They each have a secret that could destroy their relationship…
Crystal and Sylvia are best friends, each the only one the other one trusts. But they each have a dark secret, and neither one knows how to tell the other. Crystal’s secret is that she’s gay and strongly attracted to Sylvia. She wants more than friendship, but she’s afraid to destroy what they already have by letting Sylvia know. And after all, friendship is better than nothing, isn’t it? But Sylvia’s secret is more sinister. It could not only destroy their friendship, it could also hurt Crystal—in more ways than one.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In A Turbulent Affair by Sarah Doebereiner, Crystal is in love with her best friend Sylvia, but she’s afraid to let her know because Sylvia doesn’t know that Crystal is into girls, and Crystal’s afraid that telling Sylvia how she feels will destroy their relationship. On the other hand, Sylvia can’t maintain a relationship with anyone but Crystal, and every man she dates abandons her when he finds out her secret obsession. Sylvia’s afraid that Crystal will do the same. Needless to say, the relationship between these two young women is complicated with both of them afraid to trust enough to confess their secrets.
To be honest, this genre makes me a bit uncomfortable, but the author handled it with skill and an amazing depth of understanding of what it was like for both women—for Crystal, who has never had a lover, as well as for Sylvia, who doesn’t really like men, but who never considered any other options. The story is told with skill, subtlety, and sensitivity.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: A Turbulent Affair by Sarah Doebereiner is the story of two young women, Crystal and Sylvia. Crystal is gay and in love with Sylvia, who is not—at least as far as she knows. Crystal’s hesitant to tell Sylvia her secret for fear that Sylvia will break off their friendship. But Sylvia also has a secret that she is afraid to confess to Crystal for the very same reason. The result is a complicated, heart-breaking, heart-warming, and sometimes tragic story of love, need, obsession, distrust, and fear where two women turn to each other when they can’t make it work with anyone else. Doebereiner did an excellent job of describing both the sweetness of the romance and the situational awkwardness of forging your way into unknown territory, both for Crystal who has never had sex, or even a romantic relationship, as well as for Sylvia who has never thought of women in “that way” before and really isn’t certain of her own sexual orientation.
A Turbulent Affair is, by its very nature, a difficult story to tell and the author’s understanding of both sides of the issues comes across in the sensitivity and compassion with which she tells it. Whatever your sexual orientation, you can’t help but root for both troubled women as they struggle to accept each other unconditionally, despite their flaws and quirks, while taking their relationship to a different, and difficult, level, without destroying their precious friendship. It gives you a new appreciation for how hard life can sometime be for some people.
Crystal hovered around her kitchen. She opened the refrigerator door to see how many cans of soda were inside. Her slender shadow stretched across the floor. The light bulb in the kitchen hung down far enough to brim over the edge of the fixture. It was brighter than it should have been. An abrasive glow made the room look dirty. Every shadow turned into grime, even though she’d scrubbed the floor that morning.
She peered into the living room. It was comfortably lit. Everything in it was simple and functional. There was a floor lamp behind the couch. Neither the couch nor the lamp matched the colors of the carpet or wallpaper. If pressed to describe it, Crystal always tried to use words like minimalistic, rather than poor. Her television sat on a cardboard box. Crys’s junk was written on the box in large, black sharpie. It was a woman’s writing, but not Crystal’s. It was big, sloppy, and ostentatious.
Another box filled the space in front of the couch where a coffee table would have gone. This box was scuffed on one side from having feet pressed against it. There were rings on the top of the box from condensation. Multiple rings were present, but they were clustered together in two tight patterns. Crystal smiled to herself. Two people sat on that couch. Two people rested drinks on the box-table. Two cups placed over and over in the same two spots, until the box had started to be eaten away by the drips they shed.
Crystal turned back to the kitchen and swung open a cupboard door. She glanced inside at the perfect stacks of cups and bowls. For a moment, she was transfixed by her own scrawny reflection in the glass. She slicked down a few tiny hairs standing at attention in the thick of her left eyebrow. The shirt she was wearing billowed around her. It swallowed her curves alive, but the hue brought out flecks of green in her eyes. The hem of the sleeves fell past her hands. She shook her head lightly and crossed to the refrigerator.
Eight cans of soda nested on the shelf. But the one closest to her was already opened–seven cans of soda, she corrected herself. When she picked up the eighth can, she could still hear the fizz crackling inside. Fresh enough for me.
The can made her sleeve feel cold. It camouflaged the sweat that was settling in her palm. She passed the soda from one hand to the other and let the chill sink into her. Then she rubbed the fabric of her sleeve against her palm. The tips of her fingers wiped away lingering moisture.
Crystal sucked in air until her organs felt cramped by the fullness of her lungs. She walked into the living room, sat on the couch, and pulled her feet up to chest. Her blue jeans bunched at the knee and hip where her slender limbs bent.
