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best friends don’t have to pretend

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-

 

The first time Gabby kisses Liv, her lips are dry and cracked and her palms are so sweaty she has to wipe them on her skirt. They've just got one over on Charity - fucking Charity, of all people - and Gabby’s high on it. Her blood is buzzing and it’s Liv, all right? It's Liv.

Liv who is staring at her, eyes wide.

“Sorry,” Gabby blurts out.

“Just because my brother’s gay doesn't mean I am,” Liv says. “Anyway, you and Jacob-”

They're off at the moment, but Gabby doesn't know if she has the words to explain that off for the moment isn't off like, she's just hurt his feelings and he's hurt hers and they’ll be back together in a week; it's off like, Gabby took a bus to Hotten and went to a Youth Pride meeting and something in her bones went oh.

“I'm not a lesbian,” Liv says. “I know I like working in the scrapyard and I know I always punch people for ya because Jacob and Noah are shit at that, but it doesn't mean-” but she’s looking at Gabby, her eyes bright in the moonlight, and there's something speculative in the curl of her mouth and the way she reaches up to tuck Gabby's hair behind her ears.

“Doesn't have to mean anything,” Gabby says. “We’re mates.”

“You sure?” Liv asks, drifting closer to Gabby, like a moth, like a butterfly. “I don't want things getting weird. You're my best mate.”

“They won't,” Gabby promises, instead of they already are, instead of I dreamed about you last night.

Liv nods and leans in. Liv does everything in short bursts: brilliant, impulsive, like a star exploding. Of course that's how she'd kiss.

 

-

 

Gabby doesn't know when Liv became her best friend. Somewhere between the First Incident With The Pineapple, relayed to Gabby by a horrified Jacob, and the time that Liv had to pull Gabby out of one of the barns at Home Farm cause they got drunk and accidentally set it on fire. (Gabby has a scar on her right ankle where they hit a fence. It was fucking mental. Honestly, what did anyone expect?)

Liv’s just - she’s easy to get. Not for most people, who look at Liv and think she’s like, dangerous or something - cause she dresses like she is, fuck-off leather jackets and trackies, switched out with barely-there miniskirts when they sneak into town, and this fucking scowl that can stop Charity Dingle in her tracks on a good day - but for Gabby she’s easy, an open book.

 

Gabby doesn’t know the first time she thought about kissing Liv. But she's been dreaming about it for months and the idea of it - of Liv, holding her hand - feels as vivid, as brightly lit and real, as anything in the world.

Here’s the thing: Liv works in short bursts, explosions.

Gabby thinks long-term. She’s not sure who she gets it from, because it’s not her mum and um, for obvious reasons, probably not her dad. Useful, though.

Especially now she has Liv to stop her getting bogged down in the details. Anytime Gabby is stuck she goes to Liv and Liv says, “Just do it, Gabby,” while she rolls her eyes, and that’s - surprisingly effective, most of the time.

Which is Liv for you in a nutshell, really. Surprisingly effective.

 

-

 

staying over at livs, Gabby texts. Not that her mum really makes much of an effort these days; guilt about dad, guilt about Lawrence, guilt about Lachlan. There's just so much guilt in this village, sometimes Gabby just wants to pack a bag and get on a bus and never come back.

Robert, who is Liv’s brother’s boyfriend slash husband slash whatever terms they’re on this week is on the sofa when they get in, with a blanket draped over him and his face all scrunched up. He looks unhappy, as normal.

Liv puts her finger to her lips but Gabby knows the drill; it’s not exactly the first time.

They creep up the stairs to Liv’s bedroom; normally Gabby just crams herself into the bed next to Liv but this time she pauses, rocking up onto her toes and back down again.

“What's he done this time?” Gabby asks, wraps her arms around her stomach.

Liv’s going through her dresser; she fishes out a Liverpool t-shirt and tosses it to Gabby. “Dunno,” she says. “Sommat shady.”

Gabby laughs. “Shouldn’ta got caught.”

Liv shrugs. “Good cover for me,” she says. “If Robert wants to take that aggro, he can have it.”

