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There's Nowhere For Us                Jules Cantu

San Antonio, TX

ISSUE 3 - QUEER LOVE

          Children ran past Claudette, racing with adrenaline through their legs, too close to her own for comfort. They chased after their moms as they held open the doors, the last remanence of the people at the community pool. Claudette’s mother told her to clear the floor. “No pit falls,” she remembers her saying the last time a child ran on the tile and she tried to tell them, but the small “slow down” got caught in her throat. She longed at the retreating figures as they clung to their mothers, the door swinging until their backs could no longer be seen.

          Turning to the pool, a single shadow laid floating, her ears under water not hearing the last call. She was difficult to make out from the distortion of the water, but Claudette thought she vaguely recognized her. She’s someone who frequents the pool, came here everyday since the start of summer break, but she always came alone, intimidating the smaller kids with her tall stature. She would just float in the middle of the pool, like she was doing now, usually leaves before last call, so Claudette was never put in this situation – with her at least. Usually, it would be small kids or teenagers trying to make fun of the girl who still lives with her mom when everyone else in town went to college.

“Excuse me.” Her voice was meek and she knew automatically there was no way she was heard. “H-hello. Excuse me.” That was better – she ignored the stutter – but, still, there was no indication that she was heard. She fussed with the end of her skirt in both frustration and embarrassment. Luckily, the only person who could have made fun of her had her eyes closed.

“Hey!” That got the girls attention. Her eyes open fussily, as if she was woken from a nap and she glanced over at Claudette from the corner of her eye. Dark eyes stared at her for a second too long to be normal, but before Claudette could decipher what was behind those eyes, the girl dipped her head back, her body following like she was a dolphin. She was gone.

         Claudette tried to see where she was going, but there was no way to tell. Stepping closer, trying to get a look into the water, she leaned over the chlorine-filled, clear ripples, but the sun setting behind her filtered through the tall windows, leaving her with less rays. The water calmed after a moment, though Claudette’s stomach had an increasingly uneasy settle, and she almost just wanted to leave.

          Then the girl popped out of the water in front of her, short hair slicked back against her head, water droplets clinging to her eyelashes, dropping down her forehead and cheeks. She put her arms on the ledge, leaning her head on her wrists.

“You’re the boss’ kid right?” Her voice was smooth, and there was some twang Claudette couldn’t place. She found herself leaning forward despite some butterflies loose in her stomach, so she put her hands in front of herself, fiddling with her fingers.

“Or, I guess you’re no kid.” She looked up through her lashes, a tilt in her head, and Claudette couldn’t tell if her eyes were scrutinizing her for a second. But then she smiled, only slightly, but with a warmth the cool air lacked.

          “I need to

          close.”

          “You don’t usually close.” She straightened out, bobbing as her legs kicked under her. “I mean, I see you around from time to time, but the old batty usually closes up, no?”

“My mom. She had something today.” The girl hummed, something in her eyes. But Claudette didn’t think it was something dangerous. She also figured the girl wasn’t getting out anytime soon. Claudette squatted to be closer to the girl, tucking her skirt under her thighs.

“You really like the water huh?” “Yeah. Don’t get a lot of warm water in New York.” Claudette couldn’t help herself being a small town, and she meant one main road kind of town, girl – her interest was piqued.

“What’s a girl from New York doing here in the middle of nowhere?” “Well,” she started slowly, “I used to go to school here. Wanted to see some friends. Idiots are working now. And, I gotta say,” she leaned in, like she had a secret, “this is the nicest pool in town.”

Claudette breathed out a laugh, shaking her head, “We’re the only pool in town.” “Still the nicest. I don’t see you swim a lot, but you’re still here all the time.” “You used to go to school here. When was that?” The girl paused a bit, arched an eyebrow. “Graduated last year.” “That’s when I graduated. I don’t remember you.” There was a shrug, feign of nonchalant filling her eyes and slight smile. “Transferred in senior year. Kept my head down, focused on my grades.” “Still, I don’t even think I remember you from graduation.” “Skipped. Got to New York as soon as I could.” She was gonna ask what was the rush, but that seemed obvious. This girl didn’t belong here, with the most exciting thing around being the son of the market place selling pot behind said store. She looked like she needed more than this little town had to offer.

