Still Time

For Carrie, she's often had to do just fine on her own, but rebuilding a broken family relationship and finding unexpected love may be more possible than she thinks as a new year approaches.

Still Time
By Marissa Lynn

Among the less important things Carrie Emerson inherited from her father was the ability to be able to fall asleep from the seated position on the couch.

She put her headphones on, clicked "play," closed her eyes and laid back. It had been a long day. If quiet time meant passing into a comfortable, still sleep with PJ Harvey and Ella Fitzgerald in her ear, so be it.

Dreams make no sense. There's always details wrong. The small town she grew up in had one stoplight and less than 3,000 people, but in this dream, it has a subway system. Sure. Why not?

Later on, in an old apartment where she lived with mom for a year after she and dad broke up. There she is -- Mom, wearing the wire framed glasses she wore when she was younger. She's smiling.

It's the look she had before the change -- open, happy. Out of nowhere, she speaks.

"Carrie, I love you no matter what."

Carrie later went to bed, careful not to wake Bianca and the guy she'd brought home. Snuggled underneath the blankets, she couldn't help but be weirded out. "Carrie, I love you, no matter what."

"That wasn't her. That was a stranger."

It was Sunday. No need to get up early. She'd stopped going to church once she was no longer forced to. Having Lauren Emerson use the Bible as a weapon played a part.

In her bitterest moments, Carrie would think to herself that letting humankind have access to religion was like letting a three-year-old have access to fully stocked bar and an open armory. Most of the time, she settled on figuring that it was a source of comfort for some, but she was content to figure that the universe ran itself and she was fine without peoplesplained versions for how it did.

Her parents, Lauren and Bob, had gotten together in high school, way too young. She was born two months after Mom graduated.

They'd managed well enough until Carrie was five. She remembered looking forward to her new brother arriving. Everything was great up until the last minute. Cam didn't survive.

Sometimes, she wondered what it would have been like to have had Cameron around. Would he have been a supportive kid brother? Hateful? What if he'd come to her and told her he wasn't Cam any more than she wasn't Craig?

The marriage fell apart. As easy as it would be to say Cam's death was the cause, as Carrie grew older, she realized it only hastened the inevitable.

Years later, she asked her father, "I have to be honest. I'm glad you did, but how in the hell did you get together in the first place?"

All he could offer was a rueful shake of his head. "She wasn't always like this."

Dad wasn't perfect. He'd pretty much ghosted her after the divorce, leaving her to split time between Mom and her maternal grandparents (a welcome relief, as it meant not being under the same roof as her).

Carrie knew who she was before was a teenager, but she had no one to tell. Lauren grew increasingly cold, attached more to the church than her. Sure, there were the insults, the threats to send her off to military school to teach her "how to be a man" and taking having a "gay son" as a personal affront.

You literally couldn't have an innocuous conversation with her. "We're supposed to get snow tomorrow" would get an unprompted 10-minute riff about Jesus in response.

Carrie waited until she turned 18. Luckily, she lived with her grandparents in an informed consent state.

It all hit the fan in her freshman year of college, when she started presenting as her true self. Lauren came in for a surprise visit, seeing her daughter in a nice top, an A-line skirt, the works.

"What are you even doing here?"

"You're my son. I can stop by any time I want. And I didn't raise you to be a pervert!"

"Excuse me?

"I don't know what they teach here, but you know better than to insult God. Leviticus says-"

"Oh, yes. That's why you condemn eating shrimp and barbecue. Because Leviticus is 'the law.'"

"Don't take that tone with me, young man."

"Woman. Get it right. I spent all those years living under your hateful, hypocritical standards, pretending to be someone I'm not to-

"Pretending? That's rich. Do they know they have a cross-dressing freak playing dress-up games in this dorm?"

"Trans women are welcome here, Mom, because we are women."

"I should have known. Schools like this put those evil, Marxist thoughts in your head. They recruit you for Satan."

"Do you even listen to yourself, Mom?"

