You’ve always thought Emily was cute.
Growing up together, you’d been especially fond of the blonde and her never ending energy. Even when you’d grown apart in middle school, you couldn’t help but notice the way Emily had grown into the person she is today. Not that you’ve ever stopped noticing her, considering she lives right next door (and maybe, some days, you’d put a little more effort in trying to spot the bubbly blonde, if only to see how your former best friend was doing).
You used to watch her school Evan in basketball whenever you got too bored with working on your homework in the kitchen. Or sometimes you’d be studying in your room and see her dancing jumpily and singing passionately into a hairbrush. Or you'd be hanging out with your friends and spot her laughing in her backyard as Evan did something or the other. Or you’d be cleaning your room and see her hunched over on her desk, brows furrowed and frown being lightly nibbled on as she concentrated on whatever she was working on.
Even when you'd stopped hanging out as much with the Mitchells, you still found your focus gravitating ever so slightly towards the cheerful blonde.
It took you a long while to realize why. You always just chalked it up to missing the friendship you’d once had.
Emily had been your constant growing up. With your mom’s sickness and your dad working hard to pay the bills, you found warm comfort in being around the younger blonde. There was never a dull moment when you were with her and having her back in your life now that you were both in high school seemed to only bring back the warmth and happiness you always felt around her.
So maybe you put in a little more effort in getting close to her again. Maybe you tried a little harder to bring things back to when you were seven and the only things you had to worry about were how to get a handsaw up a tree and how to keep Emily from getting grounded.
It’s that same effort that gave you that moment on the rooftop of Amber Hutchinson's mansion, with the stars painting her usually burning blonde a gentle halo, her warm blues crinkling slightly as you joked about Evan's inability to act (you think of how you'd already been thinking of Emily when you'd first found the telescope, that saying it reminded you of her was only half the truth). It’s what makes your thoughts flash back almost every rehearsal to when you were nine and your stomach would feel light and warm every time you called her “Your Highness” and her eyes would crinkle at the edges as her nose wrinkled with her smile (you think of how the brightness in her eyes hasn’t changed at all). It’s what made finding her in the auditorium so relieving, knowing that she didn’t blow you off and that it wasn’t something you’d done to ruin your friendship.
You think of how homecoming would’ve been so much different if you’d gone with her instead, just the thought of her grin, bright and dorky and infectious, as she danced happily in the middle of a crowd bringing a smile on to your own lips. You remember the way she’d twisted and shimmied and pumped her arms, carefree and glowing as her laughter seemed to harmonize with the music. You remember the way your heart stuttered when she'd asked you to dance, the way her hand felt warm and perfect in yours.
So maybe you don’t remember the exact moment she’d gone from the little girl who used to wreck your yard with you into the beautiful, bubbly, adorable young woman you were co-starring with now, but you'd do anything to keep the warmth that settles in your veins every time Emily beams at you from across the stage, or the moments when she sings along to the radio whenever you drive her around, or the feeling of contentment that envelopes you every time she pulls you into strong, soft arms whenever you hug.
And it hits you sometimes, a heavy wave of guilt that comes in bits and flashes every time you think of the gap years of your friendship. Of the years you spent trying to be a little too cool and accepted to hang out with anyone younger than you. It was only in high school that you’d realized how wrong and stupid you’d been. You’d seen the head cheerleader dating her best friend (who’s an entire two years younger than her) and one of the most popular girls in school friends with people from completely different grades and you’d felt a terrible guilt settle in your bones every time you looked out your window and saw blonde hair rushing around their room.
You didn’t realize why Emily made you feel all these emotions until your mom points it out practically months later, only hours after you’d visited her at the hospital with Emily.
You remember the nerves that had settled in your stomach that day (just yesterday, really) and the need to visit her—your mom always knew what to say to ease your thoughts, calm the butterflies in your stomach. After the final dress rehearsal had wrapped up, the churning in your stomach was too throat clogging to ignore and you knew you needed to visit her even if your dad couldn't go with you.
