Not Strong Enough To Run

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A traditional style manual blood pressure measuring device, with a blue cuff.

Paul is a trainee nurse, a pretty good one, and on the verge of qualification. He has one last figure he must prove himself to; Alicia, his direct supervising nurse. She made a promise to Paul on his first day on the ward—one of the last wards in a regular hospital in the entire city—if Paul ever needed a drink after a shift to decompress, get a worry off his chest, deal with a professional issue, or even just to chat, simply tell her; Alicia would be there for him; that’s what good supervisors do. And Alicia believes she’s a good supervisor.

After a long, but quiet, Friday night shift, with time to dwell on his thoughts, Paul pushes himself to take Alicia up on the promise she made. Something is bothering him, and mentioning it in the hospital, without support, could affect his career. Paul even knows exactly the bar he wants to go to for the 9am drink; Light Avenue.


Not Strong Enough to Run is a Solo short story set in the Toni With An i/Light Avenue universe, featuring the sort of, maybe, but not quite, but really ‘Yes’ LGBTQ+ bar. Set roughly ten years before Toni With An i it features both Steph and Trevor earlier in their careers. No knowledge of Toni With An i is needed for this story. Not Strong Enough to Run is, however, a tale that will enhance the experience of any fans of Steph, Trevor, or Light Avenue itself.


The hospital was old, at least the original construction. The original building had good staff, and was managed well, but on a minimal budget. In the past few decades new buildings had been added as the hospital built out its commercial arms on the old land, with modern facilities, and demanding high fees, but the departments Paul was responsible to were of so low a priority, and in some ways a cost-saving mechanism, as well as a charitable entity, it meant much of their in-patient care was still run on a ward basis. It was one of the few facilities like it left in the entire city, at least in regular hospitals.

The five wards in the original building were mainly used if the rest of the hospital was too overwhelmed, sometimes for low-risk psychiatric care, and quite often for serious and chronic patients without insurance who the hospital were willing to support. One quite decent elderly care group used the wards when their homes felt a client needed a little more attention than they could provide, typically as a means of early intervention. Almost preventative in some cases. Such a hospital was the experience Paul wanted.

Paul was nearly fully qualified as a nurse. He was trusted to do everything on his own, but he needed a few more months of supervision before someone would sign off on him. Of course the supervision would never end, but it’d mean he’d be able to travel with a full qualification. The money wouldn’t be as good in other places but he wanted to experience the world, which was part of the reason why he specifically asked to train on a ward. Many nations still operated wards, and he knew his time in the hospital would be valuable in settling quickly in a position anywhere.

He’d also heard from a few people that it can let you watch the patients better, if you have any time to. He knew he’d made the right decision after a few days. Some of his teachers and past supervisors, as well as an advisor, told him he was very observant and intuitive. It was on the ward he realised how true this was, he loved being able to watch patients, and that Alicia, the woman who he reported to for his training, gave him time to watch them.

Paul’s shift was coming to an end, just past 8am, and the handover to the new shift had been completed. He simply had to wait for Alicia to OK everything and he’d be free to leave, but something was bothering him and he needed to talk.

Eventually Alicia came to him, with her usual bright smile, somehow never tired or annoyed, and asked him, “Happy to be going back on days next week?”

Paul scratched his chin. “You said if I ever needed it, after any shift, just to mention—”

“Which bar?” Alicia asked, grabbing some paperwork from the nurse’s station.

“If you have plans I—”

“What bar do you want to go?” Alicia insisted. She raised her eyebrows and shook her head as though she didn’t have time for politeness. Her mind was made up. She stamped the slips she held with the official hospital stamp.

“Do you know Light Avenue?” Paul asked.

“I do. A few of the nurses talk about it. Want to start talking now or would you prefer some medicine before you open up?”

“I’d prefer to be out of scrubs, in my regular clothes. It’s something I’m not sure on, so less medical opinion and more normal me.”

“OK. Three taxi slips. One to get there and one to get each of us home. I hope this isn’t a bar crawl level talk, but if it is we’ll manage,” Alicia said. “Go on, get cleaned up and changed.”

Forty or so minutes later Paul and Alicia were standing outside Light Avenue.

“It looks closed,” Alicia said. “Is this a such a big deal you’ve forgotten times? I know some places open now. And serving.”

Paul shook his head and beckoned for Alicia to follow him. They walked to the side of the Light Avenue and down an alley, where they came to a part of the building that jutted out. Paul knocked on the door and Alicia nodded, understanding.