"Look, Craig. I'll make it very simple for you.If you're going to turn your back on God, I'm not going to pay for it. You can renounce your sin and transfer to a school with real values or you can stay here and debase yourself, but I won't pay for it."

"I'm not going to one of your phony Bible schools."

"Have it your way. You're on your own," Lauren said, adding on her way out, "I have no son."

"You never did. You. Never. Did," Carrie said, abandoned and dissolving into tears on her bed.

"'Carrie, I love you. No matter what.' That's a lie."

*****

"Hey, Carrie. You okay?" Bianca asked, popping her head through the door.

"Yeah, fine. Good night last night?"

"It wasn't bad. I don't think I'll invite him back for an encore, but not bad."

"He didn't pass the Bianca Carrasco Test did he?"

"No, he didn't."

"That's a shame," Carrie said, thinking, "Maybe she needs to-stop it, Carrie."

*****

"Carrie, I need you to work on 'Nowhere Ranch' today. The scenes are marked down on the sheet."

"Okay, Ted. Got it"

Carrie had succeeded in spite of Lauren, who she never talked to in person again. Her mother's cruelty had the unintended effect of reuniting her with her father.

Bob had eventually remarried, slipping right into that life, leaving his child to the wolves, having no idea she was his daughter.

One of her father's sisters got a hold of him to let him know what Lauren had done, having seen her crow about abandoning Carrie in a social media post full of self-congratulatory tone and deadnaming. He knew he had to do something and though there was a long road to get Carrie's trust, the least he could do was pick up the slack for her college expenses.

At that point, she'd felt about New Year's resolutions about how she felt about religion, but now, she resolved to have a family again.

It happened. Her stepmom, Janet, had proven to be the kick in the backside her dad needed. And her new siblings had been good to her, especially her stepbrother, Rick, who, through his boyfriend Dylan, had helped get her the job at Modern Board.

Bob had proudly introduced Carrie as his "daughter in the movie business," as if she were a superstar actress. They even got to spend a week together, just the two of them, the father-daughter time she'd always wished for.

Then the universe did what it does. Four months later, Bob died of a heart attack.

Carrie focused on the task at hand. Headphones on, she was making sure the sound was in sync --the score, the effects, the dialogue. She'd heard a couple of the stars had been in to re-record some of it, but she hadn't been asked to do that sort of work yet.

As far as she could tell, it was some sort of family drama, with Charlize Theron as the mother, some sort of awards bait except the scenes she was checking on all seemed good.

One scene left to look over, in the third act. Theron and some younger woman, from one of those hit streaming shows. She couldn't place the name. Everything was in place, then the dialogue started to sink in.

Oh, god. It's a reconciliation scene. Goddammit. Of course, there's crying over some photo of them years before, a boy with a de-aged Charlize. Shit. That's where she knew the actress from.

"She even looks kind of me, except blonde instead of redhead. I didn't need this."

Carrie shoved her emotions down, something Lauren was also very good at, double checking what she was supposed to, then notifying Ted she was done.

*****

"Dinner's ready," Bianca said.

As good as the food was, Carrie was distracted and Bianca could see it.

"Carrie, what's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"I'm not buying that," Bianca said, putting her hand on Carrie's. "I'm your friend, right?"

After a sharp intake of breath, Carrie slowly exhaled and told her about the dream, that damn Charlize Theron movie and how off she felt.

"You're lucky, Bianca. You have your parents in your life. Since Dad died, I miss that and, I don't know, as angry as I am at her, part of me wishes we could reconnect. Or just to let her know I'm not dead to piss her off."

"I don't know, maybe you could give your Mom, the younger Mom from your dream, something."

"Not a bad idea. You know, I'm lucky you're in my life."

"Yeah, no problem," Bianca replied, feeling funny as she said it.

Carrie distractedly looked at the internet. She had a tab open to the website of a friend of hers, Ava, who was a longtime photographer. Clicking on the "What's New" tab, she saw various examples of her work -- celebrities, still lifes and concerts.

"Wait. Is that? No way!"

*****

"Okay, thanks for coming, everyone. See you next month," Janet Hudson said, as the assortment of people started to grab their coats and leave the room.

