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Blue wasn’t sure exactly how she’d ended up in this situation.

Perhaps it was fate, manipulating her into place so that it could finally pull its promised string. Or perhaps it was just happenstance and her own teenage temperament.

Nose-to-nose and breath-to-breath with Cialina in the dark, Blue preferred the latter explanation. Fate wasn’t welcome here tonight.

She saw two outcomes. Have her first kiss with a beautiful girl, or kill her where she stood.

Normally, Blue would say it wasn’t worth the risk. But tonight, it sort of felt like it was.

***

It had started with a three-hour card reading. As usual, Blue had been called in for ‘just a few minutes’ to clarify a reading, and far be it for Blue to deprive her family of her powerful presence. What was a few minutes out of her day to help them discern a sliver of the future, to solidify whatever answer they sought?

But it wasn’t a few minutes. Time and magic interacted oddly, stretching seconds to hours as she sat with one hand on her mom’s shoulder, one hand on Persephone’s wrist, and her bare ankle tossed on top of Calla’s knee. It was not a comfortable position to hold, physically or mentally. It was frustrating. It was boring. It was more than she had agreed to. She had more to do in life than just be their amplifier, and she thought up a dozen ways to tell them that after they came out of their card-reading trance, each way meaner than the last.

To be fair, they’d apologized. Repeatedly. But it didn’t matter at that point – Blue’s bad mood had taken root.

She had to rush to get ready for her shift at Nino’s, which was probably the only place she wanted to be less than the reading room. She had to haphazardly slap clips into her hair to make herself even halfway presentable, and she dripped toothpaste on her shirt. With no time to change, she darted straight to her bike, and the pedal snapped off as soon as she put her foot on it.

With frustrated scream muffled into her fist, she dragged herself back into the house and shouted, “Who here can spare ‘just a few minutes’ to drive me to my minimum wage hellhole?”

Orla was the only one who wasn’t preoccupied, and she agreed with the kind of fuss that made it sound like Blue owed her a firstborn for this ‘favor.’ Then they had to listen to Orla’s favorite 70s grooves the entire way, which was enough to ruin even Blue’s best mood.

She was fourteen minutes late to Nino’s, which wasn’t usually a huge problem. But it was Friday night and, as usual, Nino’s was being run by nincompoops who didn’t know how to schedule their employees effectively. Cialina was working the weekend dinner rush singlehandedly.

To her credit, Cialina was a skillful multitasker and dealt with the raven boys better than Blue had ever been able to. Usually, she flirted them into something more cooperative than their usual obnoxious selves, and she didn’t seem to mind it. They’re pigs, but damn, do they tip, she always said with a shrug when Blue expressed her own disgust at everything about them. I make double what you make working the same shift because I put on a push-up bra and talk like a Barbie.

Even without a push-up bra and a Barbie voice, Cialina would’ve earned plenty of tips. She was really beautiful – taller than Blue, but not too tall for boys to like; darker-skinned than Blue, with a halo of natural curls entirely opposite of Blue’s unmanageable mop; thinner than Blue; a nicer smile than Blue, too, like Cialina had had braces at some point. If Blue were the type to be jealous of girls for being prettier than her, she definitely would’ve been jealous of Cialina.

Okay, well, maybe she was. Just a little. But mostly, they were friendly. Cialina had only started working at Nino’s a few weeks ago, but with her eagerness to take tables full of Aglionby students and Blue’s thorough disdain for the thought, they made a good team.

Blue finally made it inside, and Cialina looked at her like she’d arrived on the wings of angels rather than in a beaten minivan. With a dazzling smile, she greeted, “I could kiss you."

In retrospect, it was funny. At the time, Blue just sighed and tied on her apron. “Give me all the non-Aglionby tables,” she pleaded, and Cialina immediately dispatched her to deliver drinks.

If time dragged in the reading room, time bent back in on itself during Blue’s shift. All she had to mark time was tragedy after tragedy – a table that left without paying, a spilled drink on a customer, a spilled drink on herself, and not one but two misdelivered orders.

By the time the last customers left – twenty minutes to midnight, which was a full forty minutes after Nino’s technically closed – Blue was beyond done with this day. Just thinking about the fifteen-minute walk home made her want to cry.

“You need a milkshake,” Cialina said as they wiped down the last of the tables.

“I need a fourteen-hour nap,” Blue responded, although a milkshake wouldn’t hurt.

“That sounds more like a coma than a nap.”

“A coma could be refreshing right about now.”

