If someone had told Claudine, on her first day at Britannia High, that someday her best friend would be the curvaceous, awkward girl who sang in an ABBA tribute band and couldn't dance to save her life, she would have laughed in that person's face - but Lauren was vibrant and alive and loved her dream so much, and it was impossible not to get caught up in it.
After their friendship grew at the end of the year, the two still fought bitterly, and Claudine had assumed that over the holidays their hazy truce would turn back into rivalry now that they both knew that Lauren wasn't dying. To her surprise, she found herself keeping in touch with her, hourly text messages and late night phone calls, and when their second year began, Claudine and Lauren were once again joined at the hip, ignoring the chagrined glances from Danny, who wasn't really over either of them.
Now Claudine was getting concerned, because it seemed like she always wanted to touch Lauren. When they watched the telly downstairs, they would snuggle in the platonic way that girls do, curled around each other like a pair of kittens, and Claudine would have to resist the urge to play with Lauren's crimped curls. When asked to pick partners in dance class, the girls always picked one another, and Claudine found herself surprised by how easily her hand fit on Lauren's waist as they spun one another around. When Lauren passed out on her bed after a long night of studying, Claudine had to resist the urge to climb in beside her and pull her against her, all round curves and softness.
"We should have a single girls' night out, you and me," she whispered to Lauren in the hallway one day. "I know it'll be hard for you to attract any men with me there, but you really must start somewhere. It'll be utter fabulosity."
"You know you sound ridiculous when you use words like that, right?" Lauren teased, holding open the classroom door for her. "Or at the very least, you sound like Lola."
"Oh, Lola stole that from me," Claudine said breezily, elegantly floating by her. "I'm far more intelligent than that." But Lauren already knew that, because Lauren did homework with her, and the last time they'd written an essay together, they'd fought over the significance of Stravinsky (Claudine felt that she'd won that argument).
"Do you have anything to wear?" Claudine asked Lauren later, as they spun their way through dance class. "I mean, you're going out with me. You can't just show up to the clubs in anything."
Lauren rolled her eyes as though her life was so difficult, dealing with Claudine. "I'll be sure to wear something 'fabulous' for you," she quipped, and Claudine smiled at her, pleased. The color was high in Lauren's cheeks from dancing, and a stray thought told Claudine that her friend made quite a pretty picture, rolling her hips and bending that perfect body (and how could Claudine have ever thought that Lauren was overweight, ever in a million years?)
"I'll help you find a proper outfit," she heard herself offering, surprised at her generosity. In her mind, she could see Lauren's closet and the red dress she'd seen hanging in it once. Lauren had only worn it once, the year before, but she'd looked so good in it that Claudine had been extra horrible to her for weeks. Now that they were friends, it was Claudine's duty to ensure that Lauren wore clothes like that when they went out. Right?
Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" was playing on the radio as they left the studio, and Claudine found herself licking her lips and glancing over at Jez. "Can we have a chat?"
Jez looked surprised. Claudine grinned and let him worry, since she rarely asked to speak to any of them alone other than Lauren, and it usually meant someone's downfall was going to occur soon after. She pulled him behind a rack of costumes and he frowned at her, looking uncomfortable at their close proximity.
"You do know I'm gay, right?" he asked.
"How did you know?" she demanded, shoving a hat into his arms when it got into her face. "I mean, that you liked boys instead of girls."
Jez frowned. "I didn't find girls attractive. Why are you asking me this now?" Claudine frowned; his answer wasn't helpful. She found boys very attractive. She liked men a lot, and planned to have an entourage of beautiful ones following her around once she made it big. She just…happened to like Lauren, too.
There was nothing masculine about Lauren.
"You are completely unhelpful," she snapped.
Jez made a face. "You haven't even told me why you want to know. How am I supposed to be helpful?" Claudine wasn't about to admit that she'd been eyeing her best friend's form a little too closely lately, and that she was concerned that made her a prime candidate for bicuriosity, so instead she gave Jez her best starlet smile.
