“Emily!” Lavinia yelled from the bottom of the stairs. “Mother needs you!”
Inside of her room Emily flinched at the sound of her sister’s voice. The pencil in her hand sliding off the edge of the scrap of paper she was writing on. She groaned. Everyone always seemed to interrupt her at the perfect time, right in the middle of her contemplative state. And always, right in the middle of a stanza.
“What for?” She mumbled to herself. She hurriedly tried to write down the rest of the words before they left her brain. She read them back to herself pretty content with herself. Her sister called for her again. “I am coming!” she yelled in return. Emily dropped her things and tied back her hair. “‘Cause I am sure Austin has so much he is doing right now.” She whispered under her breath. In all honesty, he was probably doing nothing more than sitting on the couch reading.
She met Lavinia’s gaze at the bottom of the stairs. Her sister looked at her, shrugging like she had been waiting years. Emily pretended not to notice as she stood before her.
“Mother needs you to hang the clothes outside.” Lavinia said. She finished wiping her hands with a towel. Emily groaned dramatically about opening her mouth to protest. “Nope,” Lavinia said, cutting her off with a pinched hand motion. “You didn’t want to cook, now you have to go hang the clothes.”
Emily mocked her silently, but she turned to walk away. “God Vinnie, when did you start to become a miniature version of Mom.” Lavinia turned around squinting her eyes at her and subtly flicked her off before disappearing back into the kitchen. Emily smiled, knowing she had gotten on her sister’s last nerve. “Ahh, there she is!”
Begrudgingly, Emily made her way to the porch finding the clothes waiting for her in a bucket of water. She dragged them towards the lines and started hanging them. It was one of the better chores, if such a thing could be said. She would much rather be outside content by herself, then be forced to cook dinner for men who were likely never going to appreciate it like they should. At least outside, she could let her mind wander to what happened in the far expenses beyond this town. Things she may never experience, things she could probably never imagine. All just beyond her reach.
As she hung the clothes, Emily got lost amongst her imagination. The petticoat she about to hang on the line got pushed out of her hand. Sue peeped over the side, her eyes twinkling with excitement.
“Dear god,” Emily said, flinching. Sue giggled, as she playfully got swatted by one of Austin’s shirts that Emily held in her hand. She smiled at Sue, for a moment before covering her face with the shirt. Sue was way too excited at the fact that she actually scared her best friend half to death. “Are you happy you almost gave me a heart attack?”
It wasn’t just that Sue surprised her out of nowhere, in fact, she almost gave Emily a heart attack by just standing there, inches away from her. She loved Sue more than any other person in the world, she loved the way she could understand her in a way no one else did. There was no need to try between them, they clicked, they were just themselves. And that’s why it absolutely freaked her out that she was starting to feel things she hadn’t before…
“So, I guess you’re not happy to see me then?” Sue said, smiling from ear to ear.
“I didn’t say that,” Emily said, trying to focus on hanging the clothes so she didn’t have to look Sue in the eyes before she was ready. “I just didn’t know you were coming over today.”
Sue grabbed some clothes out of the bucket and began helping Emily hang the rest of the clothes. “Well, I wanted to see you before you left…” Sue said, hanging on her words as to not make it too obvious that she would miss Emily while she was gone.
“But you're leaving too.” Emily said. They met in the middle, attempting to hang the garments in their hands on the same set of clothespins. Sue met Emily’s eyes, their fingers touched. “Well, I just thought you’d be too busy to even…” Emily blushed, pulling away, moving to the other line.
“That doesn’t mean I won’t miss you while you’re gone…” Sue said, trying to muster up a smile. She looked intently at Emily, who kept failing to meet her eyes. “Em, are youー” Mrs. Dickinson called Sue’s name from the porch, waving her inside. She waved back, gesturing that she’d be right there. “Your mom offered to make me some dinner tonight for my family.” Her eyes lowered to the ground, “My sister isn’t doing so well…”
Emily stopped, her breath caught in her throat. She tried to find the right words to say. Sue’s family was beginning to get smaller as the months slowly dragged by. It was a miracle that she herself hadn’t gotten sick, and honestly Emily didn’t even want to think of the possibility of that happening. She couldn’t lose Sue.
Emily walked back over to her line, wanting to take her hand. “Sue, Iー” she said. The words just weren’t forming. It was so heartbreaking to see her best friend in so much pain, knowing there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do to help.
Sue shook her head, as if to shake out all the thoughts that were impeding on her ability to focus. Emily could tell she was trying to hold back the tears. “No, it’s fine…” She managed, her breath wavered. “The medicine we are going to go get should help...” Sue gulped, hurriedly hanging the clothes in her hand. Emily knew Sue was doing her best to convince herself of that fact, but she was losing. She met Emily’s eyes for a moment and then looked away. “Your mom is calling me, I better go inside.” And with that she was gone.
Emily hung the rest of the clothes along, taking her time. She contemplated what she could even say about Sue’s current situation. Death had always been something Emily was fascinated by, she dreamed about it more often than she would like to admit. It was a fantasy of the unknown. A feeling that perhaps if she wasn’t meant to be here, if she didn’t fit in this society, maybe she would find solace in death and whatever plans he had for her.