Gabby turns her back, skims out of her skirt and pulls the tshirt over her head. Drops her bra on her pile of clothes and kicks it to the corner.

Liv’s in bed, face sideways smushed into her pillow. “Hurry up and get in,” she says.

“Just getting the light,” Gabby says defensively.

She turns it out and crawls into the blankets next to Liv and Liv’s ankle brushes against hers, warm. Her heart’s going a mile a minute.

“Think quieter,” Liv says.

“Okay,” Gabby says, and shuts her eyes.

 

-

 

Jacob and Gabby understand each other, mostly. They did hate each other for a good long while, but they live in the tiniest village; of course they ended up back together. It’s like being made of elastic, the way they leave and come back to each other.

It’s sort of nice, Gabby thinks, sometimes. To know that Jacob’s always gonna be there, in the shop.

(Unless he’s in Portugal.

When Gabby was fifteen they had a terrible breakup about Jacob going to Portugal for the summer and she threw a pineapple at him right in the middle of the shop. Liv nicked a bottle of rum from the Woolie and they threw up on Aaron’s sofa.

Robert made them clean it up. Robert’s a mean arsehole sometimes.)

Jacob is who Gabby went to, after her dad.

He’s good. He just-  he’s quiet in a way that Liv isn’t. He has this way of breathing, sometimes, that when Gabby listens to it just calms her right down.

Jacob isn’t like Gabby and Noah and Liv; he doesn’t wear his damage like armour, not any more. He makes her feel like she doesn’t need to lash out, all the time. It’s nice, kind of, to think that she’s got someone she can protect. She thinks that might be how Liv feels about Noah.

 

For the longest time, she was pretty sure they would get married. She guesses she’s grown up some because now the idea of it is unthinkable.

 

-

 

They stumble down for breakfast, dressed in school uniform, backpacks over their shoulders. Gabby’s hair is a bit of a tornado but she thinks she’s put on enough mascara that she ought to be all right. Liv seems to have taken the same approach, except she put too much on her lower lashes and now it’s making little raccoon smudges that she has to swipe at with her thumbs.

“Hiya, Gabby,” Aaron says. He’s next to Robert but they’re not touching, which means they’ve made up but not actually forgiven each other yet. It’s embarrassing that Gabby’s been round enough to be able to tell. “Didn't realise you were in for breakfast.”

“Got in late last night,” says Liv, sitting down at the kitchen table across from Aaron. “Didn't wanna wake you up.”

“I need a word with you,” Robert says, pointing at Liv with a folded-up newspaper. His hair is standing up in little irritated tufts. “D’you know anything about a call I got from Charity just now?”

“Uh, why would I,” says Liv, rolling her eyes. “She's a nutter.”

“A nutter who’s saved your neck about ten times,” says Aaron mildly, buttering a piece of toast. “Coffee, Gabs?”

“Cheers, Aaron.” She sits down and steals a piece of toast. They’ve always got a mountain of it here, anyway, between Liv and Aaron they could eat a horse.

“Reckons she’s got a Ferrari that’s gone missing.” Robert says. “A Ferrari.

Liv squints at him. “And what am I supposed to have done with it?”

“What do you think?” Robert asks, but he sighs and unfolds the newspaper. “Anyway, I asked what she wanted with a Ferrari round here, and that shut her right up.”

“Cheers, Rob,” Liv says. “See, I tell everyone you’re not as annoying as you look.” She takes an apple from the bowl on the table. “We’ve got to go, c’mon, Gabs.”

“Where are you going?” Aaron squints suspiciously. Honestly, Gabby’s met her and Liv, she can’t even really blame him.

“Uh, school,” Liv says, glaring. She’s got a good glare. Solid. “It’s a Friday. That means, school.”

“Cause you never wag,” Robert observes; Aaron and Liv both glare at him so he ducks back behind his newspaper.

“How’re you gonna get there?”

“Bus?” Liv rolls her eyes.

“D’you want a lift?” Aaron puts milk in his coffee and sips at it carefully, then adds more.

