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Please Don't Be My Valentine

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Valentine’s Day is for suckers. It’s a holiday specifically designed to sell flowers that’re already dead and to fuck with Chloe’s head. Literally the only halfway decent thing about it is that tomorrow chocolate will be dirt cheap in every store, and also it’ll be over.
 
She can sort of remember a time when she didn’t completely hate it. It had seemed harmless enough when she was too young to know better, a time when Valentine’s Day was about cutting red heart shapes out of construction paper in class and writing neutral things like “Hi!” and “Happy Heart Day!” before exchanging them with every single one of her classmates because the teacher didn’t want anybody to feel left out. Back then, all that Valentine’s Day really meant was that the holiday displays in stores turned red and pink for a few weeks the same way they’d turn red and green for Christmas or orange and black for Halloween. And she and Max would buy bags of those chalky heart-shaped candies that neither of them really liked, and they’d sit up in her room reading them out loud and giggling over the meaningless messages through their sticky, sugar-coated fingers.
 
Now Chloe’s sixteen, and Max probably has a boyfriend in Seattle to buy her candy she actually likes, and the teachers don’t force everybody to make enough cards for the whole class and so Chloe doesn’t get any.
 
Rachel, on the other hand, gets way too many.
 
It’s kind of funny at first. When Rachel opens her locker before class, the cards spill out all over the floor exactly how they would in a corny high school sitcom. It makes Chloe think of the elevator doors opening in The Shining except it’s a tide of hormone-addled teenage sentiment flowing over their feet instead of actual blood. Chloe’s never seen anything like it in real life before, but then again Chloe’s never been friends with somebody so popular before either. Rachel takes it in stride, performing an over-the-top roll of the eyes and mildly annoyed chuckle for Chloe’s benefit before she sweeps her golden hair back over her shoulders and bends to start picking them up. Chloe drops to her knees to help her gather them.
 
“Jesus fucking Christ, Rach. Did a Hallmark store throw up in your locker?”
 
An amused smile lights up Rachel’s face. Sharp hazel eyes lock onto Chloe’s like a tractor beam, trapping her gaze. “Chloe Price. Don’t tell me you’re jealous!”
 
Chloe sputters inarticulately for a few seconds before her tongue finds purchase on actual words. “The fuck’re you talking about?? What makes you think I’m jealous??”
 
Rachel’s smile transitions gracefully into a wry smirk. “Your face. And your excessive snark.”
 
Chloe glowers at that. She can feel a wave of warmth rushing to her face and does her best to fight it back. If she starts obviously blushing, Rachel will never let her live it down. “Pfft. Like I’d want to have to part the goddamn Red Sea just to get into my locker?”
 
Rachel shrugs as if in acceptance, but she’s still got that smug, knowing look on her face. “Okay. Whatever you say.”
 
They both stand once the floor is cleared of cards, Rachel carefully balancing a teeming armload of them on top of her schoolbooks and Chloe clutching a jumbled handful. Chloe attempts to shuffle them into some kind of order, then scowls. “Ugh, gross. I’ve got glitter on my hands now.”
 
“What’s so bad about glitter?”
 
“Are you kidding? It’s the herpes of art supplies. Once you’ve got it, you can’t get rid of it. That shit’ll follow you to your grave.” She thrusts her wad of cards at Rachel like it’s a live hand grenade. “Here. Happy V.D.”
 
“Charming!” Rachel’s voice is laced with sarcasm, but the laugh that follows is genuine.
 
Chloe struggles to dust all the glitter off of her hands as she follows Rachel into the classroom. Frustrated by her lack of success, she goes to wipe her hands on her pants before pausing. Does she really want sparkly red glitter on her favorite black jeans for the rest of the day? For the rest of her life, probably? Rachel’s got a flannel tied around her waist. It’s red already, mostly. Chloe grabs a handful of the dangling fabric and wipes off her palms on it. Rachel turns around with an exaggerated gasp of betrayal. “Did you just give me herpes?” she stage whispers in a scandalized tone.
 
“Hey, sharing is caring,” Chloe says with a shrug as she jukes around Rachel and dives into a seat at the very back of the room, beaming when Rachel slides into the seat next to hers and pulls her desk closer. Chloe copies her action, scooting her own desk over until their desktops touch.
 
“I wouldn’t be surprised if she did,” comes a scoff just loud enough for them to hear but not loud enough to draw the attention of the teacher.
 
Chloe levels a glare at the back of Victoria’s head but decides not to dignify her with a response. After all, there are more important matters at hand. Like the pile of dorky Valentines spread out across their conjoined desktops, waiting to be mercilessly roasted. Rachel pulls her textbook out of her backpack, opening it and propping it up carefully at the end of her desk so that it shields her desktop from view. Chloe does the same with her sketchbook, opening it to a blank page, and Rachel rolls her eyes. “Seriously, Chlo?” she whispers behind their screen. “You couldn’t even be bothered to bring the textbook?”
 
Chloe shrugs. “Enh, Hoida’s chill. She’ll think we’re sharing. Anyway, you know how I roll.”
 
Rachel smirks. “I do know. I think you might’ve rolled one too many this morning.” She pantomimes rolling a joint and takes an exaggerated puff, blowing imaginary smoke into Chloe’s face.
 
Chloe grins back at her. “We’ll see if you still think that when I smoke you out after school. You’re lucky I even bothered to roll out of bed this morning.”
 
“Oh, yeah, you’re a real high roller.”
 
“The highest roller, for sure.”
 
Rachel waits until Ms. Hoida calls her name for attendance – she’s virtually always the first to be called in every class – then takes out her notebook and sets it between Chloe and herself, balancing it on their legs. Ms. Hoida isn’t one of those teachers who likes to roam the aisles as she lectures, but it’s still good practice to keep their notebook positioned so that it can be quickly slipped out of sight under their desks at a split second’s notice. Once attendance has been called and the lecture begun, Chloe leans in close and whispers, “Alright, Rach, let’s have a look at your V Cards.”

Rachel promptly begins shuffling through them in a very determined manner, as if she’s searching for something specific. In response to Chloe’s puzzled expression, she quietly explains, “Hang on, I’m looking for the one that’s already been punched.”

Chloe chucks her lightly on the shoulder. “Smartass.” She starts sifting through the cards herself, adding in a murmur, “I doubt you’ll find one, anyway. If any of these creeps could get laid, they wouldn’t have to resort to this level of stalkerness.”
 
