Maybe you’re here hunting for a clue for Jae’s latest crossword. This time, her F/F Fiction Crossword Puzzle features WLW & lesbian books with characters who are lawyers, attorneys, or otherwise work in a legal profession.
One of the clues relates to my story, Not-So-Straight Sue, and the answer to “What’s the name of the town that Sue grew up in?” is somewhere in the following extract.
Maybe you’re just here because you want to read an extract from the book? Go ahead and be my guest. I hope you enjoy it. The following extract is from the start of Chapter 5. Sue has just returned to Australia from London, ready to take up a new challenge as the only lawyer in a tiny outback town. Prior to that, she stops off to face her past demons and reconnect with her parents in her home town of Y—
Ha! You didn’t think I’d make it that easy, did you? I hope you enjoy the extract. Not-So-Straight Sue is book 2 in my ‘Girl Meets Girl‘ series. These stories with interconnected characters read perfectly well as standalone novels. Enjoy!
“…and your brother’s got this totally unsuitable girlfriend. She’s from Toowoomba.” Mum sniffed as she stirred sugar into her tea so hard that the teaspoon rattled against the cup like a truck going over a cattle grid. “That’s a city. She has modern ideas. Why, she told me that Jim has to iron his own shirts or they’ll stay creased.”
“That sounds reasonable to me.” I swirled the tea around in my mug. Since being back in Oz, I’d started drinking it black again. “She probably works as hard as Jim. Why should she iron his shirts?”
Mum nailed me with her gaze. “I should have guessed that you’d side with her. A woman’s job is to look after her man. Not that you’d know about that.”
I let that pass without comment, and the silence lengthened when I didn’t answer. Instead, I looked around the kitchen. It was over five years since I’d last sat here, nearly ten since I’d lived under the same roof, but little had changed. Same scrubbed Formica benchtop, scratched with a fine web of knife cuts. Same overhead cabinets with the same wooden doors—although they were now painted a more modern shade of maroon. Same walk-in pantry, and I was sure that if I ventured to the back, I’d find the same mason jars with the same preserved vegetables, and the same not-as-airtight-as-my-mother-thought containers full of weevilly flour. Picking the weevils out of our toast was a long game in our family. Is it a weevil? No… It’s a sunflower seed…
“How’s the veggie garden doing in the drought?” It was a polite, but desperate comment. When had it become so hard to talk to my mother? The answer, of course, was about ten years ago, but children and parents were always fabricating the perfect relationship in their minds. We were no different.
Mum smiled, and this time it was warm and genuine. “Oh, Sue, if only it would rain! My beans are dried up little sticks, and I’ll be lucky to get any more tomatoes. I put the grey water on the garden, but it’s never enough.”
I’d hit on the perfect topic. I slid from my stool. “Want to give me the tour? And tips? I’ve got a veggie garden to try and keep alive when I get to Mungabilly Creek, and I haven’t a clue where to begin.”
My mother’s smile made it worthwhile. She ushered me out of the door, and for the next hour, we stood in the baking heat, discussing beans and mulch and eggplant and aphids. It was almost interesting, and in that time, we managed to approach something resembling a rapport.
“Jim’s coming around later,” Mum said when we were back in the house.
“Great!” This time, my enthusiasm wasn’t feigned. “Is Alexis coming as well?”
“I’m not sure. She’s invited, of course…”
I nodded, positive that the unknown Alexis had doubtlessly decided that a night cutting her toenails was preferable to dinner in the critical mood of our house.
“Are you going to catch up with anyone while you’re here?” Mum moved to the fridge and pulled vegetables out of the crisper. My first night home and she was cooking a roast. No matter that it was over thirty degrees centigrade outside; the prodigal daughter had returned, and that meant the sacrificial lamb was going in the oven.
“I’m not sure who lives here still,” I replied. “I’ve lost contact with so many people. I know Liz moved to Brisbane, and Thommo is overseas somewhere. I’m not sure about anyone else.”
Mum took the paring knife from the drawer—no peeler for her—and starting peeling a potato with quick flicks of her thumb. “Janey still lives here—she married the young vet, and they’ve got four boys now. Keith is out on Wymaring Station.”
“He was more Jim’s friend than mine, although I knew his sister somewhat.”
“Jean? She moved north. I heard she was working at a resort on one of the islands on the Great Barrier Reef.” Mum flicked faster with the knife. “Denise is still here.”
I went to the fridge and took out some carrots. It meant my face was hidden. “I thought she might be still in Brisbane.” My voice was steady.
“She came back.” Satisfaction coloured Mum’s voice. Children returned to the nest. “She’s married to the publican at the Criterion. Two kids.”
“That’s nice.” I dropped the carrots on the counter. “Do you want these peeled?”
