It isn’t that she didn’t have some sort of idea that she maybe liked girls before St. Trinian’s. She just didn’t think about it much. She had already been considered odd enough at Cheltenham, and being branded a lesbian would have just marked her as even odder. And so if Annabelle had maybe had a crush on Elizabeth Dirkheim when she was fourteen, she had thoroughly ignored it, and if Jessica Kruger had appeared in one or two dreams, well, that was perfectly normal, and Annabelle was willing to argue it, not that she had ever told anyone.
But now she was at St. Trinian’s, and there were girls snogging in the hallways, and apparently, it really was normal for girls to like girls.
So she lets herself look. Carefully, at first, in case girls snogging in the hallways is actually just- just something that only certain girls are allowed to do, and she hasn’t earned that right yet, but as time goes by and no one yells at her for her sly looks, she gets bolder. She starts making evaluations about what she likes in girls. She comes to some startling conclusions.
For instance, she likes Taylor over Andrea, though it doesn’t matter much, because Andrea would likely come at her with thumbscrews if she ever made a move. The two haven’t made an official announcement that they’re dating, and they act like nothing has changed, but Annabelle has seen the way that their hands brush together when they walk side by side. The fact that they walk side by side is an announcement in and of itself, actually.
And it’s not like she likes Chavs over Emos, though, because she likes Zoe over Bianca.
She likes Celia as a friend well enough, but she doesn’t think she’d ever want to date her- too much ecological passion in one small package, and solar power does not really make good pillow talk in her mind. She apparently has a thing for glasses, because all Geeks interest her pretty much equally. Well, Polly a little bit more, but she chalks that up to knowing Polly better.
The Posh-Totties are the most interesting test. While most of the student population openly lusts after Chelsea or Chloe, she likes Peaches more. Chelsea and Chloe like the sultry look, but Peaches is just more cheerful and open, and she likes that. Not to say that Annabelle doesn’t like sultry- Kelly has a certain sultriness to her, and Annabelle definitely likes Kelly, Kelly is a ten in her book- but there is something about Peaches that always makes Annabelle look at her when she walks into a room.
With some people, Annabelle is pretty bold about looking. With the Posh-Totties, she tries to be discreet. Everyone looks at the Posh-Totties; they want people to look at them. Annabelle doesn’t want to be one of the adoring masses, though. She wants to be Annabelle, who might have a small crush on Peaches. Just a small one, nothing compared to her crush on Kelly (unattainable, impossible, unbearable…), but a crush all the same, and she’d rather not bring attention to it, if she can help it.
But the Posh-Totties must have a radar or something, because one day, Peaches walks into their literature class with Miss Dickinson and looks right into Annabelle’s eyes and smiles. Annabelle looks down at her book (Pride and Prejudice, of course, because Auntie Camilla is mourning the loss of Mr. Darcy with a vengeance, and if she wants to change the curriculum, well, it is her school) and curses her inability to not stare at Peaches.
“Did you know you stare at me?” Peaches asks, sitting down at the desk next to her. It’s not her usual seat. She usually sits in the front row, with Chelsea and Chloe. Chelsea and Chloe walk past them and frown at Peaches, who waves them past with a bright, perky smile. Annabelle shrugs.
“Everyone stares at you, Peaches,” Annabelle points out. Peaches opens up her book to where they left off in the homework. Her margins are covered in notes. From what Annabelle can make out, it appears to be notes on how one should properly court a woman. Mr. Darcy seems to be going about it all wrong, according to Peaches.
“No, everyone stares at all of us. Mostly Chelsea. You stare at me.”
“Wondering what shampoo you use,” Annabelle lies boldly, and tosses her hair over her shoulders. Peaches giggles.
“You are such a bad liar.”
Miss Dickinson starts class then, and Annabelle buries herself in her book, ignoring the speculative looks from Peaches, trying to care about the love story between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. It’s not all that compelling, really. Even Miss Dickinson looks bored.
After class, she rushes from the room, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Peaches is right behind her, heels clicking smartly on the floor. Annabelle slows slightly, and looks at the shoes she’s wearing.
“How in the world do you walk so fast wearing- are those five inch heels?”
“Six inch. And I practice. And you’re wearing four inch heels, and you’re walking fast.”
“I’m motivated,” Annabelle says flatly. Peaches laughs.
“I don’t see why you’re running away. I think your crush is very cute.”
Annabelle chokes on her spit and skids to a halt. “Crush?” she shrieks. “I- I don’t- crush? I don’t have a crush! There is no crush here!”
