“When is Millie coming home?” Kathy asks. Gwen had picked up her sister and mother from the airport a couple of hours ago, and Kathy has not stopped asking for Mildred. Margaret went to take a shower and unpack while Gwen and Kathy are playing with Charlie in the yard.
“You know Kath, I am going to start thinking that Mildred is your favorite sister,” Gwen teases. Kathy has adored Mildred since Gwen first brought her home, and Gwen thinks she was probably unseated as the favorite sister years ago now.
Kathy laughs and shrugs from her spot on the grass where she is giving Charlie a belly rub. “Charlie is my very favorite dog.”
“He’s a good boy,” Gwen agrees. “He’s going to need a walk soon. Do you want to come with me? Mildred won’t be home for a few hours, but this is her last shift before she’s on vacation for two weeks, so I promise you will have lots of time to see her.”
“Ok,” Kathy says, excitedly, “Can I walk him?”
“Absolutely. We can take him to the park and throw the ball to him if you want,” Gwen tells her sister.
Margaret opens the patio door and steps out to the yard. “Feel better?” Gwen asks her mom.
“Yes, thank you, that shower was wonderful.”
“Thanks for coming all the way here to visit us this year.”
Margaret walks over to Gwen and wraps her arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “It is my pleasure, sweetheart.”
“It’s so good to see you, Mom.”
“Mildred,” Betsy calls, “Can you come with me to Dr. Rubin’s office?”
Mildred follows Betsy down the hall towards the psychiatrist’s office. “What’s going on Betsy?”
“There are parents here trying to drop off their teenager because they found her kissing another girl.”
Mildred’s stomach drops. “Dr. Rubin won’t admit a patient for that, will she? I’ve heard her talking about Kinsey’s works and how homosexuality isn’t an illness. Surely she wouldn’t accept a child to this hospital to try to force her to be attracted to boys.”
Betsy stops, grabs Mildred by the arm. It makes Mildred tense to be touched right now. She takes a deep breath. Betsy means well, she’s a friend, would never hurt Mildred. Mildred breathes, reminds herself that she is safe, and tries to forgive her body for still feeling uncomfortable at times being touched by anyone besides Gwen.
“Mildred,” Betsy starts, “We haven’t even gotten that far. Dr. Rubin is just trying to calm the parents down.”
Mildred furrows her brow, isn’t certain what she is meant to do in this situation, but she follows Betsy into the psychiatrist’s office, stomach uneasy, body stiff.
“Nurse Ratched,” Dr. Rubin greets her. Mildred likes her new boss, an middle-aged woman with gray curls, straightforward in her manner but always with compassion for her patients. Mildred respects that about her. “Thank you for joining us.”
Betsy leaves and closes the door behind her. Mildred feels caught off guard to be standing in this room where no one knows that she’s a lesbian, but she knows that this is why Betsy asked her to deal with this patient.
“Nurse Ratched, this is Anne.”
Mildred walks towards the couch where there is a girl sitting with her arms wrapped around herself and trembling. The uncertainty leaves Mildred and all she feels is the desire to offer this child a hug, to make her feel safe. Mildred tries to catch the girl’s eyes to offer a reassuring smile, but she is looking down at her lap. On the other couch are her parents, mother in tears, father looking terribly angry.
“Hello Anne,” Mildred sits on the couch with her. “I’m Mildred, I’m a nurse here.”
Dr. Rubin looks at Mildred, “Would you be able to take Anne for a few minutes so that I can talk with her parents.”
Anne’s father stands up, he’s a tall man, at least six feet tall, and he uses his height to tower over Dr. Rubin who remains seated at her desk. “We do not need to talk anymore. You fix people with mental problems. So, fix our daughter.”
“Mr. Martin, please sit down. There is nothing to fix. Your daughter is fifteen, and that is a perfectly normal age to begin to explore her sexuality.”
Mr. Martin begins pacing the room. “Normal? Doctor, I am starting to think you are the crazy one. I found my daughter kissing another girl. That is not normal.”
Mildred looks at the child beside her, she looks so young and scared. Mildred thinks of Gwen, knows she already understood that she was a lesbian at Anne’s age. “Anne, do you want to come with me, maybe we can get a cup of tea and some cookies?”
“What is wrong with you people,” Mr. Martin yells, “My daughter does not need cookies. I brought her here for treatment for a mental illness. If you can’t fix her then I don’t care what happens to her. But she can never come back to my house.”
Anne’s mother sobs loudly then, causing Anne to look up. It is then that Mildred notices the bruising on the side of her face, knows her father must have hit her. Mildred is suddenly boiling with rage. How dare that man lay a hand on his daughter.
“Mommy,” Anne ventures, her voice sounds so timid. “Mommy please.”
The woman just shakes her head and keeps crying.
“Mom,” Anne tries one more time, Mildred’s eyes burn, but she can’t let herself cry here.
Anne’s mother shakes her head, “You heard your father.” She looks at her daughter. “When you change you can come home. I want you to come home, but not like this.”
“Mrs. Martin,” Dr. Rubin tries, “I would like to talk to you about this further. There is new evidence that being attracted to someone of the same sex is actually very common.”
“We do not care if this is common,” Mr. Martin says. “Come on,” he grabs his wife’s hand and pulls her towards the door. “It is wrong. And Anne, do not come back to our house unless you have changed.”
