Zena Papadopoulos had arrived in a sleepy town yesterday, one of many sleepy towns she'd arrived at in her life in the past two years. Was this the one? None had lived up to her expectations yet, and possibly this one wouldn't either, but she had to give it a chance.
Circled in the local newspaper in her hand was an ad that read...
Learn New Positions
Wanted: Yoga instructor to teach
breathing, relaxation techniques
She had no expertise in the field but, hey, it was only a small town in the middle of nowhere. How hard could it be? You breathe, you sleep and you read the Karma Sutra.
Zena wandered along the shop fronts looking for the address. She had phoned the number in the ad and had been given instructions on how to find the studio. Her car was parked a mile back in a side street. If she had known how sleepy this particular town was she could have driven right up to the front door.
54, 56, 58... she counted off the street numbers as she stepped sprightly along the clean and well maintained footpath. Damn... it was like she had stepped back into an episode of Ozzie and Harriet. She found the small doorway leading to a steep staircase. "Figures..."
As she climbed the stairs she felt sorry for the clients using the studio. They would be exhausted just getting to the room. At the top of the stairs and in large black letters stenciled on the glass door was Lauren's Beauty Studio. Zena re-checked her directions. This was the right address, she was sure of that, but the sign said a beauty studio.
Confused, she opened the door anyway and chuckled as the stereotypical bell rang over the door.
"May I help you?" a disconnected voice called. A moment later a young woman with frizzy auburn hair and overdone makeup met her at the entrance.
"Errr... I'm not sure I have the right address. I'm answering the ad for a yoga instructor."
"I'm Lauren. Gabrielle should be here any minute." The woman checked her watch. "Class starts in about ten minutes."
"Am I in the right place?" Zena couldn't keep the incredulity out of her voice. "But I thought this was a beauty studio."
"It is. Gabby shares the space with me."
"Oh," Zena said as she was shoved in the back when the door opened and three dumpy, middle-aged women strolled in, without so much as a 'sorry' for her trouble.
"Hello, ladies. Go on through, Gabby's running a little late."
The human tide flowed through to the large empty room to the right. Zena shook her head. If this was the clientele that she would be faced with, then escape was added to her mental list as an option.
At that precise moment a blonde woman of middling height walked in. "Hey Gab. Your ladies have arrived and, oh, this woman has come about the ad."
"Hey there." A wide, friendly smile accompanied the greeting.
"Hello, I think I talked to you earlier. I'm Zena."
"Xena with an 'X'?"
"No Zena with a 'Z'." She had secretly wanted her name to be Xena with an 'X' after the show on TV because the woman was cool and so was the spelling of her name. The X made a bold statement about whom she was. Ahhh, what the hell....
"No, make that Xena with an X."
"Okkayyy..." Gabrielle replied cautiously, studying the tall brunette standing in front of her. She did have more than a passing resemblance to the character and seemed to deserve that 'X'. After all, she could rightfully claim that her name was Xena which ever way it was spelled.
"Now, about the yoga position."
"Hah, very quick."
"Sorry?" Xena felt like she had just missed the punch line.
"Yoga... position. Good joke." Gabrielle chuckled at the confused look on the newcomer.
"Ohhh. Sure." A slip of the tongue and suddenly it was a joke. Go figure.
"Come on." Gabrielle moved further into the room, heading toward a small curtained off area. "This is the change room." She pushed through the material, leaving Xena outside wondering if she was supposed to be following her. "I thought I would take you through the class so you have an idea of what we're doing." The voice floated over the top of the partition.
Xena turned around to the carpeted square of floor space, where the same ladies were seated that had hustled her aside in the foyer earlier. They were, well, not quite what she expected. There was not a narrow neck or muscled flank in sight. These women needed help, a lot of help! A lot more than a yoga session or two could offer.
The curtain pulled back to reveal a figure that had not an inch of flab anywhere. Now this was more like it. She could certainly show this woman a new position or two that she wouldn't find in any legal exercise manual.
"Okay, ladies!" There was a collective moan from the group. "Come on now! You're Amazons!" A grumble or two accompanied the massive shift of weight from one part of the room to the other.
"Amazons?" Xena whispered aside. "Are you sure?" She didn't want to be rude but everything she had read, and particularly seen on that show, didn't illustrate the flabbier side of the group.
"I've got to encourage them. It's all to do with self-image." Gabrielle clapped her hands trying to get some enthusiasm going.
"Try a sideshow mirror...," Xena mumbled.
"Ladies, we have a newcomer to the group today. This is Zena... errr... Xena with an 'X'."
"I'm Zena Papadopoulos." If she got this job she'd better find the library. Suddenly the position was going to need a lot more expertise than she possessed. She would have to do some serious study cramming for this lot.
"Hello, Xena." It was like being back at school as the women spoke as one.
"Ladies..." She tried not to smile. Yeah, she was back at school. She was about to sit down and watch when Gabrielle caught her eye.
