In Love Through the Shadows, you met D’Shea and Evie. Are you wondering how it all started?
The Pennsylvania turnpike stretched out in front of me like a dark river flowing east, with no end in sight. Though I’m paying attention to the road, my mind is elsewhere. On what was, what could have been and what is yet to be. You just graduated from college and have no idea what comes next, my inner voice taunted. You are now an adult, responsible for your own life and currently unemployed for the fall.
The last week of school had been a whirlwind, tying up loose ends from the four years of my life I spent becoming the woman I am today. Final’s week was more than just finishing papers and exams. It was a time to say goodbye to the town that embraced me as one of its own, to the family of friends who supported me in my joy and sorrow, and to the institution that substituted as my parent. Today I was officially on my own. And I was scared as hell.
As if the week hadn’t been emotional enough, the weekend complicated my life even further. Was it possible to be around someone for three years, interacting with them on an ongoing basis yet never really see them for who they were? Feel the emotions that might connect you? Hear the unspoken messages being sent? How could I have been so blind? Am I that aloof? Naïve? I sighed and turned my attention back to my future. As far as I could tell, she wasn’t in it.
Exam week dragged and my spare time was spent packing my apartment, selling books and furniture, and sorting through an amalgam of college clothes in preparation for the next chapter in my life. Would I need twelve pairs of running shoes and torn jeans for whatever came next? Two term papers, one exam, plus an exit interview and I was done. It was Friday night and our gang from school headed out to go dancing for one last time at the Paradise Cove, a gay bar hidden in the middle of nowhere in western Pennsylvania. Tonight was perhaps more of a rite of passage than the graduation ceremony I would attend on Saturday. I was poised to take a leap yet afraid to let go of the familiar.
The bar was a jumble of movement and sound, dancing and laughing with no worry for the next day’s classes. We danced in groups, in pairs, and even alone, becoming one with the beat of the bass and the harmony of the music. Listening to the hit parade of the past four years, it stirred memories both good and bad. As the DJ slowed the tempo, I looked for a place to lean and cool down until I felt a warm hand on my arm. “Wanna dance?” she asked quietly. I hadn’t even known she was in the bar.
Evie and I played on a softball team together and were both math majors with an occasional class in common. Our circles of friends mingled with little overlap. But she’d never been invisible to me. I knew how her wavy auburn hair framed her delicate face, her subtly inviting smile. The look she wore now was playful and more relaxed than I’d seen in a while. Her eyes were shadowed in the dark bar, but I could feel their sparkling emerald green intensely focused on me. We slipped onto the dance floor, holding hands, and finding a small corner that wasn’t occupied. My arms naturally rested on her shoulders and hers on my hips, a result of our height difference. Our bodies began to move together without being pressed tight, as though we heard the music in the same way. I couldn’t recall ever dancing with Evie before tonight, but our rhythm suggested otherwise. The DJ transitioned to another slow song and our bodies inched closer, moving in sync with each other. Evie was warm and inviting and I wanted to dance like that all night. The DJ had other plans, returning to the pounding beats and fast rhythms of popular dance tunes. We separated slowly and I smiled at her, leaning close to make myself heard. “I like dancing with you. I’d like to do it again.” I was rewarded with the same subtly inviting smile and a twinkle in those emerald eyes as she moved away.
The night was a blur but each time the tempo slowed, Evie and I were drawn together. With each dance, our bodies moved closer until I could feel the press of her fully against me, head leaning softly on my shoulder. I felt her warm breath on my neck and felt her muscles tighten and relax as we slowly moved together. As the song changed, I turned to speak, brushing her lips with mine softly before pulling away. I didn’t want to pull away but this wasn’t the time--I was leaving. She leaned in and closed the gap between us, pulling my head down to meet hers as we backed off the dance floor to a darkened corner. Evie’s kiss took both my breath and my balance away. It sent bolts of lightning through my body, and I was grateful to be leaning on a pillar as my legs suddenly were not strong enough to support my weight. I felt drugged and time slowed to a crawl. My body melted into hers and I prayed this kiss would last forever. I was dimly aware of a shift in the music, but Evie and I were lost in each other. In a place where nothing else mattered. We were alone among a crowd of people.