Sue entered the house through the back door. Before she entered the kitchen, clamoring with Mrs. Dickinson and Lavinia, she took a moment by herself to breathe. She hid just outside of the door frame with her back against the wall. She let the tears spill down her cheeks, as she did her best to control her breathing, and she scrunched her dress in her hands in frustration.
She could hear Lavinia coming toward her from inside of the kitchen, and quickly she wiped the tears from her face, praying to God that her eyes weren’t red.
“Sue?” Lavinia asked, rounding the corner with a mixing bowl in her hands. “There you are, I thought I heard you come in.” She glanced at her demeanor. Her body language was giving her away, easily. “Come in, we’re just about to get the bread in the oven.” Lavinia said, a slight smile gracing her lips. Sue obliged.
Mrs. Dickinson was more than happy to see her. She seemed to always have a liking for Sue, she was like the mother she never had. And while she appreciated her love, Mrs. Dickinson tended to be a bit dramatic and tended to dive into things she didn’t need to. While she always seemed to jump from topic to topic when cooking, her naturally inquisitive nature didn’t help her ease Sue’s nerves. The woman just couldn’t help herself. It clearly annoyed Lavinia, considering with the consent rolls of her eyes. But despite all of the gossip, it was nice to see her. She was in good spirits, as always. Sue didn’t quite understand it, but it was so much better than being at home. That house was filled with nothing but sadness these days, and when she was here, her guard came down just a little.
“Well,” Mrs. Dickinson said, wiping her fingers on her apron, “if you’ll please excuse me. I have to go ask Mr. Dickinson a question about dinner this evening.” She patted Sue on the shoulder, who had ended up helping, and then left.
“God, I am so sorry.” Lavinia said, as she peeled some potatoes.
“For what?” Sue asked.
“My mother doesn’t know how to mind her own business sometimes.” Lavinia said, “I know it can’t be easy to talk about.” She sighed. “Sometimes, she just forgets people have their own feelings too.”
“Ahh,” Sue chuckled out of nervousness, “It’s okay…”
“She’s a little like Emily in that way I guess. Em, forgets sometimes, she’s always lost in her own little world. But she always means well.” Lavinia said, trying to make sense of it all. Before Sue could respond, Lavinia said, “Speaking of Emily, did you get to talk to her yet?”
There she was, apologizing for her mother's questions, when she came back with her own. It amused Sue how alike Mrs. Dickinson’s daughters were to her, even when they were drastically different.
“Yes, actually. I saw her out back.” Lavinia nodded, but it seemed as if she was waiting for Sue to say something else. “Why do you ask?”
Lavinia shrugged, wiggling in place. “Oh, no reason.” She said, with a slight smile. “It’s just she yelled at me the other day forー”
Before Lavinia could finish, Austin’s voice rang through the corridor. “Vinnie!” He yelled, laughing a little bit, slowly trailing off from someone waiting for him. “Vinnie!”
Lavinia yelled from the kitchen rolling her eyes. “I am in here!” She mouthed apologies to Sue for practically screaming in her ear.
“Vinー” He said, before peeping his head around the corner.
“What do you want Austin?” She sighed, waiting for him to respond.
Austin swung the rest of his body around the frame, walking into the kitchen to check out what the girls were cooking. “ What are we making for dinner?” He rubbed his stomach.
Lavinia scoffed. “Oh, like you even care?”
Austin played as if he was offended. He scooted right beside Lavinia, getting in her way as she tried to concentrate on preparing the meal. “Of course I care!”
She swatted his face, to which he smiled and nudged her in the arm. She then held up the knife in her hands, throwing him a threatening look. “I will use this.”
“ Vinnie ,” He said, in a condescending tone. “Not in front of our guest!” He looked at Sue, who was quietly trying to shrink herself amongst the brotherly-sister arguments.
Lavinia squinted her eyes at him, and pushed him out of her way. He pretended to be hurt, but obliged. Then he eyed the fruit on the table, grabbing an apple, wiping it with his shirt, and taking a bite.
“Get out of my kitchen!” Lavinia said. She angrily chopped the potatoes. “No one wants your stupid stench all over the food.”
Truly, Austin looked like he had been out in the sun all day. Sweat was dripping from his forehead and he smelled like a mixture of sweat and grass. It was hard to believe that he spent some of his time studying, considering the amount of friends that he had around town. The boys loved to flock in groups, trying to impress girls any chance they got. Of course, it was often the girls with money that they were interested in. So virtually Sue got none of it, and honestly, that was perfectly fine with her. She didn’t find much interest in them anyway.
“It’s not your kitchen Vinnie.” He protested. Lavinia gave him a knowing stare, telling him to stop. He did after all, but he couldn’t help but get on her nerves first. “I just wanted to let you and mom know I am going out. The boys are going somewhere and I am joining them.”
Lavinia sighed, shaking her head. “Just make sure you make it home before dinner.”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Lavinia threw him a look. “I will,” He said, in between chewing his apple. “I promise.” He looked over at Sue, realizing he hadn’t addressed her yet. “My apologies Sue. I didn’t mean to interrupt you both so abruptly.”
Lavinia knew he was playing nice for her. “Okay, you can leave now!” She said, gesturing toward the exit.
“It’s alright Austin.” Sue said. Her head bowed as if to not make eye contact.
“I hope you’re doing alright.” He said, trying to meet her eyes. He did his best to ignore Lavinia’s burning gaze. He smiled, “It’s nice to see you around here.”
