Anne wakes up in her room, which is about the only part that makes sense. Before she even opens her eyes, she registers the weight atop her and panics. Her senses rush into overdrive, trying to detect what kind of threat this thing poses, what it is, if it’s living, and-
No, wait. She calms down. It’s breathing slowly, like she is. Anne has a hand curled over its back, fingers nestled into a soft head of hair. No need to brace herself. They must have fallen asleep like this. Right. Climbing into her bed late last night, too tired for setting up sleeping bags. She remembers now.
Good thing, too. Because Sasha chooses that moment to shift against her side, which definitely would have freaked her out if she didn’t know who it was. As it stands, she welcomes the sensation.
She waits a few minutes before opening her sleep-heavy eyes. She checks the clock. Nine fifty-two am. It’s Sunday, she thinks. Yesterday was Saturday. That seems important. Were they supposed to do something on Saturday? She can’t remember.
Whatever the case, it’s late morning and she should wake her friends up in case they have plans today.
She starts by running her hand over Marcy’s upper back, as it’s one of the only things she can reach.
“Marcy,” she calls lowly, dragging out the last syllable. It’s strange that she’s asleep so late. What had happened last night to make her so tired?
Anne’s hand brushes over the back of her head. Oh. That. They went to a party, that’s what it was. It hadn’t gone well.
Marcy’s eyes open before she can recall any other details. Her friend blinks awake, yawns, then props her chin up on Anne’s chest. She’s close. The look she gives her makes Anne’s head cloudy. She could fall back asleep.
“Good morning,” she settles for saying. “Can you move?”
“Hm,” Marcy says. “No.”
Anne tries for a shrug. “Fine, if you still wanna be here when I wake up Sasha, go ahead.”
Marcy groans. "You’ll pay for this, Boonchuy.”
“For making you get up off of my bed at nearly ten o’clock in the morning? Fat chance.”
Marcy pushes up onto her knees, stretching. With a pause and a final, lingering glance at Anne, she hops off the bed.
Next is Saha’s turn. It’s important to do this part carefully. There’s a seventy-five percent chance she’ll wake up as normal, alongside much complaining. The other possibility, similar to Anne’s first instincts upon being woken up, isn’t unheard of. Either choice is unpleasant, but the second makes Anne’s entire body freeze up as she’s left helpless. She hates seeing Sasha so scared, even momentarily, when there’s nothing she can do.
She runs her fingertips up and down Sasha’s arm, being as gentle as possible. She doesn’t notice Sasha’s closed eyelids press tighter the second before a hand darts out to grab her wrist.
That’s not so bad. Firm, but not so much it hurts.
“It’s just me, Sash,” she whispers. “You’re okay.”
Her iron grip softens. Anne lets herself breathe again.
“You woke me up,” Sasha mumbles into her neck.
“It’s almost ten.”
“No excuses.” Her thumb skims across the base of Anne’s palm. “Where’s Marcy?”
“Here!” Marcy says like she’s responding to a teacher taking attendance.
“So you were just gonna stand there and watch while Anne interrupted my well-deserved rest after such a mentally taxing night? How dare.”
Mention of the night before sends Anne’s brain scrambling to piece the events together once again. She cringes as memories come back to the surface. Being too protective, jumping from windows, hiding from boys, kissing her friends. All in all, not some of her proudest- wait a minute.
Just like that, the floodgates open. Memories turn sharp and clear. Feeling alone in a crowd. The sinking in her stomach as she fell from a two-story height. And being cornered into a dark side room with Sasha and Marcy. Sitting on the couch, face warm and a little sore from smiling in between kissing them both.
An echo of the same feelings flow through her now. Heartbeat rushed, hands shaky, thoughts fogged over with flashes of memory that won’t leave her alone. Words, challenges, whispered under breath. Their hands in her hair. The look in their eyes as they pulled close. And the rest feels so unreal it might as well be a dream that she can write off as never having happened.
She can’t tell if she likes the feeling or hates it. This is too confusing. Sasha, with her breath against the crook of Anne’s neck and her thumb still caressing her palm, is not helping. Anne wriggles out of her grasp and sits up. Something is very wrong.
“Something the matter there, Anne?” Marcy asks. She’s busy trying to brush out the wrinkles in her clothes from sleeping in them for the night.
“Oh me? No, I’m good. Great, even,” Anne says. Why does her voice sound like that?
Sasha pushes up behind her, making a scene of tiredly stretching her arms.
“You’re lying. What is it?”
“I’m thinking about last night, that’s all.” She looks between them. “It’s just- did we- do you guys remember anything weird that happened?”
Sasha moves up next to her, bumping their shoulders together. “You mean the whole night? Yeah, I remember.”
“No- well, you’re not wrong but-“ Anne might as well be blunt, because she can’t think of a casual way to phrase it. “Okay, it might’ve been some crazy dream, but-” she swallows “-did we, like, kiss?” She ends with a laugh, so if she needs the excuse they’ll think she’s joking.
Marcy’s hands come to a stop around the hem of her shirt. “Maybe a little bit?” she provides.
Sasha’s answer contains no such hesitation. “Yeah, duh,” she says. But as she looks up at them, seeing them both tense and look to the floor, her approach abruptly changes. She pulls back. “But it didn’t mean- ha, it wasn’t real, remember?”
Marcy jumps to agree. “Of course not. It was just for practice. So we wouldn’t mess up the real thing.”
“Oh yeah, that’s, um, that’s right,” Anne says. She certainly remembers them saying that. But it’s not right at all. Because Anne knows what practice is. For her, it’s skinned knees and twisted ankles. Messing up shots, being bad at something and hating being that way until you’re good at it. There are hardly consequences for messing up.
What her friends are talking about was not the same thing. In other words, it captivates Anne, holds her attention far too much for something that wasn’t meant to be real. Because it had felt very, very real.
Practice shouldn’t make her heart pound whenever she thinks about it. It shouldn’t make her want to break into a giddy smile and bury her face in her hands. It shouldn’t confuse her about what she should be getting out of it. Practice is supposed to be simple, straightforward. It's not something she does for the sake of doing it. Usually it’s not something she wants to do at all.
Not that she wants to kiss them again. Because she doesn’t. They’re her friends. She doesn’t.
And even if she did , it wouldn’t matter. She didn’t do it for herself. It was for them. So if it didn’t mean anything to them, it didn’t mean anything to her. Simple as that.
Now if only she could stop imagining what it would feel like the second time. Purely for curiosity’s sake, she wonders what they would say if she asked. She knows she shouldn’t, but once the thought enters her head, there’s no stopping it. She looks around at them. She wants to break the uncomfortable silence somehow, but decides it’s too risky with her current state of mind. There’s no telling whether her thoughts, the ones she needs to stop having, would get the better of her if she did.
Marcy’s phone rings. The three of them startle in unison. Anne thanks frog for the distraction. Marcy fishes around in her pocket. She secures the phone and throws them an apologetic glance before answering the call.
Staticky yelling can be heard over the line, even from Anne’s place a few feet away. She shares a look with Sasha.
“Y- yeah. I know, Dad. I’ll be right there.” Marcy says. She quiets, listening for a couple seconds to more crackling words. “Sorry. I’ll head over right now.” She sighs, and presses the ‘end call’ button.
“Parents want you back?” Sasha asks.
“By ten. I totally forgot.” She puts a hand to her face. “Would you mind dropping my stuff off sometime, Sash? I left it at your place.”
“Sure thing.” On her knees, she moves to the edge of the bed to sit facing Marcy. “They won’t give you a hard time, will they?”
Marcy shakes her head. “No. I mean, they shouldn’t know I went anywhere besides Anne’s house,” She says, then holds out her arms in waiting.
Anne bounces up, wrapping her in a goodbye hug. It’s returned the same energetic way as always.
“Sasha,” Marcy calls over her shoulder. “You know I can’t leave until I get one from you, too.”
“Is that so?”
Anne feels Marcy nod. Her hands move out from around her back, making grabby motions toward Sasha.
“Geez, okay. I’m getting up,” she says before joining their hug. Anne drinks in the familiarity of it all. Things don’t have to change just because her brain is acting weird around them right now.
“Be safe,” she says. For the walk home, and for what might happen when she gets there.
“See you on Monday?” Sasha asks.
“Yep.” Marcy breaks away. “See you then,” she says, before smiling and hurrying out the door. And then she’s gone.
“I should probably get going, too.” Sasha stretches while walking across the room. She uses the mirror above Anne’s dresser to redo her disheveled ponytail.
“That’s fine,” Anne shrugs. With nothing better to do, she sits back on the end of the bed and watches her get ready. Her movements are precise and meaningful. Hair fixed, shirt neat, makeup touched up all within seconds. Impressive, in a way. Is it weird to be staring? Sasha wouldn’t mind, if she noticed. She’d stare back at Anne with that lopsided, knowing, prettier-than-it-should-be grin. It almost makes her want to get caught.
She tears her eyes away, trying to stop a dangerous path of thinking. It doesn’t work.
As she finishes up, another, thankfully more normal thought occurs. “Hey Sasha, before we fell asleep last night-”
Sasha whirls around, scattering a fistful of bobby pins across the dresser's surface. “Y-yeah?” she asks, timid, while looking back down to pick them up. Or to avoid looking at Anne.
“It’s not bad,” Anne assures her. “It’s just- remember you said you needed to tell me something?”
Sasha relaxes a bit. She replaces the bobby pins in their container. But she still isn’t making eye contact. “Oh, that. Uh, It was nothing.” Her eyes land on the doorway, door left ajar from Marcy walking through in a hurry.
“What? Come on, it was definitely something.” Anne presses on. She’s honestly proud of herself for remembering. It comes at the expense of forgetting the rest of the context, but still.
“No, it-” Sasha sighs, folds her arms. “Look, I can tell you when we’re with Marcy again, if you really want to hear it.” She looks her over. Something sad lies underneath her gaze, echoing in the way she talks. “I doubt you will, though.”
Anne wonders what makes her so certain. But it’s obvious she’s not keen on giving answers right now. She nudges Sasha’s arm.
“That’s fine. We can talk about it later if you want.”
“Thanks,” she says, noticeably relieved. “I should go before…” she trails off.
Anne hadn’t thought her parents would have any issue with her coming home late. She must be worried about something else, then.
“Um, alright,” she says. “See you soon.” Her concern is more evident than she’d hoped.
Sasha gives her a weak smile before heading out.
Anne’s room is very empty when they aren’t there. She feels a bittersweet pang later in the day, when she’s made to smooth out her bed covers, still bunched and twisted to accommodate them while they slept. It’s followed by another wave of feeling, pulling at her chest in a way that makes her want to reach in and squeeze her heart until it stops.
