The world changed but the books never did. She understands the world in storybooks and the novels that corrupt them, and she knows that it should have started in some dreamlike summer, when the birds came down and the sky streaked itself pink even during the day.
Instead it happens the summer that summer loses its fairy mysticism, the summer she realises the bees are dying so quickly they may not come back and that makes up the picture of the world as she understands it, now.
She is not grown up, but she has grown.
(Really, she knows it must have begun a long time ago, when Allison was her light mirror and all she wanted to do was ruin and corrupt and covet the creature left behind. She just hadn't seen, yet, the version of the story where rivalries and obsession sink into hunger for lipgloss shared between clumsy mouths. She kisses Ralph on the cheek, and Nelson on the mouth and doesn't think about anything but the black behind her eyelids. By the time she understands, Allison has moved to Boston, and Berlin from there, and it doesn't really matter anymore.)
Her back nestles into the tree bark that has dipped for her spine, years of training and wear have grown it to fit her, as the world will have to learn to. She rests her leg on a plank of the treehouse ladder and thinks about her brother, knowing he's buried in a basement of some club he has no business being in, and smiles at the thought. She rests her book on her thighs and lets summer drain away around her, and falls into the book like Alice.
It's the summer Lisa reads Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, and imagines soft, nailpolished hands closing around her biceps, that she knows. She knows.
She is careful not to stare, not to linger at the sight of Janey's long legs in the tiny skirts she's grown into, or at the twin's long throats when they flick their hair away in a flurry of lavender, eternally in synch. She is very careful, as though a slipped look might send her spiralling into some new realm of fascination and obsession.
The heat sits heavily on her shoulders in English and there aren't enough days left to hold her attention. When the bell rings and they file out she does not follow Janey's haze of pink. Lisa does the unthinkable.
She finds herself on the threshold of the forbidden bathroom, smoke washing over her like a rebellious baptism and forces herself inside.
Highschool is school, but there are always crevices like this, and in the darker, angrier parts of her she will always be drawn in.
Donna is sitting on the sink basin, swinging her legs out of time with her erratic pulls of her cigarette, pink hair fanned out where her head is tipped back against the mirror. She looks sort of elemental, the same but completely different from when they were kids.
Lisa coughs at the smoke, and Donna cuts her eyes in Lisa’s direction. “Well, well, if it isn’t yo-yo girl. Doing another walk on the wild side thing?” She flicks ash onto a blackened tile, just missing the soles of her boots.
“Kind of… maybe? I’m not sure yet.” She feels very exposed there in the washed out light and her baby pink flannel wrapped around like armour.
“Make up your mind, princess.” Donna looks Lisa up and down, smiles filthily and takes another drag. “You can play in this sandbox for a while, or you can go back to preppy land and kiss blunt-tipped bad boys like Nelson and pretend it doesn’t say anything about you. I don’t really care either way.” She jumps off the sink with a long swing of her legs, and god, they really are long, putting her a head taller than Lisa, all trussed up in fishnets like gift wrapping and Lisa forces herself to look up into her kohl-rimmed eyes.
Donna smiles. “Nice shirt, by the way.”
Lisa stumbles backwards and out when the smoke makes her want, like a magnet in the gap between her belly and her lungs.
She knew, Lisa thinks. She knew… and I think I screwed it up.
Bart is never home, and she thinks you asshole, I need you, and doesn’t call him because it feels like giving in. He ‘graduated’ a month ago, but has some classes to catch up on in the summer to actually get his diploma, and she plans on vanishing the way he has when he's bored and dying for attention.
She goes out, clutching her handlebars and riding her bike until her legs ache and she meets somewhere less than familiar, or until the sun is low enough in the sky to make her feel hazy and just unreal enough for nothing to matter.
The first time she kisses a girl is like that, one of those nights where she’s slumped across from a bar wondering what the fuss is all about but too afraid to sneak inside.
The girl has dark brown hair to her hips and a tattoo that leaks from her shoulder to her left wrist. Her earrings glint in the twilight when she grabs Lisa by the arm and growls play along into her ear. She cups her hands around Lisa’s jaw, beams, and presses their mouths together. Lisa melts, turns to liquid honey on the touch and barely feels the moments pass until their mouths part in a soft movement, the girl’s face merely a breath away.
“Laura?” She whispers. Her pulse starts to hammer.
“Yeah,” Laura tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “Hold on a sec.” She turns and smiles, both brilliant and dark, at the men that have trailed her from the bar. “Told you guys I was taken, now get out of here.”
Lisa doesn’t see if they leave, dazed and full of a new sweetness that’s barely familiar - she thinks it might be something like certainty.
“Thanks kid, you’re one of Marge’s little brood right? Your brother was a sweet kid.” Lisa must make a face, because she laughs, and it’s something like twelve shades of awesome and more mellifluous than it has any right being. “Man, that was a long time ago. Not that I don’t feel like a total craddle robbing perv right now, though, because I totally do.”
“Worse things have happened to me,” Lisa says, as the giddiness wears away and all that’s left is the sunset.
