'I made her talk to me and open up.'
It was one of those flip, impulsive gestures. Kevia Shepard had worked all day at the Pentagon before rolling down the windows of her Corvette, turning on the radio and driving to Northeast Washington to visit a friend.
When she saw a cute girl whose abs were shown off between a sports bra and athletic shorts, Shepard honked twice, waved teasingly and drove on.
Then, as she began unloading her trunk a block up the street, she saw the woman walking toward her.
"I was like, 'Ohhh, okay -- she's coming over here,' " Shepard recalls.
She couldn't have known, in that instant, how much courage was required for Shannette Matthews to take those steps. Matthews can be profoundly shy, and wasn't sure Shepard was a lesbian, but a friend who'd witnessed the honk pushed her to take the chance.
Matthews introduced herself and asked what brought Shepard to her Mayfair neighborhood. The two made small talk until Shepard's friend called her inside. But the smile Shepard shot before she walked away convinced Matthews that her approach wasn't unwelcome, so she asked for a phone number.
"And she said, 'Well, are you going to call me? Don't take my number if you're not going to call me,' " Matthews recalls.
Matthews promised that she would, but Shepard called first -- that same night -- setting up a date for later in the week. She didn't know then that Matthews, at 22, was 13 years younger than she.
Shepard, who had spent eight years in the Navy as an intelligence analyst, had married a boyfriend of four years when she was 23. A year-and-a-half later, they divorced. In 2004, she came out as a lesbian to her family and friends -- who reacted with casual nonchalance -- but she had yet to develop any sort of gay community. "All of my friends were straight. My friends are married with kids," Shepard says. So, of Matthews, she thought, "Oh, I get to hang out with a cool person and maybe she can show me the lifestyle and show me around and take me out to clubs and we can hang out and have fun."
Though she was younger, Matthews had a more established set of gay friends. The District native, who is a triplet, came out to her family at age 14. (Her grandmother said she'd known all along.) She'd accrued pals from her days at Calvin Coolidge High School and Lincoln Tech in Baltimore.
Over dinner at a Friday's in Greenbelt they talked about their families and backgrounds and laughed about "a creepy guy" who kept staring at them. It came out that Matthews was 22, and "I'm like, 'Wow, she's a baby,' " Shepard recalls. But by then it didn't matter -- the evening still ended with a kiss.
For months it turned out to be just what Shepard had hoped -- a series of low-pressure dates to clubs, parties and each other's houses. They introduced each other to their families, but there was no expectation of serious commitment.