She chalks it up to a byproduct of her clouded mind. She’s probably just tired. It’ll all be back to normal by Monday.
“I’m sorry, what?” Sasha says much too loudly in the minutes between first and second period on Monday. Things are decidedly not back to normal.
“Yep. Grounded,” Marcy laments to the hallway’s dirt-stained ceiling lights.
“That sucks,” Anne says. “How did they even find out?” she asks. And will they tell her parents, too? is the question she keeps to herself. She’d been lucky to get off with only a mild lecture from her mother about not being home on time. She doesn’t want to think about what would happen if she knew the full story.
Marcy shakes her head. “They didn’t. It was just about this.” She says, pointing to her hair. “They weren’t fans of the style, I guess.” She tries to sound unaffected.
Sasha’s not having it. “They can’t do that. It’s your hair, why should they care what you do with it?”
“It wasn’t really about the hair. They said it was for being ‘defiant.’”
Sasha mutters a word under her breath that makes Anne swat her arm.
“So what are you gonna do?”
Marcy rubs the back of her neck, thinking. “Not much I can do. They want me to stay after school a few days a week now, too. Apparently my grades have been slipping.”
“What, from A’s to B-pluses?” Sasha asks, incredulous. It says all it needs to say that Marcy doesn’t refute the statement.
“They just want what’s best for me,” she mumbles.
“Well so do I, and I think that’s bullsh-” The bell rings, cutting her off. The hallway commotion starts up again.
“Let’s try to figure it out during lunch, okay?” Anne says, and adds it onto her newly formed list of ‘things to talk and/or think about later.’ She waves them goodbye and walks off to class.
Whispers follow her as she goes. She should be used to it by now, but they’ve gotten worse after what happened Saturday night. People’s theories about what happened to them are getting deeper, more convoluted. Anything they can think up that would make somebody risk serious injury instead of revealing. Most of what they’re saying is about Anne, which she’s okay with. But she hears Sasha or Marcy’s name slipped into their conversations on occasion. She can only hope they aren’t saying anything too bad.
Her first class, English, is mostly boring. The teacher drawls on about the twentieth chapter of the assigned reading. Anne struggles to recall whether she’s finished chapter five yet. It doesn’t take long for her mind to wander from literary themes and symbolism.
It would’ve been one thing if Marcy’s parents knew what they’d really been doing that night. Forget defiant, it was downright teenage delinquency and self-endangerment. But they hadn’t found out, and they’d taken the barest suggestion that Marcy had control over her own life as a reason to punish her. So yeah, it makes her angry. Not enough to cuss them out, but angry.
Marcy doesn’t deserve all that. Sure, she has a bit of a rebellious streak, especially post-Amphibia, but she’s better than most. Better than Anne and certainly better than Sasha when it comes to rules. Anne admires her a lot. How she’s able to keep two lives in line enough to pull off A/B honor roll in one and political reforms in another.
And the thing is, her parents know about that. Why does it seem like they’ve gotten harsher since Marcy (somehow) convinced them to let her manage her time between the two worlds? Best case scenario, they’re afraid of letting go, easing control, and losing her again. Worst case, they’re upset she’s adopted a lifestyle they can’t intervene in at every step. Anne wants to believe the first, but then wouldn’t they try to be even the tiniest bit understanding of what Marcy wants? Wouldn’t they be able to excuse something as trivial as her haircut?
Her mind drifts to Marcy herself next, which spells her downfall. Everything she learns about her friend, the poise with which she handles the pressure on her shoulders, makes Anne that much more impressed with her. And that much more eager to spend the little free time she has together.
Try as she might, she can’t keep from thinking about their recent interactions. Something is different. Anne can’t ignore whatever spark ignites when she’s handled with such care. Gentle hands on her skin. A playful smile that draws them both into-
Anne is right on the cusp of awareness, of getting herself under control, when a hand snaps its fingers between her eyes, saving her the trouble. She blinks harshly.
The teacher smiles down at her. “Thinking about our boyfriend, are we?” She says, sending a round snickering through the class.
“What? No!” Anne rushes to defend herself. “I don’t even- Why would you think that?”
The teacher leans back with a raised eyebrow. “I’ve taught high school for a very long time, Miss Boonchuy. I know a distracted student when I see one.” She motions back to the whiteboard, covered in notes that Anne has copied approximately none of. “And I know how to get their attention.”
Heat flares in Anne’s cheeks. “Right, sorry.” She picks up her pencil. It was just a joke. She’s making up implications that were never there.
But the way it all affected her is unsettling. She puts it on the list.
English class goes smoothly from there on out. Next up is History.
Anne feels a spike of nerves. Caitlyn is in that class with her, as well as a few of her friends that Anne knows were at her party. There’s no way to tell what they think of her, what they’ll say, to her face or behind her back, when she gets there. An adult in the room would usually act as a filter, but unfortunately in this case, their History teacher is lenient at best.
It’s fine. It’s not like they’re mean people, from what she knows. Anne will make it through even if it’s kind of uncomfortable.
Pushing into the classroom, she awkwardly waves to them before sitting at her desk. They respond with equal enthusiasm, meaning next to none. Anne averts her eyes like she’s a good student who’s focusing on the lesson. It probably isn’t believable.
As expected, the teacher only teaches for a few minutes before giving up and letting them have “time to work on assignments” which none of them use or need. Class quickly devolves into a free-for-all. Her peers twist around in their seats or kick their feet up onto the desk, freely having conversation unrelated to any schoolwork. She watches the teacher start tapping away at his computer.
Caitlyn and her friends waste no time launching into a play-by-play of what happened on Saturday from each of their perspectives. Anne’s proximity to them makes her an unwilling listener and part of the group. Luckily, aside from Caitlyn mentioning that she was happy to see her there, she’s not being forced to contribute so far. A good thing, since she has no idea what’s going on. Or rather, what went on while she was… distracted.
“-and then Brad agreed to kiss Robin, even though he and Emily had just started dating,” says a girl with straight black hair. Anne should know her name, but doesn’t. She makes gestures while she talks like that will make anything she’s saying clearer. Anne zones out watching her hands move. Sasha does that sometimes. She likes it better when Sasha does it.
And of course she’s in the middle of thinking about her again when the girl addresses her for the first time. Anne blinks, trying to drive the images from her stupid brain.
“You were there when he did that, right? Back me up,” she laughs.
Anne swallows. “No, I wasn’t there. Or- I left early. Before that all happened.”
“That’s true. You and those other two did kinda disappear after you, y’know.” She brings one of her hands down on the other to mime a person hitting the ground. “But I didn’t think you left.”
Something in her voice taps into Anne’s instinct to keep her guard up. “We stayed for a little,” she says. “But I had to take them home after.”
The girl gives her a skeptical look and opens her mouth to say something.
“Oh!” Caitlyn pipes up. “You drive?”
Anne’s not sure why that’s relevant, but nods again. Plus, she has a suspicion it’s easier to answer than whatever the other girl was going to say. “Sure do.”
“That’s cool. I didn’t know, I always see you walk to and from school. Do you have your own car?”
Anne’s confusion lasts an embarrassingly long second. You idiot. She meant a car. Obviously she meant a car. “I- um- no. I don’t. Sorry, I didn’t understand the- I can’t actually drive, no.”
The group gives her a collective weird look, but moves on. The black-haired girl looks her over for a second longer than the rest, she notices. Soon the focus is back on relationship drama, which Anne never thought she’d be grateful for.
The moments of peace she’s been granted, halfway listening to them while her mind drifts to other things, are cut short when the topic changes. Well, not changes, really, but it gets more personal. She tunes back in to a whispered group exchange peppered with giggling. The subject of which being the pros and cons of party attendees as potential boyfriends.
A pit forms in Anne’s stomach as she listens. She should not be here. She feels it somewhere deep, that this is not her place. Their lively voices are a stark contrast to her discomfort. She’s been indifferent to these things as long as she can remember. That’s not bad in and of itself, but it feels like everyone around her jumps at any chance to bring them up ever since she got back. Like somebody flipped the switch that made her peers care about dating while she was stuck in another world and fighting for her life.
She doesn’t mean to berate them for that, as much as she doesn’t understand it. She just worries she’ll never catch up. That there will always be a dissonance she can’t fix or hide. Another bridge she can’t cross between the life she knows now, and the one she could’ve.
She pulls herself back with the reminder that the important people won’t care whether she fits in. There’s nothing wrong with her just because she has different priorities. Still, she can’t fully shake the cold, crawling worry.
Especially when they quiet, and it seems she’s the only one who hasn’t given an opinion. She meets their expectant eyes. They’re waiting for her. She should just be honest, right? As honest as she can be without making them think she’s insane.
She tries for a laugh, hoping it doesn’t sound too nervous. “There’s, uh, really no-one that I’d say I like that much.” She rubs the back of her neck. “Like, to date,” she clarifies.
“Nobody at all?” one girl asks. “There were a bunch of guys there.”
The cold feeling cuts deeper.
The black-haired girl, the one who’s been watching her too closely, snorts. “Right, like she even noticed. She was probably too busy sneaking off with her girlfriends.”
A few people laugh. The air leaves Anne’s lungs, replaced with a multitude of things she struggles to reign back in. Mostly embarrassment. Her face heats in an all too familiar way. Her pulse quickens. That, though, could be from the agitation, the anger at being singled out and made fun of for no reason. She clenches and unclenches her hand under the desk. And finally, barely there underneath everything else, is a sort of excitement. She doesn’t give herself time to figure out the source.
“What’s your problem with me?” She asks, eyes narrowing. “I didn’t do anything to you. Neither did they.”
The girl raises her eyebrows. “I don’t have a problem. I just don’t know why you’d lie about leaving early. Seems weird.”
Anne rolls her eyes. She forgot ‘seeming weird’ counted as an excuse to make fun of people. The first part confuses her, though. She hadn’t lied, they did leave early. “Sorry, what exactly do you think I’m lying about?”
“You didn’t leave when you said you did. Someone said they saw you three in a different part of the house. It was a whole thing”
Oh, right. That. She remembers a shuffle in the hallway, a hand on the doorknob. Obviously there would have been a person behind it. But they weren’t doing anything-
The rush of memory overtakes her again. Maybe “not doing anything” is a bit of a lie. Her cheeks burn hotter. Is it possible that he saw them-? No, she shuts the thought down. She would’ve heard by now if anyone had. No witnesses, no proof that anything happened unless she gives it to them. For now, there’s nothing incriminating about being caught standing in a side room with her friends.
