Talullah's Choice by M.J. Ferguson

Talullah started back to the public library her heart heavy, her feet dragging. Taking a deep breath, she choked back a sob. She knew she was going to be late for work if she didn’t hurry, but she couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for what faced her when she got there. She should have just gone in earlier, but after Mykel’s refusal to even listen to 
Talullah's Choice
Talullah's Choice by M.J. Ferguson

her, she had to get away and clear her head before she saw her again. Talullah raised her hand to wipe away an errant tear. She glanced at her watch and winced when she saw the time. She was late. Talullah took a deep breath and prepared herself for the griping she was going to get from that old biddy, Mrs. Burns. Talullah trudged up the steps and through the revolving door. Her only hope was to slip past when Mrs. Burns wasn’t looking.

She almost made it when she heard Jonquinette call out, “Hey, Talullah.”

“Hey, Joni,” she answered weakly, raising a limp hand in greeting.

Talullah’s shoulders hunched when she heard a strident, “Miss Fairchild, you are late.” Each word enunciated in that precise, superior manner Mrs. Burns adopted when she was annoyed with you. It could be as grating as nails across a blackboard. Unfortunately, it was a tone Talullah heard all too often.

Great. The last thing she needed was a run in with Mrs. Burns. Granted she was late, if only by a few minutes, but there were extenuating circumstances. Not that it would matter to the old biddy. She was a stickler for punctuality.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Burns--,” Talullah began only to be stopped when Mrs. Burns raised a frail, liver-spotted hand cutting off her words.

Mrs. Burns slowly tottered her way over until she stood in front of Talullah.

“I don’t need nor want your excuses,” Mrs. Burns said somehow looking down on Talullah with her pointy little nose even though she stood almost two heads shorter. “Three days ago we received a shipment of rare first editions from an estate sale. They are located in the basement in the room adjacent to where we store the books needing repair. Your job today will be to go through the books making sure there is nothing in between the pages as well as giving them a good dusting. Take a library cart with you so can place the ones you finish into proper categories.”

Talullah opened her mouth to protest. Mrs. Burns raised one imperious silver brow.

“Yes, ma’am,” Talullah said, shoulders slumping in defeat.

She headed in the direction of the carts.

Talullah put her back pack on the cart and started pushing it towards the elevators.





*********

Ah-choo.

“Damn it,” Talullah griped under her breath. All of the dust from the books was seriously messing with her allergies. Talullah grabbed her back pack and found her allergy medicine. She left the room where she was sorting through the books and walked down the hallway to the small bathroom. She locked herself in and took one of her pills from its bottle. Since there weren’t any cups or anything in the bathroom, Talullah cupped her hands under the running water and drank enough to wash the pill down. She dried her hands and left the bathroom. A noise drew her attention. She walked over towards the door leading to the stairwell when she heard it again. It sounded like a moan. She peaked in the window in the door leading to the stairs, but didn’t see anything. She listened for a minute squinting to see better, but didn’t hear anything more. Thinking it was just her overactive imagination, Talullah started to turn away when movement from the shadows caught her eye.

Though the stairwell was unlit, there was just enough light coming in for her to make out a flash of color in the darkened corner. She heard another groan and watched as a pale arm snaked out knocking the hat from the head of the person pressed against them. Seriously? Talullah thought. Knowing she should turn away but unable to, Talullah watched as Jonquinette’s prosthetic emerged from the shadows, the colorful skirt covering it sliding back as she wrapped it around Asher. She saw Asher’s hand come up and grip Jonquinette’s thigh above her compression sock holding her steady. Another moan, louder than before got her moving. She hurriedly turned away and went back to the dusty books.

An hour later Talullah sat there grumbling to herself about blue-haired old biddies as she pulled the last book from the box she was working her way through. Talullah put the book down and pulled her phone from her back pack. She checked her messages and was disheartened to see her text to Mykel was still unanswered. She didn’t know what to do. Talullah didn’t want to lose Mykel-if she hadn’t already-but she wasn’t ready to step out and publicly claim her. Realizing she wasn’t going to come up with a solution right then she decided to finish with the books and deal with things when she got off work.

