The note was a strange, important weight in her hand. Pearl crinkled her nose at the crinkled paper and smudged ink, straightened it out, and folded it neatly, writing carefully kept on the inside. She could have stored it safely away in her gem, of course, but a niggling not-thought kept her from doing so. It felt better, somehow, to keep worrying at it between finger and thumb during their night-time walk to the nearest warp pad, leaving it rather more real and tangible than if it were tucked away in an elusive pocket dimension, floating somewhere along with the discarded pants and jacket.
The number was illegible without some illumination from her gem, but by now Pearl had memorised it anyway - she’d always had a good head for numbers of all kinds. If she tried, she could almost hear the digits recited in that surprisingly soft, low voice, still managing to carry over the sounds of the concert:
five, five, five-
Which, upon further thought, seemed like a silly thing to imagine and focus on - after all, she’d never actually heard her say the number. She’d never actually heard the girl say much of anything, and this was the best her mind could come up with?
No, no, no, it was “oh” instead of “zero” usually, wasn’t it? Might as well invest the effort to imagine it as closely as possible to how it would actually sound.
oh, one, eight, nine
The numbers marched on in rhythm with their steps. Steven would lend her a phone, surely, or maybe Amethyst had something useful she could dig up from the endless, messy depths of her room, or… or Greg could assist with something from the car wash office-? But no, patched-up relationship and resolved differences or not, that last one felt strangely embarrassing.
“Oh, dear. I really should get the car back to Greg - where did you say the gas station was again, Steven?”
“I have it on the map, but I don’t think it’s open anymore, Pearl. It’s a bit late.”
Late was a concept she was only tangentially familiar with, thanks to years of dinners and bedtimes and bedtime stories. The humans at the concert clearly hadn’t shared Steven’s perception of late. It was something she needed to look into more closely, perhaps. “I see. Well, I’m sure Greg is still busy with his card game and he won’t miss it too badly. We need to get you to bed anyway.”
“I’m not tired!” Steven insisted with the sleepy whine in his voice and drag to his feet Pearl could recognise from a mile away. “I’m not going to be able to sleep for weeks after all this excitement.”
“Eh, you can just come get the Dondai in the morning, P,” Amethyst piped up from her place in the front of their little line. “Greg loooves that car, but I’m sure he’ll understand. It was all for a very noble cause. And it’s kinda cool you two are getting along now.”
“It was very kind of him to lend it to us,” Pearl confirmed, then rolled the bit of paper in her hand around again, distractedly watching Steven bump into Amethyst’s back and her expertly spinning around and turning it into a sideways hug.
“Woah! You okay there, dude? Excitement wearing off earlier than planned?”
Amethyst only got a mumble in response, shrugged, and hefted Steven onto her back, where he continued to peacefully doze all the way home.
Pearl went over by herself the next day, armed with a full canister of gas. The drive back was carefully and excruciatingly slow and perfectly law-abiding, and Pearl let her fingers tap out a dance on the steering wheel as yet another set of lights slowly changed from red to yellow to green.
It was a strange experience, seeing familiar places in the overcast daylight and having them call up muddled feelings. It had always seemed an oddly human thing, this shift in perspective and attitude depending entirely on levels of sunlight, and Pearl found herself idly imagining a black motorcycle speeding past her. Would she react to it differently now? Would she still give chase so recklessly and with such determination?
She had no highly symbolic jacket and pants, and no loud music blaring from the car’s speakers, but she liked to think her answer to the latter was a resounding yes. And oh, rebelling via modifying her appearance was hardly new - once upon a time that had been one of the most dangerous forms of defiance she’d known. In hindsight, deliberately messing up a skirt or a diaphanous sleeve ruffle probably paled in comparison to starting an intergalactic war or hijacking spaceships, true, but it had been no less monumental to her at the time.
It felt like she’d been so many things in her life, with extremes ranging from being an accessory, to being an accessory to assassination, to being… whatever it was she was now. But she was figuring it out, wasn’t she, and that was rather the point, wasn’t it?
Riding on the back of a motorcycle just because she wanted to know how it felt seemed more and more tempting, and more and more like something she could and should let herself have. Indulge in the joys of life on Earth, her own words echoed back to her. The Earth didn’t care about who you were supposed to be or what you were made to do, and, oh - this was another one of those complicated want things, wasn’t it?
Lost in thought and endless wasn’t it? as she was, the sight of the car wash in front of her almost surprised her. Greg was right outside, turning off the hose and waving her over as soon as he spotted her getting out of the car.
“Hey there, Pearl!”
“Hello, Greg.” Pearl fidgeted with the keys in her hand before handing them over, trying to assemble a response appropriate for the situation. “I apologise for leaving your car behind a highway sign and only returning it to you now.”