Most of the cards are the standard drugstore atrocities: unimaginative rectangles of red and pink decorated with hearts of varying shapes, sizes, and quantities of glitter, the romantic cursive of the pre-printed lettering at odds with the clumsy handwritten scrawl of the personal notes within.
Despite the general indignity of slipping sappy Valentine’s Day cards into the locker of the most popular girl in school, most of the senders must have some shred of dignity - or at least a sense of reality - still intact, since almost none of them are signed.
 
“Be My Valentine” Meh. Pedestrian.
 
“Be My Arcadia Bae” A reminder that they’re stuck in Arcadia Bay? Hard pass.
 
“I wanna be your Hawt Dawg Man.” Kinda gross but also kinda funny?

“You’ve scored a critical hit on my heart.” ...Did Steph write that one? Chloe would’ve sworn Steph was over her thing for Rachel, but who else would be that big of a nerd?  

“I think we might have Chemistry together.” Okay, that one’s actually sort of clever, and the hand-drawn beakers and chemical equations around it are a nice touch. Not that Chloe would admit it.
 
Rachel singles out the Chemistry card as well, holding it up to Chloe and raising her eyebrows. [This one from you?] she writes in the notebook.
 
Chloe manages not to lose her cool, but it’s a near thing. [Fuck off! You wish.] They actually do have Chemistry together this semester. Chloe scans her memory, trying to picture who else is in that class who might’ve made the card. Rachel’s already moved on to the next in the pile without seeming to give it another thought, but Chloe can’t stop trying to figure it out. Probably not anyone from the handful of Vortex creeps in that class: they pay less attention than Chloe does and probably don’t even know what a beaker is, much less how to draw one. Nerdy chick with the glasses? Maybe. Oh, god, isn’t Eliot’s sketchy little friend in that class? Not that any of it matters, anyway. Probably every person in that class - plus this class, plus every other class Rachel’s ever had in any school anywhere ever - has a card in the pile. Whose card is whose is irrelevant.
 
Nevertheless, she doesn’t stop thinking about it until Rachel’s elbow digs into her side. Rachel tilts the notebook at her, giving her an expectant look. She’s written: [Well, at least he’s honest.]
 
Chloe follows Rachel’s pointed gaze to a card with the handwritten note: “I want Tobanga you.” Chloe chuckles a little around the lump forming in her throat. She writes back: [Who says they’re a he?]
 
A sly grin twists at Rachel’s mouth. [Oh? So is this yours, then?]
 
Chloe gives her a look of exaggerated annoyance. [No! I swear, none of them are from me.]
 
Rachel nods quietly at that and returns to searching through the cards without comment. Chloe’s stomach clenches a little. Rachel’s face is angled away from hers so that she can’t get a clear view, but she would swear she sees a flash of disappointment in her eyes. It’s only there for a second before she neutralizes her expression, but Chloe knows a look of disappointment when she sees it. But that’s ridiculous. Rachel didn’t seriously expect her to put a stupid Valentine in her locker, did she? She knows Chloe’s not the mushy type. Definitely not the type to go putting her feelings into words and serving them up on a silver (or red cardstock) platter, and especially not the type to do it just because the calendar says she’s supposed to. Rachel knows her well enough to know she wouldn’t do that, same as Chloe knows that Rachel wouldn’t do it either. They talk about their feelings, sure, but never how they feel about each other. And definitely not in writing.
 
Rachel slides a handmade card into Chloe’s line of sight. There’s a crudely drawn Sasquatch and the words “Don’t stomp on my heart.” Chloe writes: [A for effort, F for being a fucking Bigfoot.]
 
Rachel makes a gagging gesture, sticking her finger down her throat, and Chloe ups the ante by pantomiming a blowjob. Rachel gives her a playful shove that nearly sends her off her chair and claps a hand over her mouth to keep her giggles quiet. They spill out anyway, and it’s like music.
 
Chloe chuckles, starting to feel giddy. Fuck, she loves Rachel’s laugh. She loves the sound of it, loves the way it breaks Rachel’s composure, loves the way Rachel’s hand lights on her knee like a thank you. She loves...
 
Rachel brushes her hair back from her face and blows out a slow breath, still shaking just slightly with laughter as she brings it back under control.
 
Chloe feels a little queasy, suddenly. She thinks about the trash can in her bedroom and the pages upon pages of her own frustrated chicken scratch that overflow it. Pages crumpled, pages torn to shreds, the words on them crossed out and crossed out again until they’re illegible.

“You’re my angel.”

“Let me know if you need an accomplice.”

“Fuck Arcadia Bay. I’ll push my truck to L.A. if I have to. The corners of the world our mere prologue, right?”

“As long as you’ll be my Prospera, I will be your faithful Ariel.”

Chloe needs to empty that can before the next time Rachel comes over. Burn the evidence. Scatter the ashes into the Bay.
 
The truth of the matter is, she can judge Rachel’s swarm of “secret admirers” all she wants but she’s no better than any of them herself. She’s every bit as pathetic, every bit as laughable. Every bit as hopeless.
 
Sure, she has something with Rachel that they don’t. And it’s something she wouldn’t trade for the world. She’s her best friend. Nobody’s closer to Rachel than she is. Rachel trusts her like she doesn’t trust anybody else. Tells her things she doesn’t tell anybody else. And, yeah, they kiss sometimes. But it’s not like they’re dating. Not really.
 
Sometimes, when they’re high enough that the world goes soft and fuzzy around the edges like a dream in a movie, Rachel will even hold her hand. It almost feels like something real in those moments, like they’re something more than friends who make out sometimes but really only ever when they’re drunk or stoned and never, ever talk about what it means.
 
But Chloe’s stone sober right now, and the edges of reality are sharp enough to cut. So she swallows the feeling down as best as she can, keeps cracking jokes about the sucky Valentines through the rest of class to make Rachel smile even though she feels a twinge of guilt each time, and tries to ignore the way her heart jumps every time Rachel’s knee brushes hers under the table.
 
---

It’s raining lightly when Rachel hops a ride on the 1337 and a little harder when she jumps off by American Rust. At first the junkyard looks empty, but she knows it’s Chloe’s favorite haunt when she’s cutting class so she’s confident she’ll find her here. Whether she’ll be able to get an answer to why Chloe suddenly skipped out on school in the middle of a day that started so well, she’s less confident about.

