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At this point, Newt isn’t even surprised anymore; and disappointed is another word that she would definitely not use, since disappointment implies expectations, she reflects as her body hits the ground and her textbooks are scattered in every direction.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, Geiszler, did you trip on your shoelaces again?“ Hansen lowers himself over her, a grin on his face.

 

“Fuck off.“ She sputters, attempting to get up; but, before she can, Hansen has reached out and grabbed one of the notebooks that she lost in the fall. When Newt recognizes the cover, she goes pale.

 

She stands up suddenly, leaping towards him; uselessly, since he’s a fair amount of inches taller than her, and all it takes for him to make the notebook unreachable is stretching an arm over his head.

 

“We have a temper, don’t we?“ He laughs, still holding the notebook over his head. Newt attempts to throw herself at him again, but she’s blocked by one of his acolytes before she can do anything. The other two stand by them, watching her and grinning.

 

“You give that back now, or else-„ She growls, attempting to free her arms from the other boy’s grip.

 

“Or else, what? And why do you care so much, huh?“ He casually answers, slowly bringing down the notebook and caressing ist cover. Newt feels like someone has just punched her. “What’s this? Your diary? Did you write here about the meanies who treat you so bad?“ He mocks her, making his voice purposefully higher, petulant. He browses the diary quickly; doesn’t even look at it. Instead, he keeps his eyes fixed on Newt’s.

 

“Read it, Chuck.“ The boy who’s holding her back encourages him. “Maybe she wrote about lesbian sex there. Didn’t you, dyke?“

 

The comment raises a collective “oooh” from the other two boys, and Newt wails in frustration.

 

“Sex? Her?“ Chuck laughs. “No, no, be realistic, Jason. We’re more likely to find things about how mom doesn’t love her, aren’t we?“ He gets closer to Newt; her legs feel like jelly, and her heart is beating too fast, and she’s pretty sure she’s going to throw up, or cry, or both. She lets out an unintelligible sound and tries again to step forward; but the boy restraining her only seems to find it funny, and he tightens his grip, so bad it hurts. She could kick him. She could. She could shove her leg back and hit him, and seriously hurt him, and then finally get her hands on Hansen and-

She takes a deep breath. No. Not again. They’re too rich; they’re too good at hiding themselves, and, of course, like all the other times, she would be seen as the one in the wrong if she hit them.

She must go by the rules.

 

“Or maybe about daddy being such a crazy son of a bitch her uncle has to watch over him. What does he do, Geiszler? Does he rape you? Is that why you’re a dyke?“

 

Well, fuck the rules.

 

Next thing she knows, the boy who was holding her is bent over, a grimace of pain on his face, and she’s jumping at Hansen’s throat. The first slap hits him on the face, and he staggers, taken by surprise; and Newt is scared by herself, by how much she wants to see him on the ground, bleeding-

 

“What the hell is happening here?“

She stops, frozen. So do the others, except Jason, who keeps whining.

 

For a moment, she takes her for a teacher; and she could be, really, with that tight bun making her frown seem even more pronounced, and those excessively formal clothes; but she’s not.

 

Hermione Gottlieb, honour student, daughter of one of the most generous contributors to the school budget, head of school and president of the robotics club, is towering over her, five feet eleven of pure disapproval.

 

“Geiszler attacked us, Hermione!“ Hansen recovers quickly.

 

“You provoked her.“ Is her reply, stone-cold. What? She’s defending her?

 

“No- no, we were just- just joking, just-“ The third one sputters.

 

“Using slurs.“ Gottlieb spits out, articulating perfectly, rolling the r in slurs with the utmost disgust. “If I ever hear that word again, I am reporting all four of you to the headmaster.“

 

Hansen looks at her, opens his mouth to protest; but she cuts in. “Do you have something to say, Hansen? An intelligent contribution, perhaps?“

 

He closes his mouth.

 

Then, she turns her attention to Newt.“Geiszler.“ Her tone is no less cutting, though it lacks the disgust. “This counts for you, as well. I wish to never hear again that you have found yourself in a physical fight. Use your words; you cannot justify yourself, as I know for a fact that you do not have an issue with using them sharply.“ Newt raises an eyebrow at her. What the hell is she referring to? They’ve never spoken before. “Pick up those books, now.“

 

She nods and proceeds to comply, too intimidated to say anything.

 

Hansen makes a gesture towards the other three, and they start walking away. But Hermione doesn’t let them.

 

“You gentlemen are currently holding possess of a thing that is most definitely not yours.“ She circles around Hansen- heel, cane, heel, cane, hitting the floor rhythmically, slowly- and holds out a hand.

 

Hansen looks down and bites his lip; then, with a smile that probably wishes to be charming, but doesn’t seem to impress Gottlieb at all, he extracts Newt’s diary from his pocket and passes it to her.

 

She doesn’t thank them; she simply turns around, and silently hands it over to Newt, who takes it hesitantly, without looking at her. “T-thank you.“ She mutters.

 

“You’re welcome. Are you physically injured, or otherwise in need of strictly necessary aid?“ She asks in a cold tone.

 

Newt shakes her head.

 

“Fine, then.“ She turns around to leave; but Newt feels the necessity to stop her.

 

“Hermione!“

She only turns her head, frowning; maybe she didn’t appreciate the use of her first name. Oh, fuck it, she’s not a teacher.


“Yes?“

 

“Er… well, thank- thank you.“ Newt mutters, managing to look directly into her eyes for a second, and attempting at a smile –which doesn’t go too well; after all, she’s still shaken.

 

“You already said that.“ Is the only answer Gottlieb graces her with; then, she turns away and leaves.

-

The episode keeps playing again and again in Newt’s mind over the course of the following month. She catches herself staring at Gottlieb more often than she would like to admit; in the mess hall, in the classes they attend together, during recess. She never dares to talk to her, though; Gottlieb seems to always be surrounded by a large group of other students, and most of them aren’t the kind of people that Newt likes to interact with. Or, more specifically, they are not the kind of people who like interacting with Newt; they’re very similar to Hansen’s kind, though more refined. As in, they would never call her a dyke in her face, but they have no problem whispering it between her back, or simply pretending that she doesn’t exist whenever she attempts a conversation.


It’s weird that someone like Gottlieb would hang out with them; of course, she has the same manners, and the same vocabulary, and maybe their parents meet on Saturdays to discuss how to exploit the working class- or whatever rich people do for fun. But Gottlieb is… different.


Newt is pretty sure that it isn’t a product of her imagination. Gottlieb is infinitely better than them; she’s interesting, and bright, and even though she’s a bit stuck-up, she’s not outright rude. When they meet in the hallways, or when she arrives to class, she greets her. Well, greeting; she makes eye contact and hails her head in Newt’s direction, to which Newt usually attempts to answer by saying “Good morning, Hermione.“, only to freeze halfway through, because somehow, using her first name seems too intimate, and calling her by her last name would, on the contrary, appear to be setting a distance.

 

And that’s it, basically; that’s the only way they interact, from the outrageous episode in mid-November, to the beginning of spring break. Of course, they’re much closer in Newt’s head; and though she admits to herself that it’s a bit creepy to stare at her, alone, hiding somewhere, as she talks to her friends, pining from behind trees at the park like the protagonist of a Fall Out Boy video-clip, she just can’t help it. And neither she can help the absurd, glorious fantasies that play in her head, of finally entering the advanced maths class and being able to join the robotics club and- unbelievable!- talk to her; or those where she’s playing on a stage, a real stage, singing at the top of her lungs, and, when the show ends, she sees her: Hermione, standing among the crowd, looking at her with loving eyes.

 

The spring school dance rolls around the corner and, even though her thoughts look more and more like a stereotypical teen romcom everyday, Newt does what she’s done every year and bails out.

 

Her only account is that of Mako Mori, a freshman that she met in the band and that is basically the only person in the whole school who talks to her; and Mako lets it slip out that Gottlieb was seen dancing with a strikingly good-looking boy, most likely older than them, who she had definitely never seen before at school and that so must be a mysterious boyfriend.

 

At that point, Newt kind of regrets not going; but also kind of doesn’t. After her brain has gone through the whole repertory of I-suck-and-nobody-will-ever-love-me, accompanied by Radiohead’s Creep and a good dose of internalised homophobia, she spends the night in bed with a bowl of ice cream, watching Pride and Prejudice, as one does in certain cases, until her uncle notices that something’s up and elects to supply her with more ice cream and a terrible sci-fi movie that, miraculously, neither of them has seen. But he doesn’t ask questions, and so she doesn’t answer; if nobody knows about her ridiculous crush on Hermione Gottlieb, it’s kind of like it never happened, right?

 

Obviously, not; in fact, the first words she hears from Mako once spring break is over, without time wasted on greetings, when they meet in front of the school gates, are:

 

“Are you still pining over Gottlieb?“

 

Newt’s face must say it all, because Mako bursts out laughing immediately. “Come on, it was obvious . Oh, Mako, did you see Gottlieb at the school dance? Asking for a friend, of course.“

 

“Shh! Stop screaming.“ She tells her off immediately. Mako only laughs more.

 

“Only if you answer my question.“ The younger replies teasingly.

 

Newt takes a deep breath, and reflects upon the answer.

 

Yes, she did write a letter to her, that, of course, she didn’t send; a letter that turned into a five pages long ramble about how terrible she was and about the paradoxes of feelings. And, yes, she took a walk around the area where she knows Gottlieb lives- never directly into her neighbourhood, though; that would have been creepy. Well, creepier- in hopes to casually meet her. And she did stalk her social media, though her completely empty facebook profile, most likely created just to administer the page of the robotics club, wasn’t of much use. And she made a playlist to listen to when she was thinking about her. And turned the famous episode, the thing that started it all, into wolfstar fanfic- that then she decided not to publish out of paranoia.

 

“Nah, I’m over it.“ She affirms decisely.

 

Mako scoffs. “Then you probably won’t care at all about what Liwen-“

 

“Who’s Liwen?“


“One of my classmates, but stay focused. Liwen said that the boy dancing with Gottlieb was her brother.“ Mako smiles triumphantly, and watches her attentively, waiting for any reaction.

 

Newt feels hope, for a second; of course she does. But then, what does that even mean? She doesn’t have a boyfriend, and? It’s not like it makes it any easier for her to give a single fuck about Newt’s existence. She's out of her league. Hell, she’s most likely even straight.

 

“I told you, I don’t care.“ She tells Mako. But she does, in fact, care; and when she sees her weekly program, she cares even more, because, apparently, she’s been put in advanced maths; which means that, now, she and Gottlieb share all of their classes, if the other kept the same curricula from the previous trimester.

 

Fuck.

She’s over it. She’s over it over it over it over it-

 

Of course, Gottlieb shows up at all her morning classes. At the beginning of the first period, she greets Newt with the same eye contact and hailed head, and Newt is smart enough to just say “Good morning.“ and smile at her, without adding anything else.

 

Hermione keeps the eye contact for a second; hesitates, and glances at the empty seat next to her; then, before Newt can say anything, she seems to change her mind, and goes sitting at the opposite side of the class, alone in the first row.

 

She walks alone to the rest of her classes, and Newt hovers around her, trying to understand what’s happening; the usual swarm of students that she’s part of has apparently disappeared. Of course, not all of them share all their classes with her; but even those who do seem to be avoiding Gottlieb.

 

She sits on the first row, alone, during the rest of the lessons; and Newt has to restrain herself from asking her if she can join her, since she’s in the same situation.

 

But no, there must be an explanation; Gottlieb probably wants to focus as much as possible on the classes during the term, and so she doesn’t want distractions.

 

Yes, that must be it.

 

Except that, during lunch, Gottlieb sits at a table all by herself, again.

 

At one point, Tendo Choi gets up from his table –shared with, among others, Hansen as well- and tries to join her. Tries, because Gottlieb whispers something to him, pairing it with a death glare effective enough that he goes back to his old table immediately.

 

Well, Tendo Choi has always been unimpressive to Newt.

 

And Hermione greeted her in the morning, after all; and she almost sat next to her. She’s sitting alone, as she’s been doing through all the classes; and Newt is, as well. It’s ridiculous that they’re not sticking together, isn’t it?

 

With her rational side yelling at her that she’s building a terrible delusion, Newt grits her teeth, picks up her tray, and makes a beeline for Hermione’s table, feeling everyone’s eyes on herself, which is terrifying, but also good, because at this point she would simply feel ridiculous if she decided to bail out and turned back. So, she squares up and, as usual, fakes a confidence that she doesn’t have.

 

„Can I sit here?“

 

Hermione seems to notice her last. She looks up at her; from behind them, there’s a rushed muttering from Choi’s table, but neither of them give it attention. She adjusts her glasses, perplexed, and looks at Newt, who feels her hands start shaking.

 

„Dude, you can say it if you don’t want me to. Just do it quickly, the food’s even worse when it’s cold.“ She insists. Hermione seems to snap out of some kind of unconscious state; she blinks slowly, and clears her throat.

 

„No, it’s, well, it’s alright. I absolutely do not mind. You can sit.“ She speaks primly, a complete stillness in her voice that Newt had thought was fabricated, typical of the times when she was either asking questions to a teacher or trying to intimidate someone; she realises she has never heard her talk in an instance that didn’t fall in either category.

 

She takes a seat opposite her, and Hermione keeps looking at her –well, staring, to be fair- for a bit, almost like waiting for Newt to say something. But at this point, she’s frozen; she had never planned what to tell her if she ever worked up the nerve to talk to her.

 

She picks up her utensils and gets back to her plate, desperately trying to remember all the rules of etiquette that nobody has ever taught her- except an attempt from her mother once; attempt that only had the result of her violently affirming her despise towards etiquette- and hoping that Hermione starts talking.

 

Thankfully, she does.

 

„So? What do you want?“


„I-well, nothing. Honestly, I don’t even know what to say, because, eh, it’s like- you know, I didn’t think you would say yes.“ She laughs nervously, putting down her fork and waiting for Gottlieb to start yelling at her.

 

But she doesn’t. Instead, her face seems to drop; it’s subtle, almost invisible, as her expression was already neutral; but there’s something in the way her jaw sets and she pursues her lips together that lets Newt understand that she’s annoyed. She’s said something wrong, clearly.

 

„Then I apologise, because I clearly cannot take a hint. You are free to remove yourself from this embarrassing situation that I trapped you into, and to go back to sitting at your previous table, miss Geiszler, since this is clearly not what you wanted.“


Woah. Seriously, woah. The temperature in the room has dropped by two degrees at least. That girl is- she’s scary. Newt is absolutely terrified.

 

But she’s not giving up.

 

„I didn’t mean this. Of course I wanted to sit with you, or I wouldn’t have asked. I’m just-„ she hesitates, paying more attention to Gottlieb’s face, trying to understand if she’s done something wrong again; but she’s not keeping eye contact, and instead is picking at her food without eating anything. „I’m surprised. But, in a good way.“ She throws in another nervous laughter, and takes a forkful of food, trying to seem more relaxed than she is.

„And please, I beg you, don’t call me miss Geiszler. Only my mother calls me that, and I’m pretty sure it’s because she doesn’t remember my name.“

Oh shit. No. That most definitely wasn’t the right thing to say. She laughs again, almost hysterical. „Eh, well, nevermind. Pretend I didn’t say that.“

 

Gottlieb raises an eyebrow at her, and shakes her head. „As you wish. Though I must admit, Newton is quite an unique name for a girl.“

 

Good. Okay. Alright. She can do this. Gottlieb hasn’t told her to fuck off yet, not even after she’s overshared. She can do this.

 

„Well, yeah, they thought I was going to be a boy. But then I wasn’t, and my father was like ‚eh, whatever, any name is a girl’s name if you don’t give a fuck.‘, and my mother didn’t really care. Okay, no more about me, I’ll end up saying more depressing shit, please. What about you? Hermione is weird too, you know. No offense, though. Weird is a good thing when the normalcy is.. like that.“ She gestures with the head at Hansen’s table; Gottlieb smiles briefly, almost unnoticeably; the corner of her mouth turns upwards for a second, in what could almost seem like a grimace; but yeah, Newt’s pretty sure she’s smiling.


„Well, my parents wanted something uncommon, though they seem to appreciate unconventionality merely on the surface.“ She says absently, a vague hint of that same bitter smile still on her lips.

 

„Do you want to elaborate, or-?“ Hermione shakes her head decidedly. „Alright. So, nothing to do with Harry Potter?“

 

She chuckles lightly. „Not very original, Geiszler. Everyone always asks that. It would be quite annoying, if it wasn’t for how much it enrages my father. He seriously can’t stand it. It’s probably the only thing I like about having this name.“

 

She stops abruptly, like she’s just said something she shouldn’t have, and looks at Newt with wary eyes; her cheeks get slightly redder, and Newt can’t help but smile. She blushes easily. Adorable.

 

„Well, if you hate it so much, you could change it, you know.“ She suggests, ignoring her reaction, though she would really like to know what’s behind it.

 

Hermione shakes her head. „It would be quite a long and expensive legal procedure, and I doubt my parents would support it.“

 

„Whatever, man, you don’t need to have it be legally changed. You could just, you know, tell people to call you a different way. Fuck the law, am I right?“

 

She stares at Newt attentively, her smile getting wider and, at the same time, sadder. They share a brief moment of eye contact, and Newt realises that she’s fucked. There’s something so- so terrible about that expression, about Hermione’s way of carrying herself, and the way she can silence a whole room with a word but at the same time stutters when she talks about herself; and Newt is not even crushing, no, it’s not that; it’s worse. She’s intrigued.