She felt a sense of accomplishment seeing the book she held was the last one. Then she looked across the room and realized she was still only half way done. I’m going to be here forever, Talullah thought with a disheartened sigh when she sneezed again. She put the book down to blow her nose. When Talullah retrieved the book to clean it, she noticed it had a clasp with a faded lavender ribbon wrapped through it and around the book tied in a bow. She started to yank the ribbon when she realized how fragile the material was. Not wanting to destroy the ribbon, she carefully untied it and laid one end on the table. She slowly worked the other part of the material through the hole. She laid that piece on the table. Talullah then lifted the metal piece up and used it to open the book.

Talullah’s eyes widened in surprise at what she saw. The center of the book had been hollowed out and was filled with papers bundled together with another lavender ribbon. Not knowing what she was about to discover, Talullah reverently lifted the bundle. She noticed there was something else below the wrapped papers but she left it there. She closed the book and set it aside before turning back to the papers. Talullah carefully undid the ribbon and turned the papers over. She unfolded them and saw she was looking at letters. She flipped through them and saw they were written from the early twenties into the early thirties. Looking at the names on the envelopes, it appeared the letters were all written by a Bernadine Leffingwell to an Erin O’Briain.

Intrigued, Talullah pulled the first letter from the envelope and opened it up.

July 7th, 1922

My Dearest Erin,

I never would have agreed to marriage had I known he would take me away from you. I miss you so much. I’m so unhappy without you. I don’t know anyone here and no one if friendly enough to try and make me feel welcome. My wedding night was horrible. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was nothing like what I had with you. I found no joy or pleasure in the act. I could only lay there and endure. It hurt even more than I thought it would. I don’t know if I can do this until death do us part. I want to leave him, but where would I go? I wish we could have run away together. I would give anything to see you, to hold you in my arms again. Please say it will happen again. I don’t know if I can live my life without knowing that I will see you again.

All my love, Bernadine

Talullah sat back in the chair trying to figure out if she just read what she thought she did. She read to letter again and came to the same conclusion. This letter seemed to be about two women in love with each other. Well at least one was in love with the other. Talullah couldn’t begin to imagine what it must have been like. She was struggling now when acceptance and tolerance were better than they had ever been. Those poor women. Talullah checked her phone again. Still nothing.

December 12th, 1922

My Dearest Erin,

My heart is heavy to know that I will probably never be able to get away from him now. I’ve just learned I’m pregnant. This news should have brought great joy to us, but instead he sees it as another burden to bear. He even blames me. Like it’s my fault. I don’t want him touching me, much less inside my body. It doesn’t matter what I want. It never does. He didn’t show his true colors until after we said our vows. My parents didn’t believe me when I wrote to them. My father said it’s a woman’s duty in life to live for her husband and do as he wants and says. I don’t know if I’m strong enough. I need you so much. I miss you. Maybe when the baby’s born things will get better, but I don’t really believe it will. My heart aches with wanting to see you, to hold you, to kiss you again.

All my love, Bernadine

Talullah could feel the helplessness of Bernadine in her letter. It was heartbreaking to read. And she had a whole stack of letters to go through. Well, she didn’t have to go through them, but Talullah’s innate curiosity wouldn’t let her not read them. She scanned the letters one by one. Some she read in full others she just skimmed because there was no way she could get them all read before her shift was over. And her honesty would not allow her to spirit the letters away either. She was skimming a letter when she realized it was about Erin and Bernadine meeting again. She went back to reread the letter carefully.

June 26th, 1925

My Dearest Erin,

It was so wonderful to see you after almost three years. I still can’t believe he brought me home for it. I think a lot had to do with my parents wanting to see me and their first grandchild. Also, I’m not stupid. I know Daddy is helping us financially and probably held that over his head. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is I got to see you again. I can’t believe how beautiful you looked. Our kids were so cute playing together. Who knows, maybe one day your son and my daughter will meet as adults. How wonderful would that be? I love that we each used the names we picked for ‘our’ children when naming them. The best part was being able to sneak away with you, if only for a few hours. It was like we’ve never been apart. The feel of your lips on mine, your hands on my skin was the most amazing thing. I’d forgotten how soft your skin is. I don’t know how I was able to get in the car and drive away from you. I cried for three days. I can’t wait until we can see each other again. I don’t know if I can live without you.