She pokes her head in their favorite hideaway and finds it empty. Chloe’s been here recently, though. There’s some fresh graffiti on the walls and a lingering scent of pot smoke. A metallic smashing sound in the near distance catches Rachel’s ear. She follows the sound of things breaking until she finds her elusive quarry. Chloe’s got her back to Rachel as she pauses in her frenzy of destruction to take a swig of beer - a bottle clearly from their shared stash, no less - setting it back down at her feet before taking her baseball bat to an already seriously damaged old CRTV.

As annoying as Chloe’s moodiness can be, Rachel has to admit that the girl wears Brooding like it’s a $3000 suit. Nobody else could look that good pulverizing a defenseless piece of junk with a baseball bat. She must have been laying waste to the junkyard for a good while before Rachel caught up with her, judging by the state of her. Her hair’s a matted mess, wet with probably equal parts sweat and rain, clinging to her face and the back of her neck. It already didn’t look like it’d been combed this morning, and it’s only gotten more chaotic since. Her clothes are in a similar condition except that it’s a little easier to tell what’s rain and what’s sweat given the size of the stains under her arms and between her shoulder blades. Her brow is furrowed over intense blue eyes that lock onto each target she demolishes with single-minded focus. Her acne-spotted cheeks are red with exertion. Her mouth is painted into a hard scowl around the joint clenched between her teeth. Her scowl twitches into a snarl with every emphatic grunt. Anybody else would look ridiculous, but on Chloe it’s a Look.

Rachel takes a step closer, still keeping enough distance to be out of range of Chloe’s bat, and deliberately steps on a small piece of plastic that snaps like a twig. Chloe whips around when she hears the sound, cocking the bat like she’s ready to take the head off whoever’s intruding on her refuge. She relaxes her stance when Rachel’s face registers in her mind enough for the adrenaline to stop pumping. “What’re you doing here?”
 
“Hello to you, too.” Rachel strides closer and casually plucks the slightly damp joint from between Chloe’s lips. “I came looking for you. Obviously.” Rachel takes a long drag and lets it out slowly, savoring the way that Chloe’s face screws up with confusion.
 
“Rach, you’ve got, like, two more classes today.”
 
“So do you,” she points out.
 
“Yeah, but nobody gives a shit if I don’t show up. You never cut. You seriously put your spotless attendance record on the line to come looking for me?”
 
“Okay, one: I give a shit if you don’t show up. Two: I literally made you cut class with me, like, the first day we started hanging out. And three: who says I’m putting my spotless record on the line by being here?” Rachel smirks as the look of confusion on Chloe’s face deepens. “You know, I was just sitting in class when suddenly...” Rachel puts a hand to her chest and her eyes lose their focus. The joint tumbles from her fingers to the ground. “I wasn’t... feeling very well...” She stumbles slightly and Chloe lunges to catch her. Rachel grins up at her and tosses her a wink.
 
“You asshole,” Chloe laughs, pushing Rachel back to her feet. Her cheeks are a shade of pink that Rachel suspects has little to do with exertion. “You’re getting really good at that. I hella thought you were gonna pass out on me.” She ducks down and picks up the joint, wiping the mud off before taking another hit. “So you, uh, you give a shit when I don’t show up to class, huh?” She manages to get the whole sentence out without once looking Rachel in the eyes.
 
Rachel leans into her space, jostling their shoulders together. “What can I say, school is boring as fuck without you there.”
 
“Hmmm, I don’t know. Didn’t seem like you were exactly hurting for excitement today, Miss Popularity.” Chloe smiles to show that she’s only joking, but she isn’t. Rachel knows her well enough by now to pick up on the edge in her voice and the extra bit of tooth in her smile.
 
“Oh? And how’s that, Miss Congeniality? You know, I wouldn’t have figured you to be someone who’d get jealous over a few Valentine’s Day cards.”
 
Chloe answers her with an exaggerated roll of the eyes. “Believe me, I’m not jealous. This whole holiday is just...” She grumbles inarticulately for a few seconds. “It’s just the fuckin’ worst, that’s all.”
 
Everything in Chloe’s body language tells Rachel that she’s not lying. But she seemed fine this morning, or at least no worse than usual. Right up until she vanished between classes like a fucking ghost and left Rachel to suffer through U.S. History without her. “Bad enough you couldn’t stomach another minute at Blackwell, huh?”
 
Chloe dodges her eyes but nods. “It’s fuckin’ inescapable there. All the red party streamers and heart decorations and lovey dovey mushy crap and just...” She sticks a finger down her throat like she’s going to bring up vomit and makes an exaggerated gagging sound. “Buncha bullshit.” She takes a drag on the joint burning closer and closer to her fingers.
 
“You know, it’s funny. I always figured you’d be a real romantic.”
 
There’s a volcanic eruption of smoke and ash as Chloe chokes, face flaring tomato-red, the stub of the joint flying to the ground. It’s a spectacular bit of drama, Rachel thinks. If she saw it onstage she would think it was overplayed, but coming from Chloe she knows that it’s authentic. “You what?” Chloe sputters, eyes tearing up from the smoke.
 
Rachel picks up the bottle of beer near Chloe’s feet and hands it to her, patting her back to help with the coughing. “Not, like, corny greeting card, cliche chocolates and roses kind of romantic, but like a real romantic,” she continues as Chloe takes a swig to cool her burning throat. “I can really picture it, you know?”
 
“Uhh...”
 
Rachel sweeps her hands across the jumbled, trash-strewn horizon of the junkyard as if to paint the scene. “Dancing in the rain... Heartfelt words whispered under the moonlight... Breakfast in bed... I bet you’ll be a real heartbreaker in a couple of years. When you’ve gotten over your anti-love kick. I bet in college you’ll have all the guys falling over themselves. Or girls. Whatever. Or, you know, anyone you want.”
 
Chloe’s choking fit has subsided but her face only seems to grow redder. Judging by the way her mouth keeps wobbling open and closed in a stunned speechlessness, Rachel’s words hit some sort of target. Which target they hit is harder to guess. Chloe’s a bit of a challenge in that way.
 
“I’m not,” Chloe begins in an abnormally high pitch before she cuts herself off and clears her throat. “I’m not anti-love, just... anti-bullshit.” She drains the rest of the beer and reaches for her baseball bat.
 
Rachel realizes what’s about to happen just in time to get out of the way before the bottle completes its short arc through the air and is detonated by the impact of Chloe’s bat.
 
“Jesus fucking Christ, Chlo! A little warning next time, maybe?!” The target Rachel hit must’ve been a nerve.
 
