Allison’s fingers are callused. Two calluses, one each on her right index and ring fingers. They come from a poor archery habit, she says. Releasing the bowstring just the wrong way. It’s bad form which she’s never bothered to correct, and so her fingers are callused. Not terribly. Just a bit of thick, hard skin on the inside of her fingers, along the joints. They don’t affect her shooting, so she leaves them alone and when she holds Lydia’s hand, Lydia feels them, rubbing into the palm of her hand.
They’re driving from Beacon Hills to Stanford the first time Lydia really notices them. She drives, but it’s Allison’s music playing through the speakers. Listening to Radiohead on a late night drive, and all because Allison’s pissed off at her dad about something; Lydia doesn’t ask. She just takes PCH and wonders if this is what it’s like to be normal. Checking out colleges together. Listening to Thom Yorke’s beautiful, whining falsetto. Holding hands without meaning to.
Really not meaning to. Allison’s asleep when Lydia takes her hand and says, in the kind of voice people use to wake those who startle easily, “You’ll miss the ocean.” The Pacific, out there, somewhere to their right. Dark as the inky black sky.
Still groggy, Allison sits up, rolls down her window. The air holds a salty reminder. They hear, beyond the sudden roar of the wind, waves crashing. Over and over and over again. Comforting to think that something, anything, might be forever.
“We should go,” Allison says.
She tilts her head, turns to give Lydia a saturnine smile. “The beach.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s closed. What’s wrong? Bad dream?” Lydia asks. “You look--”
“Yeah,” Allison says, looking away again, out at the ocean. The wind catches her hair so that she has to hold it back from whipping against her face. Her other hand is still in Lydia’s. She shifts. Her calluses find Lydia’s wrist. Lydia’s pulse jumps. “It was a bad dream.”
“Monsters or humans?”
“Both?” When she glances back at Lydia, there’s a hint of something bright breaking through her melancholy eyes. “So what if it’s closed? Let’s go anyway.”
A creepy, empty parking lot. The middle of the night. Having up close and personal knowledge of the awful things that come out when the moon is full; and when it isn’t. Not the best place. Not as claustrophobic as the woods, but somehow all the worse for being wide open. Lydia feels exposed.
“It’s just the beach,” Allison says, once they’re out of the car and she’s gotten a glimpse of Lydia’s face. She must see fear there. “It’s . . . safe, Lydia.”
“Everything’s safe until it’s not. Sand gets in everything, you know? It’s insidious. And the things that live in it. Mites, beach hoppers... I hate the beach. At least there isn’t any danger of sunburn at this hour...”
Allison smiles again, a sort of softly indulgent, vaguely patronizing smile she directs at Lydia sometimes that Lydia shouldn’t love; whenever men say or do condescending things, she wants to slap them. Sometimes she does, with words they hardly understand. The difference is, Allison’s smile never feels like an insult. It’s laced with sweetness and warmth, with the kind of gentle glow Lydia wouldn’t mind living inside always.
“You took this route for a reason.”
“I thought you’d like it. Imagine my surprise at how driving by the ocean suddenly became tramping along a dark litter box...”
“Lydia.” Allison laughs and takes Lydia by the hand again. There, her calluses. Along the inside of Lydia’s wrist, briefly on her forearm before their fingers tangle. “Fine, we can leave, if you want.”
“No. Well, not now that I know how much it means to you. What kind of friend would I be?”
It’s all the permission Allison needs to lead her toward the sand. It isn’t really that dark, at least. A big, blood moon lights their way as they trudge along. Lydia stops to take off her shoes, cringing when her bare feet hit cold sand.
“How do people have sex out here?” she asks. “It’s disgusting.”
“Yeah, it doesn’t look very comfortable, does it? Maybe it’s just about, I don’t know, being with a person who makes you not care.”
High tide. They stand side by side, watching the waves rise, rise. Crash. Seafoam comes up to their toes, buries their feet, recedes just as quickly as it came. As it goes, Lydia closes her eyes, feels the world rushing backward, and grips Allison’s hand as tightly as she dares.
“How do we live our lives now? Knowing what we know?”
“Beats me,” Allison says, her voice nothing more than a whisper in a hurricane.
They fall asleep. There, on the disgusting beach. Like vagrants. Grains of sand against her scalp, under her shirt. Cheek, lips, eyelids. She sits up with a start and shakes herself off. Allison’s watching. Lydia wonders how long she’s been watching.
“Of course I don’t.”
Allison grins. “Of course you don’t.” She helps brush sand off of Lydia’s face; lingers, traces her jaw, her earlobe as she tucks Lydia’s hair behind it. “You don’t snore. You sleep like a princess under a spell.”
Lydia’s affectionate smile is tempered by a quick roll of her eyes. It’s early yet, but the sky is a blinding shade of white. Seagulls squawk. The ocean continues its unending roar. Down the beach, a good way down, a small group of surfers gather--waxing their boards, tugging on their fish-smooth, black bodysuits.
“I’m starving,” she says.
