Chocolate and Vanilla (the sequel to "Grace Under Pressure")

Submitted into Contest #91 in response to: Start your story with a stern librarian scolding two characters for making noise in the library.... view prompt

99 comments

Contemporary Fiction Friendship

Grace and I just barely got inside Dandridge Library before the rain really started pouring. Our hair and minidresses were mostly dry, but our backpacks were a bit damp. I know, I know. We should've brought an umbrella along. But we just wanted to have a nice walk around downtown Dandridge after school before heading to our respective homes.


After we put our backpacks on the floor next to a coat rack and umbrella holder near the front doors, we looked outside, pointing at the dark sky and the flashes of lightning. Every so often we could hear a rumble of thunder. Some rumbles sounded very close, others were further away. We watched as dogs sheltered as best they could beneath the library's roofed-over front entrance. They shook themselves as best they could and then batted their front paws on the front doors.


We sadly shook our heads at them. The dogs finally gave up. Some curled up near the front doors, while the rest ran off into the rain, followed by people who tried to cover their heads with purses, books, folded newspapers, or whatever they had available.


“If only we could give the dogs shelter in here, but the library doesn't allow pets,” I said.


We heard an older female voice behind us, shushing us. “Please try to keep your voices as low as you can, ladies. This is a library, not a sports event.”


Turning around, we saw one of the librarians. It was Ms. Zelinsky and she didn't look too happy. The rumor at school was that she and Ms. Courbet, Grace's French teacher, were sisters. Even if they weren't, they certainly looked as if they were.


Chastened, we whispered in unison, “Yes, ma'am. We're sorry, ma'am.”


“That's better,” the librarian said quietly, happier now. “Now, then. Is there anything you're looking for or was this just to get out of the rainstorm?”


“A little of both, I guess,” Grace said softly.


I glanced at her in surprise. “Don't tell me you still haven't written your essay yet.”


She nodded. “I haven't even picked a topic yet.”


“You've had a month to do it,” I whispered.


Grace nodded unhappily. “This is true.”


“There's something you aren't telling me,” I whispered.


“Not here,” she whispered back. “Later, when we have more privacy.”


“A most excellent idea,” Ms. Zelinsky said quietly. “In the meantime, why don't you both find books to read and a chair to read them in until after the rainstorm?”


“Yes, ma'am,” we said, picked up our backpacks, and did as she suggested.


----------


Since I'd already written my essay, I decided that I was going to give Stephenie Miller's vampire/werewolf novel, Twilight, another try. It hadn't done much for me the first two tries. Maybe the third time would do the trick.


I found two unoccupied chairs at a table near the reference section. I was already finished with Chapter 1 when Grace finally appeared with a small pile of books.


She put them on the table, sat down across from me, and sighed softly. “If only I was more like Dad and less like my stepmother. Dad would never have procrastinated this much.”


“Mind if I look at them?” I asked quietly, nodding at the books.


“Be my guest,” Grace said, pushing them toward me. “I just don't feel that inspired. I don't know how you do it. It seems like magic.”


“It isn't magic,” I said. “I've just learned not to postpone things that I don't want to do. I try to take care of the most unpleasant things first. That way I get to do what I want to do that much sooner.”


“Easy for you to say,” she said.


“Was it easier when you were still a boy?” I wondered.


Grace thought about it, then shook her head. “Not really. I was probably even worse about it back then.”


I thought about that as I looked at the books she'd chosen. They were mostly about Shakespeare, including a collection of his plays.


The essay was for our English class. We had several choices of what to write about, which was supposed to help get us started. I chose to write about the different theaters that Shakespeare and his fellow actors performed at on both sides of the River Thames in London, England. I wondered what Grace had chosen.


“This should be enough,” I said, pushing the books back toward Grace. “But that depends on what you're writing about.”


She sighed again. “I just don't know. What could I possibly write about that hasn't been written about over and over again? The lack of female actors? They weren't allowed to have any back then. The boys played girls and the men played women. Prejudice in Othello and The Merchant of Venice? The supernatural and relationships in Hamlet? Done, done, and overdone.”


I smiled, an idea occurring to me.


