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(It was a great love) one for the ages

Chapter Text

Josie looked up at Connor. His eyes were hard and cold, his fists clenched by his side, mouth a tight line.

“What do you mean ‘it’s over’?” Josie asked, not quite sure if this was really happening.

He rolled his eyes and shoved his hands into his pockets.

“We’re over. Our relationship, it’s done. I can’t deal with this anymore. I can’t deal with you anymore.”

Josie wanted to cry. She’d given him a year of her life. She’d loved him, she’d slept with him, she’d written songs about him. Everyone knew that they were together, she’d seen magazine articles speculating about whether or not they were getting married a hundred times.

So, how was this happening? How was he standing in front of her, saying that they were over?

“Can you at least tell me why?” She asked.

He scoffed.

“Josie, I can’t get a second of privacy. I have cameras in my face wherever I go. Everyone wants to know who I am. It’s awful. Plus, you’ve been getting worse. There are some days where you’re just so out of it that I don’t even feel like I have a girlfriend.”

Josie felt like she’d been stabbed.

She knew stuff been getting worse recently, the pressure she’d been facing had gotten harder to deal with, her sister had been on that trip to Japan, and her dad had been involved in a car crash.

Josie thought it was fair that she’d been a little bit distant.

“You said you’d give me time,” she begged, not wanting to let him go.

He shook his head.

“Well, time’s up. I’m leaving.” He turned around and started heading for the door.

“What if I refuse to let you go?” Josie called after him, desperate to keep him with her.

She needed him. She couldn’t lose him.

He stopped, and then turned to face her, a cruel grin sliding onto his face.

“Well, when I tell you that I’ve been fucking Dana behind your back, I don’t think you’ll be so desperate to keep me.”

The last whole parts of Josie’s heart cracked and fell to the bottom of her stomach.

He’d cheated on her? With Dana?

Dana was a movie actor who Connor had met at a party. He’d assured her that they were just friends, but it looked like he’d been lying.

He threw her one last eye roll, and then headed out the door.

Josie dropped to her knees.

He was gone.

Her boyfriend, who she loved, was gone.

Where the fuck did this leave her?

+++

One phone call later, Josie's sister and her fiancée were sitting on her couch. Lizzie was holding a bucket of ice cream, and Hope was handing her tissues.

Lizzie was Josie’s twin, they’d been inseparable from birth, and then they’d hit high school, and they discovered over the course of many fights that they were in fact separable.

Eventually, they’d learned how to be different people and still fit in each other’s lives, and they were all the better for it. Now, Lizzie was a fashion designer living in California.
She’d been in town visiting Josie after her trip.

Hope was Josie’s best friend, one that she’d had since junior year of high school. At a time when Josie had been feeling lost and alone, Hope had been her rock.

Hope’s parents had died when she was little, and she’d been raised by her aunts since then. Josie had been the sad kid whose dad was never sober, and so they’d sort of bonded over their hardships.

Lizzie and Hope had actually hated each other for all of high school, and the first year of college, because of a reason Josie had never found out. She suspected that Lizzie was just bad at dealing with her feelings and had lashed out because of that.

They had been at a party one night, with Josie having stayed at home to work on some stupid project, and they’d sort of drunkenly hooked up.

They’d claimed it was mistake, and then proceeded to make that mistake multiple times before realizing that maybe they didn’t actually hate each other as much as they said they did.

Now they were engaged. Hope had proposed a few months ago, but they had decided to not have their wedding for a little while.

Josie was glad. The wedding being further away meant that there was less time before Lizzie turned into a mess over planning the perfect wedding.

They sat on the couch, Hope patting Josie’s shoulder gently and Lizzie leaning her head on Josie’s other shoulder as Josie softly sobbed.

Lizzie broke the silence.

“I always knew that Connor was a bastard.”

Josie laughed, but it came out as more of a sob.

“I’m sorry Jo, I know you liked him, but he was such a dick. His face always looked slimy, like he was planning some serious bullshit constantly," Lizzie said, shaking her head.

Josie started sobbing again.

Hope reached over and slapped Lizzie lightly.

“Lizzie, now is not the time to make jokes.”

Lizzie sighed.

“I know. I’m just trying to make this shitty situation better.”

Hope smiled.

“I know you are.”

Josie curled into Hope.

“What do you want us to do Jo? If you want we can go slash his tires or set fire to his apartment complex,” Hope asked, running her thumb across Josie’s hand.

Lizzie nudged Josie.

“Hear that Jo? We can set a fire, you love fire!”

Josie laughed again.

“I love you guys.”

Hope squeezed her shoulder.

“I know. Now, tell us how to make you feel less shit.”

They spent the rest of the night watching shitty Netflix movies and criticising everything.

Every now and then they’d stop to hear Josie ramble about how much she was hurting because of Connor, and they listen and provide words of reassurance like ‘one day you’ll forget all about him’.

Josie hoped that was true.

+++

Over the next few weeks, Josie reflected on her relationship with Connor. Really, she had no reason to be heartbroken. He had been an awful boyfriend.

He’d missed their six-month anniversary to go out with his friends.

He never gave her any presents or took her out on dates.

His main concern had been sex, and whether or not Josie was going to give him anything.

When Josie had played him the song she’d written about falling for him, he’d told her that ‘it was cool that she’d written him a song but it wasn’t really his sort of thing’.

Josie had felt like she’d been kicked at the time, and it had led to her never actually releasing the song.

And now she probably never would. She definitely didn’t want a song about how much she loved her cheating ex out there.

Ugh, he was such a dick. Lizzie had been right to hate him.

Still, he had been an important part of her life and it was always hard for Josie to lose people.

She just needed to move on, so she could stop feeling so torn open.

Josie spent the entire day after the break up deleting every trace of him from her phone.

Every picture, every Instagram post, every contact she had with him, all of it was wiped from her life.

She felt relieved when she was done.

Maybe now she could get rid of his toxic memory.

+++

She spent a lot of time in the studio after that. She suddenly had a lot of ideas for break up songs, or just plain ‘hey fuck you’ songs.

It was good to have something to take her mind of everything, and the songs actually weren’t all that bad.

The third week she spent in the studio; Ethan came by.

Lizzie and Hope had gone back to California, telling her that she was going to be okay, and that if she needed anything, she could just call them up and they would be there for her.

It wasn’t quite as good as having them by her side, but it was good enough.

However, she still had Ethan.

She’d met Ethan in college. She’d actually played a part in breaking his arm, which was the result of a drunk trip to the woods. Now, they were really good friends.

He had been planning to play football, but after a serious injury in high school, he’d turned to music. Now, he was doing great.

Josie sometimes wished that she could adapt to new situations as quickly as Ethan.

“Josie, you need to get out of the studio."

She sighed and stood up, folding her arms across her chest.

“I can’t. I just have so much inspiration. I think I have the premise for an album here. I’ve already done four songs,” she explained.

He rolled his eyes.

“Josie, I get it, but seriously, it’s unhealthy. Just come with me, we’ll go get a coffee, just so you can have some time where you aren’t working.”

Josie was unconvinced.

She was in flow, if she stopped now, the catharsis would stop, and she may just go back to being torn up over Connor.

Ethan sighed.

“Please? Hope’s been badgering me for like the past week. I don’t want her flying all the way over here to kick my ass.”

Josie sighed, uncrossing her arms.

“Okay, fine. But only one hour. I can’t afford to be away for too long, I’ll lose my flow.”

He stuck out his elbow and grinned.

“Come on Josie, the city awaits.”

+++

They spent the rest of the afternoon out. Josie was actually pretty glad that he’d come to get her. She was pretty sure that she’d forgotten what air actually smelt like.

Ethan laughed when she told him that.

“See? This is why you should always listen to me.”

She rolled her eyes and shoved him.

“What about the time that you told me to do twenty-one shots on my twenty first birthday? I threw up so much.”

He held up his hands in defense.

“Hey, that was one time, and in my defense, I didn’t think it was that bad of an idea at the time.”

“It was an awful idea.”

“Shut up, you love me.”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“Maybe I do.”

Ethan smile faltered for a second. Josie watched him warily.

“You aren’t going to confess that you’ve secretly been in love with me for years, right?” She asked, only slightly joking.

He laughed, his smile returning.

“No, I was just thinking about how much of a dick Connor is.”

Josie sighed.

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.”

He smiled sadly, and then shook himself out of it, clapping his hand on Josie’s shoulder.

“Come on, let’s go to the club, have a few drinks, wash away the sadness.”

+++

It was one month later, and it finally happened.

Josie finally forgot about the asshole that was Connor.

It wasn’t a particularly extraordinary day. She was just out, having drinks with Ethan and Hope, who was back in town for some art exhibition.

Lizzie had wanted to come, but she was working on this big project, so she couldn’t.

According to Hope she was very disappointed.

The three of the were sitting at the booth of the bar, drinking and talking, when Hope brought up a party that they’d all attended last year.

“No, but seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone do that many shots in a game of beer pong and live to tell the tale. Hope, you are an absolute beast,” Ethan said, punching her lightly in the shoulder.

Hope laughed.

“You’re right. I am amazing.”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“I think you’re lying. I was at that party, and I don’t remember that happening at all.”

Hope smirked and took a sip of her drink. Ethan coughed and grinned at Josie, wiggling his eyebrows.

“What?” Josie asked, confused.

Ethan chuckled, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Jo, you don’t remember that, because at that point of the night, you weren’t at the party anymore,” he told her, winking.

Josie frowned.

“What are you talking about? Where else would I have been?”

Hope sighed.

“Josie, you were having sex with Connor, remember? The two of you left the party at like ten, and when I saw you the next day had hickeys all over your neck. It was gross.”

The memory hit Josie, and she cringed.

“Ugh, Connor, right. I forgot that he existed.”

Josie paused, the words she had just spoken echoing in her head.

“Oh my god.”

Hope frowned.

“What? Was the memory of that night that bad?”

Ethan grinned.

“He was probably terrible in bed.”

Hope and Ethan both laughed, but Josie barely heard them.

She had forgotten that Connor had existed.

The boy she had loved.

The boy who had broken her heart into pieces.

The boy whose impact she had never thought she would forget, and she’d forgotten about him.

It was small, but it felt like victory to Josie.

“Jo, are you alright?”

Josie nodded quickly, a grin spreading across her face.

“I forgot that Connor existed. This is the best night ever.”

Ethan and Hope exchanged a confused look but then Ethan turned to her and smiled.

“Okay, I think the alcohol is starting to hit. Let’s get another round.”

Josie just nodded, knowing that this was the first step to a whole new stage of her life.

+++

Moments where she forgot about Connor became more and more frequent.

It was the best feeling, knowing that she was finally over her asshole ex.

Josie felt fresh, like she could finally start living again.

She hadn’t felt like this for months, even in the relationship, she had felt trapped.

And now that she was free, she wanted to do something to celebrate.

The idea for what she should do evaded her for a little while, but when it finally struck her, it seemed perfect.

She called Lizzie immediately.

“I’m sorry, you want to move to where?” Lizzie exclaimed when Josie finished explaining.

“London. I’ve always wanted to go. And right now, I’m not working on anything big, I’m not stuck with a boyfriend, I’ve got time. I want to do something spontaneous.”

Lizzie paused, and Josie could hear her trying to figure out how to react.

Eventually, Lizzie cleared her throat and spoke.

“Okay, if this is what you want, Hope and I will come with you for the first month, and then if you still want to stay, we will go back, and you can stay.”

Josie beamed.

“Really?”

Lizzie scoffed.

“Please. You’re my sister. If you want to go on a spontaneous move to London, who am I to shut you down. Besides, Hope and I have been looking for a place to go on vacation, and I’ve always wanted to go to Europe. Ooh, we can visit Caroline!”

Josie laughed. Caroline was a family friend who lived in Europe. Lizzie loved her, and Josie was pretty sure she’d taken most of her inspiration for her personality from Caroline.

“Okay. Call me once you’ve gotten Hope on board, and we’ll figure it all out.”

+++

Hope was fairly easy to convince, so planning started immediately. Josie was a little bit nervous, she’d never actually left the continent, but this would be a good idea.

She needed to branch out, experience new things.

Who knew, maybe she’d even meet some hot British person and they’d have a summer romance. Josie thought that that sounded nice.

When she called her mum to let her know about the move, she was supportive.

"I think it would be good for you to travel. You've always wanted to live abroad. As long as you text and call me as much as possible, I'm okay with it," her mother told her.

Josie loved her mother so much.

Honestly, her mother was her number one confidant for everything.

When Josie told Ethan about the move, he was more on board than she was.

He burst into her apartment one day, already talking about how excited he was.

“You’re coming too?” Josie asked.

He nodded.

“Oh yeah. Maya’s over there, remember, and I haven’t seen her in ages,” he explained, bouncing on the balls of his feet.

Josie nodded as she remembered.

That was right. Ethan’s twin sister, Maya, lived in London, and had for ages. He missed her a lot, but they called every now and then.

Josie had never actually met Maya in person, but she seemed lovely.

Well, not lovely, considering that all the stories Josie had heard of her were definitely not legal, but certainly an interesting person.

If she was related to Ethan, she had to be great.

Soon, enough, Josie was standing in the airport, with her sister, Hope, and Ethan all sitting behind her.

Josie had brought her song books, and was currently trying to come up with ideas.

Something about a fresh start, or getting on to an aeroplane.

She couldn’t come up anything however, but she was sure that she would eventually.

She had a good feeling about this move. It would be a new chapter of her life, and she intended to fill it with good moments.

Josie wasn’t sure how long the move would last, maybe a few months, maybe more. It wasn’t permanent, it was more like a really long visit, but it felt better to think of it as moving there.

She had bought a house over there, a really nice place on Cornelia Street. It sounded so pretty; she was just sure that it would be lovely.

Lizzie and Hope would be staying with her for the month that they were staying for, but Ethan would be staying with his sister and her friend.

Josie didn’t remember the friend’s name; it was something like Phoebe or Parker. It started with a P; Josie was pretty sure of that at least.

Josie knew that if she was living there, she was going to need friends, so hopefully Maya and her friend were nice people.

Of course, it wouldn’t be all about the friends she would make. Josie knew herself, and she knew that she loved time to herself, time when she didn’t have to put on a mask for everyone.

She loved the moments when she could curl up with a book, play some soft classical music in the background, maybe as the rain poured over the roof.

Those were the best moments.

Hope reached over and placed her hand on Josie’s knee.

“You excited?”

Josie grinned.

“So excited.”

+++

The plane ride was long, and Josie got a stiff neck from sleeping in a weird position, but at least she got to have chocolate ice cream.

Long plane trip ice cream was so good, and Josie would not have her mind be changed about that, no matter how much Ethan and Lizzie told her she was wrong.

Hope was impartial, so Josie took that as a win.

The best part of the plane ride was definitely touching down in London. The skies were cloudy, but the sun still shone through.