"Nevermind. It doesn't matter. You're in the way!" She shoved her way back out of the costumes, frowning at the lack of answers she'd received.
That evening, she knocked hesitantly on Lauren's door, dressed in an outfit to rival the black leather getup she'd worn to attract BB's brother and make Danny jealous. Her makeup was perfect, she looked gorgeous, and she knew it. Lauren answered the door in sweats, with her hair in disarray and her eyeliner from the day smeared.
"What are you doing?!" Claudine demanded, shoving her way inside. "You look completely horrible." Lauren rolled her eyes.
"We aren't leaving for an hour!" She sat cross-legged on the bed, picking up the book she'd been reading. "I have plenty of time."
"I don't suppose you've decided on an outfit yet," Claudine demanded, hands on her hips as she surveyed the closet. Lauren was about to answer, but Claudine cut her off. "Nevermind, I'm sure you picked something beyond ugly anyway. Wear this." She pulled the red dress off its hanger and tossed it onto the bed next to Lauren, who glanced briefly at it before going back to her book.
Claudine towered over her for a moment, but intimidation had stopped working with Lauren a long time ago, and the other girl calmly got to the end of her paragraph and marked her page before glancing up at her friend. "I bought that dress for Danny."
"And Danny's history for both of us," Claudine waved her concerns away. "Wear it."
"Bossy as usual." Lauren smiled slightly. "I don't want to wear that dress unless I have someone special to wear it for, Claudine. Even a witch like you should be able to understand that."
They faced off for a moment, silence filling the room. Claudine swallowed hard; she was not the type of girl to sacrifice anything, especially not if there was a chance that her pride could be damaged, but something about Lauren had always made her irrational, even when they were bitter rivals.
"What if you had someone special to wear it for?" she asked softly, running her hand across the thin fabric of the dress. Lauren didn't understand her, sighing sadly at her own misfortunes.
"I don't, Claudine. As you know very well." She fingered the skirt of the dress, her face thoughtful, and Claudine knew she could still bail out, still stop this ridiculous behavior before Lauren figured out anything was amiss. But Lauren was beautiful, smudged eyeliner and all, and Claudine moved her hand across the dress to clasp Lauren's antsy fingers, surprised at how warm they were.
"And what if you did?" she asked softly. Seduction came second nature to her, almost as easily as breathing, and she cranked up all of that talent now, fluttering her eyelashes and breathing in that perfect way that made her body look like it was all curves and angles and woman. Lauren flinched, then her eyes opened wide and she turned her head to stare at her, breathing speeding up.
"Claudine?" she asked, surprised. "Are you…?"
"You'd look fabulous in this dress," Claudine said, keeping her voice light and airy despite the very heavy look she was giving her. Lauren nodded slowly, pulling the dress into her lap to consider it once more. "Put it on."
"Now?" Claudine made no move to leave the room, although she released Lauren's hand and stepped backwards to lean imperiously against the bureau. Lauren sighed and picked up the dress. They were hardly shy around one another, having changed in front of each other for over a year at school, but this time when Lauren's hands went under her oversized top to pull it off, there was something slower about her movements, almost shy.
Claudine tried not to watch her as she slowly changed her clothes, reminding herself that she wasn't a man, that she had such a thing as self-control and had she really wanted to, she could have watched Lauren walk around in a bra and panties at any time in the locker rooms. Across from her, Lauren slowly shimmied into the dress, pulling the straps up over her shoulders and adjusting the folds of the fabric over her waist and hips.
The dress was just as perfect as Claudine had remembered it, accentuating Lauren's curves in just the right way and bringing out the pink in her cheeks and the darker color of her lips. Aesthetically, Lauren was beautiful in a way Claudine would never be, entirely woman, where Claudine would always have slight bits of 'cute' and 'girl' left in her looks.
Lauren looked at her impatiently. "Well?"