Grace saw the look on my face. “What are you thinking about?”


“What about the lack of gay and lesbian relationships?” I suggested.


“I'm not sure that there were any in Shakespeare's company,” she said. “Unless you know something that I don't.”


“Maybe not in his company, but there were in his plays,” I said. “Beatrice, Hermione, and Portia, to name three. And then you have Cleopatra's household in Antony and Cleopatra.”


Grace looked interested. “Do you think there's enough material for an essay, though?”


“More than enough,” I said confidently. “In fact, I'll make you a deal.”


“What sort of deal?” she asked.


“If I help you write your essay while we're here, you treat us both to ice cream at an ice cream parlor,” I replied.


“Dairy Queen?” Grace asked.


“I was thinking more like Ben & Jerry,” I replied. “Something to cool us off after our heated discussions. That is, if you can afford it.”


“I think I can,” she said. “And you'll really help me with my essay?”


I nodded. “That's what friends are for, after all.”


She smiled and we shook hands. “Deal.”


----------


We quietly, if intensely, discussed three possible lesbian relationships in Shakespeare's plays. Portia and Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice, Hermione and Paulina in The Winter's Tale, and Beatrice and Hero in Much Ado About Nothing.


As we did so, we noticed that the number of people in the library increased for a while only to shrink again. At least, we were left alone in our corner. Considering what we were discussing, I was grateful, and Grace probably also was.


“They couldn't be really blatant about it,” I said. “This was Elizabethan England after all, not ancient Greece or Rome. It had to be hidden in the play. There were enough threats that could – and often did – shut down theaters. Sometimes on the flimsiest excuses. Popular entertainment was often seen as a threat to the monarchy.”


Grace looked surprised. “Seriously? I never thought of Elizabethan England as being anything like a police state.”


“Then you should watch Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare series,” I said. “You feel like you're looking at Elizabethan England from the inside, rather than from the outside. It's almost like how it was in the South before the Civil Rights bill was signed into law. If the monarch was Catholic, you'd better not be Protestant. If the monarch was Protestant, you'd better not be Catholic. If caught, you could be tortured, hung, or burned at the stake. Or a mixture of them.”


She stared at me. “That's horrible.”


“That was life back then,” I said. “Definitely not an Age of Enlightenment or even an Age of Imperfect Democracy.”


Grace made a face and flinched. “Maybe we should just stick to those three possible lesbian relationships. That sounds more pleasant in comparison.”


“Fair enough,” I said. “Shakespeare's plays have a timeless appeal over the last five centuries. Just enough ambiguity that you could interpret them in any way you wanted to.”


“Including possible lesbian relationships,” she said.


I nodded. “When in public, they had to be good at hiding in plain sight. But in private, as long as no one saw what was going on, they apparently could do as they wished.”


“It almost sounds like Victorian England,” Grace said.


“It does indeed,” I said. “Imagine for instance if we were in love with each other but there were laws against it.”


She looked interested. “Go on.”


“We'd have to find places with enough privacy before we could express our feelings for each other,” I said. “Otherwise, we'd have to run the risk of getting caught, arrested, and thrown in jail. Or, worse, forced to commit suicide, like what happened with Alan Turing, the computer genius, in the 1950s. Back then, being gay was illegal.”


“Wasn't Socrates also forced to commit suicide?” Grace asked.


I nodded. “And possibly because of something similar. Male adults in ancient Greece acted as mentors – in more ways than one – to younger males. As long as you didn't rock the boat, you could probably do pretty much whatever you liked. Alcibiades apparently didn't have any problems, but that was because he kept his intimate activities behind closed doors. What you didn't see, you can't really complain about. Oh, you could make accusations, but how could you prove that they had any truth to them?”


“It was probably even more restrictive when it came to lesbians,” she said.


“I wouldn't doubt it,” I said. “Do you think that these three relationships could've been lesbian or were they just really good friends?”


“They could be either,” Grace said. “Or maybe both. Really good friends in public, and lesbians in private.”


“Then I think we might have a thesis for your essay,” I said. “When it comes to characters in Shakespeare's plays, it's not always easy interpreting whether certain relationships were strictly platonic or possibly romantic as well. Maybe even erotic sometimes.”