“To the bus stop?”

“I guess to school if you want.”

“It’s right outside, Aaron, don’t you have a job to go to?”

Aaron makes a face. “D’you have money for lunch?” He fishes through his pockets, produces a crumpled up tenner and extends it.

Aaron, ” Robert sighs, lowering the newspaper to glare indiscriminately at both of them.

“Cheers,” Liv says, grabbing it, and does a runner.

“Better go, then,” Gabby says, getting up. “Thanks for breakfast, have a nice day!”

“Are you in for tea?” Aaron asks, trailing off as Gabby shuts the door behind her.

 

“Shoot me if I ever get like that,” Liv says, waiting for Gabby on the front step.

“Yeah, only if you do me first,” Gabby says.

They high five.

Gabby thinks that means they’re okay. She bites her lip and adjusts her backpack on her shoulders and feels a little lighter in her step.

 

-

 

Noah moved in with Liv and Aaron for like, three months, two years ago. There was some weird drama with Charity and Cain and Chas and possibly drugs? Nothing told Gabby much about it, and Liv tried eavesdropping but even Aaron and Robert didn’t know that much. Anyway, it was enough.

Liv and Noah have a lot in common, when Gabby thinks about it: no dad, fucked up mum, Dingles. Liv looks after Noah like he’s her little brother, but like, a little brother she likes; in turn, Gabby sometimes catches Noah looking at Liv like she’s hung the moon. Once, Liv and Charity had a row about Noah in the middle of the Woolie and Aaron had to pick Liv up and take her home. It was mint.

Dingles are weird, is what Jacob said when Gabby was confused about it, and Liv beamed at the idea of being considered a Dingle, so Jacob and Gabby had to not talk about it around her.

But it’s definitely a weird Dingle loyalty thing. Gabby’s glad she doesn’t have to do that, because one time she dropped Arthur down a well and felt bad about it, but not like, Dingle bad, or anything. Dingles are like Sarah-from-Labyrinth invested.

 

Noah’s all right, anyway. Gabby didn’t have that much to do with him before he moved in with Liv that time - he and Jacob are friends, but it’s more about being boys of the same age in the smallest, most dangerous village in the Dales than actual affinity - but he’s all right. Bit of a disaster, the half of him-and-Jacob liable to get done for smashing something up, always who you go to if you wanna find something that isn’t exactly legal, but a right laugh, despite being two years younger. He’s got spiky blonde hair, like a negative image of a hedgehog, and one time at school Tim whatever was all up in Gabby’s face and Noah just charged right in and smashed him, even though he hadn’t hit his growth spurt yet and they weren’t even proper friends yet, anyway.

 

She likes that someone is there to punch people for Jacob. Jacob tries, but he’s all stringy. And Noah’s great when you need something to do.

And she’d worry about him if he disappeared.

Mostly because he’d definitely have gotten in with a gang or something equally stupid, but it’s all right, he’s not going anywhere. Even if Gabby has to throttle Charity Dingle herself.

 

-

 

Jacob meets them at the stop, backpack slung over one shoulder, tie half-heartedly knotted, hanging loosely at the base of his throat. “Hiya,” he says. It’s almost summer, so his nose has freckled. “I packed snacks.”

Liv pulls her phone out of her pocket, squints down at the screen and swipes her thumb across it. “It’s Noah,” she says, by way of explanation, then tucks it against her ear. “Hey man, how’s it going?” She picks up her pace as she walks; she does that, gets animated on the phone.

 

Gabby falls back, bumping her shoulder against Jacob’s.

“All right?” Jacob asks.

“Kissed Liv last night,” Gabby says, sticking her hands in her skirt pockets. It’s Jacob; she shouldn’t feel nervous like this, wound up, twisted.

Jacob raises an eyebrow. “And how’d that go?”

“Dunno,” Gabby says. “Guess I’m definitely not straight though.”

“That’s something,” Jacob says. “And - Liv?”

