My new novel Beneath the Surface (Pink Bean – Book Two) will be out in 10 days. Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
Beneath the Surface
© Harper Bliss
PART 1: 1997
Sheryl checked her watch. She’d told Aimee repeatedly she didn’t have time to chat, but Aimee, her boss, never listened. She just talked. And when Aimee talked, Sheryl had to listen. But Sheryl could hardly be holier than thou about running late. It wasn’t as if she didn’t have a very persistent tendency to be tardy for many appointments, no matter how hard she tried to manage her time properly. But this was not an appointment to be late for. When Sterling Wines agrees to sponsor your fundraising party, you have to show your gratitude by, at the very least, showing up before the delivery guy arrives.
Sheryl rounded the corner and jogged into the laneway that held the back entrance to the party venue for the next day. She didn’t see anyone waiting for her. She relaxed her pace to a brisk walk and felt for the door key in her pocket. She breathed a sigh of relief: she’d made it on time to accept the generous wine delivery. The other women on the organizing committee would be there soonish to help stock the refrigerators with the about-to-be delivered wine, but Sheryl was in charge of smooth acceptance of the goods. She, Sheryl Johnson, who didn’t drink a drop of alcohol, who didn’t know the faintest thing about wines and their grapes of origin and what made them palatable, had been in charge of procuring the sponsorship.
Just as she inserted the key into the lock, a white van pulled up at the entrance of the laneway. She looked as a man dressed much like herself—jeans and a T-shirt—jumped out, followed by a woman whose pale gray skirt suit didn’t exactly indicate she’d come to help unload the boxes.
Sheryl had only spoken to Miss Park on the phone. She had no real reason to be present for a simple wine delivery. Sheryl straightened her posture as the woman walked toward her while the man opened the side door of the van and started unloading boxes onto a trolley.
“Miss Johnson,” the woman said, hand extended. “I’m Kristin Park.” She gave Sheryl a quick once-over and followed up with a smile that seemed to show a little appreciation for the way Sheryl had clinched a sponsorship deal worth a few hundred dollars—a fortune for the LAUS.
“Very nice to meet you, Miss Park,” Sheryl tipped her head and took Kristin’s hand in hers. Very nice indeed. She let her gaze linger a little longer than was perhaps socially acceptable in a situation like this. Sheryl couldn’t in good faith claim her gaydar was alerting her to something, but of course Miss Park knew exactly what kind of event her company was sponsoring.
“We’re trying to make inroads with the lesbian community as well as with the gay one,” she’d said when Sheryl had first called up the marketing department of Australia’s largest wine distributor. How very advanced of you, Sheryl had thought, while her eyes rolled all the way to the back of her head. But she knew she had to be grateful because, even though things were slowly shifting—and Mardi Gras was turning into a celebration more than a march for rights every year that passed—not every company would be willing to sponsor this Mardi Gras fundraising party that the university’s lesbian association was throwing.
“And you,” Miss Park said, “please call me Kristin.” Was she responding to Sheryl’s glance? To the way she narrowed her eyes and pulled the corner of her mouth into a hint of a smile—not too much so as not to offend?
“How very nice of you to come all the way down here.” Sheryl tried a full-on smile now.
“It’s no trouble,” Kristin said. “Just a good excuse to get out of the office on a Friday afternoon.”
“Would you like to inspect the venue where your wares will be served?” Sheryl gestured at the open door. Meanwhile, the delivery man had piled boxes onto his trolley and was rolling it in their direction.
“Sure.” Kristin followed Sheryl inside.
Sheryl flipped on the lights. The venue was small—especially compared to where the boys partied—and Sheryl hoped it would be packed tomorrow. She eyed the room. They had a lot of work to do before then. But Sheryl got that tingling feeling deep inside her belly that it would be good. Excitement mixed with a sense of contributing to her community. The concept of Gay Pride wasn’t foreign to her. If anything, it was the only thing she hadn’t struggled with throughout her formative years. When everything else was going to hell, Sheryl always had that to hold on to. That and the fact she wasn’t born ten years earlier. That she had come of age in the eighties, when LGBT youth groups started popping up in Sydney—an agonizing one-hour bus ride from Campbelltown where she lived with her father, who didn’t much care what she was up to, anyway.
Sheryl had found her community early on and it had made her thrive, of that she was sure. Now it was time to give back. Out of gratitude for the people who had come before her and battled for her rights in a way she would never have to, and for everyone who was less fortunate than her. The women’s studies department of the University of Sydney where she was doing her PhD was a veritable paradise for lesbians.
“I can see the potential,” Kristin said, snapping Sheryl out of her reverie.