The city looked gorgeous, and Josie was so glad that she’d decided to live here.

Lizzie made many sounds of appreciation as they looked out.

“Hope, babe, wake up, look at this! Hope it’s so pretty. Josie are you seeing this? It’s so pretty!”

Josie just smiled.

Ethan slept all the way through the landing, which Josie was unsure how he managed to do, but he did.

At least he didn’t snore.

Getting out of the airport took forever, but eventually they were in a taxi, driving to Cornelia Street.

Ethan was in a separate one, going to Maya’s house.

They were all going to meet up tomorrow night for drinks and they would meet Maya and her friend.

Josie was really going to need to find out her name at some point.

+++

The house was beautiful, and Josie was so glad she’d picked it.

There was even a chandelier, which Lizzie was very impressed by.

“Josie, this place is amazing!”

Hope nodded appreciatively, her eyes scanning across the many windows.

“I’m going to paint the view from every window.”

Josie smiled.

She too was feeling their excitement.

She got to live here, got to start the new chapter of her life here.

It was perfect.

“Come on, I’ll show you guys to your room.”

+++

After a great night’s sleep, and a wonderful breakfast, the three of them set out on the town. They went shopping, and bought a bunch of new outfits for each of them. Lizzie decided that they just had to debut them at the pub tonight.

Ethan texted them a few times, telling them that Maya was excited to see them.

Josie was excited too; she couldn’t wait to see the person behind all the stories that Ethan had told her.

Lizzie dragged them to a café that she read about online, and they all got tea and scones.

When Josie took a sip of the tea, she decided that this was her new favourite café.

She thought back to just a few months ago, how she had been so heartbroken over Connor that she’d crawled into herself, and now, here she was, in a completely different continent, drinking tea in the afternoon.

She wasn’t even really that mad at Connor anymore.

She wasn’t in love with him, or wanting him back either.

She just couldn’t care less about him anymore.

She’d wasted enough time thinking about that fuckboy.

Now, she could move on, and she could find herself here.

And maybe, the next big step would be tonight.

All she had to do is wait and see.

Chapter Text

Josie loved LA. It had been her home for many years, and it had slowly become her favourite place, even over her home town of Mystic Falls. She’d loved the lights, and the cafes, and her apartment, everything about it was amazing.

After just short amount of time, London was already a strong contender for her new favourite place in the world.

She loved the weather, she loved cafes, she loved her new place.

It was all just amazing.

She told her sister and Hope all of this in the cab ride over to the pub where they’d be meeting Ethan and Maya.

Hope grinned at Josie.

“I get the feeling you won’t want to leave in just a few months. Not unless something big happens.”

Josie laughed.

“At this point, I think this stay might be nice and long. I love it here.”

Lizzie sighed.

“You’d better come back every now and then to visit. And you’re coming back for the wedding.”

“Of course. Have you set a date for that yet?”

Lizzie turned to look at Hope, excitement bubbling in her eyes.

“Do you want to tell her or should I?”

Hope shrugged, but Josie could see excitement in her eyes as well.

“She asked you babe, I think you should tell her.”

Lizzie turned back to Josie.

“We’ve decided on February next year. I wanted a late winter wedding, and Hope agreed, so it’s February!” Lizzie was shaking with excitement, and bouncing up and down in her seat as she told Josie.

Josie just grinned back as hard. She couldn’t wait for the wedding. She didn’t know anyone better for each other than Hope and Lizzie, and knowing that soon they were going to be together, that they were going to be married, well, Josie was just so excited for them.

Even if she wished that she could just find a love as special as what they had.

Even if she just wanted someone to love her like that.

+++

The pub was fairly crowded, which surprised Josie a little, but she guessed that it was Saturday night, and business would be booming.

They found Ethan and Maya at a table. Ethan waved them over, grinning.

“Hey guys, this is Maya. Maya, this is Josie,” he said, waving a hand at Josie.

Maya was beautiful. She had frizzy black hair tied up in a bun, and was wearing a black crop top with blue jeans.

Josie noticed Hope was similarly struck by her beauty, so much that Lizzie had to nudge her a little.

“Hey Maya, I’m Josie.”

Maya nodded, smiling.

“I’ve heard a lot about you Josie. Ethan tells me that you’re moving here. Have to say, you’ve got pretty good taste in places to live.”

Josie smiled back.

“Thanks. Ethan’s told me a lot about you as well.”

She grinned.

“All bad things I hope?”

“Oh, definitely.”

Maya laughed, and Josie laughed with her. She could that she was going to like this girl.

Lizzie finally spoke.

“Hi Maya. As Ethan should have introduced me, but he neglected to, I shall do it. I’m Lizzie, I’m Josie’s twin, and this is Hope, my fiancée,” Lizzie said, emphasizing the word fiancee, as she wrapped her hand around Hope's arm.

Josie resisted an eye roll.

Maya nodded.

“Congratulations. How long have you guys been together?”

Lizzie's wary expression slid and a smile appeared.

Lizzie really liked talking about Hope.

“Oh, we’ve been together since college, so we’re coming up on six years soon.”

Maya nodded.

“That’s pretty cool.”

Lizzie let her smile grow and Josie had to stop herself from laughing.

Her sister could be such a drama queen at times.

Ethan grinned at them.

“You know, you can sit down, right?”

They all laughed and slid into the booth. Josie sat with Ethan and Maya, Hope and Lizzie sat opposite.

 

“Ethan tells me that you have a roommate. I thought she would be coming tonight,” Hope said.

Maya laughed.

“Penelope’s a free spirit. She’ll probably turn up later with the boys, all of them most likely stoned as hell.”

Josie smiled, mentally holding onto the name. Penelope.

It was a pretty name.

Josie would be sure not to forget it.

+++

As the night went on, Josie felt that she was falling out of the conversation a little.

Hope and Maya got on like a house on fire, and as long as Lizzie was holding Hope’s hand and babbling about their wedding, she was happy.

Ethan was a natural conversationalist. Josie had never been in the same room as him and his twin, and the two of them talked so easily. It reminded Josie so much of what her and Lizzie were like.

Josie felt a little sad that he had gone so long with not seeing his sister in person. She was glad that he was here now, because he looked so at ease.

Josie however, was on edge.

She’d never been good at conversations in groups. She would always just end up forgetting to speak and would just sit there awkwardly not saying anything.

Josie sighed and looked across the pub, scanning the room for any interesting objects.

She saw a group of guys standing by the pool table, laughing and shouting.

There was a woman with them, laughing along just as loud.

She was the one having her shot right now.

Josie watched her aim.

Josie watched her hit the ball, saw the way her eyes and the eyes of the whole group followed the ball.

The ball she’d hit landed in a pocket and the whole group cheered, slapping her on the back.

The woman looked up, and her eyes met Josie’s.

It felt like time stopped.

Josie couldn’t make out the color of her eyes from this distance, but she just knew that if she was closer, they would be the most beautiful color that she had ever seen.

Her hair was long and dark, falling around her shoulders, in the most beautiful waves.

She was wearing a leather jacket, and Josie knew that they were hot, but damn, this woman really knew how to wear it right.

It was like this woman had a magnetic field around her, and Josie had been caught in it.

Josie didn’t think she wanted to leave.

The woman held her gaze for what seemed like hours.

Then finally, she winked, and turned back to her game.

Josie’s heart leapt.

The pretty woman, no, the smoking hot woman from across the room had winked at her.

Josie was very, very attracted to her.

“Hey, earth to Josie, you good?”

Josie blinked and looked over at Lizzie, who was looking at her with concern.

“What? Yeah, I’m good.”

Lizzie frowned, and then checked over her shoulder to see what Josie had been looking at.

When she looked back, she had a sly smile on her face.

“Oh, so were you checking out someone in that group over there? Which one caught your eye?”

Hope looked over.

“Was it the guy with curly black hair? He’s kind of cute.”

Lizzie glared at Hope.

“Was it that guy with the small afro? He’s cute,” she asked, mocking Hope’s tone slightly.

Hope rolled her eyes.

“Babe, cool it with the jealousy. You know I only have eyes for you.”

Lizzie huffed, trying to hide her smirk, and then turned back to Josie.

“So, which one is it?”

Josie blushed.

“It’s the girl.”

They both looked back at the group.

Hope nodded.

“Yeah I get that. She’s totally your type.”

Maya cleared her throat. Josie noticed that she had a little conspiratorial grin on her face, one that matched Ethan’s.

“What?”

Maya shrugged.

“Maybe you should go introduce yourself to her.”

Josie laughed.

“Yeah, I don’t really do that.”

Lizzie sighed.

“Josie, it’s a cute British girl, just go flirt with her a little."

Josie blushed and looked down.

She’d love to go over, flirt with the girl, maybe end up pinned to a wall, or a bed, she wasn’t really picky.

But she’d never been good at doing stuff like that.

“I can’t. She’s with her friends, I don’t want to be weird.”

Lizzie rolled her eyes.

“Josie, how are you ever going to find a perfect summer romance if you don’t talk to people?”

Josie shrugged.

Ethan leaned forwards.

“Well, if you aren’t going to talk to her, why don’t you go get us another round of drinks?”

Josie sighed and pushed herself up.

“Okay. Same all around?”

They all nodded, and Josie headed off to the bar.

She sat down on one of the stalls while she waited, tapping out a random rhythm with her fingers.

“Hey there pretty girl.”

Josie jumped and looked up. When she did, she could barely believe it.

It was the woman from earlier.

And god, Josie loved the British accent as much as the next person, but coming from this woman, holy shit she might be pregnant.

She pointed to the seat next to Josie.

“This seat taken?”

Josie shook her head, unable to form words.

The woman smiled and slid in next to Josie.

“So, tell me. What did you think of my pool skills earlier?”

Josie vagued out of existence for a moment.

This woman was flirting with her.

A really hot woman, with a really fucking hot accent was flirting with her.

Josie had no idea what to do. Flirting back was not a strong suit of hers.

Josie cleared her throat.

“Oh, I thought they were pretty um,” she cleared her throat again, “pretty cool.”

The woman grinned.

“Good to know.” She tapped on her jacket.

“I’m Penelope.”

The name echoed in her mind.

“Wait, like, Maya’s Penelope?”

Penelope grinned.

“The one and only. Guessing by the fact that you were only too happy to stare at me across the bar, you’re not engaged. So, not Lizzie or Hope, which leaves me with Josie. So, you’re Ethan’s Josie?”

Josie nodded.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Penelope said with a grin.

Josie could barely think straight, so she just nodded again.

Penelope chuckled.

“You don’t talk much do you Josie.”

Josie laughed nervously.

“Well, pretty girls make me nervous.”

Penelope rose an eyebrow and Josie tried to backtrack.

“I mean, you’re not a girl though, you’re a woman, but you are a very pretty woman, well actually, not pretty, more drop dead gorgeous and oh my god what I am doing?” She placed her head onto the counter, hoping that she could just sink into it.

Penelope giggled.

“Josie.” She put her hand on Josie’s. Josie looked up at her and realized that she had been right.

Penelope eyes were the most beautiful shade of green she had ever seen in her life.

“I think you’re pretty too. I like your American smile.”

Josie blushed.

“Thanks. I like your British accent.”

Penelope grinned.

“It is rather hot, or so I’ve been told,” she said, winking at Josie.

Josie felt her stomach flip over.

The bartender placed the tray of drinks on the counter. Josie couldn’t even hide her disappointment. She really wanted to talk to Penelope more.

Even if Penelope was Maya’s roommate, which now Josie realized explained the looks that her and Ethan had been sharing back at the table, Josie didn’t know how many more chances they were going to get to speak one on one.

Josie wanted to keep talking to Penelope.

Penelope titled her head to the side, as if she was thinking. Her nose crinkled, and Josie thought she looked even cuter.

“Okay, so this may just be me, but I want to keep talking to you. And I know you’re here with your friends, and you have to get back to them, but if you wanted, you could just drop the drinks off and let them know you’ll be with me. Maya won’t mind, and I’m sure the rest of them would understand,” Penelope said casually, like her and Josie had known each other for years, not a matter of minutes.

Josie blinked in surprise.

Penelope wanted to spend time with her?

But Josie was just Josie, she was nothing really special. Penelope could talk to anyone else in this bar, but she wanted Josie?

“Don’t you want to go back to your friends?”

Penelope laughed gently.

“I love the guys, but when you’re the only one sober with them, it can get a little irritating.”

Josie looked over at the boys. The curly haired boy was currently having an arm wrestle with both hands against a boy with dreadlocks who was only using one arm.

The curly haired boy was still losing.

“They’re high?”

“As high as the Empire State.”

Josie turned back to Penelope, who was looking at her with something like curiosity in her eyes.

There was also a challenge, as if she wanted to see what Josie was going to do.

Josie had never been one to back down from a challenge.

“I’ll be right back.”

Penelope grinned, and Josie slipped off the stool to go deliver the drinks to her friends.

Maya looked up her and grinned.

“Have a good chat?”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“You knew the girl I was staring at was your roommate?”

Maya shrugged.

“Maybe.”

Josie set the drinks down on the table.

“I’m going to sit and talk with her a bit.”

Hope grinned.

“Okay Josie. Be safe, use condoms.”

Josie rolled her eyes again.

“Hope, I just want to talk with her, nothing more.”

From the looks that they all gave her, none of them believed her.

“Okay, maybe I want to kiss her a little, but that’s it. Now, I’m going to head back over.”

Josie turned around, certain that they were going to be placing bets on her and Penelope.

+++

Penelope’s eyes followed her across the bar until she sat down.

“Your friends give you a hard time?”

Josie laughed.

“No, they’re just annoying.”

“Maya can be fairly irritating sometimes.”

Josie laughed.

“Alright, if we’re going to talk though, I’d rather not be talking about Maya,” Penelope said, tilting her head to the side, as if Josie was some rare specimen that needed close examination.

Josie shrugged.

“I wouldn’t mind, as long as I’m talking to you.” She gaped the moment after she finished the sentence. She had not meant to say that. It was like Penelope had disabled some mental filter inside of her.

“Sorry, that’s weird.” She blushed and looked down.

She felt Penelope’s fingers tangle with her own and she looked up again.

“It’s okay Josie. I feel the same. It feels like I’ve known you twenty years, rather than twenty seconds.”

Josie laughed.

Penelope leaned forwards.

“Tell me about yourself Josie.”

Josie blushed.

“Why do you want to know about me? You probably have a far more interesting life than I do.”

Penelope shrugged, playing with Josie’s fingers.

That was very distracting.

Not that Josie minded one bit.

“Well, maybe I just want to know more about the pretty woman who stared at me from across the bar.”

“You stared back.”

Penelope tilted her head, interest flickering in her eyes.

“That I did,” she replied, her voice lower than it had been previously.

That was totally not attractive as fuck.

That totally didn’t make Josie’s stomach feel like it was being tugged.

Penelope leaned back.