“Of course.” My mother’s voice was calm as she concentrated on the potatoes. “Are you going to look her up?”
I shot her a glance. “I’m sure I’ll be in the pub at some point. I’ll see her there.”
“Well, if you’re still here on Thursday, you can come along to bingo night. Denise is our caller.”
I focussed on the first part of her sentence. “I thought I’d stay a week, if that’s all right with you?”
“Of course. You can stay as long as you want, darl. You must know that. I know you’ve got a limited amount of time before you have to be at your new job, so I’m happy you’re able to stay a week.”
Clearly, I was getting old and sentimental. Hearing those words made my eyes blur with moisture,. My parents may have been cranky and old fashioned, but they loved me. And I loved them. “I’m happy to be back. I missed you.”
“Oh, Sue, we missed you too, darl. But you always sounded so happy in your emails. We knew you were having a wonderful time, not to mention it was a great career move. But I couldn’t be more pleased that you’re back.”
“I loved London. I made great friends, the work was challenging, and I learnt a lot. But it’s good to be back in Oz. Guess I’m a country girl at heart.”
This time the silence was a comfortable one.
Dinner was the same roast lamb as I remembered. Mum always overcooked it, so it was grey and tough, and then she smothered it in packet gravy. But the roast potatoes and parsnips were as crispy and good as they ever were, and there were the last of the beans and snow peas from the garden. My dad, now retired, had found a new interest teaching metalwork at the community centre. He spent most of his days in his shed in the backyard, pottering around with angle grinders or something. My younger brother, Jim, had matured somewhat in my absence. He was now funny whereas before he’d been annoying, and his string-bean shape had filled out enough that he’d scored himself a seriously gorgeous girlfriend. Alexis looked like a 1950s housewife, complete with beehive and gingham dress, but her looks were deceptive. She had Jim exactly where she wanted him, and where he was happy to be.
I spent the first couple of days around the house in the company of my parents. I told myself I wasn’t rushing out so that I could make up for lost time and reconnect with my parents, but there was also an element of fear. My last year living in Yeringup hadn’t been one long happy dance, and people around here had long memories.
Then Mum asked if I wanted to come with her to the next town to do the weekly grocery shop. I agreed, but of course the trip to the supermarket went via the hairdressers to organise her next week’s appointment—hadn’t Mum ever heard of the phone?—the doctor’s surgery to pick up a prescription, and even the aged care home to deliver something to a friend of hers. By the time we made it to the supermarket, I’d become reacquainted with several of Mum’s friends. I was nervous at first. These people and their silent disapproval had made my life miserable during my final year in Yeringup. Mum’s friends were of a generation where nothing was spoken out loud—that was the behaviour of their children—but the silent treatment was condemning in its own way.
Maybe it’s was Mum’s presence, but those same people who had treated me with such disdain ten years ago were now open and friendly. They asked me about life in London, how long I was back for, and what I was going to do. They expressed delight that I was going to be working in Mungabilly Creek, mainly for my parents that it would be nice for them to have me reasonably close. Gradually, the knowledge that people had genuinely forgotten the scandal surrounding me ten years ago, or they simply didn’t consider it a big deal any more, made me relax. I was able to slip back into my role as polite and friendly daughter.
In bed that night, I wondered what had changed. I also had to look inside myself and decide if I was going to confront anyone about their behaviour to me those years ago. The treatment I’d received had a profound effect on me. It had sent me scurrying away, first across the country and then across the world. More importantly, it had set me on my sorry-I’m-straight path, and along with it, a blanket denial of my sexuality that could never have led to happiness. It had led me to such an absolute rejection of who I was, that, ten years later, I’d still never said out loud the truth about my sexuality to another person. There had been a myriad of opportunities to do so, in the most supportive of environments. Even when others had assumed I was lesbian, I had contradicted that assumption so totally that even my closest friends thought I was straight.
In the small room that had been my childhood bedroom, I knew for truth that I could never move on unless I confronted those who had hurt me or forgave them and moved on myself. Maybe both. I moved my legs restlessly under the thin sheet. Those people in Yeringup fell into two camps. There was my family, most notably my mother, who deserved the truth. Then there was the wider pool of friends and more casual acquaintances.
Those people, I decided, could go to hell. They didn’t deserve an explanation. My sexuality was my own affair, and it did seem as if the past was either forgotten or no longer relevant to them. Confronting those people, putting myself and my life out in front of them, was not my style. Those people, I would not give another thought to.
And then there was Denise, my first—and only—girlfriend. Denise, who had betrayed me so totally and absolutely, who had hung me out to dry while she saved her skin from the small town gossip and disapproval. The same Denise who was now married to the publican at the Criterion. She, I could not ignore. She deserved to know how totally she had destroyed me.
I couldn’t avoid this any longer. I would go and see her tomorrow.