May and Lynn could have been sisters. Most people assumed they were. They were two of only a handful of Asian students at their school and had been inseparable since Grade School. However, despite their closeness, their personalities were in many ways opposite to one another.
Lynn was confident and competitive. She was athletic and willful, and she spoke her mind. May, on the other hand, was nurturing and soft-spoken. She didn’t care much for sports or prizes. She liked crafts and books. Neither Lynn nor May had many friends. They were loyal only to each other.
May was a naturally very pretty girl who, like most introverted types, was oblivious to the effect this had on others. When a boy was nice to her, it was Lynn who was the one that’d figure out his motives and determine his worthiness. She ended up steering quite a few would be suitors with bad reputations away from May, who, as usual to her character, would be oblivious.
To May’s credit, she helped Lynn in ways she didn’t see, either. She would soothe the bruised feelings of a number of persons Lynn would insensitively offend, offering them smiles and gentle excuses. In this way both girls kept the other safe from a number of ill intentions that were bound to crop up in the dynamic and sometimes treacherous mazes of human interactions.
Upon graduating high school, May surprised everyone when she went to college on the West Coast. She landed a Marketing job in LA almost immediately after obtaining her degree, and in a few short years she was Marketing Manager for a large company. During this time, she dated very little and kept mostly to herself other than a handful of friends and two very loyal cats, Gog and Magog, whose names were taken from one of her favorite LM Montgomery books.
Lynn, on the other hand, remained nearby their hometown. She went to a local college, and after she graduated, she moved back home to look after her mother and took up management at her father’s restaurant. It was there she met Stan who they hired on to bus the tables and do some minor kitchen work. Stan had qualities, upon first glance, similarly to May, and Lynn felt a stirring in her heart to protect him both fiercely and loyally.
Two years into her courtship with Stan, Lynn’s mother died, and May flew into town to attend the funeral. An equal amount of time had passed since they had seen each other, but it felt no different than if one of them had stepped away into the other room and returned moments later.
There was a deep heaviness in Lynn’s late parents’ parlor, like dark heavy curtains had been pulled tightly shut around their hearts. May made the tea and pulled a flask from her purse as she sat across from Lynn in the old plush chair closest to the window. She wiggled it in cue, and Lynn gave a small smile of affirmation.
“Let’s make this wake a bit more Irish,” commented May.
“Mom would have loved that,” said Lynn sardonically.
“Careful. She’s probably listening in right now.”
“Spare me the spiritual woo.”
“Still open minded, I see.”
Lynn sighed. “You’d be surprised. I just…. you know, people talk about sensing people after they… pass, and I just don’t– don’t feel, like, anything. Nothing.”
“Mm.” May drank politely.
“I knew this moment was going to come, and I thought I’d be ready for it and that it’d feel different somehow. But it’s not at all like I thought. I feel just…. so numb.”
‘Where’s Stan?” May asked.
“Stan?” Lynn got up from the couch and pressed a finger on a key on the piano by the doorway. It played a dull echoing ‘C’ that felt muted by the lack of light in the room. “He had a thing. He couldn’t be here.”
“For your mother’s funeral?”
“It’s no biggie. I didn’t really need him here. We both knew this was coming. Just didn’t make sense for him to come all the way back just for….”
“Your mother’s funeral?” May repeated.
“I told him I didn’t need him here.”
“It’s no big deal, really.”
“I still haven’t met him,” May mentioned.
“He’ll be back tomorrow. Maybe drinks?”
“That sounds great.”
“I know you’ll like him.”
May had the gift of intuition. It was highly attuned and what drove her through much of her actions and decisions. While others relied upon facts and logic, she always turned to this sense to steer her. May never questioned her intuition, and she never discussed it. It simply was. It was as real to her as anything else. So when she felt a familiar sense to what Lynn said to her, she did what she always did with it. She acknowledged it and trusted that the clarity and truth to it would reveal itself when it was time.
For now, May poured the tea, and she distracted Lynn as her friend processed her mother’s death. She sensed the pain raging inside of her even if Lynn didn’t know it was there yet, and she knew what was buried was going to be a painful exodus once it finally emerged. May vowed she would be there for her when it did.
May didn’t have the heart to tell Lynn what she really felt about Stan upon meeting him the following night.
When Lynn introduced him, at first May thought maybe Lynn was making a joke. He didn’t seem like her type at all.
He was a lean, slinking thing. He slouched forward in an awkward attempt, maybe, of appearing laid back, but he struck her as cold and off-putting. Lynn was clearly trying to fake enthusiasm as she ordered their beers. She chatted absentmindedly with many flourishes of her hands, a clear sign she was in emotional distress. Stan seemed not to notice it. He nodded indulgently to her chatter as his eyes kept venturing back towards the football game.
“We were thinking about taking some time off,” Lynn confessed after a while. “Stan and I have always wanted to travel around the States for a bit, and with mom’s passing, well, we figured why not? We likely won’t get the free time or the chance again–”
“Hey, babe, could you move?” Stan nudged Lynn and she got out of the booth for him.
“You okay?” she asked.
Stan stooped and kissed her. “Gonna get another beer.”
“Okay. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
May drank from her still full glass and observed silently.
Lynn watched Stan leave then turned back to May and smiled largely. “What was I saying?”
“You were discussing a trip.”
“Right! Yeah, so I was thinking that we travel West and make you a kind of goal destination then travel all the way back. Stan has been plotting it all out. He says we can hit 28 states.”
“that sounds super fun.”
“We’re planning for the summer after mom’s…. you know, the inheritance is settled.”
“Your mom would have loved you and Stan taking that trip together. It will be a great way to honor her.”
“We are planning on passing through Madison. It’s where mom went to college.”
“Stan’s been so supportive.”
“Will they miss him at work?”
“He’s going to quit.”
“He’s graduating soon anyway, and we’ll have plenty to coast by on. Did you know he got top scores in the LSTATs? My babe is totally smart.”
“That’s great,” May said.
Lynn let out a heaving breath with a sad half-smile. “I don’t know where I would be with Stan, May. He’s great. I think mom would be happy I have him. I’m not alone in this.”