“Thank you,” she said as she finished cutting the vegetables, “It’s always nice to be here. Considering everything…”
Austin knew that he touched a nerve. He didn’t mean to, but sometimes it just came out that way. He didn’t quite understand it, why Sue never seemed to show any interest in him. In truth, it bothered him a little bit that he wasn’t able to get to her, like he had so easily gotten to so many other girls. But the way he always seemed to say the wrong things around her, it was no wonder; at least that’s how he felt anyway. Sue had an aura around her like few girls around town did. She was one of the ones who were engulfed in intellect so much that little seemed to matter to them outside of their own minds, even in regards to love. A lot like Emily he supposed. He grimaced. But his little sister was far more annoying than Sue could ever be. Sue had this calming presence that Emily didn’t, and it far more intrigued him than his rambunctious sister.
He felt Lavinia’s gaze on him, burning his face. Looking up at her, her eyebrows suggested that she leave. He looked back at Sue, who still wouldn’t really meet his eyes, and scrunched his mouth into a frown. He gained his composure, took another bite of his apple and then he excused himself, sauntering out to meet his friend.
Just as the girls finished up making dinner. Emily trudged in with the bucket behind her, probably making more clatter than necessary. She could hear Lavinia talking Sue’s ear off, about what she didn’t know, but it made her smile a little knowing her sister enjoyed talking to her friend. Of course she would never admit that to her, but the sentiment was sweet.
“Vinnie,” Emily said, appearing in the doorway, her face beading with sweat. She let off a half smile, and sighed as one dramatically did. The girls looked her way. A little smile graced Sue’s lips. “I finished. Finally.”
Lavinia finished packing away Sue’s food into her containers, placing them in a tote bag. “You had some fun huh?” she said, with a smirk. Emily squinted her eyes at her sister, ready to come back with a sarcastic remark if only Sue wasn’t there. Her presence was still making her feel a little queasy.
“Just give me some water please.” Lavinia crossed the counters. She grabbed Emily a glass and poured her some water. “Why, why is it so humid out there?”
Lavinia shrugged, “Well you know you could have just made dinner instead?” She handed the glass to Emily, who gulped it down at an unearthly rate. Lavinia just shook her head.
“Nope,” Emily said into the glass, getting the last drop. She sighed into it, her breath fogging up the glass, “Not in a million years.”
“Well, I better get going,” Sue said from across the room, “It’s getting later by the second.”
“Wait!” Both girls said with wide eyes. Emily’s fingers pat against the counter with nervousness, and Lavinia threw her a look.
Lavinia smiled, trying to make conversation with Sue to cut through Emily being extremely awkward. She handed Sue her bag of food and then Sue turned away from them to gather anything else she might need. As soon as she did, Emily silently bothered her sister for more water. As Lavinia poured the water, the two sisters exchanged a look in which one was trying to tell the other to do something, now. They argued in silence for a few moments. As soon as Sue turned back around to say her goodbye’s Emily stopped her.
“Sue, can I...talk to you for a second,” Emily said, hurried before taking a sip of her water. “Just right out here in the hall.”
Sue, surprised a little, nodded and obliged. She walked out before Emily. Lavinia pushed Emily to follow quickly behind even though she resisted more and more. Soon enough though, she got her sister out of the doorway.
Emily met her at the backdoor. They stood between the wall and the staircase. To Emily it seemed so much closer than normal. Her heart was beating so fast, she could swear that Sue could hear it. She held her glass in both hands, feeling the sweat percolate in between and all she knew was she better not drop it. But at least she had something to focus on instead of her heartbeat and the churning feeling in her stomach.
“What is it Emily?” Sue said softly, the worry just barely peeking out in her voice. Her hand brushed back the little bit of hair that was falling in Emily’s face. “What’s wrong?”
As Sue’s fingers brushed back her hair, she could feel the tips of her fingers grace her skin. They were so soft and delicate. She could feel the heat in her cheeks rise, and thankfully she was already sweating so the added sweat didn’t make it more obvious.
“Don’t take a bath.” Emily blurted out, her eyes growing wide moments after. Sue’s eyebrows furrowed, and she looked at Emily as if she had possibly gotten a heatstroke, even all the way this far north. She wouldn’t have doubted it. It would happen to Emily, of all people. Emily’s let out a cheesy smile, crinkling her face, stifling her nervous laughter. “I just mean,” Emily whispered, “come with me to the lake tonight.”
Sue looked a little unsure, her eyes made sure no one was around to hear those words. She was deathly afraid of getting caught sneaking out, especially if she was to get Emily in trouble. Emily’s family had been so kind and welcoming, and if they knew that she encouraged this kind of behavior, she was afraid to lose what amiability she had with them. Sue hesitantly turned her head away from Emily.
“ Please Sue.” She begged as she mustered enough bravery to put a hand on her shoulder. Sue looked at her with those sad yet beautiful brown eyes. It was hard for Emily to breathe when those eyes met hers. And even amongst her nerves, it was like those eyes held a calmness that she yearned for. “Please, for me .”
Sue bit the inside of her lip, shaking her head a little trying to hold back a smile. “Only,” She said, her voice becoming more stern. The kind of way Emily didn’t get to hear all too much, but she loved more than anything. “Because we’re both leaving tomorrow.”
