Sequel to Stray
Lorraine Tyler is finally at veterinarian school with her best friend and roommate, Frankie. She’s also got a girlfriend who likes to play naked hide-and-seek.
Life in Bend is pretty great for Lorraine until she hears the voice of her dead sister Becky in her head, pointing out Lorraine’s failures past and present.
Her problems don’t end there. Her dad is hospitalized, leaving her heartsick at the thought of losing him, and there has been no justice for the hate crime perpetrated against Lorraine’s friend Ricky the year before. As if those things weren’t worry enough Lorraine’s former and present girlfriends are in town seeking her undivided attention. No wonder Lorraine’s wacky therapist has her eating bean soup and counting up the traumas of her life.
Lorraine and Frankie juggle their own personal crises while they try to navigate family relations and work for a more just and LGBTQ friendly community for everyone who calls Bend home.
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: 03/08/2021
Heat Level: 1 - No Sex
Pairing: No Romance
Genre: Contemporary, LGBTQIA+, contemporary, family-drama, lesbian, gay, trans, veterinary student, election, homophobia, illness/death, funeral, therapy, reunited
It was the middle of the night and I wanted my momma. I don’t think I’ve ever said those words as an adult, but I was really scared. The voice was back. It had abated during finals and I thought perhaps my sister had stopped haunting me. No such luck. Becky had been stubborn and relentless in her life. I suppose it should have been no surprise that she was the same in death.
My twin sister Becky had died the spring before we both would have turned nineteen. Until recently, when I made twenty years old, I had only been plagued by the memories of her violent death. During the end of my first summer session of vet school something new had started happening. I was hearing Becky’s voice and a running commentary on what I should have done to save her life and what I was presently doing to mess up my life. I had two weeks off from school to get this latest disaster managed.
I could but wasn’t allowed to call Momma. It was too late at night. She said phone calls in the middle of the night should only contain extraordinary news like a birth or death. Even car trouble was not a permitted excuse to call home after 10:00 p.m. or before 6:00 a.m. Momma said, “Call AAA. Don’t call our farm.” I watched the clock as Becky yammered in my head.
“Lorraine, you’re on a brief summer break starting today, but don’t think you don’t have to study. Wouldn’t it be ironic if after all this time waiting for the right moment to leave home and the money to go to vet school you flunk out?” Becky cackled at her joke.
“I’m not going to flunk out,” I said into the room and regretted it immediately. My roommate Frankie roused from her drunken sleep.
“What? What’s going on?” Frankie raised her head and looked in my direction. Her five-o’clock shadow was already showing even though she had given herself a very close shave before going out the night before. She was in the early stages of transitioning male to female—living her truth. For Frankie that meant coming out to friends and family, hair removal, and saving, saving, saving. If Frankie chose to pursue the surgical route the expenses were astronomical. Frankie joked she would be at the craps table in Vegas rolling the dice and shouting, “Come on, Momma needs a vagina and new pair of breasts.”
“I’m sorry, Frankie. I was talking to Becky.”
“Her again? God, the dead are chatty.” She put her head down and then lifted it again and said, “Did I tell you? I heard voices yesterday. They said, ‘Freak, faggot, failure!’ Oh, wait that wasn’t psychotic voices. That was my father talking to me.” She put the pillow back over her head to sleep.
Frankie had been disowned by her family, but her father still called every single day. I’d heard Frankie’s side of that conversation for months. To me it seemed like every call and every periodic visit devolved into harsh words and blaming, not from Frankie. She always kept her cool and reminded her parents that she loved them and always would.
I sympathized with Frankie but had my own critic to manage. Becky spoke up again,
“Frankie will never, surgery or no surgery, be as beautiful as I was my senior year. Let’s talk about me some more, Lorraine. You know what’s funny? I can remember the feel of the gasoline on my skin, the sting of it, its odor in my nose; and I can recall the force of the knife as it entered my surprisingly flat belly, but I can’t for the life of me remember the feel of the fire.”