Allison reaches for her hand. It’s so familiar now, Lydia hardly reacts. Her heart thumps, but her fingers curl automatically. They reach back.
“Come on. I’ll buy you a short-stack, princess.”
“And I need a shower.”
“Well,” Allison replies, scratching the back of her neck. She looks beautifully composed, like she just spent the night rolling around in the briny outdoors but it made no difference. Hair out of place, clothes wrinkled--still perfect. Lydia stumbles upon an emotion her heart once inexplicably reserved for Jackson. This, this thing with Allison, makes more sense than that. And it makes no sense at all. “I do have a solution, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
Outdoor showers. God. She hasn’t bathed out of doors since that one horrible camping trip her parents made her take with them years ago. Their marriage’s last gasp; and the last time they cared enough to try.
She has to dry herself with her dirty clothes, but it’s better than the sweaty-salty alternative. There will be no saving her hair until she can have a proper shower and a hair dryer. Allison doesn’t seem to care. She smiles throughout and looks fresh as a flower when they’re done and back in the car.
“There’s a local diner not far,” she’s saying as she stares down at her phone. “Lots of good reviews on Yelp. Excellent blueberry pancakes?”
“Navigate the way.”
They eat the best pancakes Lydia’s had in her life. She drinks two cups of coffee. Allison tells her about the first time she shot an arrow; about the rainbow bruises she’d get on her forearm when she first started.
“They were so ugly and hurt so much, I wanted to quit.”
“What made you keep doing it, then?”
“You probably haven’t noticed, but I’m a little stubborn,” Allison says. Lydia laughs at the understatement in her voice.
“Just a little,” Lydia says, shrugging. “You should try out for the Olympics or something.”
“Instead of fighting creatures of the night?”
“Yeah. Yes. It would be a step up, don’t you think? I can totally see it. I would cheer from the sidelines, you know I would.”
“I know, but I don’t think I’m meant for that stuff anymore. Competitions, they don’t catch my interest the way they used to. Neither does school, or--”
“I know,” Lydia says. “But what’s left? Staying in Beacon Hills, following around a pack of...werewolves? That sounds, it sounds so incredibly ludicrous, I can’t even listen to myself. School, Allison. We can do it, you know? Leave together. Start over. Forget.”
“Maybe you can--”
“No.” Lydia reaches for Allison’s hand so abruptly, she almost knocks over her glass of orange juice. “Both of us, Allison.” She pauses and smiles. Really smiles. “We’ll rule the world.”
Stanford’s nice. Nice in a way that’s unsurprising. Beautiful campus, Lydia thinks. Great dorms. The tour is long, comprehensive. Allison yawns several times.
During lunch, they sit out on a lawn by the quad, share a salad and a bottle of water.
“What do you think?”
“I have a better shot at Berkeley. And I think I’d probably like it better, too,” Allison says.
She’s being honest, but it irritates Lydia anyway, because Berkeley’s competitive, but it’s no Stanford. Still, if it’s a choice between Stanford alone, or Berkeley with Allison... Lydia almost hates herself for having the thought. She never would’ve followed a boy to college, not even Jackson. But Allison’s no boy.
On their way home, Lydia doesn’t take PCH. She takes a direct route, instead, and they’re back in Beacon Hills in no time at all. Allison leaves her with a wave and a promise of, “Later, okay?”
When she gets home, Lydia takes a long, long bath, followed by a nap that keeps her dozing until the early evening hours. By the time she’s dressed and finally feeling human again, Allison’s texting her: Bowl-O-Rama?
Lydia answers: Not in the mood. A movie?
Allison’s fine with it, and a few hours later they’re coming out of the local art house, debating the finer points of an amazingly depressing, gay French film.
Allison’s still dabbing her eyes with a wadded up napkin. “Next time, how about some moronic comedy?”
Lydia agrees. They go back to her place. She gives Allison a perfect manicure. They lie on her bed. They don’t talk about the future.
“Did you finish that English assignment?”
“Yeah, like last week.”
Allison nods. “Chem?”
“Um hmm. You wanna see it?”
“Yeah, I should check a few things. Email it to me, would you?”
Lydia nods. “Remind me.”
What’s in a moment? The moment things change even though you never meant them to? But they were bound to change, no matter what, and it’s either for the worse or the better, depending on one reaction. One moment. One chance to get it right.
Lydia glances at Allison. She’s on her side, facing Lydia. Her fingers are tracing the edge of the pillow, nervously sliding along the seem.
“I was wondering...?”
“If you ever...?”
Lydia knows. It’s right there, in Allison’s gaze. In they way it falls to Lydia’s lips. In the response Lydia feels, in the thrill, the frisson that overtakes her. It’s electric, chemical. Alchemical. And if it isn’t magic, it might as well be.
So Lydia nods, because she knows.
“Wherever you go,” Allison says quietly, steadily, “I’ll follow you, okay?”
Lydia keeps on nodding; something’s lodged in her throat. Something so raw and new she can feel it as it rises to the surface of her skin.
“Yeah, okay,” she says. “I want you to.”
