Even on her best days, where she really tried , Sheena would find herself losing track of time and getting lost in the moment. Whether she was daydreaming or dealing with dreaded customers, time had no meaning or purpose some days. One minute on this day, she clocked in at work, right in the early morning for her crummy opening shift, which was combined with one of her longer shifts for the week.
Before she knew it, however, the clock on the wall struck two o'clock. The busy rush of customers for the afternoon craze drifted away until a few customers lingered. The final person who endured the long line for an iced coffee walked away with a content smile. With a long overdue sigh, her gaze fixed onto the clock. Only one hour until her hell was over.
"Thank god," she muttered under her breath. With the hush of the building, she instinctively reached for her phone, but something came to her. "Shoot."
The whole plan for the night was running through her brain now. Every detail that she had down pat, or at least she wanted them to. Looking around for any spying eyes, she turned around and hid herself in the corner, in a part behind the counter where customers couldn't see her and the cameras couldn't prove of her being irresponsible.
I'll be at our favorite spot on the cliff tonight at 6. You should be there, too.
Sent. Sheena grinned to herself, knowing she was feeling too proud but felt no regrets.
"Dominick, you're still on shift!"
She slipped her phone into her front pocket. Spinning around, she met the gaze of her sharp eyed manager, who bore a stern expressin. She smiled. "Don't worry, Ger. I've got my eye on this place."
Geralin stared at her for a moment before walking into the back room with a sigh.
By three oh-five, Sheena was out the back door, jogging towards her motorcycle. In the blink of an eye, she sped down McGann road. As she came to a stop a block from her house, her phone vibrated. She peeked at her phone for a moment to see Pearl's response.
Okay! I'll be there!
Smiling wide, her gaze averted back to the road and she finished her long ride home with energy bubbling in her chest.
Upon entering her apartment, she chucked off her shoes with a kick of her feet, one-by-one. She untied her apron, letting it drift to the floor. By the time she opened and shut her bedroom door, she had taken off her tan work pants.
Now alone and pantsless, Sheena scoured through her closet, inspecting every hanging piece of clothing for something she found suiting for her night. Any nice looking top or—well, she almost thought dress, but suddenly remember she didn't have any of the sort. The last dress she wore was for a wedding, and her thighs were burning by the end of the night.
So no dress, nothing fancy. In fact, the only "fancy" attire hidden in the depths of her closet were a few tops, mostly black, and more of them were just a little too revealing than not. She only wore them while on a free weekend night, where she and her roommate would find the nosiest and busiest bar, on lonely nights when a one night stand didn't sound like a terrible idea.
Grimacing to herself, she pushed those tops further into the closet, letting them sit in darkness.
Someone knocked on her door, but before she could reply, her bedroom door opened. A mess of short red hair appeared from the crack in the doorway. "Your place is a mess."
"Addie!" Face flushed, Sheena grabbed one of her sandals on the floor and chucked it in Addie's direction. Addie stayed in place, yet Sheena watched her sandal hit the wall beside Addie. "How'd you get inside in the first place?"
"Your door was unlocked. And I just need to borrow your vacuum. Mine's busted, and my paycheck isn't coming around until Friday." Addie looked back into the living room, then returned their gaze to Sheena with eyebrows quirked, a judging look that Sheena only took a little seriously. "You don't seem to be using it for now."
Sheena rolled her eyes, turning around and grabbing a pair of ripped jeans. "Alright, go ahead," she mumbled somewhat dismissively. She heard Addie begin to step out, but something came to her. "Wait!"
Addie was already walking into the living room, but they stopped. Sheena walked and pulled an orange top on, struggling not to run into the doorway. All dressed, she glanced around and tried to hide her shame that yes, she was pretty terrible at keeping her apartment clean. Although her roommate, she defended, was no better.
Instead of bringing that up, she returned her focus to Addie. "Didn't you take dance lessons?"
"In college, for god's sake," Addie snorted. "It's been years since I got actual lessons, so why're you asking now?"
"I could use some practice."
