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wrapped up in momentary touch

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She wishes she could forget her smile — so bright and summery, a sweet sight that could warm someone up instantaneously; and her laugh, a contagious, euphonious sound that could cure even the gloomiest mood. She wishes she could forget her touch, because she could still feel it; the gentleness of it, and how doting she was, just besotted with her.

And they say time heals all wounds, but she thinks that’s bullshit — in fact, she knows it is — because in the beginning, it wasn’t like this.

In the beginning, she did the normal things — what everyone did after a breakup. She threw out the things that reminded her of Sam, and she threw herself into work. She cleaned and reorganized and she even fixed the wobbly leg of their dining room table. But Sam still lingers.

She tries to be patient; tries to keep her mind occupied — but the weeks drag on, and it only gets worse. She starts going out more — drinking so much it makes everything dark. She takes prescription sleep aids, the ones Simon and Kate have on hand, because she doesn’t like being awake, and she sleeps and sleeps, trying to prolong it, but the memory of her remains, even in her unconscious. She showers constantly — scrubbing herself raw in attempt to destroy the memory of the way she felt on her skin. It’s agonizing, consumingly so, but she hides it as best she can.

She plans out detailed excuses — says she’s sick and that she must be coming down with something; that her car didn’t start, and she wouldn’t be able to make it. She becomes gradually more mindful of the expressions her face makes, and tries laboriously to mask her emotions. She tries.

But it becomes less believable as the time passes. Her little brother, Josh, takes notice; sees how defeated she looks, and how she can’t seem to get out of bed to drive them to school anymore. He starts walking instead, and it gets lonely around the house, even with her there.

Her best friend, Kate, notices, too, though she disguises her concern as best she can. She knows just how proud Deena is, because she’s the same way, and she didn’t want to embarrass her. But weeks turn into months, and it becomes increasingly obvious that her options are running out. She thinks she may be losing her, and it scares the hell out of her.

“Rise and shine,” Kate sings, and Deena whines in displeasure as she pulls the blinds up and opens her bedroom window. A rush of cold air invades her space, and she huddles further into her blanket.

The birds chirp noisily outside, and a car whizzes down her street. Kate starts fumbling around with something in her room, humming to herself, and Deena exhales deeply, annoyed at her uninvited presence.

“What are you doing?” she asks, her voice muffled from underneath her thick comforter. Kate doesn’t answer, and when she hears a drawer close, she pushes the linens off of her, sitting up. Her eyes watch Kate curiously, and when the girl turns back around, she shrugs.

“I mean, I might as well tidy up while I’m here.”

“And why are you here?”

“I thought I’d pick you up for school today.”

“I can drive myself.”

Kate arches a brow. “I thought your car broke down.”

“Oh,” she says, “right.” She tells her she forgot — that she just woke up, and she isn’t feeling well, and Kate acts like she believes her. “I have that test today.”

“What test? Your math test?” Deena nods. “That was yesterday.”

“What? No, today’s Monday.”

“It’s Tuesday.”

Deena stills, and she narrows her eyes. “You’re fucking with me. It’s Monday.”

“Deena,” Kate says, and she steps closer to her, “it’s Tuesday.”

She sits there for a while, mulling that over, before she says, “Oh.”

“You missed your test, didn’t you?”

She clicks her tongue at the roof of her mouth, the realization humbling. “One hundred percent. Yeah.”

“Which is what you will not be getting as a grade.”

Deena laughs despite the discouraging news, and Kate eases up at the sound. She looks exhausted, like she hadn’t slept for days, but Kate knows it’s all she’s been doing. Her hair is frizzy, and her top is flipped around, as if she’d been tossing and turning all night. There’s an absence in her, and she doesn’t match Kate’s facetious humor with her own.

She thinks she’s been in this room for far too long — so long that she’s starting to wither away in it. “Get out of bed already. You need to get dressed.”

“I don’t know. I think I’ll skip today.”

Kate frowns. “Okay … well, how about you come out with me tonight?”

Deena sighs, laying back down. “No.”

She studies her for a bit. “Fine,” she eventually says. “Then I’ll stay in with you.”

Deena starts to protest, but Kate’s already climbing in her bed, and she grunts at the weight of her as Kate rolls over her toward the wall. Deena turns her head to look at her when she settles. “Go to school.”

“Nope. Not without you.”

“Kate, I’m not letting you ruin your dorky perfect attendance record on me.”

“Then I guess you’re going to school with me, and to that party tonight.”

“Who even has a party on a Tuesday night?”

“Doesn’t matter. Either you’re coming or I’m staying.”

Deena narrows her eyes. “You’re bluffing.”

“I think we both know I don’t bluff.”

They stare at each other challengingly, waiting for the other to back down first. Kate yawns dramatically, snuggling up against Deena’s pillow.

“So comfortable. I could stay here all day.”

And Deena doesn’t care about much these days, but she cares about Kate, and, unfortunately, her stupid school record, too. “You’re lucky I love you,” she says.

“You’re the lucky one in this friendship.”

She pushes herself up and wipes the sleep from her eyes. “Friendship?” She gets to her feet. “I barely know you.”

Kate smiles to herself at the joke. It’s not much, but it’s something, and it feels like the old her, even if it’s only for a few seconds. And that’s enough.

They let Josh tag along for the ride, and he’s uncharacteristically pleasant to her. It’s kindhearted of him, Deena thinks, but it almost makes her feel worse. She didn’t like people tiptoeing around her at all, because it meant that they knew something was wrong — meant that they might want to talk about it with her, and she doesn’t know if she’d ever be ready for that.

But it’s not something she has to think about today, because he hops out of the car as soon as they arrive and walks off without so much as a goodbye. It makes her chuckle under her breath, because thank God he’s still a little bit rude.

Simon’s happy to see her, and when the cheek of hers lays against his large, blue knit sweater as they hug, she tells him he smells nice, and he giggles at the compliment. “What’s got you so happy on a Monday morning?”

“I thought it was Tuesday.”

“Wh — it is!” Kate exclaims. “Simon, you were literally here yesterday.”

He pauses as he thinks back. “Huh. I thought I dreamed that.”

The two girls stare at him in wonderment. “God,” Kate finally says, “what it must be like to be inside your head for just one day.”

They’re interrupted by some guy, who comes up to ask if they have any hydros on hand. He tries to sweet-talk Kate for a lower price, and she tells him now they cost twice as much. Deena takes it as her cue to leave.

The halls are bleak and dreary as she walks through them, and the sky outside is murky. A thin drizzle falls, and the gloominess seeps inside through the windows, the school’s overhead fluorescents remaining as the only light source. Dead bugs silhouette against the plastic ceiling panes. It’s depressing, she thinks, but not unusual.

She catches the attention of some people as she passes by, and she guesses by their facial expressions that she looks just as she feels. Like shit.

Much to her dismay, she’s pretty well-known around here, and it’s evident as people hastily move out of her way as she descends down the hall. She has a reputation, she guesses, of being bad-tempered … a bitch, really, according to Kate.

But she doesn’t care. She’s pretty detached from her peers, and she doesn’t exactly consider herself to be incredibly friendly — though it’s not like she has the option to be, considering most of the people surrounding her have categorized her as the abnormal ‘lesbo'. So it doesn’t really bother her what they call her anymore — bitch, dyke, whatever — because most of it is true, anyway, and she’d rather be herself than any of these other underachievers.

Kate and Simon, on the other hand, are like gods to these people, with their magic pills that temporarily take away the suffering that is living in Shadyside. But they call Kate a bitch, too, and Simon queer, so Deena thinks she’s in pretty good company.

She’s hated Shadyside for as long as she can remember, because it’s always been a small town. And it’s not even that there isn't anything to do, or because the town and its landscape is colorless and uninviting — but rather because you can’t escape these people, and there are so goddamn few of them.

They stick around forever, and there isn’t much population inflow. It’s not like people are clamoring to move to Killer Capital, USA — where corruptly-indebted blue collar workers spend their entire lives exhausting themselves for the benefit of fraudulent, almost villainous, affluent Sunnyvalers, only to end up dying some demoralizing, wretched death, insignificant even postmortem.

And what’s the fucking point, she wonders, of any of this? No one ever escapes this town. It consumes people — swallows them up, drains them of their peace, and their life, continuously so.

Kate’s the first and only person Deena ever believes can successfully get out — because she’s so driven; untiring even in the most crushing, crippling times. She’s clever — quick-witted, and unshakeable — and she’s the only reason Deena’s here today at this miserable institution, dragging herself from class to class, because there was no fucking way Kate was ruining that asinine, nerdy school record on her. And of course Kate’s smart enough to leverage the party tonight on her, too, because she knows just how much Deena cares about her lovingly manipulative and cunning self, and it’s enough that she’d agree to a night of loathing over a drink, or six.

Deena stopped going out a while ago. It wasn’t worth it to her to drink in excess the way she was, when it wasn’t much of a reprieve. The headaches were killer, and she used to puke so much she thought she’d see her guts spill out on the pavement, too.

Plus, it wasn’t her proudest moment passing out on the kitchen floor blind drunk, and having to see the look on Josh’s face when he carefully shook her awake in the morning. It was the same one he used to give their dad, when Josh still had hope that he’d get better.

She didn’t find herself drawn much to vodka after that.

But she told Kate she’d be there tonight, so she tries to muster up some strength in the car as she drives them to some guy’s house — she thinks his name is Jake, or something stupid like that, and all Kate knows about him is he’s in a shitty band, and he buys a lot of drugs.

“So, he’s a friend of Simon’s, then?” Deena asks.

“Yep.” She glances at her, grinning. “What gave it away?”