After about a minute the emergency exit was opened back by a man in his early thirties; Paul had never seen him in the bar before. He was wearing stylish black jeans and a nice, grey marl sweater. A radio stuck out of his jeans’ pocket with a wire running up his chest and into on to his ear. “Did you lose something last night?” he asked. “We don’t have it all inventoried yet.”

“We’re nurses, well, I’m a trainee, Alicia is my supervisor. We just got off night shift. I was told if I ever—”

The man’s radio crackled and he said, “Come in. You know the dancing lounge?” Paul nodded as the man let them in then began walking. “Dancing lounge is where you go. Steph’s working now. Congratulate her on her promotion. If you want to smoke the terrace is open but don’t stay drinking out there. Only once the bar opens fully. Bad shift?”

“Just need to talk,” Paul said.

“If you can wait about an hour to ninety minutes the full breakfast menu will be available but we have a much smaller snack menu running now,” the man said, then he sat himself down in the main room, at a table with a large glass of water, with more fruit than a grocery store sliced into it, along with a few cubes of ice and two straws.

Paul and Alicia walked into the small-ish, by Light Avenue’s standards, dancing lounge. Curved booths, with pale leather cushioning edged the room. There were square, exposed brick pillars in three places, running to the ceiling, with an empty dance-floor between them. The DJ booth was empty, too, but low, chilled out music played. The lounge wasn’t heaving, but it wasn’t quiet either. All the booths were filled, and there were a few people sat at the counter. Some people were looking tired, and slowly drinking and eating. Others were smiling and sharing quiet laughing with friends. A few people were in work uniforms, obviously after night shifts like Paul and Alicia, and on their own. Some people read, both newspapers and books.

“Congratulations on your promotion, Steph,” Paul said, as he and Alicia reached the bar.

“Thank you! You just earned yourself a free shot!” Steph said. “Whiskey? How about your friend?”

“This is my supervisor, Alicia. Alicia this is Steph. If I got my promotions correct she is now an assistant manager.” Steph smiled and inclined her head towards Paul in recognition.

“Very well done!” Alicia said to Steph.

“Oh! You definitely get a free shot, now, too! What’ll you have? I haven’t seen you here before.”

“I can’t say no to free!” Alicia said, with her big smile. “A brandy! From the new and deserving assistant manager!”

Steph began to grab bottles and pour as she was saying, “This sounds a like a tough night situation. Trouble at the hospital? I told you about the early door years ago but I’ve never seen or heard of you using it.” Paul knocked back the whiskey, Alicia watching him. Seeing Paul place down his shot glass with determination Alicia shrugged and knocked back her brandy. “Drinking those shots like that answers that question for me," Steph continued. "Do you two want some peace? To sort out work troubles?”

“OK, this chat might be a first for many people, that is a concern, I could need a proper drink,” Alicia said. She turned to look at Steph. “Some of the nurses said you do amazing cocktails here, is it too early for that?”

“Fruity? Classy? Brandy based? Something dry, something sweet? We can do spicy. Long? Short?”

“Tropical?” Alicia asked.

“Of course,” Steph said. “Paul?”

“Do you still have that Belgian style beer?” Steph nodded and reached for a glass.

“How are your finances going? You get your plans sorted?” Steph asked.

Paul rubbed at what he was sure was by now a 5 o’clock shadow. “That’s a little related to what I wanted to talk Alicia about, but yes, payments on hold while I travel. Maybe even a write-off, depending... I have to qualify, of course.”

Alicia slapped Paul’s arm. “Lord have mercy on you, child. You could cut a patient’s arm off and you’d still qualify. You are very good at what you do! Is that what you’re worried about?”

Paul shook his head. “No, just the reason I came here. I’ll explain it all when we both have our drinks.”

Once Steph had placed Alicia’s drink down, with Paul already started into his strong, Belgian style beer, Steph walked away and Paul readied himself to speak. “You know how I’m gay?” he said to Alicia.

“Yes, of course,” Alicia said, placing her drink down and turning on the stool to face him.

“Well, 90... 80% gay, sort of bi, but...”

Alicia suddenly looked stern. It was the look she had when patients were acting up. “If a member of the hospital said something to you; you know how I am a Christian woman? I have faith. And my faith tells me God can forgive me murdering someone who said something, but not their intolerance, not without a lot of hard work. My God, at least. And I like him and he likes me. Me and God are friends.”