“You need a milkshake,” Cialina repeated, and dropped her dishrag to go make Blue one. “Strawberry or chocolate?”

“Chocolate,” Blue said with defeat, “Thank you.”

“No problem, darlin’,” Cialina called from the back in her customer-service voice – the sugary sweet, over-accented, tip-earning one.

Blue rolled her eyes but found herself smiling just a little bit anyway.

Cialina returned with what could only be described as a bucket of milkshake. Rather than filling a Styrofoam cup, she’d filled a pint, usually used for takeout orders of soup.

“This is far more milkshake than any one human should ever consume,” Blue said, taking the giant beverage in both hands. Perhaps with their height difference, Cialina had failed to notice that this milkshake was half the size of Blue’s body.

“Good thing, then, that we’re gonna share.”

Splitting a heinous amount of milkshake with Cialina was a much more tempting option than walking home. Orla, despite being twenty-something, still slept like a teenager, and would likely still be awake if Blue headed straight there. Even Persephone would probably still be up – it was normally around midnight that she started to kick around the kitchen, making teas or tinctures to aid in her ability to write her endless thesis paper.

Usually, Blue liked it that way – she liked to come home to a few lights still on and someone to whine about her shift to. But tonight was not usual.

They closed up the store, shut off the lights, and sat against the hood of Cialina’s car. It was an odd color for a car, something between orange and brown, made odder by the fact that the only light came from a far-off streetlamp. Really, though, everything looked odd this late at night, when the world was more shadow than seen.

Blue slurped the milkshake, and then passed it to Cialina, who drank from the same straw. Blue didn’t mind, even though Cialina’s red lipstick left a faint stain behind.

“Where’s your bike?” Cialina asked, nodding to the empty bike rack.

Blue looked up at the stars and then let her eyes shut. “Broke.”

“Where’s your… That girl, who dropped you off?” Cialina’s Henrietta accent sounded rounder out here, free of the background noise of chattering customers. Comforting, lazy syllables in a quiet night.

“My cousin, Orla,” Blue said, sounding less annoyed than she thought she would. She couldn’t hold on to her anger at her family for too long – she was too grateful for them, too loved by them. “She’s home. Probably using the family phone for R-rated purposes.”

She gave a laugh – not the laugh of a girl trying to earn tips, but a genuine one. Her nose scrunched up when she let it. Blue thought it was a much nicer laugh than the one she gave the Aglionby boys. “So you do live with your whole family, then?”

“I can’t say for sure it’s the whole family, but there’s a whole bunch of them.”

“I heard you had three moms.”

It was Blue’s turn to laugh. Apparently, her family’s reputation had bled out of the walls of Mountain View and into the halls of Cialina’s art school, one town over. “Something like that.”

“Are they actually psychic?” she asked, sounding genuinely curious. It was a tone Blue hadn't ever heard from her - there wasn’t much about a typical shift at Nino’s that inspired the mind - but she respected it immediately.

“Yup,” Blue confirmed, bracing for whatever reaction Cialina might throw at her.

“Are you psychic?” she asked. Not the usual excitement or the usual skepticism – just more curiosity. Blue liked that.

“Nope,” she said.

“Bummer,” Cialina said, and sipped their shared milkshake.

Blue didn’t want to dwell on the fact that she was a tangential piece to her psychic family, a useful accessory without any functionality on her own. She’d done enough of that for one day. “Are you psychic?” she returned.

“Don’t think so,” Cialina said, smiling at the question. Blue warmed with satisfaction, like she’d been rewarded. “My figure drawing teacher read my palm once, though. She said I had ‘intuition,’ and that I’m gonna live to a hundred and twenty.”

They talked softly and laughed less softly, passing the milkshake back and forth, and then silence settled between them, surprisingly comfortable. Blue let her gaze fall toward Cialina; she was backlit by the streetlamp, looking like the cover for an indie album or something. The usual seed of envy Blue felt for her was nowhere to be found tonight.

Before Cialina could look back at her, Blue shifted her gaze again, to the treeline behind them. In the dark, it looked more like a wall than a forest, but it called to her anyway, like forests always did.

It was not a sensible thing, to want to go walk through the trees with Cialina in the dark. But the desire was there, real and tangible, and Blue didn’t want to wonder if it was a good idea. She just wanted to do it.

“Want to go in there?” Blue asked.

Cialina’s eyes skated toward the dark woods and then skated back, catching Blue’s. “Do you have a flashlight or something?”

“No.”

Cialina broke into a smile again, and Blue had to smile back. She said, “Sure.”