I was jolted back to reality hearing my name frantically shouted over the pounding music. Tearing my head away I spotted Amy gesturing wildly to me and I sighed, knowing that we would never regain what we’d just experienced. I was inebriated with Evie’s lips pressed to mine, our bodies melded together on the edge of the darkness. “I have to see what’s wrong,” I said with my lips brushing her ear. “But we aren’t done. I want to talk to you.” She nodded as I backed away toward my friends. My night became a downward slide as I realized that Kat, who had driven to the bar, fell on broken glass, and now likely needed stitches to close a cut that was bloody and jagged. We needed to go right then, and I was the only one sober to drive. I turned and caught Evie’s eye, shrugged and held up my flip phone for her to see. She smiled shyly and nodded before turning back to the group of women nearby. My stomach sank and the intoxication from her kiss melted away as I climbed behind the wheel for the drive to the hospital.
The shrill sound of the phone cut through my dream, a reprise of the night before at the Cove. Holding Evie close to me. The kiss. That amazing kiss. Reaching blindly for the receiver, I grunted rather than spoke my greeting. “Good morning, sunshine,” I heard from the other end of the phone, and I groaned. A little too much enthusiasm for barely three hours of sleep.
“Grey Tucker, you’d better be outside my apartment door with coffee. And what the hell time is it?” At least I got out a full, coherent sentence.
“Not quite, but I’m close. Be there in five. And for God’s sake, if you’ve got a girl in there, close the bedroom door. And make sure you have some clothes on,” he teased and hung up. Grey Tucker was my best friend from Fieldston, the town where I grew up. After mom left when I was three, Dad raised me though as I moved into my teens, he needed some extra support. Mary Ann and Graham Tucker, the chief of police, took me under their wing and helped me stay on track. I spent hours with Grey and his twin brother Sam, exploring our world, creating our own adventures, and, upon occasion, wreaking havoc. The saying “it takes a village to raise a child” certainly held true in my case. Mary Ann became my mom, filling in the gaps when my dad couldn’t decide what to do with me. She was the reason I got accepted to college. The reason I got scholarships. And when I lost Dad during my senior year, the reason I returned to finish my degree. The Tuckers were my family, and they were in town to celebrate the end of this phase of my education.
I drug myself out of bed and checked the mirror. Shirt? Check. Shorts? Check. Hair? It was going to have to do for now. It was seven-fifteen and I had to be at Miller Stadium by nine-thirty. There’d be time to clean up once I got myself moving. As I brushed my teeth, I replayed the prior night again. I could still feel Evie’s lips locked with mine, and my body reacted with just the thought. A smile crossed my face as I wondered if we could somehow connect again before I left town. I wanted to know what that kiss was all about. The pounding on the door caused me to roll my eyes. Good lord, couldn’t he do anything quietly?
Grey’s coffee was perfect, and the warm cinnamon roll was an added bonus. The right way to start my day. “So why do you look like shit?” Grey asked using his typical level of tact. Another long draw on my coffee and I gave him the rundown of the prior twelve hours, glossing over the most intimate details. “Wait, you went to the Cove without me?” he blurted out.
I shook my head. “All I just told you and that’s what you focus on?” In addition to growing up together, Grey and I had come out together. Figuring out that you were gay in Fieldston wasn’t the easiest thing to do and we were each the anchor that the other needed as we navigated the rough spots. We kept few secrets from each other. He shrugged and looked sheepishly down at his cup. “It’s just been a while since we’ve hung out. I”—he paused—"kinda miss you. But I will never admit that to anyone else,” he finished, laughing at the indignant look on my face. “So, the girl. Have you called her? Are you gonna see her again? I mean aren’t you moving out of the apartment this weekend? You gotta find out what’s goin’ on there. Maybe she’s your one, D.”
By nine thirty, I was standing in the shade near Miller Stadium, a maroon robe over my chinos and golf shirt, mindlessly tossing my mortarboard in the air. The kiss still filled my mind. We were grouped by school, and I stood among my friends who also wore the light blue hoods of the School of Education. I glimpsed Kat, her arm bandaged from the misadventure the night before. Catching my eye, she grinned and shrugged, as though the glass shards, seventeen stitches, and tetanus shot had been no big deal. It seemed surreal to me that this was the final time I would be with this group, with whom I’d studied and struggled for the last four years. There was no longer a need to sprint through the Oak Grove between Stright and Stouffer Halls, in an attempt to not be late to class. No need to prove we were butch by rappelling down the side of the field house with the ROTC students. And no reason to cheer on the softball team, whether we won or lost. And this might be the last time I’d see Evie if she was even here. She was a junior so probably wasn’t even at the graduation ceremony. Only parents and girlfriends came to graduation. My heart hurt for a moment as I realized that I might have lost my last chance to see her again. Maybe she hadn’t left campus yet.
