Knights of Sappho by Kate Terence (2003)
As she took a slug of beer, Digger pondered over how long she had run the family courier business.
“What’s on your mind, Diggs?” Amelia asked, looking up from her opened bag of dry roasted nuts. Her willowy figure and blonde hair were the only genetic indication of her sibling relationship to Digger’s partner Josephine.
“Amelia, you know why Josephine sent us here. Your sister doesn’t think we’re getting on together.” Digger kicked her legs out in front of the fire.
“Well, Diggs, as this is my first visit with my sister in quite a few years, it’s all come as a bit of a shock, you know.” Amelia lowered her voice.
“Why?” Digger paused for emphasis “Don’t they have lesbians in Australia then?” A few of the men at the bar raised their eyebrows. One of them gave Amelia a look, which she returned nervously with a smile. “It’s alright, Amelia, it’s not contagious. I just ask you to be tolerant if you are living under my roof.”
“Look, would it be easier if I helped with your business? I could do with the extra cash anyway, and obviously you could pay me less than the usual rates instead of rent.” Amelia blinked a few times whilst awaiting Digger’s response.
“Are you absolutely certain, Amelia,” Digger leaned her elbow on the table, “ that you would be able to cope with an army of lesbians. I mean, I didn’t rename the firm Dykes on Bikes for a joke you know.” She pointed at Amelia’s glass, “Top up, young lady?”
“Don’t insult me, Digger, of course I can manage.” Amelia flicked her eyes from Digger towards the barman, “I’ll take another rum and coke please.” She turned swiftly back to Digger “I mean, let’s face it, Digg, they’re only women, after all.”
“So how long have you ridden bikes for, Fab?” Digger was reading a paper napkin that was currently doubling up as a CV.
“Do we have to do this, Digg?” Fab grinned boyishly at her, her blue eyes sparkling with confrontation. “After all, you were the one that taught me to ride a bike in the first place, so just give me the job, will you?” She stood up and leant her body against one of the walls in the room. She fulfilled the very image of lesbian chic in the 1920’s, sporting a waistcoat and tie, which matched her glossed back Eton crop.
“If I take you on, it’s only fair that I do the same with Toni, and I’m not sure that I trust you both together.” Digg smiled. The door of the office startled them both by swinging open.
“Sorry I’m late Digg. Only got back from holiday this morning.” Toni, glowing brown, a chestnut ponytail pulling her exotic eyes upwards hugged Fab like a brother. She shook Digger’s hand. “So what did you need to see me about?” Toni flung her leather jacket off her strong torso and sat straddling the chair.
“She’s worried about giving us our job back.” Fab purred, placing a cigarette into a black holder, slipping it into her mouth and lighting up.
“Oh, come on, Diggs. We’ve learnt our lesson.” Toni’s face flashed with a cool passion. “Ladies, please. The jobs are yours, of course.” Digger grunted, “But we will have to write contracts stating that you work for me and me alone for twelve months.”
Toni and Fab paused. They looked at each other, and then back at Digger.
“Take it or leave it, girls. The choice is yours.” Digger rose, stepping towards the door to open it. She watched her two riders glance once more at each other in an attempt to gauge what the other was thinking. As she opened it, Toni spoke.
“All right, Digg, you win. It’s a deal. Are you with me, Fab?”
Fab nodded, Toni recognizing the familiar expression of her good friend. She did not doubt that Fab would say more once they were in the pub. They both turned towards Digger whose tough exterior belied how moved she was by their easy understanding of each other’s ways.
“Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got some work to do.” Digger beckoned them out of the room, “ I’ve a new receptionist who’s only started today. She’ll be taking the bookings so it’s likely that she’ll be the one that speaks to you regarding what jobs are going. Her name’s Amelia and she reports directly to me, so behave yourselves.”
If Fab knew how much her life was about to change the moment Digger’s office door shut behind her, she would probably have remained in the room, refusing, at all costs, to leave. Toni would have done the same, although as far as she was currently concerned all was well. As soon as they were out of the room, Toni did what she always did when she came to this office. She occupied herself with the notice board. She was too immersed in advertisements for spare rooms and lost cats to notice that her best friend was transfixed by the fleeting presence of Amelia. When Toni turned away from the board to face her friend, there was no indication that anyone else had been in the reception area.
“Well, I think a visit to the pub is in order, Fab, don’t you?” Toni patted her friend on the back as they left the building. “I haven’t even told you about my holiday yet.” Fab did not respond. Finally she spoke.
“Did you see her?” Her eyes stared into space, her voice a pale echo of what it had been a few minutes earlier.
“Who, Fab? Are you all right, mate? You’ve gone very pale. It was that talk with Digg. She can be a right bitch sometimes. Come on, let’s get you a whisky.” Toni led Fab into the pub and went up to the bar for the drinks. On her return with a whisky, a pint and two bags of crisps, Fab turned to her.