 

„Maybe one day.“ she allows, though she sounds unconvinced. Then, she glances at her watch. „I’m sorry, but it’s getting late. I need to revise before getting to class.“ She stands up, and Newt tries not to feel too disappointed- because, yes, it was brief, and it was superficial (though, she suspects, way less than it could seem), but it was nice. She didn’t treat her with superiority; she didn’t refuse her company. And maybe they’re going to do it again. „Thank you for your company, though. It was much appreciated.“

 

Newt smiles at her, watching as she picks up her bags. „Right back at you, man. What’s your next class?“

 

„I have English. What about you?“

 

„Same. I think we have the same schedule, you know.“ She says hesitantly, because she doesn’t want to let her think that she’s paid attention to it.

 

„Yes, I was under the same impression. I suppose we could-„ She hesitates, already holding her bag, ready to leave.

 

Newt precedes her. „We could sit together, yeah. If- if you don’t mind, of course.“ She attempts.

 

Hermione nods. „Yes. Good. See you in class, then.“ She lets out tensely; then, before Newt can say anything else, she turns her back and leaves.

 

„See you in class.“ She mutters to herself, trying to restrain the urge of starting a victory dance in the middle of the mess hall.

 

Hermione keeps faith to her promise and sits next to her in English; she barely says a word, completely focused on her notes- taken in cursive, because apparently, she wasn’t old-timey enough without that; but she doesn’t feel hostile. Newt tries her best not to stare at her, but she fails; though, at least, she doesn’t seem to notice.

The next days are definitely an improvement compared to the past school years; not only Gottlieb’s presence seems to be a very effective buffer for any kind of unwanted attention from the usual morons –who do, indeed, still torment Newt with snide comments and provocative laughters any time she opens her mouth in class, and hide or break her school supplies, but don’t dare facing her directly as long as the two of them are together- but she’s also very close to the best that Newt could ask for in a friendship. At first, they just sit together during some of their classes, and at lunch; they don’t talk much, but when they do, it’s mostly about school subjects and how stupid their classmates are. So, obviously, it escalates quickly, since those are topics that both seem to have an awful lot to say about.

 

Hermione, unsurprisingly, is a very worthy debate opponent; when she disagrees with Newt, her usual shyness falls, and it’s substituted by something that’s different even from her cold, intimidatory ways: she catches fire, almost literally, and becomes absolutely feral. They get kicked out of philosophy class for fighting over details three times in a month; which means, they keep fighting outside of the class, agree to go grab a coffee, and keep fighting on the way.

 

One day, Hermione asks her if she wants to join her at the library in the afternoon, and Newt literally screams, because it’s been ages since someone has ever asked her to hang out outside of school. And also, to be honest, because it’s a date. Well, it could be, couldn’t it? A study date.

 

She accepts immediately, and shows up thirty minutes late, wearing an unholy amount of cologne and bringing a chocolate bar. Hermione thanks her for the chocolate, complains about the cologne, and orders her to get to work. It’s the best date ever- though, honestly, she doesn’t have much to compare it to.

 

Newt doesn’t ask her what happened with her old friends; if she wants to say it, she will. She feels a bit confused about the sudden change, and knows that something must have happened over spring break; but, though she aches to know what, it’s Hermione’s choice; and since she’s had the kindness of not asking Newt about her family, or about the meaning behind her jokes, she returns it, and pretends like nothing happened.

 

At least, until Tendo approaches during chemistry.

 

They’re standing together at the end of their assigned table in the laboratory, and Hermione is reading out loud the description of the experiment they’re about to perform, while Newt gathers the necessary supplies, when he detaches himself from the other two students he’s paired with, and stands in front of them.

 

Hermione keeps reading as he stares at them, waiting; she pretends like she’s not seeing him, but Newt can see how her hands are clutching the notebook, how her jaw is clenched; she has noticed his presence, and it bothers her; she just doesn’t want to acknowledge it.

 

Tendo clears his throat, and Hermione keeps reading; when he opens his mouth to speak, she raises her voice. Newt’s eyes dart from one to the other, nervously; she doesn’t like this, she doesn’t like this at all. What has Tendo done? Has he hurt her?

„You need something, dude?“ She asks eventually. Hermione glares at her, clearly annoyed, and Newt looks back at her, an apology in her eyes; but she doubts Hermione can keep ignoring him all day, and if she has to face him, she’d rather be present.

 

She recognises how ridiculous it is of her to want to protect Hermione; she doesn’t need her protection, that’s for sure; if anything, it’s the other way around. But still, she cares about her; she would get in a fistfight for her, if it was necessary, and make an absolute fool of herself, or risk any kind of harm, if it meant Hermione was safe and comfortable.

 

„I-„ Tendo looks at her and hesitates. Then, he turns to Hermione. „Do you want to be lab partners?“ he asks her.

 

Newt feels her stomach drop. Of course. It was temporary; it had to be. It was too good to last. Now, Hermione is going to say yes, and leave her alone, as she always was. Having an odd number of students in chemistry sucks; but not as much as having an even number and still having to do the other group projects all by herself. That’s what she’s going back to, apparently.

 

„Mr.Choi.“ She drawls. „I am sure you possess the gifts of sight and hearing, and thus you were able to tell on your own that I have already been paired.“

 

Tendo takes a step back, fidgeting with the hem of his shirt. „Yes. Yes, sure.“ He bites his lip, and turns back; then, he seems to change his mind halfway through. „Hermione, listen- Listen, you know that we still want you around, right?“ he mutters. Newt glares at him, though, in a way, she admires his stubbornness.

 

But Hermione is clearly not impressed. „That’s fun, Mr.Choi. I was under the impression that nobody was eager to consort with people such as myself, save for you, though I believe your kindness to be influenced by guilt and, most importantly, the will to raise your average mark in chemistry.“ There is no emotion in her voice; but Newt watches her, notices the way she’s keeping her eyes fixed on the paper, and knows that she’s hurting. She feels the urge of wrapping her in a hug, of telling her it’s going to be okay- but that’s not the right time.

 

„That’s- that’s not true.“ Tendo replies weakly.

 

Hermione shoots him a brief glare, before fixing her eyes on the notes again. „Go away.“

 

He sighs, then, after giving a single nod, he complies.

 

Newt turns to Hermione, tentatively touching her arm in what she hopes is a comforting way. She feels her tense under the touch for a moment, but then, she seems to relax. „Do I have to kill him for you, dear?“

 

Hermione rolls her eyes. „If it was that easy I would have already killed him myself, Newton. But thanks.“

 

At first, Newt laughs, thinking that she’s being ironic; but, after all, it’s Hermione, which means she could even be serious. „Well, either way I’m here.“ Hermione scoffs, going back to her notes; at which, she adds: „Murder aside, I mean. Like, if you need to talk or-„

 

„And what for? You already know everything. Everyone knows.“ She clenches her jaw, and shifts away from Newt’s hand.

 

„Uh, actually“ Newt starts, fidgeting a bit, indecisive about whether she should try to get closer to her again or not. „well, dude, I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about.“

 

Hermione sighs, exasperated. „Very good interpretation, Geiszler. Really, it almost looks real. And I do appreciate that you’re pretending not to spend your time with me out of pity, but really, that’s not-„

 

„Dude, what the fuck? If there’s someone spending time with someone out of pity between the two of us it’s most definitely not me. And no, I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about, so please, tell me, or at least believe me, before I have to swear by that again.“

 

Hermione makes eyes at her. „Are you serious?“

 

„Goddammit, dude!“ She opens her arms, like asking for mercy, and at this point Hermione seems convinced.

 

„Alright, alright, there’s no need to swear. Though I find it quite surprising that you weren’t informed about my, well, my extremely unfortunate confession, since by now the whole school seems to know about it.“ She keeps hedging.

 

„The whole school, minus one. Enlighten me, please.“ Newt replies, pressing.

 

Hermione hesitates. Her knuckles go white around the handle of the cane. „Well, I suppose that I have nothing to lose at this point, and that you are quite the safe person to tell this to.“

 

„Yes, yes. Don’t worry, dude. Maybe I never keep my mouth shut, but it’s not like I have, like, friends to gossip to. You’re safe with me.“ She reassures her with the wide grin reserved to self-deprecating jokes.

 

Hermione rolls her eyes. „You’re incorrigible.“

 

„And you’re hedging.“

 

She takes a deep breath. „Fair enough. Well, if you really want to know, the matter is that I happen to possess certain proclivities, over which I absolutely don’t have any control, that aren’t those normally desired and encouraged by the most narrow-minded of crowds, so-„

 

Newt winces. „Wait, wait, wait. Do you mean- shit, was that- was that a very pretentious and guilt-trippy way to say you’re gay?“

 

„Shhhh!“

 

„Was it?“

 

Hermione looks around herself, like trying to make sure that nobody is watching them; which is stupid, since a.everyone knows already and b.they’re at least six feet away from the nearest group of people- who are working on their experiments, thing that they are most definitely not doing, but, well, there are things more urgent than chemistry.

 

Eventually, she nods. „Yes.“

 

In Newt’s head, fireworks go off. A crowd sings ‘We Are The Champions‘ slightly off-beat. Champagne is pouring from fountains. Obama is there; he pats her shoulder and congratulates her.

 

But, well. Hermione doesn’t really seem that enthusiastic about it, which is something Newt can understand even too well. Hell, she came out in freshman year, standing up in the middle of religion class to yell against the teacher’s homophobic remarks- which, of course, got her kicked out of the class, dragged to the headmaster’s office, and was close to becoming a whole ass legal action. Clearly, everyone knew about that in the span of a couple of days; after which it was impossible not to get called names at least a couple of times a day. That was- well, that was shit, and she sure as hell wouldn’t have appreciated someone telling her „Yes! It’s so great that you’re attracted to the same sex, so at least I get a chance with you!“; so, she holds back her enthusiasm.

 

„Oh, well.“ Is all she says. „Welcome to the club.“

 

Hermione sighs. „Thank you.“

 

„Did they stop talking to you because of that? Because if they did, they’re assholes.“

 

„Well, I- er, it’s complicated. I am sure you remember that instance in which I… uh, interacted with you in November.“

 

„Hah, how would I forget that.“

 

„Well, you see, Hansen told Choi about it, because they’re friends, apparently. I have never appreciated Hansen, but I considered Choi a good friend. He confronted to me about being… well, too harsh towards Chuck, and I kept my stance that I hadn’t been. At this, he kept insisting, asked why I cared so much and I- well, I confessed that I did, in fact, empathise especially because of my personal orientation. He did take it well, of course, but then, he proceeded to tell it to anyone who was willing to listen.“

 

„Fucking straights, I swear, I’m going to- god, Hermione, you need to restrain me or I will fucking murder him.“

 

„I am certainly not going to restrain you.“ She smiles. „So, you really didn’t know, then?“ she asks again, softly, looking at her attentively.

 

„Dude, no, I told you a hundred times. I had no idea. Please, stop asking, it’s aggravating.“


„You are aggravating, Geiszler. That aside, why did you decide to sit next to me that day, then? I mean, I thought you sympathised with me because of that, or even, you know, that you could be-„ She stops, bites her lips. „Well, why?“

 

Newt looks at her, slightly confused. „Because you were all alone, and I was too. And you’d been kind to me, so I figured out it was worth it to return the courtesy, and also because you’re very good at maths, which is very sexy of you.“

 

„God, you really cannot be serious for more than a minute, can you?“ Hermione shakes her head, but there’s a hint of a smile on her lips.

 

„Geiszler and Gottlieb, are you going to start working on your experiment, or will you just keep talking?“ The teacher interrupts them. Newt glances at the clock; fifteen minutes have already passed, and they haven’t started yes.

 

„Of course, of course. We just needed to agree on one of the details. Sure.“ She shoots her a smile, and the teacher leaves them alone after one last glare. Well, it can come in handy to be the best in the class.

 

They get to work; but before, when nobody is looking, Hermione leans closer to her and takes her hand for a second, before whispering in her ear: „Thank you.“

 

-


Before gym class, as usual, Newt locks herself into the toilet instead of changing with the others, like she’s done since some of the girls- and a particularly eager boy who suggested she’d change with them instead- have voiced their distaste at the idea of a bisexual girl seeing them in their underwear.

 

Newt doesn’t get it, really; it’s not like she’s going to go completely crazy and lose all sense of decency and self control. Also, she’s not that impressed by the simple sight of a girl in her underwear. The atmosphere in a school gym locker is definitely not that sexy, unless, maybe, you’re some kind of depraved man. Just any man, really; but she’s not subject to that kind of voyeurism, like most women who are attracted to other women, probably.

 

Regardless, it’s not up to her to question other people’s boundaries, not even when they stem from misconceptions and prejudice, or they’re voiced in an extremely rude way.

 

And so, she’s been changing there for almost four years, the echo of their laughters coming through the thin wall, putting up a series of acrobacies to touch any surface the least she can.

 

But this time, something changes.

 

There’s a gentle knock at the door, right after she’s closed it.


„Yes?“

 

„Sorry to bother you again, Newton. I was wondering if I could maybe change with you? If you are comfortable, of course.“ It’s Hermione. What the fuck.

 

Newt opens the door, and stares at her from the other side. „Uh. Well, I guess.“ She shrugs, and lets her in.

 

They get changed, facing each an opposite wall. Newt still can’t understand what the hell is going on in Hermione Gottlieb’s pretty head; but frankly, she’s not going to complain. It’s a nice change: instead of the loneliness, and the dwelling, and the faint laugh from the other girls, now she feels her scent (she’s not sure what it is, but she likes it; could it possibly be cologne? It seems cologne, and yes, it would fit her general aesthetic, with that excessively tight bun and the dark, somber blazer.) and her chatter about the last lesson topic. Apparently, Hermione stops being so quiet when the conversation is about Romantic novels, which is certainly one more point at her favour.

 

„Yes, of course it’s about science, and hubris, and all that- but that’s not the point, you know. The point is- the point is, is it really your fault if you hurt others, when you’ve never been loved?“ she says off-handishly as she unfastens the button of her jeans. Well, maybe that’s a bit deep, but Frankenstein always gets her. „How can you learn what love is, if nobody ever teaches you? If everyone rejects you? And, you know, people always reject what’s different.“ She goes on, sliding her jeans off. When she gets halfway through her thigh, she freezes.

 

There they are; a bunch of fresh, blatant self-harm scars that she didn’t bother covering up at all, since she wasn’t expecting to be seen by anyone. And, well, with how Hermione rushed into her personal changing room and started prattling about literature, her last braincell was too busy trying to work out what the fuck was going on, and also answer in a way that wouldn’t make her look like an idiot. So, the logical association between the fact that she has scars and the fact that Hermione is going to see her without her pants on, which would have brought to the necessary conclusion that Hermione is going to see her scars, kind of went over her head.

 

„And those who are different always look for someone who matches their differences.“ Hermione replies, her voice absent. Newt turns her head slightly, and meets her eyes; they both look away at the same time.

 

She hesitates; she can’t keep her jeans on. That’s going to raise questions. But she can’t take them off in front of Hermione, either. Hell, they’ve just started being friends. She can’t ruin it.

 

The voices in her head- her shoulder angel, devil, and various shades of morally grey, that always dress up at each other- start arguing about the possible scenarios.

 

Just changing, quickly, and hoping that Hermione isn’t looking. One side screams ist disapproval; that’s not dramatic enough. After all, if Hermione sees her scars, or, even better, sees her blatantly covering them up, she’ll worry. She’ll care.

 

Newt silences it, because that’s so damn toxic, but she can’t help feeling its appeal.

 

At that point, like it wasn’t enough, another voice takes the word; but what if she sees them anyway? It’s not safe.

 

You know what’s safe?

 

Telling Hermione to get out.

 

Yes, but she should probably give her some kind of explanation about why, shouldn’t she?

The attention-whore voice makes a comeback. Yes. Yessss. And then you can sputter for a bit and tell her. Or you can just not tell her, and have her worry anyway, and confess it eventually in a more intimate place. If you cry a bit, she might even hug you.

 

Shut up, she replies. That’s awful.

 

Attention, affection; isn’t it all about it, after all? Can she really blame herself, when that’s the true nature of her illness? No, not completely, but she can’t take advantage of it either.

 

„Newt? Is everything alright?“

 

Hermione’s voice interrupts her dreadful inner monologue- or, well, dialogue.

 

She hesitates, frozen; Hermione rushes to her side, shaking her from the shoulder.

 

„Hey!“ she protests, at which Hermione lets her go immediately.

„I’m sorry. You looked very spaced out. Are you quite alright?“


Newt, though reluctantly, gives her the cold shoulder. „Of course. Hah, sorry, I just got distracted.“

 

„Fine. Get dressed, we need to get going.“ Hermione turns towards the wall again, too, and picks up her bag from the hanger. „Are you sure you’re alright?“

 

No, Newt wants to tell her. No, I’m absolutely not- look. Look at me. Save me. Just for once, please- just one time, let me feel what it’s like to be loved. She pictures Hermione looking at her with her dark, deep eyes full of concern, and- well, love; and holding her tight, letting Newt rest her head on her chest, and never letting go. Please.

 

„Yes, of course.“ She smiles.

-


On the last day of school, Newt invites her over at her house; an idea that has enthusiastically been suggested by uncle Ilia, who was dying to meet the girl that has been the main argument of conversation of Newt’s in the last eight months.

 

It takes her a bit of hesitation before accepting; they walk to Newt’s house together after school, and she’s introduced to the Geiszlers, who are absolutely doting over her since the moment she steps over the threshold. When it turns out that Hermione can play the piano, Jacob shoves her on the stand and begs her until she accepts to perform a simple tune. She’s mediocre; nothing impressive, but Newt, for once, isn’t paying attention to the music; she’s too caught up by the way her hands fly on the keyboard, and she bites her bottom lip when she’s fully concentrated, and the graceful silhouette of her neck moves slightly to follow the music.

