Elena was lying on her bed with a book grasped between her hands, brow furrowed with concentration. She was unaware of the door being pushed open until Syd’s head appeared around it. “Hey, your mom said I could come straight here.”
“Hey!” Elena immediately pushed the book closed and to the floor. They pretended not to hear the thud and Syd fitted herself into the gap that Elena had moved over to create. Elena automatically wrapped her arm around her Sydnificant Other and they nestled into her armpit, breathing in the comforting scent of their girlfriend. "So,” she paused to plant a kiss on her SO’s forehead, “How are you?”
“I’m good,” Syd smiled and met Elena’s eyes, “it’s great to see you again.”
“Yeah, those twenty-two hours really dragged,” the two of them were still giggling as their lips collided. Syd pulled away with disregard to Elena’s puzzled expression, “is everything ok?”
“Yeah, no, it’s great. I’ve just remembered what I came here to tell you.”
“So it wasn’t just to make out with me and hope that my mom waits at least five minutes between patrols past my door.”
“Well there was that, there’s always that. But no, not this time." Elena struggled to hide her disappointment but Syd ignored her and continued, "how do you feel about musical theatre?”
Elena's face fell into a grimace, “It’s so cliché: that guy in the mask, the singing cats, the Biblical retelling.”
“But we went to the opera…”
“Yeah, but we proved it was gay.”
“So is musical theatre”
“It’s the cliché: musical theatre and gay men.”
“But, what if I told you it could now be for gay women. And non-binaries.”
Elena shifted her position on the bed to face Syd, “Now I’m interested.”
“I thought you might be.” They leant over the side of the bed and rummaged in the bag they’d discarded on the floor and retrieved their iPod. “It’s called Fun Home. I saw something about it on Tumblr.”
“Like the Alison Bechdel tragicomic?”
“You know it?”
“My mom bought it for me when I came out. She googled ‘books for teenaged lesbians’.”
“Of course she did. What did you think?”
“Well… I haven’t read it”
“Let me guess… you were being stubborn.”
“Nooo….” Syd threw her a pointed look, “I guess… a little bit.”
“Well, it’s really good and, guess what, they made a musical.”
“That would be gay”
“It is. And it’s amazing. I listened to it twice straight through and I thought of you. Especially during Changing My Major.”
“Changing my what?”
“It’s one of the songs. You’ll understand when you hear it.” Syd was busy detangling their headphones from the detritus in her bag which were currently holding their iPod hostage.
“So, are we going to hear it, or what? Can you manage a third listen?”
“Not yet. I mean I could listen to it a hundred times over but, this time, I think it’ll be good for you to listen to it alone.”
“You’ll understand when you listen.”
“So… what are we going to do now?”
“I’ve got an idea,” and they reached for Elena’s face, drawing her closer.
“Hey guys!” Penelope poked her head around the door, “You know this door needs to be fully open. I’m sure you don’t want Alex to have to join you.” They’d sprung apart, Syd leaping, almost hare-like, to the end of the bed despite it being abundantly clear that Penelope knew exactly what was going on. “Fully open. We need a clear view into here. This isn’t a hotel room.” Both Elena and Syd looked red-faced into their laps. “Don’t you have homework to do anyway? Both of you?”
“Well, I’m home-schooled so technically all my work is homework.” They both burst into fits of giggles at this and Penelope was forced to clap to regain their attention.
“Sadly, Elena does not have that luxury and I’m sure you were both being real productive in here but, Syd, I think it’s time for you to go.”
“Mo-om,” Elena moaned, “We don’t get that much time together. Can they please stay a bit longer?”
“Elena, Syd’s here every evening and you’re forever texting each other. I’m sure you’ll survive this one evening apart. And you have school tomorrow.”
Syd reached for their bag and sat pulling their shoes on, “Hey. Elena. It’s fine. It gives you a chance to listen to Fun Home.” They returned the forehead kiss and Elena’s hand met theirs gave it a squeeze. Penelope stepped aside to allow Syd to pass but stayed in the doorway, watching her daughter reach for her previously discarded book with alarming readiness. She didn’t become aware of Penelope’s lingering until her feet dropped when her mom sat on the end of the bed.
“Mom, what are you doing? Why are you still here?”
Penelope swallowed and patted the bed next to her, unconsciously, “I think we should have a talk.”
“Why…?” Elena drew her knees up to her chin, defensively still clutching the book.
“You know, Syd’s round here a lot. And they’re great. And I love seeing how happy they make you. But school. You know? It’s still gotta be a thing. I don’t want to get any phone calls about your grades slipping.”
“Mom!” the incredulity in her voice was only matched by the horror on her face. “Most of the time Syd and I study together. Their parents don’t always have the best grasp of the syllabus so I help to top it up.”
“So when you’re ‘studying’ you’re…”
“Actually studying,” Elena finished.
“So it’s not some lesbian code?”
“No! Not as far as I know. Just because I’m dating doesn’t mean I’ve lost sight of my goals. Do you really think I’m that shallow?”
“No, of course not. You’re always so motivated but I know what I was like when I was your age and I was dating and my mom wasn’t at home a lot. You can’t get pregnant but your grades can still slip.”
“Ok. Mom. Stop. My grades are great. College is approaching. I’m ready. Ok?”
“Ok. I just wanted to do the responsible Mom thing. I should have realised. You’re the responsible one. I’m really proud of you. You know that?”