“So? We were-” she stutters for a fraction of a second, “-hanging out in another room before we left. Who cares.”
The girl holds her hands up. “I’m just saying. People are gonna assume things if you don’t give an explanation.”
“Well, I gave one. Tell whoever you need to.” She stands. “Just leave us out of your dumb rumors.” Stealing a glance at their teacher, who looks very close to falling asleep if he hasn’t already, Anne walks away from the group and out of the classroom. She doesn’t see how they react. For the time being, she doesn’t care.
The clock in the hallway puts the end of class sooner than she expected. She doubts the teacher will notice her absence. She runs a hand down and across her face. She did the right thing. There’s no reasoning with people who are only trying to provoke her.
Maybe she shouldn’t have let herself be provoked. Yeah right , she thinks, easy as that. While she’s at it, maybe she shouldn’t have ‘let herself’ get traumatized either.
She lets out a groaning sigh, shutting her eyes and angling her head up. How did it get this bad? A single social function had somehow come back to bite her and her friends in every way possible. Really encouraging, great job, Anne.
The lunch bell rings, saving her from a complete spiral. She starts to the cafeteria before anyone else can leave class.
She makes it with time to spare and sits at the usual spot with as much composure as she can gather. On another day, she might’ve mingled beforehand. Not today. Her eyes dart from person to person as they walk in. She’s going through one of her phases, more infrequent than they used to be, but not gone. When it feels like everyone she comes into contact with is ready to point a knife at her back. Out to get her, to hurt her, it doesn’t matter, they’re conspiring against her. She knows it’s irrational. But it’s habit, left over from when ‘irrational’ was never off the table. The best thing to do is wait it out instead of forcing herself to act normal.
Something clatters down on the table next to her. She jumps.
Marcy is looking at her weird. Quizzical, with her eyebrows pinched instead of her usual lighthearted expression.
“What is it?” Anne asks. It comes out aggressive.
“Nothing, it’s just…” Marcy reaches out to touch her, but stops. “Are you feeling okay?”
With a great deal of effort, Anne shakes her head. No point in lying.
Marcy gives a quick nod of acknowledgement. She glances around the room. “Do you want to leave?”
“We can’t ditch school, Marbles,” Anne mumbles.
“Well we could ,” Marcy says. “But that’s not what I meant. Let’s go find somewhere without so many people, alright?” She holds out a hand. Anne takes it, keeping her head down as she’s led out of the cafeteria. Marcy leaves her lunch behind.
Along the way to wherever she’s taking her, they run into a very confused Sasha.
“Uh, hi guys,” she says. She looks surprised to see them, but takes it in stride, falling in line next to Marcy and walking with them. “Where are we going?”
“I don’t know. Maybe the library. There shouldn’t be that many people in there.” She squeezes Anne’s hand. “Does that sound good?”
“It does. Thanks,” Anne breathes. Together, they shuffle over to the entrance.
Marcy gives a simple wave to the librarian as they walk in. She receives a wave back, and no other comment. Anne smiles to herself. Of course Marcy is a regular at this library as much as she is at any other. Anne wonders when she’s been finding the time to sneak off and come here. It’s big, much bigger than the library at their private school was. And there’s even more than one place to sit. Marcy leads them over to the cluster of tables in one corner, all empty except for one, seating a single student and covered corner to corner in homework and study guides. They take the one furthest away, stationed behind a bookshelf and hopefully out of earshot.
Anne moves into the corner, making sure she’s mostly alone before letting herself breathe. Marcy, sitting next to her, moves a hand up and down her back. Sasha sits across from them. She looks concerned for the most part, accompanied by a fair amount of confusion.
“Sorry,” Anne says in lieu of an explanation. She focuses on the table made of fake, plasticy wood. “I hate getting like this.”
Marcy hums. “So do I. It’s not your fault. Feeling all helpless is the worst.”
“Yeah, it happens,” Sasha says. “Don’t beat yourself up. Just let us know if we can do anything.”
“Thank you,” Anne says. She doesn’t think they can.
They sit in uneventful silence for a minute. Her nerves die down.
“You don’t have to,” Marcy whispers. “But if explaining what happened would help, you can.”
Anne can’t say whether it would. She figures she owes it to them, though. And it might help her sort herself out. If she’s being honest, she doesn’t exactly know why she reacted the way she did. Maybe talking it over with them will make things clearer.
She leans her elbow on the table, cheek resting in her hand. “It’s really dumb,” she starts.
“No way,” Sasha butts in. “Can’t be worse than the time I almost stabbed you because I didn’t recognize you with your jacket hood up.”
“I guess not.” In Sasha’s defense, it had been dark. “But this is just weird.” She folds her arms and lays them in front of her. She attempts to be as vague as possible in her recounting of the events. What is there to recount? She stumbles through a summary.
“So it was like a threat?” Sasha asks when she’s finished.
Anne waves her off before she can get any ideas. “No, no. Just a rumor. Or- I don’t even know, she might’ve just been trying to get a reaction from me. But I’m pretty sure that’s why I started panicking. I felt like she was targeting me. Planning to hurt me or do- something.” It sounds stupid as soon as she says it. Being scared of an overly-combative high school girl. Like Sasha but with less sword wielding experience. Anne has been through worse. Why is she reacting like this is the same?
“Hurt you?” Sasha laughs. “Don’t kid yourself. You could take this entire school on your own. None of these people are exactly planning geniuses either.”
“Sasha!” Marcy scolds.
“What? I’m trying to make her feel better. Y’know, reassurance.”
“Why is violence your solution to everything?”
“I’m not telling her to do it. Just reminding her she could . They’ve got nothing on you, A-” She’s silenced by Marcy leaning over the table and pressing a hand to her mouth.
Anne finds herself smiling.
Sasha catches it from the corner of her eyes. She moves Marcy’s hand away, grabbing it by the wrist. “Ha! See? It worked. She’s feeling better already.”
“I don’t know about that,” Marcy says. She deftly moves her fingers to lace through Sasha’s.
“No, she’s right,” Anne decides to say. “I am.”
“Look at that. You can’t argue with results, Marce.” Marcy sticks her tongue out at her, which Sasha doesn’t notice whilst turning away to check on Anne. “You sure you’re good? Whatever she said looked like it really messed with you.”
Her curiosity isn’t stated outright. Anne could ignore it if she wanted. But she can just say what it was. She should, so that if the rumor really is going around, they’ll know about it beforehand. It’s not that big of a deal, just some joke secret that isn’t true. The two of them will probably laugh at it.
“It’s my fault.” Anne says, brushing off the identical doubting looks cast her way. “She told me people are saying things about us because of what happened Saturday. I don’t know if it’s true or if she just wanted someone to put down, but-“ Her throat closes. She wants to say it. To offhandedly mention somebody making an unfunny joke about them so they can all agree it’s crazy and move on. Because really, in what world would it be true? Why would anybody assume they were-
Anne feels the same unbidden twinge of excitement, stronger now that there’s no imminent threat. The idea of being seen as, even mistaken for their girlfriend -
The excitement starts all over again. Why does she want that? It doesn’t make sense. Anne is fairly certain you need to like somebody before wanting to date them. She doesn’t feel that way about her friends. But then, she doesn’t feel ‘that way’ about anybody, so would she even be able to tell if, somehow, she did?
But no. No. She doesn’t. She can’t. A few questionable thoughts don’t mean anything so drastic. They’re her friends. Nothing more. They’re the ones who care to stick around, who understand her better than any other people she knows. She doesn’t need to ruin that. Not for some unreasonable notion that she wants something else. Because she doesn’t. They’re her friends who she loves and admires in a strictly, completely platonic way.
So much that she struggles to tear her eyes from them more often than not. But that’s normal. Anne is allowed to acknowledge that her friends are good-looking. She’s allowed to appreciate it. As long as they’re just her friends, the ones she has to force herself to stop thinking of whenever she’s reminded of them. Their cute habits or how they make her feel all warm when she talks to them or the way it felt to kiss them. Which is something she did, and something she can’t stop thinking about, and something that is getting very hard to deny that she enjoyed.
But it’s not- she couldn’t. She risks a glance up at them. It’s the worst mistake she could have made. Her senses are flooded, overflowing with electricity or butterflies or whatever every book and movie and TV show she’s ever seen describes it as. The shaky breathing, the blushing, the sped-up heartbeat. It’s all been so painfully, severely obvious this whole time. And she’s been pushing it down as far as it will go. Still, she wishes it could’ve broken through the surface at any more of a convenient, not breakdown-succeeding time.
“You okay?” Marcy asks. And she curls an arm around Anne’s waist to pull her into a side hug and Anne is even more overwhelmed than before and she can’t make the words come out and oh she’s got it bad. Sasha reaches a hand out to her across the table, which she takes without thinking, and it gets so much worse.
“Yep! All good,” Anne says, not knowing whether it’s a lie. Her peppy tone makes it sound like one. But can’t bring herself to feel bad . This is all thrilling as much as it is terrifying.
“Cool.” Sasha checks the clock above the door. “Damn. Lunch is almost over. You guys wanna get something to eat after school?”
“No can do,” Marcy says. “I’m still grounded, remember?”
Sasha huffs. “Just lie or something.”
And here they are, continuing to have their casual little conversation like Anne isn’t coping with a secret that would shatter their relationship. And by relationship she means friendship. She chides herself for the mental tic and does her best to pay attention.
She could go for food. That is if Sasha had any chance of convincing Marcy to go behind her parent’s back again, which she doesn’t. All three of them know it’s hopeless. Bummer. It could’ve been fun.
It could’ve been like a date her brain supplies, even though it should know better by now. It could not have been ‘like a date’ because they. Are. Not. Dating.
God, she’s a mess. In her defense, the day has left her with no time to cope. She’s got to get out of here before she accidentally lets something slip, what with how fast and unfiltered the thoughts are as they race through her head. Anne all but slams her hands onto the table, standing from her seat. The sudden movement draws the attention of not only her friends, but the other kid seated a few tables away.
“I- have to go,” she stutters.
“Are you really sure that you’re-” Anne hits Marcy’s hand away before it can make contact with her face.
“Yes! Positive!” she says, too enthusiastically.
“You’re an awful liar,” Sasha deadpans.
“No I’m not!” She calls, already walking out the door. By some miracle, they aren’t quick enough to follow before she’s out of sight.
A couple feet down the hallway, she braces a hand on the wall and leans over slightly. catching her breath. Anne’s not unathletic. This is different. She knows, for once, exactly why she’s short of breath.