You startle at the sudden voice, looking up to find blonde brows furrowed over a slight frown. You pause as the question loads into your thoughts, your nod small as a frown flits on to your lips when you finally process what Emily’d asked. “Yup. I’m gonna pay my mom a visit at the hospital.”
“How’s she doing?”
“She’s a bit more stable than she was a couple weeks ago, but she’s still too sick to leave.” You pause, lip catching between your teeth as you hold back a shaky sigh. “I know I gotta put on a brave face in front of her, but it’s so hard to hold it together seeing her the way she is. Normally I go with my dad, but he’s working overtime again.”
And Emily, always the sweetest, kindest person you know, tilts her head and asks, “Is there any way I can help?”
And you think of the nights you’d spent doing homework in the armchair in the corner of your mom’s room, of the afternoons you’d told her all about the play and how dedicated everyone was, how you’d shared every story you had of rehearsals and the crazy whirlwind that always seemed to follow at least one of your friends.
You think of the way your mom smiled every time you mentioned Emily.
(“So,” your mom had smiled slow and sly after you’d finished recounting how Danielle had framed Emily and almost the entire cast and crew had really believed that sweet little Emily could ever do something so mean and actually lie about it for so long (you’re well aware of the blonde’s incredible inability to lie. It was just one more thing you found endearing about the freshman). “You seem to have a lot of faith in Emily.”
You held back a scoff as you straightened almost defensively. “It’s Emily, mom! You know her. She couldn’t hurt a fly even if she tried! Honestly, the only way she’d probably ever hurt a fly is if she tripped and fell on it.”
Your mom’s smile only grew at your reply, her eyes shining so mischievously that your rant faded at the sight. You hadn’t seen your mom that happy in a long, long time. Her head tilted knowingly in a way you couldn’t understand, but she quickly changed topics before you could ask what she knew.)
So you bit back your nerves and cautiously ask, “Well… Do you think you could come with me? It’d mean a lot. My mom misses you, too. She’d love to see you again.”
“Me too…” Your lips stretch into a smile at her reply. “Except I promised Evan I’d help him study for a midterm…”
You tamp down your disappointment as you keep your smile in place. “It’s okay if you can’t go today. We’ll definitely get another chance.”
You turn back to your phone at that, still unfamiliar with how to get to hospital on your own.
“Rory…” You look up at Emily’s voice, noting the sudden brightness in her warm blues as a smile stretches her lips. “Let’s visit your mom at the hospital together. I want to be there for the two of you.”
You can’t hold back your grin as you pull her into a quick hug. “Yes! I was really, really hoping you’d say that.” You step back, your heart tapping happily in your chest. “It’s been, what, two years since you’ve talked? Three?”
“Two, I think?” Emily’s own smile stretches as wide as yours. “She over to my house with a bunch of pears because she bought a million when they were on sale.”
“What about the time my mom baked too much cake and gave you guys some?”
“I wasn’t home that time, just Evan.” She pauses, grin turning sly. “Why is my family your mom’s garbage disposal when she has too much of something?”
You can’t help but laugh, rolling your eyes as you finally punch in the address to your phone. “That’s what neighbors are for, aren’t they?” Address found, you wave your phone excitedly as you stop yourself from bouncing in place. “Let’s go!”
The drive to the hospital is much less nerve-wracking than it usually was. Normally, you’d be shifting in your seat as your dad tried to distract you with stories of his work, which would only make you think about the fundraiser and how you needed it to go well. But Emily didn’t talk about school or the play or even your families, instead, she turns the volume up on the radio and dances and sings along to every song that plays. She’d turn to you and point her invisible microphone your way and her carefree grin and shining blue eyes were enough to ease the tension in your shoulders as you let yourself get roped into singing along.
Your nerves flit back in once you’ve stepped into the hospital, leading Emily through the familiar hallways and past sterile rooms. You notice the gentle patter of footsteps that had been following you suddenly stop, and you turn to find the freshman staring into the gift shop.
