Lydia straightens the decorative vase on the middle of the table for exactly the 47th time, and Malia takes her hand before she can go back in for the 48th. Lydia huffs her frustration, but relents and lets Malia rub the tension out of her hands. She doesn’t say anything, knows it’s not worth it to argue, because Malia, without a word, is right again.
“I just want you to like her,” Lydia says when Malia gives Lydia back control of her hands. Her face is pinched and she looks like she would rather crawl into pajamas and hide away in bed. Malia doesn’t know why she doesn’t: it’s not like Allison has never seen her in pajamas before.
“Babe, relax,” Malia says, leaning in to kiss her. Lydia puts up a finger and points at her lipstick. “She’s already your girlfriend, Lydia,” Malia huffs. “You don’t have to impress her.” Lydia sniffs.
“Well, maybe you could have tried a little harder,” she snaps, and the second that Malia winces and pulls her hand back, Lydia regrets what came out of her mouth. “I’m sorry. I hate--”
“Being nervous, I know.”
“I love her. I love you. I want it to be…” Lydia waves her hands around in front of her face, scrambling for the right word, but nothing comes. “I want it to be good.” Malia opens her mouth to respond, but before she can, Allison’s using her key, the key that she has because this is her and Lydia’s apartment, and stepping inside.
Allison and Malia know of each other, but they don’t really hang out all that much. They run in different circles. Allison’s the Assistant Vice Principal at the local elementary school, spends her time at PTA meetings and teaching the Archery class at the Rec Center in town. Malia teaches a Zumba class there--that’s how she and Lydia met, while Lydia was sweaty and smiling and hopping along to the music. But Allison can only teach weekend classes, and Malia’s a full-time employee. It’s not because of lack of trying that they haven’t met yet, just bad timing.
But all of that timing is moot because now Allison’s tucking a spare lock of hair behind her ear and smiling big and bright at Lydia.
“Hey, Lyds,” she greets, and Lydia pops up to bounce into her arms. Malia watches them slot into each other’s arms and space. Malia recognizes the way that Lydia’s nose scrunches while she and Allison exchange quiet greetings. It’s Malia’s favorite thing about Lydia’s smile, the little wrinkles on the sides of her nose. Malia will never tell her about that; it’ll make Lydia obsess over it, but Malia watches Allison kiss Lydia on the nose and wonders if she likes it, too.
Malia looks down at her hands when staring at Allison gets to be uncomfortable, waiting. Lydia’s already told her the schedule: Allison will come home and then change out of her work clothes, and then they’ll have coffee and tea and talk. Lydia’s scheduling is not to be trifled with, especially not when she’s already on red alert. Malia closes her eyes and takes a deep breath in, trying to relax, to see herself as a permanent part of Lydia’s life, a part of Allison’s life, too.
“Nervous?” The unfamiliar voice in Malia’s ear makes her jump off of the couch, sending the vase that Lydia spent the last twenty minutes fixing careening off the table and toward the floor. Malia waits for the crash, but it never comes. When she opens her eyes, Allison’s holding the vase in her hands, smiling while she sets it back down on the table. She sets it back on the table in the exact same position that Lydia’s adjusted it to, and winks. “Once you start living with her, all the rules aren’t so scary.” Allison’s out of her business suit and in a soft, flowing dress with bell sleeves. It’s a wispy number that reminds Malia distantly of the seventies. She’s smiling the same soft, plump-cheeked smile that’s in most of the photos that Malia sees on Lydia’s phone, and the ones that are scattered across the apartment.
“I’m Allison,” she introduces, and steps forward to shake Malia’s hand.
“Malia.” Allison nods and sits down on the sofa next to her. There’s enough space between the two of them that they’re obviously not quite touching, just a hair too far apart to be comfortable with each other.
Allison looks over at Malia, at the short, dramatic haircut that makes the angles of her face look sharp and vivid, and she can see how Lydia loves her. She’s sitting quietly on the couch, obeying all of Lydia’s rules, but Allison can see under the surface where Malia is itching to do something. Whenever Lydia tells stories about Malia, they’re snappy and faced-paced, and Lydia never leaves out the quick-witted comments, the snark. They’re well-matched in that way, and Allison is glad. She loves to pick and tease with Lydia, but over little things that blow over in a second. Lydia’s always telling stories about how close she and Malia have come to either fighting or fucking in public, and while Allison loves to have fun, exhibitionism has never been on her list of fun things.
Malia clears her throat, and Allison realizes that she’s been staring. “Sorry,” she says, flopping back against the couch. The sound of the tea kettle comes from the kitchen, and she hears Lydia arranging tea cups and coffee mugs on the tray, each item clinking down onto the counter with purpose.
“It’s okay. I am sleeping with your girlfriend.” Malia shrugs, and then they both laugh, just a little uncomfortable chuckle, but it’s enough. The tension bleeds out of both of their shoulders, which makes them both laugh a little harder. They quiet down into little titters, and Malia turns her knees in so that she can face Allison a little better. She mirrors the movement, stopping when their knees brush.
