Erin took me by the hand and led me into a building with a neon marquee overhead that blinked "The Rose." On the stair landing inside, a husky woman wearing a plaid shirt blocked the entrance. She told me to hold out my arms and legs. I turned back toward Erin.
She explained, "It's standard - you know, for weapons."
No, I didn't know. I was 18, and this was my first time at a lesbian bar. I had just moved out of my parents' house, Erin was 10 years older than me and I was carrying ID that wasn't mine. I felt uneasy - and I didn't like being touched by strangers - but with Erin's warm breath on the back of my neck I stepped out wider to let the surly bouncer pat me down. Erin, on the other hand, just nodded her way in.
"Hey, you just walked in," I complained.
She shrugged. "They know me here. Besides, you're the new hottie at the party."
I grinned. "So?"
She winked at me. "So I'd frisk you, too."
Once inside, she asked, "Would you like a drink?"
"Sure. Jack Daniel's, no ice."
She nodded, and I followed her to the bar.
A quick glance showed that I was one of two women wearing a skirt. We passed a group of women crowded around smoky pool tables and took our seats on a couch in a dark corner, my too big bag between us.
"Do you mind if I move this?"
She put it on the ground, inched closer to me and took one of my curls between her fingers.
She looked directly at me. "I've wanted to kiss you since we met."
I flushed and shifted slightly toward her.
"Would you like that?"
Again, I nodded. Our lips met.
My body whistled like a kettle, and I was transported back to the blistering summer when I was 10.
Carina and I both went to Richard William Scott Catholic elementary school, right next to my house, where I lived with my mom, dad and brother. My grandparents lived across the street, and my aunts and uncles either lived down the street or around the corner. News travelled quickly over the clotheslines.
The kids in our neighbourhood didn't go to summer camp. From the last day of school to our reluctant return in September, we all played from sun-up till sundown - murder ball, catch, skipping, sprinting, hopscotch, marbles, climbing trees. The best tree for climbing was in my backyard. It had many sturdy branches, and it yielded at least five bushels of juicy pears late every August.
One day, instead of talking over the rickety fence that separated our yards, I invited Carina to come over. She had long suede-brown hair and blue eyes. She scrambled over and we climbed up the pear tree. There, we swung our muddied legs in unison, eating ripe pears. Sitting with her on a strong limb in the sunshine felt good. We stayed there for at least two hours, until our small bums were sore.
I don't know how Carina and I got from that moment to the next, but I remember the kiss as though it were yesterday. Her lips were sticky with pear juice. I placed my hands on her sun-warmed shoulder blades, and excitement rushed through me like brush fire. I also remember pulling away and squealing, "Oh my god, if anyone saw us we're dead!" Carina jumped back and ran down the driveway.
I was anxious for a good month afterwards, sure that someone had seen us. Next to nothing happened, though, with one notable exception: after that kiss, Carina and I only ever said hello to each other on the way to and from school. We avoided each other's eyes; there were no more conversations.
I knew that kissing Carina would not have been celebrated; I would not be lovingly ribbed about my first girlfriend. Instead, I was teased about Domenic, who brought me flowers, and Gaetano, who used to come to the door to walk me all of 20 feet to school. I plainly told my family I didn't like boys, and they breathed a sigh of relief, thinking I was bookish and shy.
I am bookish, shy on occasion and also as queer as the day is long. It was with the memory of Carina's lips on mine that I first followed Erin into the Rose and, later that same night, traced the inside of her thighs to her wetness. I didn't find what some describe as the final puzzle piece falling into place that night. But I found a part of myself that had waited eight long years to kiss again - to feel my heat pressed tight to another's.
Anna Camilleri's next book, I Am A Red Dress, will be released in November by Arsenal Pulp Press www.annacamilleri.com