The house is filled with smoke that reeks of pot when they arrive, and Kate calls Deena a snob when she criticizes the music playing not even two minutes after they walk through the door.

She sees a few friends she knows and asks Deena to come and meet them, but, unsurprisingly, she declines, and goes to look for Simon instead.

The house is packed with people, some of them from smaller, neighboring towns, but most of them familiar to her, though they remain largely nameless.

A brief sadness drifts through her as she realizes that out of the crowd here tonight, there aren’t many people she could talk to. She isolated herself a lot — that’s just how she was — and, normally, it didn’t bother her. But something is different about tonight.

She passes through the rowdy kitchen, pushing through people downing shots, and picks up a beer can before looking back out and scanning the place for him. She finds Kate instead, who’s frantically approaching her with wide eyes.

“I’m ready to go.”

Deena blinks as she finishes her sip of beer, and she tilts her head in confusion. “Are you sure? We just got here.”

“Yeah,” she replies quickly, nodding her head. “Let’s go. I’m sorry for dragging you out.”

“It’s okay. You don’t have to worry about me. We can stay.”

Deena,” she says, sounding stressed, but she tries to play it off after. Kate takes a breath. “Let’s leave.”

Her eyes narrow in suspicion. “What’s wrong?”

Hands start to pull on her arm, and Kate thinks if she has to drag her out of here, she will. “Nothing, let’s just —”

But her speech cuts off as she sees the change in Deena’s face, and her stomach drops when she knows she’s just seen her.

It’s a glimpse. A quick flash of that yellow, floral cap-sleeved dress — her light, honey hair falling over the shoulders of it. It’s her.

And she freezes in place at the sight, eyes darting back to Kate, who’s looking back at her with deep commiseration. “Deena, I swear, I didn’t know she’d —”

“It’s okay,” she says, cutting her off. Her eyes glance back over there involuntarily and Sam shyly stares back at her.

She’s surrounded by a group of people, and Deena watches as someone tugs on the girl’s arm to get her attention. People always marveled at her, enraptured by her and her beauty.

She’s invariably gracious, and always delicate with her voice and demeanor. People loved her for it.

It’s painstaking to watch, because Deena loved her, too, completely and unequivocally — in every way, to the hilt. And Sam had thrown that away. She had moved to Sunnyvale; started a new life, dating a boy, with new friends, and an unwavering distain for memories of the past.

Yet, she’s here, at a party in Shadyside, giving a timid wave to her from across the room.

Kate pulls gently on her arm, coaxing her eyes back to hers, and she stares deeply into them, trying to keep her focused. “Let’s leave,” she repeats, and Deena nods.

But Sam starts approaching them, and Kate looks at her instinctively. She internally curses herself for the reaction, her hand steadying on Deena’s arm.

“Hi,” Sam nervously greets them. “It’s, um, good to see you guys again.”

Deena moves her attention from Kate to her ex-girlfriend, and she leans further into her friend upon noticing that Sam’s wearing her gold necklace, the one Deena’d bought for her. It glimmers under the dim light, almost like it’s taunting her, and she can’t take her eyes off of it.

“Hey, Sam,” Kate says. “I wish we could stay but we’re actually leaving.”

“Oh, um —” She starts to say, but Kate cuts her off with a goodbye, and they take a step back. “Wait, Deena,” she calls, and the two girls reluctantly halt before staring back at her. Kate holds her breath. “Can I … I mean, can we … talk?”

Deena looks to Kate, as if she wants her to make the decision, and she shakes her head no. It’s slight, as to not be obvious to Sam, but the girl notices it anyway. “Sam, we really, really have to leave,” Kate tells her.

“Please?” she asks Deena.

And she wishes she has the strength to say no — to walk out, head held high, and never look back. But Sam hasn’t left her thoughts for months, and it’s been torture. Brutal, cutting, incessant torture.

So she tells Kate she’ll be right back — reassures her that she’ll be fine, and to go find Simon to see if he needs a ride home, and it settles Kate’s nerves a bit, because at least she’s thinking of an exit plan; thinking ahead, and not in the past. She scurries off, and the two girls walk off to the side, standing in a hallway where the pumping bass is faint.

“You look good,” she murmurs, and Deena furrows her eyebrows at the compliment.

Because she doesn’t look good — she looks awful, and it’s been pretty apparent to everyone else that’s come across her. But it’s just like Sam to brush things under the rug; to pretend. It’s her specialty. “What are you even doing here?”

“Jake invited me —”

“So?” Deena stares at her, and Sam purses her lips at the interruption. “There have been plenty of parties before this that you’ve skipped, with people you were actually friends with. So, why are you here?”

“I told you. Jake invited me, and I thought it would be fun.”

“They don’t have fun in Sunnyvale?”

She sighs at her sneering manner. “Look, just because you don’t want to see me, Deena, doesn’t mean that everyone else feels the same way.”

And that stings, because Deena wanted to see her. She’d spent the better part of the last couple of months wanting to see her, and talk to her — to ask her if it was worth it to leave.

But she knows Sam, inside and out, and she figures out the reason for her sudden appearance within a few seconds. “I know why you’re here. You broke up with Peter, didn’t you?”

Sam falters, because she didn’t know Deena knew about him. She should’ve — because obviously Kate would’ve told her — but it catches her by surprise regardless. “He has nothing to do with this.”

But her expression says it all. A quiet scoff emits from Deena under her breath, and a knowing smile that doesn’t reach her eyes spans across her face, as if she’s caught her.

Sam feels herself growing irritated with her reaction, because her intention when approaching her ex-girlfriend tonight wasn’t to have things turn sour. “Why do you always — ?”

“You broke up with Peter, so you thought it’d be okay to come visit your old life for a second, because your new one fucking sucks, doesn’t it?”

“No!” she shouts at her, angry, because Deena always did this — always turned things negative and hostile, as if Sam’s out to get her.

“Then why are you wearing that?” she asks, referring to the gold necklace around her neck.

Sam flushes at her directness, but doesn’t hesitate in her response. “Because it’s mine.”

“Oh, Peter doesn’t get you jewelry? Don’t you have some encrusted diamond necklace lying around somewhere that you could’ve thrown on?”

“Deena —” She says, warningly.

“Doesn’t Peter show you a good time in Sunnyvale? I mean, God, what’s he going to do tonight without you there to give him a blow job in his car?”

“Fine!” she yells at her, incensed. “I broke up with him!”

Deena bitterly chuckles. “I fucking knew it.”

Congratulations,” she hisses. “Do you feel better?”

“Yeah. I do.”

“Don’t you ever get tired of being so cynical?” Her arms cross in front of her, and her cheeks redden as heat rises to her face. “You spew out poison on everyone you meet.”

“At least I know who I am. Can you say the same?”

“I know who I don’t want to be,” she hurls back, and Deena practically snorts.

“Yeah, that’s pretty clear.”

“You know, I didn’t ask to talk to you so we could fight.”

“And exactly what were you expecting? What, you want me to comfort you — to tell you that you’re gonna be okay? That you and Peter are going to work things out, and not to worry?”

“God, Deena, how is it that I’m the bad guy, and yet you’re the one who broke up with me?”

“Oh my God, Sam, listen to yourself. You fucking …,” she inhales deeply, trying to calm herself down. “You fucking left me and —”

She rolls her eyes. “Here we go.”

“Sam, you’re so full of shit,” she exclaims. “You act like such a fucking victim, but you’re the one who wanted this new life, that you pretend like you’re so supposedly thrilled with —”

“I’m not pretending, Deena.”

Deena bites her lip at the interruption, and glares at her resentfully. The dim overhead light shadows her face in an intimidating manner. “If you truly, honestly can look at me right now and say you’re happy, then I know for a fact that you never loved me even a fraction of what I loved you.”

“Deena.” She steps closer to her, growing frustrated. “You know how much I loved you — so please spare me the bullshit if you’ve now decided I was a bad girlfriend, too.”

“No, I thought I knew.” Her eyes fill with tears, and she clenches her jaw. “Guess you had me fooled.”

“I fucking loved you,” she snaps, pointing a finger at her, “and I still —” She stops abruptly, angry, abandoning her sentence. “You broke up with me. I needed you, and you weren’t there, okay?"

Deena raises her brows at the accusation, and she almost laughs at the ridiculousness of it. “What?”

“I wasn’t ready,” she says, “and you didn’t wait for me —”

“Wait for what?” she shouts. “Wait for you to stop being ashamed of me?” Sam swallows hard at the question, and Deena continues. “Don’t try to turn this around on me, Sam, because it’s your fucking fault. You pushed me away,” she spits, stepping closer to her. “I came back to you every time and you just kept pushing.” Sam opens her mouth to retaliate, but Deena talks over her. “You left me alone, and confused — you fucking destroyed me —”

“I pushed you away?” she interrupts, incredulous.

“Yes!” she screams, not understanding how Sam could think anything different of the situation. “So, don’t blame this on me. It was you! You did this. It’s your fault!”

Fuck you, Deena,” she spits out venomously, and her shoulder bumps into hers as she walks past her, furious.

She gapes at the insult, outraged as she starts following her, her pace picking up to match her speed. “What did you say to me? Sam,” she calls, but the girl keeps walking. Deena yanks her arm back when she finally catches up to her. “What did you just say?”

Sam rips her arm out of her grasp. “I said fuck you.”

“Fuck me?” Deena repeats in disbelief.

“Fuck you!” she repeats.

“Fuck you,” she breathes, and they stare at each other heatedly. Rage bubbles in her, and Deena shoves her back a bit. “Fuck you!”