“No, it’s not that. Let me talk... I was kicked out of home on the day of my 18th birthday. I didn’t know it was coming. It was a ‘surprise’ from the people who were supposedly my loving parents. I came to this city, to this bar actually. I had nowhere to go, no friends in my town, no money and nowhere to live. I’d read about this place online. I was hoping to find a party, or hook up, anything to just find a bed. The security here immediately knew I was a kid, and saw something was wrong and talked to me. The linked me up with an LGBT charity—literally drove me to their doors—who looked after me from that very day. They housed me. They helped me finish high school. They got me an almost perfect loan for my nursing studies. And I have a liaison through them, all through my studies, a medical liaison to discuss things with, help with guidance and tutoring...”

“You’re cheating on me!” Alicia laughed. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t laugh. This all sounds good, though, in the end. What’s wrong, honey?”

Paul took a breath so deep it almost hurt his chest. “Charlie... Charles. I think he needs the help of this charity, but my advisor with the charity said I need to discuss it with you. That it’s a call you need to make, because it’s not quite official. Not what they’ve told me about.”

“The nursing home patient?” Alicia asked.

“Yeah. Mid-seventies. Refuses to eat, isolated, growing weaker. Looks sad, but he isn’t responding to any medication, and rarely talks.”

“You think he needs a charity for gay men? OK...” Alicia said, nodding with thought.

“I think she might need a charity for trans women,” Paul said. “Maybe...” His heart was beating faster. He’d said it aloud now. “I’m not sure, it’s a hunch. I have some idea. A suspicion, watching him watch people. And some things he’s said in his sleep, in nightmares.”

“You’re intuitive, that’s obvious. What’s brought you to think this?” Alicia asked, sitting more upright.

Paul explained everything his thoughts were going on, then Alicia said, “OK. I’ll cover you on this. Say it.”

Paul caught Steph’s attention and she was soon in front of them. “My charity, the one Light Avenue set me up with, said there’s someone here who might be best able to help me with a patient. An elderly patient. And the person here is able to talk to people, to connect,” Paul said.

“We have a few people like that,” Steph said. “Connect about what, exactly?”

Paul looked at Alicia who made a pushing and lifting motion with her hands, urging Paul to go on.

“A possibly transgender patient. I think they might be denying they’re a woman, maybe, or not comfortable telling anyone. Hiding it. They were always quiet, and interior, according to the home they’re in, but recently they’ve taken a turn. I believe it’s mental. The only thing physically wrong with them is their arthritis. And age.”

“Trevor is who you want. He’ll be here in about thirty or forty minutes. Remember when the skinhead came in, swearing, shouting, threatening and roaring drunk, and was gently walked out?”

Paul snorted, while Alicia looked appalled. “And someone calmed him and helped him realise he needed to be somewhere else, while the rather racially inflammatory language screamed at Trevor, was it? Got quieter and quieter?” Paul said.

“That’s Trevor!” Steph said, smiling, obviously remembering the incident.

“He’s a security guy? Or kind of security? He’s here a lot but not always in a security uniform.”

“This bar is his life. Well, LGBT bars are his life. He’s worked security in an LGBT bar, somewhere in the world, since the day he became an adult. He’s a watcher and an advisor,” Steph said, then looked in thought. “Yeah, that’s about right. Watcher and advisor. How’s your drink, Alicia?”

“Almost as good a nurse as Paul is,” Alicia said.

“High praise for both of us,” Steph said. “Do either of you have allergies or dietary restrictions?” Both Alicia and Paul shook their heads. “OK, we’ll be clearing in here when the bar properly opens. You stay in here. Trevor and you will have some privacy.”

Then Alicia and Steph talked food, and cocktails, while Paul quietly drank his beer, and a second beer. Halfway through Paul’s second Trevor arrived, and everything was explained to him, after the dancing lounge cleared out for them in Light Avenue.

At points Alicia had to prompt Paul about what to say, in between bites of the nibbles Steph arranged from the snack menu, but he took the prompting well. All while Trevor came up with ideas and explanations of what he could do, and might do depending on different responses. Eventually they had a tentative plan.

“This won’t cause problems for you, or for Paul, will it Alicia?” Trevor asked, leaning away from the counter and arching his back in a stretch, with some audible cracks.

“We have lots of people volunteering, just offering to sit with patients, especially in our wards, or read, or, like you said, offering to do their nails, or brush their hair. Technically there can be a process for official approval but we’ve already met you. As long as Charles doesn’t become upset or specifically ask for you to leave there’s no issue. Not with basic things,” Alicia said.

“Charles, OK. Maybe a Charli, feminine form. What’s their surname?” Trevor asked.