It’s them. It’s always them. Her past, her life now, the future she won’t let herself imagine, much less accept. Hell, even ancient, timeless prophecies. It’s always been the three of them. They’ve worked so hard to get here, to make themselves better for each other’s sake.
Anne can not risk this. For anything. She needs to learn how to handle her stupid, invasive feelings before they make her life, their lives, miserable.
The remainder of the school week makes for a horrendous trial run. A good night's sleep and a ‘thinking things over’ were evidently not near enough to make the feelings go away. On the contrary, sleep deprivation is one of the only things that numbs them. It makes her mind too sluggish to jump to embarrassing, sappy fantasies whenever she lays eyes on her friends. Something which will happen, if she's not careful.
In one tiny piece of good news, Caitlyn approaches her at the end of school on Monday to reassure her that the rumor Amber (apparently her name is Amber) had referred to is largely a joke that nobody believes. The revelation would have been a huge relief had it come a few hours earlier. Because by then Anne knows it’s not a joke. And it’s not a rumor. And it’s way worse this way because it isn’t some outside threat to their group, those they can handle. It’s a problem with Anne herself. Sure, they’ve had problems with themselves before, but Anne has gotten off without having to hide anything from them until now. This is new. The mere suggestion of such a massive upheaval to what their friendship is founded on (being exactly and strictly that: friendship) could prove too much.
So it’s better to keep it where it should be. Out of sight and out of mind. A great philosophy if Anne’s mind didn’t turn against her every time she sees them. And the gestures are something else entirely. Laid-back, familiar things that should and, up until this point have been an insignificant part of their relationship become games of control, of self regulation. Hiding the blush in her face, the frenzy her heart is sent into with every touch to her wrist and hand wrapped around hers.
They don’t even have to be touching. Marcy will be speeding through a rant about something she can’t begin to follow, and Sasha will be nodding and making dry comments, and sometimes they’ll just look at her and smile and Anne will be that close to spilling everything.
But she doesn’t. She won’t. There are a million reasons not to.
Anne shouldn’t care about what people think of them. But she also needs to acknowledge that it will be better for them if she keeps the fake rumors as they are. Mostly because of another reason that catches up to her later than one would expect: Sasha and Marcy are not guys. Not even a little. Anne considers this a downside for all of two milliseconds. Which is a revelation to deal with… at some point. And to further complicate things, she definitely likes both of them. At the same time. It’s different than what she was expecting out of crushing on people, to say the least. Unconventional.
Acting any more unconventionally at a time like this, around these people, would not serve them well. Sasha and Marcy shouldn’t have to deal with that when they’re already struggling to be accepted. They shouldn’t have to deal with her chaotic, muddled emotional mayhem at all.
So they won’t. Anne can wait this out and they’ll never even have to think about it. She clings to hope that her feelings will vanish, unpredictably, in the same way they’d appeared. And she purposefully disregards what she already knows, that they’ve been festering for a while and have only just crossed a point she can’t ignore. It’s much easier to pretend she never could have seen this coming. That it means nothing beyond being unpredictable and strange.
Bit by bit, she makes it through the days. They come and go without incident aside from awkward, hastened excuses given to her friends. Reassurances that yes, she’s completely fine, they don’t need to worry. And the relentless, gushy daydreams. Just when Anne thinks she’s imagined herself, imagined them in every possible romantic situation there is, another thought trickles through the cracks. And it always seems to happen when they’re right next to her. She trips over the air on multiple occasions while attempting to flee on short notice.
By Friday morning, she’s more than drained from this. From the worrying and the hiding and at least the weekend is almost here. Just one more day. Anne stares into her open locker like she’s busy searching for something inside.
The door is slammed shut in front of her face. So close a gust of air blows through her hair. She jumps back. Oh no. Sasha is standing there, supporting herself with the hand on Anne’s locker and leaning far into her personal space. Anne steps back, only to be held in place by the shoulders from behind. She can make a good guess as to who that is. Blocked in on either side with nowhere else to go, she moves to press her back into the locker.
“Hey girls,” she says. “W- what’s up?” The metal is cold through the thin fabric of her t-shirt. That’s why she shivers. Not because she’s being stared down and literally pinned to a locker by the girls she likes or anything.
But it’s not like that . They look angry with her, for one thing. Even Marcy. She’s cute when she’s angry more than she is threatening. Sasha, on the other hand…
She cuts to the chase. “You’re avoiding us.”
Anne defaults to denial. “What? No way.”
“We’re not idiots, Anne. Marcy told me you ran away from her after math class yesterday. Like, literally ran. She used the word ‘sprinted’.” Marcy nods at Anne’s other side. “What’s going on with you?”
“We’re really worried about you,” Marcy adds, shedding some light on the real source of Sasha’s anger. Sasha grumbles, but stays where she is. Which is too close. Anne’s eyes travel along her outstretched arm (And yeah, okay, she’s super toned or what ever , it doesn’t matter) and come to a rest on her face. Also too close. They flit to look at Marcy’s. Not any better. And she looks at the entirety of their faces, the annoyance written across all of their features. None of that ‘zoning out and focusing only on their lips’ nonsense. She’s too good for that. She’s doing it right now. Damn it.
Marcy waves a hand in front of her. “Anne? You in there?”
Anne snaps up to look her in her eyes. “Y- yeah. I am. Sorry.” What was the question again?
“Well? Do you want to give us an explanation?”
Oh, right. They’re mad at her. For avoiding them. For avoiding this.
“I…” Marcy inches closer at the sound of her voice. Anne nearly gets distracted. “I- don’t have one,” she blurts. “Sorry, I, um, I have a lot on my mind right now. That’s why.”
Marcy sighs. “Not anything we can help with, I’m guessing?”
Anne can’t tell if she believes her or not. “I don’t think so, no. Sorry. I promise I’ll be back to normal next week.” More like she’s counting on it.
Marcy’s eyebrows furrow. “Just stop running away from us, okay? And if you decide you want to talk about it, we’ll listen.” She backs away. As panic-inducing as her closeness had been, Anne misses it when it’s gone. But she has another problem to deal with.
Sasha leans over her. She narrows her eyes before they dart downwards. And she’s very close all the sudden, close enough that Anne could-
That Anne could watch as her hand comes up to straighten the collar on her shirt before she steps back, too.
“Fine,” she says. “Now get going, or you’ll be late to class.” She takes Marcy’s hand. If Anne’s not imagining things, there’s a gleam in her eyes as she starts walking away. “See you after school.”
Anne takes a moment to gather herself. Her thoughts, her words, her shaky limbs on the verge of giving out, all of it. There are people staring. Disoriented, she waves to them on instinct and they stop.
She barely moves until the bell rings, signaling her lateness. As she starts off to class, something worms its way into her head. She can’t remember what they had planned for after school. And, what’s more worrying, she can’t decide if she’s looking forward to it.
Anne still hasn’t decided, mostly because she’s forgotten, when the end of the school day rolls around. Sasha finds her and Marcy while they’re walking from their final, shared class of the day. Or while Anne is walking, and while Marcy is waving goodbye to her from the doorway. She appears from around the corner and sidles up to them.
“Hey, you girls up for hanging out tonight?” she asks, which throws Anne off.
Up for it? Given her headspace as of late, probably not. Whether she wants to is a different question. And when she brings what Sasha and Marcy said earlier into consideration, that’s a third. Her incredibly well thought out compromise of an answer is a slight shrug.
“Why do you keep asking, Sash?” Marcy says next to her. “You know I can’t.”
“Sure you can!” Sasha chirps. “I have it all worked out. You said your dad wants you to stay after school for tutoring or whatever, right?”
Sasha continues. “So instead of doing that, you come with us.” She reaches across Anne’s shoulders, pulling her against her side. “He won’t know. Besides, it’s not like you need it.”
“Well. no. But I usually stay and help the kids who do instead.” Marcy turns around to take in the sight of a very empty math classroom. Save for the teacher, who stares back at her over his computer screen, face blank.
“I guess it wouldn’t hurt to skip it for once,” she says, eyeing the other two with a smile. “As long as I’m back at a believable time.”
“For sure. Two hours, max.”
“Deal.” She takes her place at Sasha’s other side. “You’re in too, right Anne?”
No, Anne should say. She can be assertive. She can find an excuse, and her parents would most likely prefer she came home sooner.
But that would be lying to them. And avoiding them on purpose, something they just told her they didn’t want, and something Anne had just promised she would stop doing. Is it better to tell a white lie and be done with it, or to feel like she’s lying for every second they spend together? She can feel bad for going back on her word, or feel bad for keeping every thought and feeling under wraps. Either way, nobody wins.
So she guesses she’ll go with what she wants. Which is to see how their faces will light up when she agrees. To make Marcy’s limited time away from home the best she can. To feel Sasha’s hand curl faintly around her sleeve for a little while longer. Those are all things she can pretend to care about in a friendship way. She’s been going strong for a week, what’s a few hours more?
Alone. With them. Hanging out. Together. Gal pal things.
“Totally. Where are we going?” She says before she can lose her confidence. As expected, they both brighten. Anne feels herself do the same, and her predicament doesn’t matter for a second. This was the right choice.
“Don’t know,” Sasha says. “Let’s find out.” And she winks while saying it and Anne’s brain stops working and maybe just maybe this is going to be harder than she thought.
Hand in hand, they leave the building. Anne momentarily forgets to care about the eyes on their backs.
The first stretches of sunset are in the sky by the time they leave. As they walk, aimless, the colors bloom and fade above them. Orange to pink to bluish-grey. Not that Anne is paying attention. Her friends are much more interesting. To look at and listen to and feel. Anne might be imagining things, as she’s been prone to for the past week, but she thinks they’re being touchier tonight. She doesn’t go more than a few minutes without some kind of physical contact. Arms across her shoulders, hands and pinkies linked at any opportunity. She doesn’t mind.
Together, they wander through stores and coffee bars and any other assorted buildings along the street. The places themselves are familiar and overall boring, but there’s nowhere else they can go. And ultimately, it shouldn’t be as fun as it is.
It’s weird to be spending time together without an ulterior motive. Lately their interactions have been on the shorter side, detailing reforms and coping strategies and whatever else they need from each other. It feels nice not to need anything from this.
With time to spare, the evening winds down. The sky darkens, sending street lights and stars flickering in the growing shadows. Their legs, by some ingrained memory, carry them to the rundown, rusted over park. Fragments of a pop song drift through the cracked open window of a parked car on the street nearby. Anne dully registers this while sighing down into the picnic table bench with them. She chooses not to dwell on the passing idea of tucking her head into Marcy’s shoulder.
