It was a usual overcast Friday afternoon in Shadyside and Deena stretched her arms over her head as she headed towards the Shadyside High girl's locker room. The potent smell of floral body spray made her sneeze as she entered the room, high pitched voices bouncing off the walls and she winced before making a beeline down the corridor towards the toilets.
Her breath caught in her throat though, when she saw Samantha Fraser walking away from the toilets and towards her, and the grin that Sam gave her was enough to make her stomach knot.
Sam’s blonde hair glimmered under the crappy fluorescent lights and usually, Deena would have questioned that because the lighting was really shit but she didn’t care. Sam had already changed into her Shadyside cheerleader uniform, the blue and black standing out against her skin and her toned legs on display. Deena realised that she was shamelessly checking Sam out but before she could look away, Sam’s hand gently brushed against hers.
“I’ll see you later? The Spot?” she whispered, and Deena gave her a small nod before they walked past each other.
Deena’s heart could’ve exploded but she contained herself before turning left to the cubicles. There were two other band girls, Krystal and Lili, at the sinks chatting about some test they had earlier that day and Deena gave them a nod before walking to the end of the room where Kate, her best friend, was checking her hair. Kate grinned when she spotted Deena and gave her a hug. With black hair in a neat ponytail, a spotless record and dark eyes that could pick up the smallest detail, Kate was a good friend to have.
"How was AP English?" Deena asked and Kate rolled her eyes.
"Insufferable as always. Gary was a prick and decided to argue with me on every point I made while discussing Macbeth. I get that he doesn't like me, but fuck can he just give it a rest?” she groaned as she rolled her shoulders back.
“You do realise that he probably likes you, right? C’mon Kate, that’s the oldest trick in the book. He’s probably being an asshole to get your attention.”
“It’s stupid and if he thinks that it’s some form of flirting, then he’s dead wrong,” Kate huffed before looking at Deena’s gym bag.
“You getting ready for band?”
Deena heard Krystal and Lili take turns at the hand dryer before walking down the corridor, their retreating steps and voices echoing.
“Yep. And you have cheer practice,” Deena sighed, and Kate looked around, as if to check that no one was listening to them, before giving her a smirk and lowering her voice.
“Don’t worry. I won’t hog your girlfriend for too long. Besides, I’m there to yell and be on top of the pyramid.”
They both knew that was a lie. Despite Kate’s dismissive attitude towards cheerleading and all her other societies, she took it all seriously so that she could ‘Get the hell out of Shittyside’. She planned choreographies, sold extra drugs to raise money for cheer uniform upgrades and more. Deena felt that Kate did too much for a town that seemed against them with their nickname ‘Murder Capital USA’, but she knew that between the two of them, Kate deserved to get out.
“Oh please. We both know you do more than that,” Deena scoffed, and Kate shrugged her shoulders.
“We meeting after? Same spot? Sam gonna be there?” she asked, and Deena nodded.
“Simon too. He said he got us discounted food!” Kate said excitedly.
“I hope you know that means that the food is about to expire,” Deena said, deadpanned.
“Whatever! Food is food and I’m not going to turn down chicken wings and all the candy bars I can eat.”
“I gotta get changed and you should get going. Don’t want to be late for practice,” Deena said with a smile and Kate flipped her off before leaving her to get changed in one of the cubicles.
Deena listened Kates’s footsteps retreat, and she undressed and changed into her band uniform. She wasn’t self-conscious of her body and didn’t mind changing in front of other people, but the girl’s locker room didn’t leave much to look at. The last thing she wanted was for a girl to point at her for staring and then the whole school would think she’s gay (which she was but that’s wasn’t the point).
Kate had managed to spin a rumour that Deena had a scar on her lower abdomen that she had gotten in an accident and was still ‘healing from the trauma’. While her eyes wouldn’t wander around the change room now that she only had eyes for Sam, it was easier to keep the rumour going and have privacy.
That was another reason Deena loved Kate. Kate could lie flawlessly, and because she was a good student, no one would think twice.