May reached across the table to hold Lynn’s hand. “I think you’re right,” she lied.
Time took the wheel in Lynn and May’s life, and they found themselves at opposite ends of the country again. Holiday cards and phone calls continued to weave between the two of them, and they never lost contact. May received a promotion and met an Environmental scientist named Brian a year after Lynn’s funeral. Romance was never something May cherished or pursued, but she found herself for the first time genuinely in love. Lynn was the first May called when they proposed to move in together, and she couldn’t have been happier for her.
“It’s so cute how opposite you are,” she commented on the phone.
“We’re similar, too.”
“Yeah, that’s a bit of an adjustment.”
“Good thing you live in LA. I don’t think anyone here has even heard of veganism.”
“The options here are surprisingly good, and I’ve totally converted to the health benefits.”
“I take it we won’t be getting ribs when you come visit.”
“We can sneak off. Brian doesn’t make me feel guilty for my own food choices.”
“That’s good.” Lynn almost said it bitterly.
“How are you and Stan? Still busy with the new restaurant opening?”
“Yes, he…. he’s very busy.”
“He’s been under a lot of stress, so we haven’t been seeing each other very much.”
“Need me to get over there and kick his ass?” she teased.
“Nah, I’ve got it. You know I don’t need to be coddled or anything anyway. He’ll come around again.”
“I don’t know. You’ve been saying that a lot.”
“Well, we all have our quirks.” Lynn dropped off on the phone for a bit. “His…. drinking is becoming an issue, maybe. It’s difficult to bring it up. He’s not very receptive to it.”
“But you don’t like it.”
“No. I don’t. I mean, a couple beers is fine, but it’s like more and more he’s just– not the kind of person I love when he’s drinking.”
“Or maybe he was and the drinking is just bringing it out.”
“You don’t know him like I do. That’s no fair.”
“True,” May conceded. “I’m just concerned for you. That’s all.”
A winter passed without word from Lynn after their phone call. May sent the occasional text message but received no real responses. She poured herself into her work and relationship with Brian and forgot about it mostly until one day, after a shower, the phone finally rang.
“Hey! Long time no chat,” May greeted as she toweled her hair. She switched the phone to her other ear and squeezed out the last of the water from the tips of her black hair.
“Hey…. May, I–”
Alertness rippled through her like electricity.
“I need your help.”
May noticed for the first time how, when a plane takes off, it creates the same sensation in your stomach as when you’ve received bad news.
Lynn’s family home nestled in the corner of a historic neighborhood near to the downtown of their small city. It was painted in soft yellow with cherry red shutters. It was modest and two stories with a crop of wildflowers and laurels that hugged the sides of the home like a floral blanket. Lynn’s father had decorated the home with antique furniture, Chinese vases, and old maps in a hodge-podge collection of sentimentality that gave the house an eclectic if not slightly cluttered impression on its guests. Children loved it. It was never lacking in items to be touched, picked up, and examined.
May remembered the following day after Lynn’s dad’s death feeling a deep confusion over his disappearance. He was gone, but all of the things she had attached to him remained. It was as if there was an invisible line between her and where he was, and only the barest of breathes kept them apart. It was the first time she felt a strong conviction that perhaps there was something else to life than its physical components.
As she crossed the threshold and entered the house, the palpable essence Lynn’s dad was now gone and erased. There was no trace of him left much like with Lynn’s mother although parts of her still drifted into May’s memories with the smell of Marigolds or cinnamon. In fact, walking into their house now felt completely foreign. For one thing, it was dark. Every blind was drawn tightly closed, and so many of Lynn’s father’s things were now missing. The comfort of his clutter was replaced with an echoing emptiness. The whole room looked sparse except for the racks and racks of wine bottles that lined the dining room walls. Stan liked to make wine, Lynn had explained. May had no idea just how large an enterprise that actually was. There was easily over two hundred bottles there in the space where Lynn’s mother’s cookbook collection used to presided. She perused the poorly written font scrawled out on their sides: Malbec, Chambrous. Tennets…..
Stan wrote like a seven year old. Bad handwriting was a peeve of May’s. The dislike she had for him bubbled further to the surface.
“Lynn?” called May tentatively. She waited then again, “Lynn?”
She jumped when Stan entered the room instead, holding a beer bottle in his hand and loosely by his side. “Oh!” she said involuntarily.
“She’s in the kitchen,” said Stan in a deadpan sort of way. He took a swig and walked past May, to seat himself on a chair by the wine racks. He found a remote and turned on the television May hadn’t noticed when she walked in. He didn’t look at May again, and she felt a cold chill run down her back.
She went to the kitchen and found May busying herself at the stove. She had a manic energy May had never seen before. His hands couldn’t be still.
“Lynn,” she greeted gently.
Lynn visible startled and nearly knocked a bowl off the counter. When she turned, she was all smiles, though, and embraced May in a tight and enthusiastic hug.
“May, I’ve missed you!”
“I’ve missed you, too. I– you need some help?”
“What? Oh, no. I’m fine. Just fine. Doing some baking. One of mom’s favorites, actually.”
“I didn’t know you liked to bake.”
“I don’t usually, but you know, it’s always good to try new things, right?”
Lynn hugged May again. “Gosh, though, it’s great to see you.”
“It’s been too long.”
Lynn laughed. “I know! Gosh, I feel so old. Can you believe how long it’s been since high school? I feel like it was only yesterday, but then I do the math–”
“I feel more and more like our parents,” agreed May. “But you know, Lynn, I’m worried about you. That phone call, and the flight–”
“Right. Right.” Lynn looked away from May’s gaze and busied herself with a cake pan on the table. “I’m so embarrassing about all that. I think I was being a touch…. emotional. You know, just really worked up. I didn’t mean to scare you like that. I—I’m fine. It’s really not a big deal.”
“Not a big deal?” repeated May. “You said you were scared for your life. You said that….” she lowered her voice to a whisper, “–you said that Stan was going to hurt you.”
“Oh, god, I must’ve been drunk,” said Lynn dismissively. “I was just so, I don’t know…. I’m sure you and Brian fight.”
“Sure,” conceded May. “But, Lynn, I’ve got to tell you, I’ve never felt threatened by him like that. Never.”
