PRIDE, BY CHARLOTTE AYRES
They sat side by side on BART and shared Starbucks. Sip by sip, they defied the sign above their heads: No Food or Drink. Maybe they would have cared if they had been somewhere else, but rules are suggestions on BART. Unless a smoke alarm went off, no one would ever check in. They weren’t even sure that anyone would check in then.
Across from them, a girl sat in her boyfriend’s lap, her wire fairy-wings in constant danger of poking him in the eye. She drank vodka and Sprite out of an Eos bottle and batted her eyes to show off their rainbow lids. The boyfriend’s hands rested on her upper thighs. He was the cloud to her rainbow, glowering at everyone around him. Now and again she pacified him by planting a wet kiss on his jaw. The lipstick there was growing darker.
“It’s the party of the year,” she said again. “The best. You can’t even believe the fun. The beer. The weed. The glitter.” She sighed, settling back against the glaring mountain behind her, eyes half-closed. “Oh, the glitter.”
“Mm.” Claire was in current control of the Starbucks cup. Small and dark, willing the caffeine to wake her up, she had been tuning out the girl ever since she’d been offered some of the vodka. “I don’t drink,” she had said, and not a word since. It was too early in the day to be dealing with a nineteen-year-old getting drunk on BART.
“Is that all that’s there?” Laura leaned over and took a long sip from the straw. Her eyes, blue and ice cold, never left the winged girl. Usually she could make people uncomfortable. Vodka seemed to be an antidote.
“All that matters!” The girl burst into tipsy giggles. The wing hit her boyfriend in the eye.
He didn’t even flinch. “What else?”
Laura frowned and looked out the window, deciding to follow Claire’s lead. Fairy girl and mountain boy started making out in their seat.
Claire ran barefoot in the rain. Mud splattered over her feet and naked legs, up to her knees, nearly reaching the hem of her shorts. Black gym shorts, soaked through and frayed at the ends, middle school relics three years past their prime. Hair in braids that would become a ratty mess the instant she tried to untie them. But her shoes, at least, were locked away, safe and dry. Clean. She never ran with them on.
Her track of choice was the field behind the neighborhood school. It was riddled with gopher holes, and the grass was patchy from children’s violent soccer games, but she knew every inch of it. She started and stopped behind the baseball diamond where she had taught her little brother to hit. She stopped there after the third lap, hands on her knees, head down to catch her breath.
Claire glanced up, blinking at Laura, a patch of brightness in the gloom. Laura was under an umbrella, butterflies keeping off the rain. “Really? Hadn’t noticed.”
Laura sighed, moving closer to cover Claire as well. “You’ll catch a cold.” Claire straightened, smoothing stray hairs off her face. “Small price.”
They were quiet for a moment, both listening to the sound of rain bouncing off the umbrella, watching puddles form on the diamond. Claire shivered a little, wrapping her arms around herself.
Laura started walking, trusting that Claire would follow. She did. “What happened?” “What makes you think something happened?” Claire looked down at her legs, suddenly aware of the caked-on mud. Her feet were tingling, toes trying to regain life. Her calves burned. “You did three laps.”
Claire breathed out slowly, still staring down. Her chest rose and fell. She could hear her heart beating, beating in her head. “He kissed me.”
Laura opened the door to her car. Orange, so she wouldn’t lose it in a parking lot. When her mother bought it, that was what she said. I’d like to see you lose an orange car. It was an act of rebellion when Laura misplaced her keys. “Which one?”
Claire gave her a withering look, sliding into the passenger seat to drip on the leather. “Tyler. Who else?”
“Jacob. Or Tom. Or Cameron.” Laura reached into the back seat and grabbed a towel, tossing it at Claire before she got into the car herself. Claire wrapped herself up, staring sullenly at the dash.
“You know full well they’re just friends.” “Last I checked, so was Tyler.”
Claire looked out the window, shoulders sagging. “That’s what I thought too.” Laura glanced over at Claire, voice softening. “So… what happened?”
“I ran,” Claire said, softly, closing her eyes and letting her head fall against the headrest. “I ran and I didn’t look back.”
An announcement crackled, the words lost to static. The lip-locked couple sprang to their feet, still somehow connected at the mouth, and rushed for the doors. The girl’s wings bounced as she walked.