"On no, no, no, none of that. You join in." Gabrielle's arms reached for the roof. "Now, let's do some gentle stretching exercises to loosen up our muscles...," she said soothingly.
What were these women doing? Crack after crack broke the silence as muscles and joints protested at being used at all, let alone stretched. The occasional groan was heard as the young woman pushed them, trying to get that extra inch in stretch before taking pity on them and allowing them to rest.
Xena could sympathize. She hadn't done any serious exercising since her last girlfriend and she was feeling the burn. A hot bath was calling to her abused body and she was in no mood to ignore it.
While the women rested she approached the blonde. "You seem to know your way around a mat. What do you need me for?" She was shooting herself in the foot by pointing out the obvious but she wanted to know.
"I'm the local librarian. I'm just filling in here until we get someone permanent for the job."
"Oh. Why start it at all? If this is all you get it doesn't seem worth the layout of money." To Xena it seemed a waste of everyone's time and effort if all to show for it was three out-of-shape women.
"The local council decided, in its wisdom, to do something 'for the ladies', as they put it." Gabrielle clicked her tongue. "Bunch of arrogant, self-centered...," she mumbled.
"Don't like the idea?" Xena thought the community would have welcomed the decision with open arms.
"Oh, I like the idea fine, it's just the attitude. 'Give the girls a little something to make them happy. Right before we send them back into the kitchen.'"
"Ahh. Living in the nineteenth century."
"You got that right and, being the librarian, I'm in the thick of it."
"So, all these women married?"
"To those hoary bastards? No way!" The self-elected leader of the group stepped forward, her mass of mousey-brown curls plastered to her forehead. "Hi, Effenina Blackwell here. Pleased to meet ya!" She grabbed the tall woman's hand and pumped it energetically, nearly dislocating her shoulder. The two other women stood behind her, as if trying to protect her from some sort of ambush.
"Effenina? That's an unusual name." At least Xena didn't feel so bad about her own name.
"Daddy's joke. I don't think he wanted me to stay single for too long. Wanted me out of the house and raisin' little'uns." A shudder ran through her frame. "The gals here call me Effie."
"So did daddy get his way?"
"Yeah, he did. Got a couple of girls."
"So what does your husband think of all of this?" Why was she even asking? She was going to have her own problems trying to settle into a mid-western town.
"Don't rightly know, and don't care neither. He's pushin' up daisies in our back garden."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that."
"Don't be. The lazy, self-righteous..."
"How did he die?" It was watching a car crash. Xena wanted to look away but the suspense had drawn her into the story even though she had no interest in the woman's past.
"Yeah, you ran over him in the pickup, Effie," Mentioned one of the two women, a massively-built motherly type with jet black hair in a fraying bun.
"It was an accident."
"Yeah..." "You stick to that, Effie." It seemed Effie's friends had something to say about that.
"Well the sheriff never proved a thing!" She tried to sound indignant but everyone knew better. "Besides, Pony, you can't talk."
"Pony?" Maybe they all thought she looked like one, but Xena didn't think she looked that
"Pauline McElvoy, at your service ma'am." The dark haired monolith that stood before her had a jovial smile plastered on her wide face.
"Nice to meet you. But Pony?"
"Only amongst the girls here. Got to be better than heifer." She threw her head back and laughed at her own expense.
"And what's your story, .... Pony." It sounded strange calling a woman a farm animal. "Got any kids?"
"Sure have. I've lost count of 'em."
"Yeah, Pony here is our kid machine. She just keeps popping 'em out at regular intervals," Effie offered jovially.
"Not any more. This machine is busted."
"Yeah. Gettin' too old for this crap." She was built like Effie's pickup and looked like she hadn't had a sick day in her life.
"Husband said 'no'?"
"Hell, no! I said 'no'. 'Bout time I put my foot down."
"You do that, Pony, and you'd bury him six feet under." The other woman, who had been mostly silent during the conversation, butted in.
"Is that a fat joke, skinny?" Like the Hulk Pony puffed herself out to double her size, ready to pounce on the poor woman.
"That's Sally Donoghue. She's single and likes it that way." Gabrielle whispered aside as the two women faced off against one another. "Now, my Amazons, no fighting."
"But I like fightin'."
"Of course you would, Pony dear. You're the biggest and always win." Gabrielle was clucking around them like a mother hen rounding up her chicks... her ten-ton chicks with an attitude to match.
"Didn't them Amazons like fightin' too?"
Gabrielle just knew that calling them Amazons would return one day to bite her in the butt. "Well, yeah, but that doesn't mean you have to."
"But I gotta keep up the spirit of them Amazons, don't I?" Pony was on a roll and it looked like she might win an argument for once.
"Do you know why they're Amazons?" Xena piped in.
"No, the real ones two thousand years ago."
"Yeah, they liked fightin'." Pony wasn't going to let it go.
"Well, there's that but they wanted to live without men. They didn't need them except for kids. Then, of course, there's the other thing..." Xena smiled wickedly at the mention of it. She was in the mood to shock these women.
