At the exact moment Jess realized she was in love with Jules, the two of them were Skyping with her nephew. Pinky had left for a few minutes to go change loads of laundry, and, in typical Pinky fashion, she’d left Tadbir alone in front of the camera, as if Jess was somehow going to be able to mind the little boy from five thousand miles away. In order to keep him entertained, Jess had been making faces to make him giggle. Pinky’s son was a sweet-natured little boy, and he chortled and gurgled away at every new facial contortion she came up with.
Jules had been studying on her bed with her headphones in before she looked up and caught a glimpse of Jess’s face; when she did, she laughed almost as hard as the one year-old on camera. Jess rolled her eyes, smiled fondly, and kept on amusing her nephew; after a moment, Jules put down her textbook and wandered over, plopping herself on the floor next to Jess.
“Here, watch this,” Jules declared, and then she pulled a face that made Tadbir shriek with delight.
Ironically, it was at that moment – while Jules was crossing her eyes and pushing her nose up like a snout – that Jess realized, suddenly and absolutely, that she was in love with her best friend.
The realization washed over her slowly, first a brief, fond I love this girl, natural as breathing, and then a slam on the mental brakes and a quick backtrack to review her thought process, and then finally the dawning horror of realizing she’d been in love with Jules Paxton for at least several months and somehow hadn’t noticed it. Panic set in as she tried to figure out how she’d tipped over from deep, fond affection to love, and then concern as she desperately reviewed whether any of her past behavior could have unconsciously betrayed this latent infatuation. (The realization that this meant she was – lesbian? bisexual? queer? – took at least a few more minutes to sink in, overwhelmed as it was by other concerns.)
As a small mercy, absorbed in pulling faces at the moment, Jules didn’t seem to notice Jess’s shock at all.
Of course Jess would realize she was in love with one of the most beautiful girls she’d ever met while said girl had her thumbs stuck in her ears, her fingers wiggling madly, and her tongue sticking out. Of course.
Over the next few weeks, Jess tried to maintain as ordinary a façade as she could. She acted aggressively normal and avoided any physical contact with Jules, just in case. She invited other friends to their regular lunches, because eating lunch alone suddenly seemed weirdly like a date, and Jess wanted to make sure she wasn’t sending the wrong signals. And she encouraged Jules in her passing fancy for a boy on the tennis team, even though she was pretty sure he wasn’t right for her, because she didn’t want to be a – a jealous girl with a crush, or whatever.
Apparently, she’d been less good at faking normalcy than she’d thought, however, because when she arrived home late after an evening lab one Thursday, Jules was waiting for her, ready for a confrontation.
“Is something going on?” she asked, the instant Jess came in the door.
“You’ve been acting really weird lately, Jess.”
“What?” Jess turned from hanging up her dripping raincoat to face her best friend and roommate. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Jules’s voice softened. “Are you and Joe trying to get back together?”
“What?” Joe and Jess had broken up fairly amicably – or at least, as amicably as possible – after their attempt at going long distance had faded out months ago. Her parents had been pretty happy she’d gotten over the white boy; she doubted they were going to be pleased when and if they found out she’d replaced him with a white girl.
“The last time you acted like this was when you were concerned I was going to be angry you’d just ‘given him up’ when you thought I still fancied him,” Jules said.
Jess frowned. “That was really ridiculous, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was. But the point is – the point is, you’ve been all distant lately, like you think I’m going to be mad at you about something.”
“There really is nothing going on, I promise!”
Jules sighed. “Come on, I know that’s not true. I just want – well, I wanted to let you know that I’m here for you. Whatever you need. Best mates, right?”
“I know that. Really! Look, I’m pretty tired, all right? It’s been a long week. I might take a nap – can you wake me up in an hour, so I can finish up my readings?”
Jules looked like she wanted to say something else, but she just nodded. “All right. I might go out for a bit, but I’ll wake you up when I get back.”
In fact, Jules woke her up by setting off the fire alarm forty-five minutes later.
The blaring of the siren woke Jess up slowly. At first, she was too groggy to recognize the sound; she reached over to slap off her alarm clock and her palm connected with the empty bedside table instead, given that she hadn’t set it. The sting of it woke her up enough to realize it was the fire alarm, not her clock, and she swore.
“What a bloody awful time for a fire drill,” she muttered, and then swore again as she tried to jam her feet into her flip-flops while still wearing her socks. She stumbled out of the dorm in her sweatpants and sleep t-shirt and only remembered when she got outside that it was still raining. She and several other unfortunate students who hadn’t prepared for the rain tried to huddle under the umbrellas of students who had brought appropriate gear.
She found Jules huddling under the edge of a building, trying to protect herself from the rain while simultaneously staying within the space they’d been directed to gather in during fire drills. So she darted out from under the umbrella she’d been sharing with a friend who lived down the hallway to go her crush, because her sense of loyalty apparently outweighed her desire to stay dry.
“What a terrible time for a fire drill, right?” Jess said, as she approached. “Wish they’d rescheduled it for the rain.”
To her surprise, Jules blushed quite deeply at that remark. After a moment, the other girl said, “It, uh. Wasn’t a fire drill.”
“How d’you figure?”
Silence, and then, “I might have set off the fire alarm.”
“Shh, keep it down!” Jules said, with a quick look at the unhappy students trying to avoid getting wet all around them. “I didn’t do it intentionally, of course! I was trying to make chocolate chip cookies in the community kitchen, and I might have … well, set them on fire. In the oven.”
Jess stared. “Jules, you don’t know how to cook.”
“I know, but I found the recipe in one of the books in the kitchen.”
“What were you even doing in the kitchen? You’ve literally never been in there before!”
Jules’s blush returned. “I know, I know. I just wanted to make something nice for you – a snack that would remind you of home. Because you seemed so down, and I thought …” she trailed off. “Anyways. Doesn’t matter now, because the whole thing’s gone up in smoke. Literally.”
On cue, the fire department arrived, and Jess wasn’t sure whether to laugh or feel touched. There was something about the notion of Jules trying to bake to make her happy that made something warm flutter happily in her chest, but there was also the fact that Jules had literally set the kitchen on fire and created a fire alarm that forced over a hundred students out into the rainy Californian night. In the end, she simply dissolved into giggles, because Jules looked so earnest.
“Look on the bright side,” she said, when she regained her breath. “At least it’s not as bad as the time I set my pants on fire.”
A startled laugh escaped Jules before she clasped her hands over her mouth. “Jess, that’s terrible!” the other girl said.
“Isn’t it just?” Jess said, and then she smiled warmly at Jules. Something in her expression seemed to arrest the other girl, whose hands slowly fell from her mouth. Her eyes seemed caught on Jess’s lips, and the muffled quiet of the rain falling around them seemed to envelop them in their own little bubble.
Jules swallowed, and Jess watched the bob of her throat. “Jess, I – ” Jules began, and then Jess, feeling suddenly and deeply reckless, after weeks of suppressing her feelings, stepped forward into her personal space and leaned up to kiss her right as Jules leaned down to meet her.
Jules tasted like chocolate chips and smelled faintly of smoke – which made Jess smother a laugh and smile into the kiss. Jules smiled right back with her, and then the two girls had to break apart because both were grinning so hard.
“So about my acting weird lately –” Jess began, but Jules cut her off:
“Somehow, I get the sense that’s not going to be a problem anymore. Now shut up and kiss me again.”
And she did.