Deena opened the cubicle and adjusted her hat before heading out the locker room and to practice.
She sighed in relief as she took off her hat and threw it into her bag and changing out of her clothes and changing into a fresh set of clothing.
Most of the band kids had left soon after practice, uniform and all but Deena was headed straight to The Spot as soon she could, so avoiding a trip back home would be beneficial.
Kate and Sam had ended practice earlier and both had gone home to shower and freshen up. Deena didn’t blame them. The showers in the locker room were gross and she was sure she saw mold on the ceiling.
She shuddered before throwing on a t-shirt and jeans and heading out of the locker rooms. She waved bye to Krystal and Lili, who somehow always ended being the last ones getting changed and left the locker room.
Deena thought about the homework she had to do as she walked past the pep rally posters and the banner reading, ‘Let’s Bring It Home, Witches!’. Deena was aware that the biannual football game against Sunnyvale and Shadyside was next Friday and despite Shadyside High having a good football team, Sunnyvale almost always beat them.
It was like a joke. Every single game, a Shadyside football player got injured or a Sunnyvaler would score miraculously, and Deena didn’t mean any offence, but what was the banner supposed to mean?
What where they bringing home?
The last shreds of their dignity?
It was so embarrassing but with Sunnyvale being the only city close enough to them, Shadyside didn’t have a choice.
Deena took a deep breath in before exhaling her feelings of the rivalry between Shadyside and Sunnyvale. This last week had been exhausting but she was happy it was over, and she could spend her weekend unwinding. She didn’t need to think about Shadyside and Sunnyvale.
All she wanted to think about was her, Sam, Kate and Simon hanging out on a late Friday afternoon.
She walked out of the school and a breeze lifted a few of her curls and inwardly thanked that she had packed blankets for them. She thought about the homework she’d have to do on Sunday and the three-page assignment for English, before shaking her head and taking out her Walkman from her backpack and drowning out her thoughts.
Simon was waiting for her, at least 6 shopping bags with him on the ground and he grinned mischievously as she gestured to all the bags.
"Look if we're starting this weekend off with a bang, we're doing it right. I got mini pies, meatballs, weird little vegetable sticks, donuts with that thick icing Kate loves so much, fries with enough oil to clog up our arteries-"
"Did not need that image Simon," Deena interrupted with a shudder.
"-sugar cookies, three different types of Oreos, cupcakes and... a little magic juice," Simon said, wiggling his eyebrows as he opened one of the bags that had a brown paper bag it cheap white wine.
Deena winced at the beverage and Simon straightened up and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Hey, you don't have to have. I got it because I thought we could all loosen up a little. It’s not heavy shit either but no worries if you don't want, Dee."
His tone was sincere, and she gave him a small smile. Only Kate, Sam and Simon knew about her dad’s drinking problem, and they had been over to her house enough times to see some of the empty beer cans in the bin. While Deena knew that it was her dad’s fault for drinking too much and being passed out on the couch, she couldn’t help but wonder if alcoholism ran in her family.
That last thing she wanted was to be like him.
"Thanks Simon. Now let's carry this to the spot,” she said, and he smiled dopily at her.
They grabbed three bags each and they began to walk away from the supermarket.
"I'm surprised you got off so early. Don't you usually close the store on Fridays after school?"
"Yeah, but my manager loves me so much that when I asked him and flashed my beautiful doe eyes, he told Kristen to do it instead. She looked furious," he giggled, and Deena snorted.
Simon frequently complained about Kristen Jenkins, his other co-worker, who was a nightmare. She did all her work but was always trying to one up him to get employee of the month. While Simon didn't care for the title, he liked seeing his picture on the wall and knew it would only piss if Kristen more of he was overly sweet to her.
"You know she might kill you some day," Deena laughed.
"Not if I get to her first," he said suggestively, and Deena hit him playfully.
"Pervert," she said, and he danced forward, the bags swaying in his hands.
"Nah, just a law-abiding citizen your honour!" he yelled.
