"Hey, Ruby..." Ruby turned away from the sight of Blackie storming out of the room and looked at Milk.
"What's up, Milk?"
"Do you know what that was all about?" Milk asked.
"Kinda..it's a long story."
"Oh, well. I'm sure it's none of my business. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you." She paused as the woman next to her cleared her throat. "Oh! Have you met my girlfriend?" Ruby shook her head. "This is Softie, she's the music therapist down at the Center."
"Hey," the woman said shortly as she pushed her shaggy black hair out of her eyes.
"Oh, music therapy; you sing?" Ruby asked.
"Kinda. I use music to help people get in touch with their emotions."
"So how did you get into that?" Ruby asked politely.
"Well, I had kind of a hard childhood and music was the only way that I could escape it. There was this one time after we'd moved for the third time because we were running away from my abusive stepdad, when I thought I was gonna kill myself and I heard this Chopin nocturne and I just knew I could make it. So I wanted to share music's power with others."
The three women stood silently for a minute.
"So!" Ruby suddenly said, a little too brightly. "You wanted to ask me something?"
"Oh, yeah. I wanted to tell you about how all the progress Rose has been making! I'm very proud of her."
"Really? She still seems like the same Phyllis Schafly in the making to me."
Milk shook her head, sending her long brown hair flying. "Oh, no, Ruby, you're wrong. We've broken down so many barriers...I mean, she's been talking to Cherry..."
"So? I mean, she has lots of friends and that hasn't made her any more tactful...please don't tell Copper I said that, though, OK? So she's got a new friend...who's Cherry anyway?"
"She's here at the party now." Milk pointed across the room. "Look, Rose and she are talking right now. Now, you have to agree that that's progress."
"Why would that be progress? She's just talking to a girl." She took a sip of her champagne.
"Not just a girl. That's Cherry Blonde. She's the daughter of the two artists who have this exhibit AND she's a lesbian."
"Wait a minute." Ruby glanced back over at the two high school girls, watching as Cherry giggled at something Rose said. "This Cherry person that Rose has been hanging out with is a dyke?"
Milk nodded. "It's so wonderful. I always love it when we can break down internalized homophobia. I think we have quite a romance brewing in the group."
Ruby almost dropped her glass of champagne. "Romance?"
Milk nodded conspiratorially. "I can tell that Cherry has a crush...and who knows?"
"Who knows indeed?" Ruby said, as she started to cackle.
"What's so funny?"
"Oh, nothing." Ruby set her glass down on a waiter's tray as he came by, then scowled at the Midnight Snack logo on his back before returning to the conversation. "God, I still can't believe that the bitch Midnight scooped the party out from under us!"
"You know, Ruby, that 'bitch' is my mother," Milk said, her lips pursed in displeasure.
Ruby blanched. "Uh...I think I better get back to Copper before she wanders into traffic." She quickly disappeared into the crowd.
Rose walked around the room, wavering slightly. "This art is...nice..." she said cheerfully. "I like it. It's noisy."
Cherry nodded. "Mm-hmm..." she said distractedly, scanning the room. She caught sight of someone across the room and waved. "Velvet!"
A tall thin dark woman looked up and waved Cherry over. Cherry grabbed Rose's hand and pulled her over to the woman, standing next to a shorter, black haired pale girl. "Velvet, what're you two doing out? I could've sworn that last act would've definitely kept you in the slammer..."
The dark woman laughed. "Oh Cherry, you know we kept that bail fund alive for a reason..."
"Freedom of speech all the way, baby!" the pale girl said, wrapping her arm around Velvet's waist. "You'd think wearing a Big Daddy strap-on in public would be something that would be applauded, not arrested!"
"Strap on?" Rose said in a quiet voice. "Strap on what?"
Velvet and the other girl gave Cherry a look. Cherry shrugged, then gestured at the women. "Rose, this is Velvet and Star. They're performance artists. Girls, this is Rose."
"Hi!" Rose said cheerily.
"Hi..." Velvet said in a calm voice.
"Yeah, hi," Star said, trying not to giggle.
"Performance art is so cool! I've never seen any... What do you do?"
Velvet smiled slowly while Star stepped back, unable to control her giggles. "We examine the concepts of the patriarchy, matriarchy, gender, and sexuality via personal interaction-slash-discourse-slash-intercourse..."