 

Her father and uncle applaud her like she’s a child prodigy, and offer more cookies; Hermione looks at them in confusion, like she’s trying to understand why they do that; and a shadow passes on her face, but she thanks them, polite as usual, though maybe a bit distant.

 

They spend the day wandering through the nearby fields; it’s hot, suffocating, but the sky is grey, and everything feels oppressive, melancholic, heavy. Hermione is more silent than usual. When they settle on the grass, she lays down, and looks at the sky, like she’s somewhere far away that nobody has access to. Her eyes reflect the dark masses of the clouds.

 

They eventually go back home, where they wait for Hermione’s parents. She’s still silent, but now that they’re alone in the living room she curls up next to Newt and rests her head on her shoulder; it’s enough to make her forget how to breathe.

 

Lars Gottlieb, who comes to pick his daughter up, doesn’t give Newt a good impression; he glares at his surroundings, at the old carpet and patched up sofa; he barely greets the Geiszlers and basically rips Hermione away from Newt’s arms when she wraps her in a tight goodbye hug. Newt watches her get to the car from the doorway; when Hermione gets there, she turns to look at their house again, searching for her; and Newt is there, waving at her from the last time, before she’s pulled into the car.


-

Hi. Currently in Milan. Love the city&the food, hate the company. I hope you’re well, and that when we go back to school you still don’t hate me, also because I got a gift for you. Yes, it’s a bribe. Also sorry if it’s awkward but I’m thinking about you. Oh well. No more room. I’ll tell you about the other stuff when (if?) we meet. Have fun and rest. N.

 

Dearest Newton,

I am pained by the knowledge that those words, though written in your usual light tone and passed as a joke, are indeed felt as a deep ache in your soul; therefore, I feel the need to reiterate what I hoped you had already understood: your presence is always appreciated by me.

I need no bribe, though I am indeed pleased at the idea of possessing an item that was chosen by you.

I am looking forward to meeting you again, and hearing about your summer: the beauty of Milan, that I am sure is astonishing, and that your characteristic enthusiam will most certainly do justice to; your beautiful experiences, and your certainly brilliant thoughts; but also your afflictions, your pain, and your sorrows. I am close to you with my affection, though separated by material space; and, no matter how much it pains me to hear that a soul as gentle as your own suffers from the wounds of unfounded self-doubt; no matter how much it enrages me to hear you put yourself down; I wish for you to express those feelings to me, (clearly, at the condition that you are comfortable doing so) so that I can yell at you for such silliness, and then, understanding that our sense of logic often fails in the instances where we need it the most, sympathise, and reassure you that you do indeed still possess my friendship and admiration.

Since you updated me on your situation, here’s mine: I am currently in Bavaria, visiting my grandparents. The scenery is quite dull, and, though you know I’m all but eager about admitting such things, I will allow myself to indulge in the cowardice of doing it through written words, and not spoken ones; forgive me if I choose the easiest path in confessing it to you, but yes, I, too, feel a certain ache due to the lack of your presence. I do remember your taste in chocolate, though, and, since the only remotely attractive place in this terribly small town is the local sweets shop, I’ve made sure to acquire sufficient quantities of it; I’m afraid the bribe will be mutual.

Yours,

H.

 

 

Hi Herms,

you know, i felt kind of awkward writing you a letter, but at this point you made it acceptable. Thanks, dude, seriously.

Thanks for the chocolate, too- we both know I love things that are dark, bitter, German, and thin. Yes, that’s a personal attack.

I miss you, too, and I’m very happy to hear that you, like, don’t want to leave me because of how unstandable I am or something. That’s quite nice of you, I guess. I think I’m too lucky to have you, and that is NOT flattery so shut up.

Since you insist so much on knowing about my „afflictions“, well. Nothing new, really. I was in Milan with my mother and we don’t have a good relationship- and by that I mean that she abandoned me straight after I was born. You know, she and my dad were married, but not to each other. Yeah, I know. They’ve always been both unstable, except my dad tries his best and finally took responsibility of his actions. He’s not really completely functional, you know, which is why we have uncle Ilia. And pancakes, too. My dad is shit at making pancakes, and I’m very good at burning them. You understand, there NEEDS to be at least one person in the house who makes decent pancakes.

That aside, my mom still sees me every once in a while but honestly I don’t get why either of us bothers with that. She treats me like a burden- which I know I am- and I treat her like a dickhead-which I know she is. So, like, okay, Milan is nice, so was Berlin, but… can’t we stop? I mean, three days spent with someone telling me that I don’t dress nice enough and that I should shave because I’m disgusting and that I should lose weight and criticising my dad constantly and having her current lover(s) over while I’m in the house is not fun. I just wish she would admit that neither of us wants to do this instead of insisting that she wants to sEe HeR dAuGhTeR the rare times that she remembers about my existence. I mean, I can’t blame her for leaving me, I’d leave me too if I could, but at least she could save herself the pretense.

Either way, now I’m back home and I have a bunch of cool pictures that I’m attaching to this letter, so there’s that.

What about you? Is Bavaria really that boring? Can’t you, like, hang out with your siblings? Are there any cute girls? (Milan was full of them, but of course girls don’t really approach you when you’re out with your mom. What a waste. The dudes were hot too but I don’t think I’m going to date a guy ever again. The last one was THAT bad, yeah. I mean, I’m attracted to men but I sure as hell don’t like them.) Most importantly: are you happy??? Or at least alright? Are you relaxing?? Did you finish the maths assignment? Because it’s seriously awful, man. Sorry if I’m asking you so many questions but I really really really miss you.

Love,

Newt

 

Newton dearest,

I am heartbroken at the description you gave of your situation. I feel deeply sorry for the fact that a soul so gentle and so beautiful as yours has had to withstand such a series of unfairnesses and pains. You deserve better, my dear, and I am sure that one day you will have it.

The unfair abandonement that you were victim of is in no way your fault; and I hope that, one day, you will be able to understand and internalise this truth, as hard as it is.

You have my deepest sympathy, and the sincere wish to comfort you as much as possible- though you will have to wait until September to receive it in a physical form.

About this correspondence that has begun between us, I must ask you to please send your next letter to a different address; I will attach the new one to this letter. You will see that it’s not a home address, but a post office box; the reason being that my father doesn’t approve of our friendship, and, if you were to send letters to our house, he would demand to read them. Worry not; the situation can be easily solved through this change, though it could take me a bit more to reply to you.

I appreciate the pictures, and will treasure them, as the proof that you are indeed a clown; they truly represent your most candid, ridiculous spirit. I will send some back.

To answer your questions (that you absolutely don’t have to be sorry for!) , Bavaria is indeed that boring, and my siblings aren’t much better. I cannot fault them for this, though; Bastien is aged twelve, Dietrich is no longer with us due to some divergences with our father that lead him to prefer living on his own, and Karla, though it pains me to admit it, seems not to be fond of me. She appears to avoid my company at all costs, though I do not know the reson why- I fear that word may have come to her of the unfortunate situation regarding my orientatiom, since I believe that truth is circulating outside of school, too. I asked her to accompany me to the local sweets shop in order to get your gift, but she refused, and insisted that she could purchase it instead. I didn’t want her to, but eventually I let her, as she was getting irrationally angry and I had nothing to earn from picking an useless fight. I must admit, I had already been there once, and I coudln’t help but notice that the shop assistant was quite charming- and quite blatantly not straight, if rainbow pins haven’t become a mere fashion accessory. Likely, this could be the reason why she didn’t want me to go there- and furthermore, go there alone. She should fear not: my inability to relate to people is going to stop me from forming relationships more efficiently than anyone ever could.

Don’t worry, though; I am resting and enjoying some personal reads, among which are several that I would recommend to you; I am not particularly happy, but I’m not in a bad place either- aside from the fact that I miss you extremely, too. I’m looking forward to your next letter.

Yours,

H.

 

P.S. I am NOT sending you the solution to the maths assignment. You are indeed capable of solving it on your own.

 

 

Dear Herms,

First of all, you’re kind of a dick for not sending me the maths assignment, let me say it. But yeah, you were right, I’ve worked it out by myself eventually, since SOMEONE didn’t want to help.

Also, your sister is being awful, sorry not sorry. You don’t deserve this. I mean, what if you’re gay? What if you like that girl? Fuck it, man, you’re in vacation. If I were you, I’d go court the hell out of her, just out of spite. Like, fuck your „inability to relate to people“ or whatever. That’s bullshit. Just walk right in and ask for her number. Or give her a shitty pick-up line. Sorry if I dare to say it, but you’re hot as hell. Come on. Who wouldn’t want to be with you? You’re both scary-hot and cute-hot at the same time. It’s true. And your sister can go fuck off, honestly. If you want, you can move in with us. I’m joking of course… unless? My dad and my uncle wouldn’t mind; but I must warn you, they’d pester you trying to teach you how to play the piano properly. That would be nice, you could join me and Mako in the band. By the way, you need to come over so I can play you something when you come back.

And, man, you can say it if you’re not happy. It’s okay. I’m not happy either.

Actually, everything sucks since I came back from Milan- except your letters. My dad is dating a new woman, and she reminds me a lot of my mom. My uncle doesn’t like her either. She keeps asking me about my boyfriend. I told her I don’t do guys and she said I’ll change my mind. Do you authorise me to tell her you’re my girlfriend so she can leave me alone? (This time I’m joking for real, don’t worry.) She also insisted on bringing me shopping, and criticised everything I tried on. „Maybe if you tried something a bit more fEmInInE, dear… maybe if you lost some weight…“ maybe if you could fuck off, a little bit, huh.

I can see my dad falling for the same trap he always falls for, and doing everything she asks. He cancelled the trip to the MIT science symposium we’d planned months ago so he could go to the beach with her, and, well, yes, I’m jealous. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. I know he has the right to a new life and all but he’s being so weird lately. When they go out he always comes back too late, and drunk, and when uncle works the night shift he leaves me alone anyway, all night. The other day she was over and they forgot to call me for dinner. I just kept waiting and waiting and then went downstairs and found them at the table, empty dishes in front of them. (maybe moving in with us isn’t that much of a good idea, after all.) He looked genuinely sorry, but still. I ended up not eating anything and crying myself to sleep after they’d gone god knows where. I’m afraid I’m overreacting to this a bit- maybe it’s nothing, maybe I’m just biased because of my mom, or jealous as hell because I’m used to my father giving me all of his attention.

Either way, everything is getting worse, and I don’t know how to tell him. God, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry I’m telling you this, but I need to vent- you don’t have to reply to this letter, and if you want to change your mind about our friendship now that you know all this crazy shit about me, then I won’t blame you.

Sorry, sorry, sorry.

I hope your situation gets better.

Newt

 

Dear Newton,

Don’t you dare apologise, and never, ever, ever assume again that your issues could result in me distancing myself from you. What are friends for, if not to listen to each other, and uplift each other, also, no, especially, in their darkest moments?

Your concerns don’t seem unfounded to me; you are receiving an unfair treatment, and I wish your father will realise his wrongdoings towards you; for now, you have all of my support and affection, for what it counts. Please, take care of yourself- as hard as it is when he’s not doing it.

About the situation with my sister, Newton, I was terribly wrong! You won’t imagine what happened.

As a premise, you need to know that we are staying in an apartment that’s in the neighborhood close to that where my grandparents live. We often visit them, and we have done so yesterday for dinner; Karla lamented a piercing headache, that wouldn’t have allowed her to leave the house and enjoy the company, so it was decided that she would wait for us home. As night was approaching, I realised that my clothes weren’t anywhere near warm enough for the temperature of a German evening; so, after asking for permission, I headed towards our house in order to acquire a jacket. It wasn’t my intention to bother Karla, as my presence doesn’t seem to be enjoyable for her, and, furthermore, an headache doesn’t make anyone’s presence enjoyable; but I heard a sound of muffled laughter coming from her room, which made me curious. You can imagine my surprise when, after opening the door, in front of my eyes was a quite unmistakeable scene: my sister, clearly in perfect health, was sharing her bed with- you guessed it!- the good-looking shop assistant, and, though they were both absolutely dressed to decency, their attitude was unmistakeable; before escaping the room as quickly as possible to avoid interfering in such a private moment, I distinctly saw them locking lips.

Karla saw me, and ran after me; she begged not to report anything to my father, at which I explained to her the misunderstanding that we apparently have both fallen victims of. She took it well, and laughed; after which I headed back towards my grandparents‘ house, determined to keep the secret, and left them to their intimacy, feeling a warm sense of safety, though, I will not deny it, accompanied by a sting of healthy envy.

I believe my letter will reach you not much sooner than my return, so that this could be the last contact you get from me in epistular form- at least for now. I have greatly appreciated keeping in touch with you through the summer, and our brief correspondence has been enjoyable; regardless, I’m looking forward to our next meeting in person, and would indeed appreciate hearing your music. Now that Karla is on my side, I believe things will get easier, as I no longer have to depend on my father, who, as you must have understood, is extremely critical towards my friendships.

Yours,

H.

-


They meet again at the end of August; Karla drives Hermione to Newt’s house- which comes at the price of having her ask a million of questions about what Newt is like, if Hermione likes her, if she’s really really sure she doesn’t likes her, and such. Eventually, Karla stops in front of Newt’s building, and turns to look at her one last time.

 

„Wait, let me-„ She fixes her bow tie. „Alright, schatz, it’s perfect now.“ She smiles at her, and Hermione just nods, embarrassed. Maybe she’s a bit overdressed for a simple visit. But something has changed.

 

Since Karla has come out to her, they’re closer; close enough for Hermione to finally express her taste for her fashion sense.

 

„That should have been your first clue, dumbass.“ Karla argued, and- well, she’s right. Of course, there are exceptions, but straight girls don’t usually wear tuxedos for family dinners.

 

She’s never been very fond of „feminine“ clothes, no, and skirts have always felt so- so naked, no matter the length, material and whatnot. Not to mention blouses; transparent, clingy instruments of torture that accentuated her breasts- too big, too visible; no matter how many times other girls cried out to her „Oh, I wish I looked like you!“, they’ve always been an inconvenience, and nothing else; something that made it difficult to sleep on her stomach, or find any kind of clothing that would fit, and most importantly, hide- because knowing that men’s eyes were never on her face, and their attention defintely not to what she was saying, was really not something Hermione had ever been fond of.

 

Clothing had always been a way to hide, an armour, a protection; endless, shapeless layers, and the occasional „pretty“ article that her mom had convinced her to get, and that she felt absolutely vulnerable and uncomfortable in, like she was dressing up in a Halloween costume chosen by someone else.

 

She often heard other girls talk about how heels made them feel „powerful“. To her, especially with the cane, it was a travesty. The pain and the limp, and the following day unavoidably spent laying in bed were not worth being the tallest person in the room- something that she wasn’t so far from reaching with comfortable shoes anyway. Hermione, in short, never understood how an article of clothing could make someone feel „empowered“.

 

But, when Karla lent her a tie for Bastien’s birthday, well- that was different.

 

As she fiddled with the two ends in a clumsy attempt to get the knot right- operation that came to an end only after her sister intervened, solving the problem in a few skilled gestures that Hermione felt a burning envy for- her anxiety kept rising and rising. Going out in a tie? What was she thinking? No, no, no, this was absolutely ridiculous. What was she trying to do? Wearing a glowing sign that said „I’m a lesbian“ on it? Stupid, feel-good pride that ended unavoidably after two words from the average man. The kind of showiness that had never fit her. And Lars- oh, god, Lars. The glares he always sent to Karla were already enough. How would he have managed it with Hermione, his professed favourite child, his loyal, silent, hard-working, logical Hermione, so obedient, quiet and good at maths? And in a public place, no less. No, the plaid dress she’d chosen previously was definitely the best choice: loose, comfortable, yes, but traditional enough. She couldn’t do this. She had to-

 

When the knot was done and Karla moved away from between her and the mirror, picking the suit jacket she’d left on the bed, she stared at herself, stunned.

 

Now, she could understand the whole „empowerment“ thing.

 

Looking like a blatant lesbian? Lars glaring? Showiness and unconventionality, in public? Somehow, Newt’s face, grinning in defiance, was what came to her mind.

 

She looked at her own frame in the mirror again. At her sharp cheekbones and broad shoulders, and her resting hostile expression.

 

She grinned, too.

 

Bastien entered the room as Karla was helping her slipping on the blazer.

 

„So, are you two ready to- woah, Hermione, you look like a dude.“ She turned to glare at him, spontaneously; but those words hit deep, and not in the way she’d expected it.

 

„A handsome one, don’t worry.“ He adds, but Hermione almost doesn’t hear him.

 

Does she? Well, maybe, a bit. Maybe, if it wasn’t for her chest- and fuck, why is she thinking about the fact that she doesn’t completely look like a man with such displeasure, what the hell is this?

 

„Out of the way, you little gremlin.“ Karla pushes Bastien out of the room, despite his protest, and closes the door behind him. „We’re coming in five minutes.“

 

She turns to look at her with questioning eyes. „So? Do you like this?“

 

Hermione takes a deep breath. Does she?

 

„Yes.“

 

Since then, Hermione has been borrowing things from Karla’s wardrobe- and Lars‘, too, once, because the appeal of a button up that actually fitted her the right way was stronger than her disgust for the man; and, besides, it felt like some kind of poetic justice to make him an accomplice in something he disapproved so much- enough that her sister eventually snapped and brought her shopping.

 

And, well- two sport-bras a couple of sizes too small, worn one on top of the other, may hurt a bit, but they do wonders.

 

And so, there she is, in a button-up from the men’s section, slacks, a light sweater-vest, and a bowtie.

Newt is going to laugh in her face, she’s sure.

 

Well, actually, that’s pretty unlikely, considering how unconventional Newt herself is, but still.

 

„Don’t worry, you look handsome.“ Karla reassures her, as if she’s just read her thoughts.