Emily turns to you, eyes wide and energy buzzing. “They have bouquets here! Wanna get some for your mom?”
You blink, thoughts flashing back to the last time you’d picked flowers for your mom with the blonde. “Oh yeah! She loves flowers!”
“Does she still have that one sunflower-patterned shirt? I used that to recognize her as a kid whenever she wore sunglasses and it was hard to see her face.”
You laugh, shaking your head at the thought of little Emily looking determinedly for a sunflower-patterned shirt. “That’s a smart trick! She does still have it. Though she doesn’t wear it much anymore.” You think of the way your mother had deflated the slightest bit the last time she’d tried to wear it. “It’s kinda baggy now that she’s lost weight…”
Emily offers you a gentle smile, giving your arm a gentle squeeze before stepping up to the bouquets lined up in the shop. You shake the sadness away and turn to the flowers as well.
“Which one should we get?” You turn to her, smile crooked as you watched her brows furrow in concentration and a small pout curl her lips, her nose crinkling just the slightest bit as she hummed.
Her eyes scan the flowers seriously before they light up, Emily picking up a white and blue bouquet held together by an elegant blue bow. She reads the bouquet name and grins. “Don’t Be Blue is exactly the effect we want to have on your mom.”
You chuckle, smile growing soft as you take in her excitement. “I’m sure any bouquet would do for that, though. Appropriate name or not.”
Emily quirks a brow, smile sliding into a smirk as she fiddles with the flowers in her hand. “How do you know? Maybe this one’s named specifically because it has a better anti-blue effect than the others.”
You laugh, giving in. “I guess we can’t risk it, then! Let’s take Don’t Be Blue.”
You make your way to the register with a lightness in your steps that you’d never felt in the hospital, your lips twitching happily as you move to pull out your wallet. But before you can even blink, tan fingers fly past you and hand over a wad of cash to the cashier. You can only blink in surprise.
“Emily?” You turn to the blonde to see her smiling softly, shrugging as she takes her change.
“Let me pay for this, Rory. I mean it.”
“The word you’re looking for is thanks.” She shoots you a smug smirk. You can feel a happy kind of warmth spread through your chest and you pause as you let the feeling sink in. Holding back a chuckle, you shake your head as a smile quirks your lips.
Emily’s grin brightens as her eyes crinkle with her smile. “That’s more like it. You’re welcome.”
The strange warmth that you’ve slowly started associating with Emily spreads to your stomach and you take the bouquet before nodding down the hall. “Shall we?”
The air feels cold and stifling as you make your way to your mom’s room, fingers clenching around the bouquet before a steadying warmth presses the bottom of your back. Emily’s hand stays steady on your lower back as you stop in front of your mom’s door, her smile soft and encouraging and just enough to get you to actually open the door and step inside.
“Mom?” You ask, hoping she hadn’t fallen asleep just yet.
“Rory!” You can hear your mom’s smile as Emily follows you into the room. “And Emily, what a pleasant surprise!”
“Mrs. Silva! It’s been too long.” You can see the way Emily’s smile flickers at the sight of your mom struggling to sit up in bed, your own heart clenching as you help your mom get comfortable. Still, your mom’s enthusiasm never wavers.
“You look great, Emily!”
Emily’s reply is reluctant but earnest. “You look… great, too!”
You feel the sadness creep into your smile as your mom chuckles and replies, “You’re as sweet as always, Emily. But you don’t need to lie. I know I don’t look too glamorous with this whole cancer thing going on.”
“Mrs. Silva…” Emily trails off before she shakes her head, a genuine (if not slightly mischievous) smile quirking her lips. “Nonsense! You look ready for the catwalk! I’m shocked scouts aren’t swarming the hospital right this instant.”
You can see the sparkle in Emily’s eyes reflect in your mom’s, your heart easing as your smile brightens. You join in with a grin, “They don’t know they’re missing out on the supermodel of the century here.”