Chloe flinches slightly. “Shit, sorry. Wasn’t thinking.” She grabs another beer, yanking off the cap with her teeth before holding it out to Rachel as a peace offering. It’s only about two in the afternoon, but fuck it. Can’t let Chloe drink their entire cache all by herself. Chloe grins and hefts the small bat over her shoulders casually as Rachel accepts the offered beer and takes her first swig. “You want a go? Now that you’re here, you’ve got some catching up to do.”
 
“Catching up on drinking or on breaking shit?”
 
“Both. If you’re gonna play hooky, you might as well go full-on delinquent with me. C’mon, chug that bitch and take your turn at bat.”
 
“Such a smooth talker. How can I refuse?” Rachel tips her head back and swallows down the beer at a well-practiced pace, swift but steady. She doesn’t normally drink like this unless she’s partying and already a few drinks to the wind, but out of the corner of her eye she can see Chloe’s appreciative stare as she watches the movement of Rachel’s throat and it feels good. It makes her feel like she’s the center of the universe. So maybe it’s a bit too much all at once and maybe her body’s not really ready for it, but right now she doesn’t give a shit. She makes a show of wiping her mouth off on her sleeve and stretches out her hand, careful not to let herself wobble. Chloe blinks at her for a few seconds before her brain kicks back into gear and reminds her to hand over the bat.
 
Rachel whiffs it on her first attempt. She expects to hear Chloe laugh at her, but it never comes. She picks up the bottle and tries again, and this time at least there’s a solid connection. The bottle doesn’t shatter, but it makes a satisfying thunk that jolts her all through her shoulders before it flies a couple of yards away.
 
“Not bad, Amber. Not exactly out of the ballpark, but not bad.”
 
She turns and grins at Chloe, shouldering the bat. “Oh, yeah? Think it gets me to first base?”
 
“Um.” Chloe’s so fucking cute when she’s speechless. When her cheeks turn red and she can’t meet Rachel’s eyes, when she stutters and shuffles her feet, when her whole hardass persona just sort of falls to pieces because she doesn’t know how to ask for what she wants even when it’s offered to her. Especially when it’s offered to her. Rachel simply cocks an eyebrow and waits. “Yeah,” Chloe manages finally with a smile of forced confidence. “Yeah it does.”
 
Rachel keeps the bat over one shoulder and reaches for Chloe with her other hand, fingers tangling in her unwashed hair to guide her as she leans in. The kiss is sweet and warm and over much too quickly. Chloe must not have been drinking as much as Rachel assumed: she’s still timid and reserved, not sloppy and intense like she gets toward the end of a party. It’s slightly disappointing, but only slightly, and when Chloe pulls back Rachel lets her go without offering resistance.
 
“Wanna take another swing?”
 
It takes Rachel a full five seconds before she realizes Chloe’s talking about the bottle. “Oh! I’m on base, though, right? Shouldn’t it be your turn at bat?”
 
Chloe shrugs as she trots off to collect the bottle from the ground. “Meh. Your bottle, you should be the one that gets to annihilate it. Besides, I’ve already done, like, three of them. I’m bored.”
 
Rachel accepts the bottle and braces herself to toss it in the air.
 
“Wait, wait, wait. God, I thought you used to play softball.” And then there’s Chloe’s hands on her shoulders, her wrist, her hips, molding her like clay.
 
“I said I played it; I didn’t say I was good at it.”
 
Chloe’s chuckle brushes against her ear. “As if you’ve ever been bad at anything in your life. Okay. You’ll want to toss the bottle as straight as you can, just high enough that you’ll have enough time to cock the bat enough to get a good swing--”

“I’m sorry, are you actually giving me athletic advice? Because let me remind you I’ve seen your P.E. grades.”

“I’m not giving you athletic advice: I’m giving you advice on how to break shit. Now, when it comes back down, swing for where it’s about to be, not where it is.” Chloe draws back and steps away. “And swing hard.”
 
This time, the bottle absolutely shatters. She hears it more than sees it, since her eyes close automatically when the impact jolts her arms and Chloe’s triumphant whooping can probably be heard in seven states. Rachel opens her eyes and takes in the glittering spectacle of the broken glass on the ground before her. Fuck, that feels good. She normally only breaks things in a fit of rage, when her blood is already pumping overtime; it’s kind of exhilarating to do it just for the hell of it. It still makes her heart race, but in a completely different way. She turns to Chloe with a giddy grin. “Now that’s a fucking home run!”
 
Chloe’s laugh in response chokes off awkwardly as Rachel’s words sink in all the way, and the double-meaning of her words hit Rachel at the same time. Shit. She touches the bat to the ground, uses it to ground herself. “So, uh... What else did you have planned for Valentine’s Day? You know, other than beer-bottle baseball.”
 
Chloe accepts the redirection with obvious relief. “Valentine’s Day plans? Me?” She holds her palm up in front of her face with a look of mock contemplation. “Hmm, let’s see, Valentine’s Day, Valentine’s Day, nnnnnope! Don’t see anything like that on the agenda.”
 
“Let me see that.” Rachel slides up next to her, gently seizing her wrist and examining her palm. It’s littered with ink, ballpoint reminders that are mostly crossed out or smudged from sweat or a combination of both. “Hm, it would appear that you’re telling the truth. I can fix that.” Rachel drops the bat and fishes a pen out of her pocket, not letting go of Chloe’s hand despite her sudden squirming. “Okay, let’s make some plans. I’ll write them down so you don’t forget.”
 
“Rach, I wasn’t kidding; I seriously hate---“
 
Rachel cuts her off with a winning smile. “So we won’t make Valentine’s Day plans. We’ll make anti-Valentine’s Day plans. Okay?”
 
“Huh?”
 
“You know, we’ll do a bunch of un-mushy, unromantic shit together for the rest of the day.” Rachel tilts her head back to catch Chloe’s eyes. She lowers her voice, makes sure to hit that sweet spot right between teasing and dead serious. “Chloe Price. Will you please do me the honor of not being my Valentine?”
 
“U-uh, okay.”
 
“Great, so... ‘Breaking things in the junkyard’ should probably be first on the list.” Rachel adds [smash shit] to the canvas of Chloe’s palm. It isn’t easy: her skin is wet from the rain and probably sweat, and the pen struggles to make a mark. She can tell that Chloe’s trying to hold still for her, even though she can feel how much she wants to keep fidgeting. “What else do you want to do?”
 
Chloe grins, starting to warm up to Rachel’s game like she always does. “We can get hella wasted and blast angry music in the junk shack.”
 
