The girl coming out of the dressing room in Whatever, Danville’s only goth clothing store, was vaguely familiar looking, but it took Vanessa a moment to place her as Ferb’s older sister. What was her name? Candy? She was posing in front of the mirror, somehow managing to look more childish in a long black leather jacket than she did in her usual pink and white skirt ensemble. It was the sleeves, Vanessa decided; they were inches too long, and the way they slipped over her hands made her look like a child playing dress-up with her father’s coat.
Perhaps it was that illusion of vulnerability that made Vanessa take pity on her. Or maybe it was curiosity about the sudden subculture switch. Either way, Vanessa found herself leaning casually against the wall next to her. “Hey.”
“Oh, hey!” Candace turned and beamed at her in a distinctly not-punk way. “Vanessa, right? Weren’t you in my math class sophomore year?”
“Uh... sure.” Vanessa agreed, although she didn’t actually remember. She’d spent most of geometry class writing dark song lyrics about mortality in her notebook and trying to angle herself so that Johnny the punk-rock guitar player could admire her chest without looking too deliberate about it. She was pretty sure that if Candy - no Candace, that was it - had been there, she had dedicated her math time to drawing butterflies and hearts around Jeremy Johnson’s name. Of course, Candace and Jeremy had been dating for a solid year now and Johnny had turned out to be gay, so maybe she couldn’t judge Candace too harshly for her apparent naivete.
“I’m not sure I can pull leather off.” Candace was saying, pulling at her sleeves with a rueful expression.
“Sure you can.” Vanessa reassured her, although she had her private doubts. “You just need something a little less... enormous.” And then because she might as well get something out of this conversation she added, “why do you want to though? You’ve, uh, never really seemed the type.”
Candace looked a little uncertain. “Oh, I don’t know - I just wanted a change, y’know?” She unzipped the enormous jacket, revealing long slender legs barely covered by a short white skirt, and shrugged it off, placing it back on the hanger. “Hey, you wanna grab a slice of pizza with me? I’m starving.”
“Sure.” Vanessa agreed, and then wondered why she had. The conversation was probably going to be unbearable. Still, she followed the other girl out of the store.
Pizza started off with awkward silence, as expected. But then a Tiny Cowboys song came on and Candace squealed, which led to an in-depth discussion of the ways in which lead vocalist Nigel’s style had changed since his earlier gig singing backup for Arcane Demon Clock, and conversation flowed naturally from there.
“I really don’t think I can pull off leather.” Candace confessed sometime later. “Somehow I still look like a girl who wears pink blouses, only now I’m dressed up for halloween.”
“Hah, yeah, you do.” Vanessa agreed with a smirk. “But you look fine in a pink blouse, so what’s the problem?”
“I just feel like such a child, you know?” Candace admitted. “Jeremy broke up with me last time he came home, and it was just like - I could see him comparing me to all the mature college women he’s meeting. Meanwhile I’ve had the same style of dress since I was six years old.”
“Y’know, punk-goth subculture isn’t just about looking older.” Vanessa interjected, starting to feel a little offended at this apparent appropriation of her identity.
“Well, no, it’s about - it’s about not meeting expectations, isn’t it?” Candace asked. “I wanted to do something different, that’s all. Not just with my clothes, but with my whole life.” She looked a little disheartened. “I guess maybe a new jacket isn’t an especially deep change.”
“Come out with us tonight.” Vanessa offered abruptly, surprising herself. She was sympathetic, though, to Candace’s plight. Her dad had continued treating her like a child through any number of physical, emotional, and intellectual changes. It sometimes seemed as though her parents’ view of her had nothing to do with her at all, like they were in a relationship with some eternally youthful model child who existed only in their minds. Hadn’t she first donned black eyeliner partly to get a reaction, to make sure her rebellion was visible at a glance?
“Where?” Candace asked, looking pleased by the invitation.
“There’s this warehouse rave that happens once a month up in Denver, they don’t card.”
“Oh, uh - I don’t have a car..” Candace admitted, looking hopeful.
“You can ride with me.” Vanessa assured her. “I’ll pick you up at 10.”
“Great!” the other girl beamed at her, and Vanessa tried to come up with a tactful way to suggest that she try to disguise some of her enthusiasm when they got to the rave, when suddenly her attention was drawn to something out the window and the smile dropped off her face.
Vanessa turned to look and saw what look like... a robotic circus? Ferb and his brother were leading it down the street atop a mechanical elephant, followed by their little band of minions.
“I have to go.” Candace announced in a dark voice that promised dire retribution for the crime of circushood. “I’ll see you tonight.” And she raced out the door in a whirl of pink fury. Vanessa mused that she might have been able to pull off the jacket after all, if she could hold onto that rage, and finished her pizza.
When Candace came out the door, Vanessa thought her jaw might do a cartoonish drop into her lap. The car’s headlights reflected garishly off of pale skin, which was very visible through a fishnet camisole that covered only the barest necessities for public decency. Tight black jeans fit low enough to reveal jutting hip bones, while high boots emphasized the athletic cut of her calves.