Her thoughts have been uncharacteristically quiet for the night. She hopes she’s losing whatever had taken hold of her on Monday. Maybe spending the time together is making her realize how unnecessary it is to want more than what they have. Or scaring her back into submission for being too worried of losing it. In any case, she’s grateful the time window for ruining their entire relationship is coming to a close without major incident.
And yet, a part of her, buried as deep as she can get it after being so recently unearthed, is disappointed. It wants her to move closer without caring what will happen. That’s how she knows it can do nothing good for them. Anne has to care about how it would make them feel. No more distractions.
That’s hard when everything they do is distracting. Anne may have decided against it herself, but Marcy has no objection to resting on her .
“Tired?” Sasha quips. Marcy gives her a look, communicating something Anne can’t follow. Then again, she’s having trouble ‘following’ anything at the moment.
“Very,” she replies. It sounds like a challenge. Her arms close around Anne’s midriff.
“There’s no need to get so defensive, Mar-mar,” Sasha teases. About what, Anne has no idea.
“I’m not.” Marcy holds out one arm. “You’re perfectly welcome to join us.”
Sasha looks on, amused. In a split second something changes, and her eyes turn mischievous.
“Or,” she drawls, grabbing ahold of the provided forearm. “Here’s a better idea.” She pulls her to her feet. Anne watches both of them stumble back to the beat of the muffled car radio as they get their footing. Hands clasped together, she guides Marcy to and fro in a careless rhythm.
“Seriously?” Marcy asks, but indulges her, letting Sasha maneuver them around the table. She spins her under her arm, smiling in satisfaction when Marcy breaks away giggling.
She’s on Anne next, dragging her upright and pulling close. So close. Anne can’t hear the music over the rush of blood behind her ears, but she’s sure they aren’t moving in tune to it anyway. Laughter bubbles up in her chest among a billion other things. When Sasha lets go with a flourish, it’s only to move Anne in Marcy’s direction.
And then there’s another set of hands on her waist and shoulders in a bad version of a waltz. She thinks she hears a car door slam shut, and Marcy continues on in the absence of music, leading her in a dance that’s more like Anne continuously catching her as she trips over her own feet.
“Thanks,” she breathes, winded and clutching onto Anne to keep from toppling over. She looks up at her, eyes bright, and Anne has to wriggle out of the grasp before doing or saying something she’ll regret.
“N- no problem.” She hugs herself. This has gone on for too long. If she wants to stop thinking like this, being like this, she needs to-
“You look like you’re gonna be sick, Anne. Is Marcy really that bad?” Sasha chuckles.
“Hey! That’s not fair, I didn’t have any time to prepare!”
“What, are you enrolling in a dance class I don’t know about?”
Marcy mocks hitting her, aiming a slow, soft fist at her arm. It’s easily blocked at the wrist and turned into another hand hold. Anne should be over there with them. She can’t make herself move. She’d be taking advantage of their affection, gaining something from it that neither of them want her to. It’s easier to watch from afar.
In the end she doesn’t have a choice. Marcy’s got her hand again before she can protest. Guilt washes over her as she continues not to protest, or move away, or do anything that would be fair to her friends when given the chance.
Marcy hums, scanning over the two of them. Anne knows that look means she’s deep in thought, and that’s probably going to be an entire other situation when it comes to fruition, and it’s super annoying and borderline nauseating that she looks so adorable with her eyebrows scrunched like that.
“There’s got to be a way for three people to dance at once, right?” She positions them so all of their hands are connected in a circle.
Sasha shrugs. “Unless you want to jump around like elementary schoolers, not really.”
“Hm.” Marcy turns to Anne, pulling her into another close hold and sliding her hands so the palms are placed against the back of her neck. In return, Anne comes to rest on her shoulders without really thinking about it. Marcy idly moves across the torn up grass.
Questioning, dark eyes bore into Anne’s. “I guess we can go one at a time. I’d still rather have both of you here.”
Her touch drifts down, one hand at the small of Anne’s back and the other coming to catch her leg as she unwillingly leans too far. Because Marcy has somehow lead her into a dip, just like in every overexaggerated romantic drama Anne has ever watched, so is it really her fault this time when the thoughts, warm and nerve wracking and incredible and horrible, attack her from every corner of her mind? She’s frozen in place, her heart is pounding something fierce and she’s falling. And in actuality they’re both falling, because her weight is enough to throw Marcy off balance, and she lets out a little squeak as it gets the better of her, and they won’t be able to right themselves in time and-
And Sasha catches them. “Yeah, no. I think that’s enough.” She heaves them up, drawing them in to each take a place at one of her sides. “You two are going to be the death of me. Again.”
Their arms are warm and solid around Anne. Too warm, too close, too much for her to cope with. She needs to get away. The amount of self control it takes to move from the hug instead of sinking further in fills her with dread. An ice cold feeling, chasing away the last of their warmth.
“Aw,” Marcy says, “I thought I was getting the hang of- Anne?”
Anne forces herself from the embrace. Both of her friends reach after her, and her heart breaks for them having no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into. The thoughts, the wishes, the fantasies, the horrible pent up emotions, whatever she wants to call the goddamned things, are back full force after an evening of successfully staving them off, and a week of trying. They’re terrible and intense and her head hurts trying to think of how she’ll lie her way into pretending they don’t mean anything.
Anne realizes something, then. It makes her eyes sting and her mouth dry out. If she keeps doing this, she’ll drive them away. She’ll have nobody on Earth to turn to who doesn’t need her thoughts and feelings sugarcoated with lies that would make them palatable, unassuming.
But telling the truth could very well drive them away faster. She knows this, it’s why she’s kept it secret so far, but it sets in all over again now that she might not have another option. They’ve overhauled their relationship so many times, and it’s finally healing, and here Anne goes being the one to rip through the bandages. Holding them to an expectation, making them think she wants something out of them that she knows they could never give in honesty.
Because she does want it. She does and she hates it. That’s the most pathetic, selfish part. She wants it with an ache behind her ribs and those awful, awful words trapped in her lungs.
When she comes back to reality, she’s crying. Hiccuping like a little kid as she tries to force out what she knows she needs to say. Because they deserve to see the truth cast out in front of them and to think of it what they will.
Tear-blurred eyes obscure their forms, turning the approaching shapes into vaguely humanoid smudges of color in the dark. Anne prefers it that way. She’d rather not see their pity or watch it turn to dismay when she tells them.
“I-” is all she gets out before her voice turns thick enough to choke her.
“Hey, hey,” Marcy says, hand on her shoulder, palm to her cheek to brush the tears away. “You’re okay.”
A different set of fingers pushes through her bangs. Anne tries, really tries, to hold herself together. Another round of tears escapes. They’re dried under the pad of a gentle thumb as quickly as they fall.
“What’s going on with you, Anne?” Marcy mumbles sadly.
Sasha says nothing, but continues pushing Anne’s hair from in front of her face.
She gasps for air in between bouts of sobbing. Wincing and feeling more childish tears build with no end in sight.
For a long time, she can’t compose herself to speak. And they stay by her, with their soft motions and calming words. Anne should be ashamed for latching on so graciously, using their careful comforting presence as a lifeline. A reason to love and admire them all the more. How had they gone through everything they had and come out on the other side with compassion and concern to spare on her? How are hands so scarred able to treat her so kindly? How is it possible they could care for her so much? To be able to put aside every lesson they’d learned about what happens when you care for people?
“I’m sorry,” Anne whispers before anything else.
Marcy’s thumb keeps tracing across her cheek, though it's been dry for a while. “Don’t say that. Whatever you’re upset about isn’t your fault.”
Anne chuckles. “It is, though.” Her voice is strained.
“Oh get over yourself,” Sasha scoffs.“What could possibly-”
“I think I’m in love with you,” Anne blurts before she can finish. It shuts her up, all right. Perhaps Anne could have phrased it more mildly. ‘In love’ is quite the melodramatic way of putting it. But it’s the most simple, guaranteed way she could think of to not be misunderstood.
Accurate or not, it’s over. It’s gone, out in the open. She’ll never have to say it or think about it again. And if her friends don’t like it, they can help her kill it.
For now they go silent. With nobody around, it’s almost as if the world is silent, too. Quiet like it’s holding its breath. Anne is holding hers, at least. She would be proud of herself if she wasn’t terrified and tired and disgusted. Anxiety continues gnawing at her stomach. With newly clear eyes she can watch their shock set in. It’s a matter of how they turn her down that will make or break it all.
Marcy is the first to act. She confusedly points between herself and Sasha, to which Anne can only nod. Marcy mouths a silent ‘oh’ before folding her arms into her sides. Sasha’s eyes are wide, her lips parted as if in the middle of forgetting what she wanted to say.
Just when Anne is beginning to pull back, to scare herself into taking back her words, Marcy’s blank shock breaks away. She lets out a singular, incredulous laugh and surges back against Anne, attacking her with a hug so tight she can barely breathe. Somehow that isn’t enough to stop her getting choked up again.
Sasha is right behind her. Less expressive, but there and holding her close, which says enough.
Anne draws in a slow breath, reveling in their warmth. It’s too good to be true. There’s no way they could have misinterpreted her words, what she thinks of them, how she feels about gestures like this one. “If you’re just trying to make me feel better-”
“Of course we’re trying to make you feel better, idiot. We like you, remember?” Sasha says.
Marcy shifts back to speak. “Is this why you’ve been acting so weird? You were…?”
Anne nods. Admitting to it is putting so much of herself out in the open. The action sends more tears pricking her eyes, catching on her bottom lashes and falling when she tries blinking them away. Of relief or of worry, she doesn’t know.
“Oh, Anne,” Marcy says, already swiping at her cheeks. Again. And again. Anne realizes she isn’t going to stop. To Marcy, what caused the tears doesn’t matter. And that’s what makes Anne break, sighing into the touch after it comes to a stop.
“We love you, too. You know that, right?”
Strangely enough, Anne does. She can see it in the way they act when they’re together. Feel it in the change in their mood when they’re around her. And she knows it in the way they are with her now, staying beside her through the shame. Bringing her back from her lowest however they can. Whatever it is they really feel about her, she knows it can’t be changed. No matter what, it’s a type of love. And they’re going to stay. Or if they don’t, they’ll come back. Anne has left them behind before. They’ve done the same to her. And they only keep apart for so long.
“I know,” she says. The fear is calmer, but the tug in her chest remains, desperate and self-centered as always. She wonders whether they really understand. “But it’s not the same thing.”
