Sunday, December 21, 2008

Meta-Hattie Comes Out to Play

[Author's Note: For anyone who wanders in here uninitiated, one of the common themes of Left Behind Fridays is that every once in a while Chloe and Hattie transcended Jerry Jenkin's atrocious writing and inhuman characterizations. We named these unintended characters Meta-Hattie and Meta-Chloe. Since these are the only two sympathetic characters and few people love hot meta-girl-on-meta-girl action more than Slacktivites, we often rooted for them to hook up, knowing it would not happen. Still, you can imagine what it would be like if they did, right?]

Hattie stared at the dark ceiling. She couldn't sleep most nights, at least not without the help of a couple glasses of red wine. Too many flights across a half-dozen time zones, too many nights in a lonely, empty bed. Too many memories. Too many ghosts.

It was cold in Chloe's room. The air settled on her flesh, raised it in a vain attempt to hold in heat and life. The only warmth came from the flesh pressed against hers and the warm breath Chloe exhaled rhythmically across her shoulder and neck. The leg wrapped around hers and arm encircling her chest were heavy, but not oppressively so. They were warm, comfortable, familiar, desperate.

Chloe held her like a drowning woman, terrified even in her sleep that she'd awaken alone and adrift. Hattie understood. She'd been there, too.

"I'm not going anywhere," Kate had said one night while they lay in their bed listening to the radiators pop and fizzle, keeping the cold outside at bay. "You don't have to worry."

Hattie propped herself up on an elbow. "What are you talking about?"

Kate turned to face her. The moonlight streaming through the window flashed in her brown eyes and lit her black hair with rich, midnight hues. "You talk in your sleep sometimes. It wakes me up."

"What?" Hattie half-smiled at her in confusion. "What do I say?"

"Most of the time it's something like, 'No, don't go. Don't leave me here.'"

"Oh." She flopped back on her pillow, somehow afraid to face Kate. "What do you do?"

"I hold you." Kate's hand found hers under the covers, squeezed it. "Whisper in your ear that it will be okay, that I'm not going anywhere."

Hattie blinked back tears. "Would it make you feel any better if I told you it's not you I'm worried about?"

Her father had left them when she was eight. Just walked out one day in a flurry of f-bombs and tears. It had left a hole in her heart that she'd always felt wouldn't close. The only place that hole was ever filled was in that bed with Kate, surrounded by popping radiators and moonlight.

It was the only time in her life she wasn't afraid of the dark. She'd never believed in ghosts or worried about the things that went bump in the night. It was the inactivity, the time spent staring at the ceiling, the place where the real hauntings arrive. The scariest ghosts aren't those of dead men and women from long ago, but the dead dreams that had to be left behind.

Around the time Hattie began to discover both girls and boys, her mother decided that they all needed some god in their lives. She'd dragged Hattie and her older sister to a church down the street and introduced them to the junior high and high school youth pastors.

Hattie took to the pastor immediately. He was kind, funny, patient, and seemed filled with more wisdom than her thirteen-year-old brain could comprehend. Once, after he delivered a youth group night message on dating and relationships, she had approached him. "I like boys," she'd said, "I really do. But I like girls, too. What's so wrong with that?"

He'd offered to counsel her, help her understand that what she felt was against the Bible and how to fix it. Then one night he told her he had a secret therapy and that he'd share it with her as long as she promised to never, ever tell anyone about it. Then he'd unbuttoned his pants.

Hattie begged her mother to find a new church, to never go back to that one again. She'd assumed it was just some bit of teen angst and dropped her vulnerable daughter off at the church the next youth group night. Now when the pastor approached she shrank away, afraid to talk to him, afraid to let him touch her.

That night she'd noticed that she wasn't the only one. Other girls had that trapped, frightened look. Other girls shrank away when he approached. Her fear gave way to fury. That night after youth group the words tumbled out of her mouth and her mother had listened with mounting horror and fury.

"Honey," she'd said, picking up the phone to dial the police, "I don't care if the sign on his door says pastor or President. You never, ever have to let anyone hold that kind of power over you."

The next day they'd gotten a call from the head pastor of the church. He asked them to come in at their convenience, but as soon as possible. Please.

"We have a way of approaching issues of marital infidelity and sexual sin," he'd said, leaning forward intently in his chair. He was a kindly man, one who had taken his role as shepherd seriously and honestly regarded those who attended his church, even once, as his responsibility. "We usually allow those who have committed such sins to admit their transgressions and submit to the rules of conduct as handed down by Paul."

Hattie didn't understand what he was saying, but began to get worried. It sounded an awful lot like he was saying that she was somehow at fault and that she would receive equal blame, that she'd have to stand up and confess her sins of being raped in front of the whole crowd.