So clearly Candace had figured out how to get by without giant leather, then.
“Your mom let you leave the house that way?” were the first words out of Vanessa’s mouth when the car door opened; instead of the mildly cutting skepticism she’d been hoping for, her voice came out a thin incredulous squeak.
“She’s not home.” Candace admitted with a sheepish grin. “She and dad are at an antique dealers’ convention all weekend, or I’d have never even been allowed to go out this late.” Then her smile faltered, and she pulled self-consciously at her hem. “Do I look alright? I wasn’t sure if it was -”
“You look amazing.” Vanessa assured her immediately, and then took a brief moment to wonder where her sexy aloofness had wandered off to. She changed the topic quickly before anything else complimentary could slip out. “I brought my Arcane Demon Clock album; you’ll see I’m right, Nigel used to be so much throatier...”
Vanessa had worried that the two hour drive would be awkward. Instead, it was some mix of elating and confusing. She couldn’t stop glancing over at Candace’s long neck, following it down to her partially exposed collarbone, yanking her eyes back to the road just a second later than was really safe.
She wasn’t a lesbian. It wasn’t that she had a problem with gay people, she just wasn’t one of them. She thought that she had found ample proof of that in her 6 month relationship with Johnny; she hadn’t known he was gay at the time, after all.
It was just that Candace was exposing a lot of flesh. She’d wanted to stop meeting people’s expectations, hadn’t she? Well, she had certainly surpassed Vanessa’s.
Even the outfit couldn’t disguise her innate Candaceness, though. She rambled on cheerfully, first about the CD and then about her brothers, oblivious to Vanessa’s distraction. Her red hair was almost purple in the dark, outlining her pale skin to good effect, and tracing along that long neck, which Vanessa’s eyes kept being drawn back to...
It was a relief to arrive. Vanessa parked several blocks away from the warehouse, in a slightly better-lit area. She was happy enough to risk life and limb for a good party, but she wasn’t going to risk her car.
They walked in together and met up with Vanessa’s friends.
‘Who is that?” one of them asked, when Candace went to get a drink, and Vanessa suppressed the urge to punch him in his stupid pierced face.
“Just a friend.” she answered flatly, and then a heavy metal song blared over the makeshift speaker system and conversation was cut off again.
It was easy to sink into the blaring environment and just dance. Vanessa forgot her confusion in favor of some serious headbanging, and perhaps drinking slightly more than was entirely wise. She and Candace drifted apart and then back together easily, as though an invisible string bound them together through the crowd.
Candace had been awkward at first, but she relaxed into the crowd easily enough, perhaps responding with the same relief as Vanessa had to the anonymity of intensity. There was no room for conversation, and no room for judgment; it was all about going to extremes, and therefore impossible to go too far. And perhaps the alcohol was helping Candace relax too; she was matching Vanessa drink for drink.
Hours later they stumbled out laughing. Candace had an arm around Vanessa’s neck for balance, and even though Vanessa didn’t need the additional support, she took the excuse to swing a companionable arm around the other girl in return, brushing her hand against the collarbone she had been surreptitiously eyeing all night.
It wasn’t until they actually got back to the car that the problem occurred to either of them.
“I am - I am waaaay too drunk to drive.” Vanessa announced in an injured tone, suddenly feeling somewhat betrayed by her own body. Shouldn’t it know better?
“I - I think I’m sober.” Candace suggested in a slurred voice. “Gimme the keys.” She made a wild grab for them and ended up hitting herself in the face, causing both of them to dissolve into giggles.
“We’ll just nap in the back seat for awhile and then drive back early tomorrow morning.” Vanessa suggested cheerfully. And it sounded like a good idea in theory. The van she had inherited from her mother - and painted black, of course, which made it almost a socially acceptable vehicle - had a large backseat which could be folded back into something approaching a bed.
The reality, however, was that a folded down seat was not a bed, and that the cool summer night, while pleasant to walk through, was not quite warm enough to sleep in. Still, they lay down next to one another and Vanessa closed her eyes, ready to use her drunken exhaustion as a weapon against discomfort. Sleep started to overcome her when she was startled by the sudden press of hot flesh against her front.
“I’m cold.” Candace explained, curling herself into Vanessa in a delicious way that brought back all of her earlier confusion. Her head was pressed close enough that Vanessa could feel her breath on her neck. She seemed momentarily confused about what to do with her upper arm, before bringing it up and slinging it across Vanessa’s shoulders, brushing her hand against the other girl’s breast in the process.
It felt like an electric shock going through her; Vanessa couldn’t help but suck air through her teeth in a shocked sort of gasp. Candace looked puzzled, and then intrigued.