“It’s okay. You got it back in one piece and Steven had fun. What more can an old man ask for, you know?”
“You’re hardly old,” Pearl scoffed. “In any case, I did look over the car in some detail, and it doesn’t seem to have been damaged at all. I also cleaned the rather disgusting insect smears off the windshield.”
“Right. Er, thanks.”
It had felt like an important and meaningful gesture at the time, but now, standing next to the car parked in front of its owner’s own car wash, it all seemed like little more than another failure on Pearl’s end to grasp and make sense of the whole “human interaction” business.
She’d gotten the number, though, hadn’t she? The number she’d stuck to the fridge with a pleasantly pink decorative magnet and that she would most certainly be calling very soon.
Very, very soon.
It was Greg who broke the not-quite-comfortable silence again. “So, uh, Steven told me you guys had quite the night.”
“That’s… right, Greg! It was an enjoyable concert, even if the style of the music Amethyst’s Krol played was a bit… new to me.”
“I’m glad to hear that. If you liked that sound, I can give you some recs, lend you a couple of CDs...”
The budding new almost-friendship still seemed a bit odd, but it also felt honest and real, and surprisingly refreshing. Pearl gave a small smile. “I might just take you up on that offer.”
“Great! Just let me know and I’ll hook you up. It’s one of the great joys in life. You know,” Greg seemed quite a bit more reticent suddenly, as if he was searching for and picking words one by one, “Barb brought up some stuff last night... She showed me this website where you make a profile and write up your interests, and then a fancy algorithm matches you up with people you might like to chat with, maybe meet. Maybe, uh, date, if that’s the kind of thing you feel comfortable with or want. There’s also an app.”
Pearl thought of the number on the fridge and didn’t quite know what to say. “Oh?”
“Yeah, and I was thinking of signing up, trying it out a bit. Just, uh, test the waters some, nothing too big or too serious.”
There was an it’s been fourteen years somewhere in there and a bit of a request for approval, almost - and the timeframe might have seemed laughably small to Pearl, but she was well aware it was anything but when it was a good fifth of your projected lifespan. “That sounds... nice. Very convenient. Um, good luck?”
“Thanks, Pearl. You too.”
And of course, Steven had most likely told him everything, and this had been Greg reaching out to offer encouragement and validation as much as ask for them. The metaphorical boats they found themselves in did bear some striking similarities, and, maybe most of all... it was the easiest thing in the universe to imagine the big approving grin Rose would have had for both of them.
She came home to find Amethyst lounging around on the couch and eating a concoction Pearl preferred not to know the exact - or any - ingredients of.
“Gotta say, Pearl,” she began breezily as soon as Pearl let the screen door creak shut behind her, “I love our new fridge decoration.”
“I’m not even making fun of you, I swear!”
The most beautiful thing, upon brief reflection, was that Amethyst’s words rang very true. She’d been nothing but encouraging and supportive, with the occasional joke feeling far, far different than the stinging barbs they’d aimed at each other more times than Pearl could count. It was a day of reflection and contemplation, it seemed, and Pearl could do little more than shrug and roll with it. At least this particular reflection showed something she could feel happy about dwelling on, so she took a seat beside Amethyst, ignoring the intense scent of mouldy cheese and phosphorus wafting from her plate. Then she threw an arm about Amethyst’s shoulders and gave them a brief squeeze.
Amethyst let out a startled squeak, but leaned into the touch almost immediately. “What was that for?”
“Oh, nothing in particular. I just felt like doing it. Please don’t talk with your mouth full.”
“Eugh, whatever,” Amethyst rolled her eyes but still waited until she’d swallowed her current bite before continuing. “So... what’s her name?”
The nonchalance of it caught Pearl a bit off guard. “I, er- I don’t really know.”
“Didn’t manage to catch it? Was the music too loud? I did warn you and I know how you get, so I was-”
“No, no, no, the volume was actually surprisingly tolerable. I just... didn’t really ask. I… forgot?”
It sounded ridiculous to her own ears, put like that. Forgetting something as basic as an introduction, who was she even kidding with this- socialising with humans -
Steven had said the note and all of it meant she wanted Pearl to call her, and - oh, it was very silly, she didn’t even know her name! And names were very important, that much she was aware of at least. Opening with a “Hello, yes, is this the pink-haired human from the concert a few nights ago?” might not go over too well. At the very least she’d gotten the handshake (absolutely required, also according to Steven) out of the way. Sometimes it felt like there were more protocols to navigate here than in the most traditional of diamond courts, and Pearl had no idea how such a short-lived species as humans managed to get their heads around all of them.
“Well, it says S on the note,” Amethyst, fresh from her second blindingly fast supply run to the refrigerator, broke into her thoughts. “Which is kinda cool, since you’re P, P.”
