The Earth Bears Witness
i. the earth bears witness
At nine years old, under the apple blossoms, she had her first crush. An innocent childish thing that would be the beginning. Olivia was the pretty girl from three doors down the street, who wore her brother’s dungarees and insisted on climbing anything that was around to climb. They had been in Fearne’s garden that spring, with the old apple tree standing proudly in the corner of it. Olivia had climbed it with a practised ease. Among the pink-white flowers she had grinned and appeared to shine.
Fearne had wanted to hold hands or braid her hair. She had wanted to tell Olivia a hundred things but mostly that she l-o-v-e-d her.
She hadn’t. Mostly because Olivia chose that exact instant to fall out of the tree she had climbed a hundred times before. With one drop she broke her arm and Fearne had been forbidden from seeing her for the next three weeks, by which point the moment had passed but the feelings had not. (That would take another two years and what would come to be known to both girls as ‘the chewing gum incident’.) Fearne signed Olivia’s cast with bright green marker when they could see each other again and added a flower instead of the heart she really wanted to use.
It was the first she ever felt different, that sunny afternoon. At the time the feeling was neither tainted with good or bad. It simply was.
When she went home after visiting Olivia, her mother had put on The Little Mermaid and Fearne swooned over Ariel and her red hair and bright smile and thought nothing of the Prince who saved her. Why would she?
That was where it had begun. Where Fearne would tell you it had begun, when someone inevitably asked her that all-consuming question – when did you know? In reality it had of course always been that way, she just hadn’t recognised it yet. Or rather, she hadn’t realised that it was different yet. That you were supposed to fall for the Prince.
ii. flowering slowly or not at all
“Team Edward or Team Jacob?” It was a common question that year, her thirteenth year. She couldn’t see the appeal in either but kept that fact quiet because by now she knew different was Bad. Her school was alive with a fever for Twilight and sleepovers had long since become a common occurrence amongst her and her friends. The winter nights that year were long and cold but not unfriendly. Still, she found herself outside and looking in more than once and couldn’t always understand why.
Alice. Bella. She thought of them and wondered why no one else seemed torn the way she was.
“C’mon Fearne! Who are you choosing? And don’t say neither, I’m not letting you refuse to answer again!” Olivia knocks their shoulders together and Fearne rolls her eyes.
“I dunno.” The words are a drawn-out whine, she sticks her tongue out at Olivia and finds her self missing the apple blossom tree. She doesn’t know why. They’d moved not long ago and the new house had no trees to climb. It didn’t matter anyway, Olivia had gotten bored of climbing years ago and everyone agreed that the goldfish pond in the new house was much more interesting.
“How can you not know?” Lacie interjects, her eyes wide. Fearne looks at her and shrugs. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t. Does that make her so strange?
“But Jacob is so hot! I mean, I can understand why you’re not screaming Edward–” Olivia knocks her over the head with a pillow at that and Lacie screeches and practically falls off the bed. The sound is loud enough for them all to go silent for a moment, listening for the sound of footsteps. One, two, three, they all count in their heads. When no reprimand swiftly comes there is a collective feeling of relief. And a second where Fearne hopes that their previous talk will all be forgotten in favour of something more interesting.
“I mean, c’mon Fearne, what are you, gay?” The word is snorted out, Lacie makes a face of something akin to disgust. Fearne feels something crumple inside her and she knows exactly why. Can’t admit it though.
“What? No, of course not! I just… they’re both so hot, aren’t they? I guess Jacob is cuter.” She stumbles her way through the sentence and feels her cheeks heat up. Don’t see through the ruse, she begs, I don’t want anything to change.
Then Lacie whoops and smacks Olivia with her pillow and Fearne can breathe easy for a moment longer. “I told you so! Team Jacob always wins!”
“No way! She said both of them were hot that doesn’t count – don’t hit me with that! – it doesn’t count, Lacie!”
“It totally counts.”
iii. minutes turn to days
She fumbles with a cigarette, pulled hastily from a pack of straights, bought off of Daniel, the one boy repeating Year Twelve. There’s a new girl in school called Stacey Rooney with short skirts and even shorter hair. Everyone’s eyes are on her in this small-town school.
The park is empty of small children at eleven pm on a Friday night but not empty of teenagers with nothing better to do. Fearne’s mother thinks she’s sleeping over at Olivia’s but instead they’re both here (they shouldn’t be). She’s more than a bit drunk, more than a bit lonely. Surrounded by people but they all seem bolder and brighter than her. Stacey is here at least, she looks stunning in her black skirt and black eyeliner.
Fearne is very gay. No one knows.
“Hey! Fearne, come play truth or dare with us! Stop sitting in the corner and moping, good god.” Jack all but picks her up and Fearne squawks, almost spilling bright blue all over him.