Sasha tilts her head up with a hand on her chin, forcing Anne’s downcast eyes to follow the movement. “Isn’t it?” she says.
Anne opens her mouth, closes it, and opens it again. The implications and the touching and the closeness weigh heavy on her comprehension.
“What?” comes her eventual, and very eloquent, response. “What do you mean?”
“Wow,” Sasha breathes. “You are… really dense.”
“Nevermind. I take it back. I hate you,” Anne says to fight hopefulness threatening to bloom from the ache in her ribs.
“That’s too bad. I was gonna try and help you understand.” Sasha’s hand falls. Anne keeps her eyes where they are, trained on her, afraid a misstep as tiny as a blink in the wrong direction could wake her from what must be another dream.
Understanding literally anything would be good right now.
“You could still give it a shot,” she says. “But I can’t promise I’ll-”
Sasha doesn’t wait for her to finish before leaning down and pressing a kiss to her forehead.
“That clear anything up for you?” she asks.
It does not. Faced with the last, most unexpected possible outcome, Anne’s mind goes fully blank for the first time in days. She can’t feel or think beyond the blissful haze of disbelief and exhilaration.
“Uh, no- I mean- yes- what?” Anne puts a hand to her forehead so fast she slaps herself. “What are you saying- or- doing or-?” But she knows. The sputtering and denial is a final layer of defense before she lets herself believe they really-
“Aw, man,” Marcy pouts quietly. “I wanted to do that.”
Sasha chuckles. “I’m sure you’ll get your chance, Mar-mar.” She ruffles Marcy’s hair.
Anne gasps, delayed and not completely caught up to their exchange. “You like me!” she says, part question, part accusation, and partly just to say the words out loud so she’ll have an easier time accepting them.
Marcy tilts her head. “Um, yes? That was… the point?”
“You like us back,” Sasha points out. Hearing her say it, knowing it’s the truth, is surreal. Surreal but good, Anne thinks. And incredibly embarrassing.
“Ooh, actually Sash,” Marcy starts with a teasing smile. “She said she loves us.”
“Is that right?” Sasha taunts. “Aw, Anne, that’s adorable.”
Marcy hums in agreement. “ Very romantic.”
“Shut up,” Anne groans, collapsing into another embrace. “I swear I’ll take it back if you keep making fun of me.”
“Okay, okay, I’ll stop,” Marcy says, settling in.
Sasha tightens her hold around them. “I won’t.”
They haven’t always fit together perfectly, like they were made for each other, whatever the romance novels say. But they’re getting closer. It’s comfortable . Not restrictive or bargaining. They fit nicely when strain is lessened, when they allow themselves to seek enjoyment in the feeling for what it is. With each moment of honesty, of vulnerability, they carve out a more accommodating place within their group. Every attempt to understand brings them nearer to that ideal of perfection.
If they never get there, that’s alright. Maybe they weren’t made for each other. Maybe they’ll always be rough around the edges because they make themselves for each other.
“Marcy,” Sasha says, breaking Anne out of her very thoughtful and excessively sappy inner monologue. “Your phone’s buzzing in your pocket. It’s annoying”
“Can you get it? I don’t wanna move.”
Anne can practically hear the eye roll. But one of Sasha’s hands recedes, rummaging through Marcy’s jacket pocket for her phone. She finds it, holding it up to look over their heads. Anne opens an eye to see her face cast in an eerie glow. Night has fallen, and the difference in light is so jarring Sasha has to squint to read the caller.
Her arms turn cold around them. Her eyes widen. Just like that, she’s disbanded their hug and handed the phone back to Marcy. “We need to leave. Now.”
Anne peers over Marcy’s shoulder. The lit screen is adorned with a bright red notification, alerting Marcy to her missed calls. Her several missed calls. All bearing the same, dull contact name.
Marcy trembles clicking the power button, otherwise motionless. She’s late.
“Y- you’re right,” she says. “I better get home, huh?”
“No,” Anne says, unable to stop it because Marcy has been through hell and back and still sounds so scared . “Don’t, just- you can come with me or Sasha-“
“You know I can’t. It’ll just make things worse, they’re already mad at me.”
“They’ll still be mad if you come home now,” Anne says, knowing it’s a hopeless point to make. They’ll be angry with her no matter what. Angrier than missing a curfew should warrant. Angry not at the action itself, but that Marcy is capable without them.
“I know, but-”
“Anne’s right,” Sasha says. “You are not going back into that house alone.” She holds up a hand to stop Marcy before she tries to argue or point out the flaws in that statement. “Don’t start. It’s my fault for keeping you out late, and I’ve got a plan to fix it.”
Anne and Marcy separate whilst sharing a look. This could either be good or very, very bad.
“Come on girls,” Sasha says, waving them along. “I’ll tell you on the way.”
Climbing into a window is a lot harder than falling out of one. The only thing a successful fall constitutes is not dying, and gravity pretty much takes care of the rest. The space between the end of the tree branch and Marcy’s bedroom window sill leaves more than enough space for falling, if that’s what Anne were trying to do. But for once, she isn’t.
She creeps along the branch, sitting at the end and attempting to reach out a leg to step through the window.
“C’mon, Anne,” Sasha whisper-yells. She’s already inside. “You just need to jump. Here,” she holds out an arm. “I’ll catch you if you don’t make it.”
Anne continues inching forward. “Forgive me if I don’t trust you not to let go.”
“Wow. Low blow.” Sasha retracts her hand. “You better not need the help now or I’ll drop you on purpose.”
Anne groans loudly, then looks around to make sure no-one heard her. “Okay, fine. Move over,” She says, backing up. Sasha does.
With a bit of a running (or more like fast crawling) start, Anne readies herself to jump across the few foot gap. She hardly registers being suspended in the air before she’s tumbling through the window onto Marcy’s carpet. Though the cut on her shoulder has outwardly healed, it doesn’t feel great to land on exactly the place it used to be.
“Nice job.” Sasha pushes the window closed behind her and snaps the lock shut. Anne can’t tell if she’s being sarcastic or not. She grunts and maneuvers into a sitting position, leaning on the side of Marcy’s bed.
Her room is medium-sized. It seems more cramped than it is, with her desk and bed taking up so much of it, as well as the shelves secured to most of the walls. A few in the far corner house the awards she’s gotten. For what, Anne doesn’t know, but she knows it’s probably more awards than she’s ever gotten in her life. They look dusty.
The rest of the shelves, and most of the wall space, are dedicated to posters and figurines and other assorted nerd stuff from franchises Anne should probably recognize by now. She excuses it away under the convenient defense that the room is dark because of the night, and they shouldn’t even be here, so Sasha and Anne aren’t going to turn on the lights.
Sasha walks over and sits next to her. One leg stretched out, the other bent so she can rest an arm atop it. She huffs, staring at the wall.
“Ooh, loving the ‘forlorn teen’ vibes there, Sash.”
Sasha looks her up and down. “Yeah, I bet you are.”
“What’s that supposed to-” Anne stops herself. Sasha knows what she’s doing. She rolls so she’s resting on her hip, looking up at Anne.
“No, please, go on,” she says, batting her eyelashes exaggeratedly.
Anne turns away. She hopes it’s too dark for the redness in her cheeks to be noticeable. But Sasha is close, and she’s always been very aware of her effects on others. With difficulty, Anne doesn’t look at her. Not right now.
“Can we, um.” Anne clears her throat. “I’d rather talk with Marcy about-” she makes a circular motion between them “-this.”
“For sure.” Sasha sits back on the carpet. “I was just messing with you.” She pulls her knees up to her chest.
“I know,” Anne says. She twists around to face the door, letting out a heavy sigh. Even at Sasha’s suggestion of sneaking in with them, she’d still decided to take the blame. They’re just here for moral support after. Anne sees Sasha follow her gaze. She’s obviously not happy. Her jaw twitches, and her fingers work at the rug, picking through the fibers.
“She’s gonna be fine,” Anne mutters, mostly to herself. If all goes according to plan, she’ll walk in alone and say she lost track of time, and it will be sorted. Anne had only needed to message her mother saying she was spending the night as her explanation. (She’d received a winking emoticon in response, and panicked thinking her mother knew something until she apologized and corrected herself with the normal smile.) If they’re lucky Marcy’s parents will extend the same level of understanding.
Anne and Sasha are there for when they inevitably don’t. For when Marcy escapes to her room freshly wounded, trapped in believing what they say is true, no matter what it ends up being.
They fall silent, listening for any clues as to what might be going on. The sound of a door creaking open is the first, sending waves of anticipation through Anne.
Footsteps on linoleum. A low, rumbling voice that grows into something heated. A pause. A shout. Something clatters to the floor.
Sasha’s fist tightens into the carpet. Anne takes her hand to stop her from tearing it apart any more. Her nails dig into the place below Anne’s knuckles.
The yelling stops, replaced with a stern, unwavering voice. Footsteps. More footsteps. Somebody is at the bedroom door. Sasha and Anne both move to stand when Marcy pushes through. The panic in her eyes stops them. She rushes over, glancing over her shoulder as she grabs an extra blanket from the top of her bed.
“Hide,” she whispers, urgent. She throws the blanket over them. They flatten to the floor, kicking around and huddling together so they’re covered. The bed frame’s edge digs into Anne’s back, between her shoulder blades.
Another voice, the low, stern one, comes from the doorway. “Marcy.”
“Y- yes?” Marcy says. The bed creaks as she sits down.
“I’m sorry for yelling. I didn’t mean to scare you.” The bed creaks again. “But this behavior is unacceptable.”
“I know, I know. You’ve said. A lot.”
“And it hasn’t been enough.” His voice raises dangerously. So much for being sorry. “I mean, breaking curfew? Are you some kind of delinquent? Is that it?”
“And this?” Anne assumes he’s pointing to her hair. “Don’t try to tell me your idiot friends didn’t have something to do with this.” She shares a look with Sasha underneath the blanket. He isn’t wrong.
“Don’t bring them into this,” Marcy says. “Please,” she adds after a second.
“I don’t like the kind of person you are around them, Marcy. You’re too much, too reckless. It needs to stop. You need to be better.”
Anne feels Sasha tense. She’s too angry for an attempt at calming her. Be better? What on earth does he want from her? How could Marcy, with her perfect grades and endless accomplishments, boundless bravery and infinite compassion, not be enough for him?
“I know, Dad. I’m sorry,” she says. It sounds rehearsed.
“Good.” He stands. “Get some sleep. Starting tomorrow, we are getting this all sorted out. I will not sit by and let you throw your life away. I like to think you’re smarter than that.”
