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The Girl in Blue
The headstone stands outside the cluster of the cemetery, alone beneath a cedar tree.
It declares, “Unknown but not forgotten.”
It is a lie, though a gentle one, and Delilah is grateful for it.
Her name was Ophelia, which was an unfortunate choice by her parents, but the people in Salida, Colorado didn’t care much for Shakespeare. The trains weren’t running through like they used to before the depression hit, and folks were more occupied with trying to feed their kids than worrying about ill-luck names.
Delilah had an ill-luck name of her own, but hers was from the Bible, and that was the book everyone knew.
Ophelia’s pa was a tradesman, spending most of his time with ranchers selling belts and bridles and other sundries. Her mama stayed home and was too interested in moonshine to pay much attention to the daughter she birthed. So, Ophelia was left mostly to her own devices, which mostly considered of watching the trains roll in and walking along the Arkansas river.
At school, teachers called her “uppity” and “too smart for her own good.” Ophelia often would stare out the window rather than pay attention, but always knew the answer when the teacher called on her. It got them boiling mad, though they never said it, and Delilah would bite her lip to keep from smiling. Sometimes, she would catch Ophelia’s eye, and the blonde-haired girl would wink at her. Her cheeks would warm and she would have to look away before her entire face flushed pink, but Delilah imagined that Ophelia knew anyway.
Delilah got the impression that Ophelia knew all sorts of things and wasn’t the kind of person to tell.
It was a morning in mid-June when Delilah woke up to a battle in progress. Ma and Pa were roaring at each other, two coyotes hell-bent on each other’s throats. Shucking on her cotton dress, she didn’t even bother putting up her hair before she clattered down the stairs. The first crunch of bone was louder than the door slamming behind her, running as if that would stop the bruises blooming on Ma’s face and Pa from cracking his knuckles. She ran past the scattering of split levels, beyond the questioning eyes of her neighbors, until she reached the far end of the train tracks. Prairie grass grew thick around the rails, the summer air scented with mountain pine. She walked alongside them, kicking at loose stones and tugging at her collar until she finally dared to unbutton the top few buttons, exposing her collarbones to the breeze.
Delilah whirled around, heart leaping into her throat. Ophelia was standing behind her, blonde hair loose around her shoulders in a way that Reverend Hale would describe as “immodest.” Delilah thought it was pretty.
“You scared me,” she admitted, gulping down air.
Ophelia smiled. “Sorry about that. Didn’t mean to.”
A train whistled off in the distance.
“We should get away from the tracks,” Delilah warned. “Those suckers are faster than they look.”
“I like being close to the trains.” Ophelia walked right up against the tracks, the rails touching the toes of her boots. “It makes me feel like I’m flying when they ride past.”
Delilah didn’t know much about flying, but she knew all about running away. She figured it was close to being the same thing, so she stood alongside Ophelia as the train slugged its way around the mountain. From this distance, it looked almost as if it were standing still, smoke coughing out in clumps from the stack. That distance was eaten away in just a few moments and the train screamed past them. Wind sliced alongside it, chewing up Delilah’s hair and rattling at her shoulders. Her knees were wobbling beneath her, her body like a piece of dandelion fluff nearly torn away into the breeze, when a soft hand slipped into hers. Her heartbeat sounded louder than the greeting whistle; she stared at Ophelia’s apple-cheeked profile. Blonde hair whipped around her face, her brown eyes bright as they watched the train go by. She squeezed Delilah’s hand, and it felt like a secret.
It became habit that summer to sneak away just after the sun rose and head to the far end of the tracks. Ophelia would always be waiting for her, hair loose and smile easy. They would wander along the tracks, picking wildflowers and tying them into crowns or braiding blades of grass. Delilah showed Ophelia how to whistle, the two of them trying hard not to giggle as they pursed their mouths at each other to practice. Sometimes, they traveled further into the hills, scraping their knees as they climbed the mountain crags, but they always made sure to climb down before dark. The mountains could be treacherous, even the the bright days of summer, when everything seemed touched with gold.
Today they had traveled far from seeing eyes, resting in a valley circled by trees. Ophelia’s legs were crossed beneath her, and it took only a few sweet words for her to coax Delilah to rest her head at the crux of her hip. Her friend’s thigh was warm beneath her cheek, soft enough to tempt her to sleep.
“What’s that one, you think?” Ophelia pointed upwards at the tangle of clouds.
Delilah frowned, thinking. “It looks like a jackrabbit to me.”
Laughter rang above her; she could feel the vibrations from where her head lay in Ophelia’s lap.
“You think all of them look like jackrabbits, Del.”
“It’s the ears.”
Fingers brushed along her temple, playing with the wisps of hair curling at her ears. Delilah stretched into it like her ma’s old cat in a puddle of sunshine. She felt Ophelia laugh again, but her thumbs continued sweeping across her cheekbones, tracing circles on her sun-warmed skin.
