The high school reunion invitation lays heavy in her hand despite its lightweight. Danielle wonders for a moment why she's even giving it a second thought. After all, once she was out she was never gonna look back. That's what she'd always told herself.
It's a miracle she even finished out her senior year, after the stunt with stealin’ her dad’s car. He’d threatened to send her to boarding school somewhere even more boring than Iowa, if that were possible.
"C'mon, it'll be like Ferris Bueller," Stacey had said, talking her into it.
She’d talked Danielle into a lot of things.
Except, when they'd gotten back home after their joyride, some of those things -- the ones that never really needed much convincing to begin with -- were left behind.
They’d always flirted, was the thing. Danielle had never really realized how girls do the whole “no-homo” thing just as much as guys -- except in completely different ways -- until she became wrapped up in Stacey. They’d met when Danielle’s family moved to town at the start of 9th grade. She’d never had a best friend who was a girl before, had preferred playing with boys after school when she was younger. And keeping boundaries had been no problem since she’d still been at the age of “ew, boys.” She still kinda was, honestly.
With girls, with Stacey, the line between closeness and well, gayness, blurred until it was practically non-existent. High school opened up a whole new world for Danielle, and it was so easy to embrace it. So simple to hang all over one another, do each other’s makeup and hair, touch constantly and it all be well and good, as long as you stayed within the lines of the invisible box. It was her own fault for being 15 and wanting more, reading into every touch and laugh. By the time Danielle was 17, though, it was impossible to separate her feelings of friendship vs. infatuation and, moreover, she found she didn’t really want to.
Right from the beginning, that weekend during their senior year had felt like they were leading up to something. Between their stolen getaway, the constant flirting and teasing (and literal striptease), Danielle had finally let herself believe something was happening here, that it wasn’t all just wishful thinking and pathetic, unrequited love. They nearly kissed in the hotel room. She felt it in her bones, had watched and laughed at enough damn cheesy movies to recognize The Moment; that moment when time kind of stops and you’re on the precipice of a decision that could change everything.
They didn’t though. Stacey had fallen onto her after their pillow fight and leaned in, slowly, so fucking slow, dragging her fingers through Danielle’s long, blond hair and then at the last second buried her head against her neck, giggling and whispering how drunk she was. Danielle still recalls the way her whole body had shivered, how she’d jerked off in the shower, muffling her cries against the inside of her wrist.
Of course, turning points -- both in movies and in real life -- usually occurred as the result of a catalyst and their catalyst had been named Matthew. Matthew, with his tractor and stupidly blue eyes and chiseled chest. Stacey had kissed him first, in the water, and Danielle had been far too focused on watching the way her mouth had moved against his to realize she was reaching around Matthew and tugging Danielle forward until she was pressed up, slippery and wet, against Matthew’s back. She let Matthew lean back into her, accepted the kiss, liked it even. And suddenly, they were all wrapped up in one another; Danielle’s arms low on Stacey’s hips, Stacey’s fingers spider-walking up Danielle’s sides, and Matthew dragging each of his hands through their hair as he pressed his mouth to them both, switching off like rapid-fire.
Danielle still cannot remember the exact moment of contact. Could not tell you who kissed whom first. But she’ll never forget the way it felt -- Stacey’s mouth against her own, hot and slick, tasting of cherry chapstick and salt water as they kissed over Matthew’s shoulder, ignoring his quiet, “holy shit” in favor of not stopping.
The three of them made out for what felt like forever, not taking it further than second base touching and desperate, dirty kisses. When they stole Matthew’s clothes and he caught up with them, it was inevitable what would happen next. Perhaps that’s why they’d tried it in the first place, that playful attempt to get away. At least, that was how Danielle thought about it now. Maybe to Stacey, Matthew’s presence had equaled “possibility” and if he wasn’t there, she was safe, the threat eliminated.
Instead, they went to his apartment and screwed their brains out all afternoon and most of the evening. Danielle remembers waking up in the middle of the night, still feeling the ache of Matthew inside her, to Stacey’s arm wrapped tight around her waist and her fingers resting low on her ass. Stacey’s eyes slowly opened and they’d stared at one another in the dark, the room lit only by the moonlight reflecting in from the unshaded window.
Without a word, Stacey moved on top of her, kissing her deep and slow. It felt different from anything they’d done yet and they’d done a lot in the past 9 hours, both with and without Matthew. Except even when it was just the two of them touching one another on the bed, naked and sweaty, Matthew had still been there -- watching, stroking his dick, giving half-hearted direction. This, though... this was just them, Matthew passed out on the other side of Stacey, dead to the world.
They took it slow, drank each other in. When Stacey palmed her tits, Danielle arched and groaned. When Stacey’s tongue dragged a path down her body before inching its way inside her again, curling just right, Danielle couldn’t help but pant her name and grab fistfuls of her long, dark hair. Matthew woke up sometime after Danielle had come, while she was still fingering Stacey and kissing her lips raw, coaxing out the sweetest moans in the world.
He was content to just watch, too sleepy to join in, and Danielle was more grateful for that than she should’ve been. The realization had made her insides freeze, even while her skin was overheated. Suddenly, reality had come crashing in and she was dreading the sun coming up and what the morning would bring.
So Danielle closed her eyes against the world and focused on making Stacey gasp and cry out around her hand, willing real life away for just a little longer.