“Hope that changes,” Laura stretches and looks up the the sky. “Nice night, makes me wanna roll around in the yellow and pink for a little while, before it disappears. It was nice seeing you, Lisa.”
“Glad I could help.” She touches her fingertips to her mouth, after, pink and gold turning into music in her head.
She finds herself bent over the bathroom sink that night with a cheap bottle of dye and no bleach because the smell makes her sick, so it only half-works. Still, she stares at herself in the mirror for an hour after, loving and hating the reflection in turn.
Blue has always suited her, thanks to her mom. She doesn’t hide it at breakfast, but her dad is crying about a burnt waffle and her mother is making three sets of sandwiches in a one woman production line and all Bart can do is kick her under the table once and smirk, which is almost all the validation she needs.
She walks into the bathroom ten minutes into study hall and rests both hands on her hips, feeling the light touch her new, sensitised skin. Oh, she might have been a ghost before, but she's alive now. Her bruised mouth is the proof.
“Tell me why I shouldn't just build my own sandbox,” she says, twisting her pearls around her throat.
Donna grins at her. “Atta girl. This is more like it.” She unfurls herself from the slump she held against the wall and comes up close to Lisa. “There are less queer kids here than you'd think, but plenty of unexpected ones. But you'd know all about that, huh, Simpson?”
Donna bares her teeth for a second, more vulnerable than aggressive, and presses her lips to Lisa’s cheek.
Her lipstick comes back smeared and Lisa forgets to wipe it away, wearing the other girl’s mark all day.
She rides up to the bar again that night, books in a bag on her back, a little later, perhaps, but still close to bright in the evening. She is not looking for Laura, she's not looking for anything, really, but a taste of remembrance.
She sits on the bench across the street, watching the neon get brighter and the daylight fade in time to the stuttered breaths of Sappho’s fragments, because it felt like the thing to read.
She glances up whenever the door shunts open and loud music sighs through for a moment, her heart speeding like an impulse. That's how she sees it.
Her brother stumbles out, not drunk but something else , a bright-eyed boy tumbling after him, skin a touch darker than Bart's where his hands wrap around her brother's waist.
She has to look away when the first kiss touches his throat because it shocks the breath from her. She wants to hide from herself more than him.
Bart looks at her, straight at her, and she swallows.
She is the first to blink, knowing she has to be reflected in his eyes. He and whoever is wrapped around him stumble away, leaving her alone with the night. She wonders if her cheek is still stained.
He climbs in her window that night, when she's curled around her journal not able to spill a single word from her head.
“You knew,” she says, not looking up.
“I assumed you did too, I mean I'm not the genius here.” He jumps down heavily on her bed, rolling on top of her journal just to piss her off.
“Quit it,” she says
“Make me,” he retorts, rolling around the sheets.
“Mom! Bart's -”
“A homo?” He smiles up at her.
“Will you shut up?” She pushes him so there's enough room for them both to lie back, and stares up at the ceiling still sporadically decorated with glow in the dark stars. “Are we okay?”
She isn't really sure what the question means. Whether she means the two of them and their insular little world, or the much wider and dangerous one around them.
“Lise, when are we less than fine?”
“Once a week and twice on a Sunday?” She feels her skin start to react to the cold air flooding in from her open window, gooseflesh peppering her arms and legs where they spread on the bed. She sighs. “And Donna?”
He looks at her and laughs brightly. “A puppy dog. Definitely not going to eat you alive. ”
“Oh shut up.” She swats him with a pillow then curls up against the cold. “I'm fucked, aren't I?”
“Oh, totally.” He sits up and musses her hair, feeling so much warmer than she does. “You're gonna love it.”
On the last day of school she leaves her flannel in her locker, not caring if it's there next fall. It wasn’t her, really. Maybe another colour, another material, something linen that covers her skin softly, not abrasive and worn.
Janey catches her by the arm when they move in opposite slipstreams through the hall, says have a great summer into her ear whilst they hug, a trading of perfume. She thinks I’m glad it’s not you, because she’s afraid of these small intimacies being snatched away. It has always been tiring to be alone.
She goes to the bathroom when all her perfunctory gestures are done with and no one cares about her goodbyes anymore. Donna is still there, hiding from the stampede. Her hair is red like a flare, a shock of heat in a neutral room. She snuffs out the dregs of a cigarette when Lisa comes in.
“Those things will -”
“Don’t start. I’m too young to admit I’m an addict.” Donna flutters her eyelashes at her, picking at a black-painted hangnail. “So, here you are again. I’m starting to think I should start charging.”
Lisa’s hands find her hips like belonging. “Will you just shut up and kiss me already?”
Donna laughs and walks forward, backing Lisa against the bathroom tiles. She likes how solid the wall feels behind her, a concrete feeling she can pin down when Donna’s hands slip into her hair and make her feel on the edge of dizzy.
Donna says, “no turning back now, kid.”
Lisa bridges the gap and parts her mouth, sighing.