"Other... thing?" Pony's mind was filled with all sorts of possibilities.
"You know... the sex thing."
"Well, I think it's time we call it a day. We'll meet back-"
"Sex thing? Awww, don't leave it at that!"
"They didn't need men for sex." She was being evasive, waiting to see who would cave in first.
"Now, that's not completely true." Gabrielle was fast losing control of her group.
Sally was noticeably quiet as the other two tried to figure it out.
"Course you do! Ain't no sex without men!"
"Uh uh." Xena shook her head slowly. This was more fun than a tub of Baskins.
"I don't get it."
"Instead of a guy-"
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Gabrielle tried, she really did, to protect the innocence of these two women but it was a lost cause.
"...it's a girl. Two women, Pony." Xena's eyes danced merrily as the shock of what she had said set in.
"But... but..." The woman's eyebrows met in the middle as she tried to figure it out. No one had ever told her about this.
"Have you been told recently that you are a right troublemaker?" Gabrielle whispered aside.
"Often...," Xena mumbled. She just couldn't help herself.
Despite the fact that this woman had set the cat amongst the pigeons Gabrielle really liked her. She couldn't quite put her finger on it but she just touched something deeper inside her.
While the woman tried to explain the intricacies of Amazon life to the uninitiated, Gabrielle took the chance to the study her. There were those same blue eyes, long straight raven hair, high accented cheekbones and strong jaw. Her eyes swept down over the T-shirt molded to her body tucked into a pair of worn jeans that fit her like a glove. It was a very enticing package indeed.
Since coming to this sleepy town Gabrielle's love life had all but disappeared. She had tried, oh Lord she had tried, to get a job in the city... any city... as a librarian but it was one of those situations where one of the employed librarians would have to die first before a position opened up. That left her with two choices. Change profession or look elsewhere.
So here she was. A librarian in a town whose name was scattered across the country, employed by a town council that set back women's rights by a hundred years.
"I'm telling you, it's the truth. There are women out there who only like other women." Xena was fighting a losing battle. These women had been brainwashed. She sighed in defeat, at least for now. "That aside, can I ask you ladies something?"
"As long as it's not insultin'." Effie eyed the newcomer suspiciously.
"Are you doing this as a social gathering or are you serious about getting in shape?" She wanted to say 'lose weight' but they seemed a bit touchy about that.
"Of course I am...!" Effie replied indignantly, "...How else am I goin' to catch a man!" She giggled as Xena's eyes rolled upwards. "Just raggin' ya. I've had enough of men to last me a lifetime."
"You go sister!" Gabrielle let the words slip uncensored, drawing a surprised glance from the tall woman.
"Is there a gym around here?"
"Sure, at the other end of town, but women ain't allowed to use it."
"Cause women should be in the kitchen not in the gym. Besides, they would be a distraction to the men using it... you know, unclothed like that." Gabrielle shuddered. "Arrogant pigs..."
"So it's a 'He-Man Woman-Hater's Club'?"
"You got it."
Xena smiled wickedly. "Then maybe it's about time there was a 'She-Woman Man-Hater's Club' as well."
"Are you nuts?" Gabrielle's voice rose to a squeak. "The council would never go for it."
"Only if they knew what it was. It's a Women's Social Club. Of course what they don't know won't hurt them...yet."
"That sounds like a lot of work." And time, which Gabrielle had little of.
"Pony here was born for work. She's a human bulldozer." Effie's smile widened as her words got the reaction she expected.
"Hey!" Pony shifted closer ready to pounce.
"Well, it's up to you girls. Do you want this or are you going to let the men keep you in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant?" It was a leading question, Xena knew that, but she figured it was time to shake up this community and its librarian.
"What do we have to do?" Effie eyed her, waiting for whatever bad news their new instructor seemed about to deliver.
Xena turned to the librarian. "Any chance of a bigger grant?" She had her answer by Gabrielle's dour look. "Okay. So what about some fund-raising? Bake sales? Raffles?"
"And what do we tell the council the money is for?" Gabrielle didn't like this plan because she would be the one who would ultimately be the messenger.
"A bigger floor. Tell them if they were more generous with their money the women wouldn't have to resort to charity." Xena thought for a moment. "I suppose before we go any further I better find out if I have a job."
Gabrielle hesitated. This was going to cause trouble, a whole heap of trouble. "Where are you staying?"
"You better find somewhere a bit less expensive and a bit more permanent."
"Because the pay is lousy."
"Alright. Let's get busy!" She did a little happy dance, rotating her hips in time with her arms. Now she remembered why she moved from town to town. She kept getting thrown out of the others for causing trouble.
"Do you know anyone on the inside? You know, down in the council chambers."
"Someone who would be prepared to help us."
"I don't know..."
"I know someone," Sally murmured quietly.