“I should really close up,” not wanting to waste any more of her time. “I suppose.” She almost sounded reluctant, but maybe it was just that she was alone all day and needed to say something to someone.

          The girl raised herself out of the pool as Claudette took a step back. Her bikini revealed long legs and smooth skin and a tattoo on her thigh and Claudette did her best not to stare. She snapped her gaze up, trying her best to will away a rising blush but she also thought the lowered sun and the significant lack of light in the room would hide it.

          But then she saw the slight smile grow into something too knowing to make Claudette’s stomach stop doing flips.

“I’m Kaila. Friends call me Kai.” She raised her hand, a nice gesture, but then she just noticed her arms looked toned and had smaller tattoos littering the skin and Claudette had never really been interested in tattoos – on herself or others – before, until she saw how beautiful they could look on her.

“I’m Claudette.” They shook and while Claudette watched for a second as she – Kai – walked away, she turned, trying not to remember her warmth despite getting out the water into the cool air, or the sway to her hips, or how her hair had dried a bit, leaving it swaying to the front, or the dozen other things she found her eyes wandering to.

          She walked back to the office, sinking her face into her arms, hiding her blush from no one. She turned her head, seeing her diploma her mother hung on the wall next to the bookcase they kept for old records and documents they needed to keep. She noticed on the bottom shelf a book with her alma mater’s colors – her senior yearbook. And she stared and stared and stared until the sunlight from the window disappeared completely.

Couldn’t hurt. The next day, Claudette sat perched on top of the lifeguard’s chair, a magazine in her lap as she occasionally glanced up. Kids were splashing in the water and, lucky for her, weren’t running by the edge of the pool. More moms usually had that effect. More eyes usually helped but that also meant there was more chatter.

Something leaned against her chair and she glanced down. “So you can swim?” Kaila was looking up at her again, dark eyes almost mesmerizing her, into what spell, she didn’t know. The question itself made her tilt her head, confusion filling the space.

“Of course I can swim. My mom owns a pool.” “Well, yeah. You just seemed kinda spooked yesterday when I mentioned it.” Claudette didn’t know if she should feel put off by Kaila question but Claudette just accumulated it to the fact that New Yorkers move fast. She mused over the fact for a second.

“I suppose it just isn’t my favorite.” Kaila only raised her – perfect – eyebrow. “I guess if I wanted to get into the water, I’d prefer the ocean.” “So you’ve been?” “Not too many times. My mom goes a lot though.” “Without you?” Claudette made noise, something affirming but also noncommittal, like she was used it. She glanced at her magazine then back to Kaila.

“You’ve ever been before?” “Only the Hudson. Not the best, but still home.” “Don’t like it much then?” “Quite the opposite actually,” she raised a finger, as if pointing to a PowerPoint about her life behind her. “There are lots of beautiful things about the Hudson.”

“Besides the occasional dead body?” “Yeah! All the plastic and pollution make it very picturesque.” Claudette chuckled at the dark thought. “Seriously though.” Kaila glanced down, like her eyes were seeing something else entirely. “There’s something about it that amazes me.”

“I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.” “You could come see it if you want.” “Oh? And what? You’ll put me up?” “I could. Airbnb’s huge over there. Really driving up my rent but whatever.” Claudette looked her in the eye and tried to decipher if she was serious. Her smile radiated confidence but not a sign of joking in sight.

          Kaila Gage. That was what she found last night looking through her yearbook. She hadn’t remembered her cause her hair was about ten inches longer then and had the bad habit of covering her eyes with it but it was definitely her. Claudette remembered her from some of her classes, her name being called at least but she never really saw her considering she sat in the

back of the room. She had a small group of guy friends, she remembered, but Claudette never really talked to any of them, or much anyone for that matter.

          She remembered the reason she had transferred senior year too. Or at least a rumored reason being her mother died and her dad needed to get her out of the city, that they both just needed a break from all the chaos.

  But she was there, and now she’s here, gorgeous and free-spirited and talking to her.

    Kaila didn’t give Claudette the chance to mule over the matter any longer though as

                                                         she said, “love the haircut by the way. Very punkish.”