“Simpson,” Paul said.

“No family?” Trevor said.

“No. Or visitors, here or in the home.”

“Wealthy?” Trevor asked, now looking intrigued.

“To be with the care provider he, or she, is with, then most likely. Especially since the provider said he could live to be older than Moses and his bills would be paid. Some trust he setup? Attorneys check up every so often. No-one can really know for sure but that’s what I’ve been told. We work with the elderly care provider quite a bit,” Alicia said.

With one hand Trevor rubbed at his left eye, then his right eye. “Well... Isn’t that something? This could solve an old mystery.”

###

On Monday, when both Alicia and Paul were back on their day shift roster—after their Saturday and the Sunday off—Paul went to Trevor waiting on a chair outside the ward and said they were getting ready to serve lunch soon. Charles had eaten very little of his breakfast that morning. Virtually nothing.

Paul led Trevor towards where Charles’ bed was and as soon as Trevor spotted the man he turned to Paul and said, “It’s definitely the man I suspected it might be. Older than his pictures but it’s him.”

They both approached the bed, with Trevor moving to one side and Paul the other. Paul said, “Hello, Charles. You have a visitor today, so let’s see if we can lift you up a little higher so you can talk. Or just listen.”

Charles blinked slowly as the top of the bed was raised to a fully sitting position but didn’t turn to look at either Paul or Trevor.

“My apologies, Mr. Simpson, I arrived without warning,” Trevor said. “I’ve been trying to meet you for a long time, many people have, and I decided to take the opportunity when you weren’t in a position to hop in a car and get driven away.”

Charles snorted, which was the most emotive action Paul had seen of him since he’d arrived.

“Gay?” Charles said, wearily, and with a croak in his voice. “It’s only ever gay people. It’s my legacy. Or lesbians. My entire career, everything I’ve done, and it’s reduced to gay people and lesbians.”

“No. Happily married, to a woman. I have many gay friends, bisexual friends, crossdressing and transgender friends. I have lots of friends. Many of whom admire you,” Trevor said. “What you’ve done for them. What you did for them.”

Charles blew air through his nose. “It made me rich, nothing more. Selfishness.”

“Maybe? Not for the money, though... Do you mind if I sit?”

Charles shook his head. “I’m no longer strong enough to stop you.”

“Have you been keeping up with the imprint you founded?” Trevor asked, as he sat on the seat, swinging the shoulder bag he carried onto his lap.

Charles rested his head back against the highest pillow on his bed and closed his eyes. “I founded many imprints. But no. I’m long retired. And I’m dying.”

Trevor unzipped his bag and took out some books, as Paul swung a table over Charles’ bed. “These are some recent releases from your imprint. There’s a range there. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, even transgender stories. Mixtures of genres; serious, light-hearted, romance. Tragedy and comedy. I thought you might like to look at them. Some have won awards. Minor awards, but important to a few.”

Charles opened his eyes and leant his head forward, his look quickly scanning the range of covers. “These are all second hand. That contributes no profit to the publisher.”

“I didn’t buy them. These are all from friends of mine. Read and loved. I do have some new books, from a new imprint. I don’t know if you know of it. In high demand in libraries, and many schools. And quite a few parents are delighted they can get something like it, for the children they love and care for. And who dream and hope their children have a life as happy as the characters in the books they read.”

Trevor placed some new books he’d bought in a book store that morning on the table, on top of the already read books.

“The covers are awful,” Charles said, but it was obvious he was looking at them closely.

“It’s what appeals to kids, and teens,” Trevor said.

“Gay books for teens? And kids? By a major publisher. That’s pushing boundaries.”

“And trans books. You pushed boundaries, Mr. Simpson. And a lot of people benefited from it. More are benefiting from this. This is your legacy.”

A cart was pushed up to the bottom of the bed. “Any preference for what you’ll eat, Charles?” Paul asked.

“I’ll eat anything,” Charles said, with a sigh.

Paul nodded towards the women pushing the cart who picked up a tray with Charles’ meal on it.

“We’ll have to clear the table of books, Charles. I’m sorry,” Paul said.

Charles instinctively reached for the young adult book he’d been staring at the whole time, then Paul and Trevor cleared away the rest of the books before the tray of food was placed down. Charles didn’t notice any of this as he was busy reading the back matter.

As he finished reading the blurb the smell of the food registered with him, and he realised he was hungry. He placed the book down and was soon eating, slowly. Eventually he said, “I don’t think I can manage any more.”