Gabby sighs. “We’re best friends, and I’ve got no idea what’s happening in her head half the time, lately.” They crunch through a field of dry grass, loud and smelling of summer. “Is that - sorry, is this weird for you?”

Jacob laughs. “Not that weird,” he says. “We do live in Emmerdale, Gabs, get over yourself.”

Something tight in her chest eases up. “I s’pose that’s fair,” she says.

 

-

 

The Ferrari is parked out behind Wylie’s. Noah’s sitting cross-legged on the hood, wearing sunglasses and an obnoxious yellow hoodie. His hair’s got no gel in it for once; Gabby likes him better like this, when he’s softer, when he’s not trying to fight half the village. She’d never admit it in a minute, though.

They only have one soft member of their group and that’s Jacob.

Liv ruffles his hair, hello . Liv and Noah are close, which is weird to Gabby, who’s fucking done with Arthur and Arthur’s like, her actual brother.

“Mum’s gone mental,” Noah says, smirking. “Can’t tell Cain about it, either, can she? Supposed to be on the level.”

“Hard life,” Jacob deadpans.

“Went off without a hitch,” Liv says, grinning at Gabby.

“We’re a good team,” Gabby says. “Got good information.”

“You’re welcome,” says Noah, smugly. “We’ve got to get it to Hotten tomorrow by three if we want any money for it.”

“Gives us a whole day,” says Jacob. Jacob, who is usually the least happy about scheming, but has picked up some bad habits. Gabby’s favourite activity is being bollocked by David Metcalfe for leading Jacob astray.

“Don’t perv,” Gabby says. She slides her bag off her shoulder and fishes for the change of clothes she brought - just shorts and a vest. “Jake, you better, I’m not getting dragged back to school by some good Samaritan.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jacob says.

“I’ll keep a lookout,” says Noah, and they all get changed right there in the middle of the field.

Liv pulls on jeans and looks over at Gabby, as she stretches her arms to pull her shirt over her head.

Gabby winks. “We’re car thieves now,” she says. “How does that feel?”

“Oi,” Jacob says. “I’m innocent, here.”

“Yeah, yeah, buttercup,” Gabby says, throwing her uniform skirt at him. “Love you too.”

 

-

 

Liv’s the best driver out of them, which isn’t saying much because Liv treats the rules of the road like she treats any obstacle: as something to be run at with sufficient force and impressive speed. They put the top down and Jacob says, “If we die this is on you,” and Liv says, “Yeah, all right, agreed,” and then puts her foot down.

The sun’s bright and the music’s loud so Gabby stretches out her feet and pulls out her hand mirror and paints on her reddest lipstick. She feels like she could fight the world. That’s easy, in a car this fast, with friends this good.

With Liv.

Liv is looking at her out of the corner of her eye. Little flickers. Like a fish in a creek in high summer, darting round your ankles. Close enough to touch; then gone again.

 

-

 

It’s a beautiful day. Hot and dry, sun all the way up and beaming right down on Gabby’s shoulders and Liv’s bright hair.

They get out onto open road and Liv pulls over; “Noah, d’you want a go?” And of course Noah does, so they screech down too fucking fast and Gabby hangs out the window, yelling, because there’s nobody else here and she’s so happy she could burst.

 

-

 

Gabby does love Arthur. He's hers. Her little brother; hers to keep, hers to be horrible to. But she loves him in a way that's complicated, not like Liv and Noah and their bare loyalty. Maybe more like Liv loves Aaron, even though she lies to him to protect him and they row all the time because he does the same for her.

 

Arthur's little and they don't have the same mum and for the longest time he was just a burden, right? But they've got this thing in common, their dad. And it used to make Gabby feel sick and angry and maybe that's why she doesn't see him as much as she should. She thinks it's the same for him.

Everyone says you get closer in times of crisis but look, sometimes you just don't.

 

He's her brother, and she loves him. But they don't live in the same world and that's all right. It has to be.

 

-

 

The beach is beautiful, sunny and packed. Jacob passes round cordial and packets of crisps and Liv and Gabby go get some cans with Liv’s fake and they sprawl out on the sand and dare each other to go in the water.