* * *
"Hey, Sal. What can I do for you today?" The young red haired woman didn't seem to notice the small group of women trailing behind, intent to focus on the woman she addressed.
"Hey, Ammy. How are you?" She kept the conversation cordial.
"Good." But the greeting was different to what she was used to. "What's wrong?" Her eyes moved from one woman to the next. "Who are your friends?"
"We have a proposition for you..."
* * *
"So how do you know her?" Xena already knew everything she needed to know but seeing the woman squirm was fun. She sucked on the straw dipped in her chocolate milkshake. The group had retired to the local soda shop to draw up their plans.
Sally took a lick of her ice cream to gain some time. "Ah, you know, here and there."
"Really? Looks like you know her real
well." She grinned as the woman shifted nervously in her seat.
"Will you stop that?" Gabrielle hissed, "You're scaring the children!" Effie's eyes were as round as saucers while Pony was still trying to figure it out.
"So who is this Ammy woman?" Maybe a change in subject was needed.
"Amaryllis works in the council records section. She should be able to let us know if the council tries anything."
"That's not what I asked," Gabrielle cleared her throat, forcing Xena to back away, "but it'll do for now." She gave the woman next to her a wide grin, watching as those eyes melted. Yeah, she still had it. When she laughed out loud, the blonde looked at her curiously. "I was just thinking..."
"And it's getting you into trouble."
"No, not that. You picked a good name for these women. Amazons. Remember the show or, maybe more to the point, all those fan stories that were written? Now that would set a fire under them..."
"Yeah, my point. Well, look at them. Effenina, doesn't she look familiar? How about Ephiny with a middle age spread? And Pony? Eponin? What about Sally? She looks a bit like Solari to me. And Amaryllis, with that mass of red hair? It's got to be Amarice."
"What about you, Gabrielle
"Two is coincidence, six is just plain downright scary." Xena chuckled again. "I wonder what the council would think of an Amazon village in the middle of their main street."
"Don't even think about it." But it did bring a ludicrous image to mind.
"Alright, ladies. That's the last ice cream for a while. Tomorrow we start work. Ten a.m. at the studio we're going to start walking so dress accordingly. This is no Sunday picnic so be prepared to sweat." Xena grinned at the collective moan.
"Sounds like a plan."
"Well, you would say that...," grumbled Pony, "...you won't be there."
"Eeexxactly." Cheerfully Gabrielle left for work, comforted in the knowledge that these women were not going to get a break.
* * *
For the next week, Xena made them work, finding hills, valleys, stairs and obstacles that they had to run, walk, duck and climb over. She had been called all sorts of names, a few of which were new even to her jaded ears. However, the sight of three beet-red dumpy women walking and jogging all over town did attract more business, with two new members in the first few days alone.
Xena moved out of Stacey's, as Gabrielle had recommended, ending up in a trailer on the edge of town. This was not exactly what she had in mind but the librarian was right, her pay sucked. Once Gabrielle found out where she was living the blonde relented, offering a spare room in her own home until something better came along. That particular trailer park, according to Gabrielle, was subject to constant harassment by the local yokels. Vandalism was rife and there was a fire somewhere every night, not that she had anything of value worth stealing or incinerating.
But Xena was not going to complain. She ended up being right where she wanted to be... in Gabrielle's back pocket.
* * *
"So, how is the program going?" Gabrielle continued her work in the kitchen preparing dinner.
"Huh? Oh, you mean Xena's torture track? Fine. They're all plotting to get rid of me, I'm sure." Xena leaned against the bench top, sipping her wine.
"I would never have done what you did."
"Well, I'm more inclined to kick their butts than you are. After all, you live here."
"So do you." To Gabrielle it nearly sounded like Xena's job was temporary... very temporary.
"But you're the librarian, the pillar of society. Speaking of which, having me in the house is going to raise some eyebrows."
"Let them talk."
"So what does that mean, Miss Marian the Librarian?"
"It doesn't mean anything." But Gabrielle could feel Xena edging closer. "It's just none of their business."
"Some would say that it is...," Xena leaned in and whispered in her ear.
Gabrielle looked over her shoulder to find the women mere inches behind her. She could feel her heart thud against her chest wall, picking up speed when the tall brunette smiled at her. "They would?" her voice rose in pitch, giving away her nervousness.
"Yes, they would." This close Xena could see the apprehension in those green depths. "Is it my business?"
"It could be." Had she opened herself to heartache? Was she going to be some diversion for Xena until she left?
"I'd like it to be." Xena stepped closer until their bodies met.
"But is your business going to keep you here?"
"Huh?" The brunette placed her hands on her companion's shoulders.
"I don't want to be a diversion, Xena."
"Who said anything about that?"
"But you implied..."
"Implied what? What's going on here?" Xena forced Gabrielle to face her.
"You implied that you were going to leave."
"Leave? Who said anything about leaving? I just got here."
"When you were talking about getting the women in shape you... you... hell, I don't know. You gave me the impression that you might not stay." Gabrielle didn't want to look in those sapphire blue eyes and see pity.