“Well, Stan–” Lynn lowered her voice, too. “Stan is…. temperamental. He’s passionate. It’s just his nature.”
“Stan is– here. Stop. STOP.” May moved and forced Lynn to stop making her cake. “Look at me, Lynn. Just look at me.”
Lynn wouldn’t look her in the eye, but May noticed she winced when she grabbed her arms. An ugly thought entered her mind. She held Lynn’s left hand then pulled up her sleeves to reveal ugly purple bruises along her arms.
“What are these?” she demanded.
“They’re– just forget it.”
“Lynn, stop. I need you to answer me.”
“I bruise easily. You know this. It’s…. nothing.”
May started pulling at Lynn’s shirt. She lifted it to reveal more bruises along her ribs. May dropped it then lifted Lynn’s skirt. A large red and purple bruise ran across her left thigh. She dropped that then put both hands on Lynn’s cheeks so they could look directly at each other. “Stan did this, didn’t he?” she demanded.
“We were having a fight. He didn’t know what he was– I bruise easily.”
May couldn’t believe the words being said to her. Who was this woman? This didn’t even sound like Lynn. “Does he tell you that?” she asked with a raising of her voice. “Is that his excuse for hurting you?”
“I–” Lynn was crying tears of humiliation. “I tried to tell people. I did. I just—I can’t do it. And when I almost get it out, they look so…. no one believes me, or they won’t help me. I don’t know how to make it stop. I– I shouldn’t have called you.”
The fury really does make you see red. May literally saw it dance in front of her eyes– a red streaking comet. She couldn’t explain what happened next. She couldn’t explain why she acted like she did only that Lynn had always been the strong one of the two of them….. She had always been the proud one, the one that asserted herself. To see her now with bruises and making the excuses she did, put a protective urge inside of her that had to be acted on. She took a large kitchen knife from the table and went immediately back into the room where Stan was. He was sitting in that same spot, drinking that same beer, with his wine bottles around him, and she pointed the tip of the knife straight at him from six feet across the room.
“You need to go now,” she told him. There was ice in her voice.
Stan stared at her and the knife in mild surprise. “What is this?” he demanded.
May kicked at one of the wine wracks. It nearly toppled over and a bottle slide off it and rolled on the floor.
“Do NOT make me ask you again.”
Stan rose to his feet slowly. His eyes were calculating. He put down his beer. “Are you threatening me?” he asked her.
The knife did not waver. “What do you think?” she asked him.
“I think this is my house, and you are threatening me with a weapon.”
“Good summary. Now GO before this threat is acted upon.”
Stan had his hands up now and was backing away from her. “Let me just get my things. It will take only a minute. Maybe I could speak to Lynn–”
“No more talking. No more negotiating. I said GO.”
Lynn had her hands covering her mouth as she entered the doorway and surveyed them both.
Stan look at her then at May. “You’ll regret this,” he told her.
And he backed away from May towards the front door.
“I’ll regret nothing!” shouted May at him, following him from a distance. “But you’ll regret everything if you ever come back through that door again, you abusive pig!”
“Lynn, we’ll talk about this later,” said Stan as he felt for the door handle. He said it casually, like they were mid-discussion about a home improvement or a day trip to the beach.
“May!” said Lynn in a gasp when the door closed. “May! May!”
She kept saying her name again and again as more tears erupted from her eyes. “You shouldn’t have done that. You shouldn’t have. He’ll be angry–”
“Good! Let him be angry!”
“You held a knife out to him!”
“He’s lucky it was only that.”
“You-you can’t do that. He’ll be angry.”
“If you say anything about that pathetic man’s anger again, I’m going to be angry at you!” threatened May. Her blood was still boiling and her head felt light.
“Please, I didn’t want this. It isn’t that bad. I-I bruise easily.”
May stared at Lynn and really look at her friend then. Really looked at her. Suddenly the years apart were evident. This whole time May had been seeing her friend the same way she was when they were teenagers, but now, the woman in front of her was starkly different. She was broken. She was bruised, but not just her body. Her mind had been taken over by someone else, and May saw it.
The realization broke her heart, and she started to cry, too. Together, without words, they both went to one another and embraced and sobbed for a long while.
When the police officer showed up, Lynn and May had just finished their tea. They were more composed now, and the effects of what had happened had lessened its grip on their hearts. Upon hearing the knock on their door, however, the fear and adrenaline flooded back into them.
May answered the door.
The officer was tall and had an air to him of caged annoyance. He explained to May briefly how he had received a call of a domestic disturbance and that a woman had wielded a knife at the man who lived at the house.
May’s blood was cold, but she answered that she was ignorant to this accusation. The gentleman in question left after he was asked to leave. He had been beating on his girlfriend, and he was a threat to her safety.
The officer took this in with the same apathy as the message he delivered. “If this is the case, ma’am, you need to file a report at the station. If her claims can be substantiated, she will be granted an order of protection. As it stands, however, I ask that you allow the man back into his residence.”
“He attacked my friend!” protested May.
“If you go down to the station–”
“And what do we do in the interim?”
“Ma’am, I ask that you do not interrupt. The gentleman in question has requested access to the house to collect his things. If you threaten him, I am here to provide an escort.”
“Escort him? He’s not the one that needs protecting. Here, Lynn, show him your bruises!” insisted May.
But Lynn pulled away and sank back from the doorway.
“Please, ma’am, this shouldn’t take long.”
The officer stood in the doorway as Stan entered with a box. He had a smug look of self-satisfaction and he smirked at May. Rage and violation flooded through her. She balled her fists and tended to Lynn who was still pressing herself against a wall as if willing herself to go invisible.
“I…. should go back to the kitchen and finish my cake,” said Lynn weakly.
May squeezed her hand. “Let’s stay close to the officer. I don’t want that man to find you alone.”
“He wouldn’t do anything…. I mean, it would probably be fine.”
“’Probably’ isn’t a risk I’m willing to take.”
Stan took his time moving things out of the house. A suitcase was brought downstairs then another one. Next came a box before finally he seemed satisfied. May heard an engine of a car start outside. The officer moved from his post with the same impatiences he had possessed coming in.