“You did great, Charles,” Paul said. “How do you feel?”

Charles' eyes were closed again, but his hand lay atop the young adult book. “Tired.”

“Post lunch nap, I’m the same,” Trevor said. “Just be thankful you didn’t have a glass of wine with it. You’d already be out cold.”

“I think a glass of wine would be quite alright,” Charles said. He smiled, and as he did Paul and Trevor smiled too.

“If you keep eating, and build your strength back up again we might be able to arrange maybe one glass of wine,” Paul said. “For now, you need to sleep for a bit. But keep going and you’ll be flying around in no time!”

“I am tired,” Charles said. “You should probably get these books back to your friends.”

“Don’t worry about that, Mr. Simpson. Their owners will be calling in over the next few days to pick them up.”

“Call me Charles, please. At least if you promise to stop tormenting me. I’m no longer strong enough to stop you lot bothering me. I’ll have to eat again just to get away from you.” Then Charles’ head was back against the bed, deep into the pillow, and he was taking deep, relaxed breaths.

“My name is Trevor. And my friends just want you to sign their books, now you’re not strong enough to run away.”

“My own fault,” Charles said, wearily, and his eyes didn’t open again as Paul lowered the bed with the sleeping man back down.

Paul gave a thumbs up to Trevor who smiled back at him. “That’s the most he’s eaten since he arrived.”

###

Trevor’s eyes were closed, not from tiredness but from boredom, his wife had control of the remote. His phone vibrated on his chest.

Answering it he said, “Paul, hello, did you get caught up with something?”

“Charles kept me late. He napped, and ate, and read. He kept saying one more chapter until he finished the young adult book then reached for another book as soon as he finished. We had to take it away from him.”

“How much did he eat?” Trevor asked.

“As much as he could manage. We said if he didn’t eat we’d have to limit his reading as he’d wear himself out from it. I don’t think a threat like that was needed, though. He’s looking alive again. A bit, anyway.”

“What book did he reach for?”

“I don’t know the name, but it’s a trans one.”

Trevor nodded to himself. “Is he OK for visitors?”

“A few, spread out if possible. He still needs rest, but he needs rest from reading, now, as well.”

“That’s great. I’ll message the people I know. You’re doing great, Paul,” Trevor said. “And thank you for the trust.”

“No, thank you! So much! I didn’t think I could do something like this.”

“People don’t know what they’re capable of. You’re capable of a lot.”

###

Trevor was sitting in the video room in Light Avenue, watching the camera feeds at the start of the Friday rush, when the call came.

“Hi, Trevor,” Paul said. “How’s your night going?”

“How’s he doing?” Trevor asked.

“The doctors want to see how he fares at the weekend. Presuming he maintains how he is now he’ll have no issues. They’ll make a decision on Monday, and he could be back in a care home that’s far more luxurious than the wards by 11am Tuesday morning.”

“Did the paperwork get through to you?”

“Yeah, ready, to go. If he wants it. And Suzanne was here again. I swear, if I didn’t know she was in her late twenties and he was mid-seventies I’d be telling everyone they’re fifteen. They’re gossiping like schoolgirls. He doesn’t even tell her he needs time to read. Other nurses had to tell them to be quiet as they’re disturbing the other patients!”

“That’s good,” Trevor said.

“It’s great. He’s transformed!”

“How do you think he’ll do at the weekend?”

“I think he’ll be OK, but I won’t find out until Monday. Alicia told me I need to separate myself, and that she... Charles I mean, needs less attention, from us anyway. You included. I think she’s right. We see him on Monday. We see how he copes.”

“Yes. Alicia is probably correct. Will the nurses working keep you up date?”

Paul thought for a few seconds and Trevor heard the sucking of air through teeth. “If something major happens, probably. I think they respect me enough. And Suzanne painted Charles’ nails today, bright yellow, because he’s, ‘so bright, like the sun.’”

###

Trevor walked into the ward and went to Charles’ bed but there was no sign of him, despite other patients busily eating lunch. Trevor went to the nurse’s station and spoke to the women there, “Where’s Charles? Charles Simpson? Has something happened?”

“Sorry,” the woman said. “I haven’t dealt with that patient. What’s your name?”

“Trevor...” Trevor said, just a little confused.

The nurse pulled a post-it from the bottom of the computer and turned it around for Trevor to see. It had ‘Paul + Trevor’ written on it. “Paul will be back in a few minutes,” the nurse said.

After a few minutes Paul was back. Trevor stood from the seat he was on. “What’s going on? Where’s Charles”

“He liked what was on the staff cafeteria menu. They’ve gone there for lunch.”