Claire watched them go, sighing out through her nose. “Civic Center, UN Plaza,” she murmured, partially from having watched the map, partially because there was only one party with the glitter going on. She stood, looking down at her empty cup, and headed for the door, Laura following close behind. They joined the press of too many happily chattering bodies. They were silent.
The station was dark and at the bottom of a long flight of stairs. Voices bounced off the walls, deafening, drowning out the violinist playing for money tossed in his case. They stood to the side, watching the crowd, peering up at the distant blue.
The people were lit up rainbow.
Laura looked down at her black, overlarge clothes. Hiding all her angles, letting her blend into the shadows. The people on the stairs were a tie-dyed mass of pastels and neons, in tutus and crop tops and ripped jeans. She retreated in, shifting towards the calm of Claire’s purple. They went up the stairs, a walking bruise, engulfed by the brightness.
The last step was the difference between chatter and cacophony. Everywhere they looked was another body, another color, another conversation, all moving as one toward a bag check. They let themselves be pushed along, jostled from side to side.
“There’s more security this time,” said a man to their left. He was wearing only a red feather boa. “Everyone’s a little bit scared.”
“The City is scared of trouble,” said another, whose glittery gold shorts were blinding in the midday sun. “We’ve always been their trouble.”
The first man laughed, strained, but smiling. “They need us though. We’re their image.” “They need us in line. Distracted. This is a distraction. I’ll take it though. I’ll take it. Lord knows I need a little fun.”
“What do you know of the Lord?” Boa-man flicked the feathers in the other man’s face. His smile was sincere now.
“Everything I know, I know from you. Most devout man I know, all night, praying. ‘Oh God oh God oh God.’” He was hit with the feather boa again.
Laura and Claire put their bags up for security.
“Ten-dollar wristbands… Get a dollar off every drink you buy, today and tomorrow!” A drag queen in pink winked at them, her pointed nails rustling orange wristbands in their direction. They smiled, but shook their heads. She shrugged, giving an exaggerated flip of her blonde curls. “Enjoy yourselves, cuties!”
The party was in full swing. Music was blasting from the stage at the end of the plaza, where they could see vague bodies swaying. Closer were the rows and rows of booths, selling flags and jewelry and food and drinks. The biggest booths were corporate. Coca Cola.
Nordstrom. AT&T. All were decked in rainbow and glitter, enticing islands of familiarity.
They got another coffee from the Starbucks truck. It was only white and green.
They wandered, starting at one end, heading for the other. On one side of the street was a Democrat booth, eagerly passing out pins saying “I’m With Her” and “LGBT for Hillary.” On the other side were the Log Cabin Republicans. They had white teeth and a cardboard cutout of Trump.
“Hello, San Francisco!” screamed a dark figure on the stage. The crowd screamed back.
The air smelled of pot, beer, and sweat. It felt heavy, carrying too much relief and pain.
The couple from BART stumbled by, still kissing.
Two women leered from the entrance of Leather Alley.
No one was in line for chicken strips. The lines for burritos and vegan rice bowls doubled in on themselves.
Girls at the Nordstrom booth rubbed lotion on their stomachs and poured glitter over their wet skin.
“What’s your carrier?” asked a shining face from AT&T.
In the center of everything, children played at the park, shrieking and throwing tanbark.
A homeless man caught the sleeve of one of the few men wearing a shirt. “They drove us out, where’re we suppose to go?”
A middle-aged woman with a proud nose went from booth to booth wearing a flag over her shoulders. Blue pink white pink blue.
Tourists took pictures with people in neon fursuits.
A man in a suit held up a sign: I can marry you right now!
At the end of every street was another small stage, another dance party.
A silent black booth sold water. “All proceeds go to Pulse,” said a woman with sad eyes drooping down at the corners.
Security was everywhere, but the drag queens towered above all, holding buckets for donations. They seemed prepared to bring them down on someone’s head should they step out of line.
“How are we, San Francisco!” screamed a new figure on stage. She was astride a motorcycle, holding a rainbow flag. The crowd got louder.