Xena lifted the blonde's chin. "Silly woman," she softly chided, "I was just pointing out that I'm a stranger here and any consequences are less likely to affect me than it would if you were in charge. Besides, if there was a reason to stay..." She left the statement hanging in the air because there was no answer, at least not yet.
"Like what?" Gabrielle breathed out the words.
"Oh, I don't know. A pay rise, a new car, a free supply of Baskins..." She laughed as the blonde's jaw dropped then received a slap on her shoulder for her trouble. "Lighten up, Gabrielle. I'm sticking around, okay?"
"Okay." She was surprised by her own reaction. It was as nearly if she liked the woman.
* * *
After weeks of exercise and fund raising the door finally opened on a small shop front. It had yet to be named but amongst the Amazons it was the 'She-Woman Man-Haters Club'. It had nearly become like some secret society where it practically took a secret password to enter through the front door. The women jealously guarded their piece of ground and no man was going to cross it.
The membership had grown steadily, now a dozen strong, and Xena's ingenuity was tested. As one regime became too easy she had to think up a newer, tougher one.
The group had just returned from a rather energetic trot around the town, even testing Xena's level of fitness. They stood around in their 'clubhouse' guzzling water like it was evaporating between the bottles and their mouths.
"I have to say, girls, you are amazing." Xena was proud of her women. "Look at you, Pony!"
"Yeah, I can actually see my feet."
"How much have you lost?" Effie piped in enthusiastically.
"About twenty pounds!" Pony was secretly tickled pink about her weight loss. It was as much about self-esteem as it was about health, maybe even more so.
"And what does your husband say?"
"Who cares what he says? I'm doing this for me
Actually Xena had been secretly prodding them for independence ever since she first met them, and it seemed to be rubbing off. She wanted to encourage Amaryllis to join in but her effectiveness as their spy in the enemy camp would be at an end. Besides she didn't want to upset whatever arrangement Sally had with the woman, as secretive as it was.
"Now you're sounding like an Amazon!"
"But the sex thing..."
"Hey, don't worry about it. In reality I'm sure some of them had families outside the camp. The main thing was that they wanted to live with women, to prove that they could survive in the world on their own." Maybe she was pushing a little too hard. "Would you?"
"Would I what?"
"If you had the chance to live in a village of women, would you do it?"
"Okay, let me re-phrase that. If you had the chance to live in a village with these
women would you do it?"
Pony's eyes scanned each and every one of them in the room, carefully considering the question. "Do I get to fight?"
"Sure. And hunt."
"Hmmm..." Her callused finger tapped her lip. "Sure, if things were different."
"I'm married with two thousand kids. What do you think?"
"Well, are you married because you love him or are you married because of the two thousand kids?"
"Does it matter?"
"Of course it matters! You have given him the best years of your life. Now it's time for you to do something for yourself."
"Did I miss something?" Gabrielle had turned up at the end of the conversation.
"We were just discussing what it would take for Pony to leave her family."
"May I have a word with you please..." Gabrielle tugged on Xena's arm, steering her to the far corner of the room. "Just what the hell do you think you're doing?"
"It's a hypothetical discussion."
"It sounds like you're trying to cause trouble."
"Don't you trust me?" Xena tried to sound offended.
"Yes, but from what I heard it sounded like you were trying to convince her to leave home. That's not our job."
"I'm just showing her what other options there are, that's all."
"Well don't! The last thing we need is Pony going home and spouting something about independence to her husband and it getting back to the council. They'd shut us down in a second."
"You know, these men have you all bamboozled. You're all scared of your own shadows."
"I was like you once, full of enthusiasm to change the world, but they have a firm hold here. The excuses are long and varied for why changes won't be made, believe me. They have a way of wearing you down." Gabrielle remembered only too well. "There is no point in trying if they're not interested in changing, Xena."
"True, but it's as much about timing as it is about good management. I think they're ready to take that step."
Gabrielle held up her hands in defeat. "Just try not to end up in jail, alright?"
The bell over the door signaled a visitor, a stylish woman in her mid-forties walked in who seemed to be in the wrong place.
"Who's that?" Xena had a bad feeling about it.
"That's the Mayor's wife. What is she doing here?"
"Checking us out, of course." Xena walked away from the blonde and moved swiftly across the worn carpet. "Hello there. Can I help you?"
"I'd heard about this place. I think it might be what I need."
"And you are?"
"Vanity Bowden. I'm sure they have already filled you in on who I am."
Vanity? Velasca more like it...
Xena couldn't help but make the comparison.
"If you'll excuse my bluntness, Mrs. Bowden-"
"Please, call me Vanity."
"Vanity, what we do you don't need."
"How do you know what I need?"
"We are solely a social club that helps women lose weight."
"Then I'm in the right place."
Xena looked her up once and back down again. "Unless you've got it tucked away somewhere that I can't see, your weight seems just fine."