The air is tense, and it charges between them like electricity. Hearts beat rapidly in hot rage, and they share a burning look before Sam huffs in frustration, turning around and walking down the hall toward a nearby room, knowing Deena would follow.

She swings open the door, entering the bedroom without so much as a glance to the guy already in there, who has his hands in the jewelry box atop the dresser. She tells him to get out as she checks the ensuite bathroom for any other stragglers, and he laughs at her, telling her to fuck off.

Then Deena appears, and he cowers at the sight of her. “Get the fuck out,” she commands, and he scrambles to leave, gripping a jeweled necklace between his fist as he goes. Deena slams the door shut and locks it, and the two of them meet in the middle.

They lunge at each other ferociously, noses bumping and lips colliding, meshing harshly against one another in pure exasperation. Deena mumbles against her mouth that this is the last fucking time, and Sam nods.

Her hands grip Deena’s shirt, pulling harshly at the fabric until it slips over her head, and Deena thrusts her up against the wall, shushing her angrily when she gives a pained groan from the impact.

Her hand reaches under Sam’s dress to tug down at her underwear, tongues swiping over one another feverishly, and when Sam’s fingers move to rest on her cheek, Deena swats them away forcefully.

She whips the girl around, pinning her there as her hands grip tightly around her hips, and she hikes her dress up, leg slipping in between hers to spread them apart. Fingers settle in between, and satisfy the hot-blooded craving Sam’s had for months as they glide proficiently in her most sensitive spot.

Deena hungrily kisses along her neck, biting down gently on it when Sam’s hand shakily slams into the wall, and a throaty moan flows out of her, a much missed sound to her ears. Nails scratch down as she works through deep-seated pleasure, and Deena can feel her pulse beat, not far off in tempo from her breathiness.

Her free hand snakes up inside the front of her dress and she pulls down her bra hastily, hand cupping a trussed up breast as she continues to indulge her.

Mellifluous pants quicken, and soon they turn into hurried, high-pitched cries. Deena thinks the sounds she makes are habit-forming, and they come to an impassioned crest as she continues to trail her lips down her neck.

Deena’s fingers move to the zipper of her dress, and it slips off of her with ease. Sam’s hands steady her against the wall as she clumsily turns around, and she inhales Deena’s breath as she tries to catch her own. Deena’s hands grope her fervidly, and Sam fumbles for the buttons of her jeans.

They undress each other expeditiously, clothes dropping around their feet, and Sam stumbles forward toward the bed, pushing Deena as they travel towards it. 

Deena whispers that she wants to taste her, and Sam grabs her hand, bringing it up to her mouth. She swallows hard as she watches Deena savor the rest of her there before she pushes her down on the bed, and Sam tells her it’s her turn.

She grips Deena’s thighs so tightly that she wouldn’t be surprised if they bruised, and she doesn’t need much of any direction from the hand in her hair as she tucks in there, her body and taste thoroughly familiar to her. Liquid heat pours out from the color rose, and it coats every sense Sam has.

The pair refuse to relent — to let the other rest, focused on leaving one another trembling in exhaustion. They bite and claw and scratch, and they cling to each other so desperately, as if they’re afraid one would disappear. Teeth scrape skin, and their bodies shift together in unison from their arduous, continuous motions. Gaping mouths ghost in exchanges of gasps and breaths, and vulgar words intermittently blanket their lips.

Heavy, strenuous relief comes in waves as they claim one another, and the grip they keep on each other is all-consuming. But hands start to graze instead of grasp, and lips start to slow, and it no longer quells the atmosphere of festering rancor between them.

They dress in silence.

Deena wipes at the corner of her mouth in the mirror, and tries as best she can to tame her curly hair. She doesn’t bother to peek at the reflection of Sam, because she doesn’t want to give her the satisfaction, and when she moves to leave, Sam tells her this can’t happen again.

Deena doesn’t reply, because of course it can’t — and she has not the slightest idea what to make of what just happened. When she rounds the corner back into the party, she sidles up to Simon.

“So,” he says, smacking his lips awkwardly, “you just ….”

“Yep.” She takes the drink out of his hand and gulps down a large portion of it, wincing when she tastes what seems like pure venom.

“With Sam … ?”

“Yep.”

Simon nods, and he looks back out to the crowd. “You can keep that, I guess.”

“That’s probably best.”

 


 

Kate exhausts herself after with apologies for the next week, and Deena tells her that it’s fine — that she couldn’t have possibly known, and that it’s not her fault, but Kate doesn’t let herself off the hook so easily.

She notices Deena’s been much more secretive since then — making up excuses to bail on hanging out with her and Simon, and not being home when she’s babysitting across the street.

She demands that she and Simon go see her before the game tonight, and Deena doesn’t cancel this time. Kate tries her best to prepare Simon in case Deena’s a big, blubbering mess over Sam again, and she tells him not to say anything stupid.

“Why do you always think I’m going to say something stupid?” he asks, after they’ve knocked on the front door.

“Years of experience.”

Deena opens the door slowly. “Oh. You guys are early.”

“So?” Kate says, and the two of them saunter inside, stopping when they see a girl on the couch.

Deena puts a hand on her forehead in embarrassment as Simon leaps over the table and sits close next to her. He introduces himself, and Kate moves to sit in her dad’s recliner. Deena doesn’t sit at all.

“Steph was just about to leave, actually.”

“But not without meeting your very best friends in the world, right?” Kate asks, and Deena rolls her eyes. “So, Steph, how do you know Deena?”

“We met at Tyler’s party, a few weeks ago.”

Oh,” she says. “I hope you’re the one she hooked up with that night, ‘cause it’d be awkward if not.”

“Don’t worry,” she responds. “That’s me.”

“Great! So, we’ve all met each other.” She gestures to the door and Steph starts to get up, but Kate continues on, ignoring Deena, and Steph sinks back down on the couch as she’s asked another question.

“So … you and Deena are dating, then?”

“No,” Deena answers, “no, Kate, we’re just hanging out, but thank you for bringing it up.”

“Well, how long have you two been hanging out?”

“Just a week.”

“Bet it’s been a fun week,” Simon winks, and he playfully nudges Steph a bit.

“It was,” she says, “up until now.”

His smile falls at her flat tone, and he looks to Kate.

“Where do you go to school?”

“She goes to our school, Kate.”

“Oh. I’ve never seen you around.”

“Yeah, I don’t buy drugs, so, I don’t know why you would.”

“Oh, Jesus,” Deena says under her breath, and Kate straightens up in her seat, feeling challenged.

“Well, what do you do there, Steph?”

“Mostly art. You haven’t taken over that club yet, right?”

“Not yet. You never know.”

“I actually had art class with you, Simon, and your friend, Sam.”

“Really? I don’t remember you.”

“Doesn’t surprise me.”

“So, you know Sam?” Kate asks, and Deena sends her a threatening look.

“Yeah. I know Sam. What, are you her ex, too?” Steph asks, gesturing in between them.

Simon snorts, and Deena opens her mouth to deny it, but Kate jumps in before she can speak. “Why, would that bother you?”

“Kate,” Deena warns, and she laughs awkwardly. “No, Steph, we’re just friends.”

Soulmates, you could say.”

The girl looks uncomfortable, and Simon tries to crack a joke to lighten the mood. “Don’t worry, Steph, I’ll be your soulmate.”

“No thanks.”

“Oh, I meant, like, platonically.”

“Yeah, I know what you meant.”

Simon’s eyes widen and he forces a smile as he glances at Deena. “Well!” He claps his hands once as he moves to stand. “Dope meeting you.”

Deena takes the hint and leans toward the exit, and Steph gets up smugly as she’s led out the door.

Simon looks at Kate and, as soon as they’re out of earshot, he says, “Dude, she sucks.”

“I’m going to destroy her,” Kate growls.

When the front door closes, Deena swivels back to them. “Holy shit, guys, could you have been any more rude?”

“Yeah, actually,” Kate says. “She left here without crying, didn’t she?”

“Deena, I don’t want to be mean but honestly I can’t believe you’ve let that woman near your snatch and it hasn’t shriveled up.”

“Please don’t talk about my vagina, Simon.”

“Seriously, you have to break it off with her,” Kate says.

“Just because you don’t like her —”

“Do you really like her, Deena, or are you just trying to forget that you slept with Sam last week?”

“Sam has nothing to do with this, okay? We’re over, so stop bringing her up!”

“Deena —”

“God, did you guys give her boyfriend the third degree, too? Or am I the only one who has to put up with it?”

There’s a silence.

“Sorry, Deena,” Simon finally says. “You’re right. Date who you want.”

“Fine,” Kate relents. “But just know, Deena, that I’d literally kill for you.”

“And I do not, for one second, doubt that.”

“Good, and make sure Steph knows.”

“I think she got the message.”

“Would you kill for me?” Simon asks.

Kate looks at him briefly before she says, “I have to get ready,” and she disappears into Deena’s room to change into her uniform.

“See that?” Simon asks. “See how she treats me?”

“She’s just pissed because of Steph.” Deena puts a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “I’d kill for you, Simon.”

“Really?”

She shrugs. “Sure.”

“Thanks, dude.”

 


 

Sam's life had become awfully monotonous since she’d moved to Sunnyvale. The days blended together; they were routine and boring — which, to be fair, is what she wished for when she decided to move with her mom after her parents’ divorce.

Things with Deena had been changing. Sam’s mom started noticing how much time they spent together — the way Deena looked at her daughter, like she was her sun; a gleaming, glittering ray of light that she held dear.

She told Sam to watch out for her — told her that she’d heard things about that girl, and she didn’t want her to be a bad influence, because, if it was true, then Deena was sick, and shameful.

