Submitted into Contest #248 in response to: Write a story titled 'Persuasion'.... view prompt


Friendship Fiction Lesbian

        “She’s cute,” Ingrid says. She’s stirring her coffee with a butter knife. The scrape of metal against stoneware scratches an itch in my brain. “Although,” she continues, “I suppose that goes with the career she has chosen.”

               The word “career” slips off her tongue like something sour she can’t wait to spit out.

               Ingrid passes my phone back to me over her half-eaten rye toast. The screen is still open to the Instagram feed of my hair stylist, Ana. Bright, tropical backdrops fill the page – Ana, somehow, even brighter than the palm trees and cotton candy skies behind her.

               “Career?” I don’t know why I repeat the word as if Ingrid’s insinuation isn’t obvious.

               “I know, right?” A laugh rises out of her throat. “Hair stylist – it really shows a lack of ambition, don’t you think?”

               I met Ingrid on our first day of middle school, over twenty years ago. We were all new students then – three elementary schools emptying their contents into one middle school building, all of us kids forced to find new alliances, new crushes, and new places to hide. I was a shy, gay-but-not-fully-aware girl who kept to herself because it was easier than forcing an identity crisis before my brain had fully developed. Ingrid was new new though, having moved to Michigan from Sweden. Before Sweden it was Milwaukee. Before Milwaukee it was Denver. Before Denver the timeline got foggy.

               Ingrid had found me behind the stage curtains in the music room, a worn copy of Little Women in my lap.

               “Everyone wants to be Jo,” she had said, picking up the book without permission and thumbing through, “but it’s Amy for me. She knows she deserves more than the poor life her sisters settle for. Amy goes after bigger dreams.”

               I didn’t say this then, but of the March sisters, my heart belonged to Beth. Sensitive, kind, hopeful Beth. She didn’t need much to feel fulfilled. The love of her family was enough. Caring for others was enough.

               “I’m Ingrid,” she had said as she crouched down next to me, the two of us huddled together in the velvety cloak of heavy curtain.

               “Jane,” I replied.

               “Hi, Jane. Did you just move here too?” She had asked because I was alone, but I think she knew I was hiding parts of myself, even then.

               “I just prefer to read.” The characters in my books were dependable, reliable. I knew them, frankly, better than I knew myself.

               “You should be a writer,” she said swiftly as she pulled a ham sandwich from a brown paper bag and handed me half. It was adolescent talk, but Ingrid spoke with authority. It was decided then – I would be a writer. “I’m going to be a doctor – a neurosurgeon, actually.”

               “Like, for brains?”

               Ingrid nodded. “They are the highest paid doctors and the most important.”

               “Wow,” I said, and I truly was impressed. Ingrid had a way of selling something that made you want to be a part of it, even on the sidelines, as if being there would make you part of the magic. I wanted magic.

               “But obviously I don’t need to explain the importance of the brain to you,” she went on. “You’re going to be a writer. You get to shape minds, and I get to fix them.”

               I didn’t know what that meant, but it made me smile. Again, it felt like Ingrid magic. I felt important. Ingrid could turn a phrase, put sparkle where there wasn’t before, and it made me want to be the person she wanted me to be.

               Twenty-some years later, she sits across from me in a diner we frequented as pre-teens; a place we giggled over fries and greasy, oozing cheeseburgers. It was here Ingrid told me her parents were divorcing, then poured rum from a flask into our cokes under the table. We were 15, and I was a rule follower, but Ingrid was brave. Her parents broke her heart, so she stole the amber liquid that sloshed in her father’s crystal tumbler as he effortlessly tossed degrading, painful insults at Ingrid and her mother night after night. We drank it in secret, and the warmth of the liquor gave me confidence to reveal my own: Emma Elliot, school track star and my lab partner, also my first heartquake of a crush. Ingrid lit up with the magnitude of my news. Emma, she had said, was clearly the wrong person for me, given her snooty attitude and enrollment in remedial math, but we would find me someone better. I believed her.

               “But what if I love her?” I had asked. The skipped heartbeats and breath catching was exciting. Emma would pass me a test tube and my hand would shake as I accepted it. She had me losing control of simple bodily functions; if that wasn’t love, then what was?

               But Ingrid had been unwavering. “Don’t let your emotions get in the way, Jane. My parents? Love at first sight. My mom says my dad used to look at her in a way that made her dizzy. She thought her knees going weak was a sign. We know how that turned out.”

                Having no voice in her marriage led Ingrid’s mother to have a short fuse with her daughter. She expected perfection, and echoed her husband’s tirades on Ingrid when her expectations were not met. I didn’t know then that Ingrid was doing the same to me.

               The waitress refills our coffee mugs and then it’s just us again: Ingrid, me, and cotton candy skies.

               “Her name is Ana.” My eyes are still on my phone, scrolling through images of Ana in Maui. Her hair is twisted in a host of long, thin braids. She’s grinning from ear to ear with her fingers making the peace sign for the camera. She’s radiant.