“Okay well, Ethan tells me that you’re a singer songwriter. Care to fill me in about that?”

Josie smiled.

“I’ve always loved making music. It’s been my passion since forever. The fact that I actually have an EP out, and that people know my name is just crazy.”

Penelope made a little noise of interest.

“What’s it called? I’ll have to check it out. Your voice is nice, I think I’d like hearing you sing.”

Josie smiled bashfully.

“Thanks. And it’s called Sing Me to Sleep. It’s got five songs on it. I’ve been planning on an album for a while, but my life has been crazy.”

Penelope nodded.

“I get that. Relationship issues, or family issues?”

Josie laughed wryly.

“A little bit of both actually. My ex-boyfriend was a complete asshole, he cheated on me with this girl and my dad was in an accident a bit back.”

Penelope eyebrows creased and she squeezed Josie’s hand.

“I’m sorry to hear that, is he okay?”

Josie laughed bitterly.

“Yeah, he just ran himself into a tree. He had a mild concussion, but he was fine overall. It was his fault, because well, my dad has never exactly had a healthy relationship with alcohol. Plus, he's a complete asshole.”

Understanding dawned in Penelope’s eyes.

“I see.”

Josie shook her head, sighing as she thought about her dad and his mistakes.

“I used to feel bad for him, but at this point, I realized that he's not worth it. He ruined his own marriage over this and ruined his relationship with Lizzie and I.”

Penelope nodded, running her thumb across the back of Josie’s hand.

“A similar thing happened with my parents. My dad’s job was really demanding and he let it just pull him away from my mother. My whole childhood I thought that them fighting was somehow my fault, but nope, they’re just shitty people.”

Josie smiled sadly.

“It sucks how people let stuff like that ruin their lives.”

Penelope nodded.

“If I had a drink, I’d toast to that.”

Josie turned to the bartender.

“Hey can we have two drinks please? I’ll have a scotch.”

Penelope nodded.

“One for me too please.”

He nodded and went to go make their drinks.

Penelope chuckled.

“You know, I’ve never really talked about my parents and stuff like that with other people. You’re special Josie.”

Josie smiled.

“I’m lucky. I’ve always had Lizzie or Hope, or Ethan even. But yeah, this topic doesn’t often come up. Lizzie tries to avoid it, hearing about dad makes her sad.”

Penelope nodded.

Josie sighed.

“Enough about depressing parents’ stuff. Tell me about you.”

Penelope laughed.

“I’m not exactly a soon to be famous music artist, but I do have some cool stuff in my life. I’m an actress, mostly on stage, but I have done some film stuff, nothing big though.”

Josie leaned forwards, intrigued.

“What type of plays do you do?”

“Well, I’m a sucker for Shakespeare’s works. He’s an incredible writer, and acting his stuff out is really a dream come true.”

Josie grinned.

“I love Shakespeare. What’s your favourite play?”

“Much Ado About Nothing. I love the banter between Beatrice and Benedick, they are the original Enemies to Lovers couple. I actually played Beatrice in a performance of that a little bit back.”

Josie nodded.

“I love that play, but my favourite is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I love the magic and the trickery with the lovers.”

Penelope smiled.

“I played Demetrius in that back when I was in high school.”

“I would have loved to see that; you would have done amazingly.”

“I like to think that I did.”

Josie laughed.

The bartender placed their drinks on the table. Penelope removed her hand from Josie’s to pick up the drink.

“Are you working on anything at the moment?” Josie asked, reaching over to take her drink, trying to pretend like the loss of contact didn't bother her.

Penelope sighed.

“Not right now. I’m taking a break for the summer, but I’ve got a job working down at this lovely bookstore for the moment, so that I have some income.”

Josie grinned. She could imagine Penelope working at a bookstore. She could see her walking down the aisles, recommending classics to people, telling them about why she loved them so much. A bookstore seemed like it would fit her perfectly.

“What about you Josie? Are you working on any new songs?”

Josie sighed.

“I’m trying to. I’ve got some breakup songs written about my ex, but I need more material. I want to write something about London, because I can already tell that I’m going to love this place. I just don’t know where to start.”

Penelope leaned back, drumming her free hand on her thigh.

“What if you just wrote down a list of all the things that you’ve found in London that you liked?”

Josie laughed.

“I’m serious. Tell me, right now, what are your favourite things so far about London?”

Josie paused thinking for a minute.

“I like the tea, I like the weather, I’m sure I’ll love the grey skies and rainy days, because I love rainy weather. I also love this pub, it feels so cozy, and I met you here, so that’s not nothing.” Josie kept thinking.

Penelope was watching her. So, Josie decided to make a little move.

“And well, you.”

Penelope rose an eyebrow.

“Me? I’m one of your favourite things about London?”

Josie shrugged, trying to act casual.

“What can I say? I’m a sucker for a London girl.”

Penelope leaned forwards, whispering conspiratorially.

“What if I told you I wasn’t born here?”

Josie leaned forwards as well, trying to not focus on how close they were.

“Where were you born?”

“Mystic Falls in America, but my parents moved to Belgium when I was three.”

Josie’s jaw dropped.

“No way.”

Penelope tilted her head to the side.

“What?”

“I’m from Mystic Falls.”

Penelope smiled.

“Small world.”

Josie laughed.

“Small world.”

Penelope leaned back and took one of Josie’s hands in hers.

Josie felt her heart leap in victory.

“You know, it’s been fun talking to you Josie.”

“It’s been fun talking to you Penelope. I quite fancy you,” she said the last bit in a fake British accent.

Penelope laughed.

“You’re cute.”

Josie blushed.

Penelope grinned, lifting her drink to her lips and taking a sip, her eyes not leaving Josie for a second.

“I think this might be the start of something new and beautiful.”

Josie smiled.

It just might be.

Chapter Text

Josie woke the next morning with a smile on her face. Immediately following that was a throbbing pain in her skull.

Ugh.

She needed to stop drinking so much.

Josie threw her mind back to last night, wondering what had caused her to wake up with a smile.

Then she remembered.

Penelope, Penelope Park, the beautiful green-eyed woman who Josie had spent most of last night talking to.

The woman that Josie had totally not stalked on Instagram until like two in the morning.

It was a completely unrelated thing that Josie now knew the names of all of the boys who had been at the bar with her last night, as well as how Penelope had celebrated her birthday, and New Year’s.

Josie smiled again.

She couldn’t remember the last time that she’d had a conversation with someone new that had gone that well.

Josie picked up her phone, checking her notifications.

There was a text from Hope, one from Maya, and one from Ethan.

Hope <3: Hey, so when you wake up, come downstairs. Lizzie and I are making pancakes and hangover cures.

 

Maya: What on earth did you do to Penelope? She hasn’t stopped smiling since we got back 😉 😉

 

Ethan the Loser: Okay, so we need to talk about you and Penelope, because seriously, you guys would be one hell of a couple.

 

Josie rolled her eyes, but smiled even wider.

She may or may not have a tiny little crush on Penelope.

It wasn’t serious, it couldn’t be. Josie wasn’t looking for a big relationship or anything. After the mess with Connor, she couldn’t deal with that type of thing.

But Josie wouldn’t mind something casual. And something told her that Penelope would be a very good kisser.

And now Josie was imagining Penelope kissing her.

Imagining how Penelope’s fingers would tangle in her hair.

Imagining how Penelope would kiss down her neck.

Imagining how her hands would move to Josie’s waist.

“Hey loser, are you awake?”

Josie jumped at the sound of Hope’s voice at the door.

Fucking Hope.

She really would have liked to see where that daydream went.

“Yeah, I’m awake.”

Hope swung the door open.

“Josie, it’s like eleven o’ clock. Come downstairs.”

Josie groaned and flopped back on her bed; face buried in the pillow.

“Josie if you aren’t out of bed in ten minutes, Lizzie will come upstairs and kick your ass.”

Josie groaned and rolled over again.

+++

The day was going fairly normally, and then Hope dropped the bomb that they were going over to Maya’s house for a hang out.

And Penelope was going to be there.

Hope added that with a wink.

Josie had known that she was going to run into Penelope sooner or later.

She was Maya’s roommate after all.

But she couldn’t pretend that the thought of seeing Penelope again didn’t make her very, very excited.

Josie knew that she couldn’t get her hopes up for anything.

Penelope might be straight.

Penelope might not be into her at all.

But a girl could dream.

And Josie wanted to dream about Penelope.

When they turned up at the house, Penelope was the one to open the door.

Josie nearly choked on air.

Penelope was wearing a black crop top, which revealed that Penelope’s stomach was fairly toned.

And she had a nose ring in.

Her eyes zeroed in on Josie. They were still so incredibly green.

“Hey Josie.”

God, her accent was still so hot.

Josie smiled and waved a little awkwardly.

“Hey Penelope.”

Hope cleared her throat.

Penelope’s eyes flicked over to the other two.

“I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting you, but I’ve heard enough to guess about who you are. Hope and Lizzie, right?”

They nodded.

Penelope grinned.

“Come inside. Ethan and Maya are waiting.”

The three of them moved inside.

Josie brushed past Penelope slightly as she passed and goosebumps spread across her whole body.

When they were a little way away from Penelope, Hope leaned over and whispered.

“Okay the tension between you two is intense. You need to have sex.”

Josie slapped her.

“Shut up.”

Hope just smirked.

+++

The rest of the night was spent drinking and talking. Hope and Lizzie were cuddled together on a couch, Ethan was sprawled in a beanbag, Maya had her own chair, and Josie and Penelope were left to share the other couch.

Josie was under no illusion that the seating arrangement was random.

It seemed like everyone else wanted to see where Penelope and Josie’s relationship went.

In a move that Josie never usually went for, she wanted to show her attraction for Penelope, to make it clear that she wanted her.

Usually, she just waited.

She didn’t feel like waiting for Penelope.

So, she made sure to inch towards Penelope over the course of the night.

Penelope was not unaware of what Josie was doing.

Josie knew this, because Penelope was moving towards her as well.

After forty-five minutes, the two of them were almost as close as Lizzie and Hope.

Penelope had an arm slung over the back of the couch, and Josie greatly hoped that sooner or later it would fall around her shoulders.

Josie was resting a hand on Penelope’s thigh, running her thumb across her jeans.

If Penelope and Josie turned their heads at the same time, their noses would brush just slightly.

Josie had never really understood the term ‘sparks fly’, but whenever Penelope made eye contact with her, Josie understood.

It felt like Penelope was lighting a fire inside of her heart.

Josie had always loved fire.

At some point in the night, they ended up playing a game of Never Have I Ever.

All of them had their glasses in hand, waiting to see who would get caught out first.

It was Maya’s turn, and her eyes flittered across Josie and Penelope before she spoke.

“Never have I ever had sex with a girl.”

Lizzie and Hope groaned.

“Rude.”

“This is literally homophobia.”

Maya rolled my eyes.

“Not my fault. Believe me, I would love to have sex with a girl, but the furthest it’s ever gone is making out.”

Ethan grimaced.

“Gross.”

He took a sip.

Maya fake gasped.

“Wait, you’ve had sex? Colour me surprised.”

Ethan slapped her.

Josie didn’t take a sip. Much like Maya, she would have loved to have sex with a girl, but the opportunity had never arisen.

It did not escape Josie’s notice that Penelope took a sip.

Penelope looked over at her.

“You really haven’t slept with a girl Josie? You’re missing out.”

Josie shrugged.

“Maybe I should get a pretty one to show me,” she said, pointedly looking at Penelope.

Penelope grinned, her arm finally falling around Josie’s shoulder.

“Maybe one should.”

Lizzie coughed; her face screwed up.

“Okay, next one. Never have I ever been arrested.”

All of them groaned and took a drink.

Maya pointed at Josie.

“Okay, how the fuck did you get arrested. You’re like an angel.”

Josie shrugged.

“It was in university. It was a big party and I may or may not have accidentally been involved in the setting of a fire.”

Hope and Ethan laughed.

“Oh yeah that.”

Lizzie’s eyes shot between them.

“Why did I not hear about this?”

“Because I was extremely drunk and embarrassed by that incident. I burnt an entire couch.”

Hope laughed.

Penelope rose an eyebrow.

“So, you’re a pyromaniac?”

Josie titled her head to the side.

“Yeah, a little bit.”

Penelope pianoed her fingers on Josie’s shoulder.

“Interesting.”

Josie tapped her thigh.

“What about you? What did you do?”

Penelope shrugged.

“Got into a fight with an asshole. Knocked his lights out. Broke one of my knuckles. Maya had to come and bail me out.”

Maya snorted.

“That was so dumb. I can’t believe you did that.”

Penelope stuck her tongue out.

“Love you too Maya.”

Maya rolled her eyes.

“Alright, Hope, your turn.”

+++

Eventually, the night wrapped up and they all prepared to leave.

Penelope tapped Josie on the shoulder.

“Hey can I give something to you?”

Josie was half tempted to ask if the thing that Penelope wanted to give her was her fingers or perhaps an orgasm, but she refrained.

“My number.”

Josie smiled and pulled out her phone.

Penelope looked over at the background.

“Is that you and Lizzie? Cute.”

Josie blushed.

“Yeah, we took that at college graduation.”

She opened her phone and handed it to Penelope.

Penelope typed for a moment and then handed the phone back to Josie.

Josie smiled.

She’d made her contact name Penelope <3<3.

Penelope pulled her arm away from Josie’s shoulder and took her hand.

“So, tell me Jojo, when shall I see you next?”

Josie blushed.

“Jojo?”

Penelope smiled.

“I think it’s cute. Just like you really.”

Josie’s heart needed to slow down.

Penelope calling her nicknames and calling her cute should not make her feel like this.

She wondered if she’d ever reach a point where she could handle it.

“Seriously though, I like hanging out with you. When can I see you next?" Penelope asked, grinning.

Josie stood and smiled.

“Why don’t you give me a tour of the city tomorrow? I mean, you do live here, and I feel like I trust you to show me to all the good places.”

Penelope stood as well.

“You know, you’re so right. I do know some lovely places. Plus, I can introduce you to the boys.”

Josie laughed.

“The ones who were ‘high as the empire state’?”

Penelope laughed as well.

That should not be such a hot sound.

“The very same.”

Hope called from the door.

“Hey Josie, you coming or do you want to sleep on Maya’s couch?”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“I’d better get going.”

Penelope titled her head to the side, a playful look sparking in her eyes.

“It would be fun if you stayed though. We could have a sleepover.”

When their eyes met, it was very clear that neither of them had a PG 13 idea of what that sleepover would entail.

However, Josie didn’t think that Maya or Ethan would like that very much.

Josie grinned.

“Maybe another night.”

Penelope nodded, understanding that Josie didn’t mean no, she meant later.

“Well, I’ll see you tomorrow.” She took Josie’s hand, pulled it up to her lips, and kissed it lightly.

Josie blushed again. Penelope really had her blushing constantly.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

+++

The next day was one of the best that Josie had had in a long time.