          Claudette burst out laughing at that, reminded of her closet full of summer dresses and severe fear of confrontation. She retreated to a softer giggle when some nearby kids turned to her but the glint in her eyes didn’t disappear. She looked to Kaila again, seeing her amused look, bright eyes flickering with the sun’s ray.

          “Oh yeah? Would it still be punk if I told you I only got my hair cut like this cause that kid,” she nodded her chin over to Tilly Jackson, a boastful kid with grabby hands, “stuck a wad of gum back there. Didn’t want to shave it bald so I told my mom to just do the undercut.”

          Kaila hummed, pursing her lips to the side as she sized up the kid. “It’s only punk if you two fought after.”

          Claudette smiled. “Got her mom to give me a gift card to her restaurant. Serves some of the best BBQ this side of the state.” Well, her mom got it for after reprimanding Tilly and Mrs. Jackson, but Kaila didn’t need to know that.

“I suppose that’s close enough.” “Not punk enough for you?” “I might consider it punk if you take me to the restaurant.” Kaila continued, saying something about having BBQ up in New York and wondered if it could compare, but Claudette retreated, mind racing faster than her dog when she fed him.

          Because this sounded a lot like a date and Claudette has been on a grand total of zero of those. She almost couldn’t believe it and then she didn’t, thinking Kaila meant as friends, as just something to do in a town where there’s nothing even slightly interesting.

“Unless you don’t want to.” And that right there is what made it click. The backtracking that hinted at some doubt that laid in the back of her head; that this was probably a date and, considering what she had shown her in the last 24 hours, Kaila could be nervous. And that made all of this just a bit less scary.

“Yeah. I-I mean, I do. Want to. Saturday at 7?” Kaila looked a bit lazy, resting her head against her hand, the remanence of a grin on her lips.

“I’ll have to check my schedule, but I think I should be free.” “Think you can squeeze me in-between doing nothing and nothing?” Kaila’s snark vanished completely as she looked lost for words, she chuckled, maybe laughing at herself. Scratching the back of her head, she mumbled something that sounded like, “sorry, that usually kills in New York.”

          Claudette offered a small smile, “I don’t think that’s gonna work ‘round here.” Kaila

          ended up going for a swim after that, perhaps to cool down, but she got out and returned to Claudette to talk not too long later, and repeated the process until Claudette

          had to close. Then the pair repeated this dance for the rest of the week, Claudette

          either on lifeguard duty, perched on her dull throne while Kaila stared up at her, or walking around to make sure everything was running smoothly. She didn’t really need

                                           to walk around since she mostly trusted

her lifeguards but she would usually be stuck in the office in the back and that had a “Only Authorized Personnel Allowed” sign hung up. Here, Kaila could swim up next to her and start a conversation about nothing or everything or crack a joke if she needed a bodyguard with Tilly making her rounds in the three feet area. And neither of them ever missed a beat.

          Until Saturday when Claudette wasn’t out by the poolside and, peering into the back office from the hallway, Kaila saw an older version of Claudette. She had long, almost blonde hair like Claudette and bright sparkling green eyes like her and, when she looked up to find someone lurking, she called out, “is there somethin’ I can help you with, sugar?” and it sounded almost exactly like her.

Kaila ducked her head in, her brow furrowed as if she was stepping into the devil’s den. “Yeah.” Some sort of lump found its way into her throat. “Is Claudette in today?” “No, sweetheart. You know how that girl is - head in the clouds that one.” Her mother looked up then and really took in the young woman in front of her. “Are you a friend of hers?” “Yes! We were supposed to go to the Jackson’s BBQ place tonight, and I wanted to see how she wanted to get there.”

          A big smile made its way to Claudette’s mother’s face and her teeth almost twinkled, but that could have just been the open window.

          “Oh you must be lil miss Kaila Cage, then!” Kaila didn’t get a chance to correct her. “Claudette mentioned something about that. Said she could meet you over up by Carol’s restaurant. She’ll probably drive.” “Um, that works.” “Now,” Kaila couldn’t tell what slipped into the older woman’s voice, but it made her stand up straighter, “you take care of my little cloud tonight, huh, sugar?”