He handed May a card with the address to the station if they wished to press charges then left behind Stan in his squad car.
May noticed a neighbor was outside weeding her garden in an area that didn’t need it closest to Lynn’s house. She resisted the urge to give her a rude gesture and shut the door.
Lynn was sobbing again, hiding her face in shame.
May watched her do it, and a part inside of her became even colder and more resolved.
May informed her bosses that she would be working remotely for a while. They were surprised by her tone but didn’t resist her on the decision. Brian, on the other hand, was more concerned. He asked to come join her, and she outright refused. This was something that she and Lynn had to tackle together. She needed no distractions no matter how well meaning they were.
May tracked down a lawyer and hired a housekeeper to clean Lynn’s house thoroughly from top-to-bottom. She also insisted they get rid of the rest of Stan’s things. “Put them in a storage unit and away from us,” she insisted.
Lynn was meek and followed what May told her to do, but each act caused her agony. When it came time for the wine and their racks to be boxed and transported, she began crying again and tracing the letterings on one of Stan’s Malbecs in a grief stricken way.
“It was his favorite kind of wine,” she explained. “We toured all of Sonoma Valley last year, looking for the perfect bottle. He wanted to try and replicate it at home. It… It was so important to him.”
“He’ll know where to find it,” said May coldly as she took the bottle away and had it join the others in the box to be carted away.
An Order of Protection had been granted by this point in the process, so May at least felt a stronger sense of safety now as the last of Stan’s things were carted away. The more serious issue was Lynn’s family restaurants which May found out, to her horror, was now mutually owned by Stan and an investment group.
“They were friends of his from law school. I like them, actually. They really helped the business,” Lynn explained quickly. “I…I don’t think Stan would do anything unethical with it. I– I trust him not to. It was his efforts that got the second location open.”
“Well, I don’t trust him. Let’s see what Gloria finds out on it and then we will see,” said May cynically. Their lawyer’s name was Gloria.
Gloria’s news was not good. If the investment group chose to side with Stan, they would have majority ruling, leaving Lynn, as a minority shareholder, effectively neutered from making any decisions.
“But I don’t understand, this is my family’s business,” said Lynn numbly.
“It was your family’s business until you agreed with Stan to sell half your shares to his friends’ investment group.”
“But he wouldn’t….”
“Lynn, listen to me, that is likely exactly what he’s doing.”
“Sell the business,” recommended Gloria.
“What do you mean? Sell? This is my family’s business,” said Lynn in disbelief.
“Look I understand where you’re coming from.” Gloria took a long pull from her coffee and put it back down on the desk between the three of them. “But I’ve seen how this plays out, and in cases like this, no one walks away happy until the earth is salted and burned. This is an issue of domestic violence, yes?”
Lynn swallowed and nodded uncomfortably. May reached over to squeeze her hand.
“Right, and while I’m sorry you went through that, courts rarely prosecute abusers without mountains of evidence and even then, your odds aren’t super great. And even if you got a conviction, once the investment group hears of this, they’ll be looking to pull out and run with as much money as they can carry, and based on what I’m reading– lawyers, right?– yes, you’re looking at lawsuits and court fees. They’re going to keep pecking at your business until they’ve stripped as much as they can off of it.”
“But it’s my business. I run it. They’d only need to be convinced he isn’t a competent partner. That he’s….” she swallowed, “guilty of criminal actions.”
“Criminal actions against you, unfortunately. Not a whole lot against the business itself.” Gloria drank again. “Look, investment groups care about returns. They don’t care about personal lives unless it causes a PR issue. Otherwise it’s ‘he said, she said,’ and given they’re his friends, you’re going uphill in this battle. But if you sell, both of you can walk away with something. The business will survive, and you’ll hopefully get a nice chunk of change for your trouble.”
Tears began to well in Lynn’s eyes. May understood and squeezed her hand harder. “This is my family’s restaurants.”
Gloria nodded in a fashion that she probably felt was understanding. “These things are difficult, and I’m going to try and navigate this for you as best I can. The best advice I can give you for now is, while we shift through the evidence, don’t contact your ex. Let legal handle it from here. I’ll try and see if he will take a settlement and go out quietly, but these things take time, and if he wants to spite you, it can get really ugly. So avoid pissing him off. Keep your distance. Handle everything through me. Got it?”
Lynn’s eyes were distant, and she didn’t respond.
“We’ve got it,” answered May for her.
May remembered talking to a college friend about addiction. Her friend’s mother had been a opiod user for over ten years, and the effects had nearly torn their family apart.
‘Addiction is ugly,’ her friend had explained. ‘When they’re on it, they’re the worst versions of themselves, but when they’re detoxing from it, that can be even worse.’
Watching Lynn detox from Stan was the most painful experience in May’s life. She felt tyrannical, following her around, monitoring her phone activities, insisting she not go out to areas where they might run into him.
“Why doesn’t he call?” Lynn kept asking. “Why doesn’t he just apologize?”
“He’s not going to call. He’s not going to apologize. You need to focus on yourself solely, Lynn. It’s time to forget about him. Let Gloria handle it.”
But nothing would stop the tears and nothing would stop the obsessive thinking. She start talking incessantly about their past trips, their future plans, and then eventually the abuse and when it’d started and how it had escalated.
Sometimes Lynn’d be angry at Stan. Sometimes she’d defend him. Sometime she would say what happened wasn’t a big deal, and he just needed therapy. She’d talk about his tragic childhood. She’d talk about his favorite hobbies. She’d talk about how he choked her out and raped her before her cousin’s wedding. She’d talk about his mother. His eyes. His drinking. His favorite football team.
It was exhausting dealing with it, but May stuck by her, anyway. She fed her and reminded her to shower. She handled her legal affairs and work phone calls.
One morning she found Lynn curled up and crying for her parents. “Where are they? I can’t do this without them,” she sobbed.
It broke May’s heart, and all she could do was sit down next to her and touch her back. “You’ve got me, Lynn. I promise I’m here, and I’m not leaving.”
But on some days it felt like the pain was going to take both of them. A line of gray hairs began to sprout on May’s head. Simultaneously they grew the same way on Lynn’s head. Proof of their bond. Proof of their pain.