That next morning had brought exactly what Danielle expected -- awkward silences, an amicable goodbye with Matthew as they dropped back off to his cornfield, and even louder silence on the ride home, eased only when commenting on the hitchhiker they’d passed. After that, Danielle was in too much shit with her parents to stop and think about the state of their friendship. Being grounded for two months helped ignore the fact that Stacey hadn’t attempted -- even secretly -- to contact her outside of school, and that while in school they only nodded to one another.
Graduation couldn’t come fast enough and when it did, Danielle told herself she was getting out of that one horse town and never looking back. She barely saw Stacey that summer and hated herself for being too fucking scared for them to talk about it, yet fearless in every other aspect of her life.
It was all so fucking cliché: the one night stand, Stacey’s gay panic; even sitting here now, staring at the reunion invitation like it held the answers to the universe or something.
“Fucking pathetic,” Danielle whispers to herself and then gets ready to go out.
Except for the rest of the week, she can't stop thinking about it and of course she didn't throw the damn thing out.
She tells herself she owes her parents a trip home anyway. She tells herself she doesn't actually need to show up to the damn reunion.
It's been ten years since high school and Danielle’s gotten pretty damn good at telling when she's lying to herself.
Stepping into the auditorium is weird. Danielle basically looks the same -- a little thinner in the face, maybe -- and the place hasn't changed at all, but she still feels like a giant in the space, like everything has gotten smaller or maybe the walls are closing in.
Some people that Danielle didn't care about then and certainly doesn't care about now come up to her, ask about her life. She tells them she's a model in New York City, which always gets the predictable ‘ooh’s’ and ‘aah’s’ and Danielle has to fight not to roll her eyes. When they ask if they'd have seen her anywhere, she excuses herself to the bathroom; she's really not up for spewing off her resume tonight.
She freezes in her tracks upon opening the door. There, standing in front of the bathroom mirror applying blood red lipstick, is Stacey. Danielle saw this same image at least a hundred times during their high school career that it shouldn't have her so nonplussed, but it does.
Stacey's eyes catch hers in the mirror and she freezes too before her lips curve into that small, secret smile that no one has given Danielle since.
“Hey, Dani,” Stacey says, easy as pie, as if they don't have a million years of history and then some between them.
“Hey,” Danielle replies, swallowing hard.
“Fancy seein’ you here,” she says, all drawl and tease. It was the first thing she ever said to Danielle in homeroom on the first day of school. It made Danielle laugh, melted away some of her nerves. It became a running joke. Now, it makes her heart clench.
“Yeah, imagine that.”
Stacey turns around, leans back against the sink. When she crosses her arms, her expression evens out into something that, if she didn’t know better, Danielle would almost categorize as vulnerable.
“I did,” Stacey says, voice quiet.
Danielle blinks. “Huh?”
“Imagine it. I did.” She waves between them. “This, you being here.”
“Oh,” Danielle replies dumbly, mind reeling.
Stacey walks forward, slowly, still towering over her as she always did, yet it suddenly feels terrifying and her heart is ready to pound out of her chest.
“Let me do this, okay? I told myself if you actually showed up that I’d have a stupid movie moment like the ones we always made fun when we were kids.”
Danielle gulps and nods, even while her mind supplies “those were all romantic comedies.”
She watches Stacey bite her lip and an acute ache of want silvers through all the confusion currently in her brain.
“I was a coward, okay? I pushed you away and let you leave and I've never forgiven myself. I told myself back then that it was for the best, you'd just complicate my life and I wasn't ready to be like, girlfriends with anyone and I thought I'd get over those feelings but I didn't and I've spent the last ten years chasing what I felt for you and never finding it and never telling you because you deserved better than my baggage.”
Danielle's staring at her, mouth hanging open, trying to process that breathless ramble.
When she feels like she can speak again, its pure deflection. “That was… definitely a cliché movie moment if I ever heard one.”
Stacey laughs, self-deprecating, but her eyes are tense. “Yeah, well. I've been trying to make it as an actress the past 10 years in New York and have only succeeded as a really good bartender, so take it for what you will.”
Danielle swallows her shock at hearing they've been in the same (albeit huge) city this entire time in order to focus on the more pressing matter.
“So why now?” she asks softly. “Why tell me now when you were never gonna?”
Stacey sighs, twisting her foot against the floor. “Guess I was tired of not going after what I really want. Told myself if you showed then I'd take it as some kinda sign and give it a shot.”
Danielle nods dazedly, her eyes suddenly fixed to the dirty bathroom floor and where Stacey’s foot is still trying to work its way through the tile. It's almost too much, too surreal, and she feels the overwhelming urge to pinch herself.
“So uh,” Stacey starts, and when Danielle looks up that foreign, vulnerable expression is back tenfold. Stacey drags a nervous hand through her hair, which is a little shorter but otherwise exactly as Danielle remembers it. “What's the verdict?”
There’s a lot she wants to say. A lot of old, sore hurt that is still there, but she also doesn’t really want to delve deeper into their past right now. Instead, Danielle lets the curve of a smile take shape on her face and steps forward. She finds Stacey’s hand, curls their fingers together. “I think maybe you should ask me out on a date when we’re both back in the city.”
It's gratifying to see the shock on Stacey’s face at the mention of New York, but it's even better to kiss it away and revel in the smile that takes its place, answering it with her own as their mouths move together, slow and unhurried like they have all the time in the world.
Danielle lets herself believe that, now, they finally do.