"The hell you do." Addie chuckled under their breath. "You go all out at parties, and you know it. Remember Chantelle's last month, at the hotel?"
"I'm talking about real dancing, though."
"So not the kind where you almost break your hip while breakdancing?" Addie smirked.
"I didn't." Sheena pointed a finger, her face a soft pink. "And, well, not that I need to learn. I'm thinking more like, ballroom dancing. Or something similar. Just something slow and gentle."
"Slow and gentle?" Addie repeated, adding in a hint of disbelief. They paused, looking Sheena up and down. "Are you doing something with your girlfriend?"
Sheena brushed a hand behind her head. "It's kind of complicated, but... essentially, yes."
Addie grinned with genuine amusement. "You're such a sad little gay thing. Come here." They gestured for Sheena to move forward.
Sheena flashed a smile and walked over to Addie, letting her arms wave helplessly in the air until Addie guided them to their shoulders.
They gave her the simplest instructions, the sorts of things that Sheena probably should have known, but also would probably have completely missed if she didn't ask for Addie's assistance. "If we're talking slow dancing, you should put your hands over her shoulders—like here. Or at her hips. Whatever works." "Don't go too fast, but not too slow. There's a rhythm to it. You want to match your dance partner." "Don't think about it, or else your hands are going to start sweating.
"And don't be afraid to spice it up a bit." They pulled one hand away and spun Sheena in place.
"Hah! Trust me, I won't be." Sheena stopped spinning and locked eyes with Addie again. "Great. Despite not having gone to classes in, what, eight years, you're a natural," she added as they danced around the room at a slow and delicate pace. Her eyes grazed over the floor.
Addie shrugged. "I adapt." They made a noise in the back of their throat. "Hey, quit looking at your feet. Don't you want to give your girlfriend flirty looks while dancing? You know, like you do every time she comes here?" They laughed under their breath.
"I'll step on something," said Sheena, keeping her focus on the ground. She walked over a towel she abandoned on the floor.
"Only with that attitude, you will. Just look up and have some confidence in yourself."
"I am incredibly confident. I'm absolutely brimming in it. Just look at me."
"I can tell." Addie's dry tone spoke volumes.
Sheena said nothing, not changing her focus.
Rolling her eyes, Sheena glanced up.
"Look, I don't know why you suddenly wish to learn how to dance for your girlfriend, but don't stress too much over it, okay?"
Sheena hesitated, but then... "I just want this to go well."
"I hope she wouldn't dump you over, uh, not-perfect dancing." Even Sheena noticed how awkwardly Addie struggled to follow their own logic.
"Nah." Sheena shook her head. "It's just... er, complicated."
Addie let out a breath. "Whatever happens, if you two really mean something to each other, then it'll probably go fine. In one way or another. Just don't freak out about it."
Sheena smiled. "I guess so."
Minutes passed, and the two of them slowed their already snail pace movements until they came to a complete stop in the center of the room. Addie moved away from Sheena, their hands pulling away from Sheena and to their sides. "That good? I'm not exactly an instructor, so..."
"No, you did great. I think I've got it down." Sheena brought a hand to her hip and thought over Addie's instructions and the way they moved around the room. For a moment, she imagined Pearl taking Addie's place, and a dreamy expression washed over her.
"Yes, you should be able to move around a room in a circle." Addie grinned.
Sheena scoffed. "You think I should wear something... I don't know, nice?"
"All of your things are ripped, from what you've shown me." Addie directed their attention to Sheena's current wardrobe, including the ripped jeans. "Isn't that out of style yet or something?"
Sheena smirked. "Then maybe, before I go, you can take me shopping—"
Addie walked away without another word, shutting the door behind them. Sheena stood speechless in the middle of the room, then let out another scoff, though she also wore a smirk. "Jerk."
The cliff lingered closer to Beach City rather than Sheena's town, but with extra time to spare, she arrived to her destination before Pearl. Checking her phone, she saw she had ten minutes until six.