Of all the exterior things to contend with, Lynn just wished the agony of the legal battles would end. But they didn’t, and they wouldn’t. It was becoming clearer and clear as the weeks ticked on that, while Lynn was broken by this, Stan was doing just fine, and he had clearly made plans in case of all this for quite a while.
May tried to shield Lynn from this grime reality. She didn’t think Lynn could handle the full force of Stan’s true nature out and in the open.
“He wants HOW MUCH to walk away?” shouted May to Gloria.
“It’s just a start to negotiations. He’s trying to push his advantage.”
“He’s being a dick.”
“Yes, that, too.”
“Lynn can’t afford this.”
“There’s still the option of taking a deal to the investors, getting a bank loan, buying their shares, and then pushing him out through controlling interest.”
“It’s messy, and it takes so long. I want something to happen more immediately. Lynn needs this handled soon. She doesn’t have the emotional strength to deal with this for that long.”
“Unfortunately trauma isn’t going to keep these things from moving forward as they do. Patients is all I can advise.”
Another betrayal in Lynn’s life was the absence of her friends. It was a new things for her to fixate on.
“Why don’t they call?”
“They probably don’t know what to say.”
“I went to Jamie’s baby shower. I helped her move into her new house!”
“They’re probably just trying to give you space.”
“Why did they abandon me?”
May couldn’t think of anymore answers.
One day in her kitchen, May caught Lynn staring out at the back garden. Her mouth was thin, and her eyes red-rimmed.
“Our General Manager threatened to quit,” she told May.
“That’s not good.”
“He said he supported Stan, and he heard how I attacked him with a knife. He called me crazy and said he didn’t feel safe working with my family anymore.”
“Don’t let what Stan is saying affect you.”
“I’ve known Rick for six years. How could he believe these things?” Lynn said this dispassionately. Recently she had stopped crying. Her voice, however, was deadpan.
“There’s no way for him to know what happened. He’s responding to what he’s being told.”
“I should tell him what Stan did.”
“It will only cause more chaos at the workplace,” May cautioned.
“I hate them.”
“I love you.”
“People can disappoint you.”
“Stan raped me, you know.”
“I’m not making this up. I’m not crazy.”
“No, you’re not.”
“How could Rick believe him?”
“He doesn’t know.”
“I’m so ashamed.”
“It’s going to be okay.”
“I miss my mom.”
May massaged her temples and tried not to look too beleaguered on her video chat with Brian. He was also looking tired, and the tension between the two of them were mounting. “You can’t work remotely for much longer. We need you home.”
“I can’t leave yet, Brian. You know I can’t.”
“This isn’t healthy, May. Lynn isn’t the only important person in your life. I haven’t seen you in three months. Three months! She’s going to have to start handling these things on her own.”
“I don’t think she can, Brian. I really don’t think she can.”
“Well, it’s not your duty to clean up after her. You have a life, too. You can’t be expected to hold everything together for her.”
May traced her finger along the edge of the keyboard of her computer. Her mind was flooded was an array of memories and feelings too abstract to pin down with words. She only knew what her heart was telling her, and her heart was beating it out strongly and clearly. In so much of her life she had been led by uncertainty. She had barely hung onto her own resolve through a simple hope or a simple “what if” fantasy that kept her taking the steps she needed to keep going forward. But through all of those decisions, Lynn had been a part of it. Her voice directed her. Her love guided her. It had been a necessary wind in her sails, and May knew that she had been the same for Lynn. She knew it with such certainty that it couldn’t be budged. Their fates were tied, and their love absolute. Everyone else, even Brian, was a weaker link to her heart. Only Lynn occupied the center, but there was no way for her to explain this. It required a set of word she couldn’t figure out how to string together. She wasn’t even sure there even was a way to express it out loud. It simply was.
All she knew was that if Lynn fell, she would fall, and if Lynn rose, so would she.
“Don’t be so co-dependent,” lectured Brian.
Pain is selfish. And Lynn had been in pain for a long time. At first she had barely noticed it. She had been so in love and happy to have found a person that made her feel the most herself. But then it was like holding onto a slippery fish. The love kept popping out of her hands and thrashing against her. And with that struggle came the pain.
It was a pain already buried in her after her mother joined her father in the cemetery. She knew she ought to take time to grieve, but she knew of no ways to properly do it. She worked instead. She distracted herself, and she built up her strength. She sent her energies out into supporting other people– taking care of their dogs, buying them gifts, staying up with their needs– whenever a crisis rocked their worlds. And Lynn had thought this made her an altruist. That she was a kind-hearted person. But if she had been honest with herself then, so much of those efforts were a way to fix the ugly wounds still festering inside of her own skin. She could sooth it by helping others, but it never abated completely what she needed fixing. And she didn’t know how to ask.
And Stan never noticed.
She finds that odd now, telling. He felt so natural for her because he didn’t ask. He allowed her to be the fake strong person she wanted to imagine herself to be. He encouraged that. And then he discouraged anything else. When he demanded more out of her, she felt obliged to do it. Anything to keep that admiration he had for her usefulness going.
Except it wasn’t admiration. He just wanted her to stay useful.
How could she not see that he didn’t love her? How could she not have seen that he had been grooming her since the very first date?
Over time Lynn lost her agency. She lost everything that made her an individual. She became an extension of a lesser person. A weaker person. An abusive person. A drunk. And she didn’t even notice it until it was too late.
And now there was May. Sweet consistent May. In her home. Not leaving. Cleaning up her messes and taking care of her as she fell apart due to her own idiotic choices.
Their relationship had been based on Lynn’s perseverance and Lynn’s strength. May was supposed to lean on her. It didn’t seem right now to have May taking care of her like this. Reassuring her like this. May answering her phone calls. May getting into quiet fights with her own boyfriend over her extended stay with her.
The shame was crippling. The self-hatred was enormous. She wanted to beg May to leave. She wanted to push away everyone and everything and just simply crawl under the patio steps and die outside.
But May kept insisting on staying. May wouldn’t budge.
And Lynn knew that couldn’t let this continue. Lynn couldn’t keep May trapped in this world of her own making. Lynn wasn’t going to let May go down with her.