The one exception was Lauren Emerson, who sat there silently, her face a mixture of sadness and shame.

"Lauren, time of year on top of the usual?"

"I just. Seeing all you talk about your kids and how proud you are of them and seeing them, it reminds me of her. Yes, especially now."

"Have you thought about reaching out? You're not the same person you were eight years ago."

"I forfeited that right when I abandoned her. I didn't even know her name when I did it. Carrie. It took a while to find her. I know she's out there, living a good, happy life she deserves. She doesn't need me in it."

"Let's grab a coffee," Janet said. She remembered crossing paths with Lauren at a point where she was questioning the rabbit hole of ignorance she'd crawled into.

Lauren's increasingly lonely existence, where others had jumped as much as she'd pushed, got her to a point where she couldn't blame other people. The ugliness she saw in the mirror, the same kind she began to hear crystal clear in her pastor's sermons.

It was around that time she ran into Janet, a former member of the church. Janet had left the moment her son came out to her as gay, maternal instinct triumphing over dogma. She now went to an affirming church and helped run the PFLAG meetings. She became a sort of shepherd for Lauren, who took to seeing the humanity in those she'd so thoughtlessly condemned.

Lauren was out of that rabbit hole, as supportive of others in the group as she was unable to forgive herself, not knowing how she could make it right.

*****

Ava delivered the photo personally, even having it framed herself. She even turned down her usual rate, saying, "Carrie, I know why you want this. Consider it an early present. Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you," Carrie said as they hugged.

As the holiday approached, Carrie steeled herself to do it, fear and anger did battle in her head, mixed in with the slightest amount of hope.

She put the headphones on, still again, falling into a nap, as the song played -- "Wanted to belong here/But something felt so wrong here/So I pray/I could breakaway."

There's the one-stoplight town subway again. At the top of the stop near the post office, she sees her mom again, only it's the ice queen she knew from high school. Lauren's lips curled into a sneer, she doesn't say a word. Instead, like she's trying to get the last out in a World Series Game 7, she winds up and slaps Carrie across the face.

Carrie awoke suddenly, shaken. That never happened in real life. As awful as Lauren had been, she'd never hit her. Her weapon was cruelty, the damage inflicted emotional, cuts, bruises and scars that lasted longer than anything physical would have.

She tried to gather herself at the bathroom sink. With her side swept red hair and eight years worth of HRT, she was reminded of another of the universe's sick little jokes. She was a dead ringer for Lauren. If they'd had a loving relationship, people would have said they looked like sisters or twins. It even threw her dad when they'd reconnected.

"I can't do this," Carrie cried to herself as she went to where she had the wrapped photo and put it into the back of her closet, covering it with a sweater she never wore. "I can't."

Bianca could tell Carrie was upset about something. She'd been lucky with her family. Given their response to her brother, Mateo, she knew she'd be safe to come out to them. She hated that Carrie couldn't do the same.

She also knew some in her extended family didn't respond well. Uncle Carlos stopped being welcome around family gatherings for years because of it, until he'd apologized to Mateo personally and backed it up by not being an ass anymore.

That didn't last long, as Carlos was killed in a car accident on his way home from his first Christmas back. Seeing how much this was hurting Carrie, the mixed messages from her dreams and knowing that any possible chance to reconcile could end at any time, an idea popped into her head.

Without telling Carrie, she took the day off, then waited for her to head off to Modern Board, having made breakfast first.

As Carrie waved at Bianca from the sidewalk, she couldn't help but think, "I really won the roommate lottery. A great friend and pretty, too."

As Bianca watched Carrie walk away, she thought, "If what's in that frame doesn't work, nothing will. Please, God let this work and let her forgive me for it if it doesn't."

*****

"Excuse me, are you Lauren Emerson?"

"And you are?"

"I'm your daughter's roommate, Bianca Carrasco.

"Daughter. She wouldn't be here unless-

"Is she okay? Has something happened?"

"She didn't call her 'he.'"

"No, no, no. She's fine. She, um, just asked me to bring you something."