Emily jumped up and down, smiling from ear to ear, almost forgetting she had a glass of water in her hand. She wrapped her arms around Sue in excitement consumed by feelings of happiness, before her nerves came back, realizing how close their bodies were. The realization caught Emily off guard and she tried not to show it as she pulled away.
“Thank you! Thank you!” Emily said, trying her best to keep her voice down.
“Then I will see you later.” Sue said, smiling sweetly as she tried her best to hide her excitement for fear that Emily would take it and run around the house with it, revealing their secret plans. “Bye, Em.”
Emily watched her leave, her heart melting a little bit from the interaction. There was a longing smile stuck on her face. She was stuck in a trance before her mother, who was setting up the dinner table, called her name from the dining room.
She turned around at the sound of her mother’s voice trying to compose herself. Her sister, peeking out from the kitchen, stared at her waiting for her to say something. Emily cleared her throat shaking her head, but her sister wouldn’t take that for an answer.
“I am coming!” Emily said, in a high tone, trying to be on her best behavior.
As she started toward the dining room, her sister grabbed her arm and pulled her in so close that she couldn’t look away.
“Tell me what happened?”
Emily tried to keep a serious face as she looked around making sure no one could hear them.
“Nothing.” Emily said, “Not yet anyway…”
The smile that grew across Lavinia’s face was one of the biggest she had ever seen. Honestly, it kind of scared her. But Emily couldn’t help but smile back. Lavinia squealed, squeezing onto Emily’s arm way too tight.
“I just have so manyー” Lavinia started, before she was cut off by their mother.
“Emily,” Mrs. Dickinson scolded, “I have been calling you for hours now.” Cue the dramatics. The girls just stared plainly at her. Lavinia pushed Emily away so as not to seem like they were conspiring about anything. Their mother raised an eyebrow. “What are you two so excited about?”
“Nothing.” The girl’s said in unison, subsequently making them squint at each other.
Mrs. Dickinson looked at them curiously. “Well, it’s about time to serve dinner. Both of you go wash up.”
They both nodded and ran up the stairs, Lavinia trailing just behind Emily. They made their way into the bathroom and Emily rushed to the sink first. She splashed water on her face, rinsing off the sweat.
“How could you have not told her yet?” Lavinia said, crossing her arms. Emily just mumbled in between the splashes on her face. “I mean, when are you gonna do it? When you get back?”
The questions just kept coming. “Why didn’t you say anything that was the perfect opportunity?!”
“Vinnie!” Emily yelled into the towel she was using to dry her face. Her sister got quiet and they switched places. “It’s not that easy…” Emily’s heart was beginning to beat faster all over again at just the mere thought of Sue. She didn’t know exactly how she was going to go through with this. “I am risking so much on this one stupid feeling…” Emily could feel the tears welling up in her eyes as she zoned out.
Lavinia grabbed the towel from her sister’s limp hands, which caused her to look up at her.
“Emily...” Lavinia said, feeling a little awkward noticing her sister’s tears. It wasn’t often they saw each other cry. Their father hated when they expressed any sign of weakness, for it was not right to the good name of Dickinson to be weak. Perhaps that’s why Emily always found solace in her writing.
But these raw emotions were especially surprising from Emily. Lavinia had always seen her as the strongest one in the family. The one that never gave up despite everything. She admired her for it even though she’d never admit it to her face. Seeing her sister in pain broke her down enough to try to gain more understanding, if she would let her.
Emily looked at her sister trying to keep herself from crying. “Vinnie,” She gulped, trying to subside the lump in her throat, “you don’t understand…”
Lavinia scrunched her face and put her hand on her sister’s shoulder. “Then tell me.”
There were a million things Emily wanted to say. Thoughts had mulled over and over in her mind for so long. She had never felt this way about anyone before, it was all too much sometimes. All she could think about was the way that Sue’s presence calmed her, and how her laugh made her feel like a million butterflies were flying around in her stomach. Sue was her best friend, her only friend for so long. And she was about to risk it by blurting out some stupid feelings?
But no one could understand her like she did, no one made her feel things she couldn’t explain no matter how hard she tried. The thing was, this wasn’t just a boy, like Lavinia had understood it. It was a girl, a woman in all aspects of the word. And Emily could not fathom, for the life of her, why it had to be her? Couldn’t she be normal for once and just fall in love with a man like all of the other girls? Life would be so much easier.
“She is a...woman, Vinnie.” Emily said strained, as if she could barely get those words out. “I am not supposed to be in love with a woman. I just can’t…” Emily swallowed hard, and bowed her head, “I am a disgrace…”
The realization hit her, Lavinia’s face fell. She took her sister’s hand. “Emily, you are not a disgrace.” Lavinia was trying to find the right words to say. She could wrap her head around the fact that her sister ever felt that way. How could she? She was everything she ever wanted to be. Emily sniffled and wiped the tears now trickling down her face.
“But why did I choose her?” Emily said, trying to meet her sister’s eyes. “Why does it have to be her?”
“You didn’t choose her Em.” Lavinia said, wiping the tears from her sister’s chin. “You fell in love with a person.” She shrugged one shoulder. “Your heart knows no boundaries.” Her sister’s face wasn’t lightening up. She sighed, “Why does it matter if she is a woman? You love her and that’s all that matters.”
Emily looked her sister in the eyes. She was so sincere and honest. It was refreshing considering how they argued all of the time. Emily let out a nervous chuckle. “When did you get so wise?” she asked.