“Wow,” says Chloe, walking up behind Peaches. “You really do need to learn how to lie.”
“Don’t feel bad, Annabelle,” Chelsea says, joining them. Annabelle wonders vaguely if they’re Borg. “Everyone gets a crush on one of us eventually.”
“Do you want to kiss me?” Peaches asks.
Annabelle stares at her. Because yes she wants to kiss her, what sort of question is that? But- but kisses are supposed to be romantic and natural, and there is supposed to be candlelight and dinners and handholding and- and stuff before the kissing. There is stuff before the kissing! She is very sure about that!
“Oh, well, we can do supper first, that’s all right,” Peaches says, smiling, and Annabelle realizes she just said all that out loud.
Well. That’s embarrassing.
Peaches tells her to dress nice, so Annabelle, whose nicest outfit is her school uniform, borrows a dress from Polly, a lovely deep blue thing. Polly is much taller than her, though, and is too busy monitoring spy transmissions in Bolivia to help her modify the dress, and so off she goes to Taylor and Andrea, who begin to mock her.
“Ickle Annabelle has a date,” Taylor cackles.
“You never take me out on dates,” Andrea hisses, and Annabelle catches the alarmed look that Taylor shoots Andrea.
“You didn’t say you wanted one!” Taylor hisses back.
“You’re too busy keeping this relationship secret!”
“You said you wanted to keep it a secret!”
“Not so secret that we can’t go on dates!”
They finish the hemline while bickering around her ankles, and it looks fairly good, no longer hanging awkwardly about her calves and instead fitting snugly around her knees, so Annabelle thanks them and leaves them to their relationship troubles. She suspects that tomorrow Taylor will be putting on something nice and Andrea’s makeup will be a little less drastic and that they’ll disappear around dinnertime. It’s just a guess.
Since Chelsea and Chloe are probably doing up Peaches, and Annabelle is still fairly hopeless with her hair (she’s learning, she is, but her default is still a braid with a ribbon), she goes to the other three Posh-Totties she knows she can count on- Anoushka, Saffy, and Bella. They look thrilled to be asked, and get straight to work. She winds up with an odd mix of an up-do and curls, but it looks good, and the girls assure her that Peaches will appreciate it, and really, Annabelle would have just brushed her hair and hoped for the best, so she’s happy.
Then she goes and waits at the foot of the stairs, feeling like a huge dork.
“Announcing Her Gorgeousness,” Chloe says from the top of the stairs, “Peaches!”
Annabelle turns to look as Chelsea and Chloe start clapping and squealing and Annabelle really wants to join in because God yes, Peaches looks gorgeous. Her dress looks like it’s made of crepe paper, and her hair is dark and shiny. She’s grinning brightly, and almost hops down the stairs.
“Ready to go?” she asks. Annabelle nods dumbly.
“You look lovely,” she manages to say. Peaches beams.
“Thank you. You look like a Posh-Totty. See you later, girls! Don’t wait up!”
Annabelle doesn’t know if she understood the meaning of a single word in Peaches’ sentence. Peaches takes her arm and leads her out the door, blatantly ignoring the teachers who watch her go. Annabelle is pretty sure they’re not supposed to leave school grounds, but no one stops them, and she supposes she could always use the family name if someone did. Unless it was her aunt. Then she’d just have to beg.
A limousine is waiting for them, which is impressive. “How’d you get a limo?” she asks as Peaches holds the door for her.
“Oh, I called Mummy earlier. It’s her personal one,” Peaches says airily, as if it’s something that all mothers have, limos. Which, Annabelle reflects, maybe it is, at St. Trinian’s.
“‘Mummy’?” she can’t help but ask.
Peaches smirks. “Nimala Kaluwitharana is a very well connected woman. Le Gavroche in London, John!” She looks back at Annabelle. “John is my personal bodyguard. He’ll be with us most of the evening.”
That Peaches has a bodyguard is shocking enough, but Annabelle is still staring at her because- “Nimala Kaluwitharana? Of the Kaluwitharana Syndicate? The Sri Lankan one? The one that rules most of the criminal underworld with an iron grip?”
Peaches pours a glass of champagne and holds it out to her. “Champagne? No? Are you sure, it’s quite good. And really, it’s an exaggeration to say that we rule most of the criminal underworld. Maybe a fourth. Well, a third. Mummy says modesty is a bad habit of mine.”