"However," he continued, "In cases such as this we turn to worldly authorities. What Tom did was wrong and he deserves punishment both before god and the law." He'd turned and looked directly at Hattie. "I know it will be tough, but if you want to continue coming to this church we would like to show you that Jesus didn't come to take advantage of anyone, but to offer healing and love."

She went to the next youth group night. It was a somber affair as adolescent minds attempted to cope with the loss of their pastor on so many levels.

She'd gone in to the bathroom at one point, looking for a chance to be alone, convinced that all of the other kids knew what she'd done and hated her for putting herself and her needs above theirs.

The bathroom door opened. "I hoped you'd come back, at least once."

Hattie found herself standing in front of a dark-haired girl she'd never met. She was still in that awkward space between girl- and womanhood. Her legs were too thin, her chest too big, her movements slightly awkward, like the motors that told her body what to do were growing slower than the rest of her. Hattie recognized her immediately as one of the girls who'd shied away from the pastor, one of the girls who'd given her the strength to stand up.

The girl crossed the room, put her hand on Hattie's cheek and stared at her for a long second. Then, suddenly, she'd pulled her face to Hattie's and kissed her.

"My, uh, my dad told us last week that he has to move for his job," she said, long before Hattie could recover the ability to speak, "But I've still got a month or so before we have to go. Maybe, uh, maybe we could spend some time together...?"

For a brief moment Hattie believed in god. "Uh, sure."

"Cool," the girl smiled, her teeth too big for her mouth but beautiful nonetheless. "I'm Kate."

When Kate left they'd promised to keep in touch, promised that those days and nights of fumbling, awkward teenage experimentation weren't just the activities of two girls who had been forced to grow old faster than they grew up. They'd promised to be friends, that what they'd found had meant something, hadn't just been therapy. So they sent each other letters, talked on the phone, chatted on AIM, made plans to cross the vast gulf between them and visit that were more fantasy than reality.

Then, the summer before their sophomore year the news had come. Kate was moving back.

Pictures are a funny thing. Sometimes they're the best thing about a person, a captured moment of happiness that serves as a trigger to a better time that will never again return. Sometimes, though, they don't do their subject justice. Some people need to be seen in the flesh, captured in motion, appreciated in the moment.

Even though Hattie had seen pictures of Kate in the time they'd been apart, she was wholly unprepared for what she saw the first time they were again in the same room. The awkward thirteen-year-old was gone, replaced by a dark-haired beauty. She'd filled out in all the right places and at fifteen could have passed for twenty and been on the cover of fashion magazines. She was the sort of girl, too, who looked like age would only help her, refine her, continually smooth out the girlish lines in to those of a sculpted, confident woman, the sort who would break hearts by the dozens without ever realizing it. This was helped in no small part by the fact that the girlish awkwardness had disappeared, replaced by a smooth, confident grace.

As unprepared for Kate's appearance as she was, Hattie was shocked by the first words to come out of her mouth. "My god, Hattie," she'd said, "The pictures don't do you justice. You're gorgeous."

Kate would go on to the varsity dance team and end up as one of the most popular girls in school, every red-blooded American boy's wet dream. But Kate carried this distinction with a twist. She'd made a vow to herself after her terrible experience in that junior high pastor's office that she'd never try to hide her sexuality, never be ashamed of it, never tell anyone that she thought she should change. "Besides," she'd said once with a wink, "All the boys in school want to imagine that the girls' locker room is a big girl-on-girl orgy, anyway. I don't ruin their expectations, I fulfill them."

Some people simply carry within themselves the strength of character to overcome all obstacles, push past all pain, turn the negative in to a positive. It was to Hattie's eternal regret that no matter how much time she spent with Kate, no matter how many times Kate had told her to believe in herself, she simply couldn't.

"You know what your problem is?" Kate asked. They'd just finished and were lying in knotted, soaked sheets, basking in the afterglow.

"No, what?"

"You don't know how goddamn awesome you really are."

"Okay." Hattie knew she didn't sound convinced.

"Seriously, girl, you've got to project it." Kate hopped out of bed and stood, naked, in the murky light of her dusky bedroom. "Like this." She walked across the room, the picture of poise and confidence, her legs working rhythmically. Hattie studied the way the muscles in her thighs flexed, the way her ass cheeks raised and lowered in piston motion, the way her breasts bounced ever so slightly. She crossed the room, turned, crossed again. "Now you do it."

Hattie obeyed, rising out of the bed and crossing the room, doing her best to project confidence she didn't feel. All her confidence came from Kate. Without her there was nothing.