“Is that all it is? Sleeping with her?” Malia opens her mouth, and then shuts it again. “It’s okay, that’s not a trick question.” Lydia comes back into the room then, carrying three mugs on a tray. There’s sugar and milk for Allison’s tea, and flavored creamer for the coffee. Allison thanks her with a smile and dumps her milk into the tea. “Lydia’s her own woman; she’s perfectly capable of deciding who she wants to be intimate with. I just want to know if that’s all it is.” Allison’s tone is so light and breezy, like she doesn’t mind having this conversation at all. The last of the guilt that Malia thought she might have felt leaves her body, and she accepts her mug of coffee with a quiet, mumbled thank you.
“Well?” Lydia asks, dropping into the easy chair to the right of Malia.
“You know how I feel about you,” Malia says, reaching out to stroke Lydia’s knee with her thumb.
“I know. But I like to make you say it.”
“And I’ve never heard it before,” Allison pipes up. Malia turns a teasing glare on her that Allison returns with a bright smile. No wonder she never gets in trouble.
“We’re waiting.” Malia squirms in her seat, uncomfortable under the gaze of her girlfriend and her lover. She takes a deep drink of her coffee before setting down the mug.
“Allison,” she says, turning to face her. “We don’t know each other, not more than the stories I hear and the pictures I see. But I know that you make Lydia happy. And I don’t ever want to get in the way of that. She loves you, and obviously you love her, too. My hope is that in whatever happens, we don’t...get in the way of each other’s love.” Allison nods, her smile smaller, but earnest. She reaches out a hand tentatively and pats Malia on the leg before putting her hand back into her lap. Malia’s smile lights up her face, and she exhales the rest of her breath and turns to Lydia.
Lydia’s waiting patiently, but her fingers grip the throw pillow in her lap and she’s leaning forward like she can’t wait to hear the way that Malia says ‘I love you.’ Whenever Lydia really wants to hear something, her right eyebrow rises just above the left one, and Malia sees it quivering just underneath the swoop of her bangs. The silence extends until Malia can’t take watching Lydia try her best not to squirm anymore.
“Lydia,” Malia says, and it’s the strongest she’s ever felt, like her voice couldn’t fail her now if she wanted it to. Her hand reaches down into the back pocket of her jeans, toying with the fabric of the pocket. “I love you. I love your laugh and your eyes and your kisses and your attitude. I love your freedom. I don’t even know her, but I could love Allison if it meant that I could keep loving you. I love that you make me feel like I get to have a little taste of something I don’t deserve every day. Watching you walk into my Zumba class is the second happiest day of my life.” Lydia’s enthralled by Malia’s speech, hanging on every word until the word ‘second’. Lydia sniffs and lifts her nose up just enough that she’s not eye level with Malia anymore, and Allison straightens on Malia’s left, waiting.
“What do you mean second happiest day of your life?” Lydia asks cautiously. Malia’s grin only spreads as she slides off of the couch, onto one knee.
“Oh my God,” Allison squeals, and she scrambles over the back of the couch and down the hall. She comes back moments later with her phone and starts snapping pictures of Lydia’s face: jaw dropped and tears in the corners of her eyes while she stares at Malia in front of her.
“Well, I always wanted my wedding to take the cake,” Malia says, pulling the ring out of her back pocket. The silver band twists, cascading small diamonds around the central diamond. When Lydia sees it, she lifts one hand to her mouth and sniffles while Malia takes Lydia’s left hand in hers. Allison gets it on film. “Lydia Martin, with your partner as my witness, will you let our wedding day be the happiest day of my life?” Allison stifles a quiet sob from behind them, and Lydia and Malia tear their eyes away from each other to where Allison is dutifully holding her phone to record the moment, but is crying in earnest.
“Ally?” Lydia asks, terrified to have what she hasn’t even said yes to yet ripped away from her. Allison nods and chokes back another sob.
“Are-aren’t you going to say yes?” Allison asks, wiping her face off on the gossamer fabric of her dress. Lydia frowns.
“I--but...Allison, you’re crying.”
“That’s because it was beautiful. I’m gonna say yes if you don’t, and she didn’t even propose to me!” Malia lets out a loud, wet laugh, and that sets the three of them off, laughing and crying and trembling until they can catch their breath. When all of the attention is back on her, Lydia offers Malia her hand.
“Yes. A million times, yes.” Then they kiss, with Lydia scooping Malia’s cheek into her palm and dropping down to her own knees so they can kiss on the same level. Allison cheers and applauds until they break apart with red-rimmed eyes and happy hearts. Once Allison puts her phone away, promising to upload the video onto Facebook as soon as she edits her ugly crying out of it, she wraps up Lydia in her arms and whispers into her hair how happy she is for her, how beautiful of a bride she’s going to make, and how excited Allison is to watch it all happen.
They end up on the couch hours later with Italian takeout, a bottle of red, and Lydia’s favorite romantic comedies. Lydia sits sandwiched between her girlfriend and her fiance until she gives up on pretending to stay awake. Allison ends up with Lydia’s thighs in her lap and Malia gets the mound of strawberry-blonde hair in hers, and she strokes through it absently while she and Allison exchange some of the other little pieces of their hearts.