“That gown?” Your mom waves at her attire, smile growing. “No eyebrows? Hashtag looks.”
You all share a laugh before your mom waves at the comfy chairs in the corner. “Come, sit down! There’s chairs.”
Emily helps you pull them up to her bedside before she plops into a seat and pats the free one next to her.
“Rory’s been talking about you a lot lately. Thanks for being there for her.”
You stand, frozen at your mom’s comment. “Mom!”
“What? It’s true!”
And Emily, ever the sweetheart, straightens in her seat and reassures you, “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that if it makes you feel better, Rory.”
Sighing, your heart taps happily at the incredible adorableness of the girl next to you. You shake your head and smile in surrender. “It’s okay. I guess you deserve credit where it’s due, even if it embarrasses me.”
You turn back to the bedside table and carefully place the bouquet you’ve been holding into the vase you always maintained whenever your mom got new flowers. Arranging the flowers a little more presentably, you finally take the seat next to Emily and smile softly your mom’s way. “We got you some flowers, Mom.”
“Wow!” Your mom’s smile is bright, if not a little surprised as you’d stopped giving her flowers a couple weeks into her hospital stay (it made you too sad, knowing that store-bought, bush picked flowers was all she could see of nature for a long while). “You sure know how to lift my spirits.”
“The anti-blue worked!” Emily’s proud exclamation catches you off guard, a laugh slipping past your lips as you nod.
“You were right, Emily!”
Your mom only looks at the two of you in confusion. “Huh? What’s this about?”
“Nothing!” Emily’s smile is innocent, if not a little teasing. “Rory’s just learned to trust bouquet namers now!”
Your mom smiles amusedly at her answer before a yawn overtakes her.
Emily’s voice is gentler now, less excitement and more warmth. “Feeling sleepy?”
“Just a little. I was tossing and turning all night. I feel exhausted, but I have a hard time actually dozing off, especially in this hospital bed.” Your mom complains, shifting a little before nestling back into her pillows, a smile replacing her frown. “But enough about me. Tell me how Evan and your parents are doing, Emily!”
Emily lights up entirely at the request, her eyes shining and her grin stretched wide. “Boy, do I have the story for you!” You watch with fond amusement as Emily retells her stories with an exaggerated amount of arm movement and facial expressions. “So on the first day of school, Evan met this girl named Amber…”
And honestly, you could’ve listened to Emily talk for hours—maybe even days. She had a different kind of charisma whenever she was telling a story. Much like acting, it was like Emily came to life when she talked about experiences and misadventures to others. Her eyes would stay the slightest bit wide and the biggest bit earnest. Her lips would twist and curl with every emotion she’d pull out of her story, her hands following the pace and action of the tale down to every heartbeat.
Emily had a way with words that was captivating, and you honestly have no idea why she’d only gotten into theatre in high school.
You can see the way her stories brings your mom to life—the way your mom gasps and cheers and laughs and frowns throughout the blonde’s entire retelling. And it makes your heart feel funny, the way Emily’s grin and your mom’s replying snort of laughter digs something deep in your chest.
“And then she wheels another ice sculpture into the cafeteria—”
“Sorry, you two.” The sudden interruption is jolting, your eyes snapping to the door to find your mom’s doctor shooting you both an apologetic smile. “It’s time for Mrs. Silva to rest.”
The disappointment in your mom’s entire body is evident. “Aw, already?”
And as much as you want to stay in that moment forever, Emily making your mom laugh and smile and cheer, you know that your mom’s recovery is top priority. “We’ll see ourselves out, then.”
Emily stands with you, waving dejectedly at your mom like a scolded puppy. “Bye, Mrs. Silva.”
“See you later!” Your mom bounces back just as fast. “I hope I can make it to the play and watch you perform.”
“You will.” If there’s anything you hold on to, it’s that your mom will get better. “I believe in you.”
You let the doctor usher you out, your heart stopping at the somber look on the doctor’s face. The weight you’d thought you’d tamped down after you’d stopped by the gift shop returns like a vice around your heart.