People at school had started treating her differently. Her classmates whispered about her as she walked by, and sometimes they even ignored her completely. She’d never been anything but nice to anyone at this school, and she was embarrassed that something like this could ruin her name.

It didn’t affect Deena the same way. Deena had always been confident — wholly assured of herself, and what she wanted. People didn’t mess with her.

But Sam was different — gentler and quieter. She smiled at everyone who passed by, and made friends with anyone she could. Everyone liked her.

That was, until they didn’t.

Talk started swirling around school, and it seemed to her that the more people found out about her, the less they liked her. So, she decided she didn’t want anyone to know anything about her at all.

She distanced herself — stopped holding her girlfriend’s hand in public, and excused herself from conversations with her peers once they started to drift below surface level.

She jumped at the slightest thing when she was with Deena, like she was scared, and her anxiety began to seep into her, too. They broke apart at the sound of a door, or a creak of the stairs. It instilled fear into them, deeply rooting itself in their relationship.

It hurt Deena, she knew it did, but it hurt her, too, and she had to find a way to stop it — because she still had to live with herself, even if she didn’t like herself.

She leaves — thinks it might allow her to breathe again, but it doesn’t. Anxiety-riddled nausea lingers, but she pretends it’s easy, and she hopes it’ll start to work.

She stops fighting with her mom and she meets Peter, a football player, and she joins cheer, and she thinks about how effortless it all could be for her, if she were different. She doesn’t have to worry about disappointing anyone, or hurting anyone, other than herself.

In the beginning, she thinks Peter’s a perfect distraction. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself, and he doesn’t really care about getting to know her. But time with him grew painful, and she could only detach herself from intimacy with him for so long. He’s harsh and spiteful, and she has to bite her tongue as he continuously badmouths Shadyside and all the ‘lazy, worthless’ people who live there. They don’t last long. She breaks up with him after three weeks.

She begins to yearn for what she had given up, and Deena often wanders into her thoughts. They were so devoted to each other — so in love and rooted in one another’s arms. She used to look at her like she was her world, because she was.

And as Sam stares at herself in her bedroom mirror, gazing upon the deep purple marks left by Deena’s mouth that cover her neck and chest, and descend down to her lower abdomen and inner thighs, she feels quite dreadful.

She’d fallen once again into her forbidden arms, and distance hadn’t helped like she thought it would. She thought it’d fix her. But she still craves her nonetheless, just like she always has.

Sam wonders if she’ll see her again tonight, because it’s Friday and she’s in Shadyside again, and there’s a football game happening between the two schools.

She can spot Kate and Simon, who wave at her from across the field, and ignores some of the comments from the other cheerleaders about how she shouldn’t associate with the trash from ‘Shittyside’. Nostalgia grows as each game of the season goes on, and she wishes she was standing alongside Kate, and goofing off with Simon, just like old times.

She doesn’t see Deena until the very end of the night, when she catches a glimpse of curly hair and a familiar maroon sweater. Her water bottle drops from her hand out of shock.

She’s hugging Kate goodbye, and laughing at something Simon said, as the two of them head for the buses, and Sam’s eyes trail after her as Deena walks to the parking lot. She hurries to gather all of her things together before going after her.

The sun has set by now, and the air is bitterly cold. The parking lot lowers with light fog, which settles around their ankles. It looks almost lustrous under the overhead parking light, which seems to flicker every half minute.

And there Deena is, resting against her car, eyes focused on her hands. Sam takes a deep breath to calm herself before approaching her.

“Hey.”

Deena glances up to see her standing in front of her, and she straightens up her stance. “Hi.” She gives an awkward chuckle as she shows Sam her hands, which are smeared in green paint. “Simon,” she explains.

Sam nods, and she figures it’s a good sign that Deena’s not immediately standoffish. “Did you, um … enjoy the game?” she asks, almost cringing as it comes out of her mouth. She wonders if she could’ve asked anything lamer than that.

“I guess. I mean, we lost, but I prefer it to winning. It’s nice to go to a school where the football team has no self-esteem.”

Sam giggles, and Deena’s eyes soften at the sound. “Are you waiting for Kate and Simon?”

“No.”

“Oh,” she says. “You aren’t hanging out with them tonight?” Deena shakes her head no. “Well, um, do you … maybe want to …,” she shifts her weight onto her other foot, “hang out with me, then?”

“Oh, um,” she hesitates, and a worried crease forms on her forehead. “Sam, I —”

“Hey,” Steph interrupts, and Deena turns to look at her. The girl rises on her toes and pulls her jacket in, giving her a peck on the lips. She smiles flirtatiously at her when they part. “You ready to go?”

“Yeah,” Deena says, barely audible, and Sam steps back, her mouth slightly parting in surprise.

The two of them stare back at her, and Steph’s hands remain fixed to her jacket collar as she hangs on her, almost making a show of it. “Oh,” she says. “Hey, Sam.”

“Hi,” she breathes, like it’s her last one.

“I, um …,” Deena starts, gesturing to Steph, and Sam shakes her head, like it’s no big deal.

“Yeah, of course,” she forces a smile. “I’ll see you around.” Her voice breaks toward the end, and as she turns around, Deena calls after her.

She tells Steph to get in the car, and the girl does so reluctantly. Deena looks at her guiltily when it’s just them again. “I’m just taking her home,” she says.

Sam gives a sad smile at her explanation, and she shakes her head. “Come on, Deena,” she says, “I’m not stupid. We both know what happens in your car on rides home. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in that backseat.”

“Sam —”

“But, hey, I get it. You’re moving on, and that’s …,” she takes a breath, tears burning at her eyes, “that’s fine. You deserve to.”

Deena hesitates as she stands outside of her car, but she can hear Steph calling her name from the passenger seat, so she decides it best to wrap things up. “Why don’t you take my jacket? It’s cold out, and —”

“No,” she says, and she takes a step back.

Deena frowns before she nods in understanding, and she opens her car door to get in. She tries not to look in her rearview mirror for Sam as she drives away.

Sam stands there for a minute longer as tears continue to spill, before she decides it best to walk back to the buses. She hides around the corner as she tries to regain her composure.

“Sam?”

“Oh, hey,” she sniffles, hastily wiping at her eyes. She tries to play it off, but her voice is thick, and her makeup is runny, and Kate wasn’t easy to lie to. “Sorry, I’m just —"

“Don’t be sorry.”

She exhales deeply, having worked herself up. “Okay.”

Kate rolls onto the balls of her feet temporarily, feeling awkward. “If it makes you feel better,” she says, “Simon and I hate her.”

Sam laughs, the sound spluttering out of her as it mixes with tears that refuse to cease. She nods. “That does make me feel better.”

“Why don’t you come out with us tonight?”

“I don’t think I’m in the mood to go anywhere,” she says. “I think I’m just going to go home.”

“Okay,” Kate frowns. She opens her arms awkwardly and leans in, and Sam hugs her. Kate pats her on the back before they part. She mumbles something under her breath.

“What?”

Kate looks uncomfortable. “Love you,” she repeats.

It makes Sam cry more, and Kate grunts as she’s pulled in for another hug. Sam tells her she loves her, too, and Kate yells out for Simon.

He appears after a few seconds. “No way. This is my dream group hug.”

She tells him to get her out of there, but he doesn’t listen, instead wrapping his arms around the both of them. Kate has to squat low to the floor to flee from their grasp.

 


 

Deena’s cleaning the kitchen when she hears a knock at the door. She looks at the clock, which shows it’s just past midnight, and she glances out the window to see if her neighbor’s light is on — to see if somehow it’s Kate, even though she knows she’s not babysitting tonight.

She thinks maybe it’s her dad — sometimes he skipped his night shifts and went to the bar instead, and it wouldn’t be the first time he accidentally locked himself out.

So, she rinses her hands off and heads for the door, opening it to see Sam, who wears a contrite expression. Deena’s face falls, and she crosses her arms. “Sam? What are you doing here?”

“I needed to see you,” she says, and Deena sighs before stepping to the side to let her in. Sam enters the house carefully. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

“Steph’s not here.”

She’d dropped Steph off a few hours ago. They had plans, but things got a little uncomfortable in the car after the interaction with Sam earlier that night.

Steph had told her that ‘anger was healing’, and that, in order to get over her ‘straight best friend’, she needed to get angrier. Deena told her she didn’t know what she was talking about, and to drop it, but she kept going.

She said Deena talks about Sam in her sleep — that she heard her last night — and, after that, they didn’t talk much. Deena took her home and told her she didn’t want to see her anymore, and Steph agreed. And that was that.

Sam furrows her brow. “But I thought —”

“Why are you here?” she asks again, closing the door behind her. “How did you even get here?”

“I took the bus.”

“You what? Are you crazy?”

“I’ve been thinking and —” she starts, but the girl’s still hung up on how she got there, asking her if she was trying to get herself killed, and did she know how many creeps lived in this town and — “Deena, I’m trying to tell you something.”

“You shouldn’t be here.”

“I know.”

She sighs, shaking her head. “Let me drive you home.” She steps closer to Sam, trying to grab her keys on the console table, but Sam stops her.

“I’m trying to tell you I’m sorry.”

“Why?” she asks. “It doesn’t change anything.”

But Sam continues, undeterred. “You were right. I left, and I pushed you away. I was scared and —”

“Stop —“

“And I know you hate me for what I did, but I love you, and right now, all I want to do is …,” she sighs, stepping closer to her and closing the gap between them.

Deena catches herself melting into it before she mumbles no on her lips and pulls away, taking several steps back. “Don’t — you can’t kiss me, Sam. I can’t do this — want this, I …,” she takes a shaky breath, and the pace of her speech quickens. “I just want to forget you, but I can’t — because I never stop thinking about you. I just want to stop thinking about you,” she says, almost frantic. Her voice trembles and her eyes search the face in front of her. “Why can’t I stop thinking about you?”