Hope and Lizzie were only too happy to stay at the house all day. Lizzie claimed that Hope wanted to do some painting and Hope claimed that Lizzie wanted to work on some new clothing ideas, which meant that they were going to try to work on that, and then they were going to have sex.

Josie didn’t mind.

She was spending the whole day with the very attractive, and very interesting Penelope Park, touring the city of London.

Penelope started them of just walking through the streets, both of them talking about basically nothing.

Josie discovered that Penelope loved dark academia novels, as well as Agatha Christie.

Josie discovered that Penelope liked to pretend that she didn’t like coffee, but she couldn’t get through a day without it.

Josie learned that Penelope’s favourite type of flower was a daffodil, because it was a symbol of rebirth.

Josie in turn told Penelope that she loved Jane Austen novels, but would never say no to a cliched romcom.

Josie told Penelope that while coffee was good, she much preferred a nice cup of tea.

Josie told Penelope that she loved sunflowers, just because she thought they looked pretty and that they made her feel happy.

Penelope laughed when Josie said that.

“That’s still a good reason to like a flower. Not everything has to be poetic.”

Josie shrugged.

“I mean, I am a songwriter. You’d think I had a prettier reason.”

Penelope just smiled.

“The smile on your face is already a pretty reason.”

Josie wanted to write that down. Penelope should seriously become a songwriter if she was going to keep saying such cute things.

Penelope placed her hand on Josie’s arm and led them into a bookshop.

Josie turned to Penelope in recognition.

“Is this where you work?”

Penelope nodded.

“I said I’d show you a tour of the best places in London. This is one of the best places because one, it has many beautiful books, two, it always smells nice, and three, I’m usually here or at the café across the road,” Penelope said with a wink.

Josie smiled.

“Those sound like pretty good reasons.”

Penelope did a little bow.

“Thank you. Now, please, take a look around and tell me if you find anything you want.”

Josie smiled and did as Penelope suggested.

The bookstore was small and cozy. Just like Penelope said, it smelt amazing. Josie loved the way the scent of the old books mingled with the lavender of the flowers they set around the shop.

Most of the books were second hand, and Josie didn’t think she’d be able to find anything past 2010 in here, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that whenever Josie looked up from reading the blurb of a book, Penelope would be watching her with a small smile.

Josie eventually decided that she wanted to buy a copy of the first Lord of the Rings book. She had read the series before, but it had been a while, and she didn’t actually have her own copy, so now was a good time as ever to get it.

Penelope took the book from her when Josie approached the counter.

“You’re a nerd.”

“Says the one who probably has all of Shakespeare’s sonnets memorised.”

Penelope rose an eyebrow.

“You say that like it’s an insult, but I can tell you, it’s quite romantic to have a sonnet recited to you.”

“Maybe you should recite one to me,” Josie challenged.

Penelope’s eyes flicked away for just a second, as if she was nervous.

Josie wasn’t sure why.

She didn’t think anything could make Penelope nervous.

Penelope cleared her throat.

“Maybe I will one day. But today, I’m going to buy you this book.”

Josie immediately tried to reject Penelope’s offer.

“Oh, you don’t have to do that.”

Penelope shrugged.

“I’m your guide.”

“I moved across countries just because I wanted to. I promise you; I am not exactly short on cash.”

Penelope just laughed.

“Jojo, I’m trying to do something nice for you. Why don’t you let me take care of you?”

Josie tried to ignore the backflip that her heart did when Penelope called her by her nickname.

“Okay sure.”

Penelope beamed.

“Excellent.”

+++

Penelope took her down to a park to meet her friends. Josie had to act like she had no knowledge of who any of them were, which was kind of awkward, but she made it work.

They hung out there for a bit. While Josie was sad that she didn’t get to spend time one on one with Penelope, she did like the company of the boys.

Landon was actually trying to become a singer as well, and he did little shows in pubs sometimes. Josie and him got into a really interesting conversation about music.

Jed was an idiot, and Josie was very sure that he was high, but it was fine.

Kaleb was also high, but he was cool to talk to, even if he spent most of his time talking to MG, the last of the boys.

MG was a nerd, and Josie talked to him about Lord of the Rings when Penelope mentioned it.

In all, she thought that Penelope’s friends were quite nice.

Eventually, Penelope pulled her up from the grass and told the boys goodbye.

Josie couldn’t even pretend like she wasn’t happy to get Penelope back one on one.

She couldn’t help it.

Having all of Penelope’s attention made her feel special, like she was finally someone.

Penelope took her down to the Thames, and they sat by the bank, Josie resting her head on Penelope’s shoulder as the afternoon fell into existence.

“Josie?”

Josie turned to look at Penelope. Her nose ring was sparkling in the sunlight, and her eyes were so pretty.

What Josie wouldn’t give to get to kiss her in this moment.

“Yeah?”

“I’m really glad I met you. Even if I’ve only known you for a little while, you feel special.”

Josie smiled.

“Same. I’ve never met anyone quite like you.”

Penelope smiled, and for a moment Josie thought she was leaning in.

For a moment, she thought that Penelope was going to kiss her.

But then Penelope shook her head, ever so slightly, and stood up.

“Come on, I’ll take you home. I don’t think your sister would appreciate me stealing you for the whole day.”

Josie was almost disappointed.

She just wanted to stay in that moment forever.

+++

A month in London passed, at not much changed.

Josie hung out with the people she had come to know.

Maya and her had grown a lot closer, she was a lot like her brother, and Josie couldn’t help but like her.

She had had a few ‘jam’ sessions with Landon, and even one with MG, and they’d come up with some cool song ideas.

Josie’s favourite times were when she got to hang out with Penelope.

There wasn’t as much one on one time, as everyone else wanted to go places with them, but any moment spent with Penelope was a moment that Josie treasured.

They’d gotten closer, and there had been so many moments where the tension between them had almost been palpable.

There had been so many times where they had nearly kissed.

But Penelope had pulled away every single time.

Josie was starting to get the message that Penelope wasn’t interested.

Which sucked, because Josie really liked Penelope.

She’d be fine with them being friends, but damn, she really wanted to kiss her.

She wanted to know Penelope's body like it was her own.

Her mother had called, asking for an update.

Josie had gushed on and on about London, and the sights, and how it was all so pretty, but eventually, she found herself just talking about Penelope.

Her mother laughed.

“So, is this Penelope a friend, or is she more of a potential girlfriend?”

Josie groaned.

“That’s the problem. I don’t know. Like, we’re really close, and she’s really flirty, but she's like that with all of her friends. I just don’t know what to think.”

“Maybe she wants you to express interest.”

Josie sighed.

“Honestly mum, I think she knows. I’ve just been staring at her and drooling over her since we met. She’s just so pretty, mum, you do not understand. Seriously, I feel like I’m seventeen and crushing on some random straight girl again.”

Her mother laughed again.

“You’ve been spending too much time with Lizzie; the dramatics are coming back. Jos, I think you just need to stop overthinking it.”

Josie nodded.

“Yeah, I know.”

Hope and Lizzie also thought that Penelope might be waiting for Josie to make the first move, but Josie refused to make it.

She just didn’t want to do something and ruin the new friendship that they had struck up.

That would suck.

So, she stayed quiet and she didn’t do anything.

And then Hope and Lizzie left.

Josie had known that that day was coming, but it was still sad. Josie had really enjoyed having her best friend and her twin so close. It had been so long since they had been so close for so long.

They both hugged her tightly before they left.

Hope whispered to her

“You should make a move on Penelope. I guarantee that she wants you too.”

Josie just rolled her eyes and smiled.

“I love you Hope.”

Hope winked.

“Don’t I know it.”

Then they were gone, and Josie was standing in the airport with Ethan, Maya, and Penelope.

Ethan threw his arm around Josie’s shoulder.

“Come on, let’s go get some drinks.”

+++

Nothing of note happened for three days, and then Josie got a text from Penelope.

Penelope<3<3: hey, wanna go get some drinks, just the two of us?

Josie wasted no time in replying.

Josie: Of course, I’ll see at the usual place in ten?

Penelope<3<3: sounds good.

Josie quickly got dressed, making sure as to look extra pretty.

She even brought out her black crop top, and her black leather jacket. They always helped her feel extra hot.

Judging by the way Penelope’s eyes raked over her when Josie entered the bar, it worked.

“Someone certainly looks gorgeous,” Penelope complimented.

Josie grinned.

“I felt like it. So, what’s the plan?”

Penelope gestured to the drinks on the table before them.

“Let’s start with these and see where the night takes us, follow the sparks,” she said the last part with a wink.

Well, that was a little less subtle than her usual flirting.

Josie nodded.

“Sounds like a great plan.”

When they got to the bar, something felt different already.

This night was sparkling with the chance of a new chapter in their story.

It was a fresh page just begging to be written on.

They talked for a while, just like usual.

Josie’s hand found its way to Penelope’s knee and Penelope kept looking at her like she was a full course meal.

Then night went on, and Josie’s hand shifted a little higher.

Midnight rolled around, and Penelope suggested they leave the bar.

They both climbed into a cab, and it was Penelope’s hand this time that found its way to Josie’s leg, except her hand crawled up until it was on Josie’s thigh.

Josie looked up at Penelope and Penelope looked back at her.

The feeling of sparks flying was back.

“Where do we go?” Josie whispered, the dark of the night creeping into the cab, the dim lights making it nearly impossible to see Penelope’s face.

Except for her eyes. Those impossible green eyes.

“Where do you live?”

It was a simple question, but Josie knew that it meant so much more.

She turned to the cab driver,

“Cornelia Street please.”

Josie settled back against the seat.

Penelope hand didn’t leave her thigh, and her eyes didn’t leave Josie.

+++

They entered into the house, and Josie turned on the lights.

Then she turned around to meet Penelope’s gaze.

Penelope was so close that their noses were brushing.

“What do you want to do?” Josie asked, trying to convey what she really meant.

Trying to know if Penelope wanted what she did.

Penelope’s hand rose to cup Josie’s cheek and she whispered

“This.”

She leaned in.

Their lips met and the sparks turned into fireworks, spreading through every inch of Josie’s body.

Chapter Text

Josie woke the next morning clutching at the empty sheets next to her.

She frowned, unsure of why that had been her first impulse.

She opened her eyes.

Josie was alone, but there was a distinct perfume that she recognized hanging in the air.

Before she could identify it, Josie realized that she was completely naked.

Then the memories came rushing back.

Penelope kissing her so hard that she felt like melting.

Josie leading them upstairs, both of them tugging at each other’s clothes, desperate to remove them.

Those clothes being shed the moment the door closed behind them.

Josie being pushed back against the bed.

Penelope’s mouth tracing a line down her neck, to her collarbone, to her stomach.

Josie gasping and moaning Penelope’s name she went low.

Josie shaking as she came down from the high that Penelope sent her into.

Josie flipping them over and hearing Penelope make those exact same noises.

Josie falling asleep with Penelope lying beside her, an arm thrown lazily across her chest.

Josie smiled as she remembered.

She had been wanting that for a very long time.

She couldn’t remember the last time someone had made her feel like that.

Josie sincerely hoped that that was not a one-time thing, because holy shit, Penelope’s touch had made her feel things that she had never felt before.

Although, that may just be because she'd never been with a girl before.

Were all girls that good at sex, because if so, Josie had been missing out.

She sat up in bed, frowning again.

Where was Penelope?

She turned to look at the time.

It was already eleven o’clock.

Penelope probably had somewhere to be, but Josie still felt disappointed.

She wouldn’t have minded to have a repeat of last night this morning.

Josie showered and dressed, before finding her way downstairs.

She’d checked her phone, and there were no text messages from Penelope.

She checked the bedroom, and the kitchen, but there was no note.

If Josie’s legs still didn’t feel a little jellylike, she would almost think that last night was a dream.

But it hadn’t been.

It had been real, they’d had sex, so why was every trace of Penelope gone?

Josie knew that she probably shouldn’t be freaking out, that Penelope definitely had other things to do that weren’t Josie, but still, she was confused about what it had meant.

She texted Maya, trying to sound casual.

Josie: Hey, have you seen Penelope recently

Maya texted back ten minutes later, and Josie would deny that she spent those ten minutes pacing back and forwards nervously.

Maya: nope, she didn’t come home last night. I thought she was with u 😉

Josie: well, yeah, but when I woke up, she wasn’t here

Maya: ok first of all, thank god you two finally fucked, the sexual tension was killing me

Maya: and second of all, she’s probably at the bookstore right now.

Maya: you should talk to her about what this means, just saying

Josie frowned.

Josie: what do you mean

Maya: not my place to say, just talk to her

Josie sighed.

She had no idea what that meant.

She’d figured out that Penelope was single, so it wasn’t like Josie had just helped her cheat on anyone.

She could be straight, but Josie had never met a straight girl who was that good at fingering.

Josie wasn’t sure what she wanted this to mean either.

On the one hand, Penelope had probably given her the best sex she’d ever had. Penelope made her feel like she was going up in flames at all times. Penelope was amazing to talk to, and Josie never felt like she could be close enough to her.

But on the other hand, relationships were messy. Connor had made her happy at the start.

Connor had been the perfect boyfriend at the start.

Josie didn’t want another broken heart.

She didn’t think Penelope would break her heart, but still, she didn’t want to risk their friendship being ruined by a relationship.

It was all so confusing.

Josie opened up another text message thread.

Josie: Hope, Lizzie, Ethan I need your help

They all texted back almost immediately.

Hope<3: omg what happened

Twinnie: tell us everything

Ethan the loser: does this have anything to do with why Penelope didn’t come home last night 😉

He really was just like Maya.

Josie typed her message quickly, hoping that Hope and Lizzie didn’t freak out too much.

Josie: okay so basically Penelope and I had sex but she left the next morning without leaving a message or anything

Hope<3: OMG THEY FUCKED

Twinnie: Josie I’m so proud I’m getting you a present

Ethan the loser: yes get it Josie

Hope<3: wait she left

Hope<3: oh yikes lowkey

Ethan the loser: yeah that isn’t ideal

Twinnie: I’m still getting you a present

Hope<3: wait before we get carried away, who topped

Josie sighed.

Of course Hope would ask that.

Josie: Penelope.

Hope<3: ha ethan owes me ten bucks

Ethan the loser: dammit

Ethan the loser: josie I thought you’d be more dominant in bed

Josie laughed despite herself.

She could be dominant when she wanted to, but with Penelope Park right there on top of her, she really felt no need to do that.

Twinnie: ew I do not want to hear about my sister’s sex life

Josie: can we get back on topic

Hope<3: yes

Twinnie: okay what do you want this to be

Twinnie: because before you talk to her next, you should know that

Josie: ok, I really like her, but I don’t know if I want a relationship.

Josie: I kind of want a casual thing, but I don’t know if I’d be able to handle that either

Ethan the loser: that’s fair

Hope<3: okay, so you want to keep sleeping with her, but no strings attached.