All my love, Bernadine

Talullah blinked back tears as she absorbed the heartbreak in those written words. She went on to the next letter. Each letter was more of the same. Bernadine expressing her love for Erin and how much she missed her and wanted to be with her. Since the letters continued and Mrs. O’Briain kept them, Talullah could only assume the sentiment was returned. Her phone was on silent since she was working so she looked at it again. Still nothing. Talullah was surprised to see three hours had passed since she’d started dusting and cataloguing the books. Considering she’d spent more time reading than cleaning she shouldn’t be surprised. Talullah skimmed through another couple of years of letters when one stopped her.

May 5, 1927

My Dearest Erin,

I’m pregnant. He forced himself on me again. When I tried to fight him off, he hit me repeatedly until I lost consciousness. When I came too, he was just finishing. He looked at me with such contempt. Told me this is all I was good for and since I wasn’t too good at it he pleasured himself another way. He then spit in my face and walked away. Luckily my daughter was playing at a friend’s house and didn’t see or hear anything. All I could do was curl in a ball and weep as my stomach cramped. I hurt too bad to move at first. I may have dozed off. When I was fully aware of what was going on around me, I noticed wetness between my legs. It was my blood. I hurt in places I never had before. I got up to go to the bathroom but the pain drove me to me knees. I realized from where the pain emanated he had violated me in a way he never had before. Eventually I was able to get up and clean myself up. I hurt for days after. I don’t know how much more I can take.

All my love, Bernadine

Tears tracked down Talullah’s face as the impact of what she read hit her hard. Her heart broke for Bernadine and what she went through. How she wished things had been different for the two ladies. She grabbed a tissue to wipe her tears.

Things are different now.

Talullah jerked around startled at words she could have sworn were whispered in her ear. Of course a quick look around confirmed what she already knew. She was alone in the room. However, she was unable to get those words out of her head.

Things are different now.

While Talullah acknowledged the fact, it didn’t mean she was ready to be out and proud. But it wasn’t as if Mykel was asking her to shout it from the rooftops or even march in any parades. Mykel simply wanted to be able to hold Talullah’s hand or kiss her without worrying one of Talullah’s friends or family would see them. It wasn’t too much to ask in the grand scheme of things, but Talullah was scared of the repercussions. She was nowhere near as brave as Mykel. Her strength was one of the things Talullah loved about her so much. She didn’t want to lose her. She couldn’t. But she was on the verge of losing her for good, if she hadn’t already.

There was still no response from Mykel.

December 14, 1931

My Dearest Erin,

I simply can’t do this any longer. I got pregnant again and he was so mad at me, he pushed me down the stairs. My kids saw it. They thought I was dead. Needless to say I lost the baby. As hard as it was, I consider it a blessing in disguise. At least this child won’t have to grow up in such an abusive environment. I have to get out before he kills me. He’s also started smacking the kids around. The worst and what scares me the most is the way he’s starting to look at Lola. She’s only nine years old. I will kill him and happily spend the rest of my life behind bars if he dares to touch one of my kids. If things come to that, I want you and Harold to take the girls and raise them. Promise me.

All my love, Bernadine

The thought of what Bernadine went through and suspected what her husband intended to do sent Talullah rushing from the room. She fell to her knees in front of the toilet just as she started to lose her lunch. She heaved into the toilet until nothing was left. She shuddered in revulsion at the thought of Bernadine’s husband touching their girls. She knew how devastating something like that could be. She had a cousin who had been molested by a teacher. Debbie was still dealing with the aftermath and it happened over a decade ago just after she turned eleven. After flushing, she slowly made her way to her feet and went over to the sink. Talullah splashed some cold water on her face. Then she rinsed her mouth out several times. Her legs unsteady, Talullah stumbled back over to the toilet and collapsed onto the seat. She remained there for several minutes until her legs stopped shaking. Knowing her shift was over soon and anxious to find out what happened next, Talullah got to her feet and made her way back to room and the letters.

