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Beneath the Surface

By´╝ÜHarper Bliss

Chapter One





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 alley 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 alley. 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.

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