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My river runs to thee

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They're nine years old when they meet. Cece is the tallest kid, girl or boy, in all the fourth grade classes (and the fifth grade, too); Jess is the weirdest. Also the most myopic.

When second bell rings, Jess gets up too fast from the toilet, her suspender straps dangling, one swirling around in the flushing water. She flails around trying to rescue it, and her glasses fly off, skittering across the tile, into the next stall.

She sits back down, heavily, and knocks her head against the wall of the stall. Fourth grade was going to be different. She'd *promised* herself.

Someone knocks on the stall door and bends down, offering Jess's broken glasses under the edge of the door. All Jess can make out are bright striped leggings and brand-new white sneakers. "Excuse me? Are these yours?"

"Yeah," Jess says but doesn't move.

What's the point? She's got toilet-wet suspenders and can't see past the end of her arm. She's not going anywhere.

"Are you going to come out?" the girls asks after a bit.

Jess wraps her arms around her waist. "No."

"Really?" Her voice is breathy with disbelief and admiration. "Wow."

"Never. Nyet. Niente." She likes the rhythm, so she makes it into a song. "Nah-nah-nah-never."

The girl outside sits down. Under the door, Jess can see her cross her legs and pluck at the laces on her shoe. "You've got a pretty voice."

Jess nudges open the door and the girl crawls in. "I'm Cece."

Cece keeps Jess company until the janitor lady finds them after school has let out.


That fall, they make a pact on a field trip to the natural history museum to never go to the bathroom alone. Cece has a thing about people hearing her pee; Jess has a thing about making sure her friend is never in distress.

Like The Bodyguard, Cece says, but Jess thinks of it more like a knight and her lady. Cece is getting taller by the moment, and even if everyone calls her Chicken Lady because of her big head and awkward flappy long arms, Jess says she's beautiful.

"M'lady," Jess says and opens the stall door with a flourish, then takes a bow. They're twelve and hanging around the mall every chance they get. They don't really know why, just that this is the place to be.

And when you've had three Orange Juliuses, a movie-theater bucket of Sprite, and the better part of a root beer shake, like Cece has, then the giant raspberry-and-mauve ladies bathroom is the place to be.

Her face is wan, her jaw tight, as Cece hesitates.

"It's okay." Jess touches the small of Cece's back, feels her startle and settle, all in one quick motion. "I'm right here."

"I don't know..."

"I'll come in with you," Jess says.

Cece's eyes are wide as anything. She bites her lip. "Really?"

Jess squares her shoulders and shoves her glasses back up her nose. "Aye aye, my fair lady."


It isn't until high school - actually the middle of senior year - that they kiss. (They've *kissed* as practice, sure, in junior high, but that was prep, that was while thinking about Tupac [Cece] and Robert Oppenheimer [Jess].) That winter, Cece drags Jess to what's supposed to be a college party, though they recognize all the faces, and most of them are juniors. Cece drinks too many wine coolers (and Jess overindulges in the ice cream tacos she finds in the basement's deep freezer), and they find themselves in the parents' en-suite bathroom. There's a JV lacrosse player passed out on the bed, and the bathroom smells like cinnamon.

"Like cookies," Jess says. She's unsteady on her feet from the sugar crash. "Like delicious, homebaked pies and cookies and other pastries."

Cece grips the edge of the toilet, holding herself three inches above the seat.

"I'm sure it's clean," Jess says. "Whoever cleans this house is, like, compulsive."

One of Cece's feet slips and she falls, but Jess catches her around the waist. She sinks to her knees, keeping her grasp on Cece, and lets her head fall against Cece's breasts.

"Doofus," Cece says and strokes Jess's tangled hair. There's a pine cone caught in there, and a chunk of chocolate.

Jess tilts back her head and blinks up at Cece. Her glasses are askew and from this angle, Cece looks like an angel. The sconce on the wall behind her lights up her hair like a halo, and she smiles down at Jess and pets the back of her neck, and then they're kissing.

"Mmmph --" Cece grabs tighter, fingers locking in hair, as Jess straightens up and cups the curve of her breast.

She's wondered for a *long* time what they felt like. It's even better than she imagined, heavy but taut and round and perfect for the palm of her hand.

The kiss shifts, Cece's mouth opening wider, Jess's embrace getting tighter, and then Cece sighs against Jess's tongue, soft and sweet like letting go. Distantly, Jess hears the tinkle of...tinkle. She kisses harder and pushes one hand down Cece's shirt to distract her.