 

She rolls her eyes; but still, hearing herself described as handsome, as stupid as it is, well- well, she doesn’t dislike it at all.

 

„So, I really can’t meet this famous Newt of yours, can I?“ she attempts one last time.

 

Exasperated, Hermione opens the car door. „No, you absolutely can’t.“

 

„Are you afraid I’m going to steal her from you, schatz? Well, you’d better hurry, you know.“

 

„Shut up, Karla.“ She steps outside, picking up her bag.

 

„Just kiss her already!“ Is the last thing she hears before she decisely slams the door and heads to Newt’s house.

 

She barely has the time to knock; Newt must have been waiting for her at the door.

 

„Hermione!“ She screeches, taking a step forwards. Hermione winces and almost falls from the steps, at which Newt seems to contain herself. She retrocedes, holding the door for her so that she can get in.

 

„I’m sorry, fuck, I think I’m a bit overwhelmed.“ She laughs. „I just missed you terribly, man.“

 

Hermione gives her a crooked smile. Newt is standing against the wall, hands inside her pockets, her shoulders tense; she bites her lip, clearly embarrassed.

 

Was that- was that an attempt at hugging her?

 

That’s terrifying. Every cell in her body craves it and abhors it at the same time, and Newt’s contrite expression surely isn’t helping.

 

Either way, it’s done now. She steps in, bowing her head in an automatic request for permission. Newt looks at her from head to toe, smiling and shaking her head.

 

„God, dude, you look great. You’re-„ She chuckles. „Where did you get that bow tie from?“

 

„My sister.“ Hermione mutters.

 

„Well, good choice. You’re stunning.“ She laughs again, eyes popping out of her head.

 

„Uh, thanks.“ Hermione stares at the ground, at which Newt laughs again.

 

„Come on.“ She says eventually, taking her hand –Hermione screams internally, while a wave of- of something propagates through her whole body- and leading her through the house.

„You wanted to hear me play something, didn’t you?“ She asks, leading Hermione inside her room. Hermione nods.

 

„If- if you don’t mind, of course.“

 

Newt doesn’t even bother answering; she grabs the acoustic guitar laying on her bed and pats the space next to her. Hermione nods, closes the bedroom door behind herself, and sits next to her, not too close- never too close.

 

Newt plays each string, one after the other, checking the tuning, as Hermione stares at the work of tendons in her hands, at the swiftness of her fingers.

 

„Do you have any preferences?“ Newt leans in her direction, their knees brushing together, eyes fixed on hers.

 

„Uh, I-„ Hermione bites her lip, trying to keep eye contact, and failing. „No, not really. Whatever you want.“

 

Newt nods, considers it. „I remember you like Troye Sivan?“ she suggests.

 

„Well, yes, but you don’t have to-„ Newt silences her with a gesture, and starts playing.

 

At first, she doesn’t recognise it; she’s used to hearing it played in a completely different way, and also, something is… off. But when Newt starts singing, she lets out a „Oh!“ of surprise, as a spontaneous smile appears on her face.

 

Glow is low and it’s dimming… and the silence is ringing…

 

No, it doesn’t sound completely right; maybe it’s the fact that it’s acoustic, or how wildly different Newt’s voice is from the original; but she likes it. A lot.

 

And I can almost feel your breath, I can almost feel the rest.

 

She wouldn‘t have expected Newt’s singing voice to sound like this: if someone had asked her, she would have guessed it as high-pitched, grating, angry, like her talking usually is. But no, it’s not like that at all; it’s deep, and sweet, even if slightly off-tune, but that’s part of the charm.

 

Night is young and we’re living, hands move, moving steady, and the time is moving slower-

 

It’s her real voice, she realises. The truest one, the most intimate, and emotional, and it just feels so- I can feel we’re getting closer- wrong, so disturbing, so intimate-

 

closer-

 

Standing in the eye of the storm, my eyes start to run to the curl of your lips, in the center of eclipse.

 

She truly is beautiful; her wide, shiny green eyes shaded by the darkness of her eyelashes, her chapstick-stained lips forming each word like it’s a promise to a lover; and her hands, oh, her hands; Hermione can’t take her eyes off of them. It’s hypnotising .

 

In total darkness I-

 

In the suggestion of the moment, she realises that her hand has landed next to Newt’s knee; close, too close.

 

I reach out and touch.

 

She draws her hand back, all of a sudden, frightened; in that same moment, Newt turns to look at her as she pronounces the final words of the chorus, and starts over with the next verse.

 

When she finishes, Hermione is absolutely struck.

 

„So? Did you like it?“ Newt asks, flexing her fingers, fidgeting with the strings. Anything but looking at her.

 

All she can do is nod; which Newt seems to take the wrong way, because she starts justifying herself.

 

„I, uh, I’m not sure the chords are exact. I mean, it’s absolutely not an acoustic song, and my voice is not right for this. I was probably- no, I was certainly off-tune. But, I. Uh, I wanted to play this for you.“ She admits; after she finishes the sentence, she bites her lip, as if she wishes she hadn’t let it out. „Sorry, this is weird.“

 

„It’s-„ Hermione panics. Should she touch her? Was that some kind of hint that she isn’t taking? No, no, of course not. Newt just knew she likes the song. Of course. Just that. „It’s not weird. That’s- that’s wonderful. You’re, uh, you’re very good.“

 

„Ha! No, I suck. I mean, my songs come out nicely, but other people’s-„

 

„Your songs?“ Hermione echoes. „Do you mean- do you mean that you also write songs, aside from playing?“


Newt shrugs. „Well, yes. If you want to-„

 

„Yes.“ She doesn’t even let her finish. Newt laughs, and at that point she realises that maybe she’s been a bit too eager. „If you want, of course.“

 

Newt nods quickly. „Of course I want. I mean, you know me, I’m a fucking exhibitionist. And you’re the person I like to impress the most.“

Hermione doesn’t ask; maybe it’s better not to know, because at this point, the bow tie seems very tight, and the room very warm, and every inch of Newt’s skin is acting like some kind of super magnet. She just gives her a tilt of her head, shy, and Newt fumbles with her surroundings a bit, before finally finding a weird object that she ties to the first fret.

 

„Well, I guess, since we’re already on that line- I’ll play touch-starved. It’s about- well, it’s complicated. But I mean, the title kind of says it all, I guess. It’s, uh, kind of depressing, but if you want, I also have one about intrusive thoughts, suicide, toxic femininity and my bastard ex.“ She explains light heartedly.

 

Hermione raises an eyebrow. „Uh, nice. Do I need to murder said bastard ex?“

 

„I wouldn’t mind that.“ Newt laughs. „His blood would be a very good look on you.“

 

At this point, Hermione is really, really confused about what kind of game Newt is playing. Is this- is this flirting? No one has ever flirted with her before, let alone a girl. How do these things even work? The only person she could talk about it with, besides Newt, who obviously isn’t an option, is Karla. But Karla- uh. Karla is her sister. She has a reputation to keep, and said reputation is „I’m not attracted to Newt Geiszler, I swear.“

 

Either way, Newt starts playing; it takes a bit to start singing, because, before that, she has to jump on an overly complicated, gloomy introduction. The sound is oppressive, the higher notes coming out like a desperate cry for help in the middle of a dark sea; and then, her words starts coming out, and it doesn’t get any better.

 

My insides are rotting, and still

I’m longing for literally anything

But there’s nothing I’ll let myself have

Please, oh please just tell me I can

 

I’m hungry, oh, so hungry

But what’s the use if I can’t split with you?

I’m tired, oh, so tired

But I’ll keep my eyes open ‘till I can lay next to you

I’m afraid, of taking up space

I want you to be the one to make me room

 

My hands are shaking, oh, so cold

Please hold them in yours, I don’t wanna be alone

They say that I’m broken

I just want to be fixed

They say you have to save yourself

And I tried, but it’s shit

 

And my skin crawls

When it tastes too good

I’ll bawl my eyes out

When the beauty’s too much

‘Cause what do I deserve

If it’s not given to me?

Please, take me in your arms

Tell me that you’ll be here

 

I’m hungry, oh, so hungry

But what’s the use if I can’t split with you?

I’m tired, oh, so tired

But I’ll keep my eyes open ‘till I can lay next to you

I’m afraid, of taking up space

I want you to be the one to make me room

 

And it’s desperate, and low,

Bloody nails scraping the bottom

And I’m so damn alone

All I have is that damn motto,

 

„Save yourself“, that’s all they say

„You don’t need anyone!“

But I’m learning it the hard way,

I can’t be on my own.

 

I’m hungry, oh, so hungry

But what’s the use if I can’t split with you?

I’m tired, oh, so tired

But I’ll keep my eyes open ‘till I can lay next to you

I’m afraid, of taking up space

I want you to be the one to make me room

 

Newt’s voice lowers gradually, until she exhales the last line. Her hands drop from the strings, echoing with a final, vague sound. She takes a second to breathe, eyes on the ground, a smile slowly rising to her lips.

 

Playing is my therapy, she told Hermione once. Well, it must be true; when she turns to her, she’s glowing. It’s a weird mixture of emotion; the vulnerability in her eyes is startling, her expression so tender, so fragile, moving something deep inside Hermione’s chest.

 

„So? Did you like it?“


Hermione, on the other hand, is on the verge of tears.

 

To know that Newt feels this way, and to feel those words hit so deep within her- well, it’s enlightening, but painful. It’s like when Newt touches her; it’s terrible, and awesome, and breathtaking in every way. She flinches away from it, but she wants it, she wants it so desperately.

 

Please, take me in your arms/Tell me that you’ll be here.

 

„May I-„ she begins, shifting nervously. Her voice cracks. „May I hug you?“

Newt smiles softly. „Oh. Oh, well, yes. I mean, you don’t have to-„

Hermione doesn’t let her finish; she shifts closer, gently takes the guitar away from her lap, and, as every cell in her body revolts against it and sighs of pleasure at the same time, she puts an arm around her. With a pleased chuckle, Newt adjusts herself, making their position a bit less awkward; Hermione holds her tighter in response.

 

After the initial terror, it’s- it’s nice. Newt is soft, and warm, and smells of cheap hair gel and coffee. It takes a bit for Hermione to start breathing regularly; enough that, at that point, Newt is already starting to let her go. Instinctively, she clings to her shirt; something that she’s immediately embarrassed for after she realises she’s doing it.

But Newt doesn’t seem to mind; she pulls her closer, gently lifts Hermione’s legs off the floor so that she’s basically sitting on her lap, and takes her hand. Her palm is hot, almost burning, against Hermione’s cold one, and her fingertips feel slightly calloused- the result of years spent playing guitar.

Newt’s other hand is buried inside her hair, left in a bun that’s a bit looser than usual- and that probably won’t see the end of that day- while she still clings to her shirt like a scared child.

 

They must be a sight, really; Hermione’s disproportionately long body sprawled over Newt’s tiny frame, her sharp features buried in her chest, still carrying the same, usual tight expression- she’s ridiculous. What is she even doing? This is not- this is not normal, it’s pathetic, it’s-

 

Newt kisses the top of her head, and she stops thinking.

 

„Are you comfortable?“ she hums in her ear- her breath is warm, but still manages to give her goosebumps. „You seem tense.“

 

„No, I’m- I’m not used to this.“ She confesses in a whisper, letting go of Newt’s shirt and straightening her back.

 

Reluctantly, Newt lets go of her hand. „I’m sorry. I don’t want to overwhelm you, or- or make you uncomfortable. I mean, I wasn’t, like, trying to- you know, just- just a friendly thing- because friends usually hug each other, even if there isn’t any-„ Newt’s blush increases exponentially. „I mean, fuck, no homo, okay.“ She screeches eventually.

 

Hermione shakes her head in exasperation. „I know. Don’t worry, okay? I know. It’s alright. The problem is- it’s mine.“

 

Newt nods thoughtfully. „You have a bit of intimacy issues, yeah?“ she suggests.

 

Hermione hesitates; considers it. „I suppose, yes.“ Newt nods again, leaning back against the wall behind the bed. „It’s alright. You don’t- I mean, it’s fine if you don’t want me to touch you.“ Her eyes are saying a completely different thing; and Hermione gets it, really. The perspective is- well, it’s awful. As much as it shook her, thinking that something like that will never happen again is frankly depressing.

 

„I didn’t mean that.“ She mutters, eyes fixed on the ground. „I just need some time, is all.“

 

„Oh. Oh, fine, then. Baby steps?“ she asks.

 

Hermione turns to look at her. She’s staring, her green eyes- her stupid green eyes, with those sparkles of gold and other colours that she would never be able to describe- wide open, her lips angled in a crooked smile. Hermione nods.

 

„Baby steps.“ Newt repeats. „Baby steps.“


Baby steps. That’s all she can do; and Newt does her best, with light, casual touches, asking her for a hug when they see each other and when they depart. It gets easier; it really does, to the point that it starts feeling natural, and when they’re at the library together, or sitting in the mess hall, it goes from Newt shifting closer and offering her open palm to her doing it. Of course, Newt never says no; she just keeps waxing poetic about how great it is that she’s right-handed, while Hermione is left-handed, so they can still sit next to each other and hold hands as they write. It’s… good. Too good, honestly, because, clearly, everything is completely platonic from Newt’s side; while Hermione- well, Hermione doesn’t really know.

 

Everything is confused, and blurred; Newt, Karla, Bastien, mother and father, Tendo and all the others, always eyeing at them; but especially, herself.

 

She looks in the mirror, chest hurting under too-tight bandages, compressing her ribs, making it hard to breath, and holds her hair back with a hand, or under a hat; and it feels right, so right that, if she stares too long, she feels disconnected; and when she has to wear a dress to give a speech after winning a prize on one of her projects, it feels like she’s dressing up, and her body is- her body is weird, those legs too long under a skirt that makes her feel naked, her breasts a couple of parasites showing through the tight fabric.

 

„You look so pretty!“ Is her mother’s comment, and she cringes. She’s not pretty. She’s not desirable. She wants to be sharp, and bold, and frightening- all things that seem to be set aside, in favour of that beauty everyone always seems to speak of, as soon as she steps inside a pair of heeled torture machines.

 

Newt is beautiful. She’s beautiful with her brash laughter, and her dimples and freckles, and her terrible manners, and the way she crouches over her homework with the tip of her tongue sticking out in concentration, and her stupid mismatched socks over that pair of strong legs that have never seen a razor and get her so many unpleasant comments from every single person whenever she wears shorts during gym class. She’s beautiful when her mouth is quicker than her brain, and she gets herself in yet another heated discussion; she’s beautiful when, still half asleep, she takes place next to her on the school bus and falls asleep on her textbooks, or Hermione’s shoulder, or when, high on sugar, or caffeine, or both, she starts prattling about nihilism with her eyes blown open.

 

She wishes she could be like her, in a way. Well, not really; she could never achieve that kind of character without radically changing herself. But Hermione is sure- if Newt was in her place, she would light up a fire in her garden and burn all of her dressed, the fire reflecting into her manic eyes as she laughs uncontrollably.

 

But who is Hermione, even? Hermione. That never felt right- Hermione had to stay inside and help her mother with chores, while her brothers went out and came back at night with scraped knees and shiny eyes. Hermione was always told „You’re pretty good at maths, for a girl!“ For a girl. Always. Nevermind she had the highest marks in her class; straight A’s, something that none of the boys in her year had. But she was never just the best at maths; she was the best girl at maths, that burden of womanhood always heavy on her shoulders, weighing her down with the embarrassment of being told that she was a woman, now, and that she could have children; with those warm, round tears on her ten-years-old face, and the shame, always that shame, fought with hot wax and whispers and pads kept in secret pockets- because God forbid a boy saw that!- and oversized sweaters. That was what being Hermione was like.

 

Maybe, she starts to think, maybe being Hermann would have been different. Easier. She could have simply been- a person. Not a woman. Just a person.

 

And so, it’s clumsily binded chests and blazers and strict button ups in solid colours; and when her mother tells her that she looks old, that she looks plain, that she has plenty of cuter things to wear, that she looks like a teacher, and that those slacks are making her butt disappear- she smiles, sharp teeth and tight lips, not like a human being expressing content, no- more like a beast threatening to bite.

 

The only one who never stops complimenting her is Newt. But, well, Newt is Newt, and her compliments are- well, they’re different.

 

She wouldn’t mind, she’s sure. On the contrary; she seems to like her more like this. But Hermione- Hermann- well- she doesn’t know what to tell her. She doesn’t mind being perceived as a woman by other women, especially the ones she’s comfortable with; she just doesn’t want the whole set of requirements that seems so necessary to „do it right.“ And, well. When she goes grocery shopping and the cashier tells her „Have a good day, sir.“ she feels euphoric.

 

Binding hurts; she gets too close to passing out during class too many times, with Newt catching her at the last moment, pulling a snack out of her bag and asking her if she’s been eating, because, really, she looks like she’s thinning out a bit, and her face is a bit gaunt, no offense. But she can’t stop doing that, the only exceptions being the days when she has gym class; those times, a sports bra- or two, more often; hiding it from Newt has became her new favourite extreme sport, though, thankfully, she has something to hide, too, and prefers to change without facing her. Hermann hasn’t missed the precise lines carved into her skin, lined up one after another, thankfully fainter with every passing day.- is barely enough.