“Who?” Trevor asked.

“Charles, Alicia and Suzanne,” Paul said.

“That’s cold!” the nurse said. “I’m telling them what you said when they’re back.”

“What’s wrong? What’s happened?”

“Charles wanted shrimp, that’s it. Come on, I’ll take you there. Am I OK to leave, Rhonda?” Paul said to the woman.

“Cold and heartless. I’ll remember this!” Rhonda, the nurse, said. “And as long as either you or Alicia come straight back when you find them. I need a break as well. I want to go to girls’ lunch too.”

Paul began to walk, leading the way, with Trevor following him. “What’s going on?” Trevor asked.

“Charles needed some cheering up, so Alicia and Suzanne took him for lunch, staff cafeteria, as soon as Alicia mentioned they had a prawn dish.”

“Cheering up? Why?”

“He has to see a psychiatrist,” Paul stated, simply, but with some worry to his voice.

“What’s going on? What happened to him? Why a psychiatrist?” Trevor asked.

Paul shook his head as they reached a crossover walkway taking them into a new building, a much more modern one. “Ass-covering, from old doctors. You know what they’re like. Risk of getting sued. When we mentioned changing homes to the guy in charge of Charles’ case he went full-on armour mode. The younger doctors don’t think it’ll be an issue.”

Paul saw the look of horror on Trevor’s face, as though Trevor was worrying he’d doomed poor Charles. “The older nurses know the psychiatrist she... Charles is seeing. She’s young, and modern, but senior enough her opinion carries weight. She’s one of the best, and one of the few who’d be capable of Charles. The nurses pulled some strings, not many, really, though. As soon as this psych heard about Charles’ case she was eager.”

Then they were in the cafeteria. Paul spend thirty or so seconds looking around, as did Trevor, but the group they were looking for was nowhere to be found. Paul went to the man on the cash register, said a few words, and the man burst out laughing.

Paul was back with Trevor within a few moments. “Starbucks,” he said.

“Starbucks?” Trevor asked.

“Starbucks... Remember how you asked if the nurses would keep me up to date if anything happened over the weekend?” Trevor nodded. “They were having too much fun to phone me. Alicia even came in on her day off.”

Trevor had no idea what was happening. At least until they walked into Starbucks. Suzanne, who he knew, Alicia and Charles were all sitting at a table having wild fun. “Ladies,” Trevor said, taking a seat. Paul sat too. “I guess Charles isn’t the appropriate name any more. Charli, maybe? With an i?”

Charli smiled and took a sip of one of the Starbucks speciality cold drinks, which was mostly whipped cream. “You’re right, for now at least.”

Alicia turned to Charli. “Alright, honey, we can’t keep this secret any longer but we didn’t want to tell you until Paul brought Trevor here, they’re the two who started all this off.”

“The home?” Trevor asked.

“I think I might fail that meeting with the psychiatrist,” Charli said. “Once I’m back in the home it’s also back to boring old me. And hiding.”

“That’s what the psychiatrist meeting is about, Charli,” Alicia said. Charli looked confused.

“We’ve found another home for you, Charli,” Paul said. “Don’t worry, it’s in the same group, some of the admins checked with your legal representatives in charge of your trust. It just takes your agreement, the group who run the homes, and now some ass-covering doctor here wants our psychiatrist to approve it as well, to say you’re not crazy.”

Charli shook her head. “Why would I go to a different home? I don’t want to go to back those places. Suzanne got me to open up about how I dressed when I was living by myself, at home, and how when I could no longer type on my keyboard in those care homes I’d finally lost every trace of myself. Being here has given me some relief, a little holiday, if you will. She took my credit card and bought me nightdresses, and these clothes and shoes, and even found the old makeup I used stocked in a department store.”

“You look amazing! Charli, I’d love a grandmother like you!” Suzanne said, with total eagerness and honesty. “And I told you, I’m in tech, it’s why I could visit you so often with working from home—and believe me, in ten years time everyone will want to work like I do—I can easily source the adaptions you need to use your laptop with your arthritis.”

Trevor now had an understanding, not quite a complete one, but enough to appreciate what Charles, or Charli, had been going through. “Charli, that’s what the home is about. I know some of the people there. I visit friends there. I’ll visit you, if you’re happy to see me. It’s a new style. It’s not only LGBT people but there are many LGBT people there. It’s an option for them to maintain their lives as they lived them. For you it’s an option to live the life you should have had. There are other trans women there too, whether you consider yourself trans, or a crossdresser, or whatever you want, they’ll let you be who you want to be.”

