Conversations and the smell of coffee fill the air at Grounds for Thought. A couple sits with their chairs close together on one side of a small table, arms brushing against each other.
“We actually sat at this exact table,” Emily Latham, one half of the couple, says as she wipes her hand across the tabletop. “I was right there, and she was right here.”
The other half of the couple, Alexis Rubertino, looks around the coffee shop, thinking back to the first time she and her girlfriend went out. Back then, their first trip to Grounds together through the hazy September heat wasn’t meant to be the start of a long and full relationship.
“I knew it was a date because she wouldn’t stop talking about how sweaty she was,” Alexis says, chuckling and looking toward Emily. But, she adds, she didn’t know they would be back at that table three years later.
What Alexis did know after that date was their connection seemed effortless.
“I thought, ‘This was easy.’”
Music plays from the speakers in the coffee shop while the two share the details of how they first met. It was Emily’s sense of humor that first caught Alexis’ attention.
“Hi, I’m Emily, and I’m not Jewish.”
Emily, wearing a shirt with the words “Challah Back” and a picture of Jewish challah bread on it — a reference to her favorite TV show — stood up and introduced herself at the on-campus LGBTQ organization’s first meeting of 2015.
Across the crowded Hanna Hall classroom, Alexis’ laughter split the silence. Alexis was the only one chuckling, while a friend pulled Emily back down, visibly embarrassed by the joke.
As other students took turns saying their names and pronouns, Emily locked eyes with Alexis through the collage of heads and shoulders in the claustrophobic classroom.
“You know how like in those romantic movies or just like those cheesy comedy movies, and that song ‘Dreamweaver’ plays?” Emily asks, sitting at the small table in the coffee shop. “That’s how I felt. I was like, ‘I feel like I’m in a movie right now.’”
That “Dreamweaver” moment doesn’t seem to be fading as the two exchange loving gazes and playful jabs while correcting each other on the details of their relationship.
“Cheeseball,” Alexis affectionately calls Emily, who apologizes with a giggle for interrupting Alexis as she described the strengths of their relationship.
While their dimpled smiles are on full display in the coffee shop, their relationship hasn’t been without struggles. Alexis describes herself as protective of Emily and their relationship. While she recognizes their privilege as white, cisgender women, Alexis still shies away from displaying their relationship publicly when they’re outside of the familiarity of Bowling Green for fear of intolerance or harrassment.
“It makes me upset that that’s the world we live in,” Emily adds, looking at Alexis, “because I love her, and I want to be proud.”
But in Bowling Green, in that coffee shop where they’ve been hanging out for the past three years, they don’t hide. With chairs pulled close together, they look like they’re in love.