A familiar ache forms in her as she studies Sam’s face, and she feels ashamed for it, because she truthfully is trying her best, and it’s so discouraging that it’s not working — that she consistently fails, every time.

“I should go,” Sam eventually says, and she turns around for the door, but Deena follows, and her arm reaches over her to shut it closed. Sam’s eyes flutter shut as desire burns in her, and she sighs unsteadily. “You don’t want me here, Deena, so don’t give in,” she whispers, “because I’m not going to stop you.”

“Shut up,” she breathes, and she turns her around, eyes shifting to her pink lips. “Just…,” she trails off, leaning in, and they kiss anew.

Sam trails after her when she parts, and Deena lets her, leaving their mouths connected as her hands wrap around Deena’s waist and pull her close.

Hands move up to ghost Sam’s shoulders as she internally debates with herself on whether or not to nudge her back again. They tremble in place for a few seconds before she whispers ‘shit’ to herself, and deepens the kiss. She thought their last time together was just that — the end of them — and she can’t believe she’s here again. But Sam’s nose slides against hers as she tilts her head, and her tongue moves languidly, and she can’t help herself as she buries a hand in her hair.

Sam seems to relax at that, and she walks them forward a bit, grabbing her hand. She whispers against her lips that they should go to her room, and Deena nods without hesitation.

 


 

“Deena?”

She looks up from the stove to see her brother walking in the kitchen, a troubled look on his face.

“What’s up?”

“Quick question.”

“Yeah?”

“Sam is asleep in your bed.”

Deena’s eyes go back to the cooking pan in front of her. “That’s not a question. Hungry?” she asks.

“You two are back together?”

“Nope.” She flips a pancake. “Grab the syrup for me, would you?”

“But you slept with her?”

Josh,” she scolds, almost embarrassed. “Since when do you give a shit?”

“I just hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“Deena, you couldn’t even get out of bed. Or did you forget that?”

“I can take care of myself.”

“Can you?”

Her eyes shoot daggers at him. “Yeah. I can, and I can take care of you, too, and Dad, because I’ve been doing it for years. So, do you want pancakes or not?”

A knock comes at their front door before Josh can argue back, and they glance at it before meeting eyes again. Josh huffs as he goes to answer it, and Deena drops the spatula she’s holding when she hears Kate’s voice. She tries to pick it up too quickly, and her hand gets lightly scathed by the pan’s heat as it bumps against it.

She sucks in air through clenched teeth at the pain, and Kate and Simon walk in, Josh trailing behind them.

“Dad’s home,” he says. “Just saw his truck pull in.”

Deena stares at Kate and Simon, as if she’s waiting for something, and they stare back at her.

“What?” Kate says, and Deena blinks.

“I don’t remember inviting you over at —” she looks to the clock, “nine in the morning.”

Simon scoffs. “What, do you expect us not to eat breakfast?”

Kate narrows her eyes. “What’d you do?”

“What?”

“You did something. You look guilty.”

“Kate, please, it’s too early for this.”

“Is Steph here?” she asks accusingly.

Josh furrows his brow. “Who’s Steph?”

Kate looks at him. “Steph. The girl she’s dating.”

“You’re dating someone else?” Josh gasps.

No,” she huffs. “I broke things off with Steph last night.”

“Oh, fuck yeah,” Simon says. “High five, girly!” He raises his hand but Deena doesn’t humor him with one.

“Wait — someone else,” Kate repeats. “What does he mean by someone else?”

“Nothing —”

“Sam’s here,” Josh interrupts.

Kate and Simon gasp simultaneously, and Deena smacks his arm with the hot spatula. “You little shit.”

“Ouch!”

They all quiet as their dad walks in, and he heads for the fridge. His hair is unkempt, and his eyes are glazed. “Oh, look. All four of my children are here. Great.”

“Five, actually. Sam’s in Deena’s room.” Simon wiggles his eyebrows, and Deena raises the spatula at him threateningly. He cowers behind Kate.

The older man takes a beer out of the fridge and shuts it. “Thought you broke up with her.”

“I did. We’re broken up.” She runs the spatula under sink water.

“You know, your mom always did like that girl.”

“Yeah, well, she liked you, too, so maybe her judgment was off,” she says.

He chuckles at her bite, and the opening of the aluminum tab fills the room momentarily. “Save me some pancakes for later. I’m gonna go lay down.”

It’s just the four of them again as he walks out, and her friends show no signs of letting up on the interrogation.

“So, wait, I’m confused,” Simon says, “Sam’s here, but you’re not back together?”

“Yep.”

“So, you’re just basically right back where you started a week ago.”

“Yep.”

Simon hums. “Well, are you two going to get back together?”

“Your pancakes are getting cold.”

“Deena,” Kate says, “what is going on with you two?”

“Stop teasing us. I really miss you guys together.” Simon frowns.

Deena huffs, and she sets her spatula down. “Will everyone just shut up and eat their fucking pancakes?”

Simon whistles low at her blowup, and they quiet at her obvious frustration.

Kate’s the first to brave her ire when she speaks again. “What’s really bothering you?”

“Yeah, tell us what’s wrong, my little gumdrop,” Simon says.

“Never call me that again.”

“Seriously, Deena,” Kate frowns, “what is it?”

“Can we talk about this later?”

“Wh — I want to be included,” Simon says.

“No,” Deena says, and he whines. “You’ve already seen me cry once, and that’s embarrassing enough.”

“More embarrassing than Kate seeing you cry?”

“Kate sees me cry all the time. We made a blood pact with each other when we were five, so we’re both sworn to secrecy.”

“Obviously,” Kate chimes in.

“First of all, blood rituals are cool as hell, and I’m hurt I wasn’t invited. Secondly, I’ll make a blood pact with you right now. Josh, hand me your knife.”

“What? No, the only reason it isn’t embarrassing now with Kate is because we’ve shared years of emotional baggage. I’ve never even seen you cry.”

Umm, yes, you have.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Remember when I stubbed my toe on your dresser?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Yeah.”

“You cried for like an hour after that.”

And that time I took that pill that Tyler gave me and I got so high that I sobbed until I puked.”

“Oh yeah. I guess you’re right.”

“You took a pill without knowing what was in it?” Josh asks.

“Yeah, it was awesome —” his eyes widen when Deena glares at him, “awesome-ly horrible,” he corrects himself. “Terrible experience. I’ll never do drugs again.”

Deena shakes her head at him disapprovingly. “Take these to the table.”

Simon grabs the heavy dish from her, and the three of them sit down around the light wood table as Deena prepares a few more for her dad.

Josh talks about school, and this new video game that’s coming out, and Deena soon joins them. Simon teases him about his new girlfriend, and he tells him at least he has a girlfriend.

“Touché,” Simon says.

“Hey.”

The table glances over to see Sam standing in the threshold, and Simon grins at her.

“Good morning, my little gumdrop.” Sam smiles back at him. “See, Deena? She likes it when I call her that.”

“Finish your breakfast,” Kate orders him.

Deena rolls her eyes at him before looking back to Sam. “Are you hungry?”

“I think she ate plenty last night,” Simon jests.

Josh snorts, and so does Kate. Deena glares at her, surprised at her childish reaction, and she tries to cover it with a cough.

She rises from her seat. “Here,” she says, “I’ll make you some.”

“No, it’s okay —”

“No, really, we have more batter left,” she insists, walking to the stove, and Sam follows behind her.

She rests a hand atop Deena’s, and the other goes to the small of her back. “I’m not hungry,” she says.

Deena swallows at her close proximity. “Okay.” She turns back around to face her, and Sam’s fingers trail along her as she twists, from her back to her lower stomach.

“I should probably go home,” she says.

“I’ll drive you,” she offers, but Sam declines.

“No, no, stay here. I can walk to my dad’s.”

Deena gives her a knowing look. “No way. Go get dressed, and I’ll take you.” Sam doesn’t move so she nudges her lightly. “Go.”

“Oh my God, the sexual tension between you two is palpable.”

Josh lets out a sound of disgust. “I’m trying to eat.”

Simon,” Kate chides, and he throws his hands up in the air.

“What? Everyone’s thinking it!”

“Eat your pancakes!” Deena yells at him, and he sinks into his chair.

Sam looks at him, amused, and she tells him to come on as she starts walking out of the room. He shoots out of his seat to follow her. “Girl talk,” he sings, and the two hustle back to Deena’s room.

Josh mumbles that he’s lost his appetite, and he clears his plate before leaving the room.

Kate stares at Deena as they’re the last two at the table, and Deena huffs. “Don’t start.”

“I didn’t say anything,” Kate replies.

“I already know what you’re going to say.”

“Oh, really? Well, go on then.”

“You’re going to tell me to stop torturing myself and get back together with her. And I’m going to tell you no.” Kate smiles despite the grim topic. “What?”

“Nothing, that was pretty good.”

“Yeah, well, I guess years of scolding do pay off.”

She hums, amused, and rests her chin on her hand. “So, you’ve made your mind up then?”

“What am I going to do, Kate? Get back together with her, and just wait for her to leave again when someone looks at us the wrong way, or says the wrong thing?”

“Not everyone is like us, Deena,” she says. “You can’t expect her to react to situations the same way we do. Sam cares — so much — about things, and people, that we don’t give a fuck about. It’s what made you love her so much in the first place.”

“She should care about me more than that — more than the whispers and stares and —“

“She does,” Kate interrupts. “Deena, you know she does.”