Josie: yes

Twinnie: have you caught feelings yet

Josie put her phone down for a moment.

She wasn’t really sure.

Because, yeah, she liked Penelope’s company, and she liked it when Penelope held her hand, but that could all be just casual stuff.

She didn’t really have feelings for Penelope.

At least, not strong ones.

Josie: no

Hope<3: okay, so friends with benefits relationship

Hope<3: then if one of you catches feelings, we deal with that later

Josie: if anyone is going to catch feelings, it’s going to be me

Josie: Penelope strikes me as the type of person who could do a causal relationship really well

Ethan the loser: yeah, I don’t think she’s really a serious relationship type of girl

Hope<3: well then who better to have a causal relationship with

Josie: lizzie what do you think

Twinnie: if you want, go for it

Josie: okay

Josie: I’ll keep you guys updated

She put her phone down.

Time to go see Penelope.

+++

Josie texted Penelope asking to meet at the café across from her work.

Penelope texted back saying that she would be there at one in the afternoon.

So, Josie found herself there, sitting nervously.

What if Penelope didn’t want anything?

What if this had just been a one-time thing?

What if Penelope wanted to cut all stings because it was too weird, or worse, because she’d been leading Josie on?

Josie knew she had insecurities, but damn, this was a lot.

She had no idea how to deal with a situation like this.

Josie had never actually been friends with someone that she’d had a one-night stand with.

If this was a one-night stand.

Which Josie hoped it wasn’t.

Josie was about to panic text Penelope asking where she was, when Penelope swung open the door and strolled over to Josie’s table, sliding into the seat across from her.

She was practically glowing. Josie couldn’t believe it; she had somehow gotten even more beautiful.

Maybe it was just because now Josie knew what she looked like under her clothes.

Maybe it was just because Josie had gotten to run her hands across her toned stomach.

Josie blinked.

She probably shouldn’t be thinking about that when they were about to have a conversation.

“You good there Jojo? You look a little dazed," Penelope said, smiling as she glided into the seat opposite Josie.

Josie tried to ignore the fact that she knew exactly what Penelope sounded like when she was moaning that nickname.

“Yeah, sorry, I’m a little tired.”

Penelope smirked.

“I feel like I should apologize for that.”

Josie blushed.

At least Penelope wasn’t going to try and act like last night didn’t happen.

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that. I quite happened to enjoy getting tired out by you,” Josie said, leaning forwards. She wasn’t usually very flirty, but getting fucked by someone as attractive as Penelope really helped boost your confidence.

Penelope grinned.

“Then I am only too happy to help.”

Penelope’s expression shifted, and she looked a little nervous.

“Look, um, we should talk about what this means for our relationship. I really enjoyed last night, and I really like your company but um,” Penelope looked away.

Josie knew what Penelope was trying to say.

She had liked last night, but she didn’t want to do it again.

Josie decided to say something.

“It’s okay if you don’t want to do that again. It can just be a one-time thing that we just don’t talk about. But well, if you want to do it again, I feel like you should know I don’t want anything serious.” She leaned back as she did, but kept looking at Penelope.

Penelope looked up.

“Wait really?”

Josie shrugged.

“My last relationship was a mess. I really don’t want to deal with that type of thing again right now.”

Penelope breathed out an audible sigh of relief.

“Well, that’s good because I really don’t do well with serious relationships and commitment and that type of thing.”

“You seemed pretty committed to making sure that I couldn’t walk the next day.”

Penelope grinned.

“I do aim to please.”

Josie leaned forwards.

“So, you don’t want anything serious, neither do I, but we both really liked sleeping with each other. What happens now?” She asked.

Penelope played with her fingers and then answered,

“How would you feel about a sort of friends with benefits situation?”

Josie laughed.

“That’s exactly what Hope suggested.”

Penelope shrugged.

“Great minds think alike, I guess. But what do you think?”

Josie shrugged, letting a smile tug at the corner of her mouth.

“I think it sounds like a really great idea. It sounds like a really fun way to spend my stay here.”

Penelope laughed.

“Oh, I can definitely make it fun.”

Josie grinned.

“So, we have a deal?”

Penelope nodded.

“We stay friends, we don’t have a serious relationship, but we still get to have sex. Sounds like a pretty good situation if you ask me.”

Josie nodded.

“We might just get away with this.”

“We just might.”

+++

After that meeting, they fell into a routine. During the day, they were just friends. They laughed, and smiled, and hung out with other people, and they acted like everything was normal.

Then they’d go out to have some drinks. They’d start flirting, getting handsy, getting way too close.

One of them would call a cab, and on the ride to Josie’s place, Penelope would play a game of ‘how far up Josie’s thigh can I get my hand without her reacting?’

The answer: not very far. Josie was very sensitive.

They decided that they should always ‘meet up’ at Josie’s place, because she didn’t have two other roommates.

Josie decided that that was fair, so that became part of the routine.

When they reached Josie’s house, they went straight to Josie’s room, just like that first night.

They spent their time worshiping each other’s bodies, trying to get the other to make as many new and exciting noises as possible.

Josie discovered that Penelope really liked it when Josie bit at her collarbone.

Josie also discovered that she really liked it when Penelope held her wrists down and made her completely submissive.

There were a few things that Josie discovered that she liked.

The only thing uncertain about the routine was where Penelope would end up in the morning.

Sometimes Josie would wake up to Penelope still sleeping, and she would go to have a shower. By the time she got back, Penelope would be awake and she would take the next shower.

Once they showered together.

That was a good morning.

Usually, however, Josie would wake up to an empty bed, and absolutely no trace of Penelope left in the room, save for her perfume.

Josie knew that Penelope had a job, had places to be, but she still wished for more mornings where they woke up together.

They made an agreement that none of their friends could find out.

Except for Hope and Lizzie, Penelope said that it would be fine if they knew, considering that they were in another country.

That meant that whenever they hung out with Ethan or Maya, Josie had to deal with the looks thrown their way.

Both Ethan and Maya had told her in no uncertain terms that she needed to have sex with Penelope.

Well, more, ‘have sex with Penelope again’.

And well, Josie was sure that Ethan was going to put the pieces together, considering that he had been in the groupchat, but Penelope said as long as they confirmed nothing, it was fine.

Josie wasn’t sure why they couldn’t find out.

She thought that it was probably because Penelope didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, and that was fair.

It was just a causal relationship, two friends who were attracted to each other, but were not emotionally available, seeking company.

Hope and Lizzie said that it would be fine, but if anything went wrong, to tell them immediately.

Josie assured them that nothing was going to go wrong.

Sooner or later, either she or Penelope would find someone else, someone who they wanted to try something real with, and it would be over.

It was just a bit of fun.

That was what Josie told herself at least.

+++

Then the routine changed.

It was a night that seemed just like every other.

They had drinks the same way.

They flirted the same way.

They sat in the cab the same way.

Penelope’s hand climbed all the way up to Josie’s hip before she reacted.

Penelope grinned at her and lightly scratched the bare flesh she found.

Josie tried not to whimper.

Then they got to the house and things were different.

Josie pulled Penelope into the house and pushed her up against the door, kissing her slowly.

Then she pulled back.

“I’m hungry.”

Penelope rose an eyebrow.

“I think that much is obvious Jojo.”

That nickname had become something said less often in public.

Now it was something Penelope whispered when there was nothing but sheets between them.

Josie rolled her eyes and shoved lightly against Penelope’s chest.

“I meant for actual food.”

Penelope tilted her head to the side.

“Okay, so what does that mean?”

“Do you want some pasta? I’m great at cooking.”

Penelope laughed.

“I’d actually love some pasta, but I’m a little confused. We have a routine; you may have noticed.”

Josie hummed.

“Routines are great, but you what else is great?”

Penelope shook her head, a smile curving onto her lips.

“No, what?”

“Pasta.”

Penelope laughed.

“Well then, Miss Saltzman, lead the way.”

+++

Josie did make pasta, and they did eat it.

Well, they ate some of it.

They ended up having sex against the counter, and then Penelope carried Josie upstairs for round two.

There was some sort of religion in Penelope’s lips, and Josie intended to follow it devoutly.

And Penelope may have been a false god, but her touch made Josie feel like she was in heaven.

When they woke up in the morning, Penelope was still there.

Josie made her pancakes, and Penelope complimented her cooking skills.

It was the beginning of something new.

Something neither of them had quite planned for.

Now when they came to the house, they’d do something friendly, trying to see how long they could stay away from each other.

They’d play cards, they’d listen to music, they’d talk, or on one occasion, play Truth or Dare.

Josie tried to treat it like it was some sort of foreplay, a game to make things more interesting, but really, she was just trying to spend some more time with Penelope.

Josie didn’t get it.

Everything was fine.

The old routine was fine.

More importantly, it was safe.

This was a little more dangerous.

It was playing with fire.

But hey, Josie had always been a pyromaniac.

And getting to see Penelope smile at her even more, well, Josie was never going to pass up that chance.

+++

June finally turned into July, and Josie and Penelope were still going through with their agreement.

One night they got back and Penelope suggested that they have some wine.

Josie laughed.

“Penelope, we just came from a bar.”

Penelope sighed dramatically.

“But Josie, that’s whiskey and scotch. This is a nice glass of red wine.”

Josie was unconvinced.

“Come on Josie, for me, please?”

Josie sighed.

“Okay, fine.”

They drank the wine and talked. They shared confessions.

Josie told Penelope about what growing up was like for her, how Lizzie took up so much of her time and energy, how her father hated her so much.

Penelope told Josie about how she was never good enough for her parents, and as an only child, she had to bear the weight of their expectations by herself.

Josie kept waiting for a moment in which Penelope would switch, where she would look at Josie like she wanted to eat her alive.

It never came.

Josie fell asleep that night on the couch and woke up in the bed with Penelope by her side.

It was the first night that started with their routine that ended in Josie’s bed, without the sex.

Penelope made up for it that morning, made Josie come so many times that Josie decided to stay home for the rest of the day, for fear that she wouldn’t be able to walk properly.

But it was still different.

Josie wondered how it changed into this.

Josie wondered why.

+++

While everything being like that, with Penelope staying the night and waking up next to Josie, still felt a little dangerous, they both felt in control.

That changed after their first fight.

Josie wasn’t sure how it started.

Well, that was sort of a lie.

She knew when it started.

She just didn’t know why.

They had been talking, just as friends as they walked through London, and they had been talking about Connor.

Josie had been going on about how he had treated her, how she was so glad that he was out of her life.

Then she had asked Penelope if she had any exes worth mentioning.

Penelope’s face twitched.

“Oh, you know, just the usual stories. Stuff that you’ve probably heard a million times.”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“That’s a cop out answer.” When Penelope didn’t say anything, Josie nudged her shoulder.

“Come on Pen, at least tell me about your most recent ex.”

“I don’t really know what you define an ex. I mean, I’ve had plenty of flings, but I could not for the life of me tell you anything about them.”

Josie rolled her eyes, and tried to ignore the little stab in her heart when Penelope talked about having other flings.

She wondered if one day Penelope would be including Josie under that category.

So, she pushed.

“Okay, then tell me about your last real relationship.”

Penelope sighed and was silent for a moment.

“Her name was Sasha.”

Josie waited for a moment and then turned to Penelope when she didn’t elaborate.

“Seriously? Can’t you tell me a little bit more than that?”

Penelope was silent.

Josie should have stopped.

But she was still a little stung by Penelope’s earlier words, so she kept pushing.

“What did she break your heart a bit too much for you to talk about? Or are you still in love with her or something?”

Josie was trying to sound joking, but there was an edge to her tone that Penelope must have picked up because she sighed, and turned to Josie, stopping in the middle of the path.

“Can you just please, drop it, okay? I don’t want to fucking talk about her, and I thought maybe you’d be able to pick up on that.”

Josie didn’t miss the way Penelope’s fists clenched, the way her voice was tight.

“Sorry. I just don’t get why you won’t-”

“Leave it,” Penelope said, her voice low.

Josie stopped talking.

Penelope shook her head and looked away.

“I’m gonna go. I should see if they need any help around the shop.”

Josie was about to protest, but Penelope just turned around and walked away.

Three days later, Penelope still hadn’t talked to Josie.

Josie wasn’t sure why Penelope was so mad, but she missed her friend.

She missed her company more than the sex, and that was why Josie refused to let this go.

She tracked Penelope down to the bar.

When Josie found her, Penelope was sitting and drinking by herself.

Josie slid in next to her, and it felt like a parallel of that very first night they met.

“Hey.”

Penelope looked up and sighed.

“Hey Josie.”

“Look, I’m really sorry about the other day. I pushed too far, and it wasn’t my place. I promise, I won’t do that again," Josie said, looking at Penelope, mentally begging her to look back.

Penelope looked over to her, and held her eye contact.

There was something in her eyes. It might just be the alcohol, but Penelope looked desperate, and there was this extra passion.

Josie had always had intense feelings when Penelope made eye contact, but this was different.

She felt this fluttering in her stomach, like she was nervous.

Like she was about to go on stage and sing a song that she’d never actually performed in front of people before.

She had never felt this way with Penelope before.

She had no idea what this was.

“I’m sorry too,” Penelope said quietly.

“Penelope,” Josie whispered, about to tell Penelope that she had nothing to apologize for but Penelope leant forwards and whispered into Josie’s ear, causing all of her linguistic functions to shut down for a moment.

“Why don’t we go back to your house, and we can apologize to each other properly?”

Josie didn’t think twice.

They got up and headed for Josie’s house.

There was no break. It was like back at the start. Penelope pulled her upstairs, and pushed her into the mattress.

Penelope pulled off her clothes and whispered into Josie’s neck.

“Let me take care of you.”

Josie felt those butterflies again and she moaned, letting Penelope go lower, until she was kneeling at the foot of the bed, between Josie’s legs.

Josie’s hips were an altar and Penelope had come to worship.

Josie clutched at the sheets, moaning as she felt Penelope touch her.

Everything felt different that night.

Josie felt those butterflies, Penelope touched Josie with such care, like she was afraid of Josie shattering before her eyes.

Josie wasn’t sure that she liked it, so she pulled Penelope close to her, and kissed her until they were both breathless.

After that, Penelope’s normal touches came back, but still, something felt different.

When Josie woke the next morning, Penelope was gone.

It was the first time in so long that Josie had woken up without Penelope.

Josie wondered why that was.

She wondered if maybe she did something wrong.

+++

July was coming to an end, and everything was warm and beautiful.

Josie loved it.

Penelope stopped coming by as often as just a friend.

Most of their time spent together was part of the routine.

Josie didn’t know why that made her feel a little sad.

Lizzie and Hope told her that this was the perfect summer romance, that it was great inspiration for her music.

And it should be.

Josie should have been brimming with ideas.

But strangely, she wasn’t.