Rose stared at her with wide eyes. "Huh?"
Star piped up. "We perform acts of sexual experimentation in public forums."
Rose gasped, her eyes wide. "You guys have sex on stage?" she asked loudly.
Velvet looked at Cherry. "Your friend is so drunk, honey," she said with a chuckle. "Looks like you'll be busy tonight..."
"She's not drunk, she's tipsy, and Jesus, Velvet, give her a break. It's her first drink ever." Cherry sighed.
"Gotta pop that cherry sometime, huh?" Star winked at the younger girl and popped the olive from her martini into her mouth. She glanced down at her watch. "Shit, I'm late for work." Giving Velvet a quick peck on the lips, she hastily made her exit.
Rose waved jerkily at Star's back, then turned to Cherry, sling an arm around the other girl's shoulder. "You're so cool, Cherry!" she slurred. Cherry cringed and Velvet simply smirked.
Blackie stomped into the Dye Bar, grateful, for once, that the bar was empty, save Blondy and a single woman at the end of the bar. She sat on a barstool, and gestured at Blondy. "Beer," she said curtly.
Blondy silently handed her the bottle and went back to the end of the bar.
"I want another drink!" the golden blonde woman said to Blondy.
"I can't give you another drink. Look at you, you're about to fall off of the stool!"
"I was in labor for 36 hours...the pain was the worst I had ever experienced...and you can't make it up to me by giving me a single drink?"
"Mom..." Blondy said with a sigh. "I'm not giving you another drink."
"36 hours! 36 hours, and I get a son who can't manage a stable relationship? What happened to that cute thing? Or that other cute thing?" She looked at her son. "Why can't you just settle down with a nice guy and make your mother happy by giving her a drink?"
"I'm not getting you a drink!" her son protested.
Blackie growled, and gulped her beer quickly. She slammed the bottle on the bar and stormed out, unable to deal with the family hijinks. She walked for a few blocks, not really paying attention.
Suddenly, the neon light of a nearby bar caught her eye. Le Creme. She had heard about it in prison, and knew she'd fit in there.
Clenching her fists, Blackie walked into the small, dimly lit bar. It was like every seedy lesbian bar she'd ever been in, and she'd been in a lot. This was where she belonged. This was her kind of place. She'd been fooling herself to even think that she could be normal...she'd never be able to get away from her past.
Nine years...nine years...and all that had gotten her through was the thought of Red...poor defenseless Red, crying as she stared at her through blackened eyes. Red, as she swore she'd never go back to her...Red, going back again and again...the feel of the bat in her hand.
Blackie walked up to the bar with determination, intending to forget ...everything. "Corona." The woman behind the bar gave her a once over, then plunked the drink down on the bar. Blackie picked it up and took a swig, welcoming the bitter taste. She scanned the bar, taking in the other patrons. A brunette caught her eye and she sauntered over to her table, her beer clutched firmly in her hand.
"Hi. Can I sit down?"
The other woman smiled flirtatiously. "Of course," she said in a musically accented voice. "I was just about to go over and join you..."
"Oh, really?" Blackie knocked back the rest of her beer, setting the empty bottle on the table. "Guess it's my lucky night."
"I hope so...I'm Roast, by the way."
"Blackie." The older woman sighed. "Look, I'm not in the mood for flirting tonight...I want to get laid, no strings attached. I'm not looking for love." At least not here, she mentally added. "If you're not up for it, I don't want..."
"To waste your time?"
"If you want to put it like that."
"You know, I wanted to find a bar tonight...I thought, Le Creme, that's French, right? Like me." She giggled, then slid her hand on top of Blackie's. "I'm very up for it."
"Then let's go." Blackie tossed some money on the table, then strode out of the club, Roast following her. Blackie tried to keep the image of vibrant red hair out of her mind.
Copper was staring fixedly at the corner of one of the paintings, her eyebrows drawn together as she concentrated.
She whirled around, coming face to face with Espresso and Bronze.
"Oh! Hi...I was just...ummm, examining the detail of the paintings."
"They're wonderful, aren't they?" Bronze said excitedly, gesturing with her glass towards one of the sculptures. "So cleverly post-modern."