They discussed their homework and their other plans for the weekend (Simon was working as usual and Deena knew she would be stuck at home with homework and looking after her brother, Josh). They walked past familiar streets and soon the gravel under their shoes became a steep rocky path as they exited their town. Deena hated this part of the walk, but their destination would be worth it. They took a left into the forest and continued their walk in a comfortable silence.
The path got steeper, and Deena gritted her teeth as she made her last step up, revealing a little patch of grass with the best view of Shadyside. She could see the grocery store, her school and even the Sheriff’s office in the distance.
It was a hidden gem that she had found one night after her dad got home drunk and in a fit of rage, left the house with no idea where to go.
She didn't want to go to any of her friend's houses and at that point, Sam wasn’t her girlfriend yet and she didn’t want to scare her away (even though Sam reassured her a few months later after Deena had confessed that her dad was hardly around). Instead, she ran. Ran to the point where her lungs were burning for air and her shirt stuck to her back with sweat. It was so dark, and she realised she had no idea where she was going. She took lefts and rights before realizing she was in the forest outside of town but eventually saw a light source and kept following it until she got to the small patch of grass that overlooked Shadyside. Deena had stayed there till sunrise, watching the world go from dark to bright and a feeling of calm passed over her as she soaked in the first rays of the day. She had made her way home to find her dad passed out on the couch and Josh still asleep, both unaware that she had been gone for nearly four hours.
She had collapsed onto her bed and slept, her anger seeping away from her bones, but the memory of the sunrise embedded in her memories. She had shown Kate and Simon that spot a week later, and it became a regular hang out for the three of them until Deena started dating Sam a few months later.
Sam had been hesitant at first to go to ‘The Spot’ as Simon had called it but then again, Sam was hesitant with almost everything concerning her budding relationship with Deena.
Deena was hoping that Sam would loosen up over time, but she knew how her mom was…strict, had high expectations and a tight grip on who was in Sam’s social life. Deena hadn’t messed up yet but knowing that Sam could disappear from her life purely because of Sam’s mother was another kind of fear. Deena had met Sam’s mom, who seemed nice enough but hearing about a fight between Sam’s mom and dad, it sounded like her mom was slightly more vicious.
“Deena? You good?” Simon asked and she blinked as she snapped out of her daydream.
“Yeah…sorry. Oh…you set up everything,” she said, raising an eyebrow at the beautiful scene in front of her.
“When you leave a retail employee alone with food that needs to be organized, you can’t expect him to not do anything. I assumed that the two fluffy blankets were for cuddles later and the other was for this picnic, so I took it out. That okay?”
Deena nodded and made herself comfortable and grabbed a mini pizza.
“Perfect Simon. So…how expired are these?” she asked, taking a sniff and Simon stared at her.
“Do you not trust me, Deena?” he gasped dramatically and before she could answer, a familiar voice from behind them yelled.
“If she did, I would be worried!”
Deena grinned as she put down the pizza and stood up to see Kate and Sam walking together. Kate was holding two bottles of apple juice and Sam had a box of cookies in her hand. Sam’s hair was damp from her shower earlier and Kate’s cheeks were a rosy red. They were both in comfy clothes and Deena hugged Kate first before hugging Sam.
“Glad you could make it, Sam,” Deena whispered, and she felt Sam hold her a little tighter.
“Me too. Snuck out the house and everything,” she giggled into her ear, and Deena’s jaw dropped.
“Wait what? Seriously? Damn Samantha sneaking out-?” Deena teased, and Sam grinned.
“Won’t your parents notice you’re gone?” Simon asked as he popped a grape into his mouth before frowning and inspecting the container. “Okay…the grapes might not be good.”
Kate raised an eyebrow and she swiped a grape before her face scrunched in disgust, “Ew no. Oh that’s disgusting. Take it away.”
Simon laughed before taking the grapes and throwing them away into one of the empty carrier bags.
“Uh…not tonight. They both have work and stuff,” Sam said, and Deena detected the hesitance in her voice. She pushed down the urge to ask what the real answer was and sighed in relief when Kate let out a squeal from behind her.
