step one: don't get into vans with strangers
Low Shoulder burns down Melody Lane - that's what they get for trying to bring their pretentious indie-rock bullshit to a town like Devil's Kettle - and eight people die.
School is basically cancelled for, like, a week. Everyone still shows up and goes to class, but all of them - teachers, students, everyone else - are just going through the motions, using the routine of school as an excuse to get together and say shit like god, they were so young and can you believe it? Ahmet, from India.
Jennifer takes it pretty hard, harder than Needy would've expected. It's not like she knew any of them particularly well, except for Craig, and him only barely. But she spends that week being quieter than usual, and when she comes to school in the mornings, she looks worn out. It makes her seem small and fragile, like she might blow away if they go outside when it's a little too windy.
Needy doesn't know what to do with her. Jennifer's never been anything but bigger than life, before.
She makes Needy (and Chip) go to all the funerals, guilt-tripping Needy (who begs Chip, who says things like I thought she hated Senorita Ericson anyway and makes grumpy faces but always, always caves for Needy) so that they can stand in the back, wearing dark jeans and faded black hoodies with the rest of the town. Jennifer doesn't cry at a single one.
But after dark - after Chip has gone home, and Needy's mom is either in bed or at work - Jennifer sneaks over. She climbs in through Needy's bedroom window, the same way she always has, and they lie together on Needy's bed, squished too close. They don't really talk much. Instead, they watch shitty Lifetime rom-coms, about Christian spinsters finding romance while escaping the clutches of rapists or whatever, until Jennifer falls asleep.
She's always gone by morning.
Then, just like that, the last funeral happens. The town snaps out of its collective grieving, and suddenly everything is back to normal, including Jennifer.
They never talk about it.
They go to State together. Needy and Jen and Chip - and half the school; the smart half. But the three of them get their acceptance letters on the same day, and they're the only interesting people at school, anyway. So Needy always thinks of it as the three of them, a little island, going away to the city and possibilities and not staying in Devil's Kettle.
They talk about it all the time, once they've accepted their acceptances. They make big, crazy plans - future parties, future careers, future everything - and Needy finds something special and freeing in it, sitting with her head on Jennifer's lap and talking about the potential of the rest of their lives.
"I'm thinking about living with Chip," Needy says, one day. Jennifer's wearing jeans, and Needy can feel the seam at the edge of Jennifer's thigh pressing into her cheek, leaving an imprint. "You know, once we all move out."
Jennifer just laughs. Needy can feel the vibration of it from the top of her head, down to the rest of her body. "No you're not," she says, like Needy just suggested getting an apartment on the moon. "You're living with me."
It's a wrong answer, Needy can tell. She starts to get shy, but she holds her ground. '"I don't know," she starts, but Jennifer interrupts her.
"Needy. What the fuck." Jennifer's voice is ugly, all sharp edges.
Her lap tilts under Needy's head, and Needy scrambles to sit up, as Jennifer stands. "I'm serious," Needy says. "Chip and I have talked about it a lot, and I'm thinking about it."
Jennifer's nostrils flare, like they always do just before she starts to really freak out. This is going to be a fight - Needy told Chip it would be.
"Look," Jennifer says. Her voice is honey-sweet and dangerous. "I know you love getting dick and all, but Chip is total minor-league material. You're going to want to upgrade the second you get to a city with real boys."
Now it's Needy's turn to stand up. "He's not. And he knows how to cook, and it'd be so much better than dorm rooms."
"I just don't understand why you'd want to do that to yourself."
"Jen, he's my boyfriend."
Jennifer gets this look on her face, and god, Needy's never seen her like that before - scary-furious, and a little bit hurt. Jennifer turns on her heel and leaves.
She doesn't say a word to Needy for a full week. It's the longest silent treatment either of them has ever managed.
step two: leave town
Needy moves in with Jennifer.
She thought about it, and really, it probably was a dumb idea to think about moving in with her high school boyfriend right away.
Besides, it doesn't matter that much where she lives when college is everything all of them ever hoped it would be, Needy most of all. She and Jennifer find a two-bedroom apartment close to campus. It's in the basement of someone's house, and the house is sort of old and falling apart, and the living room comes with a couch that's got to be older than both of them put together, but it's their first place, so it's perfect. Chip moves into the dorm building across the street, but he spends most of his time over at their place, anyway, so it's almost like they're living with him, too.
They take a bunch of the same classes, and do assignments together at the kitchen table, Needy and Jennifer and Chip.