January 13, 1932

My Dearest Erin,

I’m so overwhelmed at the moment, I can barely write this letter. I can’t believe Harold is willing to take us in. I can’t believe you told him about us or that he accepted it. I know you said he loved you and would do anything for you, but this is more than I would expect anyone to deal with. He leaves in three weeks for a business trip. He’ll be gone for five days. I’ll pack up me and the girls and we’ll take the train. Oh, I can’t believe I’m coming home to you. Even though we’ll have to be careful, just to be in your presence again will be miraculous. I will write you in a few days with our itinerary. Thank you and thank Harold for me and the girls.

All my love, Bernadine

Wiping tears from her eyes, Talullah sat back in the chair, clutching the letter to her chest. A smile graced her lips as she let the knowledge that things were going to work out for Erin and Bernadine wash over her. Her heart felt lighter and she was so glad Bernadine and her girls were able to get out safely. With a sigh of relief, Talullah reached for the next letter only to realize that was the last letter. No, no, no. There has to be more, Talullah thought. The story couldn’t end there.

Talullah went through each letter looking at dates checking to see if she’d missed any. She was disappointed not to find anymore. Talk about fate. What were the odds she would find these letters and they’d be about two women in love in a time women had no real rights much less the freedom to love while she herself struggled with the same issue. Talullah wasn’t a big believer in fate, but the feeling she was meant to find these letters wouldn’t leave her. As she sat there contemplating what their life, once they were together again, was like the text tone for her phone went off. Talullah’s heart started racing. Finally. Talullah lunged at her phone almost dropping it in her haste. The elation she felt quickly turned to despair when she saw the text wasn’t from Mykel as she’d wished but from her mother reminding her of the family dinner planned that evening.

It took every bit of self restraint Talullah had not to hurl the phone across the room. As angry as she wanted to be with Mykel, she couldn’t be. She knew the whole situation was her fault. Except for a few close friends, everyone thought Talullah and Mykel were only roommates and best friends. While they did start as roommates their freshman year of college, by their junior year they were lovers. They were fighting because Mykel was tired of Talullah’s refusal to come out, at least to her family. Talullah promised her she would, but every time Talullah tried, she couldn’t say the words to her family. She was afraid of disappointing them. It wasn’t like her family was homophobic; she just knew they had certain beliefs and ideals. They wanted certain things for their children. She didn’t think they would be very accepting of her relationship with Mykel even though they knew Mykel and liked her as Talullah’s roommate and best friend.

Talullah answered her mother’s text and tossed her phone into her back pack. She sat there lost in thought. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t want to lose Mykel, but she didn’t want to lose her family either. Unable to come up with an answer, Talullah went to get another box to start dusting off more books when she saw the book the letters were in and remembered seeing something else in there. She opened it up and peered inside. She lifted out the paper she found there. Upon closer examination, she recognized the yellowed paper as old newspaper and it was wrapped around a picture. The paper was old and somewhat fragile, so Talullah was careful removing it. She laid the paper aside in favor of looking at the picture. The picture was weathered by time and showed two women dressed in typical twenties garb. They had their arms around each other and their smiles were brilliant. Talullah couldn’t help but smile while she gazed at their images. One was about a head shorter than the other. She knew from the letters the taller one with the long flowing locks was Erin. Talullah imagined she could see the vivid ginger of her hair. The shorter one was Bernadine. Her sable hair framed her heart shaped face with tight ringlets. They looked so good together. So happy. Talullah could feel the love between them. If you were looking for it, you could see it in their eyes, in the way they held each other. She hoped their life together was a happy one. The picture blurred as Talullah’s eyes filled with tears. She thought about the courage it must have taken for Bernadine to take her children and leave her husband. She felt the sting of shame in her chest. If these two women could take such a chance, why couldn’t she? For once, the thought didn’t fill her with fear. Oh she still felt anxious and worried, but reading these letters and seeing the love Erin and Bernadine couldn’t hide, seemed to give her the courage and strength that eluded her until now.