"Good job, girl." Kate put her hands on both sides of Hattie's head, pulled her close enough that their foreheads touched. Hattie grabbed Kate's waist, reveling, as always, in the closeness of her touch. "Project that confidence and you'll eventually realize that it's coming from inside you." Kate kissed her, lightly. "You're amazing. You know that, right?"

"I guess."

"Now, can you do something for me?"

"Sure, anything."

"Be my date to Homecoming."

Hattie wilted. Kate had asked her to Homecoming last year, then again to their junior prom. She'd said no, that she couldn't. Kate had said she understood, said, "Hey, that's cool, we'll stay at home, watch a movie, you know. Girl time."

The thought of going to Homecoming terrified her. It wasn't even about the fear of being found out, since if Kate and Hattie's relationship was a secret, it was the worst-kept secret in history. Hattie's mother referred to Kate as her third daughter. Hattie had even gone on a vacation with Kate's family over the summer. They regularly held hands while at school and had even engaged in the time-honored high school tradition of making out at their lockers between classes.

In a flash Hattie realized that she had nothing to fear, not from the staring eyes of her classmates. The only thing she really had to fear was that look of hurt, disappointment, and confusion in Kate's eyes. She couldn't handle it again.

"Yes. Yes I will." Kate's smile lit up the room. It's warmth should have been enough to keep the cold away from Hattie forever.

The cold air mocked her, pulling her back to Chloe's unfamiliar bed.

That Homecoming Dance had been one of the happiest nights of her life. She and Kate had gotten dressed to the nines, rented a limo, and spent the night in each other's arms. Towards the end of the night the senior class president had grabbed the mic from the band and said, "I know we picked the court a couple weeks ago, but I'd like to make a special recognition." A spotlight suddenly descended on Kate and Hattie. All eyes turned towards them. "I know it can be tough to be different, and to try to fit in even if you don't want to. For having the courage to be themselves, I'd like to declare Kate and Hattie our honorary Homecoming Queens."

As the applause washed over them, the two girls might as well have been the only ones in the room. Hattie had vowed then and there to never hurt Kate again. It was a vow that lasted until she met Rayford.

He'd been a dashing, handsome Captain. She was just starting out her career and eager to please.

He'd taken her under his wing, so to speak, showed her the ropes. He'd been there for her, watched out for her, made sure she was okay.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, that old hole in her heart began to open again. Somehow in Rayford's presence she became an eight-year-old girl again, wondering where daddy went, if he would ever come back again, if he really loved her.

She knew now that he'd just been using her, working out some sort of kink. But at the time she'd believed him when he told her that his marriage was falling apart, that Irene just wasn't doing anything for him anymore, that he respected her too much to simply see her as a mistress, that they'd be together some day, but the right way.

Kate had delivered an ultimatum, and for the first time since meeting her in the bathroom all those years ago Hattie had seen doubt and fear in her beloved's eyes. It turned out the fear was justified. Kate had told her to go to hell, to never talk to her again.

Hattie's purse was lying next to the bed. She let her arm flop off the edge, reached in, found her cell phone. She opened the contacts list, went to K.


The word stared at her, bathing her face in its luminescence.

She wanted to hit the call button, wanted to put the phone to her ear, wanted to hear Kate's voice. She wanted to say, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I was an idiot," over and over and over again. She wanted Kate to hear the words that constantly flooded her brain, threatening to drown her.

Ever since she realized Rayford was nothing but a lying bastard she had spent her nights in an empty, cold bed, staring at her phone, imagining where Kate was. Maybe she was somewhere else, maybe she was still in that apartment, listening to the popping radiators, wondering what had happened, staring at a cell phone, wondering why it didn't ring. She'd probably moved on, though, found solace in another woman's arms, hopefully a woman who deserved her this time. Hattie certainly didn't.

Chloe stirred, awakened by the light. Hattie turned the screen off, dropped the phone back in her purse, hoped Chloe hadn't noticed.

"Hey," Chloe mumbled, "You're awake."

"Yeah. Couldn't sleep."

"You wanna, you know, go again."


Chloe smiled, blissfully unaware of what she was getting herself in to, unaware that she was only going to get herself hurt, that Hattie wasn't worth a goddamn thing. Chloe unlocked her legs from Hattie's and turned over in the bed as Hattie spread her thighs. A moment later Hattie's view of the ceiling was eclipsed and her world reduced to a small cavern of flesh.

She grabbed Chloe's ass, directing her to the proper placement, and gave in to the moment, hoping it would last forever.

She didn't want to think about anything else any more.


Abelardus said...