 

But eventually, everything must come to an end. It’s barely halfway through September when Newt starts prattling about spooky, and about that „haunted“ house that’s right in the middle of the fields behind her house, and about what a poor culture in terms of movies Hermann has. Eventually, she sighs, rolls her eyes, and asks her: „So, what kind of terrible plan are you about?“

 

Newt grins. „You come to my house on Halloween, we go visiting the haunted house in the afternoon, and then you stay for the night and we have a movie marathon. I’ll bake.“

 

Hermann politely refuses the last proposal, offering instead to bring some baked goods herself, since she’s tried some of Newt’s culinary experiments and it was with the utmost surprise that they didn’t land her directly at the hospital; but the rest is- well, very appealing. She doesn’t believe in anything unscientific, like ghost hauntings, but hearing Newt go on and on about her passion for the occult is, well. It has its charm. And she can’t help but picture the two of them laying under a fuzzy blanket, completely alone in the house, and Newt, aided by a good scary movie, clinging to her, burying her face in the crook of her neck and asking her for protection. Which is actually not a very Newt thing, since she’s heard her refer to monsters, guttings, and pools of blood as „sexy“ in multiple occasions; but, oh well. A girl can dream. No, a boy. No- a person. A person can dream.

 

And so, after an excruciating battle with Lars, won just thanks to the fact that Newt is, indeed, not a male –which is really ironic, but Hermann is certainly not going to complain about it- and to a call from Ilia, she says yes.

 

„This is a terrible idea, Newton.“ She repeats again, as the other sets one foot over the half-crumbled doorway.

 

„May I come in, my dudes?“ Newt ignores her and, instead, talks to some not better specified presences on the other side of the door.

 

She looks around, like she’s waiting for something; then, eventually, she steps over the doorway.

 

„What the hell are you-„ Hermann follows her clumsily, trying to fit her cane somewhere between stones and bricks.

 

„Noo! What are you doing? You need to ask for consent!“ Newt stops her; Hermann rolls her eyes, but obeys regardless.

 

„May I come in?“ She waits for a couple of seconds, staring at Newt defiantly; then, when the other nods, she follows her inside.

 

„There shouldn’t be any ghosts in there, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Be respectful.“ Newt explains to her conversationally, pulling out a torch from her pocket.

 

Hermann sighs; she wasn’t really enthusiastic about this whole ghost-hunting thing, and, in all honesty, she’s more scared of finding actual, physical people, alive or dead; but Newt’s excitement made it impossible to refuse; and it’s Halloween, after all.

 

She stares at her for a moment; at her wide grin, and ridiculous torch (well, torches, because now, apparently, she’s got another one, materialised from somewhere inside her endless pockets, courtesy of a pair of men’s cargo shorts) and those terrible knee- high socks with a pattern of pumpkins; she looks like an eight-years-old stuck inside of a body that’s a decade older. It’s both annoying and adorable.

 

„Let’s go, dude.“ She calls her, starting to head towards the middle of the room.

 

Hermann follows her hesitantly, a couple of steps behind.

 

Eventually, the cone of light produced by Newt’s torch falls on a red cupboard, leaning against the wall.

 

„Woah, look at this.“ Newt immediately makes a beeline for it, and, in the rush of the moment, she forgets to light her way.

 

There’s a clattering sound when she stumbles on something, and, a bit to the left, a movement accompanied by a chilling screech.

 

„Hermione!“ Newt bolts to her side, dropping one of the torches to grab her hand instead. She looks so terrified that Hermann almost overlooks the fact that Newt has took her hand, and the name, that, else, would remind her of how many things she’s still hiding; almost.

 

„Herms, dude, fuck, something touched me, something fucking touched me, please, oh god, we’re gonna die, we’re gonna-„

 

„Shut up, Newton.“ She calmly says, squeezing her hand comfortingly. „We are most definitely not going to die, and you have absolutely nothing to worry about.“

 

„No!“ Newt cries out, burying her face in Hermann’s chest, her nails digging into her palm. „Are you fucking serious? Did you hear what I said? Did you-„


Hermann points in front of them, to a spot lit up by Newt’s fallen torch. „I suppose that’s the terrible beast that you have been viciously attacked by.“

Newt slowly raises her head. Then, when she sees it, she lets out a shaky laughter. „Oh. Oh, it’s-„

 

It’s a tiny, wary kitten, staring at them with huge green eyes, hiding behind a knocked-over chair.

 

„I made myself look like an idiot, didn’t I?“ Newt eventually laughs, finally loosening her grip; she keeps holding Hermann’s hand, though.

 

„Yes, you were.“ Hermann nods.

 

„Nah, man, it was all an excuse to hold your hand.“ She jokes, fluttering her eyelashes exaggeratedly; Hermann silently thanks the darkness of the place for hiding her blush.

 

„Unrealistic. Your terror was very real. And for such a tiny thing!“ She mocks her; but, at the same time, almost unintentionally, draws Newt closer.

 

„Tiny things can still be dangerous.“ Newt bites back.

 

„It’s neither of your cases, dear.“ Hermann scoffs.

 

„Oh, shut up.“

 

Newt then dedicates her attention to the cat, who’s still staring at them, absolutely tense, tail held high.

 

„I wonder if it’s a stray. You know, I wouldn’t mind a third cat.“ She comments off-handishly, slowly lowering herself to the ground. When she gets too low to hold Hermann’s hand, she moves hers to her ankle instead. It’s- it’s weird, like Newt’s casual touches usually are.

 

She reaches out to the kitten, holding out the other hand and clicking her tongue.

 

The cat stares at her for a moment, dubious; then, it hisses and runs away, jumping on the top of the cupboard, and then disappears from their visuals; creaks and clatters echoe around them, and Newt hurriedly stands up, glueing herself to Hermann’s side again. „This place has a- a terrible acoustic.“ She mutters; Hermann can almost feel her shake.

 

„Yeah.“ She shrugs. „Maybe we should go and open that cupboard.“ She suggests, a chill running down her spine.

 

Newt winces. „Maybe you’re right, and this was a terrible idea.“ She lets out.

 

„God, Newton, we’ve just arrived. Are you… scared of the dark, or something?“

 

A moment of silence; then, she feels Newt nod against her chest. „Yes, a bit.“

 

„Then how the hell could you possibly think this was a good idea?“ Hermann asks her, exasperated.

 

„I’m a dumbass.“ Newt deadpans, and really, there’s no way to argue with that; so Hermann just wraps an arm around her shoulders, and starts leading her out.

 

They settle for going back home early, while the sun is still setting; after various attempts at finding her keys, Newt finally remembers hiding them in the post box, and opens the door for her.

„We have the whole house for ourselves until, like, midnight or so. Dad and uncle will be back to sleep, but until then they’re out.“ Newt explains, setting the keys on a hook next to the door.

 

Hermann pursues her lips. We have the whole house for ourselves. How dares she say that, so lightly, standing in front of her with that mischievous grin- how-
The associations are disturbing. She stays silent, trying to control a blatant blush, for long enough that Newt decides to fill in the silence.

 

„I suggest we get take away for dinner.“ She adds.

 

Hermann nods. „Yes, that’s probably a sensible idea, considering our cooking skills.“

 

She follows Newt upstairs–sweaty palms clutching the handle of her bag too tight as she tries not to fixate too much on the frame in front of her, to look anywhere that isn’t Newt, the curve of her neck, her unkempt mass of soft curls, the rhythmical movement of her hips as she takes one step after the other, or that small, secret portion of freckled skin left uncovered between her t-shirt and the waistband of her shorts. When did it get like this? When did it start being so hard to even just be in the same room as her without thinking about- about things? Was it the letters? Was it the touching? Was the whole set of options she never knew she had in term of self-presentation, that made her so reckless and laid back? Has she let herself get too self indulgent?

 

Newt stops in front of the bedroom door, and Hermann is caught by surprise; she collides with her, a hand involuntarily brushing her side, and she winces. Newt- Newt doesn’t deserve to be treated like this, made an object of her fantasies, without even being aware of it. It doesn’t matter how the amount of self-restraint she has imprinted deep inside barely allows her to think about anything that strays away from chaste kisses; she’s still not self-censoring enough.

 

„Huh, careful, dude.“ She mutters, spontaneously taking Hermann’s hand in hers, while she opens the door with the other. Hermann doesn’t move; she stares at Newt’s hand in hers, trying to suppress the impulse of taking it to her lips and kissing it. That- that’s absolutely embarrassing.

 

Newt’s bedroom looks more or less like it did a couple of months ago; same band posters, same tasteless curtains with a pattern of dinosaurs, same sets of fairy lights hanging from the shelves, same wardrobe door overloaded with sticky notes. The only differences are the absolutely hideous, over-the-top Halloween decorations and- and, well, a blanket nest that has been built on her bed.

 

„You’d better enjoy sleeping in a blanket nest, dude, because I’ve disembodied two couches for it.“ She threatens. Hermann laughs nervously. That space is dangerously small for two people. It almost looks like- no, no, that’s absurd. Still, the idea of being that close to Newt all night is- well, it’s tightening her stomach in a weird way, and honestly, she doesn’t know if she likes it or if she’s about to feel sick.

 

„And you’d better be still and quiet in your sleep, because I will have no mercy if I have to kick you out of bed, no matter if this is your house.“ She just jokes back.

 

Newt makes a face at her. „You would never. You like me too much.“ As she says it, she lets go of Hermann’s hand and strips off her top.

 

Well. Oh, well-

 

Hermann is suddenly very interested in the wall at her left, and pretty sure that she’s hallucinating. Why the hell would Newt start taking off her clothes, if this isn’t some kind of- some kind of-

 

„I think I’ll just change into my night clothes now, you know. We should order our food now and then start the marathon already, so we’ll have plenty of time for- dude, you can look at me, you know. Seriously, you take this ‘no homo‘ thing to a whole new level.“

 

With a sigh of relief, Hermann turns. Fine. So this isn’t some degenerate fantasy created by her mind; just the usual Newt, standing in front of her in her underwear as she furiously looks for something inside her closet.

 

„Uh, alright.“ She mutters, her mouth dry; she allows herself to catch a glimpse of her –pale skin covered in freckles, and soft edges that her hands are itching to touch; Newt, after apparently finding whatever she was looking for, reaches the fastening of her bra, and Hermann looks away immediately, grabbing her bag and starting to fiddle uselessly with her supplies, already perfectly ordered for the usage. All the while, Newt seems completely unaware of what’s going on in her reluctant watcher’s mind.

 

She pulls out her pajamas and takes off her sweater, as Newt, now dressed in a pair of shorts and an old band t-shirt, burrows herself in the blanket nest and grabs the remote. Hermann sits down and starts undoing her button-up.

 

„Netflix has some seriously shitty horror movies, so I’d say we start looking for better ones in shady sites that will probably infect me with a bunch of viruses, but hey, the spooky is completely worth it, and- dude, why are you wearing two bras?“

 

She freezes, halfway through taking off the first one. The same, familiar sense of shame lands on her; she turns to look at Newt, curled up under a blanket, looking so comfortable, so confident; not like her. She’s- she’s a freak. She’s a freak and she’s forgotten to hide it, too. How can she-how can she explain it to her, when she doesn’t understand it herself?

 

„I, ah.“ She begins. „I don’t feel very comfortable with having visible breasts.“ She finishes taking off the first bra, and decides to keep the second one on; after slipping on her night shirt, she unbuttons her pants.

 

„Oh, yeah, that must be a chore. Men, right?“ Newt casually answers in a sympathetic tone. Hermann gives an unconvinced nod, taking off her pants.

 

„Unless it’s- well, unless it’s something else. I mean, I don’t want to ask that kind of questions, but, like, are you sure you aren’t-„

 

„No, Newton, I’m not sure.“ She snaps; then, she sighs, dropping her shoulders. Newt shifts closer to her, carefully touches her shoulder. Hermann almost flinches away from the touch; it’s never easy, no matter how much she’s gotten used to it; and in that moment, she feels- she feels so naked, and pathetical, and small, sitting on Newt’s bed in a night shirt and a pair of boxers- a completely self indulgent, delusional purchase- and her eyes filling with tears.

 

„Hey. Hey, it’s fine. Just- just tell me what pronouns I should use, yeah?“ Newt says softly, and Hermann lets out a hiss of pain.

 

„I have no idea. I seriously have no idea. I mean, it’s- I don’t care about pronouns, and I don’t care about how you perceive me- it’s just- it’s-„ She hiccups dryly; tears won’t come out, no matter how ashamed she feels. Newt starts rubbing her back comfortingly. „It’s just that it all feels so.. forced. Being a woman, I mean. Who cares if you call me ‘she‘? That doesn’t matter. It’s- it’s everything else.“

 

„Ah-ha. I know. I mean, I guess I’m not transgender or anything, but it’s- it’s heavy, yeah. And don’t worry, dude. Take your time. You don’t need to have everything figured out immediately, you know. You can just- listen, ‘dickhead, ‘stuck up bastard‘ and ‘dear‘ are all gender neutral terms, right?“ she jokes.


Between the hiccups, Hermann laughs. „I suppose.“

 

Newt leans her head against her shoulder, arms circling her waist. Hermann leans back, her chest still shaken by those silent, dry hiccups; the pain doesn’t go away, but it feels a little weaker.

 

„Newt-„ she cries out. „Newt, listen-„

 

„I’m here.“ The other reassures her in a whisper, her breath warm against Hermann’s neck, and takes her hand.

 

„I just- I just hate my name. Always have.“ she confesses.

 

„I know, dude. Are you finally thinking about changing it?“ There’s no pressure; just a softness in her voice, not so different from the sensation of her body. Hermann nods shakily.

 

„Yes. If- if you could, if you could call me… Hermann, maybe?“ She lets out eventually; it sounds like a plead.

 

„Hm-mh.“ Newt hums absently, rubbing circles on her palm. „Hermann.“ She repeats, voice low, charged- more similar to her singing voice than her conversational one. „It suits you.“

 

Hermann smiles.

 

They stay there for a long time, Newt holding her, muttering meaningless sentences in her ear, stroking her palm and kissing her head.

 

„Do you think I should get a haircut?“ Hermann whispers after a bit.

 

„If you want to.“ Is Newt’s answer, so simple and yet so disarming.

 

„I do.“

 

„Well, then, I guess-„

 

„My parents will never let me get the kind I want.“

 

„Oh.“ Newt holds her tighter; and at this point, she’s well past the point where she’d worry about being pitied; that’s simply not something that happens with Newt anymore. „That sucks.“

 

„Yeah.“

 

„I could cut your hair, if you wanted.“ She suggests. Hermann just laughs. „I’m bloody serious, man. Right now! I’m good at hair cutting. I’ve been doing my own hair for years, at this point.“

 

Hermann laughs again. That’s- that’s impulsive, and terrible. And Newt’s hair is- well, it’s endearing, on her, but there’s probably not two single locks that are the same length. That’s a terrible idea.

 

So, Hermann is taken aback by hearing her own voice pronouncing the words: „I would like that.“

 

In a matter of seconds, she’s sitting in the bathroom, a towel wrapped around her shoulders, with Newt circling around her, a critical look in her eyes and a pair of scissors that she seems too eager to use in her hands.

 

It’s terrifying.

 

„You know, it’s the perfect moment for this. Samhain. Ends and new beginnings, and all that. You couldn’t have picked a better time to cut your hair if you’d tried.“ Newt reassures her.

 

They look at a series of pictures, enough for Newt to understand, more or less, what she wants; no shaved sides, for now, because, as much as her common sense has gone on vacation, she’s still not reckless enough to let Newt get anywhere close to her with a buzzing machine in her hand.

 

The process is absolutely anxiety-inducing; she can’t see what Newt is doing, and her only indicators are her „Hmm.“s and „oooh“s as she stops to contemplate what she’s done so far. Her hands, delicate but firm, push at the back of her neck, and on her forehead, and cup her jawline to tilt her head in the right direction; her fingers move swiftly through her shortening locks, taming them and reshaping them with the help of a hairdryer and a weirdly shaped hairbrush.

 

She tilts her chin up with two fingers, and starts cutting the front; Hermann sees her green eyes narrowing in concentration, so close to hers; it’s- intimate. It’s not just about touch, and about how ridiculously domestic the whole thing feels; there’s something so deep, so vulnerable, about figuratively closing her eyes and letting Newt shape her new self.

 

„Aaaand… it’s done!“ She exclaims eventually. By how excited she is, it must be either terrible or genuinely good.

 

Hermann doesn’t dare looking yet. „Is it good?“

 

„Stand up and judge for yourself.“ Newt orders smugly. Well, at least she is satisfied. Hermann- Hermann starts realising what she’s just done.

 

Hair can’t be glued back where it was. Brown locks are spread all over the floor; and there’s so much, it’s overwhelming. Something moves inside her; a sense of triumph, the same satisfaction that children feel after breaking complicated sand castles that they’ve just built. She’s made a mistake. It’s euphoric. She’s made a terrible mistake, but really, if it feels like this- if it feels like this, then someone just book her a place for the next chance she has of making one. Lars‘ face- her old friends- her teachers-

 

She turns around.

 

Fuck.“ She says softly.

 

„Dude, this must be the first time I’ve ever heard you swear.“ Newt laughs nervously.

 

Hermann doesn’t answer; her reflection is magnetic. She’s- she’s-

 

She’s Hermann.

 

She’s herself, maybe for the first time in her life, the outrageously short cut a reminder of her madness. And she likes it, she likes it so much her cheeks are already sore from the toothy grin frozen on her face.

 

„Are you- are you okay?“ Newt asks eventually.

 

Hermann turns and they make eye contact; matching manic expressions of partners in crime who regret nothing.

 

„Yes.“ She lets out, voice cracking. „Yes, Newton, it’s-„ Her words fail her; she flings herself into Newt’s arms, and holds her tight, tight, burying her face in the crook of her neck. After the initial surprise, the other holds her back.

 

They stay there, frozen, until newt pulls away abruptly. „Dude!“ Hermann winces. „Dude, we haven’t ordered dinner yet.“

 

Hermann rolls her eyes and shakes her head. „How can you think about dinner when-„

 

She’s interrupted by a loud, demanding purr, as one of Newt’s cats starts rubbing his body against her legs.