Setting the picture aside, Talullah picked up the newspaper article and opened it all the way. The headline read: Mother and Children Killed in Car Accident

Talullah gasped. It couldn’t be. But deep in her heart she knew what the article was going to say. It was dated January 20, 1932. Talullah read as quickly as she could desperate to find out what happened. The article stated that a Mrs. Bernadine Leffingwell and her two daughters, Lola 9 and Roberta 4, were in a head on collision with a truck. They were going around a blind curve and the driver of the truck fell asleep and crossed the center line. The driver was in critical condition but Bernadine and her daughters did not survive. All three were pronounced dead on the scene. The article went on to state that when the police went to notify her husband of the accident, they found him in what was the girls’ bedroom dead from blunt force trauma. A note left on a desk downstairs written by Bernadine stated that she hit him on the head when she walked in and saw him touching their oldest daughter. She would not allow him to abuse her daughters the way he did her so when he wouldn’t stop, she hit him, took her kids, and left.

By the third time she read the story, Talullah could barely make out the words through her tears. Her shoulders began shaking as she gave in to the grief she felt at not only the lives lost but also the love that never got the chance to grow and flourish. She could only imagine the grief and perhaps even guilt Erin felt. Then her thoughts spiraled as she thought of losing Mykel like that. Her breath caught in her chest making it difficult to draw in a substantial breath. Her mind refused to even contemplate life without Mykel, it was too painful. Talullah tried to control her breathing and slow it down. She was beginning to hyperventilate at the thought of Mykel being lost to her forever. She couldn’t let that happen. She refused to let that happen.

Please don’t let it be too late, Talullah prayed.

Leaving everything behind, Talullah raced from the room. She skidded to a stop in front of the elevator and smacked the up button. She waited impatiently for it to start its decent from the second floor. She shifted from foot to foot unable to stand still. Finally, the doors opened and she hurried inside and pushed the button for the fourth floor. It was the longest minute of Talullah’s life. When the doors finally opened she bounded out and ran toward the meeting room where she knew Mykel was with the writing group she was a member of. Not letting anything distract her, she didn’t slow until reached the room where Mykel’s meeting was being held and burst through the door without bothering to knock first.

Everyone in the room turned to look at her in shock. She could only imagine the sight she presented. Her eyes were puffy, tear tracks streaked her cheeks, and her hair was wild around her face.

“Talullah, what are you—”

That was as far as Mykel got before Talullah was standing before her grabbing her hand and pulling her to her feet.

“We have to talk. Now.” Talullah said urgently. “Please,” she implored, her voice breaking on the word when it looked like Mykel was going to refuse.

Mykel studied her for a long moment while Talullah did her best not to squirm aware of all the eyes on them. Talullah didn’t know what Mykel was looking for but Talullah saw the instant her eyes softened. Mykel said a quiet okay and allowed Talullah to lead her from the room.

“Sorry for barging in,” Talullah said as she shut the door behind them.

They walked a few feet down the hall before Talullah turned to face Mykel. There were so many thoughts running through her head, so many things she wanted, needed to say she didn’t know where to begin. She opened her mouth to speak but instead of words a choked sob tore from her throat. Talullah’s breathing sped up and her eyes started to fill. Seeing the concern on Mykel’s face was enough to send them pouring down her flushed cheeks.

Mykel went to her and cupped her face, trying to brush the tears away with her thumbs. The tears were winning.

“Baby, what is it? You’re all disheveled. What’s happened?”

“I-I,” Talullah choked on the word.

She swallowed hard trying to get some semblance of control back. She clutched at Mykel’s wrists and looked up until amber locked with espresso.

“I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I love you so much and I almost threw it away. I almost threw us away. I’m not too late am I? Please tell me it’s not too late,” Talullah begged. “I’ll do whatever you want, whatever it takes to keep us. Life is too short and I don’t want to live mine without you. You know tonight is family dinner night. I want you to go with me.”

