LGBTQ+ Romance Historical Fiction

The bustling supermarket reminded me of a field of barley. Tall stalks with feathery tops waving in the wind, dressed in vivid green and white. I clung to Mama’s large comforting hand with my smaller one. We were sunflowers that needed to get to the sun. The barley stalks looked sternly at us as we walked in the street, trying to push us out of the field. But Mama walked through them as if they were harmless blades of grass. I could still hear muttering from them, curses my little ears shouldn’t know. But I stayed close to Mama, watched her talk to the barley people and got the groceries with the meagre handful of money she got every week. When we passed all the stalls we needed food from,  her hand was more skin that coloured paper, and her canvas bag was more food than fabric. We made it to the sun, and got to our doorstep by afternoon. 

But being a sunflower is harder when the barley stalks do not see everyone as the same.

It was three days after I turned ten years old when Mama decided that I needed a better school. The one I had gone to for three years had very few books, and although the teachers were nice, I didn’t have many friends in my class. So, when the first of September crept by, I dressed in my second best dress, (Sundays was when I wore my little blue dress) tied my hair with a bow, and walked to a red-bricked school a few blocks from the school I had gone to last time. When my feet made their way up the stairs and to the doors, I saw the familiar pale children that Mama had not let me play with. Recently, there has been a decree allowing black and white people to have equal rights. 

Their eyes went to me, some surprised, some confused, some cold and sharp as daggers. They all judged. They all saw something according to what they wanted to see. As a child, I shouldn’t have been able to understand why they moved around me the way they did. I shouldn’t have known why there were labelled water fountains, nor why the teacher washed her hands after shaking mine. But I did. I understood that they saw me as a monster, a creature out of place. Born differently, I was… an alien to them. 

“Now, everyone, we have a new student today. Her name is Althaea. She is black, so treat her equally to you.” My teacher’s powdery face was twisted into a strange grimacing smile before she dragged me from the front of the classroom by the shoulders. 

Her bright pink nails dug through my sleeves into my skin, but I couldn’t find my voice to protest. Black. What did she mean I was black? I knew that my skin was different to most of the people I saw in the street. But black was the colour of ink on a book page, the colour of charcoal in a fire when it has cooled down. The night sky is black, but even then there are stars burning brightly in its thick tapestry over the Earth. I wasn’t black. 

I concentrated on sitting down at my desk, pushing my dress under my legs as I slid onto my seat. It was the furthest from the chalkboard. As I unpacked my notebooks and pencils, I saw that from the rows of children’s backs, one turned to reveal a boy’s green eyes. His cheeks were speckled with freckles, and his hair looked like shards of brown bark were jutting out of his head. He smiled, before his friend elbowed him and glared in my direction. 

Mrs Repacca’s voice drawled through history, science and mathematics, handing out homework and receiving a chorus of groans. When her glossy nails handed me the paper, I could smell hand sanitizer. Its sharp, invading scent made me cough, and I realised that she must have used it after showing me to my desk. It’s because she touched you, a small voice whispered, she thinks that you’re a dirty little black child. She hates you. You are worth nothing. 

I felt my lip tremble as my fingers clutched the white paper. Mrs Repacca’s explanation of equations blurred like my vision before I blinked away the tears. 

You are worth nothing

Aches spread through my chest to my stomach. My body seized up, my muscles bunching up like springs snapped into place. I bit down on the inside of my bottom lip to stop it from quivering. 

You are worth nothing.

Picking up my pencil with trembling fingers, I started solving the problems on my homework.

You are worth nothing

My eyes blurred again, and I brushed the tears on the back of my hand. I need to get over it. All girls like me have to. All… black girls. The word came reluctantly into the sentence, but instead of feeling pain, I felt a lighter load on my shoulders. A tiny fraction of the hurt had vanished. My throat no longer throbbed with my wounds, and I could hear my teacher again. 

“You may now begin your assignment. Remember to hand it in by tomorrow!” 

I kept my eyes trained on my handwriting as her clacky shoes came in my direction. Her pale hand came onto my desk, and I looked up. She was smiling with kindness. I smiled back, wiping at my eye so that the trail of tears could not be seen. 

