“Thanks again for letting me crash here,” Heather says.
Valencia glances back at her, hunched over the joint she’s rolling at the counter. Her shoulders are tense and her hair’s sticking out from under her beanie at stange, up-all-night-looking-for-a-crazy-friend-who-doesn’t-want-to-be-found angles. With a soft smile, V turns back to the omelettes she’s making them.
“No biggie. I wouldn’t want to be alone in that house right now, either. There’s some freaky-ass Rebecca energy all over that place.”
“Okay, well, technically I wouldn’t have been alone because for some reason Rebecca’s boss won’t leave.”
“That kinda makes it worse,” Valencia says.
“Agreed.” Heather slides off her stool and cracks all the windows in the living room.
“Breakfast is served,” Valencia says, plating the omelettes and carrying them to the coffee table. Her and Heather flop down on the couch in unison, and Heather passes her the joint and a lighter.
They sit in silence for a couple minutes, watching the steam curl off their food and blowing smoke toward the windows.
“Whoa,” Valencia says after knocking some ash into the pink-tinted glass tray on the table. “I feel like…for every hit I take, my brain takes three.”
Heather snorts and shakes her head when V tries to hand off the joint. “Totally. You know what would be so cool?”
She picks up the fork off her plate and starts poking at her food. “Conducting a study on how sleep-deprivation affects the effects of drugs, but like. Being a participant, so all your notes and stuff are totally also data for the study.”
Valencia hums, setting the joint in the ashtray and picking her plate up off the table. She leans back on the couch and cradles the dish to her chest. “You’d need someone else to help you run the experiment, like a translator who’ll make sure your notes can be read by the sobers.”
“For sure,” Heather says. “Otherwise it’d just be impractical.”
Valencia laughs and takes a bite of her omelette, but Heather sighs and droops sideways onto the couch, her head landing on V’s thighs.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
“Graduating?” Valencia guesses, balancing her plate on the arm of the couch so she can rub Heather’s arm soothingly.
“Yeah, that, but also—I don’t know. Rebecca being right about me.”
“Come on,” Valencia says, sliding the beanie off Heather’s head and tossing it aside so she can comb the matted hair off her forehead. “You said yourself that she was just lashing out because she felt trapped.”
Heather closes her eyes and makes a content noise in the back of her throat that has warmth pooling in V’s stomach. She doesn’t say anything in response for so long that Valencia assumes she’s fallen asleep.
She’s about to go back to eating her now-cold omelette when Heather says, “I think that…just because she was acting out of a place of fear doesn’t necessarily make what she said invalid.”
Her voice is loose and warm, if a touch regretful, but what she’s saying makes Valencia lock up, her hand stilling in Heather’s tangled curls.
“Did you know Paula tracks us?”
Heather sits up. “Like, she has a bloodhound at home that’s super familiar with each of our scents?”
Valencia cocks her head at that, and the look on her face sends Heather into a fit of giggles. And, since it’s impossible to watch her laugh and not get caught up in it, Valencia’s not far behind.
Once they’ve calmed down, Heather reaches for the half-smoked joint and lights it up again. “So no hound?”
“No, she had tracking devices implanted in our shoulders.”
The other things she learned about Paula over the long, long night bubble up to her lips, but instead of sharing, Valencia just accepts the joint from Heather and takes an extra-long drag.
“Hmm, that’s not as easy to riff on,” Heather says, leaning over the table. She picks up her omelette with her fingers and takes a big bite.
“So, I guess if Rebecca was right about Paula and right about you, she must have been right about me, too.”
“Logical fallacy,” Heather says. “I call bullshit.”
“Oh, come on. We just learned a bunch of life-changing crap about our closest friends. You can’t just call bullshit and make things alright.”
“Oh, I get it,” Heather says, shifting in her seat so she’s facing Valencia and then jabbing the joint in her direction. She’s watching her with those way-too-attentive eyes that make V feel a strangely good kind of squirmy.
“This isn’t about what Rebecca said to you at the ‘convention’.” Heather uses air quotes and then passes the drugs. “Because everyone knows you got involved in her wedding as a huge, ass-saving favor. Not to mention, Josh Chan is only, like, one person out of a billion, so it’s not like him not marrying you makes some kind of statement about your general marry-ability.”
Valencia rolls her eyes. “That’s not a thing.”
“Don’t care,” Heather says. “The point is, that’s not what’s really bothering you.”
Valencia ducks her head and fiddles with the joint. “Maybe.”
Heather pokes at Valencia’s thigh with the toe of her shoe. “Knew it. Because you’ve had troubles with girl groups in the past and this one’s dynamic is changing so seriously and quickly, you feel insecure about your place.”
“That, and I found out tonight that Rebecca and Paula actively tried to sabotage my relationship with Josh.” Valencia takes a deep breath in through her nose.
“I mean, I’m not really surprised, but no. I wasn’t.”
Valencia lets the breath out, flooded with relief. “That’s really good to hear.”
“I’ve got your back, V,” Heather says, leaning into her personal space and tugging on the ends of her hair. “And I think Paula and Rebecca do, too. They’re just less consistent because of the way they deal with their own issues.”
Valencia nods and raises the joint to her mouth with shaking hands. As she passes it off, she says, “I wish I didn’t feel the need to be constantly reassured of my place in life, you know?”
“Oh, totally. Feeling like a needy bitch is like the quickest way to destroy your own self-esteem.”
“It would be different if I had at least one aspect of my life figured out, but after losing Josh and the future I planned with him, I still feel so unsure of everything.”
“Well hey, we’ll help each other figure out what the fuck we’re doing.” Heather blows some smoke toward the ceiling and then smiles brightly. “Because I don’t have a single clue, either.”
Valencia grins back. “That is reassuring.”
Heather tosses the roach into the ashtray and then stands, stretching her arms up over her head so that her shirt rides up over her belly button. Valencia watches for a second, and then clears her throat and grabs both their plates.
“I’m gonna crash,” Heather says, following Valencia into the kitchen. “Mind sharing your bed?”
Gulping, V shakes her head. “No one deserves to sleep on the couch after the night we’ve had.”
As she’s walking past, Heather kisses the back of Valencia’s head, making V’s stomach flip.
After rinsing off the plates and telling herself that napping with a friend is totally normal and does not require any more thought than that about a hundred times, Valencia goes to her room.
Heather’s already buried under the covers, her curls splayed out on the pillow the only part of her visible from the doorway. Smiling to herself, V grabs a pair of pajama pants and a tank top and tiptoes into the bathroom.
By the time she’s finished changing and brushing her teeth, Heather’s flipped back the comforter and is waiting for Valencia to join her.
Silently—her heart thundering in her chest—she shuffles over to the bed and sinks down into the mattress. As soon as she’s comfortable, Heather scoots up behind her and casually wraps her arm around Valencia’s waist.
It takes her a minute, but Valencia manages to relax. She shifts a little closer to Heather and lets out a contented sigh.
“Hey, V,” Heather says, her mouth so close to Valencia’s ear that her hot breath tickles.
“You’re, like, the best friend I’ve ever had, you know that?”
Something about the way she says it makes Valencia’s heart squeeze and her face flush and her skin tingle.
“You’re mine, too,” she replies, her voice a little breathless. “Now go to sleep.”
But it doesn’t need to be said: Heather’s breathing has already evened out.
Valencia’s lulled to sleep shortly after, the pleased smile still on her face.