               “Radiant? Come on, Jane.” Ingrid rolls her eyes and crosses her legs. I hadn’t even realized I spoke that last bit aloud, and here was Ingrid already discrediting it. “She washes hair for a living. You deserve someone…substantial.”

               Ingrid doesn’t know that it’s too late for me. I’m too far gone for her to talk me out of this one, to persuade me in another direction.

               “She transforms people,” I explain. “Last week a regular of hers booked an appointment for their mother. Sixty years old, lifelong social worker, a woman that has done nothing but constantly and consistently give of herself for the benefit of others, then diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. That was a year ago. She beat it. She sat in Ana’s chair and told her to make her look like the celebration that life is. Two hours later, she walked out with a curly, hot pink bob and a smile that would light up any room. Ana did that.”

               “Doctors did that,” Ingrid corrects without missing a beat. “Doctors saved her life and then your stylist gave her a haircut.”

               We have come to this crossroad before, where I can either speak my mind or fold to Ingrid’s narrative. But I never speak my mind with her. Ingrid is bold and confident in a way that is so intimidating it borders on belittling.

               This is beyond belittling. This is demeaning and malicious.

               I sit up tall, stacking my vertebrae and lifting my chin. Ingrid takes notice and pauses with her hands gripping her steaming mug.

               “We’ve been dating for six months.” At my reveal, Ingrid’s eyes go wide. She’s always been on the other side of this, present at the start of my relationships, not a spectator in the midst of them. I think about Ana sitting behind me at the foot of my bed this morning, combing my hair before this brunch with Ingrid. My stomach had been in knots the way it always is before I see Ingrid, and Ana’s soothing fingers were calming.

               Ingrid is not emotional when it comes to arguments, not like me. While I’m quick to tears, she’s rational and cunning. If I stay silent long enough, she’ll lay out bullet points on the fly: a quick, succinct list of reasons why I’m out of my mind and then present me with a roadmap to fix what I have broken. She has big plans for me. She sees success right around the corner. She doesn’t see the success I already have within and surrounding me. She sees the me I could be, not the me that I am.

               Her lips part to speak, but I hold a hand up and she remains silenced. Her eyes give away nothing and I try to mirror the reserve in my own. My heart, however, is beating straight out of my chest.

               I want to tell her I admire her courage, her fearlessness. I’ve always looked up to her ability to take a roadblock and see it as a hurdle to overcome and not a dead end. I love that she can walk up to anyone, anytime and tell them off without an ounce of hesitation. Her bravado is addictive, and when she confidently introduced herself to a timid, loner of a girl in that music room decades ago, feeling chosen by her was enough.

               Ingrid is someone that knows their worth. Being her friend felt like shared value, as if her greatness might rub off on me and make me shine brighter. What I didn’t know all those years ago, what I’m only realizing now, is that I shine just fine on my own.

               And I do not need to defend myself.

               I lift my worn leather bag, move my writing notebook aside, and pull out my wallet to leave a few bills for my half-eaten eggs and now cold coffee. A million words are at the tip of my tongue, but I swallow them back. “I have to go,” I say instead.

               Ingrid watches me stand, watches as I toss my bag over my shoulder and smooth down my linen shirt. Her eyes follow my movements, but give away no emotion. “Jane.”

               Her shoulders are squared, her chin pointed. Ingrid is creased and pressed. Pearls adorn her ears, diamonds on her fingers, but hints of girlhood remain. Freckles spray across her cheekbones. A pale, fading scar sits above her right eyebrow from a fall off her bike at 12.

Despite the shared memories, despite the ham sandwich, I think our friendship has overstayed its welcome.

               I clear my throat. My eyes glisten, but the tears don’t fall. I don’t know how to do this, to say goodbye, to let go of the past when it’s ingrained so completely in me, but I need to let go.

               “I’m going home.” In the end, the words are simple, sufficient. Enough.

               For one brief, telling moment, Ingrid clenches her jaw before her stoic demeanor returns. I inhale and drift to the entrance of the diner, the chime of bells announcing my departure, and the sun on my skin a warm reminder of a future that is mine.

May 01, 2024 20:12

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L. D.
17:50 May 29, 2024

"feeling chosen by her was enough" So are the friendships formed when one person reaches out from their universe and pulls a lonely star into their orbit.


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Jeffrey McDonald
14:16 May 09, 2024

Wonderfully written story, I loved the flow of your ideas as the story was revealed. A joy to read.


Julia Laity
14:57 May 09, 2024

Ahhh that means a lot! Thank you!


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Jeremy Stevens
01:59 May 09, 2024

My take? Ingrid has had a crush on Jane. I think maybe that's in the sequel. 🤔 Easy to read; great flow. Great first submission, Julia.


Julia Laity
14:57 May 09, 2024

Thank you for reading!


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04:48 May 07, 2024

Love it


Julia Laity
23:03 May 07, 2024

Thank you so much!


23:05 May 07, 2024



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