“Toni, you’re not going to believe this. I have never in my entire life experienced this. But I have just fallen in love at first sight. When I looked at her, I saw my life, my past and my future life all rolled into one. When I had the chance of seeing her face I could see her and my soul in an instant.”
“Jesus, Fab, you’re not talking about Digg are you? She’s spoken for. Josephine would murder you in a second.”
“You didn’t see her. She came in from that back room and was checking something at reception. She went back in after that. God, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so beautiful.” Fab’s eyes had become liquid.
“Hold that thought, Fab, I’ll be right back. I left my jacket in Digg’s office.” Toni strode towards the office in order to catch the doors before they closed for the day. As she got to the front, she noticed a delicately framed lady beginning to lock up.
“You must be looking for this jacket.” Amelia picked up Toni’s leather and handed it over to her.
“Thanks.” Toni replied. She was unable to say anything else. Her heart was beating too fast. Words seemed trivial. The way her rose bud mouth had spoken “this jacket” had sent her blood rushing into her face. A horror of the situation was beginning to dawn on Toni as she returned to the pub. This could not possibly be the same woman that Fab had talked about. They did not share the same taste. But who else could it be? There was no other receptionist working at Dykes on Bikes.
Toni sat herself back down in front of Fab, distractedly opening a packet of crisps. She gulped at her beer and glanced over at her friend whom she had known and loved for so long. Fab was looking towards the door. Toni wondered whether Fab was contemplating returning to the office to see if she could have another taste of heaven. Toni herself began to wonder whether Amelia was going to walk through the door, so strong was the force of both their emotions. Fab did not turn to Toni, but with her eyes fixed towards the exit she addressed her.
“Was she there when you went back?” Fab now turned her pale face towards Toni, who could not prevent a guilty blush spreading over to her face. Holding eye contact with Fab became too difficult so she cast her eyes down to her beer. She hoped the golden colour would distract her from the image of Amelia, but it only reminded her of the wispy hue in her hair.
“Yes, I saw her. She gave me the jacket.” Toni answered as flatly as she could.
“What did she say to you?” Fab’s spoke through gritted teeth.
“What do you want me to say, Fab? That I don’t want her? You won’t hear that from me, I’m afraid. Besides, you have to understand, she looked after my jacket for me didn’t she? There’s some chemistry there, I know it.” Toni plunged her hand into the salty crisps and shovelled a couple into her mouth.
“That’s where you’re wrong, mate. Because we’re not talking about chemistry here, we’re talking about love. And I love her. She’s mine.” Fab’s voice had turned utterly cold towards her friend.
“I don’t think you can make that sort of claim. Besides, as I said, she spoke to me, not to you.” Toni felt the aggression rising from within.
“I saw her first, Fab. Now you are either a friend or not.” Fab’s face was inches away from Toni.
An hour later, catalysed and fuelled by several beers and whiskies, Toni and Fab were shouting at each other. The manager, who had known them for a long time was forced to ask them to leave. Outside, the two women were incapable of dispelling their mutual feelings of passion and betrayal. Drunk with both alcohol and adrenalin, they did not notice that Digger was approaching them.
“What in Christ’s name is going on here?” Digger shouted
“A betrayal of friendship, that’s what.” Fab responded, slurring. “This stupid cow has decided that she wants my girl.” Fab swung her arm in Toni’s direction.
“She’s not your girl. I think you’ll find she picks me.” Toni retorted, flushed with intoxication.
“Girls, you’re both drunk. Who are we talking about?” Digger asked.
“Amelia.” They both answered.
“Well, I hate to upset the applecart but she’s not for either of you. She’s my sister-in-law, and she’s straight. So, go home both of you and sleep it off.”
They watched as Digger got into her jaguar to drive herself home. As the car sped off into the distance, Fab turned to Toni.
“I don’t care if she’s straight or not, you bitch, I’m going to get this sorted. I don’t care what it takes.”
“Fine. Here’s an idea, you butch cretin. You want to fight this, we’ll do it. We’ll race to Brighton on our bikes. The first one to reach the pavilion wins.” Toni stood like a character in a western, her body poised for action.
“Good plan. Let’s do it.” Fab spat back at her.
The bikes were parked nearby, and as they sat on them, they held each other’s gaze for half a second. Fab started her engine, as did Toni and then they were off, screeching desperately into the night.
Toni wept as she held Fab in her arms. Wrapped in so many bandages it was hard to recognize her. The machine helping her to breathe made a consistent rhythmic sound of air being pushed in and then out of her friend’s lungs. The door opened, and Amelia stood in the doorway. Toni looked at the golden haired girl. She turned back to Fab, wishing her out of her coma.