“You are fucking brilliant Simon Kalivoda!” Kate said as she held up a donut with white icing on the top.
Simon gave Deena a triumphant look as Kate bit into the donut and signed in happiness while Deena took Sam’s hand and lead her to the food. The sat down and soon, conversation filled the air in between bites of food.
“Shadyside versus Sunnyvale next week. Yay,” Kate grumbled in between bites of her donut, and Simon looked at her with sympathy.
“At least their cheerleading routines aren’t as good,” he said and at those words, Kate visibly perked up and Deena hid her laugh.
“Damn right,” Kate said, before grabbing a meatball and popping the whole thing into her mouth.
“Okay so here’s what I’m thinking…we graffiti Sunnyvale’s bus!” Simon smiled evilly and Kate smacked him on his head.
“We’re trying to avoid conflict Simon. Not give them a reason to retaliate plus knowing them, they’ll get lawyers involved and all that crap.”
“But they win almost every time!” Simon moaned in frustration, “What’s the point of even having the matches if we already know the outcome?”
Deena heard Sam giggle next to her and she smiled as their conversation continued.
“Does no one think it’s a little weird that their team’s name is the ‘Sunnyvale Devils’?” Sam asked and Deena turned to look at her in surprise.
“Care to elaborate?” Kate asked and Sam sat up a little straighter.
“Well Sunnyvale has all these good things happen to them and it only seems that Shadyside suffers right? Economically and all that.”
As Sam spoke, she opened up the plastic container of cookies and she offered to everyone. Simon bit into one and Deena swore his eyes rolled to the back of his head as he let out a moan of pleasure.
"Stop being so sexual, weirdo!" Kate said and Simon ignored her as he turned to face Kate.
"These are incredible. Did you make them?" he asked and Sam smiled brightly before nodding. "You must give me the recipe, holy shit. It's like there's cocaine in here!"
Everyone laughed before Sam continued.
"It's just strange that between two towns not too far apart from each other, one is thriving economically and the other is suffering."
“Except we have the murders! What's that nickname...'Murder Capital USA'? Yeah that!” Simon chipped in and Kate rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, but that hasn’t happened recently,” Kate argued.
“Not yet!” Simon said lowering his voice eerily and Kate turned back to look at Sam.
“Ignore him. You were saying?”
“Well, it’s strange that they’re the Sunnyvale Devils. Why would they name their team after the devil since they clearly have a blessing from God to thrive,” Sam said snarkily, and Deena grinned, happy that her girlfriend, who usually said things to please everyone else, was allowing herself to loosen up a little.
“I don’t know but they suck and maybe they deserve to have a mascot who is the literal devil,” Kate said proudly.
“A toast to Shadyside!” Simon yelled and Deena gave him a look of confusion.
“How about a toast to friends?” Kate suggested before looking over to Simon. “Y’know, since we have a ninety-nine percent change of losing next week’s game?”
“There’s still the one percent,” Sam said softly, and Deena squeezed her hand.
She loved how optimistic Sam was, even in the shittiest situations. Deena felt like sometimes, Sam was too bright and sunny for her, and that Sam deserved a person just as bright and sunny as her, but Sam eased her worries instantly with a kiss and words of comfort.
Simon took out the cheap wine and raised an eyebrow at Deena, who shook her head.
“You not drinking?” Sam asked and Deena gave her a small nod.
“Okay, so it’s just me, Kate and…Sam, you in?” Simon asked as he lifted an empty cup and Sam smiled at him.
“No thanks. My mom can smell any sort of alcohol a mile away, even if it’s the cheap stuff.”
“Suit yourself!” Simon said with a shrug, and he held up a bottle of apple juice that Kate had bought. “Would you prefer this?” he asked, and the couple nodded.
The sky was a haze of orange and gold clouds as the sunset and while Deena had witnessed the sunset at The Spot for the last couple months, she never got sick of it. The sun lit up the town and for once, Shadyside’s beauty seemed to nearly be on par with Sunnyvale. Sure, they didn’t have three story mansions or newly painted tennis courts and country clubs, but the weirdly homey feeling of the town was what Deena appreciated. The sunset made her feel like Shadyside wasn’t all bad and that things could get better for her and her family. The feeling that she could come out with Sam as her girlfriend and her dad would stop drinking so much. It made her fantasize of travelling and experiencing life with Sam at her side but knowing that Shadyside was her home.