It was like there was a mental block, something stopping her from just spilling her heart out onto the page. She just didn’t know what it was.

Josie had been here in London for two months now.

There had been so many new beginnings.

So, why couldn’t she write about it?

What was holding her back?

Or, more importantly, what was she holding back?

Chapter Text

Josie woke up one morning, just as August was starting, and realized that this might be the best summer she’d ever had.

She was in a new country, one that was so amazing, and just so different from anything she'd ever experienced.

She had new friends, Maya, and Landon, and MG, even Jed and Kaleb were great.

Most importantly though, she had Penelope.

Penelope was new and exciting, even though their friends with benefits relationship had been going on for about a month and a half.

They were still friends, they still talked about stuff, and it was great.

They hung out at the bar with their friends and Penelope tried and failed to teach Josie how to properly play pool.

Josie just had no co-ordination at all.

Penelope laughed at her.

“It’s okay Josie, I still like you.”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“Okay, next time we’re doing a different game. This is far too embarrassing.”

Next time they played darts, and Josie accidentally stabbed Landon in the shoulder.

After giving him a Band-Aid with a smiley face, and after Penelope had finally stopped laughed, Josie swore that she would never again attempt a bar game.

Penelope just smiled.

Though, despite all that, there were still weird bits.

Penelope had started leaving before Josie woke up once more. Josie didn’t know why, but if Penelope had decided to do that, Josie wasn’t going to worry.

It was probably nothing, if it was anything big, Penelope would tell her.

That was what friends do.

Josie and Penelope were just friends.

Did Penelope’s touch create weird and amazing feelings in Josie, that she didn’t really want to think about? Well, yeah, but that would pass.

It was nothing serious.

+++

Josie realized that maybe this was actually more serious than she had anticipated one night when Penelope texted her asking if she wanted to come over and hang out with the boys at a club.

Josie hadn’t gone to any clubs in London yet, and she was excited to see what it was like.

Her answer: just like in America.

It was loud, and bright, and crowded.

Lizzie had always loved clubs. Josie had too, but to a lesser degree.

She preferred being able to hear yourself talk over getting aches across your entire body from dancing too much.

It was fun though.

The boys had some truly awful dance moves, and Josie was only too happy to join them.

They had no idea what they were doing really, and that was the best part.

The bass shook Josie’s chest, and Josie couldn’t see, but everything was amazing.

She’d probably had one too many drinks, because everything was a little blurry, but Josie didn’t care.

This was what she wanted.

This blurry feeling where there was nothing else in the world except for a sort of fuzzy contentment.

That was how Penelope made her feel.

Like nothing else in the world existed but them.

Like Josie had never felt anything but Penelope’s gentle touch.

Penelope.

Josie wanted to dance with Penelope.

Images of her hands on Penelope’s hips, both of them moving to the beat, filled Josie’s head.

She needed to find Penelope.

Josie cast her gaze around the club.

She couldn’t find her.

Josie pouted and yelled at one of the boys. She was pretty sure it was Landon, but she couldn’t tell.

“Where’s Pen?”

He shrugged.

“I don’t know, I think she wondered off to the bar.”

Josie nodded, and turned to the bar.

Upon first inspection, Josie couldn’t find Penelope.

The bartender looked down at her.

“You want anything?” he asked, raising his voice over the noise.

Josie was about to shake her head, but decided against it.

“Actually, yeah. Can I have two shots of tequila?”

He nodded and went to go prepare her drinks.

Josie sat down on the stool and twisted her legs back and forth.

She should have known when she sat down that something was going to happen.

Everything always seemed to happen at bars.

Josie turned to look to her left, and her heart did a record scratch.

Penelope was talking to another girl, and it was very clear that she was flirting.

Her hand was on the girl’s thigh, and Penelope was giving her the same look that she gave Josie.

Josie couldn’t help it.

She’d always been a jealous person.

When Connor had gone out to all those parties, Josie had practically had to force herself not to freak out.

And look where that had gotten her.

Josie felt like something was burning in her stomach, and the only thing that was going to stop it was going over to Penelope.

The bartender put the two shots down on the bar and Josie downed them quickly.

Later, she’d blame her actions on the alcohol.

Josie stalked over to the pair.

Penelope’s eyes lifted to meet hers, and for a moment, guilt flickered there.

The other girl looked up as well, but Josie wasn’t even bothered with looking at her.

She wasn’t important.

Josie saw Penelope’s lips moving. She didn’t know what Penelope was going to say, and she doubted that Penelope knew either.

They’d never find out, because Josie leaned down and kissed Penelope.

She basically pulled herself into Penelope’s lap, pushed them together.

Penelope’s hands fell to her waist, and Josie felt a stab of satisfaction that even when startled, Penelope's first instinct was to touch her.

After what was probably too long a moment for it to be called a mistake, Penelope shoved Josie back, and she stumbled on her feet, not exactly feeling steady.

Josie looked to see what the girl’s reaction had been, but she was gone.

Well, that had clearly done the trick.

Josie turned back to Penelope, with triumph in her eyes.

She expected Penelope to look back at her with at least some attraction.

Penelope looked at her like Josie had just broken that girl’s nose.

Josie’s face twisted into a pout and she was about to ask what was wrong, when Penelope grabbed her arm and dragged her away.

Josie didn’t know where they were going, but she let herself get taken there.

Eventually, Josie was stumbling outside the bar.

The glow of the vending machine lit their faces.

Penelope looked at Josie, and Josie had no idea what she was feeling.

Shit. She might have drunk a little more than she should have.

Especially considering that she could barely see.

“Josie, what the hell was that?”

Josie shrugged.

“I didn’t like seeing you with another girl.” Josie had always been an honest drunk. One day that was going to get her in trouble.

Penelope folded her arms across her chest and sighed.

“I’m allowed to talk to other people. Actually, I’m allowed to flirt with other people, and I’m allowed to kiss them if I want. You aren’t the only person in my life.”

Josie frowned.

“But you’re the only person in my life. You’re the only person I want in my life.”

Penelope sighed again. Josie could swear that she was sad.

“I’m not having this conversation with you right now. You are far too drunk.”

Josie shook her head.

“I’m fine," she said, trying to walk away.

Penelope reached out and grabbed Josie's arm.

“You aren't going anywhere. I’m getting a cab, and I’m taking you home.”

Josie pouted and sat on the floor.

“I’m sorry.”

Penelope looked down at her, and then sat down next to her.

“I know. I’d probably do the same thing if I saw you with someone else.”

Josie grinned.

“That’s pretty possessive of you.”

Penelope rolled her eyes.

“You’re annoying.”

“But you like me.”

Penelope’s eyes softened, and when she spoke, Josie thought that she sounded far too honest.

“I do. Even if I don’t want to a lot of the time.”

Josie frowned.

“What does that mean?”

Penelope shrugged.

“Nothing. You won’t remember this.”

“What if I do?”

“Then it means that we’re both drunk and neither of us know what we’re saying.”

That night Josie didn’t remember getting home.

If she had, she would have known that after helping her get ready for bed, Penelope kissed her on the head and told her

“I think I just might love you Jojo.”

+++

They pretended that that night didn’t exist. Like Josie didn’t get jealous, like Penelope didn’t say anything cryptic.

It was better that way.

But Josie couldn’t stop feeling those weird feelings.

It was like they had somehow increased tenfold. It felt like she was constantly on the brink of a major discovery.

Josie just didn’t know what it was.

Hope and Lizzie were no help. They just told her stuff about how she needed to figure it out herself.

So, Josie kept puzzling over what it was.

Then, one morning, she realized.

She realized that this might in fact ruin her life.

She woke up, alone like always. She had a shower, got dressed, and headed down for breakfast.

Penelope had tired her out a lot last night.

There may or may not have been handcuffs involved.

So, Josie wasn’t exactly thinking straight as she walked down the stairs.

That was why she didn’t notice that the smell of breakfast was already wafting through the house.

She stumbled into the kitchen and for a moment, thought she was hallucinating.

Penelope was standing there, cooking pancakes, wearing one of Josie’s shirts. It was way too big on her.

Josie felt her heart skip a beat.

Penelope turned to smile at her.

Josie felt butterflies explode in her stomach.

“Hey, sorry, I know that we don’t do this, but I feel like I’ve been kind of a jerk recently, and I wanted to surprise you.”

Oh shit.

It was like Josie had pulled on the thread of a tapestry and the whole thing had just unraveled.

Everything clicked into place.

Oh fuck.

Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.

She had feelings for Penelope Park.

This was no longer just a fun thing between friends.

Josie had officially caught feelings.

Penelope frowned.

“You okay? You look a little sick.”

Josie swallowed and nodded.

“Yeah, sorry, just tired.”

Penelope grinned, walking over to the counter.

“Last night was pretty fun.”

Josie just nodded.

Penelope frowned again.

“Are you sure you’re okay? I haven’t crossed any boundaries by doing this right? We’re good?”

Josie forced a smile. If anyone had crossed boundaries, it wasn’t Penelope.

“No, you’re good. Making me breakfast is probably the way to go with me. I love food.”

Penelope nodded.

“Well, then eat up. I made your favorites.”

+++

Josie had called her mother immediately after Penelope had left her house.

“Mum I think I have feelings for Penelope.”

“Well hello to you too.”

“Mum, please.”

“Okay, okay. Wait, hold on. Penelope? As in, the girl that you sort of have a casual thing with Penelope?”

“Yeah, except now I have feelings and this is a disaster.”

Her mother sighed.

“Josie, deep breaths. Look, I’ve never exactly been in this situation, so I don’t know if I can give you any good advice, but I would recommend not doing anything rash. Just think this through, use both your head and your heart and hopefully you can avoid getting hurt.”

Josie had thanked her mother for her advice, but deep down knew that she wouldn’t use it.

Josie had never been good at thinking things through.

Josie texted Hope and Lizzie three days after.

She really wanted Ethan’s calm advice, his sensibility, but he didn’t know.

Well, Josie was pretty sure that he suspected what was happening, but Josie still didn’t want to talk to him about this. That would make it too real somehow.

So, Hope and Lizzie it was.

Josie: I have a big problem

Twinnie: you caught feelings didn’t you

Hope<3: oh fuck you did didn’t you

Josie: yeah

Twinnie: fuck

Josie: yep

Josie: fuck

Hope<3: does she know

Josie: no

Hope<3: are you going to tell her

Josie: no.

Josie: she can’t find out, it would just mess everything up

Twinnie: not to shatter your heart jo, but if you’ve caught feelings, everything might already be messed up

Josie: what do I do

Hope<3: if you don’t want to tell her how you feel, just tell her that you can’t do the friends with benefits thing anymore

Josie: she’ll ask why

Hope<3: then tell her

Josie: you know I can’t do that

Hope<3: why not

Josie put her phone down, feeling tears prick at the corners of her eyes.

She could hear Penelope’s rejection now.

I’m sorry but I don’t feel the same way.

This was meant to be casual, now you’re telling me that you like me? I can’t do this.

Josie, I can’t be with you.

Josie didn’t want to see Penelope look at her with pity in her eyes.

She didn’t want to get her heart broken again.

And right now, it was just some feelings.

It wasn’t like Josie was in love or anything.

She knew that it was stupid, she knew that the chances were this wasn’t going to end well, but Josie didn’t want to live in a world where Penelope wasn’t by her side.

She needed Penelope.

She couldn’t let her go.

She could do this.

Josie: I’ll see how it goes

Josie: if it gets too much, I’ll tell her, I promise

Hope<3: okay jo, take care of yourself, please

Twinnie: don’t let this get too far

Josie: I won’t

+++

Everything was so much harder after that.

Josie was constantly terrified that Penelope was going to figure out that she liked her, that Penelope was going to get mad at her, that everything was going to be fucked up.

Josie had to stop herself from getting carried away.

Every time Penelope touched her, or smiled at her, every time Penelope so much as existed in the same space as her, Josie found herself wondering what it would be like if Penelope was hers for real. Now that Josie knew why she’d been feeling this way, she couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Of course, this had always been a possibility, but Josie hadn’t thought that she was this stupid.

She’d caught feelings for her friend, who she was currently in a friends with benefits relationship with, who she’d agreed to keep it casual with.

Josie had told herself that she wasn’t going to get into anything serious, because that was messy.

Looked like Josie was a fool, because trying to keep something like this casual, was way messier.

Now, Josie couldn’t look at Penelope without smiling.

She couldn’t talk to her without freaking out about saying the right thing.

She couldn’t have sex with her, without imagining that Penelope felt the same way.

One time, they were hanging out with their friends, and Penelope had won a game of pool.

She had looked up at Josie, grinning like a devil, and Josie had wanted to just make out with her in front of all their friends, regardless of the consequences.

It was so difficult now.

Before, Josie had been able to keep the friend and the benefits apart.

Now, she wanted them together.

This was such a problem.

They had been hanging out as friends, just talking about life, about how Penelope had a part in a short film being done by some of her friends from college, and Josie couldn’t stop thinking about how pretty she was.

She had woken up from more than one dream involving Penelope to find that the subject of her fantasy was right next to her.

Some of the dreams weren’t even sexual.

It probably would have been better if they all were.

She could make excuses for those more easily.

Some of the dreams just featured Penelope loving Josie, smiling at her, telling her that she wanted to be with her.

Telling her that she was happy with her, that Josie was all that she wanted.

Penelope had started staying the night again. Josie didn’t know anything about what was going on with Penelope’s side of things, and to be fair, it was probably better that she didn’t know.

If she knew, then she’d probably just have to face the reality that Penelope didn’t feel the same.

However, some times, Josie was confused.

Sometimes, it felt like maybe she wasn’t the only one feeling like this.

Penelope would look at her too long, she’d touch her a little too softly, she’d pause and pull back, like she was scared too.

Josie didn’t understand anything.

There were some nights where she wished that she’d just stayed in America.

Those nights didn’t last long, because Penelope would look over at her, would kiss her like Josie was the only thing in the world that mattered, and Josie knew that she’d give up her happiness just to know what it felt like to be cared for by Penelope Park.

Even if she hated herself, just a little bit, for thinking like that.

+++

It was a particularly warm night in the middle of August, and Josie was just at home, reading, completely unaware of what was to come.

It was one of the few nights that Josie had decided to spend without Penelope. Every now and then, they’d decide that they had other things to do, and they’d stay apart.

Josie was happy with that.

It meant she got a moment of peace when she didn’t have to think about her messy feelings for Penelope Park.

Then her doorbell rang.

Josie frowned, unsure of who it could be at the door.

She hadn’t ordered any food; she hadn’t made any plans.

The thought crossed her mind that it could be a serial killer, here to brutally murder her.

Josie shook that thought away.

It was probably just some charity person, coming around to ask if she wanted to donate.

Josie was unable to say no to any charity people, so she picked up her wallet as she headed downstairs.

She opened the door, putting on her ‘exchanging pleasantries with a stranger’ face.

