It was at a party, and Isabel didn't know what possessed her. Maria kept her eyes widened, she stared, but she didn't pull away. After a minute, Isabel did the pulling away. "Oh," Isabel said.
Maria almost ran in the other direction. "Oh," Isabel said again. She didn't know what else to say to Maria's retreating back, her lips still tingling.
"I can't believe you'd do this to me, Isabel. I can't - after everything, I can't believe you'd try and break us up, why? To get back at me for siding against Max? Why?"
Isabel stared at Michael. "What? Get back at you? What are you--"
"Maria told me."
Isabel stared some more. Her face didn't move. "Oh."
"Oh?" Michael was standing very still. He was having problems controlling his temper. "That's all?" She watched him. He added, "You kiss my girlfriend, and that's all you have to say?"
"What do you want me to say, Michael?" She sounded tired, and angry.
He was just angry. "I want to know why you did it. Were you trying to make her uncomfortable like before? Was it some plan to break us up so that, I don't even know! This isn't like you, Isabel. I don't get it. Why?"
She was strained, and her tone showed it. "Did you ever think, I just wanted to kiss her?"
The two of them looked at each other for a moment, hurt.
Michael finally said, "Five hundred people would fall at your feet for the chance to kiss you, and you picked mine. The only person I've ever - god. If it was a desperate attempt, maybe I could forgive you. This is just, I can't believe it." He slammed his hand against the table. "You could have anyone, Isabel."
She answered angrily, "No I'm not desperate! I probably could have anyone. But why would I want them?"
"A thousand guys--" Michael started with venom.
Isabel cut him off. "You haven't even asked me why a girl. You haven't even bothered to ask me *that*." Her voice shook.
He took a step forward, and he was calmer, normal. "I was getting to that."
She looked at the counter, arms wrapped around her chest. "I thought, at first, it was just maybe, Maria. I mean, I'm supposed to be with you, so maybe, whoever you wanted, I would want too. So I, I thought about it. I really thought about it." She looked up, and her eyes had tears in them. "For almost a month I've been going over this and no one noticed."
Michael felt awful. She continued, "I, had to know whether I was really attracted to her."
"Wait." He held up a hand. "You're attracted to her? Like, really, attracted to her?"
"Yes! I've been attracted to Maria for over a month now!" Michael gaped. Isabel said, "Maybe, I don't understand why Max would be interested in Liz - or why she's interested in him, for that matter - but I know why you and Maria want each other. I can see that. I understand that." Softer, unapologetic, "Maybe I kind of wanted that too."
Michael looked at the Evans' curtains. The sun was shining; he said, "You really upset her."
"I know. Tell her I'm sorry?" Isabel's hands were over her face, and Michael figured she was crying.
He said quietly, "You upset her boyfriend, too. I mean, jesus. You made a move on my girl." He tried to sound light about it, but something cracked.
She didn't look at him. "Tell him I'm sorry, too. I was just, I was so lonely."
"So did she tell you why she did it?"
Maria waited for a moment. "And?"
Michael looked at her kind of funny, she couldn't figure out what his face said. "I don't know if I can tell you," he said quickly. Instant anger flashed into her eyes, and he frowned. "Like, I don't know if. You gotta understand. Isabel's very private, and she." Maria put her hands on her hips. Michael said, painfully, "She was lonely."
Maria dropped her arms, pursed her lips. "So."
"I don't know!" he burst out, stood up, threw his hands up. "Who knows?"
Maria kissed his cheek. "Okay, I'm sorry."
He put a hand on her back. "So did it turn you on at all?" and she laughed.
"Isabel," Maria called out. "Wait up."
Liz stared at her, and Maria shrugged. "I need some fashion advice. Michael needs a new, shirt, and I," and she waved her hand around. "You know that she'd know his size and color, and you have that date with Max tonight and I thought--"
Liz was already smiling, ready to head off in the other direction. "Okay, okay Maria. I get it." She left.
Maria and Isabel were left standing in the quickly emptying hallway. "Don't you have class?" Isabel said.
Maria shruggd. "Kinda. Don't you?"
Isabel looked her up and down. "I have a spare." She finally moved closer to Maria, hands folded under her breasts. "So?"
Maria tilted her head, ready to argue, then shook it. "Okay, seriously, I thought we were over this." She consciously relaxed her body, and after a second Isabel did the same, dropping her arms and smiling for real. "There, that wasn't so hard, was it?"