It gave her five minutes of hope that she needed.
“Cheers to friends!” Kate announced, holding her cup high and they all cheered before downing their drinks.
Simon decided to pretend being drunk as he stumbled around the grass and made dirty jokes while Kate pulled his arm to go explore a part of the forest. Deena knew this was Kate’s way of giving her and Sam some alone time and she inwardly thanked her friend before turning to face Sam, who was glowing from the golden rays of sun on her skin.
“Wow…” Deena whispered, and Sam looked up, a frosted cookie in her mouth.
“Hmm? Did I miss something?” she asked, as she chewed and swallowed.
“No…it’s nothing,” Deena said, before leaning back on her hands. “So…you want to tell me what’s going on with your parents?”
“Ugh, nothing gets past you!” Sam groaned before closing her eyes and turning to face Deena, nibbling on the cookie as she started to speak.
“I think they might be getting a divorce. The fights have gotten worse, and they argue almost every day. It’s like a relief when I wake up to them not fighting. I think they went to see attorneys this evening after work which is why I could sneak out. I…I don’t want to be home waiting for them to tell me that type of news right now.”
Deena winced as Sam's voice broke and Sam buried her head into her hands, silent tears dripping down her cheeks.
“I don’t know what to do, Deena. I saw this coming, but I don’t know what’s going to happen to me if they go through with the divorce. My mom mentioned something about Sunnyvale to my aunt on the phone a few days ago and…and what if I move and if I don't move and stay with my dad...I don't know...what if I have to choose between my parents-?”
Sam broke off and began sobbing and Deena took her into her arms smoothing down her hair. Sam relaxed into Deena's arms and after a few minutes Deena spoke up.
“I’m so sorry, Sam. You still got me, and Simon and Kate and…I’ll do everything I can to help you through this. I promise.”
“You mean that?”
“Yes, every word. I know it's going to be hard but you will always have me.”
Sam sniffed before lifting her head and wiping away her tears.
“Thank you, Deena. That means everything to me,” Sam said before cupping the side of Deena’s face and closing the gap between them.
Deena could feel the butterflies in her stomach and taste the strawberry icing from the biscuit Sam had eaten. She could feel Sam’s growing smile against her lips, and she melted into Sam’s arms.
How had she gotten so lucky?
Deena wasn’t sure how long they kissed but after they came up for air, there was a wolf whistle from behind them and Sam nearly screamed before realizing it was Simon, grinning manically with Kate by his side, a similar grin on her face, holding a polaroid camera.
“God, you scared the daylights out of us!” Deena yelled and Sam chuckled before clearing her voice.
“You guys find anything cool?” she asked, and Kate shook her head.
“Nah. Simon saw a skunk and wanted to chase after it, but I dragged him away before things could get…gross. But…we did get these!”
Kate bounded up to them before presenting them with two polaroid pictures and Deena let out a gasp. It was of the two of them, the Shadyside sunset in the backdrop while their silhouettes were nose to nose. Deena knew that the photo was discreet enough for them to not be recognizable, with her hoodie hiding her hair, but Deena knew that made it even more special to Sam, who couldn't afford her mom finding out that it was two girls close enough to kiss.
Sam was frozen in shock as she stared at her picture before jumping up and hugging Kate and repeating ‘thank you’ repeatedly while Kate just laughed.
Simon sat back down and grabbed a handful of cheesy puffs before smiling at Deena.
“You still think Shadyside is going to lose next week?” she asked, and he hummed before winking at her.
“Who knows? I’m feeling kinda lucky this evening,” he said as she smiled as Sam sat down and wrapped her arms around her, so that her back was against Sam’s chest.
Kate sat down next to Simon, who pouted and glanced in her direction, before rolling her eyes and giving him a quick kiss on the cheek.