But college means parties, and Jennifer always knows how to get Needy into the good ones. Needy gets drunk for the very first time at some frat house on campus, enough that she kisses Jennifer - on the mouth - in front of a bunch of disgusting freshman boys in exchange for free shots. She barely remembers the rest of the night, except the part at the end - the part she spends tucked between the bathtub and the toilet, vomiting blue jello and cheap vodka, while Jennifer sits on the edge of the tub, holding her hair and laughing.
After that, Chip starts to get jealous.
It's over between them by Thanksgiving.
Sandbox love never dies.
step three: figure out the rest of your life
It sort of creeps up on Needy, the difference in the way things are with Jennifer now that they're in college. At least, she thinks things are different. Maybe they were always like this, always a little too close, something lurking under the surface that they were both too high school to name.
It doesn't really matter, either way. The important thing is that it happens.
It starts small, like the night they try to pull an all-nighter studying for their first biology midterm. Needy falls asleep on Jennifer's bed around 3:00, and when she wakes up the next morning, textbook pages sticking to her face, Jennifer's draped possessively over her back-hips-legs, like a cat. "Jen," she mumbles, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. "Jen, get up, we've got a test."
Jennifer stretches, and Needy's suddenly, acutely aware of breasts sliding across her back. The dead weight of her, still half-asleep, is surprisingly comforting. "Suck my dick, I'm sleeping," Jennifer mumbles into Needy's shoulder.
"Jennifer," Needy says, shoving an elbow back until it makes contact with Jennifer's side. "We've got our midterm in an hour, you need to get up."
Something - her elbow or the word midterm, she's not sure - shocks Jennifer awake enough to sit. She looks around, owlishly, wiping drool from the corner of her mouth. She's still devastatingly attractive, even with her eyeliner all smeared from sleeping and her ponytail holder falling out.
Needy feels something do a flip, low in her stomach. She's pretty sure it's jealousy.
The little things start to turn into bigger things, ones that are harder to ignore.
Like the night a week after their biology midterm, when Needy's making dinner - ramen and peanut butter sandwiches, grape juice for vegetables - at their place. Jennifer's almost done her evening class, the one course they don't have in common, and Needy always makes extra for her.
The water is almost done boiling, and she's working on sandwiches, when she hears their apartment door slam and high heels on the stairs. She already knows, it's Jennifer. Needy calls out, "Hey, Jen, I'm making dinner. You hungry?"
Jennifer walks into the kitchen, and this weird thing happens to Needy's vision - it's like the whole room lights up or something. She can feel herself smiling before she even realizes she's doing it. Jennifer lets her purse slide down her arm, until it hits the floor with a gentle thump. She crosses the room and wraps herself around Needy's waist, smiling. From behind, she takes the knife and the jar of peanut butter out of Needy's hands, sets them on the table so that she can lift Needy up in a hug, spinning her around.
When Needy's feet hit the floor again, her heart's thumping triple-time, and she feels like she can't breathe. "Oh, Needy," Jennifer says. Her lip gloss is shimmery-red, like she just reapplied it. "You're such a good wife."
Then she kisses Needy full on the mouth. It's this chaste, casually intimate sort of kiss, the way TV couples always say hello to each other. Jennifer shrugs away and sits down at the table, like it's something they do all the time.
But Jennifer doesn't say anything, then or later, so neither does Needy. It's just - one of those things. Things that people who aren't BFFs wouldn't get.
But then there's the night when they're at a party, at a frat house way across campus.
Needy came with Jennifer and a couple of their friends from class, but the party is firetrap-crowded, and after a while they lose each other. Needy ends up talking to this guy she doesn't know, who seems nice until he turns into a total creep, the kind who won't stop grinding up on Needy and trying to get her to leave with him. It's disgusting, and after the fourth time he ignores her when she tells him that she doesn't want to go back to his place, she starts to get really nervous.
Except that suddenly, Jennifer is there, slinging her arm across Needy's shoulders. Instantly, she knows that things are going to be okay.
"Hey, knuckledragger," Jennifer says, beer bottle cradled in the web between her thumb and first finger. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?"
The guy rolls his eyes. Needy smiles, just a little. He doesn't have a clue who he's dealing with. "Back off, we're just getting to know each other," he says, and puffs out his chest.
"No you're not, you're being creepy."
"Yeah? Well, who are you, her chaperone or something?" he snickers, looking around to see if anyone as dumb as him heard his joke. Nobody else even notices.