"Well, thank you," Vanity replied brightly. "But this town is sadly lacking women's facilities. I want to exercise to keep in shape."
Yeah, and I know of an apartment block I'd like to sell you...
Xena didn't trust the woman as far as she could spit. It was obvious, too obvious, that she was there to spy on them.
"Sure. We don't have any equipment so our sessions are out on the streets. You'll be seen in the street wearing gym clothes. Are you prepared for that? " She smiled slyly. "Or, more to the point, is your husband
prepared to see you publicly displaying yourself like that?" Xena studied her closely as she carefully considered the question.
"There's no good answer, is there? If I say it's not up to him you'll think I'm lying. If I say he says it's fine then I shouldn't be here. So what do you want to hear? The truth or some lie to appease you?"
"Good, very good." Vanity was going to be a challenge that was for sure. It was one problem added to a list that was getting longer by the minute. "The truth would be nice."
"The truth? Sometimes I wish there was more to my life than baking, cleaning and standing by my man. Not that I would ever say that to him, and if you repeat it to anyone I will deny it vehemently."
"Understood." But Xena suspected it was still a speech designed to tell her what she wanted to hear. "Then welcome to the club."
"So what happens now?"
"Our exercise regime is finished for today so ten a.m. tomorrow here. There's a small membership fee which covers this place and things like coffee and such. Otherwise we're pretty laid back."
"Until then." Vanity turned with a flourish, pulling the front door open with some enthusiasm and leaving with a skip in her step.
"What on earth did you do that for?" Effie hissed in Xena's ear.
"Because one way or another there was going to be a spy. I would have been disappointed if the council hadn't sent one."
"But isn't she a bit obvious?"
"Yes, she is. So maybe he thinks that I
think that it's too obvious. Still, it will keep us on our toes to be careful..."
* * *
In the ensuing weeks the membership grew steadily. Women from all over the district had heard of the social club and wanted to be part of it. If it grew any more Xena would have to look for bigger premises. She wondered if the gym at the other end of town was up for sale.
Vanity was the epitome of a good member. She joined in everything that was on offer and proved to be a good asset. It was hard for the core group to think of her as a spy. She even brought in some tasty cakes for their weekly bake sale outside the shop front. Funds were steadily building, kept in the care of Gabrielle, and the healthy bank account made them all believe that they could actually achieve anything they put their minds to.
The time was fast approaching where Xena felt they needed to make a statement to the town. The town council had convened its regular town meeting and it was time to make a proposal. For the women to be respected their needs had to be recognized and ratified.
* * *
Xena sat alone in the empty shop, trying to think of what she was going to say. She just wanted to stick it to the men but she had to think of the greater need. What did they want? If she had asked them they would probably say nothing; that they liked things the way there were. But she knew the moment she was gone so would be the social club. She needed to put something permanent in place, something that the council was unable to overrule.
She stared into space, gazing absently at the painted window, trying to gather her thoughts. As she watched an envelope magically appeared under the door, lying in invitation on the worn carpet. Xena quickly opened the door to see who delivered it but there was no one, the darkness having swallowed up whoever had been guilty. The envelope was already in her hand and open before she knew what she had done. She smiled. Now she was ready for the meeting...
* * *
"I was beginning to think you had chickened out."
Xena had been conspicuously absent and Gabrielle was wondering if she was going to show at all.
"Me? Nah. Just taking some time to think."
"Be thankful that Pony didn't have to speak." Effie was worried. None of them had the words to plead their case, not that any of them understood exactly what that case was. They had enough faith in their instructor to make sure they were taken care of.
"Hey! I speak just fine. I ain't ill... illat... iller..."
"Illiterate." Seeing Pony stumble over the word was like fingers down a chalkboard to Gabrielle. Maybe it was a librarian thing.
"Yeah, yeah, I know my letters." That only confirmed what they all knew already. The woman was a tower of strength with no staircase inside to get to the top.
"Sure you do, hon." Sally slapped her on the back, instantly regretting it as her hand stung from the contact.
"Do you know what you're going to say?" Gabrielle whispered.
"Nope." Xena grinned triumphantly.
"Good. I was a bit worried there." The blonde shook her head. "Here..." She handed over a dictionary.
"What's this for?"
"To fill in those gaps in your speech."
"Veerrry funny, Miss Marian the Librarian." Xena handed back the book. "Use it as a paper weight, smart ass."
The meeting had been going on for some time, covering the mundane and boring parts of existing business and council decisions. Finally the time for new business came around and Xena jumped in quickly before they had a chance to finish the meeting.
"I have new business!" Her deep voice carried across the expanse of the hall.
"Are you a citizen of this town?"
"If you're asking have I been here for nearly six months then I'd say that's a 'yes'."
"But you have not laid down any roots here. You have no residence and your job is only temporary." Mayor Bowden presented his evidence quickly in the hope of stopping the woman before she started.
