really hope Virginia gets a place here. She seems like such a sweet person! And judging by the perfume she had on, she can definitely afford it here!" Winnie politely knocked on the office door, and started chatting almost before it actually opened. Darryl managed to squeeze through and hand Lucy a memo with her license plate number; her eyes met Virginia's, and she smiled.
"You must be Virginia. I'm Darryl."
"Hello." The blonde had a clipped English accent, and the posture to match.
"So just out of curiosity," Darryl said to Lucy, "how many vacancies do you have here? I mean, I managed to find a place lickety-split, and it sounds like you've got room for her, too."
"And plenty to spare besides," Lucy affirmed. "This is a fairly large place, and Feb's got more spare rooms than she knows what to do with. But to be honest, this is the most applicants I've seen in a long time. The largest we've ever gotten in a normal month's time was six. Most of them come and go; we only have about ten or so who've stayed longer than a year. Present company included." She handed Virginia a set of keys; the blonde thanked her and stood, brushing herself off. Lucy mutely pointed between the three women, and dismissed them with a humble, "Tour."
"Tour it is. Don't stay in here too long, Lulu! It's a gorgeous day!"
"My break's in fifteen minutes. I might join you."
First off, Winifred announced, Wesley Mansion was given that name by the proprietor and landlady— meaning Feb. So it was Feb Wesley, then (and while she was at it, her own name was Burton, "but please, stick with Winnie"). There were two gardens on the premises: the large public one with rows of flowers, a fountain, a pond (complete with fish), and a path that led to the small forest out back; and the private one, which the residents were free to enter, but strongly cautioned against.
"That's the one," she said, indicating a greenhouse. "Kiki owns that. She's the number two, remember, and the biggest nutcase I've ever met. She keeps all of her bugs in there."
"Bugs?" Winnie grunted in affirmation.
"She's an enty-molly-something— entomologist, blegh, another tough word— and she keeps some of her, uh…studies in that greenhouse. So unless you like gnats in your face, flies up your butt, and God knows what else crawling around, my advice is to stay away— especially when Kiki's in there. She walks around naked." Winnie shuddered and gagged; Darryl and Virginia couldn't help but wonder if Kiki was very ugly, or just bizarre.
Anyway, she resumed, aside from the garden, there was an indoor pool, courts for tennis, basketball, and volleyball, a grill, and a large outdoor lounge area, so there was lots to do on nice days. If the weather turned poor, there was a library, several entertainment rooms (varying between games, lounges, a bar, and TV rooms), a small gym, a dining room, a free Laundromat, and even a mini-theater. Feb's mansion had Wi-Fi and internet access, but the only computers in the place (aside from Feb's PC and the one she— or rather, Lucy— used at the office) were the ones brought by the guests. Winnie made sure to show them all, then finally led the girls upstairs.
"We don't have too many bedrooms on the first floor. They're usually reserved for people who can't use the stairs. We've actually got one handicapped lady living here now— she's certainly a firecracker! Most of the rooms here are about the same, so if you've seen one, you've seen them all." Darryl and Virginia discovered that they were neighbors, and shared a smile before entering (Virginia's place, from the looks of it). It was bare and plain, as expected, and had all the basic commodities: window, bathroom, den, closet. There was no kitchen, so Winnie had to explain:
"Uh, yeah, um, actually, we sort of have a communal kitchen. It's sort of like what you might have in your home, except you've got a lot more people sharing it. I know, it sucks, but it's all we've got. My advice is to label anything you don't want somebody stealing. The good part about it is that if you're really hungry and kinda broke (like I am sometimes), there's always something in the cupboards. Most of the girls here won't mind sharing, but please try and ask first."
"I've had to share meals all my life— what's a few more months going to matter?" Darryl sighed. Virginia apparently liked the idea of sharing a kitchen with other people, and said she wouldn't mind. Winnie concluded the tour at the mailboxes, and even made sure the new tenants could get them open (once, she related with a twisted smile, a mailbox had gotten stuck, and the poor girl couldn't get it open until the post came the next day).
"So I guess that's it," she finished, taking a deep breath. "There's always something to do, and somebody's always got some group thing going on. Rent's due at the first of each month, but you two will get a grace period, since you already put a down payment in. Any questions?"
"Um, yes," Virginia said meekly. "Would it be all right if I started moving in right away?"
"Sure! And if you need any help, I'm sure I could round up some of the others."
"That sounds a little inconvenient for them," Darryl muttered.
"Oh, nonsense! Most of em' just sit around on their butt all day anyway! Don't be afraid to ask! And it'd be a nice way to introduce yourselves!"
Even after hearing all that, though, Darryl wasn't so sure. She had mom and dad help her, as payback for nearly leaving her high and dry, and her eldest brother was summoned as well. That night was the very last time she slept under her family's roof: tomorrow she would be entering a strange new world.
The trouble was, she didn't know HOW strange it would really be…