“I don’t know that.”

“She’s here, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, today. But what about tomorrow, and the next day?”

“Look, all I know is that I’ve never seen anyone make you feel the way she does. So, do what you want, but at least give her the opportunity to prove you wrong.”

Deena sighs heavily. “You really are my soulmate.”

Kate grins, and she reaches her hand out across the table. Deena accepts it willingly, and they squeeze once before parting.

She wishes her good luck before she heads for her room, and tells her to send Simon back so they can do the dishes for her. Deena says she will, and she takes a moment to herself before she knocks lightly on her bedroom door.

There’s some shuffling on the other side before Simon opens it with a smile, and Deena walks in. Sam’s still not changed, and she glances down at what she’s wearing before looking back up.

“Sorry,” she says, “Simon and I were —”

“I was distracting her,” he admits, “but, to be fair, we couldn’t find her pants, so that set us back some time, too.”

“Can you give us a minute?”

Simon’s eyes widen a smidge, and he nods, smile not faltering though it doesn’t seem like good news, and he leaves the room.

They look at each other, and seem to communicate without saying anything.

“Still hasn’t changed anything, has it?” Sam asks. Deena frowns, and shakes her head no, and tears spring to Sam’s eyes. “Why?”

“Sam —”

“I miss you,” she says, stepping forward, and she grabs her hands. “Please. I miss you.”

I missed you,” she snaps back, and she clenches her jaw when she realizes she’s growing frustrated. She pauses before she speaks again. “To my fucking core, I missed you, Sam, so don’t do this.”

“Please,” she says again, holding her hands closer.

“What do you expect me to do?”

“Forgive me,” she says.

“I forgive you,” she says. “I do. But I can’t do this again.”

“Deena.” Her voice is desperate, and she hates the way it makes her feel. Hands tighten around hers in anguish.

“You always second-guessed us. Always.” Sam attempts to interject, but Deena doesn’t let her. “And I wish I could hate you for it, but I don’t. I love you, and I know I always will, but I feel like … like I constantly want this — want us — more than you do, and it’s making me sick.”

“Deena,” she says again, “I love you.”

“I know you do.”

Sam hesitates as she studies her, and something about the way she said it makes her think she doesn’t believe it. Her hands go to her waist, and she pulls her in closer. “I love you,” she repeats, as earnestly as she can, and she kisses her lightly on the lips.

They part for a brief moment before Sam kisses her again, and Deena hesitantly reciprocates, feelings from last night burning fresh in her mind.

Intimacy with her makes her forget everything else, because Sam handles her with the utmost care, and her touches are tender, and intricate.

Her hands slide up her shirt to her back, and she pulls her in as close as possible, breathing deeply in through her nose as she kisses her languorously.

But it’s cut short when they hear a door open, and the sound makes Deena part from her quickly. They look to her door, which is closed, and realize that it’s nothing — that the sound was probably Josh, or Kate, or Simon — but it panics Deena nonetheless, as if she’s scared to be caught.

Sam steps forward near her again, to comfort her, because she knows exactly what that expression is — because she’s the one who instilled this terror into her — but Deena backs away from her.

“I can’t,” she says, and Sam can tell she means it this time. She excuses herself and leaves her to dress in her clothes from last night, and Kate takes her home instead.

She asks them to stay, because she can’t bear to be alone right now, but Kate has a volunteer event for school. She offers to cancel, but Simon tells her he’ll stay, and that’s enough for her.

She doesn’t want to talk about it, and he doesn’t make her. They sit on her couch and watch movies, and he makes her bend over in laughter when he starts doing impressions of what type of people he assumes attend her school.

Eventually, her mom comes home and they heat up leftovers — a roast from last night, and she’s ecstatic to see Simon. They’d met before, though Sam wasn’t certain her mom remembered him.

She’s blinded by the fact that he’s a boy, and that he’s spending time with her daughter, because she was worried Sam wouldn’t date someone else after Peter.

Simon carries most of the conversation with her mom, talking about work and his family. She tries to act impressed that he supports his mom and siblings on his own, but her efforts are futile, because it’s obvious she doesn’t think much of the working class.

Which is weird, Simon thinks, because she grew up in the same town he did.

Sam doesn’t listen much. She moves her food around on her plate, and thinks about the look on Deena’s face earlier today. She wonders if it’s best she stays away from her — if Deena is better off without the reminder of her — because she’s made a mess of herself again.

Last night wouldn’t have happened if she just left her alone. But she couldn’t stop thinking about her with Steph, and the thought of her moving on makes her nauseated.

It’s inevitable, though, because Sam lost her, and it’s only a matter of time before —

“I like a girl,” she blurts out.

The current conversation stops at her interruption, and her mom freezes for a moment. “Excuse me?” she finally says.

Simon awkwardly laughs, and it prompts a nervous smile from her mother. “She means me. That’s just her nickname for me. Augurhl,” he says, in his best accent. “It’s French.”

Sam blinks at him for a moment before she says, “What?”

“Isn’t it a cute pet name?” he asks, giving her an out. But she doesn’t take it.

“Mom, I’m dating — I was dating someone. A girl. Deena. And I was afraid to tell you, but it’s the truth.”

“Deena Johnson?” she asks, and Simon sinks further into his seat at the tone of her voice. “So, this isn’t your boyfriend?”

“No,” she says.

Her face reddens, and she sets her fork down on her plate. There’s a long silence before she tells her that she’s confused — that Deena’s just her best friend, and she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

But Sam doesn’t waver. She says Deena was her girlfriend, and that she loves her, and her mom becomes irate.

“You do not like girls, Samantha.”

“Mom, I’m telling you that I do. I’m not confused,” she says, “I’m a lesbian.”

She recoils at the word, pushing her plate away from her, and she says that’s disgusting.

“Don’t be such a hag.” Simon spouts unexpectedly, and he bites his lip when she glares at him. “And I mean that respectfully, Ms. Fraser.”

She throws the napkin in her lap on her plate before getting up and leaving the table, and soon after, the sound of her bedroom door slamming shut echoes through the house.

Simon stares at Sam openmouthed when it’s just them. “Dude.”

“Sorry,” she says, “I had to tell her. I couldn’t do it by myself.”

“Don’t be sorry, Sam, that was fucking awesome. I’m so proud of you.”

“She hates me.”

“She’ll get over it,” he reassures her. “It’s the nineties, Sam. Everyone is doing gay shit.”

 


 

East Union Memorial Hospital is an especially cheerless location in town, and its emergency room is the kingpin.

Flickering fluorescences span the ceiling, and barely reflect off of the dirty, dingy tiled floor, and the waiting room is small, surrounding visitors with sickly yellow painted walls.

It’s not where Deena wants to be tonight, but she’s here, sitting in a flimsy, brown leather, metal chair. Her brother Josh is in surgery, getting rods and plates implanted in his left arm, and all she’s able to do is wait, and rely on the finest surgeon Shadyside has to offer.

She had rushed him here a few hours ago, after she heard his screams of pain as she was preheating the oven. Her heart dropped at the sound, and she sprinted outside to see him laying in the middle of the street, with her old bicycle off to the side. His arm was hurt badly, and she tried not to castigate him for attempting, and failing, to ride down the big hill, like she’d told him a million times before not to do, as she drove them to the ER. She was saving that for later. All she wanted to do right now was to know that he was okay.

She called Kate as soon as they arrived, and the girl promised she’d take care of everything. So, when she comes clamoring in, holding a change of clothes for her brother and demanding to talk to the staff, with Simon in tow, she relaxes a bit, because she knows Kate has everything handled, and she doesn’t have to worry as much.

Sam stumbles in about an hour later, looking quite distressed before her eyes find the girl she’s searching for. She takes a seat next to her, and her hand finds Deena’s, who pulls it into her lap.

They sit together in silence, though the room is still filled with pointed bickering up front courtesy of Kate. Eventually, the two of them stroll over to them, and Kate sets the change of Josh’s clothes in Sam’s lap.

“Can I have a dollar?” Simon asks Deena.

“For what?”

“I actually need one, too.” Kate says.

Deena tilts her head as she looks at them. “You guys are literally drug dealers. How do you not have two dollars between the two of you?”

“That’s business,” Simon responds. “Buying snacks from the vending machine is pleasure. Can’t mix the two, baby.”

Kate holds her hand out impatiently, and Deena rolls her eyes as she lets go of Sam’s hand to dig in her pocket. Sam rests on her thigh instead.

Several hours pass, and Simon entertains them for as long as he can before he tires himself out, and the four of them slump in the uncomfortable chairs. Sam mindlessly rubs circles on Deena’s hand with her thumb, just like she used to, and Deena finds it as comforting as it’s always been.

When Josh is finally out of surgery, and his body has had some time to recover from anesthesia, they tell her she can come see him, and Kate gets up to handle the paperwork that, legally, she shouldn’t be handling.

Deena doesn’t hesitate before she hops up out of her seat, and she rushes through the frosted glass sliding doors toward his bed.

He rests his cast across his stomach, and Deena storms in, curtains rustling from the breeze of her sudden movements. Sam follows closely behind her.

“I lived,” he jests, and Deena rages.

“You idiot,” she bites. “You could’ve gotten yourself killed. I’m going to murder you.”

Sam rubs her back soothingly as they stand by his bedside. “How are you feeling?”

“Tired,” he says.

“What the hell were you thinking?”

“I don’t know,” he replies, sheepishly.

“You don’t know?”

Sam steps closer to her. “Hey,” she says, “I’ll get his stuff. Go help Kate with the front desk.”