"Your eyeliner is a total disaster," Claudine said critically, grabbing a makeup removal pad from the bureau and moving closer to her. "Here." She slowly reached forward to dab at the smudged spot, licking her lips in concentration. Lauren's body was warm next to hers, startlingly close, and Lauren's eyes never left hers, watching her as she finished cleaning the eyeliner and picked up the pencil to retouch it.
"I can do my own makeup," Lauren whispered, an air of petulance in her voice.
"Not as good as me," Claudine waved away her objections. She switched to the other eye; it wouldn't do to have them be lop-sided. Lauren still watched her, unwavering, and biting her lower lip nervously. "You know," Claudine spoke after a moment. "I don't know how someone like you became the most important person in my life."
Lauren huffed with laughter, causing Claudine to pause in her makeup application. "Is that supposed to be a compliment?"
"It's the best you'll get from me," Claudine said seriously, setting down the eyeliner pencil and watching her. "Your hair is still a mess," she whispered.
"Why do you care how I look?" Lauren whispered back. "Wouldn't you rather I looked horrible so that when we go out, all the men in the club see how fabulous you are compared to me?"
"It doesn't matter what you look like," Claudine told her in a rare moment of honesty. "You could have lopsided hair and completely smeared makeup, and they'd still flock to you." It was true; Lauren was gorgeous in a way Claudine felt she'd never match.
The tension between them was electric, unlike anything Claudine had ever felt before. Being with Danny had never been like this. She'd loved him, but she hadn't felt the overwhelming sense of understanding, of trust. Lauren was someone who she'd do anything for, and who she'd done unspeakably cruel things to. Lauren knew every black mark on her soul, even more than Danny had, and Lauren had forgiven her anyway.
They stood there in silence for a few long moments, matching each other breath for breath. Lauren seemed a little confused, but Claudine was never one to lack in courage, and she finally pressed closer, looked for permission in Lauren's huge eyes, and slowly pressed her lips to Lauren's.
The kiss was hesitant and brief, very chaste, and Lauren didn't taste of cherry chapstick at all (Katy Perry was such a liar), but Claudine was surprised at how different it was from kissing men, all softness. She was careful to keep space between their bodies, because she wasn't sure what she'd do if she pulled Lauren's body up against hers. It would be too much, all at once. She pulled away after a moment, opening her eyes slowly to find Lauren blushing brightly.
"I don't know how someone like you became the most important person in my life," Lauren said softly, blinking her long (fake, Claudine thought automatically) eyelashes. She pulled Claudine up against her, wrapped her arms around her, and just held her. They stood like that for awhile, before Claudine turned her head and bumped noses with her.
Lauren leaned in ever so slightly and they kissed again, still chaste but with a little more confidence, and this time when Claudine pulled away, Lauren traced her bottom lip with her tongue, sending shivers down her spine and causing an explosion of butterflies in her stomach. Claudine ran her hands down Lauren's sides, resting them at the curve of her hips, the fabric of the dress soft under her fingertips.
"Are we going to go out to the clubs, babe?" she asked, quirking her mouth into that familiar smile. "Even with your wrecked hair, you look to die for." The compliment didn't sound as back-handed as usual, even to Claudine's ears, but Lauren was frowning, pulling away from her to sit back on the bed, shoving her sweats to the floor.
"That depends, Claudine," she said bravely, meeting her stare squarely. "Are you going to look for a bloke to take you home tonight?"
"Are you?" They watched each other challengingly, neither wanting to be the first to give in.
"I'll dance with boys," Claudine said finally. "But at the end of the night, I'm coming home with you." That gorgeous smile broke out on Lauren's face, vibrant as the sun, and Claudine felt an answering smile breaking out on her own without her permission.
"I'll do the same," said Lauren, reaching out and taking her hand. Then she laughed and got up, going over to the bureau and pulling out a bottle of hairspray. She grinned coyly at Claudine.
"Help me with my hair?"