“Awesome.” Rachel adds [get wasted, rawk out] to the list. “And then?”
 
Chloe laughs, and Rachel knows she’s fully hooked. “We can haul our drunk asses up to the top of the water tower and tag it with, like, the least romantic shit imaginable. Give the whole town a big ol’ anti-Valentine’s middle finger.”
 
“Love it. Anything else?”
 
Chloe flounders, her enthusiasm still high but her inspiration running low. “We could… Fuck, I don’t know... We could shoplift some candy from the drugstore or something?”
 
Rachel, still scribbling away, laughs and shakes her head. “Boy, you sure know how to sweep a girl off her feet.”
 
---
 
They do every goddamn thing.
 
They give the whole fucking junkyard a facelift with their bat, taking turns and cheering each other on. They don’t stop until their arms are too tired to keep swinging. Their stomachs hurt from laughing.
 
They smoke a bowl while they put together a playlist of all the most fucked up, least romantic songs on Chloe’s phone. They smoke another while they blast the music and scream along until their throats are sore. They down a few more beers and dance on surfaces that can barely support their weight. Somehow Rachel even manages to make slam-dancing look elegant.
 
The rain picks up its pace as they walk out to the water tower. It’s a terrible idea, dangerous enough when sober and dry and downright terrifying when their legs feel made of rubber and the rungs are slippery underfoot, but they make it all the way up to the top without injury. The tower’s so wet the paint runs like a crying girl’s mascara at a Vortex Club party. It doesn’t matter. [YOUR MOM HAS THE CLAP], Rachel writes, the words already dripping down the sides of the tower as she hands off the spray can.

[I GAVE IT TO HER], Chloe adds.
 
They’re both dripping wet, their hands smeared with paint, when they enter the drugstore. It would be difficult for them to be more conspicuous if they tried. Fortunately, Rachel has the innate ability to charm people’s socks off even when she’s rocking the drowned rat look. While Rachel distracts the sole clerk working the register, Chloe does her best to be invisible as she slips through the aisles with Rachel’s backpack hanging off her shoulder. Keeping one eye on Rachel and the clerk, she shoves handful after handful of chocolate into Rachel’s bag. As she makes her way back toward the door, a case of long-stemmed roses catches her eye. With one more glance toward the front of the store, she slips a (mercifully thornless) rose up the long sleeve of her shirt.

She slips outside undetected and gets back into the truck. Rachel follows her out after a brief but cautious interval and starts walking toward her before catching sight of a sketchy-looking dude standing near the liquor store and signaling for Chloe to wait. Chloe drums her fingers on the steering wheel as she watches them talk. Dude’s gotta be at least thirty. What the hell’s a creeper like him doing hanging out in front of the liquor store for, anyway? Chloe turns the engine on in case he gets fresh and needs to be mown down on short notice.
 
A couple of soft touches on the arm and a flip of the hair that really shouldn’t be so effective when her hair’s so wet and Rachel’s got the guy wrapped around her finger. Dude goes into the liquor store and Rachel turns around to give Chloe a thumb’s up. Chloe declines to return it, choosing instead to dip into the chocolate stash. By the time Rachel returns to the truck, Chloe’s surrounded by little red foil wrappers that used to be shaped like hearts before she balled them up.
 
Rachel blows the skeevy dude a kiss as she climbs into the truck with her brown paper bag, and Chloe flips him the bird as she peels out without even waiting for Rachel to get her seatbelt on. “You’ve got to learn better manners,” Rachel laughs as she buckles up.
 
“And that asshole’s got to learn not to hit on every pretty high school girl he sees or somebody’s gonna call the cops on his pedo ass.”
 
“Aw, you think I’m pretty?” Rachel teases.
 
“I--What?”
 
Anyway, let’s go find someplace to get trashed on our ill-gotten gains like the ne’er-do-well hoodlums that we are. Impress me, Price.”
 
Impressing Rachel is a tall order on a good day. There’s really only one place in all of Arcadia Bay that any sane person could consider to be remotely impressive, so Chloe starts driving to the lighthouse. It’s just about sunset and the rain has lightened up, so it might actually be a decent view. Rachel settles into her seat for the ride when she recognizes the way they’re heading, a private little smile on her lips. She doesn’t say much as they drive, humming along to the radio and gazing out the window with her feet propped lazily on the dash.
 
Chloe pulls into a space at the end of the lot closest to the trail when they get to the beach. She turns to Rachel and shrugs, putting out her hands to present the stretch of beach in front of them. It’s overcast, but the clouds are luminous. “Did I do okay?”
 
Rachel beams at her. “You did perfect.” She leans in and presses a soft kiss to Chloe’s cheek, grabbing the paper bag from the seat between them as she pulls back. “Come on.”
 
Chloe shrugs Rachel’s backpack onto her shoulders and follows her up the trail. This was a horrible idea, she realizes as they start the ascent. It’s Valentine’s Day, and this is literally the only nice place to go in Arcadia Bay. She can’t be the first person to think of it. They’ll get up there and there’ll be people boning on the bench in front of the lighthouse and it’ll be really gross, or worse yet there’ll be a bunch of kids from school hanging out and partying and they’ll feel obliged to stick around and Rachel will get sucked into their good time and forget all about her and...
 
And none of that happens, because when they get to the top there’s nobody but them. “Well...” Chloe throws her arms out wide. “Here we are. Most impressive spot in the Bay. I’m sure you’ve got better in California, but it’s the best this town has to offer, so I hope it’ll do.”
 
“Mm, I don’t know about that. Pretty sure I’ve been hanging out with the best this town has to offer all day.” Rachel winks at her as she walks past, heading for the bench.
 
Chloe’s mind flounders, trying to dig up an appropriate response and failing utterly. She gives up the effort when Rachel pats the bench seat next to her, beckoning Chloe to join her. When Chloe sits, Rachel lifts up the brown paper bag and strips it from its contents – a bottle of red wine – in a dramatic reveal. Chloe answers by unzipping Rachel’s backpack in a similarly dramatic fashion and whipping out an already opened bag of heart-shaped chocolates.
 
“Ooh, perfect.” Rachel trades the wine bottle for the bag of chocolates and Chloe gets to work on the cork. Rachel holds up a chocolate heart to the sunset fighting its way through the clouds. “Nothing sweeter than a stolen heart.”
 
Chloe grunts. “Couldn’t’ve asked the dude to buy us something with a twist-off cap?”
 
Rachel shakes her head at her affectionately. “I have standards.”
 
