Artist Kat Wilson had just moved to Fayetteville and was at the farmers market in line to buy a coffee. The woman who sold Wilson her coffee was Emily Lawson, who now runs Pink House Alchemy, a Fayetteville business which produces craft simple syrups, bitters and shrubs.
"She stared into my eyes like a creeper," Kat said. "She did that thing, most of the times dudes do, when she handed me my money back: She touched my hand."
Like all good stories of beginnings, there is some dispute over the details. "Her story is that I inappropriately groped her hand!" Emily said. "She loves telling it that way."
In any case, the brief encounter made a big impression on Emily: "It was definitely one of those ridiculous moments, where I was like, 'Who the hell is this person?' She stayed on my mind for a long time. It was her voice that I heard first, just picked it out of a crowd packed with people. As she got closer ... I don't know how to explain it, it was just like somebody that I wanted to know. I never forgot about those initial reactions to her presence and what that meant for me."
Kat concluded that Emily had a crush on her (Emily points out that Kat often thinks someone has a crush on her). They had a few more chance encounters and a year later, Kat was looking for work and decided to apply at The Depot restaurant, where Emily was then working as the chef and general manager.
"I knew she had a crush on me, so I hit her up for a job," Kat said. "I started working there, and I'm a brat because I could get away with everything. They even had a thing, like, 'Well, I guess Kat Wilson is allowed to do that.' She would cater my art events. She was so good to me."
At the time, though, both Kat and Emily were in relationships, so they kept things strictly platonic.
"She was always who I wanted to be around, but there were those lines," Kat said. "When I would hang out with other people, I always wanted to hang out with her. It wasn't really fun unless she was there."
Both eventually split with their girlfriends, but Kat and Emily were friends for a year before anything happened, something that both say makes them a more solid couple today. "I know Emily," Kat said. "I've known her. It just feels like I'm going to have fun for the rest of my life with her."
Once the dam finally broke, "It was just ridiculous," Kat said. "We would just lie down and stare at each other. Sitting and, not even kissing, our lips just touching."
"I haven't really fallen in love like I fell in love with Kat, like I'm still falling in love with her," Emily said.
Emily is different from women Kat has dated in the past. "I'm a very out lesbian, totally in her body," Emily said. What was Kat's type before? "Straight girls! You betcha! I think that's a safer thing to do. I get all of that. There's a huge coming-out process, and I have a different family dynamic than she does." While both Emily and Kat didn't fully come out and identify as lesbians until their mid-20s, "the reception was a lot easier for me than for Kat," Emily said. "It's a different scenario for her."
Kat said she went through a period at first when she told her friends she was "a non-practicing lesbian" before eventually fully accepting who she was. Now, her sister and father know but, Kat said, "Mom is pretty clueless, and as far as I know my grandparents don't know." She's hoping that her family reads this article so she can skip the awkward conversation. "It's been emotionally upsetting for so long that I'm just kind of over it," she said. "More and more, as time goes, I just don't care. It would be great if they read about me having a girlfriend, and then I wouldn't have to tell them myself."
Figuring out love and modern relationships can be tricky, Emily said, for lesbian or gay couples who don't necessarily have role models within their families. "When you're learning how to be a lesbian, you're not really encouraged to fall in love and have babies," she said. "It's not the thing that's on the table, really. Our dynamic as a couple, as far as roles go, this is the most natural I've ever felt in a relationship. You don't ever know that until you're in it. I think both of us were like ... are we both these power lesbians? Who and what and where? The truth is, we fit together. We just fit."
Emily has two kids — a 7-year-old from a relationship with a man and a 2-year-old from a relationship with a woman. While she has tended to initially be guarded about them when pursuing relationships, she knew she wanted Kat to be part of their lives.
"Children aren't dumb," she said. "Kat and I were falling in love. If I was to have this experience without including my children in some way, that would be like keeping something really important from them."
"I wasn't intimidated," Kat said. "We just fell so in love I didn't have time to think about anything. I guess you could say I'm a step-mommy. It actually ended up being harder than I thought it would be. I'm learning. I thought we were going to be best friends immediately, but we're just getting to know each other."
Kat and Emily aren't engaged yet but have been talking about getting married. They'd like to do a ceremony in Arkansas so friends and family can come, but will have to travel to another state to make it official.
"Things are so different than they were 10 years ago," Kat said. "In a lot of ways I forget that we're gay. We feel pretty normal. But [the law] reminds me. Or my family reminds me."
"I want to build something with someone that is stable and have all the things that means," Emily said. "I want a foundation that feels solid as hell. The legal part is important to me. We're both in our 30s. I feel like it's time to make those decisions and make that stuff happen and I'm really hoping the rest of the country gets on board pretty damn quick."
Whether or not the state of Arkansas recognizes it, these two are head over heels. "When my sister met her, she was like, finally you got somebody that's badass," Kat said. "She's a powerhouse. I can't imagine anybody better than Emily."
"Kat just lights up places," Emily said. "She is just like a little light, and I can't even handle it."