The bell rings on the last day of junior year and Coley can feel the same thrill that runs through her running through the entire student body, because that harsh, glorious sound means one thing: freedom. The teacher tries to give them one last instruction or platitude but she's drowned out by the scrape of chairs against the floor, the buzz of conversation that explodes in the room. Coley gathers her belongings and lets herself get swept away by the tide of students, down the hall and straight to the lockers where Sonya will be waiting for her.
Sonya always waits for her.
She wants to take a moment to look at Sonya before she speaks, a moment to admire the slope of her cheekbones and line of her jaw, but Sonya spots her straight away. The soft smile that Sonya gives her always makes Coley's insides flip over, but she's practiced in the art of not letting it show.
"So we're essentially seniors now," Coley says, and Sonya laughs.
"Hey, don't wish away the whole summer." She tosses her backpack over her shoulder and links arms with Coley, leaning in close like they're sharing a secret. "This summer is going to be awesome."
Coley looks straight ahead, because the alternative is looking directly at Sonya and forgetting how to breathe. "Sounds like you have big plans."
The glare of sunlight welcomes them as they step outside, ten weeks of freedom stretching out in front of them, and Sonya nudges Coley with her shoulder. "No, I just know we always have fun."
For a sweet, simple moment Coley allows herself to enjoy the contact, the gentle hum of Sonya's voice in her ear, and imagines the kind of summer that she wants: just the two of them, closer than this, as close as it's possible to be.
But Sonya's arm falls away and there's Trenton leaning against his car, waiting for Sonya, and Coley's little bubble of optimism bursts. This is all the summer has in store for her.
The first week of summer passes in a haze. Trenton is a near-constant presence, always hovering around Sonya, but Coley is getting good at tuning him out. It helps that Sonya seems to ignore him half the time too; she sits with him sometimes, his arm casually slung around her shoulder, but all Coley has to do is offer to show Sonya a video she's found, or a new song, and Sonya is by her side in a second, laughing at the video or scrunching up her nose at Coley's apparently terrible taste in music. Trenton doesn't seem to care.
They've been hanging out at Sonya's for an hour or so when Trenton looks up from his phone and stretches, glancing over to where Sonya and Coley are sitting. "Hey, Nick's having a party. You coming?" It's addressed to Sonya; they all know Coley will follow wherever she goes.
"I don't really want to go out." She's stretched out on her couch looking comfortable, her feet on Coley's lap, and she doesn't even look up at him when she speaks.
"Whatever," he huffs, and Coley tries her best to hide her smile as he leaves.
"I don't get it," Coley says after the front door has slammed shut. She tries to keep her words casual because this has been a sore point on the couple of occasions she's mentioned it before, but she can't help poking at it. "Why do you bother with him?"
Sonya sits up, defensive. "What are you talking about?"
"It just seems like... you're not that into him. Like you guys aren't going to go the distance, and you know it."
"High school relationships aren't meant to last, Coley. It's just something to do, you know? He's fun."
Sonya shrugs. "He's okay. But I mean, don't you want a relationship?"
Coley shrugs, acutely aware that she's starting to blush; she tries to hide her face with her hair in a nonchalant kind of way that attracts a weird look from Sonya. The air in the room feels too close and she almost misses Trenton's presence, the way he acts as a buffer between Coley and her feelings, preventing her from spilling her guts.
Coley can't remember when she first fell for Sonya. It might have been the first time she met her, at those disastrous tryouts for the soccer team in freshman year. Coley didn't make the soccer team, but when she crashed into Sonya in a misguided tackle she did manage to make a friend. Most people would have been mad, but Sonya had just laughed and held out her hand to help Coley up.
It might have been later, during whispered late-night conversations at sleepovers, or the first time they'd been to a pool party and Coley had felt flustered all afternoon. It might have been when Coley got sick with strep and Sonya had snuck into her room to hang out with her, even though she was contagious. Regardless of when it had happened, Coley can't really remember a time before, when they had just been friends and everything had been simple. For her, it's always been complicated.
"I guess I'm just waiting for the right person," she manages to say eventually, looking up at Sonya, and she hates the way she can't help glancing at her lips for a brief second.
"None of the boys at school do it for you?"
Coley must pause for a moment too long because Sonya gives her this look, well-honed over three years of friendship, which says she knows Coley's not telling her everything. Worse, the look is followed by a kind smile, that affectionate support which makes her heart swell every time.
"I guess there might be someone I'm kind of into, but it's not a big deal or anything because they definitely don't see me that way, so..." She trails off, almost certain that she's said too much.
"That's ridiculous," Sonya says. "Who wouldn't like you?"
They pass a bottle of beer between them, feet dangling in the pool at the end of another hot, sticky day of doing nothing. Sonya's parents are never home to catch them drinking, but they wouldn't care even if they were. At least, her dad never complains about his supply being depleted.
It feels intimate, the companionable silence, the way their fingers brush as they pass the bottle back and forth. As Coley takes a sip she tries not to think too hard about how her lips are where Sonya's were just a moment before.
"Hey, there's something I wanted to tell you." Sonya's voice has that raspy edge it gets when she's tired. The sun is starting to set, just disappearing behind the trees.
"What is it?" Coley holds her breath, expecting – she doesn't know what, but she hopes, she hopes.
Sonya's gaze flicks downward, her smile shy. "It's kind of stupid, but I found my dad's old guitar and I've been teaching myself how to play."
"Oh," Coley says, then she tries again to think of something better to say. "I mean, that's cool."
"You sound like you're disappointed in me or something."
"No, I just thought you were going to say... something different. That's all."