“I learned from the best.” Lavinia said, smiling at her sister.
Emily squished her sister’s hand. “I wish everyone saw it the way you do.” she said, pausing as she let her thoughts take her over again. “Even myself…”
“Hey,” Lavinia said, snapping her out of her thoughts, “You have more important things to worry about. Now that we know you are going to tell her.” Lavinia said, impatience finding its way out in her voice, “How are you gonna do it?”
Emily shook her head, wiping her tears and smirking at her sister’s nosiness. “The lake. That’s all I am going to tell you.” She patted her sister on the shoulder and left her to trail behind her as they walked back down to dinner.
“For now, right?!” Lavinia yelled after her, “Emily, I swear to God.”
Emily carried herself down the stairs holding back laughter. And trailing behind her she heard her sister let out a frustrated groan, stomping down the stairs.
The girls sat on the edge of the little pier at the lake. Their feet dangled off the edge as their toes sloshed around in the water. It was still slightly warm from the sun beating down on it all day. As they sat and talked, now and then little fish came by nipping at their toes. They erupted in laughter at the tingling feelings. The humidity surrounding the lake was heavy, leaving their skin sticky and faces shiny. Crickets chirped around them, but besides that, they were the only two out amongst the moonlight. No family, no sickness, no worries, no sorrow. Out here amongst the trees, nothing else mattered, it was just the two of them.
After all their small talk, a moment of silence approached them. They were both quiet waiting for the other to say something.
“I am going to miss you too.” Emily said looking down at her toes in the water. Sue looked over at her, wanting to reach out to her, but she restrained herself. “I can’t believe they are sending me to that god awful place.” Her face fell, her hands started fidgeting with her dress.
Sue bit her lip, contemplating what to say. “It’s going to be okay Em.” She said, even though she really wasn’t sure. “I am sure it will be nothing. I mean it’s a religious school yes, but maybe that will be a good thing?” Sue could feel the knots in her stomach too, she didn’t know how to feel about the workings of the seminary either.
Emily sighed, looking down into the lake as a little fish swam away from her. “Is it?”
“Iー” Sue ran her fingers through her shoulder length hair, “I don’t know…”
“Sue, I just feel like they’re just going to try to change me.” Emily said, finally meeting Sue’s eyes. “Like I am not going to be good enough for them. What if they think something is wrong with me?” She looked right into Sue’s eyes, like she wanted to say more but didn’t. Emily could feel her heart racing, making it slightly harder to breathe. She turned her head away again. “All my parent’s want them to do is
help me find God
.” She said, mocking them. “I am not even sure there is even one out there.” She sighed, scrunching her face. She looked up at the stars. “I mean if there is, look at what He has done to your family...”
That comment hit Sue more than she thought it would. She had never really thought about it that way. In fact she just figured there had to be a reason behind it all, because otherwise it meant that she lost her sisters and her mother, for nothing. “There has to be something out there…” she said.
Emily seemed lost in thought, far away from the reality that Sue was in at the moment. “But then why would He allow so much suffering in the world? So much suffering in our minds?” The thoughts coming out of her mouth seemed to have a mind of their own.
Now Sue was fiddling with her own dress. A lump in her throat was beginning to form, she tried to steady her breathing. She swallowed hard, and then said “My family has to be in heaven…” she looked up at the moon, turning away from Emily just in case any tears decided to find their way out. “That is the only way I am ever going to see them again.”
As she came back down to earth, Emily noticed her friend go quiet. Damn it, Emily. She reached out to touch her shoulder, “Sue…I am sorry I didn’t mean toー”
“It’s fine,” She said, sniffling and wiping her tears with the skirt of her dress. “I don’t like to talk about it much anyway.” She said, glancing at Emily through the tears. “It’s just with you, it’s different.” She threw her a slight smile, and Emily rubbed the hand on her shoulder. “With you I can be myself…”
Emily felt tingles at the tips of her fingers. She drew her hand back, smiling back at Sue and then she dipped her head down not knowing what else to say. “I know what you mean…”
After wiping her tears, Sue chuckled and said, “I saw your brother today.”
“My brother?” She scoffed, “Why would you interrupt such a beautiful peaceful night with thoughts like my brother?”
Sue knew she could bring out some sort of reaction from Emily. If nothing else but to break the tension and to move away from thinking about her family. “I don’t know…”
“God,” Emily said, dragging her hands down her face. She chuckled at her own irony. “I pray for the poor soul that is going to have to marry that abomination. I mean can you imagine!”
“I honestly just don’t understand men sometimes.” Sue said, shaking her head giggling.
She was joking of course, but all in all, she didn’t care for them much. They seemed so scattered, so foolish, so senseless. They could never be like Emily. If there was anything her lack of money could do for it, it was keeping them away, and for that she was grateful. She didn’t really want anyone else’s attention but Emily’s, because no one would even come close to her. Simple moments like these, on the lake, side by side, it was all she really needed to feel alive.
“Sometimes?!” Emily yelled. “Pfft, they’re always like, ‘you must admire my exquisite mustache.’” She began making googly eyes at Sue, wiggling her eyebrows way too much. “Look at me in my fine tailored suit and this indubitable top hat.”
“You are being ridiculous.” Sue said, trying to hold a straight face. But she was failing miserably. “Stop it!”