They left behind the milkshake, safe from the elements in Cialina’s front seat. They also left behind their aprons, and their keys, and all their good sense. And then they walked into the woods.

The dark from before was dwarfed by the dark now. Blue hadn’t realized how much light the stars had given them until they were gone, replaced by layers of overlapping branches. There was nothing but the rustle of wind, the sound of their breathing, and the crunch of twigs under their feet.

They walked side-by-side, picking their way slowly through trees. Blue kept a hand stretched out, brushing tree trunks as they wound passed, leaving Nino’s and Henrietta behind.

She already felt better. Cialina had been right – she didn’t need a coma. Just a milkshake, some company, and fresh air.

They’d only been walking for a minute when Cialina reached out and took Blue’s hand.

“Are you scared?” Blue asked – no judgment, just inquiry, pure and unfiltered.

“No,” Cialina said, and Blue believed her. Blue wasn’t scared, either.

They held hands as they walked, shuffling through and tugging each other out of paths that led directly into bushes or trees. Slowly, Blue’s eyes started to adjust – some shadows were darker than other shadows, and some stars did sneak through the treetops after all.

Blue was glad for this mostly-dark. She felt more authentic this way — braver, Bluer. Or maybe it was the trees, towering high above her like protective sentinels. Or maybe it was Cialina’s hand in hers.

Or maybe it was all of it. Maybe she was just happy.

Then Cialina’s cellphone rang, badly startling both of them. With her free hand, Cialina reached into her back pocket and held it out in front of her like it was something she’d never seen before. The fact that her phone had signal felt wrong. They’d only been walking for a few minutes and the woods weren’t all that deep anyway, but by night, it seemed like a whole different world.

“Who is it?” Blue asked.

Cialina flashed the uncomfortably bright screen at her and then squinted back down at it. (How was Cialina always beautiful? In Nino’s fluorescent lights, in the dim light of a streetlamp, in the harsh blueish glow of her phone screen? Blue felt unjustly targeted by her loveliness.) She gave a little sigh and twisted her lips to the side. “Don’t know the area code, so it’s probably a raven boy.” She rejected the call and put her phone away.

“Why do you even give the raven boys your number?” Blue asked.

“Boys add a digit or two to my tip when they see my digits on the check,” she said, “and they’re alright to make out with sometimes, you know?”

“I don’t know,” Blue assured, settling her back against a nearby tree. She swore she could feel the roots deep in the earth underneath her, thrumming like a pulse.

Cialina trailed after her, since Blue still hung on to her hand, and feigned surprise at her response. Teasing, she asked, “What? Raven boys aren’t your type?”

“They’re definitely not,” Blue said with a huff.

“...But?”

“But what?”

“’They’re definitely not,’ but,” Cialina insisted.

“They’re definitely not my type, but,” Blue allowed, “it doesn’t matter. I can’t kiss anyone, anyway.”

In the dark, confusion creased Cialina’s perfect brows. Blue looked away, focusing down on her feet and balancing on the thick roots of the tree. It boosted her up a few inches, so that she and Cialina were nearly the same height. “Why not?” Cialina asked, squeezing Blue’s hand and then lacing their fingers. Their hands fit well together.

“It’s a magic thing,” Blue said with a dismissive wave of her free hand. The safety of the darkness and the forest had made her unnecessarily honest – there was no reason to alienate Cialina with the bizarre curse she’d grown up with. But Cialina just waited patiently for an explanation.

Blue sighed. What’s the worst that happened? Cialina laughed at her? She hadn't laughed at any of the other ridiculous psychic stuff so far. “It’s a curse. All the psychics I’ve ever met – and that’s, like, a lot – have told me that if I kissed my true love, he’d die.”

Cialina frowned just slightly, and Blue resisted the urge to smooth away the crease on her forehead. “Well, that really sucks.”

Blue blew air out of her cheeks. “Yeah, for sure.”

“So you believe in it?”

“The curse? I guess so.”

“No – true love.”

“Oh.” Blue thought about it. The best she could come up with was, “Sometimes.”

Cialina gave an understanding nod and leaned back against the same tree as Blue, close together so their shoulders both fit against the tree trunk, hands still clasped between them. Through the smells of the forest, Blue could now pick up something else – Cialina, smelling like pizza from their shift, but also just a little like rose and lily. Whatever perfume she used, it was exquisite. “So you don’t kiss anyone?” Cialina continued. “Just in case?”

Blue hummed agreement.