Jennifer takes a step forward, getting right into his personal space, like she wants to start a fight. "No, I'm her girlfriend," she spits, shoving him with the hand holding her beer. "Now back the fuck off."
He leaves, muttering dykes over his shoulder. Like Needy or Jennifer even care.
"Thanks," Needy says, meaning it. Things could have gotten really fucked up for her, and they both know it.
Jennifer gives Needy a smile; the cute one she usually reserves for times when she's flirting extra hard with boys. "Whatever," she says. She laughs a little, softly, and it sounds shy. Not like Jennifer at all. It feels really, really important, and a little bit like they're going to kiss or something.
"No, really," Needy says, biting her lip. "Thanks."
Jennifer leans in close, halfway to Needy's mouth, then stops. Somewhere between the moment where she stops moving and the next moment, that feeling is gone.
Jennifer leans away and tosses her hair, suddenly back to herself. "Anyway, come on," she says. "I just met this guy who says he can get us a deal on tattoos if we promise to watch his brother's band. They're called Hunter-Gatherer and we're totally going tomorrow night."
Their first time is on Needy's bed.
Needy's sitting in her room, watching The O.C. reruns on her laptop. It's Sunday afternoon, so she's still wearing her pyjamas and her Devils hoodie, cuddled under the bedspread while Ryan Atwood gets into another fist fight.
She hears bare feet padding down the hallway from Jennifer's room, and then Jennifer is there, leaning against her doorframe like an old-fashioned pinup. "Hey," she says.
"What are you doing?"
"Watching TV," Needy says. Automatically she shifts over, making room for Jennifer. "Come sit."
Jennifer does, but not the way she usually would. She crawls under the covers next to Needy, but she doesn't snuggle right up to lean her head on Needy's shoulder. She doesn't let her legs tangle with Needy's at all, and every time Needy touches her, she fidgets.
Needy leans forward and pauses the video. "Okay, you're being kind of attention-deficit right now. Are you okay?"
Jennifer looks at her, eyes suddenly wide. She's clearly concentrating, and Needy's not sure why until Jennifer rises up on her knees, leans forward, and kisses Needy. It's a real kiss, serious and intimate, with Jennifer's lip gloss sticky and strawberry scented against Needy's lips, as she licks into Needy's mouth. Needy responds, heart hammering, kissing back the way she didn't even know she wanted to, until just now. She feels dizzy, on fire, like she wants to fly. It's like things were the first time she kissed Chip, but better, because this is Jennifer.
Needy doesn't think about a single thing besides Jennifer's mouth until she pulls back to breathe. It's only then that she realizes what's just happened, what they've just done. She shakes her head. "Wait," she says, and braces her hand on Jennifer's shoulder. "Wait, what are you doing?"
"What are you doing?" Jennifer says. She's trying to sound playful, but her eyes are wide and nervous. Needy can see how terrified she is, how much she wants this. She's never seen Jennifer look at a boy like that, not ever.
They keep kissing.
Jennifer, naked, is the best thing Needy's ever seen. She's beautiful - the Snowflake Queen but better, more grown up. Her hair is dark, made darker against all of that bare skin, and her lips are still cherry-red even though Needy's been kissing them for hours.
When Jennifer comes, her eyes are open. She arches up while she stares at Needy with wide, hungry eyes, lips parted, gulping air. Needy's pretty sure it's a first time for Jen; that they're both same-sex virgins. Needy finishes next, Jennifer's mouth-hands-breasts rubbing warm and slick and soft, better than anything she's ever felt before.
She comes down with her head resting on Jennifer's arm. The rest of Jennifer, naked, is curled against her. Every so often, Jennifer reaches up to run her fingers through Needy's hair, working out the tangles, like everything's normal. "Hey, Needy?" Jennifer whispers. Her breath is hot against the top of Needy's head.
Needy cuddles in closer. "Yeah?"
She feels Jennifer take a deep breath in. "You wanna be girlfriend and girlfriend?"
Something clicks into place, in Needy's heart, and suddenly she really, really wants to. If she thinks about it hard enough, maybe she's wanted to for a while. "Yeah," she whispers.
"Good," Jennifer says, sounding so happy that it makes Needy's heart want to burst. "Just checking."
Needy turns over to laugh into Jennifer's chest, pressing kisses to her ribs, her collarbone, her throat.
step four: live happily ever after (optional)