 

„I swear, Herms, they do this only with you. They usually hate people, Galileo especially.“ Newt comments as she picks up the kitten, who simply lets himself go and keeps purring. „I’m almost jealous, dude. They like you more than me.“

 

Hermann chuckles, holding the little thing to her chest. „Well, it’s because I’m better.“

 

Newt punches her arm playfully. „You’re unstandable when you’re in a good mood, dear. Please, keep it up.“ She heads to the door. „I’ll just call the nearest pizza place.“ Hermann nods, and turns to stare at her reflection another time, while mindlessly stroking the cat’s fur. It’s not really as outrageous as she sees it as, really; in fact, it’s quite neat, parted at the side, a bit shorter at the back- something that a practical, but classy academic would wear. It’s perfect.

 

She smiles one last time, and follows Newt out of the bathroom.

 

They sweep the bathroom from Hermann’s cut hair as they wait for their dinner to arrive, and then curl up together in the blanket nest, both cats sleeping next to them, and watch a series of movies that, no matter how awfully predictable, have Newt screaming and clinging to Hermann’s side, begging her to hold her hand (no that she minds). When Hermann’s eyes start feeling heavy, she turns to her side, and Newt turns off the television, holding her from behind.

 

She settles a hand in her freshly cut hair with a giggle, placing her other arm across her chest. Hermann relaxes against her, already half asleep, feeling safe; her hand runs to Newt’s thigh, thrown over her hip; she caresses her skin, soft and warm, soft and warm, like everything else, from the feeling of lazy content settled inside her chest to the illumination coming from Newt’s strings of fairy lights.

 

Then, suddenly, Newt flinches; Hermann is ripped away from her floating slumber, and she turns towards her a bit. „Something’s wrong?“ She mutters.

 

Newt bites her lip. „I have- I have, well, scars.“ She confesses, her voice so small, so different from the usual, bold Newt. Hermann props herself up on one elbow, rubbing her eyes, and realised that she must have touched her right where those straight, now white lines disturb her skin.

 

„I know.“ She answers, half-dazed.

 

„You… know?“

 

That’s when she realises that it probably wasn’t the right thing to say. But there’s no going back. „Yes, dear. I saw them the first day we changed together. I never said anything, because it was your choice if and when you would tell me. But I’ve always known.“ She confesses, softly.

 

Newt keeps worrying on her lip, her eyes gazing up at her with a pained expression. „Oh.“ Is all she can say.

 

„I’m so sorry, Newt.“ She speaks softly. „That’s a terrible thing.“

 

„I’m two months clean.“ The other replies, a half smile quirking at her lips.

 

„That’s great.“

 

„Yeah, I- I guess. You know, I don’t- I don’t feel like destroying myself as much as I did before, since-„ Her voice cracks; she swallows thickly, then goes on. „I’ve started seeing a therapist, you know. So, really, I’m good, now. I don’t- I don’t want you to think that I’m crazy.“ It cracks again, and Newt shudders, wrapping her arms around her own chest, in a subconscious attempt to give herself comfort, or protection.


„I don’t think that, Newt. I never have. And really, am I in the position of judging someone for this kind of things?“ She smiles bitterly. „I think not. You might have a bit of crazy in you, but I’m quite sure I have it, too.“

 

Newt lets out a sound that maybe is a hiccup, maybe is a laughter. „You know, I- I never thought that I would have something like this.“ She whispers. Hermann stays silent, waiting for her to go on. „Like, a friend. Someone who- who doesn’t make me feel alone anymore. And, well- my therapist helped, but you-“ She has to stop, her voice failing her.

 

Hermann sighs, cupping Newt‘s cheek with one hand. „As long as you’ll let me stay, I’ll be here.“

 

They’re close, terribly close. Newt parts her lips, stares at her; they share a breath.

 

Tension flies in the air as Hermann lowers herself towards her; then, at the last moment, she’s gripped by panic, by the knowledge that this is not the right moment; it might never be.

 

She kisses her forehead.

 

Newt hums, and Hermann is pretty sure that she’s imagining her disappointment, deluding herself. She wraps her arms around the other, and she curls up against her chest, slowly relaxing, face against her shoulder. „So, now that we’ve both shared dark stuff and almost cried, can we get ice cream?“ she jokes weakly. Hermann scoffs at her, holds her closer. „Of course.“

-

„Guess who’s just invited Liwen to the school dance?“


Mako pops up behind her shoulder, making her wince.

 

„Fuck you.“ Newt hisses. „You’re going to kill me, kid.“

 

Mako just laughs, and settles next to her, in the place that Hermann has left vacant in the mess hall when she’s gone to get her food. It’s a day of March, two weeks before the school dance. „Did you hear what I said?“ She asks.

 

Newt shakes her head; then, processes it. „Liwen? Liwen Shao? Your nemesis? I thought you were dating Beckett?“

 

„Oh, no, that’s in the past. I only liked him for that time he punched Hansen.“ Mako answers casually.

 

„And what the hell happened?“ She hisses.

 

„Oh, well. I liked her, so I kissed her. Then I asked her to the dance. She said she’s going to teach me how to waltz if I teach her how to fight.“ She explains. „See, it’s not that hard.“ She adds after, teasingly.

 

„I will pretend I cannot understand what you mean.“ Newt looks at her plate, blushing.

 

„I meant that you should just kiss Hermann.“ Mako elaborates ruthlessly.

 

„I can’t just go around and kiss people.“

 

Mako rolls her eyes. „Yes, but you two are unnerving. Seriously, man, having a girlfriend is great. You should try it.“ She laughs again and pats her shoulder. „I need to go, now.“

 

„I’m happy for you, dickhead.“ Newt shots eventually. Mako smiles, leaving.

 

And so, one day, as they’re walking to class, she asks the dreaded question, conversationally. „So, do you want to go to the school dance?“

 

Hermann doesn’t answer immediately. „Hmm.“ She considers. „We’ll see.“ That’s it. That’s everything she gets from her.

 

„You’re such a fucking idiot, Hermann.“ She says through gritted teeth.

 

„Why?“

 

„Nevermind.“

 

 

Of course, Mako calls both of them idiots and, at that point, accepts Newt’s eccentric plan.

 

So, she gets in touch with Karla; and as soon as she confirms to her that Hermann will, indeed, be home alone on Friday afternoon, she starts putting it into action.

 

That’s how she shows up at her door, in a neat button-up and- well, they’re not slacks, but they’re whole- with a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers. She rings the bell and, in a matter of minutes, Hermann’s at the door.

 

„Who’s there?“ She asks from the other side.

 

„It’s me, dude!“

 

Hermann opens the door.

 

„Oh, hi, dear, please do come- what the…?“ She interrupts herself, gaping at the bouquet.

 

„Will you go to the dance with me?“ Newt lets out, fast, before whatever twisted impulse brought her to Hermann’s door dies out.

 

„Oh.“ Hermann’s lips curl up slightly. „Oh, so that’s what you meant.“


„Yeah.“

 

Silence. Then, Hermann seems to wake from her frozen state.

 

„Well- well, yes, I would like that.“

 

Newt grins, because this is just so cliché, and yet it feels… good. Hermann stands there awkwardly, smiling and holding the door open, without making a move.

 

„So? Are you taking this stuff and letting me in, or…?“

 

Hermann flinches. „Yes- yes, ah, sorry.“ She takes Newt’s gifts, warily, and leaves the door clear. She holds both the flowers and the chocolate as far as possible from her body, as if they could bite her; eventually, she sets the chocolates on the table, and is left staring at the flowers, indecisive.

 

„I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to justify the provenience of these to my father.“

 

„Oh.“ Despite taking all the necessary precautions to not find her parents at home -finding Vanessa’s Instagram, explaining who she was and obtaining her girlfriend’s number without being murdered; and then texting Karla, and explaining everything all over again, except, more embarrassing- she hadn’t thought about this.

 

„I do not wish in the slightest to refuse your gift, dear, but I’m afraid you will have to take these back.“ Hermann justifies herself.

 

Newt frowns slightly; she made a huge, stupid mistake, and now Hermann has to go through this embarrassment.

 

„Don’t apologise, Herms. It’s fine.“ She says lifelessly.

 

„Still, I feel deeply sorry. If this can make you feel better, take it as a simple reciprocation of your gift- though I’m aware they’re not on the same level.“ She holds the flowers out to her; Newt takes them weakly, and immediately lays them on the table, between them, like that incredible distance, that tense silence.

 

„Do you want- do you want something to eat? Or a drink?“

 

„Yes.“ She mumbles, before processing; then: „No.“

 

Hermann scoffs. „Alright.“

 

They go silent again.

 

„Do you have a suit?“ Newt tries to break the silence.

 

„Uh, no. I suppose I’ll have to get one. Would you- would you like to…?“

 

„To come with you?“

Hermann nods shyly. „Yes. Yes, I would enjoy that.“

 

Newt smiles at her, taking a step forward. „On Monday, maybe?“

 

„Fine. Monday. Monday after school.“

 

She fidgets; when Newt takes another step forward, she takes one back.

 

Newt stills, her hand set on the table, close to the flowers. She moves it slightly in Hermann’s direction and leans towards her, on her tiptoes, almost imperceptibly, staring at her lips. Hermann holds her breath, looking tense, horribly tense.

 

What kind of game is she playing? She says yes, she lets her in, she asks her to go suit shopping together, and then-

 

„It’s greatly fortunate that you happened to find me in a moment when I was home alone.“

 

Uh, well. Finally. Newt shifts closer, without touching her; she looks up to her, barely a centimeter away, the tension almost palpable.

 

„Is it?“ She grins playfully.

 

Hermann swallows thickly. „I- yes. My father, he, uh- it’s clear to the two of us that the- the bond between us is purely platonic, but maybe he wouldn’t concede you the benefit of the doubt.“

 

Newt immediately draws back. It’s clear to the two of us that the- the bond between us is purely platonic. She lets out a shaky laughter.

 

„Yeah, right, what a nice coincidence. Ask your sister tonight.“ She jokes cryptically.

 

„What-„ Is all Hermann can say, before Newt grabs the bouquet and heads to the door.

 

„I need to go. Biochem isn’t going to study itself.“ She excuses herself.

 

„Newt-wait.“ Hermann catches her when she’s already at the door, half-out.

 

„Yes?“

 

She says nothing. She simply leans in and kisses the top of her head. „Thank you.“

 

Newt smiles weakly; then, without one more word, she walks- almost runs- away, before her tears start coming out.

-

 

And so, they go suit hunting.

They check out various shops on the main street, going blindly; it’s only at the fifth that they find a decent selection of suits, ties, tissues, and shirts. They’re debating over which shade of blue would fit better with the tie Hermann has chosen- a dark, almost black blue, with a small pattern of golden stars, original but not too showy- when the shop assistant approaches them.

 

„Are you two attending the high school dance together?“ She asks with a sugary smile. „We’ve already had two other couples today.“

 

„Well, yes, but-„ Newt starts explaining, as Hermann tenses by her side. She’s clearly uncomfortable with them being perceived as a couple; Newt can’t tell if it’s because of her, and the embarrassing situation that occurred when she’s asked her to the dance, or if it’s simply the fact that she’s being spotted as blatantly dating the same sex in public; but the woman doesn’t let her finish.

 

„That’s such a nice choice of tie, dear! And I think you’re right about the suit: the darker one compliments it much more.“ She tells Hermann, who just nods silently in response. Then, the shop assistant turns to Newt. „You know, we have a very nice dress that would look very good on you, and would match your boyfriend’s tie.“ She says conversationally.

 

They both freeze. Newt turns to look at Hermann, not knowing if it’s better to correct her or not; the other gives a subtle sign of denial.

 

„Would you like to try it on?“


Well, Newt had planned to wear a suit, too, honestly- but, well, matching? That’s-

 

That’s terribly corny, but also appealing. So, she smiles back at the woman. „Why not?“

 

It takes a bit to convince her to let Hermann use the women’s dressing rooms without revealing her sex; eventually, Newt leans towards her like a conspirator. „The idiot can’t tie his own tie. Please, I need to help him. My father has taught me just for this.“ She lies skillfully, widening her eyes. The woman laughs with her, and, since they’re the only ones in the shop thanks to the exceptionally early hour, she lets it go.

 

The dress is nice, really; the same dark blue as Hermann’s tie, the same delicate pattern of stars; the skirt is knee-length (well, at least, it’s knee length on Newt, though she suspects that, originally, it was meant to be a little shorter), and the tight top is covered by a thin net that goes on until her wrists. She stares at it in the mirror critically, weighing out the alternative of a suit.


Matching outfits. She’s not sure Hermann will like that; she should ask her before buying it.

 

In that moment, Hermann calls her from the next dressing room. „Newt?“

 

„Yeah?“

 

„Could you come here a moment, please?“

 

Newt gets out of her own dressing room, barefoot –the shop assistant, waiting there like a vulture, shrieks excitedly. „Oh, it looks great! Do you have a pair of heels to wear with it? Not black ones, obviously.“

 

„I’ll keep my combat boots, thanks.“ She mutters back, earning a look of disapproval as she gets inside Hermann’s dressing room.

She’s standing in front of the mirror, a worried expression on; she still has her old, worn-out slacks under the new button up, and her untied tie hangs around her neck. When Newt gets in, she turns to look at her; her worried expression turns into surprise as she lays her eyes on her.

 

„You look- uh, you look very good.“ She stutters: Newt smiles at her.

 

„I’m still not sure about this. I mean, matching? Really?“

 

Hermann shrugs. „Yes, I see your point. I mean, I’m not your boyfriend.“ She whispers, rolling her eyes.

 

Newt giggles. „Yeah, no. But I mean, I wouldn’t mind.“ Hermann frowns, and she backs down on her own words as soon as she finishes pronouncing them. „Wearing the dress, that is. Unless you don’t want to match, in which case-„


„I don’t care.“ Hermann simply says; and it hurts a bit, really, because ‘I don’t care‘ is one of the sentences that hurt the most from someone you’re crazy for. But Newt swallows it all back once again, and nods.

 

„Alright, then. What’s the matter?“ she asks then, squinting at her.

 

„Ah, it’s just- I’m, I’m having some trouble with my tie.“ Hermann confesses, tilting her head down.

 

Newt scoffs at her. „Really? You can’t tie a tie? But you’re always wearing ties.“

 

„Yes, but, ah, well, you see, usually, it’s Karla who does it for me.“ She blushes. „But I can try, I mean, maybe I shouldn’t have-„ She starts fiddling with the two ends, making an attempt that is, frankly, desperate.

 

„You idiot.“ Newt laughs, gently taking her hands and setting them at her sides, away from the tie, before she can involuntarily strangle herself. And, well, if she lingers in the touch a little bit, flashing a smile at Hermann from that small distance, then she can’t be blamed.

 

She starts working on the knot, thankful that she has something to look at that isn’t Hermann’s face; they aren’t touching, not technically, but it still feels so- intimate. Almost domestic.

 

When she’s done, she adjusts the position of the knot, and fixes her collar- sneaking in a gentle stroke at her neck. „It’s done, moron.“

 

Hermann glares at her, uselessly adjusting her knot. „Thank you. You can go, now.“

 

„You can’t be mad at me because I can tie a tie and you can’t!“ She protests, leaving the dressing room.

 

To much of her disappointment, Hermann doesn’t let her see how the whole thing looks; she comes out of the dressing room several minutes later, dressed in her clothes from before, carrying the suit on her arm.

 

„Hey! You saw mine, I should see yours.“ She protests.

 

Hermann doesn’t even give her a justification. „Don’t worry, it’s fine. If you’re done…“ Newt nods, a bit offended, no matter how petty she knows it is, and they head to the cash desks.

 

-

 

Hermann is tense for the whole week. When the day before the (in)famous school dance finally comes, she realises she’s dreading it.

 

„She hates me, Mako.“ She cries out desperately, after popping up at her house without any warning. „She hates me and she only said yes out of pity, or because she thought it was just a friendly thing, and now I did something stupid enough that she finally has connected the dots, and she doesn’t want me but she has no idea how to say it, and so she hates me because I trapped her into this.“

 

Mako pats her shoulder patiently. „Or maybe she likes you, too, but she doesn’t know how to say it, and she doesn’t want to risk your friendship. And she gets colder every time you try to show that you’re in love with her, because she thinks you’re just a friend and seeing you act like that just reminds her that you’re not hers. And maybe she feels guilty, too, for reading romance into platonic gestures… except that they aren’t platonic, you know, but maybe she thinks that.“

 

„That’s overly complicated and unrealistic, are you aware, yeah?“

 

Mako sighs. „Yes, I’m aware.“

 

The next day, it would be nice to imagine Hermann coming to pick her up, holding the car door open for her, and driving her to school; instead, she crowds Mako’s father‘s car, together with her, Liwen, her brother Jake, and one Nathan Lambert, who is totally not his date, no matter the fact that he sits on Jake’s lap through the whole ride.

 

Of course, it’s stupid to resent Hermann for that, now, since she can’t drive and doesn’t have a car; but, right now, Newt is available to resent Hermann for literally anything, and sitting in a car with two happy same-sex couples while thinking about her own hopeless pining and all her failed attempts is making it even easier.

 

Stacker Pentecost, still prim and composed like he’s on a mission, and not the survivor of a thirty-minutes drive with five overexcited high school children, drops them off in front of the school.

 

„Behave.“ He recommends them as they get off of the car. Newt instinctively nods, squaring her shoulders. The man is terribly intimidating.

 

She follows the other four- Liwen and Mako shamelessly holding hands, Nathan and Jake behind them, both terribly nervous- to the entrance; Hermann is standing a few feet from the door. Mako is the first one to spot her; she waves at her enthusiastically, to which she answers with a cold nod.