“You ever thought about what happens after?”
Delilah opened her eyes, looking up at the girl above her. “After what?”
“After all this,” Ophelia sighed. “School and the hard times and the trains never coming through. This is all going to be over someday, which means something comes after.”
She wondered at that for a long moment, staring at the jackrabbit fall apart into wisps of white.
“I haven’t thought about it before,” Delilah replied in truth. “Seems like what’s after will never come, sometimes.”
Ophelia hummed, a sound Delilah could feel in her bones. Her dress was pressed against Delilah’s nose, smelling of rosewater and grass, and she decided she wanted to breathe it in forever.
“I wanna leave Salida,” Ophelia confessed. “I don’t care if I never see my ma and pa again. I want to get out and never come back.”
Something broke inside her chest, a loud snap that ran jagged lines through her ribs. Delilah closed her eyes, blocking out the violet bruises on her ma’s cheek, the blood smeared on her pa’s knuckles. Somewhere, she stood at the edge of the train tracks, unable to run after the girl who was already long gone.
She opened her eyes to Ophelia’s smile.
“You ain’t comin' back either,” her friend promised. “You’re comin' with me.”
Flowers bloomed from the cracks in her ribs, and Delilah nuzzled further into the hand cradling her cheek.
The dog days of August swam in. Her hair stuck on the back of her neck and she was constantly damp, heavy with moisture that threatened to melt her into the floor. She and Ophelia didn’t wander far on days like that, keeping just out of the town’s sight beneath a jut of mountain. Even shadowed and far from sight, they insisted on whispering low, curling into each other like secrets.
“Hey, Del?” Ophelia asked one afternoon, chewing on her bottom lip.
“Can I do somethin'?”
“What do you want to do?”
“You need to close your eyes first.”
Delilah did as she was told, surrounding herself in dark. A huff of breath brushed against her cheek, and the kiss that followed was hotter than August.
It ended a moment later, and Delilah opened her eyes.
Ophelia’s face was flushed. “Was that okay?”
Delilah didn’t bother to say anything; she kissed her instead.
“I’ve liked you for ages, you know.”
“You’ve always seemed so steady. Like something I could rely on. Like something that I wouldn’t mind staying for.”
“It doesn’t hurt that you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen, either.”
“You don’t need to flatter me.”
“It’s not flattery if it’s true.”
“I couldn’t help but look at you. Ever since the beginning.”
“I’m glad you did.”
“Do you think this is a sin, Del?”
“I’m not sure. What do you think?”
“I don’t think sins count if God doesn’t care about you anyway.”
“I care about you.”
She always tasted like summer, and Delilah couldn’t quite remember why she ever thought something like this could be a sin. Not when she could tip Ophelia’s chin upwards to slant their mouths further, tangling fingers in that wheat-blonde hair. Not when she could drink in each precious whimper, so much more sacred than Sunday prayers.
Delilah pulled away to press small kisses against Ophelia’s jawline.
“Del.” She had never heard her name sound like something holy. “Del, please.”
“Please what, my lovely?” She teased. Her hands raked slowly down the line of Ophelia’s back, her beautiful girl shuddering against her.
Delilah pressed one last kiss in the hollow of her collarbone before returning to her mouth, swallowing down sunlight once again.
She had forgotten that all summers come to an end.
The air was sharp with chill, smacking her cheeks as she trudged her way to class. It was the only time she got to see Ophelia now that her pa had come back home to roost. They passed glances back and forth during Math and wrote notes to each other in English. They bent their heads together during study, whispering low and trying to keep their hands from lacing together. The other students paid little notice, though sometimes Delilah felt eyes like fingers running cold up the back of her neck. She always pulled away during those moments, making silent promises to make it up to her friend later.
Sometimes, Ophelia was able to sneak out and they would run like they were being chased, up past the trains and into the hidden alcoves that no longer held the heat of the sun. There, wrapped up together like knotted string, Delilah finally felt her muscles unscrew, leaving her boneless in Ophelia’s arms.
“You alright, Del?”
She hummed agreement. “Now, I am.”
“Are you worryin' too much again?” Ophelia asked, pulling back to trace a finger between her brows. “You know that’s gonna give you early wrinkles.”
“I can’t help it,” Delilah huffed. “I never get to see you and it feels the other kids are watching and I can’t help but feel like winter is the worst thing that will ever happen.”
“Winter isn’t all that bad,” she insisted. “There’s snow and Christmas and…”
Ophelia’s nose wrinkled, and Delilah resisted the urge to kiss it.
“You know,” Ophelia laughed, “I think that’s about it.”
She snorted, burying herself further in her friend’s arm; it never felt like she was close enough.
“I’m just glad this is our last year,” she confessed. “Then, we can get out of here.”
“Agreed. Where should we go, do you think?”
Delilah wondered about that for a moment, considering.