Well, that will be a pleasant thought throughout a hard day at work. You are a good writer, Geds. Again, a sexy but poignant piece. I'm glad to find out a little more about what makes Hattie tick.

Geds said...

Yeah, I decided once again to stick to my guns. Sex I can only do so well. Pathos, I've got down...

Besides, it's so much better with things like this to set the scene, wind it up, and leave most of the necessary mechanics to the imagination. I think that's where you get the 15-year-old virgin effect in a lot of writing about sex. There are only so many ways the act can be described before it starts to sound funny and/or forced.

Also, I kind of worried I'd get some backlash on this one, since I don't think it's quite what most people had in mind for Meta-Hattie. The character of Kate actually started as a bit of rejected back story for Meta-Chloe, then as a closeted lesbian who had an abusive, secret relationship. But it got left on the cutting room floor because it seemed out of place.

Then I decided to switch her over and make her a force for good to counterpoint Hattie's lack of self-esteem and agency. I was going to make her some sort of college girlfriend, but she interposed her will on the story (yeah, I'm one of those insane writers who thinks of characters as being real). It just felt right and I went with it.

The Meta-Chloe story was much more crafted, much more controlled. I just kind of let the Meta-Hattie story tell itself. I rather like the way it turned out.

Jeff Lipton said...

Again with the Daddy issues? This is a good story about someone, but doesn't sound like Hattie, Meta- or otherwise.

Sorry, I'm just not buying it.

Geds said...

Sorry, I'm just not buying it.

Then it's a good thing I'm giving it away for free...

Anyway, snark aside, In a world not controlled by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins you'd be absolutely right. The problem with coming up with a Meta-Anybody when working with the characters at hand is that they are ultimately constrained by the rules of the universe they live in and those rules are defined by someone who knows nothing about how real human beings work and has, shall we say, less than progressive ideas about gender politics.

Outside of a skewed world view, there's no reason for Hattie to follow Rayford around like a puppy dog if she's wholly emotionally healthy. There's also no reason for Chloe to come running home and immediately let herself fall under the thrall of Rayford and his newfound Christian weirdness. As the author of these two pieces, meanwhile, I chose to stay as true as possible to the universe LaJenkins imagine not to preserve the canon, but as a critique of the disregard with which women are treated by this sort of man.

Neither Chloe nor Hattie, by all rights, should be playing the roll of submissive to Rayford. I the world of Rayford as Gary Stu for the domineering pastor of a misogynistic church movement it's perfectly sensible, however. The fact that Chloe and Hattie were originally written as such reveals a disconnect on the part of the original authors.

With Chloe it can be explained if she grew up under the same roof as a domineering but distant father. Hattie requires a great deal more in the way of mental gymnastics.

If you don't agree with my take then more power to you. But as author and critic I feel burdened to attach Meta-Chloe and Meta-Hattie to their respective characters because they're ultimately trapped in Tim LaHaye's hellish world.

That, too, is why Kate is who she is. She serves as counterpoint, a creature from another universe where girls are allowed to grow up to be women and both are allowed to choose their own path. It's why Meta-Hattie still longs for her in the middle of the night.

Anonymous said...

And again, absolutely fabulous! But I was just wondering: didn't Hattie seem more like a sex addict in the books (specifically The Rapture) when they talk about her having affairs with men? I like where you've gone with this series, but I'd love to see you develop on Chloe and "Johnny" (in that first story) or Hattie and one of her player studs. Might be interesting... just thinking. Might reveal more of Hattie trying to feel secure and safe, and then relating back to her being a closet lesbian. nice job. I do love it.

Geds said...

Thank you for your kind words.

But I doubt I'm going to do any more of these. I don't consider myself a fanfic or a slash writer by any stretch of the imagination. I approached this with a bit of trepidation and more as a thought exercise and found that I don't like trying to write another author's characters, even if the other author pretty much sucks. That's why the second piece was pretty much entirely about Kate.

Also, I couldn't begin to answer your questions about Hattie in The Rapture, as I've never read it.

But don't let me stop you from writing your own take on it. Maybe you'll like the work better than I do...

Anonymous said...

Oh, don't begin to get me wrong. The story was fabulous. I loved it. And I completely agree with you on the difficulties of writing another author's character. That's why it's so much easier to read them than write them. You did a fabulous job, yet again. Best of luck in your future blogging/writing.

Anonymous said...

Why was Kate mad at Hattie? What am I missing here?

Anonymous said...

Kate is mad because Hattie loves Rayford now and kind of feels betrayed (am I on the right track, Geds?). Oh, and I was wondering, were you considering ever writing any more of these? Like maybe about Kate? She's so interesting and I was just wondering. I still enjoy reading these- they never get old.