I bolted into the bathroom and vomited in the toilet. No, I didn’t find it humorous or oddly interesting that she couldn’t remember the feel of the fire on her skin. I couldn’t forget the image; the smell of her burning hair and flesh. Those odors were tendrils that wrapped around the little hairs in my nose and kept the sensory experience always at the ready to accompany the soundtrack of Becky’s screams. I didn’t say anything to her about the screams I heard. I didn’t want to make her memory worse. I just wanted her to shut up.
“You know, Lorraine, if you’d been quicker and more planful you could have saved me. I suppose you were preoccupied with your own queer drama as usual.” Her voice was matter-of-fact, but every syllable condemned me just the same. She was right of course. During the time of her illness, I was licking my wounds because I’d lost the scholarship, and there was never enough time for me and Charity. I wasn’t thinking about Becky every minute when I should have been. It wasn’t that I hadn’t already told myself the same thing—every day, every hour, but to hear her say it felt like more of an indictment and final verdict.
I slammed the bathroom door. No matter, she was in my head, not the bedroom area of the apartment I shared with Frankie.
Becky sighed loudly, “Now, Little Man is growing up without his mother. I know Kenny got married again. He probably had to do that. He wouldn’t have gone without sex for very long. Still, it should be noted that sociologists have concluded it’s best for a child to be with his mother.”
Mentioning Little Man, Becky’s son and my nephew, only made me feel worse. I wanted to argue the point, but I couldn’t.
I was of the opinion that it wasn’t so great that Becky and I were with our momma? It wasn’t for me. That was certain. But our situation was different than Little Man’s. He wasn’t a twin. He needn’t compete for limited resources or audition for the favored position like Becky and I did.
“Back to my original question. You’re the medical expert. Why didn’t I feel the fire?” Becky persisted.
My phone read 6:02 a.m. Finally, I could call Momma. I called the landline first, hoping she was there at the kitchen table of our farmhouse pestering Dad with some complaint or request, but still feeding him a heart attack breakfast. I pictured her rising, the legs of her chair scraping against the tired linoleum floor, her bunny slipper clad, size nine feet padding across the kitchen, and her reaching for the yellow wall phone by the cereal cabinet and just above Dad’s junk drawer. Dad was closer, but Momma knew he hated the phone and wouldn’t answer it unless he had to.
I pictured my dad readying himself for a day working at the lumber yard. Had he drunk his first or second cup of coffee? Had he snuck to the barn for his first filterless Camel cigarette? Had he slumped forward with his usual and now more frequent coughing jag? Had he spit into his red or blue bandana handkerchief?
Maybe he fended off Momma’s criticism with one of his blessed animal stories. They were blessed unless you were the one who had to do the research at the library and figure out the lesson to be learned from screwworm 1960 or big breasted chickens or bonobos. It wasn’t really so bad. I loved reading about animals. I just didn’t like hearing I had so much to learn about how to treat people. I suppose my dad is one of the reasons I love animals so much. He taught me so much from his animal stories.
Back in the living room Frankie stirred and mumbled something in her sleep. I called Momma’s cell. It went straight to voice mail, which was a torture in and of itself. Her cheerful voice followed by obvious information that she hadn’t taken the call, an Old Testament Bible verse about the Godly and ungodly—I knew where I’d been sorted in that scenario—and a command to leave a message. I didn’t leave a message. What was I supposed to say? “Hi, Momma, should I be worried that your dead, perfect daughter Becky is a voice in the head of your living and always disappointing queer daughter, me?” I didn’t leave a message. I’d call someone else.
I almost called Twitch next. Twitch is my friend, mentor, my dad’s best friend, and recently I’d found out he was Becky’s and my biological father. Momma had a brief encounter with Twitch when she first came to town, before she met and fell in love with my dad. Becky and I were Benjamin Twitchell’s blood, but Joseph Tyler’s children. I clicked off the phone.
“Screw it, I’m driving to Bend.”
Becky sneered, “Lorraine, you finally got away from Bend and what do you do? You go right back there. You seem destined to repeat all your mistakes.”
Frankie roused again. “What, was I snoring?”