So one day, Lynn finally woke up.
It can seem odd how recovery works. For some people it can take years. Other’s, a lifetime. But for Lynn it took four months.
After four months, suddenly it was like a gust of wind blew into her lungs and she was breathing in deeply again. Her mind was suddenly shaken and cleared. She remembered who she had been before Stan, and the shame of her degradation retreated.
First thing she did was call Gloria. An idea was emerging that she had to check on.
“As your lawyer, I cannot condone any illegal–”
“Yes, yes, and I understand.”
“You’ll need to sign paperwork expressly stating that I–”
“Of course, I will. But would it be grounds for removal from employment?”
“Yes, if the partners chose to enforce the bylaws. It still wouldn’t remove him as a partner, but it would give us the lever we’d need to start pushing for a p–”
“And it would get him out of my restaurants and away from my life?”
“Unless he signs an agreement, you couldn’t force him to not go in, but you could keep him from having any involvement, and we could put pressure on him to sell his shares.”
“And my plan involving the partners?”
“I can approach them with the deal and see how they feel about it.”
“Let’s wait until after the first part.”
“Once again, as your lawyer, I strongly advice you to not go through with this, and I will be sending you paperwork absolving me of any responsibility for your actions.”
“Heard,” said Lynn simply as she hung up. She immediately began to dial a new number.
The strobe lights rocked and twisted around the dark expanse of the room as the bass lines to the energetic hip-hop song synched up with the rhythmic movements of the three women performing on stage. May adjusted the strap of her purse uncomfortably as she surveyed the area.
“This…. is a first for me.”
“Shocker,” said Lynn with a ghost of a smile.
This slight return of normalicy between them put May more at ease. She move in closer to her friend and drew courage from her new found strength. “You can’t say I don’t support you after this.”
“I’ll never say you don’t support me. Ever. You can mark my words on that.”
It was May’s turn to smile.
There as a vibration in her purse and she looked down into its folds to barely make out the name of Brain on her cellphone’s screen. She reached in and silenced it.
“So which one is she?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“Right. I still can’t believe Laura is a stripper now.”
“Dancer,” corrected Lynn.
“And I think it’s kinda rad…. the costumes, the performances, and I hear you make tons of money.”
“Stop before you start sounding like your mother.”
“I totally wasn’t going to do that.”
“Sure, you weren’t.”
“So do we go up and talk to her or….”
“She told us to wait until she’s on the floor. Also, her stage name is Guillotine.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I think it’s a cool name. It’s got a whole, ‘eat the rich’ vibe to it.”
“It’s got something to it, alright.”
“Don’t be such a bad feminist.”
“Don’t assume you know what I’m thinking.”
“So what are you thinking?” challenged Lynn.
May hesitated then rolled her eyes. “Fine. Let’s drop it. Why don’t you find us a table, and I’ll grab the drinks?”
Men’s eyes followed May’s trek in the room as she made her way to the bar. Lynn found them a table off to the left of the stage in a relatively secluded area.
She watched the performers on stage, focusing in on Guillotine as she did a high climb up her pole and twirled down it with an impressive leg kick into the air for the finish of the song. Her heels had to have been seven inches, and she was dressed in a black leather outfit with rimstones that glistened under the swirling lights. The long black wig she was wearing cascaded down her lower back and moved like a velvety curtain across her body. The effect was stunning.
“I got us two Paper Planes,” announced May as she placed the triangle topped glasses full of pink liquid onto their table.
“Good timing. I think her dance is done.” Lynn took a sip of her drink and nodded approvingly. “God, I’ve missed cocktails.”
“Sick of wine?”
“So sick of wine. In fact, I think it’s safe to say I’ll not be drinking wine for a very long, long time.”
“Good thing there are plenty of other alcoholic options,” commented May as she clanked Lynn’s glass.
A ghost of sadness crept onto Lynn’s face for a moment. It was banished with another sip. “Agreed.”
“May! Lynn!” Laura secured the tie on her see-through black feathered robe and came over to hug both of their necks. Her upper thighs provocatively parted her robes then disappeared again with each stride she made. Both women got a strong whiff of roses and jasmine as she squeezed them tightly to her.
“Laura! I mean, Guillotine, it’s great to see you again! You look great,” said Lynn.
“It’s been a long time since AP History,” commented May who admittedly was a bit stunned by her friends beauty and appearance.
“Thanks,” said Laura with a wry expression. “Honestly this job takes me back to theater class. The costumes. The lights. Only this time I get paid when older men creep on me.”
“Urg, Mr. Franco was SUCH a creep,” agreed Lynn.
“You don’t know the half of it,” commented Laura as she pulled up a chair. “You know he dated one of our classmates right after she graduated? I mean, RIGHT after she graduated.”
Lynn rolled her eyes. “Typical and not surprising.”
“He still works at the school, of course.”
“Yeah, fucking men.” May and Lynn clanked glasses again.
“Hey, should I get you a drink?” offered May.
“No, I’m good. I don’t like to drink on the clock, and besides,” Laura glanced over her shoulder. “I can’t really talk for too long.”
“Oh, okay, well, then–” May cleared her throat nervously.
“Lynn already told me what the plan is,” Laura said quickly. “And I’m totally down.”
“Really?” asked May, surprised.
“Of course! Sisterhood is about helping each other out no matter what. Goodness knows no one else is going to do it, and besides, the man is trash. I’m all about taking down abusive men.”
“That’s really nice of you. I just, you know, you do understand that we have to be super… discreet about this.”
Laura uncrossed and crossed her legs again. Men watched as she tossed her long black hair away from her eyes and leaned forward towards them, giving them a full display of the tops of her tightly bound breasts. “I am totally hearing you, May, and I want you to relax. I will always come out in support of a sister in trouble, and I mean that when I say it.” She leaned an arm casually on the back of her chair and her eyes went distant. “I know a thing or two about abuse, too, and no one was there to help me then. I felt invisible. Helpless, and those men…. they just got away with it all. No questions. No nothing. And I ain’t about standing back and allowing it to happen anymore if I can do something about it. Lynn says this guy is trash, he’s trash. She said he’s trying to take her pin yin’s restaurants from her, and she needs my help to stop him…. I’m in. No question.”