“Did you understand that, Althaea? I know it may be hard for you to unders-” Her brown eyes looked at my paper. I was almost done with the last one. She picked up the paper and examined it, reading through my answers. Shock. Surprise seemed to open her mouth and block any words that would have come out, but the second time she tried it, her voice worked. 

“This is amazing, Althaea! The way you performed it so quickly.. How old are you?”

“I’m ten years old, miss.” I felt my face getting warm. I hoped she couldn’t see me blushing. 

“Well then, Miss Althaea, it looks like you’re going to go up a grade.” 

The next day, I was taken to a classroom on the second floor. The teacher was a large man with a whiskery face. He was stern, and his students were taller than me. But the knife-like jabs I got when someone cursed at me, the tugs on my hair from behind, the disappearance of my bag and its appearance in the trash cans outside the school… they all seemed dull in comparison to the little bird in my chest, its wings beating my heartbeats to a hopeful rhythm. You are worth more than them. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of Jesus’ love. The more you work, the stronger you get, the better you can be for Mama and you can become a marine biologist pilot.

I worked hard. I accepted the grades they gave me, I pursued gold. Year after year, I made myself ignore their remarks, pushing aside tears and doubts for when I was alone so that I could concentrate on my dream of becoming better than them. I would not become a cold-eyed, mocking human like them, nor would I be the monster that they expected me to be. 

My grades shot higher than the brightest kids who sat at the front of the class, and the teachers were surprised. People still booed and hissed at me during lunch, girls still pulled hard on my braid then ran out of sight, I was still belittled. But sunflowers are meant to suffer that way. That’s how they grow strong and beautiful. The barley stalks did start tall before my sunflower seed was even planted, but as a plant searching for sunlight and warmth, I was born to be stronger.

I headed to school early on the 17th November 1966, my stomach churning with doubt and fear, not the usual breakfast I needed to get through science. Mama had looked worried at the snow outside before wrapping her blue scarf around my neck. Our relationship had been unweaving as I forgot to take my armour off after school. My comments came flat, and once when she tried to stroke my hair I ducked and ran into the kitchen. My heart still weighs heavily with it, but she never told me about the segregation that my history teacher explained in class. My mother did not describe the hurt people of colour were inflicted on. She never mentioned that the people we walked among had used us like cattle, and were still being used this way around the world.

The crunch of snow under my feet came in fast rhythm as I ran, my angry thoughts seeming to emit smoke from my ears. Rage. Rage. Rage. Resentment. I know she doesn’t deserve it. The disrespect and mistreatment she was given during her own childhood was unacceptable. Why should I treat her that way as well? 

But I’m a human being. We all need to feel emotions, or we literally throw ourselves off cliffs in hope that death holds more kindness than life had. I need to accept her choices, I tell myself. But why did she think that by shielding me of the knowledge that our race was being treated badly, I would grow up safer? The bullying I face is bad enough, but the phantom doubts I get whenever I see a man or woman with pale skin, wondering whether to run away or cry in fear of being seen as lower; the curses I think are directed towards me, and the glares I see in the corner of my eye could not be better than what my mother thinks could happen to me if I knew I was seen as a scum. 

I crossed the road, slipping and sliding on the ice. When I made it to the other side, I tucked my hands into my coat pockets. The cold air nipped at my face, making it numb. Tugging at Mama’s blue scarf around my neck, I tried to concentrate on my science test coming up. Balancing a chemical equation requires using a periodic table. Use molar mass estimates, then make sure both sides have equal amounts for each element. Go through the test first, examine questions, do all the hardest ones first, then do the easiest with the remainder of the time. Set your mental clock to five minutes per hard question. 


I lurched out of my thinking. I stopped walking, my feet slowly sinking into the snow. I could hear something. But what was it?


I started towards the voice, finding my way through an alley, pushing against a trash can, leaping over a crack in the cement street, until I turned and found myself face to face with a fight. The scuffle involved two older men in dark coats who were fighting a young boy in a green jacket and blue trousers. Her skin was pale. She was a white girl, and one of the men was black. 

One of me. What if she deserved it? What if she was suffering for the pain her kind has been causing to me and my ancestors? I could just walk away, pretending that she was not in danger. 

But that’s cruel. 