Liv’s getting sunburnt.

Gabby pokes the tip of her nose with a finger. “You’re burning,” she says.

“Just that hot,” says Liv. She grins, and leans forward and -

They’re kissing, just soft, just careful, and Liv tastes like beer and sour cherries, and when Gabby reaches down Liv’s hand is there to meet hers. Her fingers bump against Liv’s, light at first, but then Liv takes hold of her, and holds tight.

There are all these people round them but it doesn’t matter. It’s just -

“This is really nice,” Liv says, quietly. “I didn’t know it could be like this.”

“You’re my best mate,” Gabby says. It’s the only way she knows how to explain it.

But Liv nods, and kisses her again.

 

“Oi,” Jacob says. “We brought you ice cream.”

Liv startles, but doesn’t pull away.

Gabby flips him off but takes her ice cream. Mint chip, her favourite. “Knew you were good for something.”

 

-

 

Most everyone’s left; it’s just the four of them on this drag of the beach. Noah’s pulled a spliff out of somewhere and they’re just sitting round with their legs out on a big piece of driftwood, passing the joint.

Gabby’s got three missed calls from her mum.

She turns her phone off.

 

-

 

“Debs had a girlfriend for a bit,” says Noah. “Remember? Your cousin Jasmine. It was a mess.”

“Cheers,” says Gabby. “Love when you tell stories about family drama, Noah, definitely brings the mood right up.”

She doesn't think much about Jasmine. Jasmine's part of Dad's side of the family. They don't really talk. 

Liv tenses up next to her.

Intellectually, Gabby knows that kissing girls and going to jail are not actually linked anymore. And Jasmine's fine, now. But it's just - better if she doesn't think about it. 

Noah shrugs. “Liv's not a Dingle, though,” he says. “I reckon you’d be a lot less sloppy.”

“We’re not gonna be anything,” Liv says, putting her arm round Gabby’s shoulders. “We’re just us, all right?”

Noah sticks up both his hands. “Whatever,” he says. “Just trying to be nice.”

Liv rolls her eyes. “Do one.”

“Jasmine was fit,” Noah says. “That’s what everyone says, anyway.”

“You were like, six,” Jacob says. “Stop perving on Gabby's cousin, this is why Ella Brown threw that egg at you.”

“She did that cause she’s up herself, didn’t she,” grumbles Noah. “Dunno why I even bothered.”

“Cause she’s a nine and you’re a five and you were hoping, weren’t you,” says Jacob.

“Ouch,” Gabby says.

Noah tackles him and they roll around drunk, in the sand, until they get tired and just lie there instead.

Gabby leans into Liv’s shoulder and Liv sighs and presses a kiss to Gabby’s temple. “We okay?”

“Yeah,” Gabby says. “I am if you are.”

“Yeah,” Liv says. “Gabby-”

“I’m fine,” Gabby says. “I promise.”

 

-

 

When Gabby was thirteen, they moved into Home Farm and Gabby thought at the very least, she might get a pony out of it. She had always wanted a pony.

Instead, Gabby got a loser step-nephew and a horrible step-sister older than Gabby’s mum. And that would have all right, except: Gabby’s dad told them he had early-onset vascular dementia.

So that’s something.

 

Two years ago today is when he left.

She’s being selfish. She should be with her family; with Arthur sullenly refusing to talk to anyone, with Laurel crying and crying and crying while Gabby’s mum pretends she’s got everything under control. But she’s sick of crying and feeling useless and the sun is up and the air is clear, and Gabby gets to kiss her best friend and eat ice cream. Why would she want to go home?

 

-

 

They sober up and pour back into the car.

“Could go home,” Liv says. Her mascara’s smudged a little and her hair is curling from the salt. Gabby’s kissed her so many times, she feels like she’s in a dream.

“Rather not,” Noah says. He’s lying sideways in the back, with his head on Jacob’s thigh. Jacob is petting his hair.