“That means so much to us, Guillotine. So much.”
“We’ll be paying for all the drinks with him, and of course, your time.”
Laura waved it off. “That’s cool, but also, don’t fret about it too much. Again, I’m just happy to use my resources.”
“And you really think it’ll work?”
“Scumbags love strip clubs, and this piece of shit is a cheapskate, right?”
“Heh, very much so,” said Lynn ruefully.
“Then it’ll be a piece of cake.”
“How soon do you think you can get him here?”
Laura shrugged. “How’s next Saturday?”
May blinked. “That could work. We’ll have to move quick, though.”
Lynn made eye contact with May then raised her glass. “Sisterhood?”
May clanked their glasses again. “Sisterhood,” she agreed.
Revenge is a complicated motivator. Its retaliatory nature and the general urgency it presses upon a person can make it a dangerous thing to invite into your soul. Luckily for her, Lynn had been a resilient person before Stan, and already that part of her that pushed through problems was asserting itself again. When grief nipped away at her heartstrings, she now had something inside of her to counterbalance it. This part was going to get her through this next chapter in her life. This part was going to advocate for her in a way no one else, other than May, would. This part was going to offer Lynn peace and closure. It was going to banish Stan and win her vindication.
“I can’t believe Laura is pulling this off. Look, look, that’s Dale. He’s pulling up right now.” May tugged at Lynn’s sleeve and handed her the binoculars excitedly.
Lynn took them from her and look hard in the direction she was pointing. Sure enough a police squad car was parked and waiting by Belle’s Gentlemen’s Club.
Her stomach turned in an uncomfortable way and she smiled grimly. “So far so good. Any new texts?”
May pulled out her cell phone and shifted her weight in the passenger seat of Lynn’s car.
“No. Still nothing new. Want to look at the dick pic again?”
“Too weird.” Lynn felt a pang of sadness followed by disgust. Already she was starting to realize how little she actually had ever known about him.
“She was right about how little it would take to get him out here.”
“I don’t know which was more appealing. The female attention or the free drinks.” Lynn thought about it. “Probably the free drinks.”
“You sure know how to pick them,” May joked.
It felt nice to joke about this. Both women acknowledged the shift in tone regarding the relationship in their own ways. Lynn adjusted the binoculars, whipping their lens on her shirt. May reexamined her text exchanges with Laura. A comfortable silence descended for a while between them.
“What’s the time?” asked Lynn.
“Almost closing time. Think he’s drunk enough?”
Lynn gave a bitter and short laugh. “Yes,” she said simply.
There was a ping from a cell phone and May gasped excitedly. “Ah! Laura says he’s getting ready to leave, and she’s given the signal to Dale.”
“Time to rock and roll,” said Lynn grimly.
It’s the oddest thing sometimes. You think you are going to enjoy something then you don’t. Lynn watched as Stan got pulled over. She watched Dale administer the field sobriety test, and she watched as he was arrested. She thought this would make her feel satisfaction. Maybe even peace. But all she felt was a whole new level of sadness.
“Don’t feel anything, Lynn,” she whispered to herself sternly. “Just let it be.”
“Did you say something?” May asked as she was putting away the binoculars.
“No,” Lynn lied. She took a deep breath and pushed her feelings away. She buckled her seatbelt and started the car. “Think it’s time we call Carol?”
“Already on it.”
The local news report released on Stan about his DUI after leaving a notoriously known strip club had the affect Lynn was hoping with the investment group. She tried not to be bitterly sarcastic when she received the phone calls. In fact, she tried to show no emotion at all.
“Got to love Evangelical logic. They don’t like sex workers. They don’t like alcohol, but repeatedly assaulting a girlfriend and attempting to run her out of her own family business? Eh….” May wiggled her hand sarcastically. “Kudos to getting them to agree to remove Stan from employment.”
“Yeah,” said Lynn dully. “If I know Stan, he hasn’t much in his savings, and without employment, he’ll likely sell his shares at a reasonable price especially since he’s going to need to save face in front of his friends.”
“What are you going to do now with the partners?” May asked.
“I’m not sure yet,” said Lynn honestly. “I– I’m not sure about a lot of things right now. I thought I could just right the ship and get back to work. Put things back in order then worry about the rest, but now that it’s here, I just…. don’t know.”
“How are you feeling?” asked May.
Lynn shook her head. “Confused? Scared, maybe. It suddenly occurs to me that this was probably just a battle and there are more to come. I suddenly realize that…. no matter what I do, there will likely be a shadow of Stan in all of this for a very long time. And even if I manage to completely remove him, there’s still men who support him. Or supported him. There’s still so…. much out there, and it suddenly occurs to me that….” Lynn trailed off.
“That?” prompted May patiently.
“Everything is different now.”
“Well, not everything. I’m still here, and you’ve still got your home, and you’ve got your restaurants…..”
“No.” Lynn was firm about this. There was resolve in her eyes and a strange sadness. “No, it’s all different. What Stan did to me. What he’ll no doubt keep doing. I’m going to have to live with that for the rest of my life, and…. I’m going to also have to live with the knowledge that I’m not as protected by my community as I thought I was. Everyday now, I think, I’m going to look around this town and it’s going to keep happening to me– this thought I can’t escape– that I was drowning in plain sight and I felt like, I felt like, like none of them would have noticed or cared or stopped to help. I feel like there’s some secret knowledge inside of me now. This scary dark truth that…. we’re more alone than we ever realized in this world,”
“Hey, you’re not alone,” May reassured her.
“Yes, I know.” Lynn gave her an apologetic glance. “I mean, of course I know that. And I’m so lucky to have you, but you live in California. You have a life. And it’s not enough. Or it wasn’t enough. I mean, you were right there, and I couldn’t tell you what was happening. I wanted to so many times, but I couldn’t tell you–”
“But you did. You did tell me.”
“Years later,” Lynn stated. “Dozens and dozens of times later. I finally told you. But I didn’t before. I was too….. prideful maybe. Or afraid, maybe. It doesn’t matter now. He took advantage of all of it, and he kept doing it. And now here were are. And here it is. The truth. It’s all just so different now. I am just so different now.”