"Really? Come in, please," a cautiously curious Lauren said.

Bianca came in. As Lauren went into the kitchen to get something to drink, she realized how stupid her first question was. Lauren's hair was more brown and there was a bit of gray at the temples, but she pretty much looked like a sadder version of Carrie 20 years from now. God, the irony of having the same face of someone who'd hurt you more than anybody. She thought she'd better get this over with quickly in case it went south.

"Here's your water. So, what am I supposed to have?"

Bianca excused herself to go get the picture from the trunk.

Lauren had no idea what was in the obvious frame underneath the wrapping paper, which she quickly tore away.

"What is this?" as she saw the picture of Kelly Clarkson singing, taken from the side. She'd taken Carrie to see her years ago because she got tickets from a co-worker."

"Front row, right side," Bianca said.

And there they were, Lauren, the same age Carrie was now, with a big smile on her face as her daughter was either cheering or singing along. A moment of joy when they were capable of sharing it.

Lauren started to cry. "She remembers."

"Of course, she remembers. She doesn't just remember the bad stuff. As awful as she feels, there's a part of her that remembers the other you, that wishes she could get a hug from her mom."

"She didn't ask you to drop this off, did she?" Lauren asked, getting the only response she needed from Bianca's expression.

"That's okay," she continued. "I understand why she doesn't want to see me. I appreciate your effort. Getting this for me is a nice gesture on your part. She's lucky to have a girlfriend like you."

"Oh, no, no, no. Carrie did get it. She's just afraid to- and I'm not her girlfriend."

Lauren saw the denial in Bianca's face, but said nothing. The two continued to talk, Bianca filling her in on Carrie's life, complete with photos ("She looks more like me than I ever realized"), Lauren on how she'd begun to change.

"Look, I really should get back, in case she notices, you know."

"Good idea," Lauren said. "Can we add each other as contacts? Maybe you can let me know if she's more open."

"I suppose so. I might have to make up a fake name for you, just in case."

Lauren nodded, then walked Bianca to the front door. "Thank you so much for bringing me this. It gives me a little bit of hope and it really was so sweet of her. And, Bianca, you should think about telling her how you feel. Trust me, you'll have better luck with her than her father did with me."

Bianca nodded and got to her car. The whole drive back, she worried that she overstepped her bounds, but Lauren seemed so different from Carrie's description. Had she really changed? She hoped so, for Carrie's sake and for the sake of their relationship.

"Friendship, Bianca. Friendship. Stop crushing on the straight girl."

It had been a good day at work for Lauren. Ted told her that he was going to teach her all she needed to in order to be able to work on redubs and voiceovers in the new year.

Still, she was mentally exhausted. Even the stillness didn't help, as this time, not only did her dreams have both Laurens, she also dreamt that she was on a pier. Dad was clinging to it, but no matter how much she stretched her arms out, she couldn't reach him to pull him out of the water.

Bianca was gone when she woke up. Perfect. She didn't want a loving hug right now. She needed the stillness alone. She fished around in a container she kept locked with documents and, there they were, the keys she was looking for.

She jotted a quick note -- "Bianca - Just need to get away. Don't know when I'll be back. Carrie," not even realizing she'd added "xoxo" at the end.

*****

"So, Carrie. I got the wine for later tonight. No reason we can't celebrate the start of a new year. Carrie? Carrie?"

Bianca found the note on the kitchen table. She didn't miss the "xoxo," but she also didn't miss the "don't know when I'll be back."

"Please, be okay, Carrie."

Eventually tired of worry and not having any ideas after none of their closest mutual friends had seen her, she grabbed her phone and dialed up her newest contact-- "Linda Hammersley."

Lauren wouldn't have answered, but she saw Bianca's name.

"Lauren, I'm worried about Carrie. She took off while I was gone. She left a note saying she had to be alone and she didn't know when she'd be back."

"Does she know you were here?"

"I don't think so. All I saw in her bedroom was the case she keeps her documentation and stuff locked in. It was left open. Nobody here knows where she is. I thought you might have an idea."