Coley bites her lip. Maybe this is it, the moment to finally say it out loud. She leans in just a little, unable to decide whether words or actions would serve her better, and it almost looks like Sonya is leaning in too.
"I guess I thought you were going to say, um," Coley begins, but she can't find the rest of the sentence and by the time the words have left her mouth her courage has vanished. She makes an excuse and leaves abruptly, kicking herself for the whole bike ride home.
When it finally happens – when Sonya kisses her, and it feels like everything she's ever wanted – the ugliness with Trenton barely registers. It doesn't take long for him to get up, to shuffle home with mumbled threats that Coley barely hears, because Sonya is here, Sonya is hers, and nothing else matters.
When she cycles home, even her split lip can't stop her from smiling.
Normally, Coley texts Sonya about fifty times a day. She fires off her thoughts as soon as she has them: stupid jokes, complaints about her mom, snapchats of her dog that always make Sonya smile. But that night, after they kissed, she writes and deletes at least a dozen messages, unable to find the words to express how she feels.
Her breath hitches when Sonya texts her first, half excited, half convinced that Sonya's going to tell her it was a terrible mistake.
So are you gonna take me on a date? ;)
Sonya doesn't date. She told Coley as much once when Coley asked why Trenton never took her anywhere: she likes to keep things casual, she prefers to just hang out.
But apparently she wants to date Coley.
They go to the movies to see some second-tier superhero things that neither of them even pretend to care about. Or at least, Coley doesn't care about it; and when she glances over at Sonya, and Sonya smiles back at her, she doesn't think it's the movie that's making Sonya look so happy. Not judging by the way Sonya slips her hand over Coley's, intertwining their fingers, her thumb stroking a gentle pattern on Coley's skin.
Halfway through the movie Coley takes a chance, and leans over and kisses Sonya. It's only their second kiss, and hardly the most romantic setting – there's a group of preteen boys four rows ahead of them laughing obnoxiously, and the smell of hotdogs in the air – but when they pull apart, Sonya says, "Wow," in a tiny voice only Coley can hear, and it feels like magic.
July melts into August, and Coley is too wrapped up in Sonya to notice.
There are stars on the ceiling of Coley's bedroom. Her mom put them there when Coley was a tiny kid afraid of the dark, big stick-on things that glow a soft yellow, and occasionally she complains that they're childish, but the truth is she likes them. She likes the reassuring glow; she likes that they remind her of one summer evening with Sonya a year ago. They cycled to the high school soccer field with a bottle of wine stolen from Sonya's family's extensive collection, and they spent the evening passing the bottle back and forth, lying on the grass and pointing out made-up constellations. All Coley wanted to do was lean over and kiss Sonya, but even dutch courage hadn't been enough to embolden her to make a move. There was too much to lose.
She remembers the moment with vivid clarity; she can picture the lines of Sonya's profile, the slow smile she offered, the dribble of red past the corner of Sonya's lips as she tried to take a swig while lying down. Most of all she remembers the ache of longing in her chest, the physical pain of being so close to Sonya but not close enough.
Now, in her bed under stick-on stars, Sonya is there, hands in Coley's hair, lips on hers, still smiling that slow, easy smile between kisses.
"We should have done this sooner," Coley says, grasping at Sonya's shirt while Sonya kisses a trail along her jaw.
"We're doing it now. Isn't that enough?"
Before when Sonya used to sleep over, Coley would lie still on her side of the bed, terrified that she would wake to find herself curled around Sonya – and when that never happened, a tiny part of her would always be disappointed.
Now there's no fear, no disappointment, just the heady rush of contact.
"Yeah, of course," Coley murmurs, slipping her hands under Sonya's shirt, pulling her closer. "You'll always be enough."
"So what do you think?" Sonya asks, fiddling with the strap of the guitar. "I mean, I'm still learning. I'm not that great yet."
Coley puts down her notebook and pen; she bought the notebook for schoolwork, but she's already filling it with doodles of patterns that keep resolving themselves into Sonya's likeness. "Are you kidding? You sound awesome." It might be a slight exaggeration. Sonya kept hesitating as she picked out the chords and one of them sounded completely wrong, but she's been teaching herself how to play guitar for three months and this is the first time she's let Coley hear her play. It's the first time she's let anyone hear her play.
"Did you recognize it?" Sonya asks, studying the grain of her guitar, running her long fingers along the wood and avoiding Coley's gaze altogether.
"Um," Coley says, which is not the right thing to say, but she can't place the song at all.
"Never mind. I knew I wasn't any good."
"No, I just suck at this game."
Sonya looks at her like she's waiting for the penny to drop, and when it doesn't she says, "It's your favorite song."
"Wait, you learned how to play Taylor Swift for me?"
"It's not that big a deal."
"You hate Taylor Swift."
Sonya shrugs, looking a little embarrassed. "Yeah, but I like you."
Coley walks over to where Sonya's sitting, feeling about fifteen feet tall, and she takes the guitar, sets it to one side, and sits on Sonya's lap. She kisses Sonya once, twice, just because she can. "You're the best girlfriend, you know that?"
"Oh, are we girlfriends?" Sonya teases, her words almost lost as she kisses Coley's neck, and Coley feels suddenly self-conscious.
"Um, I mean, unless you don't want –"
"Hey." Sonya cups Coley's face in her hands, looking at her directly, sincerely. "Of course that's what I want."
Summer vacation draws to a close. It always has to end. New supplies are bought, the perfect outfit is picked for the first day back, and before she knows it Coley is outside the school again, feeling her freedom seep away.
A hand slips into hers and Sonya is there, her girlfriend, and she places a lingering kiss on her cheek.
"Senior year is going to be the best ever," Sonya says, squeezing Coley's hand and leading her inside.
It sounds like a promise.