“Yes, ma’am!” “And you couldn’t drive yourself because?” Kaila sat in the front of her friend’s pick-up truck and, while he complained the entire time, her nerves ate away at her stomach. Her friend, Damien Brooks, was probably the richest guy in town and, while he was an ass that could barely keep his mind of the gutter, he was also probably the most understanding to her situation of her friends. That might’ve been because he was also bi and could relate to the struggle or that he’s been trying to get Kai to sleep with him for a year now to no avail. Either way, he was the one she was stuck with to drop her off but she thought she was starting to regret that decision just about now.

          “Because she said to meet her there and that’d she take her car, meaning there’d be something after right?”

          “Or her mother’s used to dealing with suitors for her daughter and sent you on a goose chase because she doesn’t approve?”

“What makes you think she doesn’t approve of me!?” He had nothing to say to that, but he gave her a long side eye look that almost screamed, “because you’re you.”

“Fine, well, either way, if her mom sent me off, Claudette will look here eventually.” “Unless she like locked her in the basement.” She gave him a sharp look. “Don’t even say that.” “Okay, fine, not that, but her daughter’s the only lesbian in town. If she didn’t disown her, wouldn’t she be super protective over her?”

           “Shut up,

           Damien.”

           Her voice was quieter then and her anxiety took over her stomach completely. She just looked out the window as he rose whatever song was on the radio. And she supposed that was fine, a chance to get over whatever butterflies were in her stomach as she stared at neighborhoods as they passed. Then they passed an intersection and, like lightning, Kaila saw a flash of yellow running past a one of the few streetlights in the town. She usually wouldn’t have thought anything of, except she recognized that flash of yellow.

“Stop the car!” Her yell was sudden and her body jerk forward with the force of the car. “What? What’s wrong?” Her door was open, out of the vehicle before Damien could finish. Her bag in hand, heart pounding.

“Hey, where a-” “Claudette!” Kaila took off after the familiar figure. Turning corners and past houses faster than she ever had before. She tried to catch her breath enough to call Claudette’s name, but all that really came out were huffs and puffs of hot air. Kaila pumped her legs harder than any other time in her life, harder than when she would run in the city, harder than when she would run in this small little town after her mom died. Harder. Harder. Harder.

           She was gaining on Claudette a bit until her arm was within reaching distance. She thrust her hand out, as if she was in a relay, and held onto her forearm for life, slowing them down until they stopped.

           Kaila leaned her free hand on her knee, not letting her go in case she took off again. Claudette was staring down at her, surprise evident in her bright eyes. Kaila dared to meet that gaze and she almost regretted it cause her eyes were just as bright as the moon behind her and she felt like she couldn’t breath for a different reason.

“You’re,” she panted, “one hell of a runner.” “Was calling.” Kaila took a big breath in lowering her head. “Your name.” “Sorry, I didn’t hear you.” They waited there for a long time. Claudette worried people would look out their windows to watch them, but they were mere shadows in the night. Kaila eventually caught her breath and stood up straight.

“Where were you going?” Claudette shrugged her shoulder. “Clear my head before I started heading over.” “Where at?” Claudette offered a small smile, gently slipping her arm through Kaila’s grip until they were holding onto each other’s fingers. She grazed her soft fingers over rough knuckles. “I’ll show you,” she said gently, pulling her in the direction she was going in earlier. Kaila let herself be pulled, mumbling something that sounded like, “better not start running again,” under her breath. They walked in some general direction, under the moonlight, never letting one another go.

          She let herself be dragged to the community pool and Kaila figured Claudette left something important before their night. But then when Claudette led her through the building to a series of stairs in the far corner of the building, ascending until they were at a door, Kaila bit her tongue from asking dumb questions.

          They stepped out the door, onto the rooftop that was barren except for the bright lights of the moon and stars above. The town didn’t have any lights to begin with but here, on this rooftop, it was especially prevalent how bright the night sky was. It took Kaila’s breath away a second time that night as she stared up, holding Claudette’s hand, their palms grazing the other.