 

She’s- well, she’s stunning, her suit fitting her perfectly, complimenting her tall, thin figure and her broad shoulders, her hair neatly combed back away from her face. And she’s also notably flower-less; not that Newt had expected anything, but, well. She gave her flowers- which she didn’t take- and chocolate.

 

„Good evening, Newton.“ She greets her, as the other step through the door. Newt stops in front of her.

 

„Hi.“ No kisses, of course; not even a hug. Newt shifts her weight from one leg to the other, fidgeting with the hem of her skirt.

 

„Shall we get in?“ Hermann suggests, offering her arm. Finally. Newt nods approvingly, and places a hand on her forearm, trying to replicate what she’s seen in various period pieces- because, apparently, that’s Hermann’s vibe now. Lesbian Mr.Darcy. Well, Mr. Darcy from the beginning, that is, an absolute stuck-up bastard.

 

They walk through the passage in silence, and reach the main hall; popular music is playing from the speakers, and the place is already quite crowded.

 

„Do you want to dance?“ Newt proposes.

 

„No, not really.“ The Mr. Darcy vibe around her increases, and Newt bites back a rude remark; the cane is probably not making the whole thing easy for her. Why the hell did she say yes, then? They could have just spent the evening together at Newt’s house, cuddling and watching movies. That would have probably been better in all possible ways; no embarrassing proposals, no intricate rituals during suit shopping.

 

„Huh, me neither.“ She lies, looking longingly at the way Liwen and Mako are already waltzing through the room, holding each other and giggling.

 

They find two free seats against one of the walls; Newt manages to grab a glass of something not better identified, but it was at one of the tables watched over by teachers, so it must have been alcoholic enough.

 

„Are you already starting with drinks? Shouldn’t you eat something first?“ Hermann immediately apostrophises her.

 

„Who are you, my mom?“ Newt rolls her eyes. „Oh, well. Except that, if there was acohol, my mom would already be blackout drunk. My dad- well, my dad too. My uncle. Who are you, Hermann? My uncle?“ She corrects herself.

 

„I’m someone who cares about you.“ She spits out like it’s an insult.

 

„Oh, okay, then. You’re not very good at showing it, you know.“ She bites back.

 

„What is this supposed to-„

 

„Nevermind.“ Newt shakes her head, and gets up. „I need to use the restrooms.“ She downs the rest of her drink, and heads out.

 

She doesn’t need to use the restroom; just to get away from there.

 

She stays locked inside a cubicle, crying her heart out, until a group of three girls waiting for their turn start complaining about how fucking long is this chick taking? At that point, she gets out, and all three of them enter the cubicle.

 

She looks in the mirror, leaning heavily against the sink; the little makeup she’d put on has now melted in tears; her cheeks are flushed, eyes puffy. The dress doesn’t look so pretty anymore. She has no idea how to go back to the main hall.

 

She looks away from her reflection, the stare she’s fixing on herself disturbing, inquiring, shallow; why isn’t she pretty while she cries, she ask desperately to the girl on the other side, why isn’t she so gracefully tragic as everyone seems to describe crying women as? Even in a moment like that, the question is ever-present; not that Newt doesn’t know the answer. It doesn’t matter now; doesn’t mean it’s not going to haunt her.

 

She stares at her hands, clutching the bathroom sink, knuckles white; Hermann doesn’t love her. She never will. Not- not like that. Hermann-

 

„Newt?“

 

Hermann is behind her, a hand on her shoulder. Newt winces, turns to her; in the same moment, she remembers to hide her face, and turns in the opposite direction; but the mirror is ruthless.

 

„Newt, are you alright?“ The other asks her, softly; the spite she had in her voice before now vanished.

 

„I’m- I’m sorry.“ Is all she can manage. She hiccups again, but doesn’t cry; at this point, she’s empty. „I’m sorry I invited you to the dance, and that I was so weird, and that I’m ruining everything, and that I-„

 

„Shh.“ Hermann settles her hand back on her shoulder, gripping it comfortingly. „It’s alright. It’s alright. I haven’t been easy to deal with, either. You don’t need to apologise. It’s- it’s my fault.“

 

„No, Herms, no, it’s not yours.“ She leans into the touch, looking at the ground, shaking.

 

„Well, yes. I accepted your invitation while being aware of a fundamental obstacle, and haven’t spoken to you about it.“ She says conversationally.

 

Newt’s heart skips a beat. „Oh- You mean-„ She knows. Oh, shit. She knows. There it goes. Now she’ll tell her that, unfortunately, she doesn’t feel the same way, sorry, so maybe it’s better if we part ways for a bit, since-

 

„I hate crowded places with a burning passion.“ She confesses.

 

„Oh.“ The relief is so strong that Newt starts laughing. „Oh, yeah, well, yes, you could have said that, you dumbass. I mean, I’m not particularly fond of this kind of things either.“

 

Hermann shakes her head. „One would wonder why we’re even here, all things considered.“

 

„Well, we could- we could leave.“ It’s the total emptiness, the impression that nothing makes sense, that she always gets after crying; and that glass of whatever-it-was on an empty stomach is making her a bit dizzy. She takes Hermann’s hand.

 

„Do you have any ideas?“ She asks, holding her back.

 

Well, Newt has some. Her house, for example. She pictures Hermann pinning her against the doorway, kissing her slowly, open-mouthed; leading her upstairs, her eyes glittering as one of her hands creeps up from her knee to under her skirt-

 

„Uh, nothing, no. Just- out?“

 

Hermann shrugs. „As you wish.“

They sneak out from the backdoor; the air is chill outside, and after they’ve settled on one of the benches in the park nearby the school –close, very close, but not touching- Newt starts shivering. The sleeves are too thin for the temperature, and her legs are bare; the dress looks more and more like a mistake.

 

„You’re cold.“ She doesn’t even have the time to answers; Hermann takes off her blazer and drapes it around her shoulders.

 

„You don’t have to-„

 

„Shh.“

 

They stay there in silence for a bit, the music from inside reaching them.

 

„You know, I would have liked to dance with you.“ Newt says eventually, because she’s too tired, and she’s just cried, and she’s in a terrible mood, and yes, maybe she should have eaten something before that shot; basically, her brain-to-mouth filter is gone.

 

„We can- Uh, we can do it here.“

 

Newt chuckles. „Are you sure? Here, in the middle of a deserted park, at night?“

 

„It seems a lot nicer to me than doing it in there.“ Hermann replies. And- well, yeah, it is nice. Too nice, even; under the moonlight, completely alone, after fleeing the party; that’s peak romance.

 

„Alright, then.“ Newt stands up, leaving Hermann’s jacket on the bench, and holding out a hand for her.

 

Hermann shakes her head, lips quirking up in an incredulous smile; but, eventually, she takes Newt’s hand, and stands up, her cane left hooked over the backrest of the bench.

 

„I might need some extra support, but for now, don’t you ever let it pass through that silly head of yours that I’ll let you lead.“ She hisses, gently placing a hand on Newt’s waist.

 

„This is just plain discrimination.“ She protests, taking her free hand and leaning against her shoulder with the other.

 

„Newton, you’re twenty centimeters shorter than me.“ Hermann fixes her stance; counts to three seconds, and then, when the verse- audible, but vague and unrecognisable from that distance- starts over again, she begins leading her.

 

Hermann has limited mobility and Newt is terribly clumsy, and tipsy; nobody would ever describe that as proper dancing. Still, it’s nice. It’s silly, and they’re laughing; Newt reaches over to her lips, because this is the right moment, this is it, she needs to do it- but height isn’t helping her, and, before she can get there, Hermann pushes her from her hip, making her twirl around her arm.

 

Disappointed, she throws herself back in Hermann’s arms as soon as she can; this is simply ridiculous. She puts both her hands at the sides of her waist, and draws her closer; Hermann wraps her arms around her shoulders, leaning over her, and Newt pretends not to hear her sigh of relief; but she tries to stay as steady. Eventually, they’re not even dancing anymore; more like holding each other, terribly close, while swaying around to a resemblance of music.

 

Again, she looks at her lips; on her tiptoes, with Hermann leaning over a bit, she’s almost there; it would just take a little bit more and-

 

Hermann’s expression twitches; it’s a second, but Newt has learnt to recognise signs of pain in her.

 

„I’d say it’s enough.“ She murmurs, as softly as possible, and lets Hermann lean over her, leading her back to the bench.

 

„T-Thank you.“ Hermann whispers, adjusting herself. Newt picks up her blazer.

 

„Do you need it back?“

 

Hermann shakes her head, still clearly in pain. „It’s alright. You can keep it.“

 

Newt nods; does she mean- keep it keep it? Either way, for now it’s hers; she slips it on, the sleeves comically long on her, but comfortable, and warm, the scent of cologne feeling like home.

 

„I’m sorry I forced you to-„

 

„Stop apologising, Newton. You didn’t force me to do anything: I enjoyed our dance, too, for how brief it was.“ Hermann silences her.

 

Newt stays quiet.

 

„I don’t want to abandon you, but I’m afraid that, without a good dose of painkillers and a comfortable seating, the rest of my night would become a torture. I’m forced to call home.“ She excuses herself then.

 

„It’s alright. Don’t worry, really, it’s okay. Hey, maybe I can get my dad to pick you up, since, you know, I’m going away early, too.“ She offers.

 

Hermann shakes her head. „Don’t worry, I’m texting Karla.“

 

„Alright.“

 

It goes back to tense, as Hermann pulls out her phone and types a quick text. Then, she turns to look at Newt thoughtfully, shifting on her seat. She twists her lips as if she was trying to say something unpleasant; but she doesn’t.

 

Newt sees her hand, stretched out too far to be natural, palm facing upward; it’s an invitation, one that Hermann still isn’t comfortable to give her out loud. It’s like that open, empty palm, those slender fingers, contain the entirety of what hasn’t been said, of all the times that something didn’t happen between them, and all the tangled lines of possibilities, potentialities, wishes, fears, fantasies.

 

Newt moves closer and holds her hand.

 

„Next year, we’ll just have movie night on the day of the school dance.“ She declares.

 

Hermann clings to her tightly. „Next year we’ll be in college, hopefully.“

 

„Right.“

It’s rare for them not to have subjects of conversation; usually, when college is mentioned, Newt starts prattling about how they’ll be both accepted to MIT, and they’ll be roommates, and they’ll fight over which names they should give to their cats, and how she can do Hermann’s laundry if she cooks- but not tonight.

 

Tonight, it feels like a closure.

 

When Karla comes to pick Hermann up, Newt feels the disappointment land on her; she helps her friend up, and leads her halfway through to the car, before Karla intervenes and lets Hermann lean against her instead. Newt stands there, and watches them walk away, with the feeling that this is not the right timeline, this is not how it’s supposed to go, where the hell is the plot twist?

 

She realises she’s still wearing Hermann’s blazers; as quickly as possible, she takes it off, and sprints to the car. Here it is. Here it is, the plot twist.

 

„You forgot your blazer, moron.“ She opens the car door, just in time before Karla leaves, and passes Hermann her blazers, hands brushing past each other.

 

„Thank you.“ Hermann reaches out to her, a hand on her arm, and leans in. She kisses her cheek. „Goodnight, Newt.“

 

Then, she slams her door closed, the car speeds away, and Newt is left there, in the middle of the streetwalk, without any plot twists.


-

„You look like someone who could use a vacation.“ Karla, hair still damp from the shower, appears behind her, and Hermann turns away from her breakfast.

 

„I’m fine.“ She mutters back.

 

„Well, good. Then you’re in the right mood for said vacation.“ Her sister takes a seat next to her and steals a piece of toast from her plate.

 

„Make your own.“ She protests.

 

Karla just grins. „Well, I think you owe me at least a piece of toast, in exchange of what I’m about to suggest.“

Hermann sighs, giving up. „Could you please stop vagueing and just tell me?“

 

„I will gladly do so, since you seem so enthusiastic about it.“ Karla rolls her eyes, voice full of sarcasm. „I want to take Vanessa somewhere over spring break, and I need you to cover me. We say we’re going away together, but, uh, I’m with my girlfriend and you’re with yours. Solidarity, man.“

 

„I don’t have a girlfriend.“ Hermann replies stubbornly.

 

„Fine, then. Your gal pal, or whatever you and Newt call each other.“

Hermann rolls her eyes so hard she thinks they’re going to pop out of her head. „Listen, there’s no need for her to tag along. You and Vanessa can go wherever you want, and for me, well, just book me the least expensive option. I don’t mind taking a few days alone.“

 

Karla studies her for a moment. „You really are an idiot, aren’t you?“ When Hermann doesn’t grace her with an answer, she sighs. „Fine, then. I’ll try to find you a decent, isolated place, you killjoy.“

 

And so, of course, two days after, when they get to the train station, bags packed and all, Newt is there, chattering with Vanessa next to the ticket machine.

 

„What the hell does that mean, Karla?“ She hisses in her direction as they approach them.

 

„Oh, well. I gave her a call. Don’t tell me it’s not a pleasant surprise.“

 

Hermann glares at her, and, through gritted teeth, mutters a swear word in German; because, well, she’s not completely wrong. Three days, alone with Newt. Her mind goes running; she stares at her as they get closer, at her usual wide grin and her wild gestures as she’s pestering Vanessa with her endless chatter, hair dishelleved in the warm wind, an oversized sweater making her look smaller, innocent- someone she wants to protect.

 

When they spot them, they both stop talking and smile in their direction. It feels- strange.

 

Vanessa and Karla greet each other with a kiss, and Newt stares at her, grinning and raising an eyebrow.

 

„So? Are you going to kiss me, or?“

 

Irony, painful irony. What the hell did Karla tell her?

 

„Er-„ She blushes, fiddles with the handle of the cane; the other two, in the meantime, are setting a disturbingly high standard. „Shut up, Newton.“ Is all she can say.

 

„Alright, then. Why do I have to do everything myself?“ The other complains; then, she leans over, and for a moment of panic Hermann thinks that she’s really going for it, oh my god she really is, and her lips look so soft, and so pink, as-

 

As they land on Hermann’s cheek. Newt chuckles again, and takes her hand. Mockery. Pure mockery. She knows, and she’s playing with her. God, what has Karla done?

 

The train ride is spent in a similar fashion; Vanessa lays her head on Karla’s lap, lets her braid her hair, and Newt stares at her for a bit, before leaning her head on her shoulder, hands gently wrapping around her arm, and closing her eyes. Hermann doesn’t relax for a single minute.

 

When they finally get to their stop, leaving the others to the rest of their journey, she’s relieved; except that, then, she remembers what must come after.

 

They take the last bus ride to get to their place; it’s a cottage in the middle of the woods, isolated as Karla promised- well, not really as she promised. Newt marvels at the characteristic interiors, at the bathtub, and then-

 

„Dude, were you the one who asked specifically for only one bed?“

 

Hermann freezes. „No.“ She wails out. „Absolutely not.“ She walks quickly to the bedroom. She’s going to murder Karla with her own two hands once she gets back.

 

„Oh, well. You can say it if you were. I don’t mind it, you know. Not even a little bit.“ Newt leaves her suitcase on one side, and walks up to her, grinning.

 

„I’ll take the couch.“ She hisses.

 

„No way.“ Newt replies. „Your leg will hurt tomorrow and you’ll be cranky. And there’s no way I’m taking the couch. So, get your pajamas out and join me as soon as possible, because I’m starting to be tired and touch starved.“ She orders.

 

Hermann opens her mouth to say something; then, closes again. She shrugs and opens her suitcase.

 

Newt strips off of her clothes and settles herself under the covers, in nothing but her underwear.

 

Hermann sighs, trying to put it off as much as possible; she grabs her pajamas and locks herself in the bathroom, letting the shower run for way longer than necessary. Eventually, when the thing is getting ridiculous, she gives up, gets dressed, and joins Newt.

 

„It was damn time.“ She mutters, already half asleep. As soon as Hermann is within her reach, she shifts closer and curls up against her side- bare, warm, soft skin, a vague scent of fruity shampoo clinging to her hair.

 

Hermann tenses. „Don’t you, uh, usually wear something to bed?“

 

„It’s too hot!“ She mutters, rolling to her side and burying her head under the covers. It’s- it’s adorable.

 

„Then why the hell are you sticking to me like this?“ She snaps.

 

„Mmmh,“ She complains. „Don’t scream, Hermann.“

 

„I’m not screaming.“

 

„As you say, my beloved.“ Newt keeps muttering, lips –unintentionally?- brushing against her neck.

 

Hermann winces, pulling away; but she doesn’t let her. „Come on, Herms, why are you so tense? Am I bothering you?“

 

„No- No, I- uh, I just-„ She sputters. Then, Newt’s half-closed eyes, the downward curl of her mouth and her bedhead get the best of her; she’s warm, she’s welcoming, and Hermann spends her nights longing for her touch, picturing scenes not very different from this one; and, no matter how much the fact that this is not how she wishes it was, no matter how guilty she feels; her longing is stronger. She lets go, and holds Newt back, rigidly. „Nothing. Sleep, Newton.“

 

„A goodnight kiss, maybe?“ The other mumbles, eyes already closed.

 

Hermann sighs; and, feeling terribly guilty, and dirty, and wrong, she presses her lips against Newt’s forehead.

 

-

She wakes up to breakfast in bed, and Newt in her button-up and boxers.

 

„Newton, what the hell are you doing in my clothes?“

 

„Oh, it’s never ‚Newton, what the hell are you doing with that breakfast in bed?‘, huh?“ The other replies joyfully, setting the plate on her legs and kissing her cheek.

 

She sits down next to Hermann, and takes a sip from one of the mugs- the one with coffee; she passes her the other: black tea, that Hermann is sure is unsweetened, with just a drop of lemon.