“You’re stronger,” May pointed out.
“Maybe. I’m not sure what I am just yet, but I think…. I think I’m not going to find that out here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Charleston?” demanded May incredulously. “Like, the Charleston? Like, oyster shucking, mint julep, casual racism Charleston?!”
“You heard me.”
“It’s in the South.”
“Asian don’t live in the South.”
“Sure they do.”
“Like, one Asian lives in the South.”
Lynn shut her suitcase and locked the claps. “Well, now there will be two.”
“Of all the places you could go, you chose Charleston?”
“It’s a nice city. It has a beach.”
“Full of jellyfish.”
“Who told you that?”
“My uncle told me. He went through two summer’s ago. Got stung by a jellyfish.”
“I thought you said there were no Asians in the South.”
“He was just visiting! He wasn’t going to live there.”
Lynn walked through the hallway of her house and took the clipboard from the man who approached. She signed the bottom of the form clipped to it then smiled at him as she handed it back.
He motioned to the two men carrying the large sofa to continue forward through the wide open front doorway.
A moving truck was parked outside with a loading ramp.
“It’s just for a while,” said Lynn to May as she moved into the kitchen and resumed wrapping and placing plates in a box on the counter.
“However long it needs to be,” said Lynn criptically.
“Do you have a job?”
“How are you going to pay for things?”
“I’ve got enough.”
“Yeah, that reminds me, how much did you get from your cousins?” asked May.
Lynn sighed and put one of the plates down. She looked seriously at May who was crossing her arms and looked genuinely distressed. “They paid me enough to live on for a while and get settled. I’ll be fine.”
“But it was your family’s restaurants you just sold away.”
“It’s still my family’s restaurants.”
“Sam doesn’t count.”
“He’s an idiot.”
“Well, it’s his idiot restaurants now.”
“You could’ve kept some of it.”
“I didn’t want it.”
“What about Stan?”
“I told Sam all about it.”
“Think he can hack it? I mean, it’s Sam. Remember that time he–”
Lynn finished packing the box and closed it. She began to tape it shut. “I remember,” she interrupted although she wasn’t sure where May was going with this particular story. “And I trust him and his family to handle Stan. I mean, what’s one asshole against the entirety of my mom’s extended family?”
“You really think he’s up for it?”
Lynn slid the box off the counter and began to carry it to the living room. “He agreed. He paid for it. It’s his problem now.”
“I just– hey.” May stopped and took the box from Lynn. She played it down on the dining room table to the annoyance of the mover trying to take it outside. “I just want to make sure you know what you’re doing, okay?”
“May….” Lynn smiled at her friend and gently placed her hands on her shoulders. “I have no idea what I’m doing,” she said in a sarcastically reassuring way.
“You’re not funny.”
“I guess I’ll make sure my new career path won’t be in comedy then.”
“I’m just…. I’m scared for you,” May confessed.
Lynn smiled gently. “I know. I’m scared for me, too, but–” she looked around at the home she had lived in her whole life. The yellow wallpaper stood out in a way it never had before to her after all the décor had been stripped away from them. “This is something I have to do.”
“But your home–” May got teary eyed looking around at it.
‘Does he know where you’re going?”
“Of course not.”
“Will be Sam’s family’s now.” Lynn took the box off the table and resumed her journey to deposit it with the others. “Honestly, it’s probably the only reason he agreed to take my half of the restaurant.”
“Can Stan find out?”
“Doesn’t that worry you?”
“Not really. I honestly don’t think he thinks about me much.”
Lynn laughed to herself. For a brief moment she recalled a happy memory between Stan and her. They had gone biking downtown and grabbed Bellinis afterwards. There had been a jukebox in the bar, and he had played Mrs. Robertson on it.
She pushed the memory away with a sigh and a forced of will that was becoming easier for her to muster. “Small blessings,” she agreed.
The ocean breathed along the shoreline. In then out again. Then in. It was meditative and simple. Lynn found it easy to empty her thoughts and briefly let go of things while looking at it. She watched the colors and made notes of how the sky differed in its hues of blue. There was so much to take in from life. Sometimes she was shocked by its brilliance and details.
It made her grateful which was an emotion she hadn’t often given much space for, sadly. In most of her life she had been ungrateful– she had been focused on goals for the future, things she had yet to achieve. She wanted so much in so little time, and now here she was on the beach breathing with the ocean, wondering where that person even went to.
It wasn’t that she didn’t have ambitions now. She still had plans for her life. Plans that required money and energy to create. But for now, they had shifted. They were on pause as she summoned her energy and mind to simply focus on peace and to reflect on the time it had taken to get her here to this beach in Charleston, a thousand miles away from her home, a thousand miles in a new direction from where she had last been.
The distance hadn’t been relevant to her. The destination not so important either.
Lynn tries not to overthink things anymore or resist things when they came. The forcefulness she had taken in her steps were softened now, and while she was alone on the beach with no person standing with her, she never felt more alive or loved.
May had gone back to California two months ago. Lynn had kissed her goodbye and hugged her fiercely.
The had only spoken a few times on the phone since then. Lynn’s choice. A choice that May understood.
It was time for her to pull away from her reliance on her friend. It was time for her to become her own person again.
A flock of seagulls swooped and landed on the beach. They chased the water, hopped, and flew back up again. Their shrill calls merged with the noises of sand and water crashing together.
For a brief moment Lynn thought about her parents and the times they had spent together as a family on the beach. Her father loved to swim, and her mother would stay on the shore with the towels and umbrella, reading with her sunglasses on. Her father would wave and encourage Lynn to join him. She preferred dipping her toes in the water. She never liked going further than where the water would reach her knees.
“Don’t be afraid,” her father would chide her. “Just let it carry you. You’ll be safe. I promise. I’m right here.”
It occurred to Lynn how much she missed them. How much she would give for just a single afternoon like this one to be spent with her parents once more. She allowed herself to cry then. Something else she no longer resisted. The tears crept into her mouth and she tasted them.
‘I’m free,’ she realized, ‘and I’m loved.’
The gratefulness ached inside her heart.
‘Thank you, May.’