She wrote that down in a notebook. “I'll type this up when I get home.”


“You won't procrastinate about it?” I teased.


Grace shook her head. “Not this time. I've learned my lesson.”


“Using Roman numerals, we'll break up the essay into three sections, followed by a conclusion,” I said. “I – Portia and Nerissa. II – Hermione and Paulina. III – Beatrice and Hero. Since it's not overt, we need to find some way to prove – or at least suggest – that their relationships weren't merely platonic.”


“Shakespeare had to be ambiguous, to avoid getting the attention of Elizabeth's police force,” she said. “If he'd been overt, they probably would've done more than just shut down his theater. They probably would've arrested all the actors and the writer.”


“Not probably – definitely would've,” I corrected her.


Grace wrote all this down as well. “So how to write about something without being blatant about it? You'd have to make both the words and the relationships seem completely normal in the eyes of Elizabeth's police force, while still secretly discussing what couldn't be openly discussed. That must've been a difficult line to walk.”


I nodded. “Now compare that with a modern relationship with the same restrictions, using my hypothetical relationship.”


“You mean, the two of us,” she said.


“Right,” I said. “Do you think we could keep the relationship alive or would it be just too dangerous?”


“That depends on if we could hide it from public view,” Grace said. “Because if too many know about it, one of them could reveal it to the authorities, and that would probably be the end of our relationship.”


“We'd have to break up,” I said. “But think what it would be like for a judge and her legal assistant like Portia and Nerissa. They had to be far more careful to hide their relationship from the public. They probably wouldn't just have to end their relationship. They'd probably lose their jobs. Better to be secret than to run a dangerous risk.”


“But that isn't the case with Hermione and Paulina,” she pointed out. “They didn't have public jobs that they could lose. They simply couldn't let anyone know that they had spent extended periods of time with each other.”


“And you thought that the situation in Othello could be unpleasant sometimes,” I said with a grin.


“It was at least once,” Grace said. “Iago made Othello distrust Othello's wife Desdemona. To the point where Othello strangles her to death.”


“Iago couldn't bear to let Othello, a Moor from Spain, enjoy a happy marriage with a white woman,” I said. “He had to destroy their relationship.”


“Maybe I should write about that as well,” she suggested. “If there's still any room left for it.”


“Now we come to Beatrice and Hero, whose time together is similar to that of Hermione and Paulina,” I said. “They share a bed for over a year. Of course, they could've treated each other like sisters, and therefore nothing intimate ever happened.”


“But you don't believe that's true,” Grace said.


“I do not,” I said. “We're talking about Shakespeare here. There's always more going on underneath than on the surface. Especially in romantic relationships.”


“They made each other happy, then,” she said. “Very happy sometimes.” She paused. “Didn't Charlotte Brontë and her sister Emily share a bed before they were adults?”


I nodded. “But that's a discussion for another time. We need to finish your essay. Have we reached the conclusion yet?”


Grace wrote some more in her notebook, then said, “I think we have. The conclusion is that just because you don't hear about something taking place, it doesn't mean it didn't take place. You don't need to read between the lines. Just look at modern-day relationships. Heterosexual relationships have it the easiest, as long they follow society's rules and laws. Then you have same-sex relationships, which have it more difficult. They have to be very careful sometimes about following society's rules and laws. Though some places are more lenient than others.”


“Like San Francisco's gay community,” I said. “What's quaintly called the Tenderloin District.”


“But they also have had to deal with the AIDS epidemic,” she pointed out. “Both kinds of relationships have their advantages and disadvantages. I just wish there were some way for both to be accepted, rather than just one.”


“Baby steps,” I said. “Every bit of improvement helps. As long as it doesn't get undone by the next administration.”


Grace looked thoughtful, then finished writing her essay. “I think that'll do it, Bonnie. Thanks for all your help.”


“You're more than welcome, Grace,” I said and looked out the nearby window. “The rain's stopped. Maybe the next round will wait until we get to Ben & Jerry. Ready to go?”