Chloe scoffs but doesn’t say anything. If Rachel really had standards, she wouldn’t be hanging out with a broke-ass, grungy loser like her. Rachel’s rich and beautiful and amazing and basically everything that Chloe isn’t. She could hang out with anyone she wants; she doesn’t have to slum it with her.
 
Why are they here, anyway? Rachel could be out at some fancy restaurant with some rich asshole getting properly wined and dined. So why’s she wasting her time sitting in the rain and watching the sunset with her pathetic ass?
 
“Hey, you doing okay?” Rachel’s sudden hand on her knee makes Chloe jump.
 
“Y-yeah, I’m fine. Just... This cork’s a real bitch.” A foggy memory of a video Chloe only half paid attention to during one of her late night insomnia-fueled YouTube binges swims to the surface of Chloe’s mind. “Hang on, I got this.” She digs her lighter out of her pocket and starts warming the neck of the wine bottle under the cork, slowly rotating the bottle as she goes. She’s starting to sweat, wondering if she’s misremembering the video or maybe even dreamed it and is now making a complete ass of herself in front of Rachel when the cork finally pops. “Fuck yeah!”
 
Rachel actually does look impressed. Elated, Chloe pockets her lighter, takes a short but triumphant swig of the wine, then passes it over to Rachel. Rachel pauses as her fingers close around the bottle in Chloe’s hand, her eyes narrowing and head tilting with curiosity. She tips the bottle slightly to one side, angling Chloe’s arm along with it. “What’s that?” she asks.
 
“What’s what?” Chloe follows Rachel’s gaze and realizes her sleeve has ridden up to reveal a couple of inches of rose stem. “Oh! I, uh, shit, I can’t believe I forgot about that.” Grabbing the rose had been an impulse that felt innocuous enough at the time, but the way Chloe’s heart rate shoots through the roof as she awkwardly draws the weathered rose out of her sleeve like a third-rate magician has her doubting the wisdom of that particular heist.
 
Rachel chokes a little on her mouthful of wine when the bedraggled flower comes into view. A couple of bruised and withered petals drift down from the sorry-looking thing, falling onto the bench seat between them. “Holy shit,” she coughs out. “You stole me a rose?”
 
“I, um... It would appear so?” Chloe squirms uncomfortably. She really wishes that her hand would stop shaking.
 
Rachel gently takes the rose from Chloe’s fingers and draws it close to her face, taking a deep whiff. Chloe hopes to hell it still smells like a rose and not like her shirt. She hasn’t done laundry in... she can’t even remember when. A slow grin spreads across Rachel’s face. “Get a load of you, Miss ‘I-hate-Valentine’s-Day-fuck-all-that-mushy-shit.”
 
“What’re you talking about? Fuck off.” Chloe snatches up the bottle of wine and chugs so fast her head spins. It tastes a bit like the first day they hung out, the way red wine always does with Rachel’s lipstick on the mouth of the bottle.
 
“Sunset over the Bay...”
 
“In the rain,” Chloe mutters.
 
“Heart-shaped chocolates...”
 
“That’s, like, all there is this time of year, gimme a break.”
 
“Bottle of wine...”
 
“That one’s all you.”
 
“A red rose...”
 
“What’re you getting at here, Rach?”
 
The smug little smile on Rachel’s face is infuriating. “Why, nothing at all. It just seems to me that for all the protest you put up about being anti-Valentine’s Day, you’ve kind of ended up hitting all the notes anyway.”
 
“Fuckin’... whatever. Don’t forget about wrecking shit up in the junkyard and tagging Your Mom jokes on the water tower and all of that crap, too.”
 
“Oh, of course. I couldn’t forget all of that. It would be a dishonor to your rebellious punk rock street cred if I did.”
 
“Damn right.”
 
Rachel retrieves the wine bottle from Chloe and takes a sip as she continues to give her that maddeningly knowing look. “You wanna know something?”
 
Chloe raises an eyebrow wordlessly. She doesn’t, really, but she knows she’s going to hear it anyway.
 
“I know you like to play the part of the rough, tough, hard-as-nails punk, but I’ve got your number.” Rachel leans in close and gives her a conspiratorial wink. “Underneath that hardcore exterior, you’re applesauce.”
 
“I’m... Excuse me, what? I’m applesauce? What the fuck, Rach?”
 
“Complete and utter mush.” Rachel taps her lightly on the tip of her nose with the rose. “And tooth-rottingly sweet.”

Chloe chuckles through the tightness in her chest. “Yeah,” she jokes in a noticeably strained voice, “and in large enough quantities I’ll give you the runs, so, y’know… Watch out for that.”

“Oh my god! You’re so gross!” Rachel smacks her arm hard enough that it actually kind of hurts, but at least now Rachel’s laughing instead of saying weird shit so Chloe counts it as a win.
 
---
 
It’s dark out and getting chilly enough to make Rachel sort of regret not wearing a jacket by the time they pull up to the curb in front of the Amber house. Her clothes are damp from being out in the rain all day, but she’s still feeling the warm glow of half a bottle of wine so she’s not too bothered by it. She leans against the door of the truck to get a better look at its driver, who doesn’t even seem to notice the way she’s chewing at her bottom lip as she stares blankly out into the empty street. She can almost hear the gears in Chloe’s head grinding, though what she’s thinking so hard about is a mystery. Rachel hasn’t let go of the rose since Chloe handed it to her, despite Chloe’s embarrassed protestations. She brings it to her nose and gives it another sniff. There’s hardly any scent after all that it’s been through but her imagination is a powerful enough force that she feels like she can smell it anyway. It’s beautiful.
 
Rachel leans forward and brushes Chloe’s blue streak back behind her ear. Chloe jumps a little at her sudden contact but masks it well. There’s a faint smear of blue on her cheek from where the dye leached out of her wet hair. They’re going to have to splurge on some permanent dye someday if she’s going to rock this look for much longer. Which she really should: the blue suits her. It brings out the blue in her eyes, eyes that keep darting anxiously back and forth between Rachel’s like she’s trying to read Rachel’s mind. Rachel smiles and tips her head coyly. “Walk me to the door?”
 
Chloe laughs nervously. “I don’t know, you don’t think my truck’ll get towed, do you?”
 
“In the thirty seconds it’ll take you to walk me home? I doubt it.”
 
“Mm, but it’s the thirty seconds walking back without you that I worry about.”
 