"Firstly, you do not pay me enough for a residence and, secondly, I was not told this job was temporary." Xena was incensed. "So, does that mean that the grant you gave for all of this was only temporary? You had no intention of taking this project seriously, did you?"
"Of course we did!" The Mayor had to back peddle when he saw the looks of anger on the faces of the women present.
"So this grant will continue but the person running the project is only there temporarily. Have I got that right?"
"Oh no, I understood alright, and so did these women. This grant is nothing more than a token gesture. You did it to keep them happy and back in the kitchen."
"How dare you!"
"No! How dare you! These women are human beings not second-class citizens. I can't believe that this kind of discrimination still exists in this day and age."
"Don't you come in here and stomp all over our heritage. You don't know-"
"But I do know. These women have reached their breaking point. They want something more and unless you give it to them you may end up with something that you can't handle."
"Are you threatening me... us?"
"No!" Pony stood up. "I am!"
"Yeah! We want this social club!"
One by one the women stood up chanting their discontent and their support for a social outlet for the female population.
"The council refuses to grant your request. You can always express your discontent at the next council elections."
"One moment, Mayor, a point of order. I found it in your plethora of rules. And I quote: 'if new business is in dispute a call for a vote of council can be requested. Should the vote be tied then a count of the quorum will decide the matter.'"
"Is that true?" Mayor Bowden questioned his council.
"I'm afraid it is."
"Well then, gentlemen, do you agree with me?" He expected the matter to be a formality, surprised to hear the voices in disagreement. "We better take a count." He wanted to make sure that he knew who was stabbing him in the back.
A smile crossed Gabrielle's face as the count came in as a tie. Xena had done it. She didn't know how, but she'd pulled it off.
"It seems to me that the vote now has to go the floor." Xena tried very hard not to smile, knowing very well that she was on the Mayor's hit list for this stunt.
"What is it exactly that they are voting on?"
"That the grant for the women's project is perpetual to the women's social club. Whether I am temporary or not, the social club stays. These women don't need me but they need this." She was about to sit down when she added, "And that this vote stands. No back peddling on this later on. This is as important as the local library or the church."
"You're asking a lot."
think I'm asking a lot. I'm just asking for some common decency for these women." Xena was not going to let it go, knowing that the mayor would grab onto any opportunity she presented to him.
"They are treated just fine." The mayor's face started to turn red with anger. The woman was like a viper, her fangs had latched onto him and wouldn't let him go.
"No, they are treated the way you
want to keep them. Are you so scared of them that you keep them in the dark?"
"Then the tradition needs to be changed."
"Yeah! You go girl!" A lone voice from the audience broke through the argument.
"Do the count." Xena spoke slowly as if speaking to an imbecile. She looked around the room and knew she had the numbers, but would the mayor try to find some loophole to deny the women what was now rightfully theirs?
The council member who did the head count returned to the front desk and whispered in the mayor's ear.
"Do we really have to go through all this? You know very well that we hold the majority. Just say it so we can all go home." She wanted to be done with it, because a very private celebration was in order and time was a wasting.
"By majority vote..."
Come on, come on...
Xena could nearly see the wheels turning in the man's head.
"...there will now be a 'Women's Social Club' within the town limits."
"And... don't forget the council grant, Mayor." She was not going to let him get away with anything. "Considering how quickly the club is growing I think an increase in the grant would help keep your women off the streets trying to raise money."
... the council will be obliged to continue its grant, issued yearly, to the upkeep of said club." Anger crept up his flushed face. "Alright, alright. There will be a moderate increase yearly to allow for inflation. Happy now?"
"Nearly, Mayor. There is one more sticking point. We want it in writing along with a statement that the ruling is irrevocable. In the Council Minutes, Mayor."
"Now see here!"
"May I approach the council?"
Xena smiled as she approached, wondering if he would try to strangle her if she was within his reach. She knew she had been pushing the boundary but it was better for them to settle it at this meeting before the council had a chance to regroup.
"Now look, we both know you don't want me here. If you don't give them this they're finally going to figure out your game, Mayor. Believe me you don't want them mad." Her rich blue eyes bore into his dark brown eyes. "You know the saying about a woman scorned? Multiply that by the number of women in this district, let alone the number of women around the world who would be on your doorstep if word got out about this."
She laughed inside as his hand flexed, crushing the piece of paper lying underneath his palm. "Just accept it gracefully, Mayor. It's not like they want your
job..." Xena turned around and went back to her seat, giving Gabrielle the 'thumbs up' sign as she approached.
"Fine. The council accepts all the conditions. The document will be drawn up in the next day or so and then delivered to you, err..."
"Xena. Just call me Xena."
"How did you...?" Gabrielle whispered as Xena sat down next to her.
"Had a friend in the enemy camp," she replied.
"This meeting is now adjourned." The mayor stood up and walked out of the room before the final words were uttered. This was no graceful exit but one of a man who had been bested by a woman and didn't like it.