“This is beautiful.” Claudette turned her head, her green eyes brighter than ever, a smile on her lips. “You haven’t seen anything yet.” She gentle let go of her hand and used her keys to unlock something on the ground. Kaila followed as Claudette stood back up, kicking the handle forward. Underneath was a glass panel and under that was the pool. The panes and wanes of the water decorated their cheeks and when Kaila looked up to Claudette, stars beaming behind her and waves painting her eyes, she felt the ground beneath her feet give a little.

“We don’t get things like this in the city.” Claudette tilted her head, sitting down on the ledge. Kaila sat next to her. “Why’d you leave?” Kaila looked away a bit at that, mulling over the racing words in her mind. “Small town just left me with my thoughts. If I stay too long with them, I would’ve turned to coke like my old man.”

Her sharp gaze returned to Claudette’s, not letting pity fill those orbs. “Why’d you stay?” Claudette bit back, like a jab whooshed by her face. “Oh, well, my mom takes off a lot.

 

If I didn’t stay, this place would’ve closed in a couple months.” “That’s not your job.”

Claudette just looked down, her hair hiding her face. “Hmm.” “This place,” Kaila leaned forward, whisper her words carefully, “is killing you.” Claudette agreed deep down, her heart turning heavy with each passing moment. She looked up at the moon; her eyes glassy like the water under them.

          “You know, you were right. I’m actually terrified of the water.” She stood up, looking up at the moon above their heads. Then she turned, her hair a whirling around her with the light wind.

          “I’ll jump in if a kids drowning,” her eyes were sad despite the small smile she graced Kaila with, “but can’t even put my toes in anymore.”

She looked back up. “I’ve always wanted to fly.” “They have flight programs in the military.” Claudette shook her head slowly. “My dad died up there.” “Then be a pilot for an airlines!” “There aren’t any airlines around here.” “Then come live in New York with me.” Claudette stopped then. Kaila rose, finally on the same level with the girl in front of her. The two stood staring at one another, their defenses down. Claudette didn’t need to fight anymore.

“You could find a school or something over there. The hardest part is finding a place and I already got that part covered. Plus, I need help with my rent and-” Kaila trailed off, searching through Claudette’s eyes, looking for anything.

          “You,” Claudette started slowly, “you don’t even know me.” “I know you’re a good person.” Kaila sounded so sure, but from their week together, Claudette was inclined to think she was sure of everything.

          “I remember you, from back in school.” Kaila’s voice was quiet, as if she was revealing a secret. “Quiet little thing you were, but you didn’t take no shit from anyone. Remember you gave Carly from Virginia St. a black eye cause she thought you were hitting on her when you asked if she had an extra pencil.”

Claudette laughed the softest laugh, thinking back to that day. “I remember I told her “now I’m hitting on you!” Got detention for a week.” “You could’ve been expelled.” Kaila stepped closer. “Now that’s punk.” “You don’t belong here.” Claudette dared a glance at Kaila’s lips. She put on a thin layer of lip-gloss for tonight. “I belong here. With you.” Their lips met in a gentle embrace. Tentative, fear seeping into their shared air. Kaila’s eyes were still closed as she whispered, “I’ve had a crush on you since then.” Claudette’s eyes snapped open and her blushed intensified. Kaila grinned nervously. “When you hit her square in the face. What can I say, I like strong women.” “I never even knew you were into girls.” Claudette sounded almost apologetic. “Eh.” Kaila just shrugged, “I’m bi. A little easier to keep a secret if you start crushing on the right people.”

“You crushed on the right people then?” She shook her head. “Nope.” The pair took a seat again, Claudette leaning into Kaila, her heart jolting her ribs with every beat.

          “Look,” Claudette started, her soft voice breaking their silence, “I don’t even know if this whole thing is possible.” She raked her fingers through her hair. “I have some savings but I’ve only ever lived with my mom and I don’t even know if I’d be a good roommate. I wake up really early most days. And I’m pretty messy and I can cook but I hate doing dishes and I shed everywhere like a dog. And-”

They just stared. “I’m quiet.” Kaila smiled, her fingers pushing a chunk of hair from Claudette’s face, the moonlight washing over her like an angel.

          “Your heads in the sky. It’s where you

          belong.”