Pulling her bag off of her shoulder, Sheena glanced over the view, the sky the softest blue. The moon began rising into the air, casting white across the ocean. As she took out her phone, she briefly contemplated taking a picture to capture the moment.
Instead, she pulled out a plastic bag, which rattled with every movement. Laughing to herself, she took out, one-by-one, small fake, flameless candles. Thinking to herself, she eventually sorted them by the edges of the cliff, surrounding herself with fake lights on both sides.
Could always use some ambiance. She stepped back and regarded the scene.
Nodding to herself, she then scrolled through her music. She found her newest playlist, one she downloaded before she left. They consisted of a few instrumentals she found that best fit the scene, stuff she didn't really find interesting, but it was worth it.
The sudden worry about Pearl's arrival caught in her stomach, and she pulled up the camera on her phone and inspected her appearance.
No makeup. Perhaps a touch of lipstick and some blush, but no mascara or eye shadow. Something that wasn't part of the plan, but rather something that sprung with a surge of inspiration.
She played with her hair, pulling and tugging at it until she finally embraced how messy it was. Pearl never seemed to mind, after all, despite her attitude towards cleanliness.
She managed to find jeans that had neither holes nor tears. With the stiff wind bringing a chill into the air, she donned a black jacket over her orange top. Despite the slight cold, however, she tossed off her sneakers, feeling the grass between her toes. A long breath of air fell from her lips.
Sheena spun around, her heart skipping upon seeing the petite, pale woman walking—now sprinting—up the cliff. “Pearl!” she cried out.
Pearl opened her mouth but stopped and observed the little details around them. Though initially looking confused, a smile greeted her face. "Now what's all of this for?"
"I wanted to do something a little different." Sheena shrugged. "And they're fake, just so you know."
"Well, that's good! I'd hate for there to be some sort of fire hazard. But what's the occasion?"
"Can't a woman just randomly set up a nice date for her girlfriend for no reason?"
Pearl thought it over, and Sheena wondered if she actually had to think over an answer. "I suppose, although I'm sure you have something in mind." Curiosity flickered in her eyes.
Sheena's mouth broke into a wide smile. "Pearl, the alien and the mind reader." She pulled out her phone and found her newest made playlist. Soft, slow music blessed the air, piano music chiming in with delicacy. A moment of peace passed between them, then a violin pitched in.
Pearl stared at her with a knowing look. "This really is quite a surprise."
Sheena felt energy vibrate through her body, unable to contain her anticipation further. She swayed her hips as she walked even closer to Pearl, their bodies almost touched. "You a dancer Pearl?" She offered Pearl a hand.
"I'm familiar with many styles," said Pearl, although her face and her tone did not boast modesty. Pearl accepted Sheena's hand and pulled herself against Sheena.
"I don't doubt that. Why don't you show me one?" Sheena's voice was low, her head leaning in close to Pearl, just a breath away from her lips.
They fell into a similar rhythm, taking slow steps side to side, rotating with every step. They spun their way around the cliffside, saying nothing.
Sheena spun Pearl in place, eliciting a burst of shocked, bubbly laughter from the alien. Sheena joined in the laughter as they came back together and began to not just move away, but sway to the music. This is perfect, thought Sheena as they pulled away from one another, only one hand each bringing them together. They exchanged large, carefree smiles. I'm so close... Pearl spun toward Sheena. Once Sheena held in her arms, she dipped Pearl, who shrieked with laughter. Pearl lifted her head up, and Sheena stared at her girlfriend and her dreamy gaze. Pulling her back up, Sheena wrapped her arms around Pearl, bringing her into an embrace. Sheena felt a tightness in her chest. Her chest was heaving. Why was she so nervous all of a sudden? That wasn’t how she did things. Sheena, the cool, confident. Not the mess afraid of messing up a dance.
Without another thought, she leaned in and brought her lips onto Pearl’s.
She shut her eyes, anything to stop herself from shaking, especially when Pearl leaned in just a little bit, as well. The moment was absolutely wonderful.