“Chloe. Walk me to the door.” She knows she doesn’t have to say please: the curve of her eyebrows when she asks is enough to get her what she wants, the teasing hint of a smile that she offers. She can tell by the shift in Chloe’s expression that she’s already caved. But Chloe’s been sweet today, so she decides to say it anyway. “Please?”
 
Chloe sighs like Rachel’s demanding the sun and the moon of her and grumbles, “Fine,” with all the sullen adolescent attitude that she usually reserves for Joyce, but Rachel knows by the spring in Chloe’s step as she hops from the truck and the smile she can’t keep from her lips that she’s actually pleased. Chloe even walks around the truck and holds open the door open for her like a real gentleman, and she doesn’t let go of Rachel’s hand after she helps her down. They swing their arms back and forth together as they walk to the door.
 
“Are you gonna go home?”
 
Chloe makes a face. “What, and have to listen to Sergeant Shit-for-brains get all lovey-dovey with my mom? Gross. Nah, I’ll probably just hole up in the junk shack tonight. Whatever.”
 
Rachel stops short and turns to face her. “Chloe. It’s February.”
 
“So?”
 
“So it’s February, and you don’t even have a coat! You’ll turn yourself into a Chlosicle.”
 
“Dude, I’ll be fine. It’s, like, forty degrees.”
 
“And it’s raining. And the shack doesn’t have a roof.”
 
“I’ve got a tarp in my truck.”

“You are such an asshole. Come on. Just stay with me. You can sleep on the floor if my bed is too soft for your tough punk image.” Rachel generally isn’t much bothered by Chloe’s stubborn willfulness. It’s kind of cute, if in a mildly exasperating way. But her clothes aren’t getting any drier and she’s starting to get cold, and she knows Chloe could happily dig in her heels and drag this whole song and dance routine on for hours if she’ll let her, so she opens the door and walks inside the house without letting go of Chloe’s hand, knowing that Chloe won’t let go. Chloe’s protests die down to a mumble as she stumbles inside after her. Rachel turns to her and presses a finger to her own lips.
 
Chloe shuts the door quietly behind them and follows Rachel as she tiptoes toward the stairs. Rachel can feel her hand squeezing a little tighter. Sneaking into Chloe’s house is so much easier. There’s no one home half the time, and it’s easy enough to climb up over the roof of the garage to her window without having to walk through the house. The Amber house is built like a fucking fortress, though, and her parents are basically always home, especially while James Amber is going through his... “legal difficulties.” It may be less physically dangerous than scaling the roof of the Price family garage, but it still feels like walking through a minefield. But they can hear the clatter of silverware coming from the dining room and the occasional mumble of conversation as one asks the other to pass a dish along, so as long as they keep quiet and keep out of sight they should be home free. Rachel cringes at the wet squelching of Chloe’s boots as they make their way up the stairs and down the hall to her bedroom.
 
“Wow,” Chloe mouths as she closes the bedroom door behind her after their miraculously successful stealth mission. “That must be some romantic dinner downstairs. They must’ve exchanged, like, ten whole words.”
 
“Family counseling must be doing wonders,” Rachel responds with a shrug, looking for a suitable vase for her rose.
 
“You don’t go with them?”
 
Rachel shrugs again. She finds an empty vessel and fills it from a water bottle. Chloe scoffs in disbelief when she places the rose in it.
 
“Don’t you dare laugh,” Rachel scolds her. “It was a very sweet gift and I’m going to take good care of it.”
 
“Rach, it’s already dead. It died as soon as they cut it.” Chloe touches the drooping petals with a tenderness that betrays her blunt words.
 
“Doesn’t make it any less beautiful. Right? I seem to remember a very wise person telling me that once.” Rachel bumps her hip into Chloe’s, sending the taller girl staggering slightly.
 
“Okay, okay,” she laughs. “You’ve got me there.” Chloe flops down on Rachel’s bed casually and stares up at the ceiling, folding her arms behind her head. Rachel winces.
 
“Jesus, Chloe, you’re all wet!”
 
Chloe snorts. “That’s what she said!”
 
Rachel swats her leg, trying not to laugh. “Off!”
 
Chloe slides dramatically from the bed to the floor. She clasps her hands to her chest. “Rejected already, and I only just got here! I thought I only had to sleep on the floor if your bed was too soft for my hardcore persona. And FYI, it totally isn’t. It’s, like... the perfect amount of softness.”
 
Rachel rolls her eyes and starts fishing through her dresser drawers while Chloe watches her with a mixture of curiosity and smug self-satisfaction. Rachel tosses a handful of clothes at her, smacking her in the face with them. “Hey!” she exclaims. “What gives?”
 
“You’re not sleeping in my bed in wet clothes. Those are for you. They’re a little big on me.”
 
A bit of the cockiness slips from Chloe’s grin, but she struggles to project it anyway. “You callin’ me fat, Amber?” She gets to her feet and looks back and forth between clothes in her hand and Rachel, suddenly sheepish. “Um. So.” All traces of confidence abandon her utterly. “Am I s’posed to just... I mean...”
 
Rachel rolls her eyes and turns her head to hide the blush rising to her cheeks. “No, Chloe, I’m not asking for a goddamn strip tease.” She points to the door. “You know where the bathroom is. Go... take a shower and get changed.”
 
A sliver of confidence works its way back and Chloe leans in as she walks past on her way to the door. “You callin’ me dirty now?”
 
“I’m calling you filthy, now go!” Rachel slaps her on the shoulder. “Your feet are like ice on a good day; I don’t want you keeping me up all night with the cold.”
 
Rachel’s still feeling a bit of a chill herself, but she already showered this morning before school and she doesn’t really feel like taking another when Chloe’s done. She blows her hair dry so she at least won’t have to go to bed with a wet head and carefully cleans the makeup from her face. She stares at the clothes in her pajama drawer so long she starts to feel a bit silly about it. Normally she’d just grab whatever t-shirt and sleep shorts were clean and on top of the pile, and it’s not like Chloe hasn’t slept over a million times before, but today’s been sort of weirdly special in its own funny way. But it’s stupid; she knows she doesn’t need to do anything special to catch Chloe’s attention. The girl’s as easily impressed by Rachel in torn jeans and flannel as she is by Rachel in a miniskirt and heels or a leather jacket and spikes or anything else. She hears the shower stop running, so she stops overthinking it and just grabs a t-shirt that’s got a hint of that rock star attitude she knows Chloe likes and a vaguely sporty pair of sleep shorts.
 