“There. That’s all the love I’m feeling tonight,” she said nonchalantly, and Simon only grinned before tackling her, kissing her cheeks and she squealed.
Deena snorted and Sam gasped in surprise before asking, “They’re not together, right? You told me that they weren’t?”
“No, but Simon is overly affectionate, and Kate tolerates it. He’s kissed my cheek a few times before I told him I was lesbian, and he’s backed off ever since to respect my boundaries. Kate describes it as friendly connections, but Simon is convinced that she’s madly in love with him,” Deena explained, and Kate glared at her from the ground as she pushed Simon’s face away from hers.
“Simon! Get off! And no Deena, I’m not madly in love with him!”
“But I have so much love to give Kate!” he complained, his words slightly slurred from Kate's hand being against his cheek.
“Then date one of the cheerleaders I’ve told you about! Or one the football players!” she yelled.
Simon have her a goofy smile before smiling mischievously.
“Nah, none of them would be able to tolerate me the way you do and don’t act like I haven’t caught you staring during cheer practice. You crush on the cheerleaders and football players too!”
Kate’s face flushed and Simon smirked at her before she ruffled his hair.
“Shut up Si-money. You know we’re platonic soulmates.”
That answer seemed to satisfy Simon as he helped her sit up right and he gave her a shit-eating grin.
“Hell yeah! Platonic soulmates! Now that’s something I can do,” he hummed happily, and she rolled her eyes, but her smile was undeniable.
The four of them watched the sky turn lilac with streaks of pink and orange and slowly but surely, the deep navy started to set in. The wind picked up, and soon the blankets were brought out and wrapped around shoulders. Deena and Sam cuddled together, their body heat more than enough, and Simon tried to cuddle with Kate before she scolded him.
“I already let you kiss me, Simon. Don’t push your luck with any skinship!”
“I just don’t want you to catch a cold! It’s called ‘being considerate’ Kate!” he argued back.
Deena tried to keep her laughter in when she looked over to them a few minutes later, with Kate looking grumpy because she was shivering, and watched as Simon wrapped his jacket around her as well as the blanket around them.
“This changes nothing, Simon,” she grumbled.
“Wasn’t planning on changing a thing,” he said, and that answer seemed to make her rest her back against his chest.
The stars came out and the sound of crickets echoed through the air. Deena wanted this moment to last forever. Everything was perfect.
“You going back home tonight?” Deena whispered into Sam’s ear, and she nodded.
“Yeah. Gotta get back before the parents but thankfully dinner is in the fridge, and I can avoid them for the evening by locking myself in my room.”
“You could always come back to my place.”
“You have a project to do plus even if you didn’t, I can’t. I’m visiting my grandparents tomorrow for breakfast and the parents would definitely notice my absence,” she said apologetically.
“You’re right. I should focus on school,” Deena said sarcastically, and Sam rested her chin on Deena’s head.
“I know you’ll create an amazing project.”
“You always have so much faith in me.”
“Why shouldn’t I? You’re Deena Johnson, my sarcastic, moody, intelligent girlfriend and I know you can do it.”
Deena’s heart swelled at the word.
She cuddled closer to Sam and watched the sky turn fully to deep navy, the lights from the town the only reason it wasn’t pitch black.
Deena knew they’d have to leave in a few minutes so that Sam could be home before her parents. Kate had mentioned she was babysitting that seven which automatically meant Simon would be accompanying her. Deena knew that Josh would probably be at home under a sheet and doing whatever dorky shit he did online, which left her alone to do work in her room.
She shook away those thoughts and decided to focus on how she was in Sam’s arms, feeling warm and with Simon and Kate, who made her stomach ache from laughter. She chose to focus on the sweetness from Sam's kiss on her tongue and the last glimpse of pale yellow before it vanished under the navy sky. She chose to look at the stars and close her eyes to make a wish, and even though she had grown out of the habit that wishes couldn’t come true no matter how hard you believed, she took the chance.
She could choose happiness now and that was all that mattered to her.