Several times she brought the can of soda to her lips. The motion was too shallow to pull liquid into her mouth. The third mock sip splashed the skin just under her nose. She used her sleeve to wipe her face. When she realized what she had done, she rubbed the sleeve against the coarse fabric of the couch. Fatter fibers in the linens soaked up sticky soda.
Company was coming. The couch was damp. She wiped the spot with the same sleeve. Her feet wouldn’t settle. First, they landed in her smudges on the box. Then they felt better flat on the floor. Crossed, uncrossed, shaking gently. They were getting too worked up. They were their own entity, full of nervous energy that she couldn’t control. She set the can in her box ring and ran a hand through hair. Chestnut brown flyaways jumped out from their sculpting. Her cell phone flashed seven o’clock.
Across the room, someone jostled the door. It rattled on its hinges, but didn’t give. The tension in Crystal’s body spring-boarded her to a standing position. Before she could reach the door, knocking reverberated in the entry way. The visitor jiggled the handle more forcefully.
“Crys?” Sylvia’s voice drifted in like a melody–an annoyed melody. Crystal hesitated. She didn’t want to open the door too quickly and look like she was waiting. The motion was a dance. She took a few steps: backward, forward, backward. Where was the line between casual and rude?
“Coming,” she answered. After what seemed like long enough, she meandered to the door and unlocked it.
Sylvia thrust the door open forcefully as soon as the deadbolt clicked. It slammed into the tip of Crystal’s foot before she could step back. The first three toes throbbed. She held a yelp behind clenched teeth. Crystal waited for Sylvia to walk in the room first. It would be less noticeable if she happened to limp on the first step. Crystal crossed one arm over her chest and peered into the front yard.
“Just you?” she mused, before she closed the door.
Sylvia plopped down on the couch. She shot Crystal a flat smile. It was a pinched, thin line under her nose that fell short of her eyes.
Strands of silky, black hair fell down around her face, shadowing her jaw line. Her lips were painted with gloss. She puffed them into a pout. A few loose strands of hair stuck in the gloss. “Why’d you lock it?” she asked.
Her tone was hard to read. Crystal unrolled the hem of her shirt. She frowned and glanced from the door to Sylvia. Her lips felt suddenly dry. They stuck together when she opened them to speak. She twisted her tongue sideways over bottom lip.
“Did you leave Jason in the car?” she asked.
She wiggled her toes in her socks and wondered if Sylvia was ashamed of her. The thought made her throat tighten. Crystal tried to breathe deeply, but her mouth watered. She swallowed her nerves. The thick, slimy spit made her stomach ache. Sylvia was no longer smiling. She rubbed her face like she was trying to wipe her own frown away.
“Oh,” Crystal added.
The look on Sylvia’s face made everything clear to Crystal. It was a face she had seen before. Jason didn’t show. It looked worse than just a broken date. Crystal felt her arms sinking down to her sides. Her neck was stiff from holding her shoulders up. Jason didn’t come. More than that, it was probably over between them. Crystal leapt onto couch. She landed half-way on top of Sylvia before rolling into her side.
“You smashed my foot when you opened the door,” Crystal confessed. She nudged Sylvia’s body with her shoulder. “I think it’s broken.”
She collapsed into the fetal position and waved her foot in Sylvia’s face. Their laughter loosened up the air in the apartment. It reverberated in every corner, until Crystal felt at home again.
Then there was silence. Crystal watched Sylvia stare at the black screen of the television. Solidarity wafted between them. For Crystal, it was a comfortable silence. Sylvia always went at her own pace.
Crystal stretched to pick up her can of soda, but couldn’t shift her focus from Sylvia. She “under reached” and hit the can with the tip of her fingers. It wobbled, but didn’t fall over. Sylvia looked at her. Crystal pulled her empty hand back and tucked it in-between her knees. The tips of her fingers sucked in heat from her legs.
“Klutz much?” Sylvia said.
Crystal studied the lines in Sylvia’s face and laughed anyway. She always laughed at Sylvia’s jokes, even when she wasn’t in a position to be joking. Maybe, especially, when it was inappropriate. That’s when Sylvia needed a laugh from her most.
Sylvia was a stoic sort of person. She was passionate, but guarded much of the time. For some reason, she couldn’t keep her feelings in check when she looked at Crystal. Crystal had a “yes face.” There was a kindness in her eyes that split open Sylvia’s belly and let her guts come rushing out. There was no use fighting it.
“I don’t know what happened,” she admitted.
“Want to talk about it?”
The two were sitting close together. They were touching from the shoulder to the hips, but there was a gap between their legs. Crystal’s knees were angled toward Sylvia. Both of their arms were at their sides. The contact was passive, coincidental.