“Don’t lose hope. Your mom’s a fighter through and through.” Your smile is weak at the encouragement. “I’m glad to hear you’re raising money for her with the school play at Berry High. If there’s anyone who deserves it, it’s her.”
“Thanks, doc.” A lump lodges into your throat, the burden of the fundraiser and your mom’s life crashing back on to your shoulders. You push past the sting in your eyes and manage a broken, “I’m glad you think so, too.”
You watch the doctor nod before striding down the hall and out of sight, the heavy thoughts you’d been pushing to the back of your mind returning in waves.
Emily’s hand on your shoulder is steadying, but the gentleness in her voice has you’re your throat clogging up. “Rory…”
“Don’t say anything. You’re going to make me cry.”
There’s a pause then, your breaths measured and slow to keep the tears from spilling. But Emily’s hand on your shoulder tugs you close as she whispers, “Give me a hug.”
Emily’s arms envelope you surely and safely in her warmth as you choke back a sob. Her hand draws soothing circles on to your back and the dam just breaks. You cling to her as the tears wrack your body, your lips clamped together as you let warm tan arms hold you tight. She holds you close, as if her hug alone can glue together the fragile pieces of your life. You stand there for a long moment, the trembling in your bones fading to shaky breaths and damp cheeks after what feels like hours in her embrace, the shoulder you’d been leaning on wet and cold.
Slowly, tentatively, you pull away with a faint smile, the weight in your chest just the slightest bit lighter despite the tears still trickling down your cheeks. “Thanks, Emily. I-I didn’t mean to break down like this in front of you…”
Emily’s smile is gentle but bright, warm. “Don’t sweat it. You’ve seen worse from me over the years.”
You can feel the lump crawling back up your throat, your tears coming a little faster as you stare at the girl who used to know everything about you, still knowing exactly what you need to hear or happen. The words slip past your lips before you even realize it. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you.”
“You did everything,” she promises before you can take back the fragile gentleness in your words. “Don’t worry.”
She holds your hand and leans into your shoulder until your tears have dried, her soft humming and calloused thumb rubbing gentle circles into the back of your hand until you take in one last, shaky breath. You wipe away the dampness from your cheeks and squeeze her hand in silent thanks, pulling her along quietly back to the parking lot and letting the weight of her hand keep you grounded the entire ride back home.
(That night, you fall asleep to the feeling of warm arms holding you tight and Emily’s parting whisper nestled deep in your bones.
“You’re mom is so proud of you, and so am I.”)
It’s the morning of your fundraiser when your mom pops the question.
You hummed loudly so the phone settled on your bed could hear, your thoughts on making sure you had everything you needed for the play tonight and your eyes skimming over your script just one last time to be sure.
“Why haven’t you asked Emily out yet?”
The questions doesn’t register until a good ten seconds later, your throat choking on air. “I-Huh? Wh-Huh?”
“Oh darling, I may have cancer but I’m not blind. You two had sparks flying everywhere the entire visit. I’m surprised you both didn’t combust on the spot.”
“M-Me? Ask out Emily?”
“That’s what I said, yes.”
“But I don’t—I mean I…”
A stifling silence envelopes your room then, as if your mom can see the gears shifting in your brain. You don’t really understand how your mom came to the conclusion that you should ask Emily out, but now that she’s said it, you can’t help but ask yourself the same question.
You’d wanted to go to homecoming with her, after all, and you really enjoyed all the moments you got to spend with her—whether with your friends or alone. You liked the way she always needed to move when practicing her lines, whether that means pacing back and forth or waving her free hand passionately. You like that she never got into coffee, no matter how many times you’ve dragged her to Coffee Espress by now. You like the way she never tires of music, always singing and dancing or humming along to whatever song she overhears with a carefree grin. You like that her eyes are never the same shade of blue.