Elena relaxed and allowed Penelope to pull her into a hug. “You know, I’m proud of you too, Mom.”
Penelope stayed quiet as she pulled her daughter closer and blinked back the tears that had collected in her eyes.
Later, when everyone was in bed, Elena found Syd’s iPod wedged under her pillow which explained the ‘Have you found it?’ text. She grinned and instinctively hugged it to her before reaching for the headphones on her bedside table as well as the book that was haphazardly lying on a precarious pile.
She’d planned to listen while she read but from the moment she heard the rising clarinet introduction she was transfixed and her book stayed unopened on her lap. She laughed at Changing My Major and immediately texted Syd the lyrics with Joan naturally changed to Syd. When it came to Ring of Keys, her eyes welled up as it provided her with a sense of kinship that had been so lacking even when she got involved with all of the lesbian protests. The inexplicable fixations she’d had on women on TV, women in the street, her fourth grade teacher were captured. The feelings she hadn’t been able to articulate, that felt so natural but that she knew instinctively that she needed to keep to herself. Here was the outlet she’d needed and she wept at the confidence small Alison felt in her admiration and for the newfound confidence she found in herself.
Telephone Wire brought it onto a whole new level. Alison pleading with her father to talk to her… The six months where her father didn’t talk to her. The pain of that broken relationship…When it was finished, there was only one person she wanted to, needed to, talk to.
Burrowed under the covers, her face illuminated by the screen, she pressed call.
“Hello? Elena, are you ok? It’s nearly 1am.” Syd’s concern was palpable even over the phone.
“Syd,” her voice was thick, “I listened to it. And wow. I mean. It’s everything. I wish I could listen to it with you. I wish you were here.”
“Me too… Are you ok? Your voice?”
“Yeah… I’m fine. I just got a bit emotional. I just had no idea. How could I not know it existed?”
“I mean you did prove your lack of respect for musical theatre... dare I mention singing cats?”
“Hey! But I'll admit you have a point,” Elena stifled both a sob and a giggle and then composed herself, “I love you so much, Syd.”
Syd’s heart fluttering could almost be heard over the phone. “Oh Elena. You mean the world to me. But so does sleep. And you have school. And I”
“have home,” Elena finished.
“I love you.”
“I love you.” Elena ended the call and resurfaced from the covers. She plugged the headphones back in and drifted into sleep accompanied by the music and lyrics of Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron.
“Hey, mom? Can Syd come over? I’ve done my homework and so have they.”
Penelope lay on the sofa. A bag of Cheetos nestled in the crook of her arm like a third child. She raised her head slightly to look at her daughter. “All of it?”
“All of it. And some extra reading in case I get an interview.”
“When you get an interview.” Penelope corrected, “And has Syd done their homework?”
“They don’t get homework. They’re home schooled. It’s just work.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. They can come over. But that door stays open or I’m sending Alex in.”
“Mom!” Elena’s horror was obvious.
“I mean it. While you’re in this apartment, the door stays open.”
“Fine.” and Elena sloped back to her room, texting Syd frantically as she went. Not five minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Penelope rolled onto her side, ready to swing her legs off the sofa, muttering about how there was no way Syd had got from her house to theirs in five minutes. Before her feet touched the floor, Elena had rushed down the hallway and was at the front door. As she threw the door open, her face shifted from excitement to disappointment.
“Schneider” she held the door open in mock reverence as he strode into the apartment that had become home to him.
“I found Syd in the hallway. Can they come in too?”
“They’re the one that’s meant to be coming in, not you.”
Syd poked their head around the door frame and Elena reached out a hand which they took and allowed themselves to be pulled into a close hug. After around twenty seconds of the embrace, Penelope clapped harshly causing them to spring apart. In the meantime, Schneider had made himself at home, horizontal on the sofa.
“Come on, let’s go to my room,” Elena whispered to Syd, still clinging to their hands.
“Remember I want that door open.” Penelope stood in their way until Elena agreed with an exaggerated eye roll.
In Elena’s room, they both sat gingerly on the edge of the bed, both hyper aware of Penelope just down the hallway and the likelihood that she would appear in the doorway.
“So, are you ok?” Syd reached for Elena’s hand and pulled it onto their lap.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Great.”
“Are you sure? ‘Cos last night. And that hug…”
Elena removed her hand from Syd’s and wrapped it around their shoulders. “Yeah, I promise. Fun Home just made me feel things y’know? Not bad things. Just things. Mostly it just made me miss you.”
“Even though we only saw each other yesterday?”
“Even though we only saw each other yesterday.”
“I didn’t want to upset you.”
“Hey!” Elena turned to face Syd, her arm still around her shoulders. “You didn’t upset me. Not at all. You opened up my eyes to a world of musical theatre that doesn’t have cats.” and she pulled Syd back onto her shoulder, resting her chin on their head.
“I’m glad.” Syd’s voice was slightly muffled as they spoke into Elena’s chest and Elena responded by gently planting a kiss on the top of their head. They stayed like that for some time, simply wrapped in each other’s arms. So lost in their embrace that they didn’t notice Penelope peer through the doorway and quietly creep away, recognising that this was clearly a moment best left uninterrupted.
After a while, Syd gently pulled themselves a way from Elena’s grasp, “Can we listen to it together?”
And they did. This time it was Syd with their arms around Elena. Syd who kissed her hair as the tears silently poured down her face at the pleas of Alison in Telephone Wire. Syd who would always be there for Elena and Elena who would always be there for Syd.