“I suppose,” Pearl hemmed. “I don’t know. This name thing seems unnecessarily complicated.”
Amethyst shrugged. “Maybe she just likes being mysterious. You know, I was going to tell you not to get all caught up in a lecture about the nature of the universe or whatever when you call her, but if she’s into it like she was with the manifestation of light biz? Go for it. I’m not one to judge.”
“Thank you, Amethyst. I’ll keep that in mind. I’ll just, um,” Pearl scanned the room, “get all this laundry that needs to be done out of the way first.”
It was far more than just a convenient excuse, Pearl kept telling herself as she exited the warp stream up on the temple’s hand. Steven was running low on shirts, and he’d gotten grass stains all over his favourite shorts - it simply had to be done.
She nearly launched both herself and the laundry basket right into the ocean. “Garnet! You startled me!”
Garnet remained where she was, casually leaning against the stone of the sculpted fingers, arms crossed. “I had a feeling you might want to talk to me in private. On a good laundry day, too. Not like you to pass one up.”
“That’s right! I mean, just look at this breeze - simply ideal!” Her laugh was forced and weak and said breeze was almost enough to completely carry it away.
“Pearl. If you want to do it, do it. It’s as simple as that.”
What do you want, Pearl?
Just like Garnet, to cut straight to the chase like that. But Pearl had a whole little speech she’d been preparing just for this occasion, and she had to get it out there.
“I want you to know I am completely aware that this is very, very different to anything I’ve been a part of before and… and that’s good! I’m not planning thousands of years of endless devotion and a life together, of course not, that would be ridiculous! And I know I’m not you, or Ruby, or Sapphire. And I don’t think I want to be, anymore.”
“I’m sorry it took all of that business for me to realise this. I was… unfair to you. I was horrible to you! I intruded on things that I had absolutely no right to, and I was so selfish...”
Garnet put up a hand, trying to stem the tide. “We’ve been over this, Pearl. And we’re fine, and getting better each day. Sardonyx is more than fine. But I do appreciate it.”
“Still. I need you to know these things, Garnet. You’ve done so much for me - and look at you, still at it as we speak!”
Garnet gave a simple nod. “I do, and I will. And you do the same for me, you and Amethyst. That’s just how this works.”
There was a familiar, pleasant weight on Pearl’s shoulder and she knew that whatever Garnet’s advice turned out to be, her hand felt like comfort and encouragement enough. One of the simplest infusions of calm she’d ever known, and she wished she wasn’t holding an overflowing laundry basket so she could at least attempt to return the favour.
What do you want, Pearl?
“I want to talk to her again. And I think it would be nice to get to know her. Spend some time with her, maybe. She’s, um. She’s very… very pretty.”
Garnet’s grin wasn’t even slightly restrained anymore. “There are some spare head gaskets still at the barn.”
“Some spare… what?”
But Garnet wasn’t in the mood to be any more forthcoming, it seemed. Head gaskets in the barn, Pearl filed away carefully. It was bound to make sense at some point, that much she knew. “I thought you were going to tell me to, oh, I don’t know, not use the same joke twice and just be myself.”
“You already know that. In fact, I’m pretty sure you learned that one a long, long time ago, before the concept of myself was even a glint in Ruby and Sapphire’s eye. But it’s okay to need a gentle reminder now and again.”
“Be honest with her.”
“One step at a time.”
In the end it took her six and a half days to finally scrounge up the nerve to attempt the call, even with Steven spontaneously developing a habit of leaving his phone in various unusual yet highly conspicuous places.
Garnet had very unsubtly assured her the house would be empty that afternoon, so Pearl sat down on the couch to keep herself from pacing, and very carefully typed in the number. It was a bit of an odd feeling, actually using the device for its intended purpose - she’d fixed this particular phone of Steven’s what felt like dozens of times, and the happily glowing screen was a particularly noticeable structural weakness.
The rhythmic beeping tone Pearl had found herself quite enjoying tapping a foot along to was suddenly cut off as a familiar voice sounded from the speaker. “Hello?”
Oh, stars, it really was her - and Pearl immediately felt a bit silly for doubting it would be. There was a remarkably pleasant-sounding rasp to her voice that hadn’t been as noticeable during the show, if it had even been there at all. Maybe it was a recent development-
“Uh, hello? Who is this?”
“Yes! Hello!” It came out as a bit more of a squeak than Pearl would have liked, but all in all it didn’t seem like too bad a start.
“Oh, hey, Light Girl. It’s you, right?”
Pearl nodded enthusiastically, then almost groaned at herself. “It is! Unless, of course, you have other acquaintances whose bodies are hard light projections.”