When she saw who was on the other side, her fake smile slid away to be replaced by a real one.

Then she tried to hide her real smile, because that was far too much of a giveaway.

“Penelope! What are you doing here?”

Penelope looked hot, as always.

She was wearing her signature black leather jacket, and her makeup made her look like a fucking goddess of war.

If Josie didn’t know who Penelope was, she’d think that she was about to be recruited into a gang.

“Josie, hey,” Penelope said, and Josie immediately caught onto the slur in her voice.

“Have you been drinking?”

“Aww, only a little. You know how it gets, rough night and all that shit.” Penelope shook her head.

For a moment, Josie was awfully reminded of her father, and how he’d come home, barely able to walk.

She shook that thought away quickly.

Penelope was nowhere near as bad as her father.

“Do you want to come in?”

Penelope nodded and stumbled over the threshold, right into Josie’s arms.

Josie instinctively wrapped her arms around Penelope, who buried her head into Josie’s chest.

Josie pulled her inside, and locked the door, wondering, what the hell had happened to Penelope?

Penelope pushed away from her and shook her head.

“No, no, don’t do that, I’ll mess up.”

Josie frowned.

“Penelope, you aren’t making sense. Do you want me to call Maya?”

Penelope shook her head.

“Maya wouldn’t get it. I can’t tell her, remember? We made that deal that no one finds out about us.”

Josie stomach dropped.

“Is this about us? Did you change your mind?”

Penelope shook her head again.

“No, I could never change my mind about you. You’re too pretty to change my mind. I like holding you too much.” Penelope perked up slightly, moving towards Josie. Her hands slid up Josie’s arms and then wrapped around her neck.

Penelope whispered into Josie’s ear, causing goosebumps to run down her neck.

“You know, you look so pretty when I make you come. The way you moan is so fucking hot. I could hear you saying my name like that forever.”

For a moment, Josie wanted to just pull Penelope’s lips to hers and drag her upstairs.

Penelope had no business, turning her on like this.

“Penelope, you’re drunk. You don’t know what you’re saying.”

Penelope grunted and shoved herself back. She shoved Josie again lightly.

“I hate you.”

Josie frowned.

“What?”

Penelope shook her head, and a tear ran out of one of her eyes.

“I hate you, because you look at me like that, and for a moment, I feel like risking everything, because I can see it in your eyes. I can see how you feel about me Josie. I know that you have feelings for me.”

Josie’s heart stopped.

“What?” She whispered, almost unable to hear the words.

Penelope shook her head.

“I don’t want to have anything serious with you Josie, I can’t. I think I'm too fucked up for that. But you make it so fucking hard because you look at me like that, and I can just imagine falling in love with you. But I can’t let that happen. It’d fucking shatter me.”

“Penelope how long have you known that I have feelings for you?”

Penelope shrugged.

“I don’t think I really knew. Not until now. I don’t know if I’ll acknowledge it again. Not when I’m sober. I don’t want to lose you Josie.”

Josie felt like crying.

“I don’t want to lose you either.”

Penelope nodded, and her whole body seemed to collapse into itself.

“Can I please sleep here tonight? It’s so dark outside, and I don’t think I know which way to go. I don’t want to leave.”

Josie sighed. She couldn’t say no to Penelope.

Not when she was like this.

Even if she had just broken Josie’s heart, just a little.

“You can take a spare bedroom.”

Penelope nodded and reached out a hand for Josie.

“Please don’t cry.”

“I’m fine,” Josie replied.

It wasn’t true.

She wished that she had the strength to pull her hand away.

Penelope stroked Josie’s cheek.

“I hate seeing you sad.”

Josie looked away.

“I should take you to the spare room. You need to sleep.”

Penelope shook her head.

“Josie, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t," Josie whispered, trying so hard not to cry in front of Penelope.

Penelope nodded, pulling her hands away from Josie and wrapping them around herself.

“Okay. Take me to the spare room.”

Josie led Penelope to the empty bed, the one that Hope and Lizzie had used to occupy.

Josie slowly helped Penelope out of her clothes, and then laid some pajamas on the bed, the ones that Penelope had left for ‘just in case’.

Josie had laughed at her when she had told her that.

The last thing that Penelope did before falling asleep was to smile at Josie.

Josie sat by her bedside for a little while, unsure what to do with the pieces of her heart that had just broken off.

+++

She woke the next morning, realizing a few things.

One, that no matter what, even if Penelope felt the same, way, she couldn’t have a relationship with Josie.

Josie knew that Penelope had too many issues to work out, and there was no way she’d let Josie overcome those last walls that she’d left in front of her heart.

No matter how close they were.

Two, that what had happened last night changed everything.

They couldn’t keep going, not now that they both knew how Josie felt about Penelope.

And three.

Josie was in love with Penelope.

She couldn’t ignore that fact.

She’d probably always been in love with Penelope, ever since Penelope first looked at her.

And even if Penelope broke her heart the next time she saw her, Josie was still in love with her.

Josie looked up at the ceiling and laughed, although it sounded more like a sob.

This wasn’t the best summer of her life.

No.

It was a very very cruel summer; one had cut through Josie like a fucking knife.

Chapter Text

Josie found it very hard to leave her room that morning.

She dressed herself slowly, just trying to buy herself time before everything that she’d built over this summer shattered before her.

Penelope knew.

Penelope knew that she had feelings for her.

Josie had tried to be so subtle, had tried to mask her feelings at every step.

But Penelope had always been good at seeing her, at seeing what she really meant.

Josie was really bad at lying to Penelope.

Eventually, Josie made her way downstairs.

Penelope was sitting at the kitchen counter, dressed in the clothes she’d left at Josie’s house.

Penelope’s reasoning was that if they were going to be sleeping together regularly, then Penelope didn’t want to be constantly having to go home and change.

Josie had never realized how domestic that fact was, not until she realized her feelings.

Once she had realized her feelings, everything became different, everything had different meanings.

Penelope’s hand was wrapped around the mug that she always used.

It was a Harry Potter themed one, one of those ones where it would change colors when it warmed up.

Josie had let her use it because Penelope had wanted to see what happened.

Penelope had been so transfixed that Josie had decided that would be her mug.

Seeing her holding it now, looking so downcast, hurt Josie’s heart.

Penelope’s eyes met hers, and Josie had to look away.

If she didn’t, she would probably cry, and Josie didn’t want to let another piece of her walls fall down.

She’d never actually cried in front of Penelope.

She intended to keep it that way for as long as possible.

Penelope sighed.

“I’m glad that you keep those headache tablets, they’re lifesavers.”

Josie nodded numbly.

Penelope bit her lip, and her thumb ran up and down the mug.

There was silence, neither of the quite sure what to say. The situation was a mass of tangled string, and neither of them could find the beginning.

Josie knew this day had to come; she’d just been hoping to avoid it for a little longer.

Penelope sighed.

“Look, I don’t remember everything that happened last night. But from what I’ve managed to put together, we have a lot to talk about.”

Josie folded her arms, as if that would somehow protect her.

“Do we have to? Can’t we just leave it?” Josie knew she sounded like a petulant child, begging to avoid a tiresome chore, but she just couldn’t deal with this.

She didn’t need another person she cared about leaving her.

Penelope shook her head.

“Josie, you know we have to,” she said, her voice quiet.

They hadn’t made eye contact since that first moment.

It just made the distance between them feel so much larger than it was.

“Okay,” Josie said finally, sitting down opposite Penelope.

Penelope nodded, looking down at the table.

Josie was the first one to break the new silence.

“What do you remember that you think we need to talk about?”

Penelope shook her head.

“Josie, you-”

“Please, just say it, I need to know that there is no way that I’m making this worse than it is.”

Penelope sighed.

“I know that you have feelings for me. I told you that I know, and from the way you reacted, I get the feeling that you didn’t want me to know.”

Josie chuckled bitterly.

She felt like screaming ‘yes, I fucking love you, isn’t that the worst thing you’ve ever heard?’

But she didn’t.

“Yeah. I didn’t want you to know.”

Penelope ran a hand through her hair.

“So, I know. Now what?”

Josie shrugged.

“Whatever you want I guess.”

Penelope reached her hand across the table.

“Can you please look at me?”

Josie pulled her hand back, as if Penelope’s touch would burn her.

It probably would.

Penelope’s touch was that of an angel, and Josie had fallen too far for that touch to do anything other than burn.

“Josie, you can’t just ignore this.”

Josie stood up.

“I can, actually. I was doing a really good job of just ignoring it, until last night.”

Penelope stood as well.

“Josie, this doesn’t have to change anything.”

Josie could feel her whole body shaking.

“What do you mean?”

“We can still be friends. We can keep this arrangement up.”

Josie turned slowly.

“Why would you want that? You know I have feelings for you.”

Penelope chuckled wryly.

“Not to sound like a fucking bitch, but you aren’t the first girl I’ve slept with who caught feelings.”

Josie scoffed. That totally didn't sting at all.

“Of course.”

She heard Penelope take a step towards her.

“You are however, the first girl who hasn’t tried to convince me that I have to be in love with them just because ‘we have a connection’.”

Josie finally turned to look at Penelope.

She looked sincere.

“So, what? We just keep sleeping together, even though you know I like you?”

“Unless you don’t want to. If it’s too hard for you, I get that. But, as far as I know, your feelings for me aren’t that deep yet, right?”

Josie felt her stomach twist.

She nodded, knowing that if she tried to speak, her mouth would betray her and Penelope would immediately find out that Josie was in love with her.

“And you still don’t want a relationship, right?”

Josie nodded, not actually lying this time.

Penelope shrugged.

“I trust you. I don’t think you’re going to make this a big deal. Feelings like this come and go. I don’t want to lose you over this.” She looked up at Josie. “I get the feeling you don’t want to either.”

Josie nodded and stepped towards Penelope.

“You’re sure that you’re okay with this? That this wouldn’t make things weird for you?”

"I'm okay with this. If this is what you want, if I'm not crossing any lines, or hurting you, then we can keep going."

Josie bit her lip, still unsure if this was the right call.

Then Penelope stepped forwards, placing her hands on Josie’s face. She leant in, and Josie didn’t even try to offer resistance.

Penelope tasted like coffee. It was a little bitter, but Josie didn’t care. It was Penelope. Josie was just glad that she was kissing her.

Penelope pulled back.

“I’m sure about this Josie.”

Josie leaned in again.

This was going to be fine.

All she had to do was pretend like she wasn’t in love with Penelope.

Easy, right?

+++

August continued and everything was fine.

Josie and Penelope were still together.

Were things a little different? Yes, but that was to be expected.

The whole ‘doing casual friends things before sex’ routine that they’d started, was over.

Josie was pretty sure that was best for both of them.

She didn’t want to make things worse but getting even more attached.

Although, Josie wasn’t sure if that was possible.

Now, they were back to just having sex, and then Penelope leaving.

Once more, Josie tried to separate being friends and having sex.

It sort of worked.

At this point Ethan and Maya definitely knew that Penelope and Josie had something going on. Thankfully, they were so kind as to pretend to ignore it.

Josie didn’t know what she’d do if she had to explain the situation to one of them.

‘Hey, guess what? Me and Penelope have been fucking for about two months now. And, to make things even more fun, I fell for her. But, it’s okay, we’re still having sex, we’re just pretending that I don’t like her.’

One thing that Josie was unsure of, was why Penelope was so reluctant to lose her.

Josie knew that Penelope could have anyone in this city.

All of them loved her. It amazed Josie sometimes.

Like, they’d be walking down a street, and they’d hear someone screaming Penelope’s name from across the street, and another person would come over to say hi.

Josie had had to learn how to keep her jealousy deep inside of her.

Releasing it during sex usually worked well for her.

Penelope could have anyone she wanted, so why did she want Josie?

Josie was a wannabe singer with commitment issues and low self-esteem, someone who had fallen for her.

Wouldn’t it be so much easier for Penelope to just pick someone else to have a casual fling with?

Josie may be the only one who wouldn’t try and make a big deal out of it, but still, Penelope could do so much better.

So, why didn’t she?

+++

Josie avoided telling Hope and Lizzie about the new situation until they both blew up her phone, begging for updates.

She knew they were going to tell her that this was a terrible idea.

To be fair, they were kind of right.

Once more there was a time limit on the relationship.

They were playing a game of ‘how long can Josie hide her secret’ again.

Josie: okay what

Hope<3: what’s going on with Penelope

Twinnie: have you confessed your undying love for her yet

Josie: who said anything about love, I don’t love her

Hope<3: well that wasn’t defensive at all

Josie: look, that’s not important

Twinnie: if you love her, that’s definitely important

Josie: can we not talk about this

Hope<3: okay sure

Twinnie: what is happening currently with you two

Josie: so, she knows that I like her

Hope<3: oh

Hope<3: so are things over

Josie: no

Josie: we’re still keeping the agreement

Twinnie: what

Twinnie: explain

Josie: basically, as long as my feelings don’t get too strong, and as long as I don’t try and force her to be with me, we can keep doing what we’re doing

Hope<3: wait but you’re in love with her

Josie: well yeah

Hope<3: does she know

Josie: no

Hope<3: o h I see

Twinnie: Josie this is a terrible idea, I hope you know

Josie: look, it’s fine, it’s casual

Hope<3: you do you and all, but yikes

Twinnie: good luck

All in all, it could have gone better, but it could have gone worse.

That meant it had gone well, considering the state of things at the moment.

+++

It was the first of September when Josie realized just how much was at stake here.

It was a rainy, windy day, finally, autumn was sweeping in.

Penelope told her that from here on out, everything was a lot rainier and colder.

Josie was fine with that. She’d never been a big fan of the outdoors anyways.

They’d just gotten out of the cab on the way back to Josie’s house.

They’d spent the morning with Maya and Ethan, getting breakfast at a nice little café.

Penelope was coming home with Josie, so they could spend time together.

Penelope had told her that this was just friends time.

Josie was okay with that.

Any time spent with Penelope was worth it.

Penelope had given her Josie her jacket, and it fit snugly around her shoulders.

It gave Josie warmth and it also smelt like Penelope, so really, it was perfect.

Penelope pulled her out of the cab, smile bright on her face.

Josie looked around the street.

Around her beautiful Cornelia Street.

The rain had stopped for just a moment, but the streets were still covered in puddles.

Josie looked up at her home, at Penelope standing in front of the door, and realized something.

If she ever lost Penelope, every time she walked this street, she’d die a little.

Everything here was full of memories with Penelope.

If Josie ever lost Penelope, she’d lose this city as well.

Penelope smile dimmed a little as she turned to look at Josie.

“You okay Jojo? You’ve gone pale.”

Josie shrugged and smiled.

“Yeah, I’m just cold.”

Penelope laughed.

“And here you were, wishing for a London autumn. Trust me, there will be a lot more of this to come.”

Josie smiled.

“Let’s get inside.”

Penelope held out her arm jokingly, and Josie took it.