* * *
Xena made a point of searching out Amaryllis in the crowd. "Thanks." She shook the woman's hand.
"For what?" There was genuine confusion on the clerk's face.
"For the information."
"The...information... you slipped under the door." Xena was losing patience.
"I didn't slip anything under any door."
"Then who...?" Her eyes scanned the room looking for a possible culprit. One by one she eliminated the women. While they were enthusiastic about a positive outcome there seemed to be no one who would be in a position to access the information.
Xena's eyes stopped at the woman exiting the same door that her husband had just passed through. Their eyes met for a moment before the woman winked at her. Xena laughed long and hard.
"What's so funny?" Gabrielle touched Xena's arm to get her attention.
"I just found out who our guardian angel was. You're not going to believe it."
"Sure I will."
"No, you won't." This game could go on forever so before Gabrielle had a chance to reply she answered, "It was Vanity."
There was a moment of silence. "You're right, I don't believe it." But that didn't stop Gabrielle from chuckling. Who would have thought?
The room erupted into wild cheering and backslapping. Suddenly the two women were swallowed up by the human tide. Pony came up and whacked Xena on the shoulder, sending her stumbling into the folding chairs. "You done good, Boss."
"Let's go back to the clubroom for a celebration."
* * *
The cheering didn't stop as they walked from the council building to the club. Xena had to warn the women off in no uncertain terms when they tried to lift her onto their shoulders. It was one thing to win the argument but it was another to rub their noses in it.
The party, if it could be called that, was loud and strong, even though there was not a drop of alcohol in sight. The women were high on coffee, chocolate and excitement.
Xena sat back and allowed them their moment of glory, content to just absorb the joy in the room. She'd forgotten what it was like to stand up for something as important as this. Her life had been sliding by and her biggest fight had to be to get the bond back on whatever two-bit apartment she was living in at the time. Yeah, it felt good.
"Come on, let's go home." Gabrielle had been watching her houseguest with interest. The woman was exhausted, probably as much from emotion as from any physical activity. So much had ridden on those broad shoulders and she accepted the burden gracefully, working a magic that no other in the town was capable of. She had finally got the council to recognize, albeit reluctantly, that the women living here needed something more than having kids, housework and cooking.
Xena looked up at the blonde standing in front of her, her hand reaching out to help her up. Xena took it willingly, allowing Gabrielle to lead her towards the front door. "Goodnight everyone. Enjoy your party!"
"Aw, Xena, you can't leave yet!" Pony wanted the whole world to celebrate.
"Sorry, Pony, I'm bushed. Effie, can you lock up?"
"Nite, Xena, Gabrielle." The chorus of voices spoke as one, followed by a snickering that suggested a badly kept secret.
"What?" Xena was confused and looked at the blonde. "What? Am I missing something?"
"No, Xena...," Gabrielle chuckled, her eyes flitting down to their joined hands, "...you're not missing a thing."
* * *
The two women strolled along the footpath, slowly making their way back toward Gabrielle's house. The cool evening air sent a shiver through the smaller woman, encouraging Xena to gallantly remove her jacket and place it over the librarian's shoulders. Without thinking, her hand again sought the warmth of its mate, clinging on tightly to the smaller hand.
Finally, she realized what she had done. "Do you think this town is ready for this?"
"For what?" The voice broke through the darkness.
"This..." Xena shifted her hand, tugging gently.
"Oh. Probably as ready as they would be for your Amazon village in the town square."
"Heh. Now that
would be something."
"Sure would." They walked on in silence for a few moments more. "Do you have a name for the shop yet?"
"No 'Xena's Den of Iniquity'?"
The brunette rolled her eyes. "As if. Don't push your luck, Gabrielle. Just because they agreed doesn't mean they liked it." She pulled Gabrielle closer. "They'll have to play it low-key for a while, at least until the council gets used to the idea."
"They?" Gabrielle felt her heart drop.
then. Still scared I'm going to leave this town?"
"The Mayor would love to ride me out of town on a rail. I'd stay just to piss him off. No, there's something else..."
"A pay rise? That depends on what the council gives us. A new car? Scratch that. Baskin-Robbins? I suppose I can manage that once or twice a week."
"I don't need any of that... well, maybe the Baskins. I was thinking of something a little more... permanent."
"Permanent?" Gabrielle felt the woman next to her stop. "What?"
"Well, it depends on you."
"What did I do?"
"Nothing... everything." Xena could feel the heat from the woman as she moved closer. "I love you, Gabrielle. Do you want me to stay?"
"Do I...? Are you kidding? Of course I do!"
"I'm glad you said that because I didn't fancy moving back to the trailer park." Xena grinned into the darkness. "It's going to cause some stir, that's for sure."
"My my! What brought that on?"
"It's my love life. Let them get their own girlfriend."
They walked on together for a while, turning into a side street and continuing towards a small cottage at the end of the street. "So, no name for the club?"
"I don't care what they call it. To me it will always be 'The She-Woman Man-Hater's Club'."