People smiled at booths. PETA. Bay Area Foster Care. Blood drive. AIDS awareness. Booth after booth of condoms. Coca Cola. Coca Cola. Coca Cola. Coke down every street. An old lesbian couple holding hands, wearing matching shirts saying “Show me your kitties.” Flags: rainbow, pink, purple, blue, black. American flags, rainbow instead of red and white. Glitter. Glitter everywhere. Oh, the glitter.
Claire and Laura went from booth to booth, comparing pins and flags and necklaces.
They shared Starbucks. They bought steak kabobs.
“Scream for me, San Francisco!” said a man, smiling into the mic.
San Francisco screamed.
Claire had begged her mother for a canopy bed when she was six. She finally got one when she was seventeen. Years later, back for the summer for perhaps the last time, she had it still, a cocoon of calm in the chaos of her house with its five children. She, the oldest, still had her own room.
Most nights, Laura was there. She was there most days too, only going back to help her mother bring in groceries or her father patch the roof. She and her parents didn’t talk, they just did. The house had eaten them alive.
“Do you remember Tyler?” Claire asked. She laid her head on Laura’s stomach, her hair, natural for the first time in years, splaying out on the chalk-stained canvas beneath.
“How could I forget? He kissed you and you got pneumonia.” Laura scrolled through Facebook, liking every cat video she came across.
“He went to MIT.” Claire stared up at her blue canopies, chewing on her lip. “He’ll be rich someday.”
“He was already rich.” An otter video popped up amid the cats. Laura gave that one a heart. “He’ll just add on a degree with a fancier name than ours. Least we’re not freezing in Massachusetts.”
“True.” Claire rolled onto her side, looking up at Laura. “I didn’t speak more than five words to him after that day.”
“He followed after you like a love-struck idiot.”
“I suppose I was a little mean about it.”
“He shouldn’t have blindsided you.”
“He was an alright boyfriend…”
“He wasn’t your boyfriend.”
Claire quietly rolled back onto her back, closing her eyes. “The point is, I’m not good with this.”
Laura put her phone down and lifted her head up, blinking down at Claire. “No one is.”
“You always did well enough for yourself.”
Laura snorted and let her head fall back against the pillow. “Yeah. Sneaking behind my parents’ backs, sneaking behind her parents’ backs, never going out on dates, never holding hands…But yeah, we cut hearts out of paper for Valentine’s. Repented our sins on the fifteenth.”
“Least you kissed.”
“Never was good.”
Claire laughed softly, sitting up and wrapping her arms around her knees. “Neither was mine. But I only had the one.”
“I don’t think a surprise from a boy who bought you presents and thought that earned him something counts.”
“Oh, do I get a do-over?” Claire looked down at Laura, lips curling up. Just at the ends.
“Someday. Someday I do, too.”
“But I thought that you liked being with Alyssa.”
“I did. At the start.”
Laura also sat up, scooting over to where Claire was sitting. “I was in high school.”
Claire shook her head, a full smile spreading across her face. “Weren’t we all.”
“I was Catholic. She was Mormon.”
“We were the only two lesbians at the school.”
“No, you weren’t.”
Laura looked at Claire out of the corner of her eyes, blinking slowly. “No. We weren’t.”
They walked away from the noise, covered in glitter, decked out in new pins, each with a flag. Laura, idly waving her rainbow. Claire, running her fingers over the colors. Black. White. Gray. Purple.
“Do you want more coffee?” Laura asked, mostly joking.
“Only if you’re paying.” Claire winked at her. She stopped playing with her flag and took Laura’s hand.
They walked down the BART steps, coffee-less.
In the distance, they could hear the noises of Pride. “Save Me, San Francisco” layered with Lady Gaga. The music was newly restarted after the moment of silence.
“Was it only glitter?” Claire leaned against a pillar in the station.
“So much glitter.” Laura glanced at the estimated time of arrival. Dublin/Pleasanton.
“Everyone is still up there.” Claire tugged on Laura’s hand, pulling her closer. “Course they are. It’s the party of the year.”
The estimated time of arrival went up to eighteen minutes. The music outside got louder.
Claire and Laura kissed in the dimly lit BART station.
Charlotte Ayres is a writer, English teacher, and voracious YA reader who lives in the Bay Area with her spouse and their two cats.