"That was uh, just what I was thinking..."
"Well, anyway, Copper, the reason we came over here..." Espresso began, pushing her glasses up where they had slipped down her nose. "You and your girlfriend have a catering company, right?" Copper nodded. "Well, we have a university luncheon next week. We were going to go ahead with Midnight Snack as the caterer, but really, after trying the food at this party..."
Copper smiled sympathetically. "The quiche is a bit dry."
"Yes, well...the point being...I know it's short notice, but do you think that your company could take over for her?" Espresso looked at Copper expectantly, her shiny cap of dark brown hair glistening beneath the gallery lights.
"Oh, umm, I don't really handle the business end..." Copper faltered as she frantically scanned the gallery for Ruby. She brightened as she saw her heading over. "Here's Ruby now, that's more her, um, thing."
"What's going on?" Ruby asked as she moved next to Copper.
Bronze tossed her golden brown hair over her shoulder as she smiled at Ruby. "There's a university luncheon next week, and we were terribly disappointed with Midnight Snack tonight..."
"They didn't like the quiche...I told you, Ruby." Copper interjected.
"Do you think you guys could take over? It's short notice, I know," Espresso said apologetically.
"I think we could squeeze it in...why don't you call us tomorrow and we'll work out the menu?" Ruby handed Espresso a card.
"Great!" Bronze slipped the card into her purse. "It's always so nice to have the sisterhood involved."
"Well, we have to get home...I have an early class tomorrow. We'll call." The two women headed off and Ruby arched an eyebrow at Copper.
"Oh, Ruby, not this again..."
"C'mon, Copper, 'the sisterhood'?"
Copper shook her head. "They're not dating, Ruby."
"They live in the same house, they use the couple "we"..."
"They're just good friends."
"Copper, sweetie, didn't your sister think we were "just good friends" for the first two years we were dating?"
Spice walked unsteadily behind Licorice, still trying to get used to the four inch heels she was wearing.
"Are we almost there yet?"
"Yes, stop whining. It's right there." Licorice pointed off down an alley and Spice saw several black clad people milling around the entrance of a seedy little club. "All right, now, some rules to remember. If anyone asks, you're my friend from out of town, got it?"
"Got it," Spice answered acidly.
"Cheer up! Or wait, don't cheer up...just try to look gloomy." Licorice grabbed her hand, and the two girls teetered down to the club.
"Licorice...long time no see!" The woman at the door nodded to Licorice, and Spice noticed that they had distressingly similar haircuts.
"Star! Well, you know how it is, life and all that..." Licorice sighed heavily. "How's Velvet? I was afraid you guys might still be in jail..."
Star scoffed. "We paid our bail and got off on the free speech defense, like always. I just don't know why the bourgesoie cops in this town even bother. It's art!"
"Such peasants..." Licorice rolled her eyes. "Anyway, Star, this is my friend Moroccan, she's visiting me from out of town."
"Nice to meet you, Morocco." Star curtseyed and Spice waved stiffly, wishing she was anywhere but where she was.
"Anyway, I don't want to block the door anymore, so we're going to make our entrance." She blew a kiss to Star as she half-dragged Spice into the club.
The club was almost pitch-dark, filled with gyrating bodies. It reminded Spice of Strawberry's on a particularly crowded night, except that the music was different. Instead of the usual mix of dance and techno at Strawberry's, there was moody, dark, guitar laden music. Spice sighed as she wiggled her toes, trying to regain circulation.
Licorice walked off to say hello to some of her friends, and Spice started to scan the club's dim interior, looking for anybody who wasn't wearing black eyeliner. She noticed a few frat boys, who she figured had been too drunk to notice what type of club it was when they stumbled in, and then she narrowed her eyes as she saw a familiar figure in the very back of the club. That wasn't...was it...no, it couldn't be...Cola?
"Cola!" she yelled over the din of the club, waving madly to get his attention. When that didn't work, she started to shove her way through the cluster of dancers to get to him. She had almost made it, when he suddenly appeared beside her, a drink in his hand. "Hey, what are you doing here?"
He smiled and slung an arm around her waist, pulling her close to him as he ground his hips against her in time to the music. "Hey, pretty lady, can I buy you a drink?"