Memories of decades ago hit Lauren. "I do. If you can get up here, I'll text you if I'm right."

"Okay, thanks."

Carrie dragged the suitcase up the steps. She fished out the key. It fit in the lock and it turned. The universe had cut her a break.

She stepped into the old family cabin where her parents took her when they were kids, before it all turned to crap. Now, she was grateful that Lauren, in her spite, hadn't thought to change the locks.

She turned up the heat and put the food she'd need for later away, then shuffled off to the main bedroom. She plugged in her phone, which she'd set to "do not disturb." Covering herself in a blanket, she put in the earbuds, pressed "play" and let herself drift, glad there was no one in the stillness but her.

Carrie was sound enough asleep that she didn't hear Lauren enter the cabin. Not wanting to scare her daughter, she quietly set her luggage down by the kitchen table and tiptoed back outside. She then knocked and knocked.

That woke up and startled Carrie, who figured she had the place to herself. She opened the door, stunned to see a face she hadn't seen in eight years looking back at her.

"Carrie?"

"Don't you mean 'Craig'?"

"No, I know better. I'm sorry I was so wrong, so cruel."

"Yes, you were. You basically wished I was dead."

Lauren winced. She knew she hadn't, but she knew her actions led Carrie to believe that.

"I've been wanting to get in touch with you for a long time, but I was afraid and I knew you had a good life without me," Lauren said before she started to relate how she'd turned around her worldview with the help of Janet and others.

"One of the other moms I met, she told me that she had a daughter in college who came out as lesbian. She did the same thing I did, only her daughter," she said, fighting back tears. "Let's just say I was glad to find what I did when I looked you up."

"How did you even know I was here?"

"Your friend Bianca called me because she was concerned about you."

"How the hell do you know her?"

Ignoring blasphemy was one of the skills Lauren had acquired in recent years. "She brought me your Christmas present and I'm glad she did, even though it reminded me of what I gave away when I abandoned you, when I lost myself."

"She did what? I can't believe she did that without-"

"I hope you forgive her for that. You didn't just inherit a facial resemblance from me. We both can dig in and be stubborn about things. Or be afraid. She did it because she cares about you. You're lucky to have someone like her as a girlfriend."

"But she's not my girlfriend."

"Well, I saw her face when she talked about you. I know I'm not in a position to ask you to do anything, but if you don't feel the same way, be gentle with her. And if you do, and the look on your face says I might be right, give it a chance. You deserve that kind of happiness."

"Maybe? I don't know. This is all confusing. Your last words to me were 'I don't have a son' and now here you are, trying to play bisexual matchmaker."

"There's no way I can take back what I said that day, even if I was unintentionally right. I have a daughter. I'm not expecting you to forget what happened all those years. All I want is a chance at us being a mother and daughter. That concert photo that's on my living room wall right now shows there's a chance you do, too."

Hope was starting to nudge closer to anger and fear, although Carrie was still leery. "There's some truth to that, even though you have to understand that it's hard for me to trust that."

"I get that. If you need counseling with this and if you want me to join you for it, I'll pay and you pick the counselor. I know you'd need someone you trust."

Carrie nodded. "That might not be a bad idea. Look, I brought some tea with me, maybe we keep talking?"

“Good idea."

The two started to tentatively catch up. Carrie's hurt came out at times, but she noticed Lauren never tried to deflect or blame. She seemed to be taking ownership. She didn't even flinch when she told her that the one thing she wouldn't do is go to church.

Lauren looked at the clock on the kitchen wall, "Look, if we're going to be here for New Year's Eve, I'd better get to the store back in town before they close. We're going to need a few extra things. We might have some good resolutions to toast to."

"My face must be a mess now, Mom. Give me a few minutes and I'll join you."

"Sounds good, Carrie."

"She's not deadnaming me. I am not used to this."

Lauren couldn't marvel at how Carrie looked. She had blossomed despite her. She was a daughter any mother should be proud of and, as way past overdue as it was, she couldn't be prouder. She looked out the window, spotting something she thought she might see.