“Jack, fuck off, I’m not going to –”
There’s a chorus of whines and disappointed looks and then Stacey is there, grabbing her hand. She has black, press-on nails and they dig into the meat of Fearne’s palm. When Stacey pulls, she stumbles to sit next to her and tries her best to keep her heart beating steady.
“C’mon Fearne, it’ll be fun. S’only us.” Stacey’s voice has gone husky with alcohol and cigarettes and is only slightly slurred. She smells strongly like smoke.
“Fine, alright, I’ll play.” How can she say no? Stacey lets go of her but Fearne doesn’t move from her spot. Jack gives a crow of victory and looks at her with a filthy smirk. It makes her insides crawl, but she smiles back anyway, awkwardly. Too many teeth and not enough light in her eyes.
Nobody notices. They’re all drunk after all.
“Spin the bottle, Luke! Spin in!” Mary yells, winking at her boyfriend. The bottle goes round and round.
It doesn’t land on her. She drinks.
It doesn’t land on her. She drinks.
It doesn’t land on her. She drinks.
And then it lands on her.
“Truth or dare, Fearne!” Someone yells.
“Yeah! Truth or dare?” The crowd echoes, all the voices mingling. Like a Greek chorus they become one overpowering voice. She feels sick. It’s probably all the drink.
“Dare!” She blurts out and sounds more confident than she feels. Better than a question, one that might reveal her secret. It’s the first dare in a while though and the crowd goes wild in anticipation, at this point she’s nothing more than a puppet under their control. Fearne feels her fear in her throat and in her toes.
“I dare you to kiss Stacey Rooney!” Jack. Of course, its Jack. Ice spreads from the tips of her fingers and down into her lungs, she is frozen on the spot looking at him. He knows. Does he know? There are long seconds where she can’t hear past the rush of blood in her ears but then Luke wolf whistles and Jack gives her another lecherous look and it’s fine.
They’re just being boys. Gross, horrible boys.
“Don’t chicken out, Fearne.” Someone eggs her on.
“Oi, Fearne ain’t chickenshit, she’ll do it.” Someone else protests.
She’ll do it, won’t she? Her first kiss? Sure she will, what other chance is she going to get? Fearne takes a long drink from her bottle, downs what’s left inside of it, and throws it off to the side. It thunks against the grass.
“I’ll do it, I ain’t scared, Jack.” She swallows all her butterflies too and turns to look at Stacey. Stacey grins and flutters her eyelashes; the movements are exaggerated and yet she feels wanted all the same. Kissing a girl! Here’s her chance. Don’t look too excited, she reminds herself.
Their lips touch. It’s dry and chaste and then it’s open mouthed and deeper. Fearne doesn’t touch Stacey, doesn’t let herself tangle her hands in that short hair. She hears the cheering and the whistling and then she pulls away. It’s been too long. There is a look in Stacey’s eyes – she knows. Fearne recognises something else in there too. Neither of them says a thing.
“Spin the bottle then!” Luke shouts at her, suddenly far too close. The moment breaks.
She spins it.
iv. and oh how softly the dawn breaks
Glen is short and brown and she’s unapologetically a lesbian. She comes in with a pink flag painted on her cheek and talks about the girls she’s attracted to and the girls she’s dated in the past. In her combat boots and leather jackets she cuts a figure that warns people not to fuck with her and it’s hot.
Fearne is maybe, a tiny bit, in love.
She’s been in love before, hasn’t she? Always gotten over it, or at least far enough past it that she can pass as normal again.
Except it’s all different this time because Glen isn’t a straight girl from a country town that’s only ever seen a Capital-L Lesbian on a soap opera. She’s gay. Just like Fearne. Better than Fearne, even, because Fearne still can’t tell anyone and Glen tells everyone.
This is university, she tells herself. She’s in Liverpool and it might not be London but the city’s still progressive enough. Not to mention she’s studying Fine Art – sure there are assholes but most of the people she knows are accepting if not out themselves.
She can’t seem to find the words. I’m straight might not leave her mouth, but neither does I’m gay.
“Hey Fearne, you coming out Friday? Glen said there’s a new club opening, I know you’re straight, but you should come along!” Sam grins and nudges her shoulder with his. I’m not, she wants to say, but can’t. Instead she just nods.
“Oh? Sure, sure that sounds good.”
The club is small and crowded, two pounds a shot or four for a fiver which has her coming back again, and again. There are girls grinding on girls and two men making out in the corner and she’s happy for them (no, really). Not mad, she wishes she could say, just jealous.
She turns and walks straight into Glen.
“Fuck! Fuck, I’m so sorry, oh god let me buy you another drink.” Glen wipes off her jacket as Fearne orders them both another round, her hair is damp against her forehead and there’s a grin on her face.
“Hey babe, it’s fine,” she says as Fearne fumbles to hand the pint over, their hands touching ever so casually. Fearne wishes she could touch like that, no worries of being caught, no fear.