“Not on an empty stomach,” Sylvia replied.
“You’re in luck. I went to the store to stock up since you two…” Crystal trailed off. It wasn’t a meet the boyfriend night. She bit the side of her cheek. “Since I just got paid and all I had was half-sour milk and the gross Chinese you left the other day.” She stood and glided into the kitchen to pop popcorn. It was their favorite snack for break ups. It was packed with delicious, buttery I-don’t-care-how-fat-I-get taste without many guilt-inspiring calories.
Sylvia sipped Crystal’s soda. “Why can’t I just find someone…I don’t know…perfect?” She over-accentuated the word perfect. Her mouth wrapped around it as though it was a foreign concept, like she had never said the word before.
“You always go for the wrong kind of guy,” Crystal answered.
Crystal’s words were clearly audible, but Sylvia pretended not to notice. She replaced the can of soda to its ring and wandered into the kitchen.
Crystal’s kitchen was cramped. She had a round table squished into the corner. It was oblong. A square one would have fit better. It sat four, but she only had two chairs. One of them wobbled unbearably. Sylvia pulled it out, moved it aside, and sat on top of the table. There was a small bag on the table beside her. She scooted it behind her to avoid sitting on it. Crystal opened the refrigerator door. She smiled at seven sodas in the fridge. A picture of Sylvia and Crystal hung on the freezer door. Crystal didn’t have any magnets, so she had covered it in clear tape to keep it stuck in place and clean. In the picture, Crystal’s head was leaning on Sylvia’s shoulder.
The pose lent a hunch to Crystal’s shoulders. She was already petite. In the picture, she was folded in on herself like a paper doll. The picture was taken at a carnival, in front of the balloon dart game. The little pops made Crystal turn into Sylvia’s hair, so her face was partially obscured. It was Crystal’s favorite picture. Sylvia had both hands in front of her. She tossed up a double peace sign at the last moment. Her mouth was open and her tongue was out. Crystal smiled gently. That was a good day.
“What did you say? Your microwave sounds like it’s from the 1940s,” Sylvia said between chuckles.
“You always end up with guys who don’t realize how awesome you are,” Crystal stated.
Her tone was cautious. Sylvia hated compliments. Crystal ducked inside the open fridge. It served as a buffer between them. Having that barrier gave her the courage to repeat herself a little louder. She closed the door and handed Sylvia a fresh can of soda. Crystal’s heart fluttered in her chest. It was difficult for her to speak frankly, even with Sylvia. The pounding in her chest radiated down her arms. She leaned against the counter in case her heart jumped into her head and made her dizzy.
“I really thought it was going well this time.” Sylvia voiced her disappointment through a sigh. She opened the soda and wiggled the pop top until it came loose in her hand. She pushed it inside the can. Crystal worried she might choke on it when she took the last sip. It made her crazy, but she didn’t say it. “We were interested in the same things,” Sylvia continued. “He liked spinach Alfredo pizza. I mean who else does that?”
“Uh, I do,” Crystal puffed.
Spinach Alfredo pizza was a little slimy. It always got stuck in a person’s teeth. The flavor of the sauce was rich, but it was bittered by the greens. Sylvia liked it. Crystal liked it, too.
“What went wrong?” Crystal asked.
She took deep breaths in and held them until the count of three before finally letting them go. Breathing so deeply made her belly puff out. It would have been unsightly if her shirt had been tighter.
“For one thing he opened doors for me,” Sylvia began.
“Uh oh,” Crystal shot back.
She was dead serious. Sylvia couldn’t stand guys who held doors open. She didn’t buy into that antiquated notion of a man being responsible for all the pleasantries in a relationship. She wanted equal footing. Sylvia might have let it slide once or twice because the gesture was polite, in and of itself, as long as he didn’t get miffed if she returned the favor. If it became a habitual problem or if he huffed about a woman’s obligation to subservient propriety, then her anger built up until it exploded.
“I know, right? Like I’m one of those wilting flower women. And he always had a story to tell and it was like I had to just sit and listen. And, on top of it, I had to think they were so interesting,” Sylvia rambled on. Her face reddened around the edges. She swung her dangling feet violently against the edge of the table.
“Were they interesting?” Crystal questioned. She hugged herself. Her body slid lower on the counter, and she let the ledge bear her weight. The position made her legs looked stubby.
“That’s not the point. I couldn’t get a word in,” Sylvia snapped.
“I can’t see you putting up with something like that,” Crystal agreed. She pulled her arms tighter against her body. The pressure was soothing. Her socking feet had trouble gaining traction on the freshly cleaned linoleum.
“It wasn’t just little things. Let me try to wrap my head around it,” Sylvia explained. She closed her eyes..
© 2016 Sarah Doebereiner