She put her notebook and pen back in her backpack and zipped the backpack shut. “Ready when you are.”


---------


Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Parlor was in one of the older buildings at the corner of Front Street and Cedar Street. It had been there for over thirty years. My parents used to have dates there before they got married. When I was old enough, we'd celebrate my birthdays there. I had a lot of fond memories of visits to Ben & Jerry.


Inside, it was about half-full. Typical weekday crowd size. On the weekends it was rarely anything less than completely full. Especially during the Summer.


We joined the ordering line, looking at the available choices.


“I can help pay for it,” I offered.


Grace shook her head. “You've already done your part. This is my part.”


“What are you thinking of getting?” I asked.


“Chocolate, or vanilla with hot fudge syrup on it,” she replied. “What about you?”


“I was thinking maybe vanilla or french vanilla,” I said. “Something nice and simple.”


“They have sherbets and other fancy flavors,” Grace said.


“I've had most of them over the years,” I said. “Vanilla is something I usually don't order.”


There was a clanging of the bell above the front entrance of the ice cream parlor. We looked behind us and saw several of the high school kids. Not necessarily the nice ones. They tried to cut in line but the employees here didn't tolerate that sort of thing. Either you politely waited in line or you left the premises. There weren't any other options.


“Bonnie?” Grace asked softly.


“Hmm?” I replied, also softly.


“Were you serious about that hypothetical relationship?” she asked.


“You mean about the two of us?” I replied.


She nodded.


“That was only to explain that what affected Shakespeare's characters also sometimes affects real-life people like us,” I said.


“Oh,” Grace said, sounding disappointed.


“Why are you asking?” I asked, curious now.


“I was wondering if you were dating anyone or if you were available,” she said.


“I'm not dating anyone,” I said. “What about you?”


Grace shook her head.


We ordered our ice cream, she paid for it, and we went outside since there weren't any empty seats inside.


No need to hurry anywhere. The rain clouds seemed to have headed away, leaving blue sky and white clouds in their wake.


“Is there anyone you want to date?” I asked when we were halfway through our respective ice creams.


Grace nodded. “But I'm not sure if the feeling is mutual.”


“Maybe you should ask them and see,” I suggested.


She looked at me. Big serious eyes. Hesitant. “Bonnie – would you be my girlfriend?”


“I already am,” I replied. “Or do you mean romantically?”


Grace nodded again.


“But why?” I asked.


“Because I love you,” she replied.

April 27, 2021 07:55

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99 comments

Kristin Neubauer
12:49 Apr 30, 2021

This is so well done, Philip. I was really impressed with the discussion between Grace and Bonnie of same sex themes in the great literature of history. It was a history/literature lesson for me, but the conversation flowed so naturally that I didn’t even realize I was learning. I felt like I was sitting in in the chat of two friends. I also like the subtext that ran through it and how you brought it all back around at the end. I went back to reread Grace Under Pressure and remember how much I liked it the first time - really impressive...

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Philip Clayberg
14:50 Apr 30, 2021

I wasn't entirely sure *what* Grace's essay topic would be even after they reached the library during the rainstorm. But once she and Bonnie started discussing possible topics, I knew I wanted something atypical. I did some online research (via Google) and found that article on The Guardian's website. The more I read it and thought about it, the more I knew I'd found Grace's essay topic. Though I'm hetero, I've been around gay people in my life (in fact, I'm related to a gay guy right now and it doesn't bother me; I'm just glad that he's...

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Palak Shah
19:36 Apr 28, 2021

This is a great, simple story that has an amazing flow. Well done :))

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Philip Clayberg
20:36 Apr 28, 2021

You're about the second or third to call it "simple". *I* wouldn't call it simple (at least not the long discussion in the library about possible lesbian relationships in Shakespeare's plays). I've also heard the story called "cute" by at least two readers. Maybe, after all, I should ask one of them what they meant by "cute". Glad you liked it. The story was partly the product of not being to go to sleep (pain and sleep don't always go together; at least, not with me) and partly being curious about what happened next in the story. It ...

