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Tina lived in a time and place where many things were forbidden. Rules about what she couldn’t eat, drink, or wear. Rules about when she couldn’t come and go. Rules about how she couldn’t work and play. And rules about who she couldn’t love. By the time she was ten, she knew she liked forbidden things.
Her brain worked faster than anyone else’s, so she blamed her foibles on a quirk of fate. Though, her parents blamed the devil after discovering one or two of her faults. They made her work the earth as their parents did, toiling until her mind was too tired to focus on forbidden things. She’d learned her lesson—keep her desire for such things hidden.
Satisfied Tina had corrected her ways, her parents saved their money to forge a better life for her. When she was old enough, they told her, “Go to university, young lady, so you may learn and return to teach us to toil better.”
With every penny they’d earned, Tina ventured to the city where she learned the marvels of modern engineering and science. There, very little was forbidden. She could eat, drink, or dress as she pleased. She could come and go at all hours. She could choose to play and never work. And she could love whoever struck her fancy.
Prettier than most in the city, every boy vied for her attention, but none made her heart sing. Instead, the smartest one on campus, the cute but mousy Bette had caught her eye. They studied together every day that first year, then another. They learned from one another with Tina telling of farming and engineering, and Bette regaling about the arts, all the while exchanging forbidden glances and the rarest of touches.
Those touches, she was sure her parents would have called the work of the devil. Tina called them heaven. She never knew her insides could pulsate to the beat of her own heart, and that Bette’s could too.
Living like a city dweller, Tina tested every forbidden thing. Those wild first years left her wondering if she’d ever want to return to toiling the earth in a place where she couldn’t do such things and was told who to love.
Then came the call. Flu had taken her parents and others to heaven, and she was needed back home. She trembled at the news and everything she had done. She blamed herself for bringing the devil into her life. She convinced herself if not for her foibles, her parents would be alive and promised to never be tempted by forbidden things again.
On the day she was to leave, Bette had her in tears. She told her the words she wanted to say herself. “I love you, Tina. Don’t go.” Then Bette kissed her one last time. Her lips were the nectar of the Gods, a fruit so sweet, so forbidden. Despite knowing no other lips would compare, Tina couldn’t stay.
Without looking back, Tina returned to the place where her people toiled the earth. Remaining alone in life, she taught them everything she’d learned and their buildings were stronger, bridges sturdier, and feasts more bountiful. Soon she became a leader of the community where she taught the young about the forbidden things she’d all but abandoned when she ventured outside their walls.
Then one day, Bette moved to town. She too was there to teach, but her lessons were not of forbidden things. She taught the young of art, music and dance, all the things she’d taught Tina. Side by side for years, they taught, returning to their separate homes, never exchanging more than glances.
Tina’s skin had shriveled and her hair turned gray, and in all that time, she kept her promise. She was content with her choices until the day her heart faltered, and Bette was there to nurse her. For weeks, Bette stayed, feeding and comforting her, ignoring her own need for sleep. Each day Bette sang, reminding Tina of days when they’d dance and giggle, then fall into each other’s arms, tasting the forbidden nectar.
Then the doctor came. “There’s nothing more I can do,” he said.
The day had finally come. On her deathbed with Bette by her side, Tina asked for one thing. “Kiss me.”
With her last breath, Tina said the forbidden words she’d wanted to say since Bette had said them to her. “I love you, Bette.”