"Actually, I have another idea."

"What are you talking about?"

Lauren opened the door, Carrie right behind her. She pointed at Bianca's car coming up the drive.

"Look, Carrie, I can make the run to town by myself. I won't be gone long, but you and I aren't the only ones with something to talk about. And compared to us, I think what you two have to talk about is simpler."

Before her daughter could formulate a response, Lauren grabbed her shoulder reassuringly. She went to her car, giving Bianca a reassuring smile and nod before she drove off.

"Bianca? What are you doing here?"

"Just seeing that you're okay. You had me worried."

"I can't believe you took that present here without permission. That wasn't your call to make."

"Sorry, I know."

"But now she's here and acting like my mom again, or trying to. I still don't know what to think completely, but you-"

"Sorry. Ordinarily, I wouldn't do something like that. I thought it was worth a shot and if she reacted badly, at least you wouldn't be the one hearing it. It's just that, I hated seeing you like that and I knew it was breaking you up inside. I care about you. But she doesn't seem angry now and neither do you?"

"No, she isn't. This is too weird. She hurt me so much for so long, but now she seems normal?"

"I can't imagine. I was expecting her to bite my head off when I showed up at her house, but she seemed more sad than anything, like everything she'd done had hit her."

Carrie and Bianca filled each other in on what had been happening.

Relieved, Carrie said, "I know it was my call, but in this instance, I'm glad you called the audible. You're a good friend."

"Tell that to your mother. She thinks I'm more than that."

Carrie felt that funny feeling in her stomach, seeing Bianca looking gorgeous, with curly black hair, the red lip and eyeliner on point. "I know. She always pushed me to date girls in high school. I guess some things don't change much."

"That never happened to me. My parents, but I mean. I liked dating boys and like dating men, but-"

"But what?"

"There was this girl, Ana Lopez. She was my best friend in grade school, then into middle school. She had this cute short hair with the bangs swept over. I looked at her differently one summer. I wondered what it would be like if she were my first kiss and I think she wondered, too. But then she moved to Florida before we got a chance."

"You never told me this before."

"Well, it's never come up. It was years ago. She was the first girl I ever had a crush on."

"The first?"

"There's only been two. The other's, well, more recent.

Carrie gulped. "How recent?"

"For months now. I'm looking at her, actually."

Another gulp. "But how? You've only dated guys."

"Some good guys, but they had one problem. I didn't want to admit it, but they weren't you. I thought I'd work up the courage to tell you, but then it's pointless to crush on a straight girl."

"I thought so, too."

Bianca blinked rapidly. "What?"

"Look, you've been a really good friend. You've been there for me more than any of my boyfriends have. I used to look at girls in high school, for how they acted, how they dressed, for ways I could be. You remind me of the best of them, just as aspirational, inside and out."

"I'm not."

"Trust me, Bianca. You are. I realized that if you were a guy, I'd have asked you out a while ago. But like you said, useless to crush on a straight girl."

"Maybe not so useless."

"Before I came out, I was a happy little gay boy. Well, not really happy and not a boy. But you know what I mean."

"You might be gay after all."

"For you, definitely."

Even then, neither wanted to make the first move, until they both did.

"Wow," Carrie uttered before they simultaneously said, "My first kiss with a girl."

Lauren eventually returned. Bianca got up to leave.

"Now that I know Carrie's okay, I should get back-"

"Nonsense. You shouldn't have to spend tonight alone. Besides, what kind of mother would I be if I kept my daughter from her girlfriend?"

"But mom-"

"Don't 'But mom' me. I can see the looks on your faces. Plus, you both need to fix your lipstick. Let's get inside. We can make dinner together if you'd like."

Carrie looked at Bianca, seeing an embarrassed smile with encouraging eyes.

"I'd like that a lot, actually."

Carrie paused at the door, looked at Lauren and embraced her in a tear-filled hug.

Lauren didn't actually say the words, "I love you no matter what," but for the first time, on this New Year's Eve, Carrie resolved that the dream wasn't a lie.



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