In the darkness, Cialina’s eyes sparkled with something. A little bit of rebellion, maybe. Blue was momentarily distracted from their conversation. She wanted to see more of that shine, whatever it was. “What’s the curse say? Exactly?”

“If I was to kiss my true love,” Blue intoned, the words she’d heard all too many times, “he would die.”

Cialina took a moment and then spoke again, slowly, curiosity sprouting into something surer. “So you don’t kiss any boys because any one of them might be your true love.”

“Right,” Blue confirmed. Then she tested, “…But?”

“But…” Cialina agreed, and continued, “You could kiss a girl, couldn’t you? The curse says ‘he’ will die. So you only have to worry about accidentally killing boys.”

It’d be a lie if Blue said she’d never considered that before. The way she saw it, there were two interpretations: Maybe Cialina was right, and her true love was a boy, and that meant that she was safe to kiss as many girls as she wanted because none of them would be The One. But maybe the curse was just assuming that her true love would be a boy.

She’d wanted to ask her mom for clarification at least a dozen times, but she was never able to get the question out of her mouth. She wasn't even sure if she wanted to kiss a girl. She’d spent so much time resolving herself that she was never going to kiss anyone that, presented with every option, she didn't what she'd want. Who she'd want. Henrietta hadn’t given her a lot of opportunity to figure it out.

But this wasn’t Henrietta. This was a pocket of woods in a separate world, nothing but warm darkness and the two of them. And there was Cialina, like a carefully posed question, holding her hand and smelling like spring flowers.

“I don’t know,” Blue said finally.

“Are you that worried I might be your true love?” Cialina asked, a little laugh on her lips.

“I… don't know,” Blue admitted once again. She did quite like holding Cialina’s hand. She did quite like Cialina’s laugh, her smile, the twinkle of mischief in her eyes. Blue wasn’t certain what exactly a crush felt like, and she didn’t think this was that, but… It was something, maybe. If nothing else, it was dangerous intrigue, bright like fire and just as deadly.

“Well,” Cialina said, rolling up on her shoulder and shrinking the space between her and Blue even further. “I don’t think I die tonight.” She said it so simply that Blue couldn’t argue it. She didn’t think Cialina died tonight, either. Death was something you felt coming, surely, especially in her family. Cialina hadn’t been a name on the church watch list – Cialina’s story didn’t end here. Tomorrow, she would be back at Nino’s, serving lemonades and pizzas and luring tips out of raven boys, just like always.

Blue thought of raven boys – their rowdiness, their entitlement, their disregard, their way of making her feel less than with just a glance.

Cialina didn’t make her feel like that. Cialina saw that she’d had a long day and made her a pint of chocolate milkshake for them to share. Cialina asked all the right questions and followed her into the pitch-black woods without a single hesitation. She held Blue’s hand. She stood there and made Blue wonder if maybe a kiss was worth the risk.

The bright gleam in Cialina’s eyes was brighter, now – candles, sparking flames. This was a Cialina that Blue had never seen at Nino’s. She liked this side of Cialina better. No, that wasn’t it – she liked having learned that Cialina had this side. She would’ve liked to learn more.

“It was just a question,” Cialina said, voice soft, when Blue didn’t say anything. “We don’t have to. I just thought it might be nice.”

“No,” Blue said, quicker than she meant to. “I think I want to.”

“You think?”

“I know,” Blue corrected immediately. “Can you--?”

Cialina was smiling and then nodding. Blue was having a heart attack and then her first kiss.

It was softer than she could’ve ever imagined. Maybe because she’d only ever really imagined boys. She felt her pulse in every inch of her, filling up all the space under her skin with a fluttering thud, thud, thud. Cialina’s hand ghosted over Blue’s cheek, and Blue nearly gasped against her lips.

Cialina didn’t die. She just kept kissing her, and Blue just kept kissing back. She didn’t know what she was doing, but she didn’t think it mattered – the niceness of it was overwhelming; her back against treebark - Cialina’s hand on her neck, her waist, her hair - Cialina’s lips fitted snugly against hers - their fingers still laced together.

It was a while before Cialina pulled away, but when she did, Blue felt like the night. Soft, magical, and all her own. Relief and realization prickled in her eyes, but she very firmly told herself that she was not going to cry. How pathetic that would be.

“Well what’d’ya know,” Cialina said, voice all light like the sun, her breath still on Blue’s lips. Blue tasted lipstick and chocolate milkshake. “Guess I’m not your true love after all.”

“That’s… The best news,” Blue said with a hard swallow, eyes still terribly damp.