She shuts off the lights but turns on the nightlight that Chloe jury-rigged for her because she knows how Chloe feels about the dark. By the time she hears Chloe’s cautious footsteps coming softly down the hall, she’s already warm and cozy under the covers, shuffled over to her preferred side of the bed to leave room for Chloe to join her.
 
The light from the hallway spills into the room, blocked partly by the shadow of Chloe’s figure standing uncertainly in the door. She’s got her wet clothes dangling from one hand. Her hair is damp and untidy, her blue streak looking a little washed out. Her legs are impossibly long in her borrowed shorts as she shuffles her feet in hesitation. She looks softer in this light, all purple and blue and glittering with stars. “I, um. I got hair dye on your parents’ towels, I think.”
 
“Good.”
 
Chloe huffs out a small, shy laugh and closes the door behind her. Rachel draws back the blankets on the empty side of her bed and adds, “Why don’t you come get some on my pillowcase?”
 
Chloe hesitates another moment, then lets her dirty clothes drop to the floor and obediently crawls into bed next to Rachel. She’s warm and damp from the shower, and Rachel draws her in close, tangles their limbs together. She smells like Rachel’s body wash: soft and floral instead of her usual heady, spicy scent of too-much deodorant. It isn’t better or worse, but it’s different. Rachel likes it. She likes it when Chloe wears her clothes, when Chloe wears her scent. She buries her face in the crook of Chloe’s neck and inhales deeply. She still smells like Chloe, but she smells like Chloe covered in Rachel, marked by Rachel, and Rachel’s chest swells a little with pride. She feels a small tremor run through Chloe and pulls back enough to look into her eyes. They’re so open in the dark, wide and hopeful and so, so vulnerable.
 
“Chloe?”
 
“Yeah, Rach?” Her voice, so hushed and reverent in the dark. Rachel thinks she can hear every word Chloe doesn’t say.
 
“Do you want to kiss me goodnight?” She wishes Chloe would just ask sometimes. Or, hell, that she would just act. Just kiss her when she feels like kissing her. But tonight she’ll settle for the tiny, sheepish nod that Chloe gives her. Rachel closes the small distance between them, cupping Chloe’s cheek in her palm as she leans in. She tastes sweet, lingering traces of wine and chocolate not quite erased by the mint of Rachel’s toothpaste. Rachel chases the sweetness on her tongue, pushing deeper, past the mint, past the chocolate and the wine, past the cigarettes, the weed, the beer, past everything. She can still feel the wine humming softly in her bones. She feels like she could melt beneath the warmth and the weight of Chloe’s body on top of hers – and when did she end up under Chloe, anyway? – she must have pulled her up on instinct and Chloe must have followed, because that’s how they operate: Rachel acts on impulse, and Chloe lets herself be pulled along.
 
One of them is shaking. They’re pressed so close together that it could be either of them. Rachel’s got a strange feeling in her stomach, suddenly, like she can’t breathe. She hasn’t had a real meal since breakfast, nothing but candy and alcohol; that’s probably all it is. She taps Chloe’s shoulder gently and Chloe promptly rolls off of her, staying close to her side. She doesn’t even look disappointed, smiling contentedly at Rachel and stroking a few strands of hair back from her face. “I hope you don’t mind, I, um, borrowed your toothbrush,” Chloe admits, her voice soft and just a little breathless.
 
Rachel groans in response, even though she guessed already and doesn’t actually mind. “Gross. We’ll have to get you your own.”
 
“Yeah?”
 
Rachel shrugs. “I mean, you stay over often enough.” She smirks, tracing a finger fondly over Chloe’s cheekbone. “And that way you’ll keep your cooties to yourself.” She pulls away her finger and holds it up for Chloe to look at. Chloe squints at it in confusion for a second, then hisses out a curse when she detects the sparkle of a fleck of red glitter.
 
“Are you fucking kidding me?!” Chloe claps her hands over her face. “I showered and everything!”
 
“Mhm. This is the thanks I get,” Rachel teases, holding up the glitter to taunt her. “I bring you in out of the rain. Give you a warm bed for the night. Let you use my shower. Borrow my clothes. My toothbrush. And this is how you repay me: by bringing fucking craft supply herpes into my bed.” Rachel chuckles at Chloe’s gurgling groan. She flicks the glitter off into the dark beyond the bed - presumably to haunt her another day - and snuggles up close to Chloe’s warmth. It takes a few minutes for Chloe to drop her act of exaggerated dismay and curl up into Rachel’s arms, relaxing into her with a happy sigh.

“Beats sleeping in the junkyard, doesn’t it?” Rachel drums her fingers lightly over Chloe’s hair. “No rain coming through the roof. No train shaking you awake at all hours.”

“Mmm,” Chloe agrees sleepily. “Gotta watch out for stray flying elbows, though.” Rachel can feel Chloe’s smile pressed into her hair. “But yeah, it’s nice. I feel spoiled rotten.”

“That’s good. You don’t get spoiled enough.”

“Hrmph. I know a couple of people who’d disagree with you on that.”

Rachel combs her fingers softly through Chloe’s damp hair in a soothing pattern. “Yeah, well, that’s why we’re at my place instead of yours. So shush and let me spoil you a little.”

Chloe sighs drowsily, then giggles. “You’re puttin’ me right to sleep, Amber. You gonna tell me a bedtime story next?”
 
“Maybe,” Rachel whispers coyly. She waits until she can feel the tension ease almost completely out of Chloe’s muscles before she begins speaking in a soft but teasing tone. “Roses are red...”
 
“Rachel, no.”
 
“...Violets are blue...”
 
Chloe wriggles in annoyance. “They’re not blue: they’re violet. It’s literally in the name.”
 
Rachel gives her a playful swat. “...You may be an asshole...”
 
“I-- Okay, I guess I can’t really argue with that one.”
 
Rachel nuzzles her nose into Chloe’s neck in agreement. “...But I still like you.”

Chloe thinks so loudly sometimes; it’s like she thinks with her whole body. Rachel can feel the words shifting in circles underneath her skin. She knows better than to expect any of them to actually come out of her mouth. The tense shift in Chloe’s breathing, the startled rigidity of her muscles, the pounding of her heart: these are eloquent enough. She doesn’t have to say a thing. So Rachel doesn’t press for a response, not even when she peers up at Chloe’s face and finds her obviously pretending to be asleep in order to avoid having to say anything. If she’s honest, she’s not sure she really wants a response anyway. Instead she resumes fondly stroking Chloe’s hair until she feels her gradually slip from feigned sleep into actual sleep. She mumbles a soft “good night” into her collarbone and follows her soon after.