They did this to us! 

She doesn’t deserve the pain her ancestors did to your ancestors. 


She deserves better. You deserve better. Are you really going to mirror their mistakes and leave her to their clutches?

I wanted to walk away. I wanted to make all of them pay. Her screams as they reached for her, the bruise on her face, the blood coming from her knuckles. 

Then her eyes locked with mine. 

And I saw blue. I saw fear, anger, despair. I saw what I was feeling, but in her eyes was another kind of fear. The fear of hands grasping her body, tearing away her virginity, tearing her from her family, leaving her helpless, uncared for, scorned by everyone around her. She was terrified of being raped. A fear I had never experienced before. A fear that bound us together.

“Hey!” I shouted, taking my bag off my back. I grasped tightly to the strap, feeling the weight of all my books stacked inside. 

It was like I was flying. 

I smacked the men with my bag, knocking one to the ground and forcing the other to retreat. I kicked at them, watching the men run away. 

The pale girl suddenly threw her arms around me, sobbing into Mama’s blue scarf. Shocked, I slowly patted her on the back, putting my arms against her back. We stood in the snow, until her breaths went into a steadier rhythm. She gently broke from the hug, and took hold of my hand. I slung my bag back on before she got her bag from behind a bin. We walked to school, fingers intertwined, side by side, snowflakes twirling in the chilly November breeze. 

“My name is Abigail.” 

“I’m Althaea.” 

“That’s a nice name. Do you like cupcakes?” 

We met every day to walk to school together, eating lunch under the apple tree in the school grounds. She was very kind, but shy and scared of people in general. When I asked her what she thought about the segregation that happened in the last five years, she shook her head, confused. Abigail hadn’t known about it either, which made me treat her with more gratitude. I had found someone who had grown up in a similar way to me. We talked about the new government, we talked about flowers, about glue, global warming, books, fire, school, friends, tax prices, mushrooms, puppies. We became best friends.


I enter the flower shop, its small bell tinkling gently. The scents of delicate rose bouquets, powerful lilacs, gentle tulips and daisies in small pots next to me seemed to fill my nose with a symphony. Harmonious bassos, altos and vibrating drums guided me to the brightest place of the boutique. Here were roses in tall elegant vases, blooming every year. I moved away from their attractive, soft petals to a small pot next to beanstalks. I smiled down at the cluster of flowers in it, and went to the desk where a man sat behind small round glasses. He peered at the pot, and chuckled. 

“Ah, ma’am, those are true love and longevity flowers. But, if ya don’t mind my saying, shouldn’t the gentleman be giving you those?”

I shook my head, half-frowning, half-smiling.

“We women can do business just as well as men can, if you must know! We may have only gotten the right to vote, but wait and see. Soon enough, we’ll have a woman as ruler, like in England.”

The man looked baffled, opening his mouth and shutting it without anything coming out. He scanned the plant and handed it to me.

“P-pardon ma’am. Who’s the lucky chap?” 

I grinned. How society was so predictable. 

“No chap, no man. It’s for my girlfriend. Believe me, she deserves it more than any man I’ve ever met or will meet. She is the sweetest woman and also the wittiest. Her jokes make me laugh until I wheeze, her caresses keep me alive, and I’m proposing to her tonight. Good day to you.”

The tinkling of the door was all that I heard in response as I walked out. I laughed, walking down the street to a park I knew very well. My feet tread on emerald green grass to a white picnic blanket, where empty plates were being put away by a young woman. Her eyes were an icicle blue, her hair a glossy brown. Placing the ring on one of the flowers’ heads I put the pot behind my back. 

“Darling, could you please stand up?” 

Her beautiful laugh rang softly like rain falling in sunlight. She had her back turned to me. My hands trembled as I kneeled, my yellow dress gently brushing her legs. She giggled, and I smiled wider. Taking the pot from behind my back, I made sure the ring was facing her. Its diamond sparkled the way her eyes did when she saw me. 

She turned, and her smile turned into surprise.

“Abigail.. Abigail Sumner, would you marry me?” 

“Althaea…. Obviously yes!” 

I laughed as we became a tangle of hair, skirts, sunflowers and kisses.

April 29, 2022 22:20

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