Yet seconds passed, and no feeling beyond the joy of the kiss spread through her. Garnet failed to describe the feeling of fusing (or should she have asked Ruby and Sapphire about that?), but Sheena imagined there was… something. Some sort of sparkling feeling, or a moment where she would have felt like she was weightless, flying through clouds and dreams.
Opening her eyes, she gazed at Pearl, who gave her a dreamy smile, like her mind was wandering.
Pearl. Pearl still stood there in Sheena’s arms. She was still there, holding Pearl close to her chest. And suddenly, Sheena wished she could sink into the depths of the earth. They had long since pulled away from the kiss, but Pearl had said nothing regarding Sheena’s silence nor anything about the shift in her expression.
“Wh-what…” Sheena muttered, but between them, it was still so loud.
“Nothing happened,” she continued. That magical feeling faded. Sheena looked around at the reality around them.
Pearl’s eyebrows knitted downward into a mixed expression of concern and confusion. “I’m sorry?”
Sheena stepped back, releasing Pearl from her grasp. “It’s nothing,” she said lamely. “I… I don’t know why I said that.”
What went wrong?
The song changed into with a somewhat faster beat, with drums settling in. Sheena shot a cruel look at her phone, despite knowing it would change nothing.
Pearl stared at her, unfazed. “Something’s clearly upsetting you.” Pearl attempted to take a cautious step forward, her heel already on the grass.
However, Sheena moved away, though not to escape Pearl’s advances. She paced around the cliff, murmuring to herself rather to grant Pearl an answer. “Did I do something wrong? How? Did I mess something up or—”
She stopped with a rush of another thought invading her mind. She ran through Garnet’s talk once more, thinking back to every piece of advice, the instructions Garnet gave her. And the one thing she wanted to ask, so desperately wanted to bring up in a casual way, but could not bring herself to, and she told herself to just try. Hanging her head and lifting it up by the palms of her hands, she walked over to Pearl and said, “I’m sorry, Pearl.”
“You have nothing to apologize for,” said Pearl with enough sincerity to calm the sickness in Sheena’s stomach. “I—we were having a wonderful time!”
Through her fingers, Sheena saw Pearl’s feet brush over the grass under them. Tilting her head up a touch, Sheena’s gaze fixed onto Pearl. Pearl, smiling with so much warmth it made the night more bearable, brought her hand to Sheena’s cheek. “Perhaps you can fill me in on something. What, exactly, didn’t happen?”
Eyes shut, Sheena leaned her head into Pearl’s touch. Opening her eyes again, she got lost in Pearl’s large eyes and said, “Pearl.”
“Can humans fuse with gems?”
Pearl flinched, her hand twitching away from Sheena’s cheek, which Sheena brushed her fingers over. Then, just as Sheena contemplated repeating the question, Pearl responded. She did something but she did not answer the question.
And not the bell-like giggle that sounded playful and cute. Or rather, it started out like that, but escalated into a guffaw where Pearl had to wipe an amused tear from her eye.
“P-Pearl!” Sheena exclaimed, cheeks ablaze.
Pearl calmed down. “Oh, no, Sheena! I’m not laughing at you! It’s just… fusion requires bodies of light to combine as one.” And like with the flick of a switch, Pearl spun back into instructor mode, her amusement slipping away. “Humans are flesh and bone, and just don’t have any sort of way to possibly fuse with gems, or even other humans. I just found the whole idea amusing, that’s all.”
Sheena stared at her, only to bury her hands back into her face. Her face must have been red as a tulip. “Yeah… yeah, that’s what I thought.” A long, somewhat exaggerated groan escaped her lips. “Oh, man, what was I thinking?”
Pearl observed Sheena’s reaction. “Why are you asking?”
Sheena wasn’t quite sure if Pearl really had no idea, or if she just wanted to force Sheena into confessing. For the sake of her own sanity, Sheena stayed silent. Her hands fell to her sides, and she averted her gaze from Pearl, suddenly finding the grass fascinating.