“Okay. Good night.”
There’s a moment of silence. Anne starts to think maybe he’s left, and relaxes.
But too soon. “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” he roars, sudden and raw. “I knew you were incompotent, but I will not tolerate any more blatant disrespect. Don’t you understand how it makes me feel when you get like this?”
The rest of his words blur over. Overlapping and mixing together. Hot and thick and bitter. Anne’s throat closes. Her eyes water. And he yells, blind with rage and fear like an animal, throwing angry slights at his daughter. Marcy doesn’t make a sound.
Finally, after too long, he wears himself out. The door slams shut behind him as he leaves, cursing under his breath.
Items on their shelves are still teetering from the impact when Sasha springs to her feet, tossing the blanket aside.
Anne pushes up after her. “Sasha, don’t-”
“I’m not.” She sits down next to Marcy, who looks… fine. Not happy, but not sad either.
“Are you okay, Marce?” Sasha puts an arm around her. “Sorry, that’s probably a stupid question.”
“No, no. It’s fine. I think I’m alright.”
Anne sits, too. “Are you sure? I don’t even think I’m okay. That was pretty bad.”
“Was it?” Marcy asks, looking at the door. “I sorta zoned out for most of it.”
“Good,” Sasha snakes her other arm around. “Your dad really sucks.”
Marcy leaves the accusation as it is. Footsteps and voices shuffle down on the first floor. Her room is still and quiet.
“Do you think he cares about you? Like, that he’s doing all that because he’s afraid?” Anne wants to be considerate. She knows what it’s like to be afraid for her. Even if blaming her for that is a shitty way of showing it. Assuming Marcy means any more to him than a subject on which to focus his unresolved anger.
“I don’t know,” Marcy says. “I don’t want to be around him long enough to find out.”
With both arms in place, Sasha pulls her in so that Marcy’s head fits tucked underneath her chin and pressed to her chest.
“Sasha, I told you I’m fine.”
“Whatever. Just hug back already.”
Anne watches them closely. She can’t understand how it feels, not entirely. She only wishes she could get them out of the situations that aren’t their faults.
Crickets chirp outside. The rest of the house goes silent. Someone, no telling who, walks upstairs and past the closed door. Hit with a swell of fear, Anne creeps over when they’re gone and reaches for the handle to-
“Your door doesn’t have a lock on it,” she observes.
“No,” Marcy replies simply.
“That’s okay,” Anne says, taking her desk chair and hooking part of it around the handle so it can’t turn open.
Sasha raises an eyebrow. “Door locked, huh?”
“How long are you gonna be annoying about this?”
“Forever. You’re stuck with me.” She waves Anne over. “C’mere.”
After making sure the door is secure, Anne does, but hesitates and sits on the foot of the bed rather than near to them, in the center, as Sasha had directed her.
“So,” she says, crossing her legs under herself and looking off to the side.
“So,” Marcy echoes, loosely held in Sasha’s arms. “Earlier.”
“Y-yeah. Earlier.” Anne looks at them again. The rest comes out easier. Stuttered, but easier. “I, um, really like you guys.”
“I think we got that,” Sasha says.
“Good. I mean, that’s good.” She pauses, takes a breath. “And you’re okay with it? And you…?”
“Like you back? Yes.”
“I guess so,” Marcy shrugs. Hand to her own cheek, she eyes Anne with a little smile.
Anne lets the feeling that rises at the sight stay without attempt to push it down. It’s nice. “What should we do about it?”
“I don’t know,” Marcy says. “Do we need to change anything?”
“Do you want to?”
They both think for a second.
“No,” Marcy answers. “If I think of anything, I’ll let you know.” She leans back, letting Sasha wrap her in a hug from behind.
“Not much,” Sasha says next. “But do I like spending more time with you, for one thing. We should keep doing it.”
“Like,” Anne pauses, going over the word in her head. “Dates?”
“Are we dating?” Marcy asks.
“I don’t think it matters if we don’t-” Sasha stops herself. “We’re not telling anyone, right?”
Anne shakes her head. What would be the point? If a joke about them had been such a big deal, a real rumor would be worse. Also, Anne doesn’t know how she’d explain something even she doesn’t understand.
Marcy mirrors her. “You heard my dad. He doesn’t even like that we’re friends.”
Anne’s skin prickles at the mention of her father. That feeling, she pushes aside. She’s sure they both know the stakes better than she does.
“We’re still friends, right?” she asks.
“Obviously,” Sasha says. “Another thing, you-” she points to Anne “-have to stop being scared of us.”
Anne folds her arms. Really? “Don’t give yourself that much credit. I’m not scared of you.”
“Are you not sitting as far away as you can because you’re scared of what would happen if you came over here and joined us?”
“Fine!” She moves closer. “There.” Marcy reaches over to tug her into their newly formed cuddle pile. Anne holds her breath at the arms that encircle her, positioning her until she’s all but reclined in Marcy’s lap.
Sasha’s hands comb through her hair. “See? It’s not so bad. I wish you could be more honest with yourself.” The hands come to a stop. “But I guess part of it is my fault, too. I’m sorry for making you feel like you had to be someone different.”
She’s right, it isn’t bad at all. When Anne reasons with herself, pushes back against the instinct to live with her guard up, she can see they’d never hurt her. And they never meant to.
“You’ve already apologized,” she mumbles. “You were just a kid.”
“So were you. We still are.”
Anne quiets, then. For that moment, she lets herself fear for their futures, the uncertainty, wavering when either of them shifts underneath her. And she’s angry, dull and hollowed out when she thinks of everything they shouldn’t have had to do. Biting and searing when she remembers they still aren’t done. They’d risked their lives, saved everyone, shouldn’t they be done? Shouldn’t that have been enough?
She wishes they weren’t alone. Anne is the most fortunate among them in that area, blessed with people in every world willing to accommodate her. She loves her families, both of them, and she’s so lucky to have them. And yet it still feels like nobody gets it, and nobody aside from the people she trusts even tries to understand. It would be easier, so much easier, if she wasn’t something that needed to be understood.
It’s not anything she can change. Here, she can’t fight or talk her way out. The fate of the world doesn’t rest on her anymore. It should be a relief. It only makes her feel powerless. She can’t save Sasha and Marcy, she can’t reverse what happened to them, and she can’t undo what caused it.
So Anne gives up. For one night, she gives up. She leans into them so they can better hold her. She hopes it helps. They’ve said they like her being here with them, after all.
“Is there anything else you wanted, Sash?” Marcy asks.
Anne feels her shrug. “I was gonna ask to kiss you, but I kinda killed the mood.”
Marcy laughs. The flush in her face does not go unseen.
“I mean…” she starts, and trails off, moving to tuck a piece of hair that no longer exists behind her ear. It’s Sasha’s turn to laugh, a chiming sound with an undercurrent of restlessness.
“It could be a good distraction?” she provides.
Marcy brings their clasped-together hands up to her face. She studies them like she’s taking in-depth note of the way each finger interlocks.
“Sure, let’s go with that,” she says.
Anne sits up. Her eyes reflexively slip to the chair-locked door.
“Going somewhere?” Sasha asks.
She turns around, hand coming up to grip the post at the metal bedframe’s corner. She’s a bit skittish, sure, but some part of her brain has decided that leaving right now is out of the question. She shakes her head.
“Why so nervous?” Marcy moves after her. “You’ve kissed us before.”
The reminder sends her pulse racing and the heat in her face doubling. “Y-yeah. But I didn’t mean it. Neither did you. We were being stupid.”
“It felt like you meant it. And I know I said I didn’t but, well,” Marcy says, sheepishly gesturing to the three of them, and to the steady (up to that point unnoticed) decrease in distance between herself and Anne. “If it means that much to you, you can make up for it now.”
Anne looks at her. Marcy looks back. This is a lot harder when she can’t pretend there’s a good, sound reason for wanting it. She acts before she can develop any hope for finding one.
It’s an out of body experience, seeing her fingers trace along the slope of Marcy’s neck, stopping at the place where the back of it meets her head. The remnants of short hair brush the sides of her hand. Experimentally, she pulls her closer. Marcy’s head tilts. Her eyelids dip, blinking a slow invitation. It would be rude for Anne not to take it. And so she does.
She can’t say if it’s better or worse than the first time. She’s not thinking about it.
The inability to hold a straight face is, apparently, going to be their routine. Neither of them can keep it together for more than a couple seconds at a time. They come apart with a spontaneous smile or laugh, staying close until somebody takes the initiative to try again. Marcy takes the time between attempts to press more kisses to her burning cheeks.
They haven’t managed much of anything besides flustered smiling by the time Sasha grabs Marcy by the scruff of her shirt to gently pull her away. But Anne can’t call it pointless.
“Okay, my turn,” Sasha says.
Anne straightens up. “Um, sure.” She tries sounding bored to stifle her all-too-eager feelings about that.
But Sasha only looks amused. Her hand travels from the back of Marcy’s shirt collar to the front.
“Not everything is about you, Anne,” she says, ruffling her hair before turning fully towards Marcy. Oh. Any retaliation dies on Anne’s lips as she watches them close in, and promptly shields her eyes. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think-
“Anne? What are you doing?” Marcy says after a too-long second. Anne peeks through her fingers. They’re staring at her. Sasha’s hands are still twisted into fists around Marcy’s collar.
Anne shifts her hands down so they’re curled in front of her mouth. What is she doing? “Um… respecting your privacy?”
“Leave it up to Anne to worry about someone’s privacy after literally kissing them.” Sasha says to Marcy.
“Well it sounds dumb when you put it like that.”
“It is dumb.”
Marcy chuckles lightly. Sasha lets her go with a kiss to her cheekbone. She leans into Anne’s space casually, like they do this all the time. As she does, she jerks her head to the side, flicking blonde hair from in front of her eyes. Anne wants to smooth her hand through it. She realizes that she can actually do that, and she’s moving before weighing the potential consequences.
Sasha leans in further at the guiding touch, pressing the palm flush against her cheek with her own hand. From the corner of her eye, Anne sees Marcy draw herself against Sasha’s back in a hug. It’s the last thing she notices before her eyes close of their own volition. Nobody mentions it, or seems to mind, making her concerns with personal space that much more meaningless in retrospect.
Sasha is very different from Marcy. Whereas acts of affection from her other friend are impulsive, overflowing with giddy excitement, Sasha hesitates. She’s deliberate, delicate as if handling something fragile. Something she’s afraid of breaking. She stays for longer, too. Anne gets the impression that there’s more behind this than she’s letting on.
Before she can pull back to ask, Sasha sits up, breaking them apart with a gasp.