“Honey,” your mom’s tinny voice crackles through your phone’s speaker. “I know this is a little sudden, but I’ve seen the way your face lights up every time you talk about her. There’s been a sparkle in your eyes ever since you started hanging out together again, and I just want to see you happy. And if Emily makes you happy, then I say, give it a shot.”
The phone call with your mom doesn’t really make anything clearer, but you think it’s a path in the right direction, especially when you step out of your house and find the Mitchell twins racing past you to the bust stop, Emily turning to run backwards with a blinding grin aimed your way. Her blonde hair whipping around her face as a laugh wrinkles her nose and she shouts as she backpedals away, “Hi Rory! See you later! We’re gonna rock this!”
She laughs again before twisting forward, nearly tripping into her brother as they jump into the bus.
And you think of the way your heart’s still racing at the sound of her laughter, at the sight of her smile and the sparkle in her eyes, and you think maybe your mom is right.
(It takes the entire first three periods for you to realize that oh, your mom is right. You like Emily—in that moon-eyed, blush staining, giddy grinning sort of way. And suddenly all the weird stomach swoops and heart tapping makes sense to you now. Suddenly, appreciating the way her arms stretch under her sleeves had a lot less to do with wondering what workouts she followed and more to do with wanting to watch her workout.)
You don’t do anything about it until after the show.
Or, well, Emily asks if she can talk to you alone and you take the opportunity anyways.
Which finally (finally) brings you to here, standing in your tree house only a foot or two away from deep blue eyes and soft pink lips.
You can feel you heart pounding its way up to your neck, the blood rushing to your cheeks and then your ears as you take in a deep breath. Her mischievous smile and gentle gaze is enough to push the words out of your mouth.
“Emily, I really, really like you.” A smile creeps on to your own lips as hers brightens. “Way more than I’ve ever liked anyone before.”
“I…” She steps forward, your breath hitching as you look down into deep blues. “Feel the same.”
A chuckle slips past as the clench in your heart eases back into its usual happy dance around the blonde. “I’m such an idiot. You want to know how long it took me to realize?”
You can feel her fingers brush against yours, her grin teasing and curious as she tilts her head. “How long?”
“When we visited the hospital last week.” You bite your lip with a grimace, Emily’s fingers lacing through yours as she nods at you to continue, her smile soft. “The next time I talked to my mom, she wanted to know why I hadn’t asked you out yet. Apparently we had sparks flying everywhere the whole time we were there.”
“Well, if it makes you feel better, the first person to see it for me was Evan.” Her nose wrinkles slightly before something passes through her eyes, her lips turning sly as the hand holding yours pulls you closer. “So… what happens now that we’ve admitted we like each other?”
You’re the one who closes the gap, her breaths soft on your lips as your own smile turns cheeky. “Well, I think this is the part where we kiss…”
“Rory…” You don’t miss the way blue eyes zero in on your lips, your tongue gliding over them with purpose. “I’ve been waiting!”
And really, that’s all it took for you to lean in, your eyes fluttering shut as the memory of soft lips you’d barely touched on stage meets yours again.
It was sure in the way she pressed closer, hands on your hips as your own found themselves sinking into smooth blonde hair. Her lips were still as soft and warm as they’d been four hours when you’d kissed her on stage, but this time you could let yourself sink longer into her arms—long enough to taste the chocolate milkshake she’d been drinking and feel the smile curl her lips. There’s a warmth that spreads from your chest to your toes, your hands finding her neck and cheek when she finally pulls away.
“Oh my gosh,” Emily whispers, because she just always has to be cute, 24/7.
You laugh, your heart soaring and your eyes reflecting the same awestruck look in her blue orbs. “I know.”
Under the dim lamplight you can see the flush in her cheeks, can feel the smoothness of her skin under your fingertips, can smell the chocolate in her breath, and your heart races when you realize that this is all real. That nothing’s stopping you from pulling her back in and melting under soft pink lips.
That Emily smells like candy and pancakes. That her skin is soft and smooth to touch. That she tastes like chocolate and orange tic tac and a promise.