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Palak Shah
17:39 Apr 29, 2021

Sorry I deleted my other response but I thought it was cute mainly because of the interaction of the characters and the last line : She looked at me. Big serious eyes. Hesitant. “Bonnie – would you be my girlfriend?” “I already am,” I replied. “Or do you mean romantically?” Grace nodded again. “But why?” I asked. “Because I love you,” she replied. awwwwwwwww :))

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Philip Clayberg
19:23 Apr 29, 2021

Oh. I definitely didn't see that part as "awwww". I saw it as, "Oh, dear. I do hope that Bonnie feels the same or similar, or else things are going to be 'interesting' in the near future." Maybe that's because I'm already brainstorming what might happen next and what might seem "cute" to some readers might not seem "cute" at all to the writer. Grace has already proven she has quite the temper back in the first scene of "Grace Under Pressure". How she'll react if Bonnie *doesn't* feel the same can go at least one of two ways: 1) Grace ...

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Palak Shah
21:12 Apr 29, 2021

Well, in my head it will work out all well but then you may think of something else completely and that will still be good because it is your story lol :))

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Philip Clayberg
22:10 Apr 29, 2021

If I were still in my teens, I probably wouldn't want to stretch out a story's plot to more than one story. But in my 50s, I find I prefer letting things take their time, spread their wings, etc. I remember watching the TV series "Moonlighting" in the 1980s and enjoying it ... until the writers (or whoever made the decision) decided that it made more sense to have the two main characters fall in love with each other. That was the point where the episodes started feeling weak. As if the writers/directors/producers couldn't be bothered wit...

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Palak Shah
17:28 May 10, 2021

I guess semi-formal is quite formal but then also informal at the same time :))

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Ryan Lm Colli
12:42 May 07, 2021

Great story Pls JOin This: https://www.guilded.gg/i/wEwWwYmE

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Philip Clayberg
13:52 May 07, 2021

Glad you liked it. I'll look into that website as soon as I can. I still have another response message to read and reply to. Btw, just to prevent any possible confusion: I am a hetero male author writing about lesbian female characters. It turns out to be much easier than I initially expected it to be. I just tried your link referral and I'm really not into a gaming chat website right now. Sorry bout that.

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B. W.
23:36 May 01, 2021

Heya

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Philip Clayberg
23:57 May 01, 2021

Long time no hear. I thought you'd disappeared into thin air. Doing okay? ----- Btw, I've submitted a new short story, "Transition Phase". I hope you'll enjoy reading it (and that it doesn't have any problems that I haven't already fixed). It's about 500 words less than my usual story length, but I ran out of ideas of how to add to it. So I left it alone, edited it as best I could, and then submitted it.

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B. W.
01:42 May 07, 2021

Yeah, I guess I've been doing alright for a while, I've just been leaving sometimes because not a lot of stuff has been going on in here. Though what about you? How have ya been doing? And I'll go check that story out soon, it sounds a bit interesting ^^

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Philip Clayberg
02:54 May 07, 2021

I've actually submitted another story, "Searching for Andre" (the sequel to "To Be Or Not To Be"), which might be more your thing. But maybe you'll enjoy reading both stories. The choice is yours. For me, the pains come and go. Sometimes with the help of Naproxen Sodium, they go. Sometimes even with its help, they don't go (or, at least, not soon enough). I think I'll be spending more time in bed, resting, than I used to. Not just at night, but during the day, too. I'll try to get on here and check my email when I can. Same for writ...

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B. W.
00:40 May 09, 2021

Well at the moment, I'm still working on the Demi-god story but I haven't really done much with it lately and it'll still be a long time until it's finally finished. I'm also working on three other things, but I'll never publish these ones, they are just for fun. All three are also based off of a few things I've been interested in for a while, such as "Transformers" because I really like any of the shows, and about the whole thing about all of the shows being made to sell toys or whatever they made, I feel like that was only for the original...

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Philip Clayberg
01:03 May 09, 2021

I just submitted my fifth story (but first of the current set of story prompts) of the week, "A Parting of the Ways". It's the sequel to "From the Heart". I finally sat down and wrote it this evening. I think it's been months since I wrote "From the Heart". I'm just glad it's done (some parts of "A Parting of the Ways" weren't exactly cheerful) because now I can go and write about something else instead. ----- Oh good. Sounds like you still have creative interests inspiring you. ------ I do remember. But I'm glad that I've been abl...