“But oh dear Susie, you must find me attractive . I have been longing for you for years…” Emily was playing it up so much and it was undeniably fun to mess with her. But it was also easier to face the feelings in her chest that were still very present. “Please my poor soul cannot bear the thought of being without you. ”
“Emily,” Sue said, moving her face away from the very persistent girl right in front of her. Emily kept making kissing sounds, getting closer and closer to her. Sue just scrunched her nose and kept trying not to laugh. “Stop it!”
Emily looked at her with mischief twinkling in her eyes. “ Never!” She began to tickle her, knowing all of the best places. Sue kept trying to tell her to stop but she wasn’t letting up. Before she knew it, Emily plunged into the water below them. The shock of the impact hit her and she screamed “Oh my god!” just before she went under. Sue covered her mouth in shock, stifling back laughter. Emily came back up. “You pushed me! How dare you!”
Sue started giggling at the smirky stare Emily was giving her. Sue put her hand over her heart, as if she was in despair. “You must forgive me sir!”
“If but only for a kiss.” Emily said, the façade was beginning to wear off, but there was no turning back now. She swam over as Sue knelt down in front of her reaching out a hand for her to kiss. But before she knew it, she pulled her in, and she too was drenched. “Ha! That’s what you get!”
Sue came up gasping for air, wiping the water from her eyes. “I can’t believe you!” She ran her fingers through her hair. She pursed her lips together in a smirk that she was trying to hide. “Emily we’re going to be in so much trouble.”
Emily laughed and said, “Hey you threw me in here first.”
“I did not throw you in here.” Sue said, rolling her eyes.
“Too bad, now you gotta kiss my cheek!” Emily said, closing her eyes and turning her cheek toward Sue, and smiling as if she was proud. “I hope you know we’re staying in here until you do.”
“Emily, we are going to be in so much trouble.” She said, admiring Emily as the water glistened off of her skin.
“Ehh.” Emily said with a shrug. “I am waiting, Susie !”
“Oh are you now?” Sue said, her eyes moved down to Emily’s lips.
Sue swam in closer to her and this time it was her heart that was beating out of her chest. For what felt like hours, she moved closer and closer to Emily, deciding if this was the right thing to do. But in this moment, there was nothing more that she wanted. So she brushed her fingers against her cheek, and before Emily could protest, she pressed her lips to hers.
For a moment, it made Sue feel the most alive she had ever felt. It was like electricity was running through her body, all the way to the fingertips that grazed Emily’s skin. They fumbled through the kisses, but she didn’t even care. Emily was her air, and finally she was able to breathe. Sue held her face, thumbing against her jaw, feeling her lips get pressed in between hers. And with every kiss, Emily dared to pull her hips in closer, like their closeness was never enough.
Emily broke the kiss for a moment, breathing in steadily. She looked into her eyes, a little bit worried. “Sue, Iー”
“Shh,” Sue said, her lips grazing Emily’s again, “Just kiss me...”
The whole way back to the Dickinson residence, the girls walked side by side with their fingers interlocked. They didn’t know what else to say after all that kissing, but they kept looking over at each other laughing a little bit and nudging each other as they walked.
When they arrived at the house, it was dark except for a single lantern in the front room, which was normal. No one should have been awake at this time, so it would be perfectly fine for them to sneak in as long as they were quiet.
“We have to go through the back.” Emily said, releasing Sue’s hand and running before her to the back door.
“Emily I feel bad…” Sue trailed behind looking worried, as she wrung her hands together.
“No one is going to know don’t worry…” Emily looked through the window from the kitchen looking out to the back yard. Then she moved the rock that she left in the doorway just enough to keep the door unlocked while she was gone. She grabbed Sue’s hand and led her inside.
“Of course not…” Sue whispered, bowing her head anxiously stepping inside after Emily.
Sue gently closed the door behind them and they tiptoed trying to make their way around to the front of the stairs. But before they could make it, footsteps sounded from the front room. They instantly let each other’s hands go.
“Where have you been?” Mrs. Dickinson asked, her tone sharp. She crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow at the girls and their soaking wet clothes.
Emily stopped in her tracks and didn’t meet her mother’s eyes. “Nowhere…”
Her mother scoffed and shifted her weight onto one leg. Sue was also silent, biting her lip just staring at the ground.
“Sue?” Mrs. Dickinson asked.
“We...were at the lake Mrs. Dickinson.” Sue mumbled, finally meeting her eyes and then averting her gaze to Emily who looked a little bit defeated.
“Mhmm,” Mrs. Dickinson said, observing the water dripping from their dresses. “That’s why you are both soaking wet.”
Mr. Dickinson came out from his office swirling a glass of whiskey in his hand. “Emily,” He said, sounding much more disappointed than he needed to be. “How could you be so irresponsible?”
“Dad!” Emily said, cringing. “Well, you see, I didn’t intend to get in the lake. We justー It just kind of happened.” Kind of like how that kiss happened , she thought and a smirk made its way to the corner of her mouth.
“Oh come on Emily.” Her father said, snapping her out of her thoughts and wiping that smirk off of her face. Sue shrunk into herself when she noticed his voice get a little louder. “I expected you to come up with a better excuse than that.” He said, sipping whiskey from his glass.