An audible exhale caught Sheena’s attention, a small noise akin to a gasp of realization. “Is that why you brought me here? And why we were dancing?”
Sheena just nodded.
Another quiet exhale. “Well, why in the world—”
“I wanted to know what it felt like, Pearl?” She pushed her head up to fix her gaze onto Pearl, who flinched at the sudden change in her tone. Noting this, Sheena continued in a softer voice, “Garnet explained it to me, and the more I learned… I don’t know, I really wanted to have that with you. That-that…” Any burst of confidence shattered and crumbled, and she glanced down again, tugging at her jacket. “It just sounds like something beautiful and amazing, something I’ve never heard humans experience, and I wanted to share that experience with you.”
Pearl’s hands gradually reached her chest, clasped over one another. “Oh, Sheena…”
“I didn’t ask her, though. About humans and gems, even though I should have.” Sheena laughed, but it was bitter. “It’s so embarrassing.”
“I think it’s admirable. I don’t blame you for trying, either.” After a pause, Pearl let out a quick laugh. “Why, I remember Greg doing the same… thing.” Her voice quieted into a murmur. Her features hardened, and one hand brushed under her chin, her thumb touching her lips. Her focus turned to something else.
“Uh… Pearl?” Sheena stood frozen, at a loss.
It didn’t help that Pearl began laughing again. Mouth shut, shoulders shaking just a bit, she turned away for a moment to laugh to herself.
Sheena blew out a breath of air. “You have the weirdest laughing tendencies.”
“It’s okay, Sheena!” Pearl said upon glancing back at Sheena.
“It’s very much okay that we can’t do some things together, like fusion or… eating. Especially that last one.” A brief grimace fell on her lips before her smile grew. “You don’t have to understand everything about me and the gems, or anything about our culture. And that’s because I don’t entirely understand you humans, either. I probably never will! Five thousand years on this planet, and I’m still baffled. Why, just the other day, you called me crying at two in the morning about some human television show—”
“Waiting for four seasons for the main character to find some form of happiness just gets to people,” Sheena muttered, pulling and then twirling the sides of her bright pink hair.
“We don’t need to completely understand each other’s cultures, though. It’d be foolish try to think we could.” Pearl pushed her hands to cup both of Sheena’s. “But that doesn’t change anything about our relationship.”
Sheena sighed. “But I want to. I like learning about you guys and what you do, what you’re like.” She smiled softly down at Pearl. “It shows me so many sides of you that are just amazing.”
Pearl blushed the lightest blue. “Oh, it’s-it’s nothing.” Her blush faded. “Still, I’ll be more than happy to show and teach you about our culture—that we can discuss, of course.”
“But fusion… a fusion encapsulates a relationship between gems.” After a pause, Pearl’s eyes glossed over, but tears didn’t fall. “Relationships between humans and gems are… different. And they always will be. I think it’s better to... embrace that, don’t you think?”
Sheena brushed some strands of hair behind her ear. “Yeah, I suppose you’re right. A-are you okay, Pearl?”
Pearl gave her a tooth-filled smile. “I’m feeling wonderful. Actually—” Pearl spun and skipped with dramatic grace, standing a few feet away from Sheena. She kept her back to her girlfriend.
“What are you doing now?” Sheena asked through some chuckles.
Pearl spun around, stretching out her arm within Sheena’s reach. She gave Sheena a look, eyes bright and no longer glistening with threatening tears. “Care to dance?”
Sheena beamed, her face warm. “Yeah—yes. Absolutely.”
Her hands wrapped around Pearl’s, and they danced around on top of the cliff. The music in the background continued, violins caressing the air.
They never fused, never could, but Sheena felt something. As she held her gaze on Pearl’s face as they danced in the grass, Sheena’s shoes off, as she dipped Pearl again and took in the joy radiating off of Pearl’s features.
Sheena worried, at first, if her infatuation was just that, if she only crushed on Pearl because of what Pearl revealed about herself and her friends, if Sheena only loved the fact that she was otherworldly, weird, interesting.
But then she fell in love.