Anne opens her eyes again in time to see Marcy move away from the back of Sasha’s neck.
“Sorry. Was that…?”
Sasha blinks, not looking at her. “N-no. It was fine. I just didn’t expect it.”
“Sorry,” Marcy says again.
“Don’t- It was, uh, it was good,” Sasha stammers. “It’s just- your lips are really cold.”
“You’re blushing, Sash,” Anne whispers.
“No I’m not,” she says, blushing. “Stop lying.”
Marcy cranes her neck, angling her head to fit over Sasha’s shoulder. Sasha tries to turn away, but it’s too late.
“She is!” Marcy exclaims proudly. She kisses Sasha’s cheek as an extra measure. It works. Her face reddens in what she’d most likely want them to think is anger.
Anne cups her cheeks. “You’re so cute.”
Sasha has never looked so shocked and offended. Her hands close around Anne’s wrists.
“You better shut up before I make you,” she growls through clenched teeth.
“Is that supposed to be a threat?” Anne says, foolish, thinking she has the upper hand. The accidental flirting is easy to poke fun at, but it’s just that- accidental. Great teasing material, since Sasha wouldn’t follow through with something so-
Anne remembers who she’s thinking of a split-second before Sasha does, indeed, follow through. Even when she’s annoyed, the kiss is gentle. But she moves with less hesitance this time, making Anne wonder why it’s even there to begin with.
She pulls back with a smile, satisfied at the silence.
“Yes,” she belatedly answers, and pushes Anne’s hair aside to kiss her temple. It jogs a relevant memory, laced with the feeling of tiredness and late-night admissions. A melancholy idea, one which makes all too much sense, occurs. Anne pauses. She intertwines their fingers.
“How long have you known?” she asks.
“Known what?” Marcy says, now perched at Sasha’s side and hugging her arm.
But Sasha gets it. “A while.”
“Before Amphibia? Yeah.”
That sheds a couple things in a new light. A lot of things. A sword hovering inches from her throat with no intention of moving further. The hurt in Sasha’s eyes at every fight. The folded corner of a photograph she must not have known was visible up close, though the gap in her armor.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Easier not to.” Is her simplified explanation. “It was too risky to let you decide how you felt instead of making sure you stayed close no matter what.” She’s looking at Anne, but really her eyes are somewhere else. “I’m sorry, I-”
Marcy seems to have caught on. “Hey, you were younger back then. And then we were in the middle of a war and things got all sorts of messed up. I can’t blame you for not wanting to deal with your feelings.”
Sasha’s features twist into a grimace. “But even afterwards I didn’t. Even after I knew we had to be honest with each other so we could move forward. I couldn’t say anything. Like a coward,” she spits.
“No way,” Anne says. “I did the same thing.”
“What? For like a week? I did it for years .” Sasha exhales, long and drawn out. She focuses on the ceiling. “Sometimes I feel like I didn’t learn anything. Like I didn’t change and it was all for nothing.”
“You can’t really believe that, Sash.”
“I don’t. Not really. I know I’m different now. But I’ve never been the best with the whole ‘feelings’ thing. And even though I should be better after everything that happened, I’m not. When I talk to people, it’s never just a conversation. I always listen to what they say like I’m trying to figure out how I could use it to exploit them later. And I can’t say anything they could use against me.” She lowers her voice to say the next part. “It feels like I’m always one wrong move away from losing everything.”
All Anne can do is try for reassurance. “You won’t lose us.”
“But I could . I could ruin it all and it would be so easy.”
Anne places a hand on her chin to make Sasha look in her direction. “You wouldn’t do that, Sasha. I trust you.”
Carefully, Sasha moves her hand away. “I know you do. I don’t trust me.”
Helplessness builds in the back of Anne’s throat. There’s nothing she can say. Nothing she knows will help.
At Sasha’s side, Marcy moves to wrap her in a hug.
“Y’know,” she whispers, head slotted on top of her shoulder. “I don’t think this helps, but I feel like that too sometimes. Like I didn’t really change.”
“How come?” Sasha asks.
“I never stopped running. From my life, from social situations, from guys at parties and-” she laughs. It’s not happy. “All I’m doing now is waiting until I graduate so I can run away all over again.”
Sasha turns into the hug. There’s a glint in her eyes like tears she won’t let fall. Slowly, she burrows into Marcy’s shoulder. They go silent.
They both used to be so sure of themselves. It was kind of a problem, Anne remembers. Certainly annoying at times. But she’d do anything to have that over what they have to go through now. Rebuilding everything they lost or otherwise destroyed themselves. It lets them build it correctly, this time around, but it’s arduous, and still, after everything they learned, they never stop making mistakes.
The progress they have made, though, is hard earned. Anne isn’t going to let them forget it.
“Girls,” she addresses them. They turn at the sound of her voice. Even hopeless, buried in their notions of self doubt, they listen. “Can I tell you what I think?”
They stay quiet, which is as good as a yes.
“You’re both being really stupid.”
“Figures,” Sasha mumbles.
Anne ignores her. “You want to know how I know you’re better? You’re telling me. The old Sasha and Marcy never told me anything. They kept everything inside until it literally exploded and almost ended the world. Multiple times.”
They each let her take one of their hands.
“I’m glad you can talk about this stuff now. I can help you work it out. But you have to promise you’ll stop being so hard on yourselves so we can start.”
Marcy squeezes her hand. “Why does it always feel like we’re starting over? Isn’t that just a different type of running away?”
“I don’t know,” Anne answers honestly. “Maybe. Would it help to think of it as running towards something else instead?”
Marcy deliberates, but eventually she nods. “That sounds nicer.”
Sasha hums, thoughtful. “Where would we go?” she asks.
Marcy draws back from their hug, clutching to Sasha’s forearm as she looks between the two of them. “You’d come with me?”
“I mean, I’d still want to come back sometimes to see my family and stuff-” Anne starts.
Sasha rolls her eyes. “Way to read the room, Anne.”
“- But yes, if you let me, I will.”
Marcy smiles. Genuine and excited and of course Anne will go with her, because that means she would get to see it again and again.
Marcy’s arms are around her neck in an instant. She hugs her, tight, and only gives Anne’s lungs a short break before pressing their lips together. Her enthusiasm must be infectious. It bubbles in Anne’s chest until she can’t help but smile back.
“Wh- I said I’d go too!” Sasha pouts.
“I’ll get to you in a second, I just-” She shakes Anne by the shoulders. Anne doubts she realizes she’s doing it. “Ahhh!”
“Shh! You have to be quiet,” Anne says, equally as loud through her own excitement.
Marcy manages a nod. She climbs over to Sasha, who accepts the kiss she’s given with relative ease. The redness in her cheeks hasn’t faded all the way.
“So,” she says, to Marcy, who it appears has decided to remain seated in her lap. “Tell me, what do you plan on doing once we’re out of here?”
And Marcy grins. Anne knows it’s a certain kind of grin, the one that means she’s about to launch into a lengthy, passionate explanation.
She and Sasha will listen to every word.
Behind the silhouette of tree branches, the dark sky begins to pale. None of the three girls, contained in a little room bursting with warmth and light from the dim bulb of a table lamp, seem to notice. They’re curled on the bed next to each other, leaning against the headboard all at once, shoulders pressed together, hands and arms tangled, legs crossing over each other’s in a confusing display when they could easily sit more comfortably if they were spread apart. They’re talking in hushed voices, laughing periodically.
They haven’t slept all night. Drowsiness chased away by adrenaline, born from fear of being caught, awake or together, either one will do. The regularly exchanged kisses also do not help to clear their heads or slow their heartbeats. Neither does the conversation topic.
“-and I’ll let you keep all your nerd stuff in our room,” Sasha finishes saying.
“Wow, all of it?” Anne asks. She surveys the aforementioned nerd stuff placed around the room. There’s a lot. “Don’t I get a say in this?”
“You said you wanted to do the living room, so no. That’s like the most important part of the house. Marcy needs somewhere to put her stuff.”
“You’re just trying to get on her good side so she’ll let you choose the wall color.”
“I’m not letting you make them purple, Anne! We’ve been over this.”
“You’re letting Marcy keep her plants in the room too!”
“Because houseplants are tasteful .”
“Purple can be tasteful!”
“Guys,” Marcy interrupts from her space in the middle, where she’s currently being compressed between them as their (hopefully) joke argument escalates. “I think you’re taking this too seriously.”
“Well Anne has seriously bad interior design taste.”
“And Sasha doesn’t know how to have any fun.”
“ Guys. ”
“Sorry,” they say in unison. The looks they give each other are a clear indicator that the discussion is only on pause.
“Thank you,” Marcy says anyway.
“Sure thing,” Anne says. Sasha grumbles a response, too low for her hear. Anne lets her off without comment. Her thoughts have already travelled somewhere else. Idly, her finger loops around one of the strings on the old hoodie Marcy had put on minutes earlier. She knots and unknots it with a single hand. She’s not cold, but she thinks she’ll ask for one of her spares before she leaves just because.
“D’you think,” she starts whilst eyeing her friends, “When we get wherever we’re going, the people will be different?”
“Different how?” Marcy asks.
She tries shrugging, but the movement almost makes her fall off the bed. Marcy reaches out on instinct to pull her back, sending Sasha latching to the bedpost to avoid falling off the other side. They freeze that way for a precarious second. On tired limbs, they each pull up to come back together,
“Okay, first requirement for the house: bigger bed,” Sasha says, hanging on to Marcy like she’s the last thing between life and death. She eases her grip after a few minutes, and their cuddling resumes.
Ultimately, Anne’s statement goes forgotten and unfinished. That’s okay. She doesn’t quite know what she meant by ‘different’ either. She just hopes they’ll find a place for themselves that they don’t need a probably unstable and definitely illegal interdimensional portal to reach. Surprisingly, the world populated by another species is often better suited for them than their own. There isn’t a status quo there. There are no other humans to compare them to, to serve as standards or expectations. Anne wonders if there’s any place like that on Earth. If there isn’t, she resolves to make one.
“Hey Marcy,” she says.
“Yes?” Marcy replies automatically.
“You never did tell us where we’d go.”
“I didn’t, did I?” Only now, looking up at her, does Marcy look the least bit tired. Eyes halfway closed, mouth tilting into a contented smile. She leans onto Anne’s shoulder like she’d be okay with falling asleep right there. “Let’s find out together.”
Sasha snorts a laugh. “Sap.”
“Good news, Anne. We’re making the bedroom purple.”
The first calls of early morning birds are drowned out by Sasha’s protests.