Isabel rolled her eyes, and started off towards the doors. "I can relax, yes."
"Okay." Maria followed her outside. "I have to ask you something."
"If you're going to say what I think you're going to," Isabel answered quickly, all in one breath, "please just don't, because the mutual embarrassment is something both of us would do better to avoid."
Maria plopped down on a picnic table, smooth legs stretched out on the wood. Isabel sat on the bench in front of her. "Michael told me what you said."
She rolled her eyes again. "Michael talks too much."
Maria's red lips curved. "Michael? Talk?" When Isabel nodded, grinning, Maria leaned back. "But seriously, I want to know why you kissed me."
"Jesus," and Isabel sat back, "you say it so casually."
"Well, here's what I figure," Maria said, head tilted and red mouth open. "I started out thinking you were just trying to freak me out," which elicited another smile from Isabel, "but then when Michael told me what happened, I started thinking. And I wanted you to know that I wasn't freaked out, once I figured out you weren't just trying to fuck with me."
"Well, thank you for that," Isabel said, finally. She shifted around on the bench.
"Are you okay?" Maria asked. "I mean, it's a pretty big thing."
"Oh," and Isabel looked startled. "Honestly? I, I don't know." She looked down at her hands, clicked her long nails together. "I've been the girl that everyone wanted for so long, you know? And then I wanted someone and it wasn't anyone I knew would eat out of my hand." She kept staring at her palms. "I don't know."
Maria looked at her for a long moment, then leaned forward, closer to Isabel. She ran a hand down Isabel's hair, softly, and Isabel didn't move, frozen in place. Maria said, finally, "You could cut your hair." Maria added, "Maybe, make a break with the Isabel that all the boys wanted and none of them got."
When Isabel cut her hair after her graduation that week, everyone was surprised except Maria. Max was astounded, Liz raised an eyebrow. Maria tilted her head, lips painted red like always. Isabel was standing in front of the mirror in her bedroom, staring at herself. "I like it," Maria said finally. "You're still beautiful, but you look older."
"Yeah?" It was easy to see that Isabel was pleased.
Maria nodded, crossing her legs on the bed. Her skirt stretched, showing smooth thigh. "Yeah, you do."
Isabel glanced back, and was riveted by Maria's legs, bare and pale, milky and soft on her comforter. She consciously put a hand to the back of her neck. "Do you want a drink?" she asked, voice high. "Or something to eat?"
Maria leaned back onto her hands, legs still folded. Her shirt - a loose camisole, barely a shirt at all - gaped a little. Isabel paced to the door of her room, and then back again, and Maria asked, "are you okay?"
Isabel smiled grimly. "Oh, yeah," she said. "I'm fine, peachy," and tried to make her lips stretch into a real smile, a casual smile. Eyes wide. "Don't I seem fine?"
Maria studied her for a minute, mouth curved, amused. "You look a little nervous." She grinned for real. "Which, admittedly, is kind of novel from my perspective. What's up?"
Isabel glared at her, but not with any intensity. "Fine, you make me nervous, happy?"
"Not especially. Why?"
"Oh," and Isabel leaned on her dressing table, familiar pose, arms wrapped around herself. She'd been standing like that quite frequently the last few weeks. "Are you going to really make me say it?" Maria just looked at her. Isabel rolled her eyes. "Fine, you look good today."
"Thank you," and Maria sounded surprised. "I think that's the first compliment I've had all week."
"Michael's a fool then," Isabel blurted, and then stopped, mouth open a little. Her hand came to up to her cheek, eyes immediately shifted to stare off into the distance. "I mean."
She didn't realize that Maria had stood until she was right in front of Isabel's face, still smiling. "Isabel." She raised her eyes to meet Maria's. "I think your hair looks good."
Isabel glanced to her bedroom door - which was closed - and then to the window, and then back to Maria's face. "Michael--" and she stopped.
"I think we should speak to Michael," Maria said, finally.
"About what?" Isabel said, though suddenly her mouth was very dry.
Maria continued to look at her intently, as if she was trying to figure out what was going on in Isabel's head. Good luck, Isabel thought. She didn't even know what was going on. Maria answered, "About you being lonely."