“Oh.” she murmured, and then very deliberately, she brought her hand down and did it again. Helplessly, Vanessa responded with another gasp, and then Candace’s head was moving forward, lips were pressing interestedly at her neck, and confusion fled to make room for a drunken haze of desire.
The next morning when she awoke, it took a moment for Vanessa to distinguish her phone alarm from the rhythmic pounding in her head.
“Mrrrgggh” she groaned her displeasure and reached blindly out to silence it, only with the attempt at motion becoming aware of the naked body that was sprawled across her.
“Oh god, shut it off, please.” the redhead whimpered, rolling off of Vanessa to better cover her ears. “I will give you all the money in my wallet if you will make the noise go away.”
Vanessa obligingly reached through her impending hysteria to turn the phone off, but she was already more than awake enough to remember why she’d set it.
“We have to go.” she moaned. “It’s 5am; I need to be home before my mother wakes up.”
“Oh, crud!” Candace bolted up as well, and then winced and pressed two fingers into the spot behind her ear in an attempt to relieve her apparent headache. Vanessa sympathized.
The drive home could have been awkward, but they were both too tired and hungover to manage it. Candace fell asleep again almost as soon as she was situated in the front seat.
Vanessa didn’t have that luxury; she was almost glad she had her confusion to keep her awake. Already though, panic was fading away to be replaced by... hope? Candace was appealing. All labels aside, the previous day had been fun. Not just the part in the back of the car, although that had certainly had its appeal, but also the drive, and the pizza... and screw teenage identity crises, anyways, she thought a trifle vindictively. She’d date whoever she wanted, and sort the labels out once she got to college.
There was still the question of whether Candace would agree, of course.
They pulled into Candace’s driveway at 6:53 in the morning. A red car was parked ominously in the driveway, and the light was already on in the kitchen.
“Um... Candace...” Vanessa reached out hesitantly to shake the other girl’s shoulder. Hadn’t she said her parents weren’t home?”
“Hmm... are we here?” the other girl murmured groggily. She tilted her head and rubbed her cheek against Vanessa’s hand in a brief gesture of sleepy affection that made her heart skip a beat. Then she spotted the car.
“Oh god - they weren’t supposed to be home until tomorrow! What am I going to do? Why didn’t I bring something to change into? Maybe I can sneak in through a window...”
“Maybe they won’t care?” Vanessa suggested hopefully. “I mean, they must be pretty chill; they let your brothers get away with throwing whole concerts in the backyard...”
Candace responded with a bitter snort that probably had a story behind it.
“... or not.” Vanessa concluded. “Well... you’re going to college in a year, so they can’t ground you longer than that?”
“Yeah.” Candace agreed, looking glum. “Well... might as well face the music, I suppose.” She looked suddenly shy. “I had a really good time, though.”
“Me too.” Vanessa responded, feeling a warm blush overtake her cheeks. “I’ll see you around, huh?”
“Yeah.” Candace agreed, and then suddenly leaned forward and planted a fast embarrassed kiss on Vanessa’s cheek. “OKwellbye!” she squeaked out and practically leapt out of the car.
Vanessa stayed and watched until Candace disappeared through the door, and then drove off to the reverberating sound of Mrs. Flynn-Fletcher’s shriek - “Candace, what are you wearing!??”
She didn’t make it home before her mother woke up and noticed her missing, but not even the promise of two weeks of disciplinary yard work could wipe the smile off her face.
She didn’t see Candace again that summer. She spent a couple days checking her phone every four seconds for text messages, despite the fact that they hadn’t actually exchanged phone numbers, and lingered in Whatever so many times that the cashier started throwing death glares at her every time she came near the entrance.
Eventually Vanessa put it out of her mind, deciding that Candace must have regretted it after all. She was plagued by the image of the other girl freaking out, or worse, laughing about what had happened with her friends.
The fear was confirmed on the first day of school when she finally spotted Candace. She’d spent the entire day vacillating between nervous excitement and nauseating dread before finally spotting her target at the end of the day.
Candace looked exactly as she always had, dressed in a cute white skirt and matching pink blouse, chatting happily with her airheaded best friend. The surge of bitter disappointment was almost overwhelming; apparently she hadn’t been as resigned to this outcome as she’d thought. But of course Candace hadn’t been changed by one night of drunken fumbling; the entire adventure had just been her Jeremy rebound, and she’d probably forgotten entirely.
Vanessa made an effort to blend in with her friends and get out the door without being spotted, but a moment later Candace looked up and their eyes locked. The other girl shot her a tremulous smile; it hadn’t lost its appeal. She didn’t smile back, but something about her response must have been encouraging, because Candace said something to her friend, and then came over.
“Hey.” she said. “I was hoping I’d run into you today.”
“No wardrobe change, huh?” Vanessa noted, keeping her tone neutral, waiting to see how this would play out.
“Nah, I think I found a better way to defy expectations.” Candace replied, a spark of mischief in her eyes. “You want to get a coffee with me?”
Vanessa smiled. “Yes. Yes I do.”