“Yeah,” Gabby says. “D’you - how about the lake?” The one where Victoria Sugden almost drowned, that Christmas. They’ve got a tent up there hidden in a tree, and sometimes Gabby just goes and sleeps out there when she hates everything too much.

(She lost her virginity to Jacob in that tent. It was a pretty bad time. Except it’s Jacob Gallagher and she does love him. But there was a rainstorm and they almost got flooded out and drowned and then Lawrence tried to get in a fight with David and had a heart attack and - mess, basically.)

“Still have some cans there from last time,” Jacob says. “And marshmallows, I think. Liv?”

“As long as Charity doesn’t try to kill us,” Liv says. “Eh, Noah?”

He flips her off. “She still thinks I’m useless,” he says, faintly bitter like he always is, “bet you a tenner she’s off at Ross’ throat, like always.”

“Might be Robert’s,” Liv offers mildly, making eye contact with him in the mirror to laugh.

Gabby rolls her eyes at Jacob; he rolls his back. Gabby used to think it might be fun to have sketchy parents. Then she became friends with Noah and Liv.

 

-

 

It’s late. The moon is up. The trees are dark as they pick their way through; they’re not amateurs, they wiped the car of prints and left it in an old storage shed nobody uses.

Jacob kneels to put the kindling together and Noah pulls the tent down from the tree, sets it up.

Liv pulls out her cigarettes, lights up. “You want one?”

“Terrible habit,” Gabby deadpans, “gonna kill ya.” She takes Liv’s, instead, and blows smoke into her face gently.
Like a kiss. Not quite.

 

-

 

Liv and Noah go off to find more wood. Not a euphemism; the fire’s low. They probably want to talk about stealing the car, anyway, out of Jacob’s earshot so he doesn’t get skittish. Noah had to be home for cover purposes but it was pretty mint as far as stealing stuff goes. Gabby hasn’t done it much, but it was a good time, she could get used to it.

 

“Gabs,” Jacob says, feeding the fire carefully.

“I miss my dad,” she says, stretching her fingers out close to the flames. Not quite touching. Like Liv, sometimes, but mostly Liv is holdable, these days.

“David said you could come round for tea,” Jacob says, bumping his knee against hers. “But I said probably not.”

“Cheers,” Gabby says. “Could be persuaded if Leyla makes that thing with the mince.”

“Nobody likes that,” Jacob says. “Maybe later, then?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Gabby says. “When David stops hating me.”

Jacob laughs. “So never.”

Gabby kisses his cheek. “Pretty much.”

He tosses a leaf onto the fire. “Gabs-”

“I just miss him,” she says. “There’s nowt else to say, Jake. Leave it, yeah?”

He sighs. “Love you.”

“Love you too.”

 

-

 

Once Gabby was at Laurel’s, babysitting. Liv came round and they ate crisps Liv had pinched from the Woolie and ignored Arthur, which is what you're supposed to do, really, but Arthur whined so Liv played catch with him and they almost broke a vase.

Later, Liv went home and Arthur looked at Gabby with his big pale eyes, and she just got this feeling, like, overwhelming. Like she just wanted to hug him.

“I'm sorry,” she said, into his hair.

“It’s okay,” he said.

It was -  she didn’t really know what had happened. But it was all right.

 

-

 

“You all right?” Liv says, wrapping her arms around Gabby and hugging her tight for a second, before sitting down next to her.

“Yeah,” Gabby says, leaning her shoulder against Liv’s. “I’m all right.”

Liv looks at her, long and careful, and then takes her hand and squeezes. “You know I’m never going anywhere.”

“Yeah,” Gabby says. “I do.” She tucks her face  into Liv’s shoulder. “I should go see my brother.”

Liv kisses her hair. “Yeah?”

She swallows. “Yeah. Will you - be here when I get back?”

Jacob looks up from the fire he’s poking with a stick; Noah’s asleep, head pillowed on his thigh. He blinks, twice.

Gabby tilts her head sideways to look at Liv.

“Yeah,” Liv says, looking down at her, all clear eyes, with the fire reflecting in them. “Course I will.”