Josh sighs in relief when Deena relents, and he thanks Sam for getting her out of there. Sam tells him it’s no problem, and she gathers his backpack, moving to wait outside of the yellow curtain as a nurse helps him get dressed in the clothes Kate brought.

It’s late into the night by the time they check out, and Simon offers to ride in the backseat with Josh to keep him company. Sam tags along, because she doesn’t want to go back to Sunnyvale tonight, and Simon said she could stay with him earlier.

He signs Josh’s cast, yelling at Deena when she drives over a bump in the road because it messes up his signature, and her brother can barely stay awake, exhausted from the day’s events.

When Deena pulls up next to the curb of his house, Simon whispers a goodnight to a sleeping Josh, and he and Sam unbuckle their seatbelts.

Deena glances at her at the sound. “You’re not staying with me?” she asks.

Sam blinks at the question. “Do you want me to?”

She nods as Simon gets out of the car, and Sam slowly puts her seatbelt back on, a bit confused.

He walks toward his house, but turns back around when he realizes Sam isn’t behind him. He motions for her to roll down the window, and he leans down to look at them. “I thought you were sleeping over.” Sam looks to Deena for a response, but he catches on pretty quickly. “Oh,” he says, and he wiggles his eyebrows. “Have fun, my little gumdrops.”

Sam tries not to internally freak out over the fact that she’s staying over at her house tonight — that Deena wants her to stay.

Overhead street lights whiz by as her car motors on under them, and she feels herself getting increasingly nervous as they get closer.

Because what if Deena wants to fix it between them? What if they can finally put this behind them?

“I told my mom,” she tells her.

Deena glances at her. “Told her what?”

“About me.”

“You did?”

Sam nods. “And about you.”

There’s a long silence as Deena thinks. “How did she take it?”

“She’s pretending I never said anything, but at least she knows now.”

“Yeah,” Deena agrees. “Hey, congratulations.”

“I feel a lot better,” she says. “And I’m sorry if I —”

“Don’t apologize,” Deena tells her, and she smiles at her. “I’m really, really happy for you.”

She yells at Josh to wake up when they get back to the house, and help him inside. When he slips on wet pavement, Deena’s heart stops again. He catches himself, thankfully, and her hand slowly comes down from clutching at her chest. She tells him to stop being so clumsy, and he says he’s trying.

Sam waits in the living room, heart pounding in her chest as she stands idly there, waiting for Deena to come out of Josh’s bedroom. The T.V. is still on, painting a static glow over the furniture, and she tries to focus on the sound of the commercials to calm her nerves.

Deena stares at her tenderly after closing his door, and she asks, “You’re sleeping in my room, right?”

“If you want me to.”

“Yeah,” she says. “Come on.”

The floor creaks as they pass through the hall, and Deena digs for clothes in her dresser to sleep in when it’s just the two of them. Sam thinks maybe she’s overreacting — maybe Deena just doesn’t want to be alone tonight — so she unbuttons her jeans and slides them down, waiting for her to toss her some shorts.

Their eyes meet as she hands her folded clothes, and Deena says, “Thanks for staying with me.”

“Of course,” she says, but her voice falters when Deena takes her top off. Eyes drop to her chest before darting back to her, and there’s a beat of silence as the atmosphere feels more heavy.

It’s like they’re waiting for something — anything — and when it doesn’t come, Deena takes a step back, to reach for a shirt in her dresser, but Sam pulls her in, and it’s exactly what Deena was hoping for.

Hands cusp her face as their lips mesh together, and desire piques in both of them. Sam lets out a quavery breath, and Deena reaches for the hem of her shirt, removing it with haste.

“Wait,” Sam breathes, parting from her, “are we back together?”

The question catches her off guard, and she stutters before she says, “I don’t know.”

Sam’s eyes trace her features as she thinks, and Deena waits in suspense. After a few seconds, she gives an understanding nod, and takes a step back.

“Wait, don’t go,” Deena says. “Please?”

“You know how to make me stay.”

Her voice catches in her throat as she tries to concentrate on what her answer should be, but Sam takes the silence as an answer in and of itself.

“Then I’ll go,” she simply says.

“No,” Deena tells her, but Sam ignores it, brushing past her to reach for the bedroom door. Deena moves in between the two, blocking the exit. “No,” she repeats, stern, and she leans forward to capture her lips again.

Sam parts her mouth instinctively when Deena brushes her tongue across her bottom lip, and she deepens the kiss hurriedly. Sam pushes her further into the door as their lips move sultrily against one another, and Deena hopes she’s succeeded in getting her to forget the topic.

Sam undoes her buttons and zipper with haste and dips her hand in between her legs, yearning to hear that familiar, breathy sigh fill the room.

It comes just as she hoped — insinuating itself into her ears, and sinking down deep into her chest. Fingers reach further, and Deena’s mind clouds in a haze. Kisses become sloppier.

“Say you want to be with me,” she tells her, the whispered words blanketing Deena’s ears. Her free hand moves to rest on the doorknob as her other persists. “Say you want this.”

“I want you to stay.” But it’s not enough. Sam slows her movements and turns the knob, and Deena’s heart rate spikes in panic. “I want you,” she cries out, and Sam meets their eyes for reassurance. Deena sighs heavily. “I want you,” she says again.

Lips meet again as she simpers against them from the response, and she sweet-talks her as Deena’s breath becomes unsteady. The girl quivers as she presses into her, and Sam’s voice is soft and small as she speaks.

She meets her gaze and she asks her if Deena loves her, to which Deena shakily nods yes. She asks her if Deena missed her, and she gets the same response. “Say it,” she directs.

“I — fuck — I missed you,” she manages to say.

Her eyes close in bliss as she tilts her head back, and Sam peppers kisses along her jaw and neck. She whispers in her ear that she loves her, too, and she missed her, too, and she tells her she looks so pretty. She tells her she wished for this — dreamt of it — and God, she says to her, there’s nothing better than this.

Her silky, sensuous voice rings in Deena’s ear throughout, and eventually, she comes undone. Sam pins her up so she doesn’t sink to her knees from its ripple, and it’s a short matter of time before Deena switches their positions and kisses her.

Sam walks them back toward her bed, and Deena trips backwards over some shoes. She falls back on the mattress, sitting there as her dark eyes look up at Sam headily as she waits for her.

Sam unclasps her bra and tosses it to the side before she straddles her lap, and her arms link around Deena’s neck as their lips meet again.

She feels her fingers trail down from her face to her chest, and Deena slowly drags her tongue across her open mouth as they reach her legs.

Fingers slip beneath her waistband and fill her up, and her breath hitches slightly before she moans softly into Deena’s mouth.

Nails dig into her shoulders as Sam holds on to her, and her hips move in sync, impassioned gasps flowing from her mouth. She has to bury her head in the crook of her neck to muffle them, and the noise vibrates against Deena’s skin. She moves skillfully and familiarly in her; her reach far as her arm bobs in between them.

She works her until a peak comes, and she doesn’t wait before lifting her slightly to the side and moving to stand in between her legs. Sam’s hands tremble as they pull down Deena’s unbuttoned jeans, and she thinks she might die as her eyes gaze down at her from under dangling curls.

Her hair is flipped in all directions as she descends to her knees, and she tugs down the underwear already halfway down Sam’s legs before settling in between familiar thighs. Sam’s eyes shut in anticipation when her left leg is moved to drape over her shoulder, and she shudders out a breath.

Deena’s mouth waters as she notices the faint, healing bites on her inner thighs left by her mouth, and her lips slither further in to create new ones.

Morning comes much too soon for both of them, and Sam makes a pot of coffee in attempt to relieve their exhaustion. Deena muddles around in the laundry room as she starts a load. It’s cold in the house since they couldn’t afford much heat, and when Sam feels a breeze of outside air float in the house, she stills.

Kate rounds the corner into the kitchen, and she stops suddenly upon meeting eyes with Sam.

“Oh,” she says, and the girl clears her throat awkwardly. Both of their eyes fly to Deena, who walks in frame carrying a full laundry basket on her waist, and Kate smirks at her.

“Shut up,” is all Deena says, and she continues to walk off, setting it on the coffee table to be folded.

“Didn’t say anything,” Kate replies, amused, and Sam smiles shyly at her.

 


 

Kate rolls her eyes at the sight of Deena and Simon on the couch, slumped over one another, eyes closed. “You guys are so stupid.”

“We can’t hear you,” Simon mumbles, “because we’re dead.”

Deena squints open an eye before shutting it again. “We died waiting for you to get ready.”

“Yeah, yeah,” she says, “let’s go then.”

Simon gives a low whistle as he opens his eyes and looks at her. “Damn, girl.”

“I know, right?” Kate shrugs. “I look hot.”

“Why did you have to get ready here? Isn’t this guy, like, Simon’s next door neighbor?”

“The last time we tried that, one of his little brothers threw up on my shoes.”

Simon and Deena chuckle. “I can’t believe I forgot about that,” she says.

“Just drop us off, and if you hate it so much, you can leave after forty minutes.”

Forty minutes?”

“I don’t make the rules.”

“Okay, but you actually do, so.”

So she drives them to some guy’s house. His name is Spike, she thinks. He has shaggy hair, and he stands right next to Deena in the kitchen after they arrive. He smells like smoke and liquor, and when she tries to leave, he calls after her.

“Hey, Deena.”

“What?”

“You know, I’ve always thought you were hot,” he says, and she raises her eyebrows. “I think I could be the guy who fixes you.”

“Fixes me?”

“Yeah,” he says. “You know, turn you back to normal.”

“Hey, Spike,” Steph interjects, “I think there’s a puddle out back that you can drown yourself in if you try hard enough.”