“Not that I know of,” a genuine laugh in response to Pearl’s joking remark! Excellent progress. “Nice to hear from you. I was beginning to think you weren’t going to call at all.”
“Did I wait too long? I’m really sorry! I’m not entirely familiar with traditional timeframes in human social interactions.”
“No worries. I know that feeling.” That sounded highly unlikely to Pearl, but also quite comforting to hear, and the chuckle that accompanied the words was lovely, bringing with it a swell of that odd, warm, bubbly feeling in her chest. “Listen, don’t take this the wrong way, but-”
The feeling turned to ice as soon as it had come and, well, there it was - it really had all been too good to be true. At least she was making it as quick and as painless as possible - a brief glance at the phone screen showed the total time of the call had yet to exceed thirty seconds.
“I’d love to go hang out and it’s really great that you called, but maybe some other time? My bike is busted pretty badly, the shop I usually take it to is closed this whole week, and I haven’t managed to find one I can get to this far outside Ocean City yet...”
“Your… oh, your motorcycle! That’d be a fairly regular internal-combustion-engine-powered vehicle, right?”
Some hesitation on the line. “I… uh, it’s got some mods, but yeah, should be?”
Pearl found her thoughts had very dramatically shifted to excited exclamations about head gaskets in the barn and this being Her Chance, and she had tried to swear off plans, she really had, but how could she resist such a perfectly tailored opportunity to both assist and impress the mysterious, captivating woman?
“I am certain I can fix that! It’s as I like to say: as long as it’s not a volatile black hole drive, I can probably do something about it. Although that isn’t quite right, either, because I can think of at least three ways to construct an appropriate parabolic reflector right now, with very simple tools and easily available materials.”
“Wow, didn’t have you pegged as a gearhead at all-”
“I assure you I have extensive experience repairing human machines!” If she came off as a bit offended at the implication of doubt, well… she was. “I also have an excellent source of spare parts of all kinds - I’m sure your motorcycle can be accommodated as well.”
“Hey, no worries, I believe you! Guess I lucked out running into you at the show, huh?”
“I’m, um,” Pearl cleared her throat and thought compliments, compliments. “I’m sure I’m the lucky one here.”
“Smooth.” Oh, dear, the grin in that one word was quite audible. “I’ve got some spare stuff here already, if you think it’ll cut the cost some and if you can work with it.”
“Cost? No, no, no, it’s all, as they say, on the house.”
“You sure? I don’t know if it’s an easy fix, exactly. I’d feel really bad if I ended up ripping you off.”
“Absolutely,” Pearl punctuated her words with a determined nod, even if there was nobody around to see it. “I have very little involvement in the economy and no physiological needs to speak of, so I assure you it’s fine.”
“Okay, if you really are sure. And I mean, it’s not exactly what people usually go for when it comes to first dates, but you know, why not?” A date. “How about a deal, then, to make it more like one - you fix the bike, and we go for a ride.”
A breezy trip along the sunlit coast? A pleasant ride into the sunset? A night-time, starlit excursion?
“That sounds lovely,” Pearl managed only barely, the words coming out more like a sigh than actual speech.
“Great! I’ll text you the exact address. Sorry I can’t come pick you up - but maybe next time?”
Next time. There’d been a bit of hesitation around those words, a whiff of dare-I-even-hope? along with the first real sign of nervousness Pearl could pick up on, and it made her feel a genuine burst of affection for the girl she still hardly knew at all. “It’s all right, there’s a warp pad fairly close to your location. It won’t take more than a few minutes for me to get there, so don’t worry at all.”
There was that utterly charming low chuckle again. “Sure thing, Scotty. See you tomorrow, then, around... five?”
“It’s Pearl, actually. But yes! See you then.”
That won her an actual laugh - and the phone was a marvellous invention, certainly, but Pearl was very glad she had the images to go with the glorious sound, at least in her head - the wide shoulders shaking in delight, the shock of irregularly cut pink hair just brushing against them, the wide smile that lit up that lovely face...
“You’re great, and it’s a blast talking to you, but I really need to run now.”
That jarred Pearl out of the happy reverie she was half-sunk in. “Oh, yes, don’t let me keep you! Uh, bye!”
“See you soon.”
Those parting words were all but bursting with beautiful promise, and Pearl couldn’t even find it in herself to be upset she’d forgotten to ask about her name, again. That last exchange had been such a good opening, too... Perhaps Amethyst was right about the deliberate air of mystery.
The phone vibrated in her hand, signalling the arrival of the promised address details. Pearl carefully transcribed it onto a piece of light blue stationery, then walked over to the fridge and tucked the address under the same magnet as the note with the phone number.
The ending of the message, complete with a picture of a tiny person winking and blowing a kiss, she kept to herself.