Sheryl plastered the most seductive grin on her face she could muster and turned to Kristin. “Your name is on the guest list, of course. You’re very welcome to come see for yourself how Sydney’s lesbians are enjoying your wine.”
Kristin gave a nervous laugh—the first sign of her being nervous at all. “Maybe I will,” she said.
“I’ll look out for you.” Sheryl had to stop herself from winking.
“Where do you want these?” the delivery man asked.
“Just over there by the bar, please,” Sheryl said, and the moment had passed. Though she had a sneaking suspicion Kristin might very well show up tomorrow night. “I’ll give you a hand.” Sheryl helped unload the boxes from the trolley so the man could go for the next round in the van while, from the corner of her eye, she watched Kristin walk about the venue. She stood where the dance floor would be, and Sheryl tried to picture her dancing under the pulsating light, wondered if she danced at all. Maybe she would find out tomorrow. Maybe.
* * *
Kristin paced in front of her bedroom mirror. She hadn’t planned to go to this party. She hadn’t even planned to escort the wine delivery yesterday afternoon. Sterling Wines sponsored many events. If she accompanied every delivery, she wouldn’t get any actual work done. But Sheryl Johnson had sent her a leaflet with the Lesbian Association of the University of Sydney’s mission statement and a group picture of the women who ran it. She’d read the names underneath the picture with great interest, hoping she’d come across Sheryl, whose deep, warm voice she’d only heard on the phone.
When she reached Sheryl, crouching in the bottom left corner of the picture, she’d found herself uttering a little appreciative sound in the back of her throat. That wide, confident smile. Those light blue eyes. Kristin didn’t really know what her type was, although, as she approached thirty, she was quite certain her type was female and not male. The image of Sheryl combined with her voice had convinced her to call up Ari in the warehouse and ask him to wait for her so she could tag along on the delivery for the LAUS.
And now there she stood. Kristin didn’t like parties with loud, thumping music. Places where people were ogled and scored for how they looked. She had plenty of suitable attire for the many work receptions she had to attend, but what on earth did one wear at a lesbian party? And would there only be women? She’d felt a warm rush of something travel through her when Sheryl suggested she come to the party, as though she had somehow known that Kristin was only there that afternoon to meet her in the flesh.
Goodness, she was being silly. She wasn’t going to that party. She really didn’t have anything to wear. This was not what she did. Which was exactly the reason Kristin hadn’t extensively tested her newfound self-awareness—or was it acceptance?—that no man would ever do to her what a woman could.
She’d gone on a couple of dates with women who had advertised in the classifieds’ section of Lesbians on the Loose. One of them had been quite nice. Maybe not exactly what Kristin was looking for, but really, how could she possibly know what she was looking for? She and Petra had gone out a couple of times, had sort of hit it off, and Kristin had—foolishly—believed that was it.
She was sleeping with a woman for the first time in her life, and even though the sky didn’t come crashing down, it was infinitely more pleasurable to be touched by a woman’s hands than by a man’s. Because Kristin didn’t know any better, she believed she had found The One. Until, only five dates into their short-lived affair, Petra told her it wouldn’t work out. Kristin’s heart wasn’t broken, but the rejection stung enough to have her retreat. She even, if only for a split second, considered going back to men because it would be so much easier. Her parents would be happy, for one. Now they—almost silently—tolerated that Kristin wasn’t even engaged to be married on the cusp of her thirtieth birthday.
Kristin looked at herself in the mirror again. She had to go. She could call Cassie and ask her to join. Kristin knew Cassie would do that for her. Apart from the women Kristin had furtively dated, Cassie was her only friend who knew about her wanting to be with women.
“Don’t be such a coward,” she said to her reflection. “You’re not like this. You’re not like this at all.” Kristin had found that saying things out loud to herself worked toward spurring her into action. It wasn’t enough to think it or whisper it. The thought had to be voiced as loud and combative as possible. She conjured up Sheryl’s smile. Had she known that Kristin was a lesbian? Kristin didn’t think she looked like one at all, though it was starting to dawn on her, perhaps lesbians came in all shapes and sizes. Ha. What a novel idea. So what had given her away? The way she carried herself? Just her being there? Or perhaps Sheryl was just guessing. Perhaps she had even been engaging in some wishful thinking?
“I’m going to this party,” Kristin said out loud. “I’m a grown woman. Four measly days away from turning thirty. I am going to that lesbian party.” She took a deep breath, dug out a pair of jeans she didn’t often wear and a red blouse from her closet, applied a minimal amount of makeup, and went on her way.
<<End of preview>>
Beneath the Surface will be available on 23 December 2016