They fall asleep holding hands, but come morning Lydia’s in bed alone. Her stomach twists until she hears the bathroom sink running and Allison’s coming out with one of Lydia’s spare toothbrushes lodged against her cheek.
“Sorry,” she mumbles. “Didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Are we late for school?”
Allison smiles. “No, it’s like six.”
Allison drives them to school, and they part ways at Lydia’s locker until they reunite in chem lab. They haven’t said anything about their moment the night before, but it doesn’t feel weird; and when Allison’s hand finds her knee under table, Lydia doesn’t jump. She sinks into it--glances at Allison with the best kind of smile she can muster. Allison gives her a long look that could mean anything, but which Lydia has learned to decipher. That sweet feeling of love, of fondness, gives way to something less chaste. So she leans over and whispers in Allison’s ear, “Meet me somewhere?”
Allison squeezes her knee, releases it so she can write on the corner of Lydia’s notebook: Old library?
The old library is a hole in the wall that was long ago replaced by a modern building on the far side of campus. Lydia has been in it only once, when a book she needed was one of a few accidentally left behind, and the librarian gave her permission to search for it there. She remembers it being musty; no one in their right mind goes there.
“Yes,” she mouths, and Allison’s hand finds her knee again.
The smell of decaying books. Dust. Lydia sneezes even before she gets through the door, as Allison is simultaneously shushing her and dragging her inside. When the door closes, the room goes pitch black for a moment, until Allison activates some flashlight app on her phone and then it’s just dim enough that she can make out features: eyes, nose, lips. Lydia hesitates a moment before touching Allison’s arm, shoulder, cheek. She steps closer, knows that even though she’s in heels Allison’s taller.
“A little lower,” she says, and Allison’s smile tells her everything. She bends so they’re face to face, but still they don’t move. Already they’re so close, Allison’s breath tickles her mouth. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Allison whispers. “I love you. Are you--?”
Lydia doesn’t want to hear are-you-sures from Allison. She doesn’t want to hear anything beyond that I-love-you, and maybe stupid promises about forever. She tips forward just enough to find Allison’s mouth, kisses her. Thinks, as a firm pressing of lips turns into something slippery, This is amazing. Why did we wait so long? And then Allison’s phone goes dark, so that when they stumble back into a bookcase, it’s a blind dance. And when some books tumble to the ground somewhere next to them, she barely hears them. Doesn’t see them. Doesn’t care. Allison’s hands are under her shirt, and Lydia’s are sunk deep in Allison’s hair, holding her close because she doesn’t want the kiss to end. They pull apart only to breathe, long enough for Allison to shift to Lydia’s throat, the tickle of her mouth, her tongue, so good it weakens Lydia’s knees.
She thinks about taking chances, seizing moments. And, carpe diem, she reaches under Allison’s skirt. Reaches.
My God, she thinks. How can love feel this good?
“Oh,” Allison exhales. “Lydia.”
“Too fast?” Her voice is so rough, words sound like barely recognizable syllables.
“N-no, just...” Allison takes her by the wrist, calluses against Lydia’s tendons. A reminder of a different life. A life they don’t have to lead. They can do anything, go anywhere. They can rule the world.
Lydia lets Allison guide her--she wants to learn, she’s a fast learner, a smart girl who wants to do things the right way or not at all. She strokes between her thighs, one long stroke of her fingers, followed by another. She hears Allison gasp and, impatient, tugs at her underwear, looking for skin. She wishes it weren’t so dark, wishes she could see the look on Allison’s face when she moves inside of her. “I bet you’re beautiful,” she whispers. “You always are.”
Allison’s fingers move a little faster over hers. It’s good. No guessing, all learning. It’ll be better next time, anyway. It’ll be in a bed. Maybe Lydia will light candles. Maybe not. Maybe they don’t need them. Maybe they just need each other. She presses her face against Allison’s chest, mouths at her breast over the fabric of her shirt, kisses the hollow of her throat; kisses her jaw, her mouth, dizzy from heat and the throbbing between her own legs. When Allison’s breath catches in her throat and she shudders in her arms, Lydia feels it like a sucker punch.
“Good?” she asks, listening as Allison tries to catch her breath, ear to her heart.
Allison slaps at her shoulder. “You’re too smart to ask stupid questions.”
“I know. I just wanted to hear you say it.”
Scott gives her hurt looks when he finds out, but only for a little while. He knows about love, Lydia thinks, without trying to dwell on it.
Lydia and Allison spend the rest of the school year lost in each other, and if a werewolf needs their help, they give it with the knowledge that this, this, will end.
Berkeley accepts them both, and although it might’ve been a better idea to get out of northern California entirely, Lydia feels good about it.
“I'm not doing the sandals thing,” she tells Allison. “Not the kind they wear.”
“They?” Allison laughs.
“No one’s stealing your heels, Lydia. Or your lipstick. Or anything. There’s no dress code.”
“Well, good, because I need them. How else am I going to kiss you without having to climb your body?”
Allison smiles, and it's all right there. Everything in one smile.
“Anyway," she says. "I like it when you climb my body.”
And it’s easy, their love. It’s so easy.