Mrs. Dickinson looked over at her husband and then at Sue. “Sue, honey, go ahead and wash up upstairs.” She put a hand on her shoulder, maneuvering her around Emily and up the stairs. “You’re more than welcome to stay over.” Sue made her way up slowly. “I just wish Emily had told us first.” She glared at her daughter.
“I’ll see you soon.” Sue said, meeting Emily’s eyes with sincerity.
“If they don’t kill me first…” She whispered, but still loud enough for her parents to hear.
Mr. Dickinson sighed and grumbled to himself as he stood in the doorway next to her. He ran his hand over his face. “What makes you think you can just leave the house without permission?” He said, meeting her eyes. Emily tried to calm her quickening heartbeat and hide the little trembling that her fingers were giving off.
“We were worried sick that you might have gotten kidnapped or something.” Her mother said, in a stern yet partially concerned voice.
“Please mom,” Emily scoffed, trying to calm her nerves. “No one would want to kidnap me.” She rolled her eyes just slightly.
“Emily.” Mr. Dickinson said, hitting his fist against the door frame. “Don’t talk to your mother that way.”
Lavinia was awake in her room knitting and had begun eavesdropping on the conversation down stairs. Her father’s bang on the wall alarmed her. As soon as Sue made her way into the bathroom, she double checked to make sure Austin was asleep before heading to the stairs.
“All I am saying is I don’t understand what the big deal is.” She raised her shaky arms in the air, hoping they wouldn’t notice. “Austin gets to go out on his own.”
“This isn’t about Austin.” He said sternly. “This is about you!”
Lavinia finally met the railing at the top of the stairs, hiding herself far enough in the shadows so no one could see her.
“Why, why is it always about me?” She said, folding her arms back into herself. “Why am I never allowed to leave this...this damned house.”
Emily knew that her use of the word would send her father over the edge, but she was too frustrated to even care.
“I provide this roof over your head,” he said sternly, slamming his cup down on the bookshelf next to him, “and you’re ashamed of it?”
Emily huffed, “That’s not what I am saying!” She looked at both of her parents desperately. “Are you even listening to the words coming out of my mouth?”
“Loud and clear Emily.” Her father said, shaking his head at her.
“I just want to leave every once and awhile.” The desperation made her voice crack, but she begged her body to keep it together. “I have no choice but to sneak out behind your backs!”
“This is exactly why we are sending you to that seminary.” Her father said, “Perhaps they will teach you to mind your parents, as God asks.”
“You are both beingー” Emily began.
“Emily,” Mrs. Dickinson said, cutting off her daughter before she could make her husband even more upset. “You’re still too young to leave by yourself.”
“That’s your excuse mom? Really?” Emily shook her head. “I wasn’t even alone!”
“She’s right.” Mr. Dickinson said, going back into his office to refill his glass.
“You’re just trying to justify your actions with stuff that is irrelevant.” She gestured over to her father, “You’re sending me away! This isn’t about my age, this is about you guys trying to control how I act, what I think.”
“Emily…” Mrs. Dickinson said, trying to calm her daughter down.
Emily faced her mother. “No you want to send me away to that school so I can be your perfect little daughter who does as she is told.” Then she turned back to her father. “You don’t let me read if you can help it. You both pretend not to hear me for your own benefit and never once care to ask me what I want.” Both of them fell silent. “You don’t do that for Austin.” The tears were begging to come out of her eyes, but she held them in. “I know you want a perfect eldest daughter, but I am sorry I am not her .”
Mrs. Dickinson reached out for Emily’s shoulder. “Emily,” she sighed, “Please just go take a bath sweetheart...”
Emily pulled her shoulder away and looked her mother in the eyes. “You might find that in Vinnie, but not me mom.” Mrs. Dickinson pursed her lips before opening her mouth about to say something but Emily cut her off. “But only if she wants it.” She lowered her voice, not knowing that Lavinia was atop the stairs, but so that couldn’t hear her no matter how hard she tried. Her voice was getting weak. “That girl is better than anyone else in this house. You are not going to control her like you control me, I will make sure of it.” Emily left her parents stunned, and started up the stairs.
Lavinia ran back to her room barely shutting the door before Emily noticed she’d been eavesdropping.
Unruly tears run down Emily’s warm cheeks. Aggressively she swiped them away, but they just kept coming. With tears blurring her vision, her shoe caught the edge of the stair at the top of the staircase and she stumbled over it yelling in frustration. She made her way to the door of the bathroom to wait for Sue to finish, and slumped down right outside of it. There was no more controlling her tears, so she let them go, quietly sobbing into her hands.
Sue lit the lamp on Emily’s desk, one of Emily’s extra robes draped around her. She walked around Emily’s room while she was bathing, examining her small bookshelf, her perfectly made bed. Then she struck a match, lit the fireplace, and sat on the rocking chair. The house was so quiet, and she hadn’t realized how much the coughing at her own house, somehow kept her company. But she was here, it was okay, she was in Emily’s room.
Her room always felt like a safe haven, or like some sort of alternate universe, where time tended to stand still. It was her space with Emily. Where they spent their younger days playing in their make believe worlds against the light of the fire. The worlds that Emily had made in that mind of hers. Where, in the times before things got hectic in Sue’s household, they would spend time reading and writing poetry. She smiled at the thought of Emily reading something, and suddenly out of nowhere came an epiphany of words. She was always amazed by the dazzling look in her eyes, as if her brain was begging for her to put the words on those little scrap pieces of paper before they were gone. As if they were for some purpose other than her own.