“No, go back to sleep. I’m going home for a while.” Besides, the last time I talked with Marin England she had promised me a game of hide-and-seek at her house. That was a PG-13 euphemism for her hiding naked in her king-size bed and me finding her before the covers settled. Yep, I was going home to Bend.
I stuffed some clothes and toiletries in a duffel bag, grabbed my phone charger and a couple of textbooks. Just before I made it out of the door I glanced at the tumble of limbs, hair, and blankets that was Frankie. We’d planned to do something with the big empty wall in our living room during break.
Becky said, “You might as well bring Frankie along. She’ll fit right in. Pay attention, Lorraine, you might learn something from her.”
I nudged Frankie’s shoulder. “Frankie, Frankie, I’m going home to Bend. Do you want to come with me?”
Frankie launched out of bed, hurled razors, chemical hair remover, curling iron, beauty products, and her loosest-fitting clothes into a gym bag, a blanket and pillow in another duffel, and charged to the door.
For some reason Frankie liked visiting Bend. Don’t get me wrong, I love Bend and planned to have a vet business and live there for the rest of my life. Still, it surprised me when others who hadn’t grown up there found an emotional connection with the place. She said she could be herself in Bend. She didn’t mind the looks or questions. I’d warned her I knew a gay man who had been beaten in Bend. I’d introduced Frankie to my good friend Ricky and his lover Russ.
Frankie stopped packing and searched for her phone. “I better call Mom and Dad and tell them I’m going. The cell reception in Bend is for shit. I don’t want them calling me to tell me how disappointed they are in me and not being able to reach me. They’ll worry I’m in a clinic somewhere losing my Johnson.”
“You don’t have to babysit me when I do this. I know you’re tired from the first summer session.” I touched her arm.
“Of course, I don’t, cis, but I want to do this. Maybe I can be of help or at least amusement.” She found her phone, kissed my cheek, and launched her bag of clothes at me. “I better pee.” She exited to the bathroom and closed the door.
“God, you smell like margaritas,” I called after her.
“Did I mention I’m learning Spanish?”
“Spanish? Right. Does that just mean you drank all night at a Mexican restaurant and flirted?” I didn’t say it, but I worried she teased men who possibly would have beat her for being herself. I thought of my friend Ricky and what had happened to him along a field not far from our farm.
Frankie stuck her head out from the bathroom and talked around her toothbrush, “No, it was a meeting of LGBTQIA for civil rights. It just happened to be at an authentic Mexican restaurant with fabulous enchiladas and very spicy men.”
Frankie joined every configuration of queer or transitioning group she could find, whether it was local or national. She attended meetings in person when she could manage, and scads of online meetings and internet chatrooms to organize protests and get out the vote efforts. Mostly she pasted and posted encouragement to others. As far as I could tell, community mobilization involved a lot of meetings that seemed more like raucous parties. Despite her many invites I had not joined any of the groups. I felt like my sexuality was a private thing. I didn’t want to be legislated but I also didn’t see myself as the poster child for any particular cause.
I heard Frankie’s conversation with her parents from the bathroom.
“Yep, tell Dad that I still have my willie. I know you worry. I’ll be with Lorraine in Bend. I just didn’t want you to worry if you called and didn’t get me right away. No, I’m not sleeping with Lorraine. I’m glad you’d be okay with that but it’s not going to happen. Love you both. Goodbye.” Frankie came out of the bathroom.
“You heard all that?” Frankie said.
“Yes. Do your parents really think we’re sleeping together?” I asked.
“That was my mom. Dad was at the gym. I’m sure he’ll be calling me before we make it out of town. Mom’s so desperate that I keep all my nuts and bolts she’d pair me up with you.” Her face turned sour before she kissed me on the cheek again.
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Nancy Hedin, a Minnesota writer, has been a pastor and bartender (at the same time). She has been a stand-up comic and a mental health crisis worker (at the same time). She wants readers to know that every story she writes begins with her hearing voices.
In 2018 Nancy’s debut novel, Bend was named one of twenty-five books to read for Pride Month Barnes and Noble, and was named Debut Novel of the Year by Golden Crown Literary Society and Foreword Indies Honorable Mention for GLBT Adult Novel of the Year.