“D’Shea Sinclair. Bachelor of Science, Math Education. Cum Laude.” I crossed the stage, shook hands, accepted a hug from Dr. Leonard, paused for the picture, and it was done. I graduated. Four years of hard work for this one moment. I heard the Tuckers cheering loudly for me and for a moment I wondered if my dad knew that I’d made it. If he was watching me from wherever heaven really was. If he was proud of me. I didn’t wonder about my mom. I didn’t have a mom.
Our celebratory lunch was at the Library on Philadelphia Avenue. Graham insisted that we spend some time together as a family, my last visit having been several months prior. The lunch conversation was lively, with Mary Ann frequently shaking her head, trying hard not to reward her sons’ antics with laughter. It was largely a lost cause. Grey was a born entertainer and Sam was the perfect straight man for his jokes. My heart swelled with the love that I felt for the Tucker clan, who had welcomed me in as one of their own. I belonged with them, and I knew they would help me navigate my murky future. Though I was fully present, the kiss echoed in my brain. I wondered if Evie was still in town. If I could find her later. And I wondered if she wanted me to.
The calls I made to Evie Saturday night went unanswered and I worried that I might have misread the signals from Friday. That kiss. How could anyone misread that kiss? It wasn’t a peck on the cheek, a sisterly love kiss. It was one full of emotion, of want, of promise. But my phone remained silent as I traipsed between my apartment and the truck I was filling with everything I was taking back to Fieldston. If I didn’t hear from Evie before, I’d drive by her apartment on Sunday morning. I didn’t want to appear anxious, but I also didn’t want to appear uninterested. It had been a long time since I’d been this intrigued. Since I’d felt the way that her kiss made me feel.
Standing on the tailgate surrounded by boxes, I heard the phone and sprinted back inside. Glancing at caller ID my shoulders sagged. It was Kat, not Evie. I tried to mask my disappointment as I answered. As soon as she spoke, I could tell Kat was drinking. “Didja hear from Evie?” she asked, her words slurring together.
“No, not yet. She may have gone home already.” I tried not to let my feelings show as I spoke. Kat didn’t need to know what was going on in my brain. If she did, most of Indiana would know by morning.
“I always thought she liked you,” Kat continued. “She used to watch you at games, like she was memorizing your every move. I thought she’d ask you out.” As I listened, I wondered about the clues I’d missed. I’d watched Evie too. The way that her hair moved when she threw her head back to laugh. The serious look on her face when she was up to bat. The way her emerald eyes glowed when she was focused. Why hadn’t I asked her out?
“How’s your arm?” I asked, trying to change the subject. “Iss fine,” Kat slurred. “Can’t feel a thing. Where are you? Do you want a drink? We’re at Wolfie’s. You should come out with us.” Kat faded a little at the end of her sentence and I assumed she’d been drinking most of the day.
“No, I’m packing my truck. Leaving early tomorrow morning. I’ve got to get home and figure out my life.” My words sounded lame, even to me. But I wasn’t in the mood to party unless I knew Evie was there. “I’ll call you soon Kat. Take care of that arm, okay.” I hung up before she could argue with me and dropped down on my mattress which now lay on the floor. I closed my eyes and imagined we were back at the bar, and I could feel Evie’s body against mine. I just wanted to feel that again for real.
By ten in the morning, everything was packed, and the apartment was clean. There had been no return phone call from Evie. I wasn’t sure if calling again would telegraph interest or desperation. And desperate had never looked good on me. After dropping the keys off to my landlord, I drove past the house where I remembered Evie lived. My heart sped up as I turned from Poplar onto Third Street. I could see people loading stuff into cars in front of the building and I held my breath, hoping for a glimpse of auburn hair. Hoping to hear her laughter.
I pulled into an open parking space and strode toward the women who I’d seen around school. “Is Evie around?” I called to one of them. She turned to me solemnly and shook her head. “No. Her parents picked her up early on Saturday morning. They were only here about an hour, cleared her stuff out, and then left. I don’t think they ever even smiled. Evie, umm, didn’t look very happy about it. Are you a friend?” The woman cocked her head to the side and waited.
“Yeah, just a friend. Guess I’ll catch her someday.”