“Out east,” she stated. “Maybe New York. Or Boston. We can live together in the city, and no one will think twice about it.”
“We’ll have a little apartment,” Ophelia continued, kissing her temple. “You’ll be a journalist, and I’ll be a nurse. We’ll have a cat named Geoffrey and drink tea every morning.”
Delilah shivered, the image sinking hot into her gut. “We’ll have our own bed, enormous and softer than feathers. And, I’ll get to fall asleep next to you every night.”
“That sounds grand, Del.”
Lips pressed firm against her cheek, trailing to the corner of her mouth. “I want that.”
“Me too, my lovely. Me too.”
It was Christmas Eve and snowing.
They escaped out into their hidden places in order to exchange gifts. Delilah gave her friend a scarf she had knitted; the white complemented the deep blue of Ophelia’s winter dress. Her friend gave her a leather journal, already half filled with little thoughts and poems and romantic musings that Ophelia was never very good at saying aloud. Delilah pretended that it was the snow making her eyes water, kissing Ophelia until their mouths were warm.
On the way back, they were holding hands. It was an easy thing to forget.
Michael Farley was walking alongside the tracks when he spotted them. Delilah immediately snatched her hand away, but she knew it was much too late. Silence stretched out, only interrupted by the whistle of a train. That gaze like cold fingers snatched the breath from her lungs.
“I knew it,” he hissed. “You two are a pair of queers!”
Delilah had expected the words, but she had not expected the boy rushing toward them. He pushed them apart before grabbing her by the hair, yanking hard enough to make her yelp.
“Filthy, disgusting queers! Hell is too good for the likes of you!”
His words slapped at her as she struggled; she kicked him in the shin and he jerked her skull back. A shriek pierced the air, and Ophelia launched herself at him, nails raking down his face. He howled and dropped Delilah on the ground, her head throbbing. She stumbled to her feet as the two of them fought, Michael’s fist crunching where it landed.
“Ophelia!” She screamed.
The train seemed almost silent next to the thundering of her heart. Ophelia was clawing at the boy - teeth tearing into his arm as she screamed for Delilah to run. Michael spat blood and curses, before locking his hands around Ophelia’s throat.
“Go to hell, queer.”
Then he pushed her on the tracks.
On Christmas Day in 1933, two graves were dug. One held the body of one of Salida’s beloved sons, his eyes wide and neck covered in bruises. His murderer would never be found, and his mother would wear black for the rest of her days.
The other held a coffin, empty but for a bloodstained scarf and a battered, blue dress. The headstone would have held a name, but the only missing girl had likely left with her parents, who had abandoned town a week before. Surely, they had taken their daughter with them, despite people whispering rumors of having seen her just that morning, wearing a deep blue dress.
Delilah stayed just long enough to lay flowers on her friend’s grave before she was gone too.
Sighing, Delilah leans against the door as it shuts behind her. She wipes sweat and dirt from her brow, the scent of salt heavy on her skin. Even when she’s home, the shipyard was never far behind.
A rattling purr announces Geoffrey’s arrival, the fat tabby circling her ankles and she coos at him as she pads into the kitchen. The radio is already on, detailing the news from the European front before reporting on the Pacific. Delilah places a plate of tuna on the floor, which Geoffrey starts devouring with enthusiasm.
“Oh, good, you’re home!”
Annie sweeps into the kitchen a moment later, grinning broadly before launching herself at Delilah. She can’t help but laugh-it’s one of the reasons she fell in love with Annie in the first place-and she rewards her lover with a salty-sweet kiss.
“I have something to tell you,” Annie admits once they pull apart.
“Something happen at the school?”
“Not exactly.” She bites her lip, worrying it between her teeth. “I looked into vacation time, and I secured myself three weeks.”
Delilah frowns. “What do you need vacation for?”
“It’s not for me. It’s for us,” she insists. She turns away, wringing her hands. “It takes almost a week to get to Colorado, you see.”
Her breath turns to stone in her lungs. Delilah can’t help but look towards their bedroom, where a leather journal sits in the bottom drawer of the bedside table.
“It’s been ten years, hasn’t it?” Annie continues. Her face is pale beneath her freckles. “I know you haven’t gone back since…But, I know you miss her and I thought...”
Grief, dulled and soft but still there, sits heavy in her stomach, but Delilah has learned to bear it after all these years. She remembers and it hurts, but she looks at the woman she loves and can’t help but smile.
“I think that will be good,” she whispers, pulling Annie back against her. “I would love to introduce you.”
Delilah stands in the middle of her Boston apartment, breathing in the scent of Annie’s perfume. That night, she stares at the ceiling, her beloved curled up next to her. A silent prayer slips past her teeth, aimed upwards. Outside, the night is so dark it’s almost blue.
#Unreal #ForbiddenLove #LGBTQIA #1930s #WishingTimesWereDifferent #DelilahAndOphelia
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