“Talullah.” Mykel sighed. She took her hands from Talullah’s face and tried to step away, but Talullah tightened her grip. “Please don’t do this. I’m trying not to push. I expect the same courtesy from you. I’m not changing my mind. If that’s all you wanted, you shouldn’t have interrupted our meeting. I need to get back.”

Mykel tried to pull away, but Talullah wouldn’t let her. Mykel huffed in exasperation and stopped trying to get away.

“Damn it, T--”

Talullah let go of Mykel’s wrists and grasped her face forcing her to make eye contact.

“I want you to go with me to dinner at my parent’s house.”

The words were spoken clearly with a determination and certainty Mykel had never heard from her before.

“Talullah?” Mykel’s voice trembled and those espresso colored eyes Talullah loved so much filled.

“I know I’m acting a little weird,” Talullah said brushing away the tears Mykel couldn’t hold back. “I promise you I will explain everything when we leave, but I need you to know now how much you mean to me and I’m not letting you go. You are my best friend, my future, my life. I’m sorry I ever made you doubt me or my love for you. I’m so sorry I hurt you. I love you and I’m proud to have you as my girlfriend. And if you join me tonight I will proudly walk through my parent’s door holding your hand. And if they can’t accept us then we will walk out together. Because that’s all I want. Us together forever.”

“What happen to you, T?”

“Like I said I’ll tell you everything, but suffice it to say, I quite simply imagined my life without you.” Talullah shuddered. “It wasn’t pretty.” Talullah brushed away another tear. “Don’t sentence me to a life without you. Forgive me.”

Mykel’s smile was blinding.

“Nothing to forgive. I love you, too. So much. So very much, T.”

The next thing Talullah knew they were in each other’s arms holding each other tight. Talullah buried her face in Mykel’s neck and breathed her in. She felt a peace settle over her as she let the scent of her lover soothe her. She drew back and they looked at each other. Talullah leaned up as Mykel leaned down meeting her halfway. They shared a kiss full of love and a promise for the future.

They slowly became aware of the applause and whistles surrounding them. Drawing apart, the women turned to see Mykel’s writing group. They both blushed. The next thing they knew the group drew them into their circle and hugs and congratulations abounded.

The noise drew the other patrons from the other rooms on the fourth floor. The library offered various classes and today there was a painting class as well as a yoga class going on. They happily joined the impromptu celebration. Although they weren’t overly loud, the cacophony was more than enough to shatter the tranquility of the library. People filtered out from the other floors and looked up trying to see what was disturbing the normal calm of the library.

Talullah and Mykel found themselves at the wooden railing looking over at the people below who were staring trying to figure out what the commotion was. Over the dissonance a strident voice, surprisingly loud and strong for someone so old rang out.

“Miss Fairchild, what is the meaning of this?” Mrs. Burns directed her patented glare at Talullah.

Talullah grabbed Mykel’s hand and held their joined hands high.

“Just claiming my girl,” Talullah called down before pulling Mykel into another kiss.

The cheers eventually died down.

“Miss Fairchild if you’ve quite finished disrupting the library I’d like to say congratulations on finally pulling your head out of your ass. Now get back to work,” Mrs. Burns said with a smirk, winking at the happy couple.





MJ is a member of a local writing group called The Wicked Wordsmiths of the West. If you enjoyed this story, check out the rest of the anthology, Stories From the Stacks.

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Eight stories by three different authors will keep you turning the pages until late at night. Leave the lights on, make sure your door is locked… try to ignore the sounds that shouldn’t be there. The anthology begins with M.J. Ferguson’s psychological description of one woman’s fight to regain consciousness in Nothing. M.J. ends the anthology with the reader hoping the victim loses consciousness rather than live with the horror she endures in No Escape. Ghosts, demons, and worse – humans capable of pure evil, these stories will haunt you in your waking hours and your sleep. Please note the last two stories Sarah and No Escape are intended for mature audiences due to violence and sexual content.

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