He grimaces when Deena laughs. “Oh, yeah? And who invited you to this party? ‘Cause I bet it wasn’t Deena.” He smirks at her “Heard she left you to bag the shiny, new Sunnyvale cheerleader.”

Simon makes a sound of disgust, and Deena clenches her jaw. “Dude,” he says, “come on.”

He ignores him. “But maybe my party is where you girls can make up. How about a kiss?”

Before Deena can tell him to fuck off, Simon leans forward toward him, and he jumps back in shock.

“What the fuck, man?”

“You asked for a kiss,” he says, and the girls giggle as Spike walks off in a huff. Simon gives her an apologetic look. “Sorry, Deena, I didn’t know he —”

“It’s okay.”

“No, let’s leave.”

“She’s fine,” Steph says, and Simon waits for reassurance from Deena before walking off. “So. The rumors are true.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are dating Samantha Fraser.” She practically snorts. “Kudos to you. Not sure how you pulled that off.”

“And why is that?”

“Just didn’t think Miss Prim and Proper would date a delinquent like you.”

Deena laughs, and Steph does, too. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a perfect gentleman.”

Steph leans in, and Deena takes a sudden step back, eyes wide. “What the fuck?” she says, and Steph shrugs.

“Guess you are a perfect gentleman.”

She hears Kate call her name, and her eyes search for her, finding her near the door, with Sam. Kate gives her a questioning look, and Sam stalls for a second in disbelief before walking out of the house.

“Shit,” Deena says, and she knocks over a beer as she moves to go after her. “You invited Sam?” she asks Kate, and the girl gives an awkward ‘surprise’ in response as she passes by her.

It’s freezing outside, but Sam hustles down the empty street anyway, arms wrapped around herself as her feet patter down the road.

Deena struggles to catch up with her. “Where are you going?”

“Home!”

“Are you seriously mad? I didn’t know she was going to do that.” Sam doesn’t respond, and Deena huffs, almost out of breath. “Sam, come on. Stop walking.”

“Go back to the party.”

“I’m not leaving you out here by yourself,” she says, but the girl keeps walking. “Sam, stop. You’re being insane!”

She whips around to glare at her, and her finger points at her accusingly. “Did you sleep with her?”

Deena sighs at the question, and she doesn’t bother arguing its relevance before she answers. “Yes.”

“More than once?”

“Yes.”

“How many times?”

“Wh — I don’t know,” she says. “Does it matter?”

“How many times, Deena?”

“I don’t know, Sam. Four or five?” she guesses, and Sam scoffs in disgust. “Come on. How many times did you sleep with Peter?”

“It’s not the same, Deena.”

“You still slept with him —”

“It’s not the same!” she yells. And Deena knows it isn’t — because she cringed under Peter’s touch, and her skin still crawled at the thought of him. “I didn’t have feelings for Peter.”

“I didn’t have feelings for her, either. We were just —”

“Just what? Just hooking up?” Sam asks. “The sex was just too good to pass up?” Deena falters, not knowing how to respond. She’s not sure if Sam prefers she had feelings for the girl or not. Sam’s mind jumps from one thought to another rapidly and she asks, “How many girls did you sleep with when we weren’t together?”

“Sam,” she warns.

“Tell me.”

Deena shrugs, feeling pressured. “Two, I think.”

“You think?”

“I was drinking a lot,” she explains. “I barely remember.”

“Bullshit!” Sam exclaims, and her eyes are wide, hands palm up in frustration.

Deena steps toward her, and Sam steps back. “I’m telling you the truth. I think I fell asleep halfway through with the other girl.”

Sam burns hot as she thinks about it. “Did you call Steph or did she call you?”

“I called her.”

It’s not the answer she hopes for, and she clenches her jaw in anger. “Guess you remembered your night with her then. Must’ve been good.”

“I was just trying to move on.”

“So you had feelings for her, then?”

“No,” she answers, exasperated. “I just wanted to stop thinking about you.”

“Did it work?”

She shakes her head. “No.”

“You still thought of me?”

Deena steps closer and grabs her arm before Sam can step back, and she pulls the girl close. “I thought of you,” she says, and her hand snakes behind her and up the back of her dress, resting on the back of her upper thigh, “every time.”

“Was it … better than it was with me?”

“No fucking way,” she says, and a sultry smirk appears on her lips. She pulls her in again, hand traveling up further to her backside. Sam stumbles toward her clumsily. “Come on. No one compares to you.”

“Really?”

“Really,” she confirms. “So, do you forgive me?”

“No.”

Deena hums, and her eyes twinkle mischievously. “What if I beg for it?”

Sam glances at her lips longingly before looking back to her eyes. “No.”

“No?” she asks. “Even if I get on my knees?”

“Get on your knees then.”

Deena hesitates to see if she’s being serious, and Sam doesn’t waver. So she goes down to her knees, the pavement piercing into them. Her hands rest on her legs, and her thumbs move up along the inside of her thighs, the fabric of her dress rising slightly with the movement. “Forgive me?”

Sam’s eyes glimmer in captivation as Deena’s thumbs circle on the sensitive skin there, and she swallows hard as she looks down at her.

“No,” she finally says, and she turns back around to continue walking, out of her grasp.

Deena falters for a few seconds, mouth agape, before she stumbles to her feet and goes after her. She spins her around and bends at the knees, lifting her over her shoulder with one swift movement. Sam squeals in surprise, and she yells for her to put her down, but Deena walks back toward the house.

She sets her back down when they reach her car, and Sam gives her a small shove back in a temper. Deena raises her brows at her animosity, and Sam lets out an exasperated huff before she pulls her face into hers and crashes their lips together.

Deena pins her tightly against the car as their heads tilt, and mouths open, and soon, Sam’s hand is fumbling for the car door handle.

It clicks open, and Sam steps them forward before she backs herself into the backseat. She holds Deena’s lust-filled gaze as she pulls her underwear down to her ankles before kicking them off, and she tells her to get in.

And Deena doesn’t hesitate before she follows orders, shutting the door behind her, and pulling the girl into her lap.

They spend the night with one another, and she drops Sam off in Sunnyvale in the early hours of the morning, just before the sun starts rising.

Sam rolls her eyes at her girlfriend, who’s obviously ogling her. “Get some sleep, okay?”

“I will,” she says. “I’ll dream of you.”

She tries to hide her smile, but fails. “You have such a huge crush on me it’s embarrassing.”

“Damn right.”

Sam leans in to give her a peck goodbye, but Deena trails after her, prolonging it. She giggles as she pushes her back, and Deena bites her lip, grinning, when she watches Sam get out and walk inside.

 


 

The distance is hard, but they make it work. They find little moments during the week to be together, and weekends are their saving grace.

They go out more together and they kiss in movie theaters and have breakfast together in the diner. They go on long, late-night drives, and talk about moving far away one day together.

Deena goes to some of her games, and sometimes, she even sits on the Sunnyvale side. She watches in the bleachers as Sam does her cute cheer routines, and they steal kisses behind the buses after, waiting until the last possible minute for her to board it back to Sunnyvale.

They still fight, same as ever, and they scream and yell at each other, and tears stream down their faces, because they know exactly how to infuriate the other. But heated looks never cease to turn impassioned, and nights like that end in impulsive, hurried touches. By morning, laughter fills the air as they reminisce on it, and it never seems that important by then.

She makes a home for herself at Deena’s again. She cooks dinner for her and Josh some nights, and always makes sure to leave a plate for Deena’s dad in the fridge. It’s rare, because Deena never knows when to rest, but Sam tries her best.

They paint Deena’s room together, because Sam says she needs to brighten the place up. It’s a long project, one that Deena regrets starting as soon as she breaks a sweat, but they finish it hours later, and she passes out on her bed as Sam puts all of her things back on the walls for her.

Sam helps Josh through his first breakup, talking to him for almost two hours behind his closed door. She tells him she knows how it feels — how empty it is — but that he’ll find someone better, and when he asks to be alone, she leaves him be, and seeks out Deena. She tells her she loves her, and she’s grateful for her, and Deena tells her she’s a huge sap, but she kisses her all over her face, and says she loves her despite it.

Sam starts writing love letters to her just like she used to, and Deena curates mixtapes for her, and they pour so much love into it. Simon and Kate tease them, and call them sick when they catch a glimpse of it.

Sam thinks her favorite nights are the ones in Deena’s kitchen, when the house is quiet, and it’s just them standing there in the dim light. Deena kisses her slowly, and softly, with a gentleness that makes her weak at the knees, and intimacy comes under the emerging moon that shines through her bedroom window.

On the worst nights — the ones Sam isn’t here — Deena listens to Sam cry about her mom over the phone. It lasts hours sometimes, and she calms her down the best she can. She tells Deena one night that she thinks she wants to be with her forever, and asks her if that’s a crazy thought, and Deena just smiles, wide and dopey. She calls her a huge dork as tears spring to her eyes, but says she wants to be with her forever, too. Kate squeals when Deena tells her about it the next day, and she says they’re so cute it makes her want to puke. Simon calls dibs on being maid of honor, and Kate calls dibs on being best man, and Deena has to remind them they can’t actually get married.

“Yeah, Deena, like Kate and I really care about the law,” Simon replies.

She comes to pick up Sam from school one afternoon, because it’s Friday, and the four of them have plans tonight.

And as she walks out the doors, and down the steps, she lays eyes on Deena, who’s leaning against her car, waiting for her. All she can think is that they’re not afraid anymore.

“I missed you,” Sam tells her, and Deena hums.

“Then do something about it.”

It makes Sam laugh, and she leans in to give her a chaste kiss, and she doesn’t care who sees, because she knows firsthand what life is like with and without Deena — and she’s never choosing the latter again.