The lights are bright on her face, in her eyes, she leans forwards.
“Can I kiss you?” Say yes, she thinks, say yes.
Glen’s eyes widen and she winces, pulling away.
“Fearne, I’m not experiment for straight girls. Had my heart broken too many times that way.”
I’m not. Fearne lets her leave.
vi. unto untold lands
The wood of the bar is well worn. London is a world away from home. Fearne traces the surface with her finger, makes patterns in the condensation. It’s early still and quiet, the bartender gives her a sad, knowing look but he doesn’t speak.
She’s twenty-two and never been to a gay bar by herself.
First time for everything, huh.
With a sigh, she takes a drink of the whiskey and runs a hand through her hair. Since moving to London she’s worn it cut short against her head, a messy pixie cut that had her Mother practically sobbing.
Getting braver now, isn’t she? It barely feels that way. Shouldn’t she have told her family at least? She can’t. The alcohol burns her throat going down, a cheap, harsh drink. It’s lucky she isn’t drinking it for the taste.
“Hey stranger. Looking down, aren’t you?” The voice comes from her left, someone sliding onto a stool next to her with a smile on their face. When she looks up the woman is smiling softly. Fearne wants to feel annoyed that her silence had been taken away, but she’d only been moping anyway.
And here is an air about her that takes her breath as she looks into those dark eyes. Her voice doesn’t work for a long moment, too busy being caught in her own throat.
“I mean – physically? Yes?” It’s the stupidest answer she could have come up with, and yet it makes the lady laugh, low and easy.
“Well that too. I’m Etta, can I get your name, pretty stranger who’s drinking at three pm on a Thursday afternoon?” Etta is all dark skin and angles contrasted with curves. Fearne’s eyes trace the line of her cheeks and the slope of her neck before she can help herself but for once she doesn’t force herself to look away.
“I’m Fearne. I’m a lesbian.” It comes out so simply, the first time she’s ever said it.
Well, ever said it to someone else at least. Her bedroom mirror has heard a variety of awful attempts over the years, one culminating in her just stuttering out ‘girls’ a few times.
“Well I expected so honey, this is a gay bar.” Etta teases her for a moment with a quirk of her lips and a chuckle but then her smile turns softer. “Never told anyone before?”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Fearne.” There’s no condescension, no telling her she should have come out earlier, been prouder, been louder with her identity. Etta just smiles and offers to buy her another drink.
vii. with burning passions
Aisling is an Irish girl who is long parted from Ireland. Fearne runs her fingers through clay-mud hair and kisses every freckle she can find. There are far too many to count. In the dawn her girlfriend is a burning star, one currently groaning rather loudly.
“Fearne! I’m trying to, ah, I’m trying to sleep.” She whines, wrapping her arms around Fearne and dragging her into a fierce kiss. A sigh escapes her, she melts against that grip, the knock of their teeth and noses.
“You just looked so pretty, baby.” The sun breaks through the curtains, a quiet April day. Aisling rolls her eyes and knocks their foreheads together. This close, Fearne can see the dark hints of gold against the blue. The moment is long and quiet, the two of them breathe just out of sync. One after the other.
Fearne kisses her again, she can’t help herself. Can’t stop herself. Like every part of her is wired to love this girl.
She is twenty-eight and in love. Deeply, passionately, easily.
When she had first met Aisling neither of them had been looking for a relationship and yet they had found one anyway. Not fate, just luck. The right moments had aligned and suddenly they were together.
Or not so suddenly as it were.
Apparently, they had gone on four dates without even realising they were dates, according to their friends. It had only been when Mickey had intervened that she’d realised, in true fashion, that yes, they were actually girlfriends.
It had been more than a little embarrassing when she’d realised, right up until she’d found out that Aisling had been similarly clueless.
“Hey, whatcha thinkin’ about? You woke me up, Fearne, don’t go spacing out now.” Aisling squeezed her and grinned, running her hands down Fearne’s sides and settling them on her hips.
“Just you. Us. How we got together.”
“Oh, dear don’t remind me. Most embarrassin’ time of my life.” She laughs when her girlfriend goes red, kisses her hard on the lips again.
“Best time of my life. Got you out of it, didn’t I?” There is another quiet, lingering moment in the room and Fearne reaches up to touch Aisling’s cheek, brushes the skin there.
“That you did.” They wriggle to sit up more comfortably and Aisling yawns as Fearne shifts to rest against her side. Two hands, one pale and one dark, tangle together and squeeze. Fearne’s heart pounds in her chest and she swallows, slowly before turning to look at her girlfriend.
viii. that meet finally under the sun
Their wedding day is under the apple blossoms and the sun.
ix. the earth bears witness,
flowering slowly or not at all
minutes turn to days
and oh how softly the dawn breaks
unto untold lands
with burning passions
that meet finally under the sun
by Spencer B