“Do you think,” Laura said idly, “that if I dropped this in, it would go all the way out to the ocean?”
They were sitting on a log, dangling their feet over the water beneath. Laura’s shoe dangled off the end of her foot, and she tilted her head to watch as it wavered on the brink of falling in.
“I don’t think this brook goes out to the ocean,” Donna said. “I think it would just end up in the millpond.”
Laura shrugged, and flipped her foot. The shoe tumbled through the air, and landed toe-down in the stream. It wavered in the air for a moment, then tumbled over and rested on a rock.
“It didn’t go anywhere.” Laura said. She sounded disappointed.
“Just as well,” Donna said. “Your dad would have to buy you a new pair, and you’ve barely worn those. He’d probably be mad.”
Laura said nothing.
* * * *
When James looked at Maddy, he saw Laura. When Donna looked at her, she saw someone else entirely.
Oh, she looked like Laura; that much was indisputable. Same heart-shaped face, same Cupid’s-bow mouth, same elegant nose. She had Laura’s features, right down to the shape of her eyes. But she didn’t have Laura’s soul. Looking at Maddy was like looking at a painting of Laura that someone else had posed for. She was sweeter, a bit plainer, not as cunning or cutting. She had three dimensions where Laura had four. Even when they dressed her up in that wig, Donna still didn’t feel like she was seeing her best friend- not really, anyway. But looking at Maddy in Laura’s clothes made her ache for the girl she’d known, who would have giggled at the prank they pulled instead of hesitating and wavering. Back then, Donna would have been the one pulling back and worrying while Laura tugged her along. Now she was the one instigating. It didn’t feel right at all.
After James went home, Maddy stayed at the Haywards’ with Donna. She curled up on the spare mattress in Donna’s room, eyes still wide, and they talked for hours. If Donna closed her eyes and just listened to the other girl’s voice, she could almost pretend that it was Laura lying there, like she had so many times before.
“Donna?” Maddy’s voice broke into her thoughts. “You seem kinda sad.”
Of course I’m sad she thought. Instead of saying it out loud, she slipped out of bed and over to where Maddy was lying. “Do you believe in ghosts?”
She blinked. “I don’t know. I guess I kind of do.”
Donna leaned closer. “Do you think Dr. Jacoby thought you were a ghost tonight? Like a ghost of Christmas past.” She giggled; the noise sounded high-pitched and wrong. “Maybe Laura’s ghost is watching us right now.”
Maddy’s eyes widened. “You think so?”
Donna nodded. She only half-believed it- if Laura's spirit really was lurking in Twin Peaks, she felt like she would feel it somehow- but she enjoyed watching as Maddy considered the possibility. The other girl pushed her tongue into her cheek, head slightly tilted to the side. “If she is watching us, what do you think she’s thinking?”
Donna leaned in closer, until she could feel Maddy’s breath on her face. “I bet she’s wondering what I’m doing.”
Maddy, to her surprise, didn’t seem the least bit unnerved. Instead, she leaned forward as well. “And what are you doing?”
“This.” And then she kissed her.
* * * *
Laura tasted like cigarettes and beer and the exhilarating thrill of recklessness. Kissing her was heady, almost like getting a contact high. When they lay together in Donna’s bed- Donna’s because Laura refused to do it in hers’, for some reason- touching and tasting and shifting under the covers, Donna felt as though some of Laura’s wildness and bravery was passing into her with every brush of skin against skin. Laura was everything Donna wasn’t- beautiful, fearless, brave. Donna could never hope to be what Laura was. She could only hope to be close to her, to love her, and maybe to absorb some of her glory. If she was lucky, maybe some of Laura would rub off on her. She was content with that.
Afterwards, when they lay tangled in the sheets and blankets, Laura would cry sometimes. Head pillowed on Donna’s chest, she muffled her sobs so as not to wake the other people in the house, but Donna could hear every ragged gasp. She ached for her friend, but Laura would never tell her what it was that made her cry. So she stroked the other girl’s hair and whispered “it’s all right” and made soothing noises, hoping that the words would be enough to heal her. Later, she would realize that they never were.