Mildred jumps as the door slams loudly. And then she’s in an office with her employer and with a now crying teenager who has just been thrown away by her family. Mildred’s chest aches and she wants to hug this girl and rock her in her arms and tell her that she is not sick or wrong and that she is safe. Mildred has never felt this before; she is not maternal, does not much care for children, certainly never wanted her own. “Anne, sweetheart,” Mildred says, does not want to touch her unless she wants that, certainly not after her own father hurt her. “Dr. Rubin and I are going to make sure that you’re safe now.”
Anne looks up at Mildred. “I know what you do to people like me in mental hospitals.”
“There is nothing wrong with you,” Mildred says, Anne holds her gaze, eyes wide and hopeful. Mildred smiles at her. Mildred knows that saying this in front of her boss might exposure her, might lead to her losing her job. But this young woman is at a turning point in her life, and that is far more important. “Being attracted to other women isn’t wrong, and you do not need to be fixed.”
Anne’s eyes fill with tears again, and she’s crying harder, and Mildred thinks that maybe these tears are tears of relief. “Are you going to keep me here?”
Dr. Rubin is walking over to them, sitting on the couch next to Mildred. “No, this is not something that you need a psychiatric hospital for. Just like Nurse Ratched said, this isn’t something to be fixed. It is just how some people are.”
Mildred relaxes a bit, thinks that Deborah Rubin might prove to be a safe person to know about Mildred’s own sexuality.
“Where am I going to go?” Anne asks, looking afraid.
“We will figure that out,” Dr. Rubin says, “You can stay here and be safe until we do.”
“Dr. Rubin,” Mildred says, “Could I have a word outside just for a brief moment.”
“Of course. Anne, we will be right back.”
The girl nods, and Mildred looks back at her as they walk from the room. She looks afraid in the way that Mildred can remember being when she was about to go to a new foster home.
“I can take her for now,” Mildred says, as soon as she and Dr. Rubin are in the next room. “This is a frightening place for a child, and I know from personal experience that foster homes are often not safe places. That girl deserves to be somewhere she can feel safe right now. I would just need to call my roommate,” Mildred chokes on the word, feels so angry in this moment that she should have to hide the very best part of her life.
Dr. Rubin smiles kindly. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but is she truly just a roommate?”
Mildred breathes. “No, but I promise you that Anne would be safe with us.”
Dr. Rubin looks upset for a moment. “Of course, I didn’t think otherwise.” Dr. Rubin reaches out and gives Mildred’s forearm a squeeze. “I think it sounds like a very good idea if you would be able to take Anne. I will go and sit with Anne; you go and call your partner.”
Mildred’s chest aches with that word, and she wonders if the world is changing, if things will get better, if she and Gwen won’t need to hide forever.
Mildred’s heart feels like it will beat out of her chest while the phone rings. She hears Gwen’s voice on the other end, and everything feels a bit more right. “Gwen.”
“Darling, are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m sorry to scare you. I’m fine. Did your mom and Kathy get in safely?”
“They did. What’s happening Mildred. You sound upset.”
“This isn’t really the best time to ask this, since we have a full house already, and the holidays are coming. And I don’t know how you’ll feel.”
“What is it, sweetness?”
“There’s a teenager here. Her parents just dumped her here after they found her kissing another girl, and she has nowhere to go.”
“Oh,” Gwen says, “that’s awful.” Mildred remembers how afraid Gwen had been to tell her mother even as an adult, knows how grateful Gwen is that her mom has been completely accepting. “Of course, she can stay with us.”
“I don’t know how long she’ll need a place to stay,” Mildred says, aching at the idea that this girl she’s only just met could have to go to a foster home.
“No matter how long, it is ok with me. Of course, we will keep her safe, darling. If her family doesn’t accept her, we will give her a family.”
Mildred audibly gasps at that, her whole body feeling overwhelmed with love for Gwen. Of course, her always kind Gwen would find room in her heart and her home for a child she hasn’t even met. “I love you so much Gwendolyn.”
“I love you too darling. This young woman is so lucky that she met you. Are you coming home now, or will it be at the end of your shift? I want to make sure everything is ready for her, so she feels welcome and has a room to herself to sleep.”
“I’m not sure. I haven’t even talked to her yet about it. I wanted to talk to you first.”
“We’ll be here whenever you come home. We just got back from a walk, and Kathy and Charlie are snuggling on the couch. I’m going to enlist my mom’s help to get one of the guest rooms ready.”
“I’m sorry to make your mom and Kathy share a room.”
“They’ll be fine. Don’t worry darling. What’s this girl’s name?”
“We will see you and Anne soon. I love you, Mildred.”
“I love you.”
Mildred hangs up the phone, and as much as her heart is filled with so much love for Gwen, Mildred is afraid. What could Mildred possibly have to offer a child? What does she know about loving a child, has never even experienced maternal love, no less showed it to another person. Mildred is terrified as she walks back to Dr. Rubin’s office. But this child needs a home, needs someone to tell her that she is exactly who she is meant to be, to show her that she doesn’t need to change to find happiness in this world. Maybe this will only be for a few nights, but Mildred doesn’t have much faith in Anne’s parents to change their minds and accept their daughter. So Mildred will figure this out. And she has Gwen, always Gwen, who Mildred already knows will make Anne feel safe and loved. Mildred takes a deep breath and walks back into the office.