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15:04 Apr 27, 2021

It is a cute story but there are somethings in it that I have trouble getting into. I guess I should go back and read the others about these two and it might help, but to each their own.

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Philip Clayberg
19:10 Apr 27, 2021

There's only one previous story: "Grace Under Pressure". If you read that, the sequel will probably make more sense. You and Asha both thought the story was "cute". I have no idea why. It doesn't seem cute to me. Grace and Bonnie are only in two stories (so far): "Grace Under Pressure" and "Chocolate and Vanilla". Pan (short for Pandora) and Shiga, however, are in three stories (so far): "Proof Positive", "Next Stop: Eternity", and "The Everything Book". I wonder if I should have their boss send them to Greece next, where they can ...

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20:28 Apr 27, 2021

In my defense...If I call something cute and still throw a like on it, it is more for style and basic story line but there may be some things there that I just don't agree with. Lets just say if we could talk privately I would explain further on the subject.

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Philip Clayberg
23:01 Apr 27, 2021

Oh. I guess, for me, cute is like Hello Kitty (if you're kid and fan of it) or stuffed animals or little kids. But I've never had a story (or a poem for that matter) ever called "cute" by anyone until this week. No need. I'm just glad people like what I write and that they look forward to more stories from me. I'm also glad that there will always be very good (and some excellent) stories available to read written by the other writers on this website. I'm not the type who reads his own stories over and over, patting himself on the back ...

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00:57 Apr 28, 2021

I read mine over and over as I go. It helps me extend of take away things I don't think I need. I am breaking in three stories for the moment because they are all to places I need to stop and think about. Lucian and Selena, Aiden and Ana, and Alissa and Stryde.

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Philip Clayberg
01:10 Apr 28, 2021

I used to reread my stories multiple times before submitting them. But when you've read them for the umpteenth time and found yet *another* error to fix or text to rewrite, you have to decide whether it's worth going back again and again. I use this as my rule-of-thumb: If it isn't helping the story anymore and it's hurting it instead, then I would say it's time to stop, set it aside, and work on something else. More Selena and Lucian (I prefer putting their names in that order)? Yes, please. Nawlins here they come! Aiden and Ana? I'...

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Asha Pillay
10:59 Apr 27, 2021

Such a cute and simple story.I loved it.

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Philip Clayberg
18:24 Apr 27, 2021

Glad you liked it so much. Not sure I'd call it "cute", though. To each their own. I wish I could say it was simple to write. It was almost like going through a maze and each time I reached a new intersection, I wondered, "Where do I go next?" The title was the only thing that felt certain from almost the beginning. I knew what it metaphorically meant and that somewhere in the story it would be explained (if not all at once, then in pieces here and there). I remember that when I was writing the story last night/early this morning, the...

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Asha Pillay
19:07 Apr 27, 2021

I meant it was simple and easy to understand, and I found the interaction between Bonnie and grace very cute. Sometimes simple stories are the most difficult to write.

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Philip Clayberg
19:24 Apr 27, 2021

This one wasn't simple to write. I'm glad it was easy to read, though. I like Bonnie and Grace, too, and I'm already wondering what will happen next. I can imagine Bonnie being surprised by what Grace said at the end of "Chocolate and Vanilla" (though, really, Bonnie shouldn't have been surprised at all, if she'd been paying attention to Grace's facial expressions and what Grace said both at the library and afterward). They'll probably still be friends, but maybe not good friends like before. It's never easy transitioning from a platoni...

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Philip Clayberg
01:03 Apr 28, 2021

I keep forgetting to cite my main online inspiration for this story: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2001/sep/02/books.medicalscience There are other online articles available. Just use Google to search for "lesbians in shakespeare's plays". Some writers have even written novels adapted from Shakespeare's plays and given the lesbian point of view. Definitely plenty of Shakespeare-related material to write about, whether you're hetero (like I am) or LGBTQ.

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