* * * *
Laura got a Swiss Army Knife from her father for her fifteenth birthday. He promised her that he’d teach her whittling with it. The day after her birthday, she and Donna took a walk out in the woods, past the trees they’d climbed when they were younger, the forts they’d built out of fallen branches, and down to the stream where they’d waded and caught fish. Laura immediately took her shoes off and waded in, even though it was April and the water was still freezing. Donna hesitated for a moment, then followed her in.
“I wonder if I’d be able to carve stone with this,” Laura mused, flipping the knife between her hands. “Like in those pictures we saw in art class? That might be fun. Or maybe I could make totem poles, like the ones at the Great Northern.” She flipped it open, then closed, staring at the flash of the blade. “Maybe I could stab someone.” She wobbled on the rock she was standing on, and extended a foot to steady herself on another. She landed on a patch of moss and slipped, falling forward and landing on both knees with an audible thud.
Donna, mindless of the water, dropped to her knees next to her. “Are you alright? Did you break something?”
Laura shook her head slowly, and drew one of her knees up. There was a dirt-smeared scrape running from the top of her knee to the bottom. It was already seeping blood. Donna plunged her hands into her pockets, searching for a tissue or handkerchief to clean it. “We have to go back. It could get infected if you don’t rinse it. I can’t find anything to clean it off, but you should rinse it in the stream- are you listening? Laura?”
Laura hadn’t answered. Instead, she tilted her head to look at the blood, apparently fascinated by the trickle making its way down her leg to her ankle. The pocketknife was still in her hand; she uncurled her fingers to look at it. Then, with one quick motion, she flicked it open and ran it across her palm. Blood welled up in the cut, and spilled over her hand into the water below.
Donna gasped. “What are you-”
Without a warning, Laura lunged forward and seized Donna’s hand. With one slashing motion, she performed the same cut on Donna’s left hand as she had done to her own right one. Before Donna even had the chance to cry out, she slammed their palms together and twisted, mingling the blood until it was impossible to tell which came from which cut.
Tears had sprung to Donna’s eyes when the cut was made, and a few ran down her face, even though the sting was fading. “What are you doing?”
“We’re bonded now.” Laura didn’t even seem to register the pain; her expression was fierce, determined. “You have to stay with me after this. You will, right?” Something in her seemed to waver; she sounded almost as though she was pleading. Her grip on Donna’s hand tightened until it was almost painful.
“Of course I will.” Donna said shakily. Laura loosened her grip with a sigh; if Donna hadn’t known better, she would have thought it was a sigh of relief. Then she stood, and brushed off her skirt with a non-bloody hand, as nonchalant as if it had never happened. “We should go back.”
Donna gaped at her for a moment, but followed when Laura waded out of the stream. Drops of blood were dangling from her fingertips; she almost wiped her hand off on her skirt before thinking better of it. Laura was already walking airily back the way they had come, and Donna had to hurry to catch up.
* * * *
Maddy wasn’t like Laura, not really. She was a moon to Laura’s sun; paler, less temperamental, cooler. When Donna touched Maddy, she didn’t feel flames licking up and down her arm the way she had with Laura. Instead, it was more like having cool water running over a burn. Laura had been whiskey; Maddy was Coke. Yin and yang. When she kissed Maddy, it didn’t set her body on fire like kissing Laura had, but it calmed her. It was like coming home to an old friend after a long day. If she wasn’t in love with Maddy- well, so what? Laura hadn’t been in love with her.
Maybe it was better this way. No moon had ever burned itself out.
* * * *
Sometimes they’d hike up to the top of the hill with bottles of beer and lay out there drinking for hours. Donna wasn’t as much of a drinker as Laura- she didn’t like the taste, or the burn as it went down- but she liked the time they spent together enough to grimace and swallow. Laura was different- she drank a lot, but not like she liked it. Laura drank like she was trying to wash something away.