Cialina smiled and thumbed Blue’s cheek. Blue smiled back, and then couldn’t stop.

They stood there like that for a moment, smiling, bodies close together. For a beat, Blue rested her head on Cialina’s shoulder. Then they stepped apart and started slowly working their way back toward Nino’s, blithely wandering. There was no rush – Blue felt sure that time hadn’t passed while they were gone, that Henrietta had paused itself while they explored free of consequence.

As the shock fell away, her mind played nothing but an bubbling reel of ohmygodohmygodohmygod. She liked to think she was above this kind of girlish silliness, but there was no stopping the butterflies or the bounce in her step.

“Can I drive you home?” Cialina asked when the parking lot came back into view, and Blue said that that'd be great. Cialina put on music that Blue didn’t expect to like but actually sort of did, and when Blue voiced that, Cialina ejected the CD and handed it to her without question.

“Are you sure?” Blue asked.

“Yeah! Just give it back whenever,” Cialina said with a shrug. Her eyes flickered briefly from the road to meet Blue's. “Maybe this weekend.”

“When are you working?” Blue knew Cialina tried to get weekends off whenever she could – she took day trips with her brothers, or took her paycheck to the mall, or slept in. Little luxuries, Cialina always said.

“Not 'til Monday,” Cialina said now, “but do you wanna come to the movies with me tomorrow? I’ve got tickets for the Last Exorcism: Part Two.”

Blue mused, “How is it the last exorcism if it’s part two? Like, then the Last Exorcism: Part One wasn’t the last exorcism at all.”

“I have no idea,” Cialina said with a laugh, “I guess we’ll have to go to see.”

“I guess so,” she agreed with a laugh of her own. Blue couldn't care less about seeing a horror movie, but she did want to spend more time with Cialina, and that easily won out.

They pulled up to Blue’s house, and Blue didn’t overthink it before leaning over and popping another kiss on Cialina’s mouth. She felt tipsy with the freedom of it. “See you tomorrow, then,” Blue said.

Cialina smiled. She looked beautiful here, too, in the slight, multicolored glow of the dashboard. “See ya.”

Blue was still beaming when she fit her key in the lock and opened the door. She heard Cialina pull away only once she was inside.

Although her family wasn’t psychic like that, Blue still made an attempt to think softly, just in case. But it was hard to reign in the excited spin of her mind. She’d found a loophole in her curse. She’d had her first kiss. She liked girls, and she liked one girl in particular.

It was a lot, in the best way.

Too much to contain, apparently, since Orla intercepted her at the top of the stairs. Blue was too buoyant to let this affect her mood.

Orla, half asleep, squinted at Blue in the dark. “Your energy is like, whoa. What are you so—“ she began, and then stopped, a huge smile dawning on her face. All at once, Orla became very awake.

“What?” Blue demanded, refusing to believe that she was that transparent or that Orla was that psychic.

“You have lipstick all over your face!” Orla squealed.

Blue felt blood rush to her head. “NoIdon’t,” she said, even though now that Orla said it, she was very aware that she did.

“Blue!” Orla said, shaking Blue by the shoulder as she tried to squeeze by. “You have a secret girlfriend!!”

Thankfully, the rest of the house was asleep, or at least pretending to be. “I don’t!” Blue said.

“You totally do! You have to tell me everything!” Orla demanded, following Blue into her room despite the fact that Blue tried to shut the door on her.

Blue glimpsed herself in the mirror. She was covered in lipstick. She huffed and tried to rub it off.

“Everything!” Orla repeated in her ear, like Blue hadn’t heard her the first time.

“I’m not telling you anything,” Blue said.

“I’m psychic,” Orla warned, wiggling her eyebrows, “I have my ways of finding out anyway.”

“Okay, good luck with that – now get out,” Blue said, steering Orla out of the room by her shoulders.

“This conversation isn’t over!” she said in a singsong voice as Blue locked her out of the room and melted back against the door.

Even Orla’s prying couldn’t touch her tonight. She was too happy. Cialina’s CD still in hand, she slid down her door and sat on the floor, smiling at her empty room.

If Blue was to kiss her true love, he would die. That fact hadn’t changed. But it certainly sounded a little less dismal than it did yesterday and every day before.

She ran over the memory of Cialina’s lips on hers, and her heart beat harder again. True love be damned. ‘He’ be damned. Blue didn’t need any of it.

Voice hushed but giddy and with a wide smile on her still-stained lips, Blue tossed her head back and addressed the universe. “Take that, fate.”