 

Newt leans against her as they eat in silence; she seems comfortable, content, even; she looks up to her, a hint of a smile on her lips. „That’s how you always take it, right?“

 

Hermann nods quietly.

 

„See, I’m good with details. And I brought you breakfast in bed.“ She pats Hermann’s knee, and keeps staring at her; it’s unnerving. „I’m a catch, right?“ Her grin is smug, but her eyes are almost pleading; as if she doesn’t believe what she’s saying.

 

„Thank you, Newton.“ Is all Hermann can say, tensely, as the other keeps tapping on her knee.

 

„You know, Karla said there’s a pretty renowned bookshop in town. Eccentric rich guy, sells old editions and stuff. We could go there today, hang out in the city a bit. They say it’s going to rain in the afternoon, so maybe it’s better not to get into the woods.“ She suggests.

 

Hermann nods. „Okay, I guess.“ She doesn’t mind. As long as Newt is there, too- as long as Newt is there, everything is horrible, and perfect.

 

They wind up walking to the city, because their options in term of buses are limited, and Newt takes too long in the shower; besides, the weather is nice for now, and it’s not a long way, no matter how much Newt insisted that she didn’t have to overwork herself.

 

It’s nice; they get into a heated discussion about tea varieties, and, for some time, it almost looks like everything is back to normal; like they’re just good friends again.

 

At least, until Newt doesn’t shift closer and, in a tone that sounds very similar to mockery, asks: „Do you want to hold my hand?“

 

A shadow passes on Hermann’s face; and everything lands on her again: the shame, the embarrassment, the painful awareness that Newt knows. But if she does, then why doesn’t she just leave? Why did she accept to lock herself in there with her, why does she keep teasing and mocking? Is she waiting for a direct confession? Or is she- is she having fun? Does Newt enjoy the idea that Hermann would do anything for her, would let her stab her in the back and apologise for spilling blood on her clothes? She would have never expected that from her; but she wouldn’t have expected what happened with Tendo, and with all the others, either.

 

„No, Newton, that’s really not necessary.“ She says coldly; but, despite it all, despite the idea that Newt might be playing with her feelings, despite how much she wishes she could hate her for it, she can’t.

 

Newt stops for a moment; then, she shrugs and takes her hand anyway, and Hermann just wants to scream, to shake her and tell her to stop. But she doesn’t; she just holds her back.

They get to the bookshop; it’s characteristic, ancient, and the books stocked on the shelves look like none of them has been published less than fifty years earlier.

 

Hermann stares at Newt as, their hands still intertwined, she marvels at what’s around her; then, the other starts dragging her through the shelves.

 

At one point, Hermann lets go, and starts wandering on her own. She’s browsing a physics text from the 1940s, when she hears Newt call.

 

„Dude! Look at this!“ She finds her in the classics section; she’s holding a small, ancient-looking book. Hermann leans over and looks at the cover.

 

„An adaption of most of Sappho’s poems, the first-„ She starts explaining; but Hermann has recognised the name.

 

„The first translation made by a woman, if I’m not mistaken.“ She finishes. Newt nods, browsing through the book.

 

- suddenly, I can’t/ speak- my tongue is broken;/ a thin flame runs under/ my skin; seeing nothing, /hearing only my own ears/ drumming, I drip with sweat; /trembling shakes my body/ and I turn paler than /dry grass. At such times /death isn’t far from me.

 

„Such a pity it’s too expensive.“ Newt puts the book back, frowning.

 

Hermann hesitates for a moment; then, she follows her to another section.

 

When they start heading out, she stops. „Wait for me a second outside, will you? I need to use the restrooms.“ The lie slips out easily; her heart is pounding, and she feels so stupid, so ridiculous, but she needs to do it.

 

„Do you want me to come with you?“ Newt offers.

„No, no, go ahead. Look if there’s a decent place to eat something, maybe.“ Newt shrugs and heads out.

 

Hermann walks as quickly as possible to the classics section, grabs the book and, looking behind herself to make sure Newt won’t see her from the shop window, buys it. She hides the paper bag inside her bag, and joins Newt outside.

 

They barely have the time to have lunch –the book seems to be burning inside her bag, but she doesn’t get the courage to give it to Newt- before it starts raining. They make it home soaked from head to toe.

 

„I want to take a warm bath.“ Newt announces immediately, getting rid of her jacket.

 

„At least let me take a shower first.“ Hermann argues, shivering visibly. She feels inside her bag, to check if the book is still dry; it is. Then, she drops everything on the floor and heads to the bathroom, before Newt can get ideas and keep it occupied for a couple of hours.

 

„We could take a bath together, you know.“ She attempts. Hermann doesn’t even answer; she just slams the door shut.

 

Under the shower, she cries; and if Newt will have to wait some minutes more to warm up, well, serves her well. She can’t take it anymore.

 

She needs to get away from here. She needs to get back home, because, no matter how awful her parents were- at least she expected it from them. But that’s impossible; she would endanger Karla.

 

Karla- Karla is the one who’s put her into this mess. They’ll need to have a serious talk once she gets back.

 

Thankfully, Newt spends most of the afternoon in the bathtub, away from her; at one point, she tries calling her, asking her to wash her hair; but Hermann pretends not to hear, and keeps doing so, even when Newt asks it louder. For good measure, she puts on a pair of headphones, in case she decides to get out and come to pester her. But she doesn’t.

 

When Newt gets out of the bath, a towel around her hair and another around her body, drops of water decorating her skin and smudged black stains around her eyes, Hermann tries her best not to look at her, and keeps focusing on her history notes.

 

„God, dude, are you studying? You’re seriously no fun. We could bake.“ She torments her as she starts rubbing her hair with the towel.

 

„I’m trying to concentrate, Newton. Go quiet and go get dressed.“ She replies, as rudely as possible.

 

„Oh, god, sorry I’m distracting you.“ Newt talks back, before leaving the room.

 

Dinner is quiet; at least, it is to Hermann, because Newt keeps talking, and talking, and talking; but her words are blurred, Hermann’s eyes fixed on the plate that she barely picks anything from.

 

She heads to bed immediately after, without saying a word; she hears the clatter of plates and pans as Newt tidies up all by herself, and feels a bit guilty, but that’s still better than having to interact with her.

 

When Newt gets in the bedroom, turns on the bedside lamp,- despite everything, Hermann feels a pang of guilt for having forgotten that-takes off her clothes and lays down next to her, she pretends to be asleep.

 

Newt tentatively reaches out to her, a delicate touch on her back. But Hermann lets out a muffled sound of displeasure, and she sighs, letting her hand fall.

 

She stays awake for hours after that, hearing her breath get more shallow; eventually, she rolls over to look at her, barely visible in the almost total darkness, her eyelashes forming shadows against her cheeks, her lips slightly parted, hair falling over her face.

 

She sighs, and gets up.

 

After putting on a thicker sweater, she goes sitting on the front porch, watching the rain pour; it’s cold, and it’s desperate, and the thunders seem to be screaming out the storm she feels inside.

 

It’s wrong. It’s all wrong. It’s all-

 

„Hermann?“ A hand on her shoulder. Newt is behind her. „Everything alright?“

 

„Yes, Newton. Go back to sleep.“ Her tone says the opposite, clearly. Newt sits behind her, circling her with her legs and resting her chest against Hermann’s back. She’s completely wrapped around her, and she speaks of the warmth inside, of what she could have- of what she wishes she could have.

 

„Are you really sure?“ She asks softly, whispering into her ear.

 

„Yes, Newton, I- God, why do you even care?“ She snaps eventually, freeing herself from her hug and turning to her side.

 

„Because I’m your friend?“ She says, reaching out to her face with a hand. Hermann doesn’t let her; she grabs her wrist and moves it away.

 

„Sometimes I wish you weren’t.“ It burns to say that; it’s not right, it’s not true, and it’s not something Hermann is proud of at all; but in that moment, it feels like everything inside her is about to burst.

 

When Newt’s expression drops, she doesn’t feel as satisfied as she would have expected. „Why do you say that?“ Her words come out slowly, thickly; her face is too still to be Newt’s, too stone-cold. But her eyes- her eyes always talk. And now, they’re screaming in pain.

 

„Forget that. It was- I don’t really think that. Don’t worry, Newton. Go back to bed.“ She immediately backs down, voice neutral.

 

„I’m not going to.“ Her usual stubbornness comes back out; then, it turns into a plead. „Please, Hermann, please, I- just tell me what I’ve done, because you hate me, at this point it’s clear, but I don’t know- I’m sorry if I-„

 

„ You don’t know?“ She spits out. „How can you say that? How can you look me in the eyes and say that you don’t know, after- after the way you’re treating me, and you’re- you’re playing with my feelings, and mocking me, and-„She spits out every word with all the rage her body can hold; then, she has to stop and breathe. „And you know that I would never be able to defend myself from you, Newton. You know. You just don’t care, it only makes it funnier, that I would let you step on me like I’m nothing just because I love you so much that-„

 

Newt draws a sudden, sharp breath, and Hermann goes quiet.

 

„You what?“

 

It feels harder to say it again; her mouth goes dry, her stomach feels knotted. „I love you.“

 

The words sink into silence; two, three, four seconds pass, as Newt stares at her, mouth hanging open, completely still. Then, she snaps out of it.

 

„Fuck, dude, and what the hell were you waiting for, then? You fucking moron, I’ve been trying to give you hints for months and I thought you hated me because-“

 

„What does that mean?“ Hermann shrieks.

 

„It means- god, Hermann, it means that we’ve been pining over each others like idiots just because you cannot take a fucking hint.“

 

She fidgets, not sure that she’s got it quite right. „So, you mean that you-„

 

„Oh, shut up and kiss me, moron.“

She kisses her.

It’s the first time she ever kisses someone; she has no idea how to do it, which she conveniently realises only after doing it. She just presses her lips against Newt’s; and it’s terrifying, that moment where she just stays there, trying to decide what to do, afraid of having misinterpreted something. But then Newt kisses her back.

It’s warm, and sweet; she takes it slowly, dragging a hand to the back of her neck to draw her closer, fingers brushing her buzzed hair, while her other hand goes looking for Hermann’s, who holds it tight, so tight, she thinks she’s never going to let it go.

Her legs wrap around her waist, and Newt pulls back, grasping for air, a genuine smile blooming on her face. She kisses her again, deeper, and when Hermann moves to face her, shaky hands running all over her body with no idea where to stop, she moans, arching her back to try and get even closer.

When they pull back again, Hermann seriously thinks that she’s going to faint. Her head is spinning and her heart is beating too fast and her limbs are shaking with adrenaline; Newt looks slightly less shaken than her, though her breath is almost feverish, and her face has gone pale, except for the red spots of her cheeks.

They keep clinging to each other, and neither of them seems to have any intention of letting go.

“Maybe we should go back inside.” Newt suggests eventually, in a low whisper.

Hermann nods; they stand up, still clinging to each other’s hand, and close the door behind themselves.

-

Newt closes the car door behind herself and waves at her uncle, who waves back and leaves. The address is the right one, she's sure; she's never been to Hermann's house before, but she used to walk her home when they were still going to high school.

That is, well, a week earlier; it feels strange to think about it in past tense, she reflects as she walks the steps to the front door.

Everything's over, now; it's just a matter of days before they get the results of their college applications, which is why Hermann's parents let her stay home instead of following them for their usual Bavarian holiday. Karla stayed home, too, working; it's not necessary for Mr. and Mrs. Gottlieb to know that she is, in fact, staying at Vanessa's flat; and the same thing can be said about the fact that Newt is going to spend a week over at their house. Apparently, none of the Gottlieb children are straight, which can come in handy with that kind of parents.

The plate attached to the bell confirms to her that this is the right address; she rings and, in a matter of seconds, Hermann is smiling at her from the other side of the threshold, letting her in.

She's stunning, as usual, pale skin contrasting with the dark button-up she's wearing, her hair neatly styled, legs endless in her light slacks; she looks professional, and welcoming at the same time.

When she hugs her, Newt can feel more than a hint of cologne, and she smiles. They linger in each other's arms a bit, and take a moment of silence, where they stand in front of each other, smiling.

From the white, well-lit kitchen comes a fragrance of baked goods, and the light from the huge living room window invests Hermann's frame for behind, making her look like she's literally made of light, ethereal.

"Glad to see you, nuisance." She greets her eventually, her voice soft despite the quite unconventional endearment.

"Always ready to be the bane of your existence, my dear." Newt replies in the same tone.

Hermann tilts up her chin with a cold, slender finger, a slow, calculated gesture, looking at her with half-lidded eyes, before pressing a kiss to her lips. "Take off your shoes, dear, then I'll show you where you can keep your suitcase."

She follows Hermann upstairs, to her bedroom; it's at least twice the size of Newt's, and has its own balcony; but the walls are empty, the shelves excessively tidy. The only thing that catches her attention is the bookshelf.

Now, bookshelf; the thing covers a full wall, and is overflowing.
Books on the most desparate topics- from applied mathematics to science fiction to philosophy to romance to witchcraft- are stocked in every possible direction, in multiple rows.

"Nice." Newt comments, passing a finger on the backs of the nearest row of books, as she turns to look at Hermann; there's not the slightest sign of dust. These books are regularly used, reorganised, taken care of; the idea of how many times Hermann's hands must have stroked one of those covers almost makes her jealous.

"I have something for you." Hermann leans close, smirking, and Newt sighs, lost in the closeness, in the curl of her lips and the work of bones and tendons in her hand when she reaches out and fixes her fallen bra strap.

"What is it?" She asks immediately, but Hermann just keeps smirking and kisses her forehead.

"You'll see." She reaches out towards a shelf over Newt's head, terribly close to her.

The book she retrieves is small, and looks old; it takes Newt a few seconds to recognise it. "Is that- is that the edition of Sappho's poems that i saw while we-"

"Yes. I bought it for you that same day, but it took me a bit to work up the nerve to actually give it to you." She confesses.

"A bit?" Newt echoes. "Dude, it took you three fucking months!" She laughs; Hermann rolls her eyes in annoyance, blushing, but Newt immediately pulls her in for a kiss, which seems to make up for any sarcastic remarks; Hermann responds enthusiastically, pinning her against the shelves.

"Listen, dude, not to be that person, but this is not really the most comfortable position I've been in, and-"

Hermann takes her hand, and leads her to the bed; she manages to end up on top, and starts fiddling with her top button, as they keep kissing; then, tentatively, she undoes it.

"You know, I've always liked button-ups." She grins, kissing the soft skin of her throat underneath; she can feel the flow of her blood, and the beat of her heart, fastening, and loud, and loud-


Hermann looks at her with slightly parted lips and half-lidded eyes, and doesn't seem to have any intention of stopping her; still, Newt shoots her a questioning look, and the other nods decidedly. She goes on, teeth scraping on her neck; Hermann sighs shakily, her fingers tightening through Newt's hair.

Just as slowly, she undoes the next button, presses her lips on the spot where her collarbones meet and, as Hermann keeps stroking her hair, she goes on; she kisses her sternum at the next, and undoes the next two quickly, skipping over the portion of her body covered by her usual too-tight sportsbra; then, lands on the soft, vulnerable skin of her stomach, and then lower, and lower, until her shirt is completely unbuttoned, and Newt stops at the waistband of her pants, her hand cupping a sharp hipbone, Hermann's skin covered in goosebumps.

At this point, she makes her way back to her lips, with quicker, open-mouthed kisses; she sucks on her collarbone, as Hermann's hands -always gentle, delicate, no matter how shaky they are, how much they're longing to touch her- run on her chest, on her thighs, on her back; she raises her head slightly to look at her, and she only stops when Hermann calls her name, like a plead.

“Do you want me to stop?” She asks.

Hermann’s answer is exceptionally quickly. “No. Absolutely not.”

Newt smiles at her, taking her hand to her lips. She slowly kisses her knuckles, as Hermann keeps staring at her.

Then, she kisses her, abandoning herself against her, pinning her hand against the bed; it's not chaste, at all, but it's slow, tender; Hermann clasps her hand back, letting out a muffled moan.

When they pull back, breath heavy, cheeks flushed, Newt sits up in a rush, attempting to pull her own shirt over her head; Hermann doesn't even give her the time to finish, and her hands, always cold, run to the bare skin of her waist, sending a shiver down her spine.

She shudders, attempting to get the sweater off of herself while being definitely overwhelmed, Hermann's hands still against her skin, cold and burning; and then, somehow -because she's Newt Geiszler, and, actually, it would be surprising if, for once, she didn't make a fool of herself-she loses her balance, and falls off the bed. She swears loudly as her back hits the floor.

“Newton, dear, are you alright?” Hermann immediately hovers over her. She’s a sight; her usually neat hair now completely tousled, her cheeks flushed, her chest rising and falling too quick.

Newt sighs, getting into a more dignified position and finally pulling her shirt off. Wide neckline, next time.

“Yes, except that I broke-“ she starts, but Hermann doesn’t let her finish.

“What have you broken? Do I need to call someone? Do you need-“

“The mood, Hermann.” She deadpans. “I broke the mood.”

“Oh.” Hermann chuckles. “No, don’t worry, I don’t think so.” She bites her lip, shyly; then, tilts her head in a gesture of invitation. “Come back, maybe?”

Newt smiles back at her, rising from the floor, and joins her again.

“You’re such an idiot.” Hermann mutters as she adjusts herself under her. “You can’t even take your clothes off without-“

Newt interrupts her, and leans closer to whisper in her ear. “Guess that’s why I get you to do that for me, huh?”

Despite the situation, and the lack of embarrassment towards innuendos that it should bring, Hermann blushes violently. “Shut up.”

Newt kisses her neck. “Make me.”

After rolling her eyes one last time, Hermann complies.