Isabel sighed, then, long and gusty and sad, somehow, and went to sit on her own bed. "Are you and Michael in love?" she asked.
Maria looked wry. "Sometimes I wonder if we're actually crazy, but yeah, yeah I think so." She thought a moment. "No, I know so." Isabel looked up at her at that moment, eyes wide and suddenly so desperate, so raw, that Maria blurted out, "Were you ever in love?"
"I." Isabel took a breath. "Yes."
Maria asked quietly, "Alex?"
"Did you ever see him? I mean, with the--" Isabel nodded mutely. "And did he?"
She shook her head, and Maria sat down beside her, stroked her hand gently. "Oh, Iz."
Isabel removed her hand. "And now it's too late."
Michael said, "You want to what?" He was obviously having a hard time processing.
Maria eyed him. "Michael, this is most teenage boys dream come true, two girls in bed with them." She rolled her eyes. "What is wrong with you?"
"But." He continued to pace around his little apartment. "This is Isabel."
"Yes," Maria said softly, "it is."
"Michael," Maria said, "she needs us." Michael looked at her. "Do you love her?" He hesitated, but she knew. "She needs us."
Maria held her hand out to Isabel, pulled her gently onto Michael's bed. Isabel said, "I," and Maria made her sit, made her recline against the pillows. Isabel leaned back, eyes wide and on Maria.
As Maria leaned in to press her lips against Isabel gently, she felt the mattress sink on her other side - Michael, resting beside her. Isabel felt him take her hand. She felt a rush, a rush when Maria kissed her, and her free hand went to the back of Maria's neck, stroked her skin, and her tongue touched Maria's and that rush deepened.
Michael was the one to take her shirt off, but after that, Maria held her hips down, Maria held her hand, Maria made her rush.
Isabel felt well and truely happy for one moment. It wasn't when she came, it wasn't when Maria's tongue first touched her, it wasn't when she saw Michael stroking Maria's bare back as the two of them embraced, love in his eyes.
Michael had Maria leaning against him gently, breathing deep, and Isabel was curled up on her other side. And when she looked up, Maria smiled at her and kissed her again - and there, just there, she could see Maria, twelve years old and running through a sprinkler, Maria at five trying to feed her new puppy, Maria at sixteen, watching Michael as he walked towards her. Maria and her life.
"Oh," Isabel murmured, when Maria pulled away. "Oh." She glanced over at Michael, and he looked at her. His face was wry, as if he knew everything Isabel craved to say, the wonder that she just saw.
Maria nudged him. "So, spaceboy," she said, teasing, "gonna say anything?"
Michael looked like he might, and Isabel held a hand up rather limply, "please don't." She grinned, happy. "Please don't."
Maria shuffled, so Isabel was laying on her bare stomach, breasts cooling in the air. Isabel had the sheet tucked around herself. One of Maria's hands curled around her shoulders. Maria said to her, "you know, I never thought you'd make mud pies, you know," and she giggled a little. "Even with Max begging."
Michael laughed, and said, "You saw that? in a flash?" as Isabel stared up at her, shocked. Mud pies was the game that her and Max used to play in elementary school, right when they'd first met Michael. The three of them used to get together and get filthy. Michael was still laughing. "It's true, Isabel used to get dirty."
Michael was looking at Maria, and gently kissed her forehead, and then Isabel felt herself trembling. She bit her lip, said, "Just, promise that we'll be friends?" She closed her eyes. "We'll still be friends."
Michael's fingers twisted in the sheet. It was Maria who said, "We are friends, Isabel." She stroked her fingers gently down Isabel's arm, and Isabel fell into her lap. Maria sat, the blankets tucked up around her as she ran her fingers over Isabel's new haircut gently. She barely touched the scalp.
Michael kept his hand on Maria's naked thigh, through the blanket. He looked at her, and Maria mouthed 'I love you' quietly. He nodded, smiled back. Isabel was looking away.
Isabel told Michael, "It won't happen again, Michael." He started to say something, and she held a hand up. Quietly, "thank you," and then, "but it won't happen again. That isn't mine. What you two have," she said, "it isn't mine. I know that."
Michael nodded. The diner was almost empty, Liz cleaning the counter at the other end of the room, and two tourists in the corner. Isabel was, happy. "I'll buy you pancakes," Michael told her. "It's only fair."
"Pancakes are good," she said, smiling. "Thank you."