Five in the morning on a Sunday (or, technically, Monday), Jess shepherds Cece out of the cab and into the building. Cece was crying, then laughing, and now she's just sort of whimpering and clinging.

"Sssh, ssh," Jess says in the elevator, brushing the hair out of Cece's eyes and rubbing her back. "Almost there."

"You. Are. The best," Cece says, lunging forward a little, grabbing Jess's chin and wiggling her head back and forth. "Beautiful sweet beautiful. You."

Jess grins. Even drunk, Cece gives the best compliments. She just has a way of making you feel like the best version of yourself, like she looks at you with those big soulful eyes and you want to believe her.

She broke up with Park Kim tonight. From what Jess can gather, through the blear of sleep and anxiety of being awakened by the emergency blare of her phone, the break-up was explosive. It may have closed down the chichi bistro, or taken out bystanders, or something.

Now Cece is barefoot, her silk halter dress ripped down the back, and she's tugging Jess down the hall.

"I have to lock -- okay, well, leave *that* for later --" Jess stumbles after Cece into the bathroom. She's still wearing the tank top and pajama pants she'd been sleeping in; she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and realizes her hair is poufed up on one side, like a bouffant growing out from her ear.

"Jess," Cece whispers and hooks both arms around Jess's neck. Her breath is humid and sweet against Jess's face. "Jess."

"Right here," Jess says. "That's my name."

Cece kisses her slowly, almost shyly. Balance shifts and tips in Jess's chest, like something giving way, and she feels her hands settle on Cece's waist. This isn't the best idea, she knows that, and she should know that for both of them, that's her job, but Cece's smiling again, kissing Jess's throat and looking up and *smiling*, and wriggling back into Jess's touch.

"Gotta pee," Cece breathes and Jess lets her go. But Cece grabs her hand again and pulls her into the shower.

The wall is cold against her back when Cece presses her back, kissing her again, harder and shallower, with little nips that make Jess think of (sexy) chipmunks. She slides her hands back around Cece, running them up and down her back. Cece wiggles again, stepping out of her panties at the same time she tugs down Jess's pajamas.

"C'mon," Cece says, her voice gone husky, her teeth scoring Jess's ear. "Open up."

"Aye aye," Jess says faintly. "M'lady."

Cece laughs, the vibration running through them both, and slides her mouth over Jess's jaw and back up to her lips while working her hand between Jess's legs. Jess's own hands feel heavy and useless, but when Cece whispers, suddenly urgent and needful, "Do me, too --" Jess complies without thinking.

They're both sticky-slick, rocking together against reaching fingers and pressing palms. Jess gets a jolt, then another, when Cece crooks her thumb around her clit. Her hand twitches, knuckle then fingertip running backward, parting Cece's inner lips, finding her hole, and, above it, the tiny nub of her urethra.

Cece's panting against her, working her hips in jagged circles and stroking Jess open, stroking her wet and wide. When she finally lets go and the warm pee spills over Jess's palm and down her wrist, Cece moans.

Jess has never heard anything like it. It's at once the sexiest and simplest sound in the world, relief joined with need. Jess turns her hand, works her knuckles over Cece's swollen clit and the tip of her thumb into her hole, and Cece bites her shoulder and rocks hard.

Jess thrusts against Cece's fingers at the same time, and the friction is faster, more slippery. All this heat is somehow spreading through her while tightening and concentrating *right there*, right between her legs.

Cece's face is flushed and damp with sweat. Her mascara has run; there's glitter eyeshadow on her cheek, in the corner of her lip, probably all over Jess's face, too. When she comes, she flattens Jess against the wall and *throbs*, half-hiccuping and groaning.

She slows down, blinking, shivering in Jess's arms. Jess's wrist is starting to ache, and when she tries to extract her hand, Cece whimpers.

"M'lady," Jess says, because she can't think of anything else to say. "Let's get you cleaned up."

Cece slides down the wall. "You're the best."

"I am," Jess agrees, and tests the shower spray. "One might even say I rock."

Cece's smile is wide and bright and she takes Jess's hand, rising to her feet like a gazelle or anything else elegant and perfect and beautiful.

"Use Schmidt's rosewater body sludge," Jess says, steering Cece under the spray. "It's done wonders for my complexion."

She strips off her pants and shirt and joins Cece under the water. Everything's blurry and steamy and kind of squeaky.

"You okay?" Cece asks.

"Me?" Jess turns slowly in a circle, her arms out. "I feel *grand*. Like a king or an astronaut. Top of the world, Ma!"