“James told me he loved me.” she said. She rolled the words around in her mouth- James, told, loved- like she was going to spit them out. She took another swallow of beer.
Something tightened in Donna’s chest. “D’you think he means it?’
A laugh; that full, dark laugh that Laura sometimes had, that scared Donna more than it should have. “James wouldn’t lie.” There was something mocking about the way she said it, almost scornful. Like she thought less of him for it. The unspoken implication: Like I would.
Donna wouldn’t lie either.
Donna squinted up into the night sky. The stars were out, but clouds were beginning to roll over them. The lights above looked blurry, and it took her a moment to realize that tears were blocking her sight. “Did you say it back?”
“’Course I did.” Laura rolled over onto her stomach. “Just like with Bobby, and- everybody else.” She said it like she’d caught herself before letting something slip. The ache in Donna’s chest sharpened.
“Hey.” Laura reached out and brushed Donna’s cheek with her hand. It came away glistening with moisture. “You know you’re different, right? I don’t lie to you.” It was said carelessly, with no force behind the words. There were so many things Donna could say back- but you do, you leave me and go off with them, you don’t tell me what’s going on- but they only rose in her throat and sank back down.
Laura smiled and leaned in for a kiss.
* * * *
She was dreaming; she knew that. She was standing in the woods, in the middle of the night, but somehow she could still see clearly in front of her. Through the branches overhead, she could see clouds roiling in the sky, dark crimson, like they were about to rain blood. There were plenty of clues. But by far the biggest one was that Laura was standing in front of her, in that silky black nightgown that Donna had slipped from her shoulders a hundred times. Wind was blowing all around them, and Donna’s hair was in her eyes, but Laura’s was perfectly still. She smiled, but it was more like a wolf baring its teeth. Claiming its prey. You stole him.
It took Donna a few second to realize who she meant. “I didn’t.” Her voice wavered, but it grew stronger as she continued. “He wasn’t yours’.”
Her lips curled back in what looked like a snarl. They were all mine.
Dream-Laura crumbled then. Her outstretched hands fell to her sides, and her shoulders bowed. You left me.
“No!” The word came as a shout. “I didn’t leave you. You left me. You went off with Bobby, and James, and the others, and you left me.” I didn’t steal him from you; he stole you from me.
The last words weren’t spoken aloud, but Laura seemed to hear them anyway. She held her hands out, and Donna suffocated a scream. They were dripping with blood, blood that came from everywhere and nowhere. Laura came closer and closer, until she reached out and touched Donna’s face with her bloody hands. Then she threw her head back and howled. Donna reached up to touch her face; it was dry. The blood wasn’t there. But it was still on Laura’s hands and arms, streaking through her hair as she wailed and clutched her head.
“So did you.” Donna whispered.
Laura was sobbing. The wind grew harsher and wilder, and the hair being flung into Donna’s face strung her eyes. Through the curtain of hair, she could see Laura grasping her arms, nails digging in, but she couldn’t feel a thing.
She woke with a start, half-sitting up in bed. The room was dark and silent, except for her gasps coupled with Maddy’s quiet breathing. The other girl had slept through it all, but now she was stirring, squinting without her glasses. “Donna? Are you okay?”
Donna rubbed her bare arms; gooseflesh had sprung up there, though the room around her was warm. “I- yeah, I think so. Just a bad dream.” I think I’m gonna dream tonight; bad ones, you know? She suppressed a shudder.
Maddy yawned. With one arm, she reached up and pulled Donna down into a hug. “Go back to sleep, okay? It was just a dream.”
Donna let out a long shuddering breath, and curled up next to Maddy. The other girl was already going back to sleep, her arm a comforting weight around Donna’s shoulders, anchoring her to the bed. “Guess so.” And what if it wasn’t? Laura was dead. Maddy was here now, and even if she didn’t make Donna’s heart race the way Laura had, she was safe and comforting. Donna was perfectly fine with that.
In the distance, she thought she could hear Laura’s laughter.