Charli had placed her plastic Starbucks cup down. “I can’t. This is just fun. People won’t understand. This is in a hospital, I could be crazy!”

Trevor smiled at one of the most normal things he’d heard in his few interactions with Charli, a common tale of many men and women like her.

“Charli, the world you were in with your books, it could have killed your career if you lived your life as you wanted, and you made that decision, but you resigned from a publisher when they refused to publish one of the best gay books people had seen in years. That was from you remaining in the publishing industry and not being yourself.”

Charli stared right at Trevor, impassive.

Trevor continued, “And you might think it’s a secret, but a lot of people know when you were being courted by the publishers you ended up with for the rest of your career you made it a condition of your employment that they’d start an imprint for gay and lesbian fiction, all kinds, you did that. A proper line, serious and light-hearted, and not just for the money. Few believe it was for the money.”

Charli looked serious now. “It was very good money, but you’re right. I did insist it be formed if I was to be hired. Everyone who knows that is dead, or they’re me, though.”

Trevor shook his head. “It’s not common knowledge, but there’s LGBT people everywhere, and their friends, and we talk. You’ll have people to talk to if you change homes. You can be whoever you want to be, whether it’s Charles or Charli, whenever you want. Change it day by day. There’s no limits. That’s what this home is for.”

“I don’t know...” Charli said.

Alicia patted Charli’s hands. “Talk to the psychiatrist, that’s what she’s for. She’ll help. She’s a good woman. And if you want ask her if you can stay here a few more days and talk to her again. Your care plan from the home will cover it. They’ve had a few older people come out as gay while living there. This isn’t something they’re not ready for.”

“OK... Maybe,” Charli said.

“What’s the drink?” Trevor asked.

“A mint mocha, or something,” Charli said. “It’s horrific. Pure sugar, but I love it!”

“Can I convince you to try a pumpkin spice latte?” Trevor said. “I couldn’t manage the glass of wine you wanted.”

Charli laughed. “That’s fine, I’d love a pumpkin something. These drinks are so new. Really, though, I think you could convince anyone of anything. I will talk to the shrink.”

###

A couple of days later Paul and Alicia had packed Charli and Suzanne into the nursing home minivan, along with all her new clothes, and bits and pieces, watching it pull away with Suzanne saying she’d be happy to get Charli whatever she needed. Charli just had to phone or email.

Paul turned to Alicia, “Did you see my next training session, the one next week, for all the young nurses?”

“No,” Alicia said.

“Sexuality and Gender – Not Just A Youth Issue. With a recommendation for senior doctors, especially, to attend and update their understanding.”

“What was the exact wording for the seniors?” Alicia asked, looking curious.

“'A vital update to medical knowledge and care,’ I believe,” Paul said. “It’s being run by the psychiatrist Charli was seeing.”

Alicia burst into laughter as she and Paul turned to go back inside the hospital. “That basically means it’s mandatory for the old farts, and if you can’t make it to watch the recording. It’s the administrations way of saying, ‘You’re getting some basic things wrong, you idiots. You’re going to get us sued.’” And she laughed again. As did Paul.

###

Trevor stood next to a nurse and some porters as the home’s van pulled in. The nurse moved to the sliding van door and helped Charli step out.

Charli was wearing a white blouse with a warm, red, v-neck sweater over it, a gold necklace hanging down her chest, with a vibrant opal set in a pendant, a black calf length skirt, and black shoes with the smallest of block heels.

The nurse helped her to the door where Trevor was. “Let me take her arm,” Trevor said, as he slipped his arm through Charli’s.

“We’ll have to do a little bit of paperwork, once we show you your room, but Trevor here wants to show you our library first. I’ve heard you played a little part in it, my dear. I’m sure you’ll explain how, eventually,” the nurse said.

Charli didn’t understand what the nurse meant as she was led into a room filled with bookshelves. Trevor led her to one set of shelves and Charli suddenly realised exactly what was meant. There were the books her imprint had published, hundreds of them, looking worn and well-read.

Eventually Charli spoke up, gently rubbing at her eye. “There’s even some of the old books I edited personally. When the imprint was just me and one other person. A lot of them in fact.”

“Whenever someone working here spots one of those books in a second hand store we buy it. We can’t get enough of them. People read them at an impossible rate. For some reason that’s your fault,” the nurse said, but she wasn’t quite certain why.

Charli smiled and rubbed her eye again.