Annabelle snatches the champagne from Peaches hand and takes a gulp of it because the woman she has been (apparently openly) ogling for a month now is the daughter of the boss of the Kaluwitharana Syndicate. She can’t decide if that’s awful, or wicked awesome. Before she would have been appalled, but now she’s mostly just a bit admiring.
“Oh,” she says, and looks at the champagne glass. “That’s good.”
Peaches beams. “Told you.”
Supper is very nice.
Well, a little odd. Annabelle thought she was used to the finer things in life, that her father had always gotten her the best, but in comparison to Peaches’ lifestyle, her father had only gotten her the Happy Meals version. Peaches gets the best wine, and has to order everything for her, because the menu is in French, and Annabelle’s French is limited to “where is the bathroom?” and “get your hands off of me, you filthy man!”
She eats escargot and caviar, because Peaches is appalled when she finds out that she’s never eaten it before. Annabelle isn’t as aghast at the taste as she thought she would be. She doesn’t like caviar much, but she eats the escargot with gusto. She isn’t quite sure what her main dish is, but she doesn’t care much, because it tastes good. She thinks it’s duck of some sort.
John turns out to be a tall, bald white man who does actually takes his sunglasses off in public, contrary to cliché. Peaches adores him and insists that he eats with them, but he refuses and sits at a separate table.
“I don’t want to ruin your date, Miss Priya,” he says, and nods politely at Annabelle.
“Peaches, John. It’s Peaches,” Peaches says with a sigh. She hands him a roll from her plate. He takes it gratefully.
“Yes, Miss Priya.”
He’s carrying a very large gun. Annabelle finds him very comforting.
They talk about random things- family, school, friends, gossip. Pets, clothes, heists, books. Little things, for the most part. They swap anecdotes and jokes and laugh loudly, and Annabelle smiles so much that her cheeks hurt. She hasn’t done that for a while. She keeps worrying that she’s going to screw this date up somehow, but whenever she thinks that, Peaches says something or directs the conversation elsewhere, and the worry disappears. Annabelle doesn’t even worry about food getting caught in her teeth, which she worries about during every single meal, a habit after seven years of braces.
When they’re done eating, and Annabelle is feeling warm from the wine and full from the food, Peaches eyes her speculatively and then nods. “We’re going to Maya. John, we’re going to Maya,” she announces.
“Miss Priya…” John groans from the next table over, wiping his mouth on a pristine white napkin.
“John!” Peaches says, and waves a hand in the air. “This is Annabelle’s first date. Am I right, Annabelle?”
Embarrassingly enough, it is. She nods and looks down at her plate. She can feel Peaches warm grin. “Then yes, we’re going to Maya.”
“Yes, we are,” John grumbles.
Annabelle has no idea what Maya is, or why John hates it, but it has to be awesome, because the wattage of Peaches grin has just increased tenfold.
Maya, as it turns out, is a very exclusive club. One that you have to be much older than they are to get into, but Peaches just soars into, waving a card and a hand, and so Annabelle is inside a club, and there is music and people everywhere.
It’s a little terrifying.
But apparently, this is what it means to be the Kaluwitharana heiress. You get in wherever you want, you drink whatever you want, you associate with whomever you want, and you have a very worried bodyguard dogging your every step. Peaches drags her onto the dance floor after yelling at her to not accept any drinks from anyone, and… they dance.
They dance a lot.
John sort of bobs around them awkwardly, making sure no one gets too close, but Annabelle just ignores him, content to laugh with Peaches and appreciate her natural dancer’s body. For a while they play at club dancing, but then the alcohol hits and they get silly, mocking seventies dance moves and returning to the dance moves of their childhood. They chortle and try to remember how their teachers danced at any of the school parties so far this year. They fall all over each other, giggling, and Annabelle presses her face into Peaches’ neck, laughing too hard to breathe.
“I need air!” she shouts.
“I need whiskey!” Peaches shouts back.
“John!” they shout at the same time.
John escorts them outside. Annabelle is shocked to see that it is already about one a.m. They left St. Trinian’s at seven in the evening. She looks at Peaches, who grins.
“When you’re on a date with me, time flies.”
“I think it’s time to return to St. Trinian’s, Miss Priya,” John says quietly, and Peaches looks at him, accepting a glass of water and sipping it carefully. Her hair is a mess and she has sweat pouring down her face. Annabelle imagines she looks worse. After all, she doesn’t have the natural Posh-Totty charm. She definitely doesn’t smell as nice. She needs to buy some perfume, she thinks. Maybe something with lilacs. She likes lilacs.