When she got into those writing zones, she was filled with so much passion and it was as if light was bursting off of her. Those moments, on those little pieces of paper, Emily bared her soul. There was nothing more beautiful and real and alive than that. Tears welled up in Sue’s eyes, the fire becoming a blurry blob of orange. It was that beautiful energy that had made Sue realize that she was more in love with Emily than she realized before. She put her hand on her heart, and all of a sudden the tears came rolling down her cheeks. She needed her in her life, to remind her that life was still possible, that love was real, that perhaps there was a reason for living on.
She heard Emily’s footsteps coming toward her room. Quickly she wiped the tears from her cheeks, and tried to rearrange herself in a way that looked normal. Maybe she wouldn’t notice she was crying. Emily opened the door with one hand and then pulled in a cot, before she shut the door.
“My mom thought we might need this.” She said. Her voice was gruff, like she was tired.
Sue looked up at her, the sides of her face were covered by her long wet hair. She couldn’t meet her eyes. “Oh, yeah, that’s fine.” Her eyes flicked over to Emily’s bed before they returned to the cot, and she dragged it to the foot of Emily’s bed opening it up. Emily opened her closet and pulled out a small mattress and blanket and set them down.
Emily plopped herself on the bed, her feet dangling off the sides. She wasn’t saying anything, so Sue took it upon herself to sit next to her. She bumped her shoulder to Emily’s. “Hey,” she said, “Is everything okay?” Emily turned her head away slightly, but Sue pulled her chin back towards her to look in her eyes. “Emily?” Her eyes were puffy, and from what she could see in the glow of the fire, they were red.
“Sue,” Emily whispered, choking out the words “We should just go to sleep.”
“What? No...” She looked into her eyes, and then the tears came down Emily’s cheeks. She wiped one away with her thumb. “ Please , tell me what’s wrong...”
“I don’t know how to feel…” Emily said, steadying her breath. “I don’t know how to feel about you…”
Sue caught her breath. “Emily,” she said, her hand grabbing Emily’s, “What are you trying to tell me?”
“I don’t even know,” Emily said, trying to shake the doubt in her own mind. Sue tightened her hand around Emily’s. “I mean of course I love you Sue. You know that. You’re my best friend in the entire world, but I just…” She looked in Sue’s eyes, and then at her lips.
“What?” Sue said, staring intently at her.
“I just, I want to kiss you. I want to kiss you, and kiss you, and keep on kissing you. I want to hold your hand, and hold you in my arms...I want you to be mine.” Emily said, all the words in a hurry, Sue tried to catch them all. “Do you know what I mean?”
“I do.” Sue said, caressing her cheek. She let out a small laugh. “I mean, I was the one who kissed you in the first place.”
Emily blushed, laughing slightly. “Yeah, I guess you do. I just don’t know what that all meant.” She reached for the ends of Sue’s hair, playing with them between her fingers. “I just don’t know how I am supposed to feel. I didn’t even know I could feel this way about someone like you.”
“You mean a woman?” Sue’s eyes shifted down, “I didn’t know either…”
“So you see what I mean,” Emily’s eyes shifted to the Bible on her desk, “What does this mean? That I am going to Hell? That I am a disgrace to my entire family.” She pulled her hand away from Sue’s and stared at the ground. “I am going to that stupid seminary to be this perfect Christian daughter. How am I supposed to know God if I am in love with you? If he won’t accept me for loving you?” She looked into her eyes. “How could he hate me for loving you?”
“I don’t know Em…” Sue said rubbing her thumb along her cheek, “I don’t know what any of this means. All I know is I love you too.” She wanted to tell her how much she made her feel like she was floating, how she swore that they could reach Heaven, reach her family, all by themselves with that feeling alone. “But I don’t care what happens when I die. All I know is I want to live with you in my life.”
Emily looked in Sue’s eyes, they were so intently focused on her. She could feel her touch on her cheek, so soft and cold even with the fireplace burning. Emily tried to feel the weight of all of the words she said, they almost felt like they weren’t real. She had imagined how this might go, a million times over and over in her head, but it would never be as perfect as this moment. The most important person, the one who understood her like no one else, the one who just clicked with her, loved her back. She swallowed before she spoke.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I said I was speechless would you?” Emily said, giving her a little puppy dog face.
Sue smirked a little bit. “No, I wouldn’t.” She said, playfully scolding Emily. “But, if you really have nothing to say…” She said, leaning in towards Emily. “You’re gonna have to kiss me instead.”
Sue’s lips met hers, and they melted together all over again like they did at the lake. But there was something so calm about this one. Their lips, their bodies, their souls, everything was at rest when it was just the two of them, with nothing left unsaid. Not anymore.
Sue pushed herself against Emily, slowly pushing her to lie down on the bed. Emily held her waist, as Sue was on top of her. They both smiled cheekily at each other like they didn’t really know what they were doing but it didn’t matter.
“I love you.” Emily said, completely serious.
“I love you too.” Sue said, smiling sweetly. She went back down to kiss her. “So that means,” she said in between the kisses, “you’re not going to make me sleep on the terrible cot right?”
Emily kissed her again, long and hard and then she smiled, against Sue’s lips. “Absolutely not.” She pulled in her hips towards hers. “I want to hold you right here next to me.”
Sue smiled, “Good, me too…”