“This your legacy, Charli,” Trevor said. “This is what you did.”


The image is licensed for use under a Creative Commons Attribution license. If you use the image, please credit www.medisave.co.uk. Link to License.

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Excellent

Emma Anne Tate's picture

Such a fine and original story. I loved the fact that Charli was finally able to receive a blessing, after a lifetime of being one. And, that a part of that blessing was to see her own work being read and loved, by a community that accepted her. Truly outstanding.

Emma

The story developing...

Thanks Emma. I just love that I get to write about happiness and joy, and support, in the Toni With An i/Light Avenue world. And that I get to write something more challenging, at least in its ideas directly, with Allison Zero. Although I feel like the Light Avenue world is challenging in the sense it's challenging people to create a similar world. Not that many people who will read it need such a challenge to have an idea how things should be.

I'll be upfront and say the story changed quite a bit from how I had it planned in my mind. As I started writing and when I came to the idea of Charli being one of a few pioneers in publishing modern, original, gay and lesbian fiction, in the mainstream, sacrificing, in a way, because it was the little she felt capable of, the story suddenly clicked. As did the idea of the "protagonists"—there's no real protagonist to this story—changing as you read the story. It was Paul who spotted Charli, it was Paul and Trevor, with the approval of Alicia who start "the plan" in motion. But a lot doesn't happen in the written story. Charli becoming who she is mostly happens ‘off screen’ because it is literally a community of people supporting her. And I think it's important it was a community.

My original plans were to make this much more ‘typical.’ Someone would think Charli might be trans, in some way, she might agree to have a volunteer paint her nails as she sees other men agreeing too, "The volunteer needs the practice, please, allow her." She gets her hair done, etc. It's a slow coaxing.

I know "egg-cracking" is a common idea, and I understand why it is, I don't disagree it happens. I think there's also many people who don't need their ‘egg cracked.’ Their egg is cracked. They need support in doing what they want to do. To know their world won't collapse. Something which unfortunately does happen for many people. And which sort of happened to me. I write about that quite a bit, people finding the support they need. And should have.

Ah! Ms Woolly

joannebarbarella's picture

What a wonderful recruit to BCTS you are. I wish I could write like you (I know, I know..."Toni with an i" is here already). You had me in tears half-way though this. Charli is finally getting her just desserts. Even at so late a stage in her life it is great to see others caring for her, caring for the woman she always was.

Tears

It’s a good thing I hadn’t been drinking when I read your comment or I’d be in tears too. Thank you so much.

In many ways I realised this story was a ‘Thank you’ to BCTS, every aspect of BCTS I've engaged with. With Charli being the person who decided to fight for authors of gay and lesbian fiction, and now the imprint she started is publishing the entirety of the LGBTQ+ rainbow. I’ve written quite a bit, and it’s been hard work. I feel a few years ago I became a ‘good’ writer. I’ve written stories that plagued me, some that sent me to the verge of madness. It was not easy and the results I think are quite good. What I’m writing for BCTS is extremely easy. Not because they’re simple stories, or I’m half-ass’ing them, I don’t believe they’re simple or half-assed. They’re easy to write because I’m having so much fun with them, and specifically writing them for here. They are a joy to write and the reception they receive phenomenal.

The past few nights I’ve been looking forward to around midnight, when distractions calm down. I find, at least recently, it’s the best time to write. And I get immersed in it. My sleep schedule has gone to pot I’m so enthralled by creating these stories. I don’t particularly mind that. I do have issues with writing so intensely my brain turns to mush and I need a beer, or a glass of wine, after, or many of them. Although that’s not a real complaint. I don’t think I could be any other way.

And when I say this story was sort of a ‘Thank you’ to BCTS I mean the readers here, the people who are engaging with my writing. The authors who write the other stories on the site, whether I read them or not. The people who blog on here, and are so incredibly thoughtful. I’ve never had a reaction like this to my writing. I think my other writing sometimes deserves it, and I’ve got sprinklings of it, but BCTS is like nowhere else I’ve found as a place for authors. It’s special. Everyone contributes to that.

A special place, for sure.

Emma Anne Tate's picture

I’ve only posted stories here for a year and a bit; I couldn’t agree more about what a supportive place it is. Know that you have already contributed to making it special. One of those evenings when you’ve been writing so hard your brain’s turned to mush (‘cuz I don’t want to interfere with your writing!), you might enjoy reading another story that’s a different kind of “love letter to BC.” Software Update. It would be fun to have you around Sara’s dining room table!

Emma