“Oh, all right,” Peaches sighs. “Annabelle, is that all right? John worries, you know.”
“Yeah,” Annabelle says, blinking. “Yes. Yes, yes, it’s fine. We can go home now.”
John takes them back to the limousine, and Annabelle rests her head on Peaches shoulder, sighing gently. She thinks this has quite possibly been the best first date ever. Peaches takes her hand and gives it a gentle squeeze.
No, Annabelle corrects herself. Now it has been the best first date ever.
When they get back to St. Trinian’s, Annabelle waits by the door while Peaches hugs John good-bye and thanks him for everything. Annabelle settles for waving awkwardly good-bye because really, what do you say to one’s assigned bodyguard? Is there a card for that sort of thing? She’ll ask Auntie Camilla tomorrow; surely she’ll know the answer to that.
John drives away in the limousine as Peaches walks over to meet her, grinning. “Did you have fun?” Peaches asks, opening one of the huge doors into the school for her.
“Oh, yes,” Annabelle says, and they walk inside. The school is dark, but there are some lights still on. She wonders why that is. She wonders if they were left on on purpose, for them. She decides to stop wondering. “You have excellent taste.”
“Well,” Peaches says, sniffing. “I am a Posh-Totty.”
“And a Kaluwitharana, apparently.”
“That too,” Peaches concedes. She gestures for silence as they sneak past the teachers lounge, where teacher’s voices are still coming out loud and, if not precisely clear, that is only because they sound slurred and drunken. Annabelle stifles a giggle and Peaches grins. They are halfway down the hall when they hear a teacher, probably Miss Heferton by the sound of it, say something that sounds like, “I’m turning in, girls!”
Annabelle freezes and looks at Peaches. They are in plain view of the teacher’s lounge, and there is no place to go on either side. Peaches meets her look, and then reaches down and yanks off her heels. Annabelle follows her lead, and then Peaches grabs her by the wrist and they run down the hallway as fast as they possibly can, slipping in their nylons. Annabelle nearly slides into a wall, but Peaches drags her back at the last minute.
Light floods the hallway, which means that Miss Heferton is in the hallway, and Peaches throws open a classroom door and drags Annabelle inside and silently closes the door behind them, Annabelle falling against it, Peaches pressed against her, wide-eyed. Annabelle stares at her, breathing quickly, and Peaches stares back, and before Annabelle can really think about what she’s doing, she leans forward and kisses Peaches, a bit desperately.
It’s not a very good kiss, and God knows it can’t be the best kiss Peaches has ever received, but Annabelle doesn’t really care because oh my God she is kissing someone! There’s a little bit too much teeth, she thinks, and too much saliva, and it’s a little too fast, but Peaches reaches up and places her hands on either side of Annabelle’s face and carefully slows it down, and then licks inside her mouth and oh…
Kissing is nice.
She loses track of how long they stay like that, pressed up against the door kissing, but part of her wishes it could go on forever, because really, kissing Peaches is a bit like being wrapped in a miracle. Annabelle rests her hands on Peaches’ hips and keeps her eyes closed because that’s what she’s seen in movies and anyway, it seems more romantic that way.
But nothing so perfect can last forever, and Peaches eventually breaks the kiss. Annabelle opens her eyes and immediately pouts. Peaches grins.
“Sorry,” she says. “Breathing. It needed to be done.”
“Breathing is overrated,” Annabelle says immediately.
“Yes, but if you’d died, then I couldn’t have kissed you later,” Peaches points out.
Well, if she has to be so bloody sensible.
In the end, Annabelle and Peaches only date for about a month. It is an amazing month, and Annabelle learns a lot about dating and kissing, but one day Peaches sits her down and, with a sigh, says that she’s really sorry, but she’s really pretty sure that she likes men more.
Annabelle laughs at the fact that only at St. Trinian’s do you have to come out about being straight.
Chelsea is outraged that Peaches broke Annabelle’s heart; Chloe is outraged that Annabelle broke Peaches’. They stare at each other in bewilderment and switch sides immediately. When Annabelle and Peaches explain that neither is heartbroken, that they’re in mutual agreement about the break-up, they look relieved and cling to them.
Annabelle devotes herself to her (unattainable, impossible, unbearable) crush on Kelly. Someday, she thinks. Someday. She can do it. She has time.
And if every now and then she thinks about her first kiss with Peaches, well, there is no shame in that. It was a hell of a first kiss. And Peaches was a hell of a first girlfriend.