She hoped that this time her true emotions weren’t revealed.

+++

After that day, Josie started overthinking everything.

Well, overthinking everything ever more, if that was even possible.

She did this a lot.

Things would be going well, it would be starting to look like maybe she could stay happy for a little while longer, and then she’d doubt it.

She’d get stuck in her head, and she’d take a good thing and fuck it up.

She’d done it with most of her previous partners, she’d nearly lost Hope and Lizzie in one go because of it, hell, she’d nearly lost her parents.

When her dad had gotten in that car accident, Josie had been so mad that she’d yelled at him. She’d gone off at him, even though he was lying in a hospital bed.

Josie’s mum had dragged her outside, told her that he wasn’t worth it.

Josie knew that she was right, but seriously, she just had so much anger towards him.

Even though he had treated her like complete shit throughout her childhood, the thought of seeing him dead hurt her.

Honestly, Josie was so fucked up from her childhood that it would probably take an eternity to unravel all of her issues.

But that wasn’t the point.

The point was that Josie started messing everything up.

It started small.

It always did.

Penelope texted her, asking if Josie wanted to meet up.

Josie refused, claiming that she was busy.

Really, she spent the rest of the night shut away in her bedroom, wishing she had Penelope by her side.

She told herself this was for the best.

Penelope would leave her eventually.

So, she should just start it off slow.

Maybe, she’d push Penelope far enough away that Josie could lose the feelings she had.

Maybe things could go back to normal.

Josie knew that it was hopeless, but she had to give herself some reason.

She started turning down most of Penelope’s offers.

She spent more time with Ethan, Landon, and MG, making music.

Apparently, this situation with Penelope had given her some inspiration. She’d finally figured out what was holding her back.

Unrequited love was very good for song writing.

She’d made the boys swear that everything they wrote was between them. She never mentioned Penelope’s name, but she got the feeling that they all knew.

She had hoped that they wouldn’t try to bring it up.

But, by now, Josie had learned that hoping for something never made that something come true.

In fact, sometimes it seemed like hoping for something made the opposite come true.

One day, they were just chilling in her house, all of them holding a guitar, except for MG, who was just there for lyric writing and singing.

They were just trying out some chord patterns, and talking, when Ethan had brought up Penelope.

“She’s been a bit off recently. Have you noticed anything Josie?”

Josie cleared her throat.

“I haven’t really seen her around much, I’ve been busy.”

The boys shared a little look and Josie sighed.

“What?”

Landon shrugged.

“You’ve just been hanging with us. You could make time for her.”

Josie sighed.

“I just haven’t been feeling it. Besides, song writing is important. I have inspiration, might as well use it.”

She tried to signal that she wanted the conversation to be over.

When they continued talking, Josie got the feeling that they’d been planning this talk for a little while.

Ethan spoke again.

“Josie, I don’t want to sound harsh, but this is exactly what you did after Connor. You just locked yourself away, and pretended like nothing was wrong."

Josie put her guitar to the side.

“What would be wrong? What am I trying to ignore?”

Ethan shrugged helplessly.

“I don’t know, but I get the feeling it has something to do with Penelope. And maybe, the songs you’ve been writing aren’t just ideas.”

Josie ran a hand through her hair.

“I thought you guys swore not to talk about this.”

“Well, we swore not to talk about it to other people. We didn’t say anything about not talking about it in general,” Landon put in.

Josie sighed and turned to MG, hoping for some support. He frowned.

“Look, I’m not going to tell you that you have to talk about it, but if you want to, I know we’d listen. We’re your friends Jo, you can trust us.”

“It’s not about not trusting you; it’s about not wanting to talk about it. It’s just too messy to even know where to start.”

There was a pause and the Ethan spoke again.

“Well, my advice is, if you have something you need to say to someone, you should tell them. Holding stuff in is just going to hurt you.”

They moved on after that, and never spoke about it again.

Josie wanted to take Ethan’s advice, and she knew that telling Penelope might take weight off of her shoulders.

But she also knew that telling Penelope would tear this delicate relationship apart.

They were right about one thing though.

She needed Penelope.

She had been kidding herself.

Josie was far too selfish to just leave.

She’d gotten herself addicted to the drug that was Penelope Park, and now she was suffering the consequences.

Josie: do u want to come over tonight

Penelope<3<3: I thought you’d never ask

+++

Sex that night was different.

It felt like they were crossing a line somehow.

Penelope was touching her like Josie was a forbidden treasure that would soon be ripped from her grasp.

Penelope moaned and gasped like Josie was a goddess and her every touch was a blessing.

Josie hated it.

Feeling all this, she could almost pretend that Penelope was hers.

Could pretend that all of this was real.

And that hurt far too much for Josie to comprehend.

Josie hated feeling so entranced, especially when she knew that she was nothing to Penelope.

She loved Penelope’s company, loved how safe she felt in her arms.

She hated how much it hurt to know that it was nothing but lies.

Usually, they fell asleep quickly after their ‘nightly routine’.

This night, Josie couldn’t, and judging by the far too normal breaths from Penelope, neither could she.

They just laid, side by side, pretending that they didn’t know the other was awake.

Penelope broke the silence.

“Why did you pull away?”

Josie sighed.

“I had song writing to do. I had inspiration and I didn’t want to waste it.”

Penelope hummed.

“Is that the only reason?”

Josie shrugged.

“I don’t know.”

“You clearly do.”

Josie sat up in bed, looking down at Penelope. She could barely see anything but her perfect silhouette.

“Why are you so bothered by this? I was busy, that’s all there is to it.”

Josie was about to lie down again, when Penelope also sat up.

“So, if I told you that when I ignored you for like three days, I was just busy, you’d believe me?”

“Were you busy?”

Penelope huffed.

“Josie, you’re avoiding the question.”

“Look, maybe I had other stuff going on, but I don’t need to tell you, okay? It’s personal stuff.”

“Was it about...” Penelope hesitated.

“What?”

Penelope moved, and Josie could tell that she was looking right at her.

“Was it about how you feel about me?”

Josie felt her heart crawl up her throat.

“Would it matter?”

“Of course, it does. Josie, if you don’t feel comfortable with me-”

“If you couldn’t tell from the sounds I was making earlier, I feel very comfortable with you.”

“That’s not what I mean. If this is too hard for you to do, I get that. If your feelings get too much, just tell me, okay?”

Josie sighed.

“I’m not just some pathetic idiot, I can handle myself, you realize that, right?”

Penelope huffed.

“Of course, I do, but Josie, I don’t want to hurt you.”

Josie considered rolling her eyes, but Penelope might see, and that would lead to unwanted questions.

“Okay.”

Penelope sighed.

“Josie, if you want to say something, say it. Don’t pull this passive aggressive bullshit with me.”

Josie groaned and rubbed at her face.

“Are we really about to do this now?”

“I can’t fix the problem if you won’t tell me what it is.”

“If I’m such a problem, why don’t you just go to one of your other girls. You know, because everyone in this city loves you.”

“Josie, stop it.”

“Am I wrong?”

Penelope sighed.

“I should go.”

“Why?”

“Josie, clearly something is up with you. You’re lashing out and pushing me away, like you have been recently. I don’t know what the problem is, and if you won’t talk to me, then I shouldn’t stay.”

Josie knew that Penelope was right, but she’d been hoping deep down that maybe Penelope would choose to stay.

That maybe she’d push down Josie’s walls properly.

And she knew that it was selfish of her, that she was going about this the wrong way, but she couldn’t help it.

She just hated this situation, hated feeling powerless, and so she sabotaged the last good thing she had left.

It was just how she dealt with things.

It was probably a result of childhood trauma or some shit, but Josie didn’t really care.

She just needed control.

Penelope was already dressed by the time that Josie pulled herself out of her thoughts.

“Do you want me to get you a cab?”

“I’ve already ordered an Uber. Go back to sleep.”

Josie sighed. Obviously, Penelope was mad at her.

That was what she’d wanted.

But she still loved Penelope, and hearing that cold voice from her still hurt.

“Text me when you get home.”

Penelope looked back at her and sighed.

“Okay, sure.”

Josie let a small smile grow on her face at Penelope’s softer tone.

Penelope looked away.

“Goodnight Jojo.”

And then she was gone.

Josie didn’t get to sleep for a long time that night.

When Penelope finally texted her, she hated how quickly she snatched at the phone.

Penelope<3<3: i’m home.

Josie dropped her phone on the bed beside her, and collapsed back against the sheets, feeling very alone.

For what probably wouldn’t be the last time, she wondered if staying in London was worth it.

After all, what was the city of her dreams if she was living a nightmare without the girl that she loved?

+++

The final straw came on a very cold night.

Josie was out drinking with the boys.

Her and Penelope hadn’t talked in a few days again.

After their sort of fight that night, Josie had tried to ignore Penelope again.

Their relationship was so weird.

Josie wanted to be with her all the time, she wanted Penelope to always be by her side, because when Penelope was with her, she always felt better.

So, she’d let Penelope in, and her stomach would twist, and it felt like there was so much between them.

She’d push Penelope away, tell herself that it was better for both of them, and then the ache would come back.

However, Josie had found a substitute for Penelope’s presence. It didn’t make her feel better, but it did make everything else go away.

That thing was alcohol.

Did it make her a lot sadder about Penelope? Yeah. But fuck, at least she didn’t feel so fucking anxious all the time.

So, shots it was.

The boys tried to get her to slow down.

They told her that she needed to pace herself.

Josie wasn’t in the mood for pacing herself.

She was going to get horribly drunk, and she was going to deal with the asshole of a headache that showed up the next morning.

If you asked Josie about what happened that night, she wouldn’t really be able to reply with absolute certainty.

She remembered laughing with the boys.

She remembered someone with a really pretty face carrying her into a cab.

Someone with really familiar perfume.

Penelope.

Penelope sitting in the backseat of the cab with her, as Josie cried.

Josie babbled along, saying everything that came into her brain.

She remembered Ethan’s advice.

If you have something you need to say to someone, tell them.

So, she did.

She told Penelope the truth.

She told Penelope everything.

+++

The next morning, Josie woke up with a pounding headache and confusion.

What the fuck had happened last night?

Once she could see without pain, Josie found a note next to her bed.

It was addressed to her.

Josie frowned.

That was Penelope’s handwriting.

She opened it.

It read:

Josie, once you’re feeling back to normal, and your head is clear, text me.

We need to talk.

And suddenly Josie remembered.

Shit.

Chapter Text

Josie waited the whole day before she finally worked up the courage to text Penelope.

She knew exactly what was coming.

There had been false alarms before, times when Josie had started worrying that maybe this was all over, but never had they gotten to the point of no return.

Josie didn’t remember much from last night, but she knew for certain that she’d told Penelope that she was in love with her.

She had told Penelope how much it hurt to be with her, knowing that Penelope didn’t feel the same way.

Her head pounded for most of the day, so Josie spent it drinking tea by the window, staring out at the rain.

Suddenly, the rain didn’t make her feel better.

Nothing made this feel better.

She felt sick.

Josie waited until the sun had set before she sent the text to Penelope.

She was no longer in any noticeable physical pain from the hangover, and her mind was clear.

It was time to face the music.

Josie: Come over

Penelope<3<3: okay

Josie sat by the window, waiting. Her heart raced as fear filled her every nerve.

It felt like someone was pouring cold water through her veins, like the butterflies that had once fluttered in her stomach had died.

Josie hated rejection, hated knowing that another person who she cared about was going to leave her.

She wondered if she’d be able to make it through without crying.

Josie knew herself and she knew that it was not likely.

The doorbell rang, and Josie jumped.

Her hands were shaking as she opened the door.

Penelope stood there, underneath a black umbrella.

Josie hated how good she looked, even when she was about to break her heart.

Penelope shut the umbrella and walked inside without a word.

Josie shut the door behind her and waited.

Penelope paced around the living room a little, staring at the walls as if she wanted to remember what they looked like.

This was probably the last time Penelope was ever going to stand here.

Penelope finally turned to look at Josie.

“You know why I’m here.”

It wasn’t a question, but Josie still tried to pretend that it was.

“I don’t really remember much from last night.”

Penelope sighed.

“Josie, we both know that you know. You don’t have to lie.”

“What if it’s not a lie?”

Penelope sighed, disappointment in her eyes.

“I can always tell when you’re lying, Josie.”

Josie shook her head.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The disappointment in Penelope’s eyes turned to frustration.

“Josie, please. Just make this easy for us.”

Josie laughed, despite herself.

“I’m sorry, is this too hard for you?”

“I don’t want to hurt you, Josie.”

“Well, we both know where this ends, so why don’t you just get us there now.”

Penelope stepped forwards.

“Josie, last night you told me you loved me. You told me that you loved me so much that it hurt you knowing that we were never going to be anything more than friends.”

Josie looked away, feeling the shame rising up.

Penelope continued.

“I told you that if it got too hard for you, if your feelings got too strong, to tell me, to tell me to step back, and I would. I told you I trusted you, but it’s clear that you didn’t trust me, and really, that hurts.”

Josie shook her head, looking up. The helplessness of knowing that she could do nothing to change this situation turned to anger. Pointless, directionless anger, that ended up directed at the girl she loved.

“What, so you could pity me? So I could ruin our friendship, so I could make everything weird, so I could lose you even faster?”

“You wouldn’t have lost me if you had told me!” Penelope shouted, and her words echoed across the hall.

There was silence.

Josie couldn’t breathe.

Tears pricked at the corner of her eyes.

“Josie, I just wanted you to tell me. If I had known that I was hurting you, I never would have let this happen. I would never have let this get this far.”

“But I wanted to stay by your side. I wanted you.”

Penelope shook her head.

“You knew that you couldn’t have me. We established the boundaries, and you just crossed them like it was nothing. You know what this means Josie.”

Josie felt the first tear roll down her cheek.

“Please don’t leave me.”

Penelope looked away, and when she next spoke, her voice cracked.

“Josie, this is just going to hurt both of us even more. I can’t let this go on knowing that this is turning into something toxic.”

“What do you mean ‘this is hurting you’? You aren’t the one who fell for someone who doesn’t love you back!” Josie knew she was lashing out, knew that this was childish, but she couldn’t help it.

Everything just hurt so much.

She needed to get the pain out somehow.

Penelope looked up her with broken eyes.

“Who says I’m not hurt by this? Josie, seeing you in pain is the last thing I wanted. Knowing that I’m hurting you, knowing that the girl I-” she paused, breathing heavily.

“Knowing that I’m hurting you tears me apart. I never wanted this to end up like this. I didn’t get why you were pushing me away so much, but now I realize that it’s because you were hurting, and that makes me feel sick, okay? You need to realize that what this has become is something that is not healthy for either of us. So, I have to go.”

"If you care so much, why didn't you see that I was hurting sooner?" Josie asked, knowing that her words would do nothing.

She just couldn't stop fighting.

Penelope shook her head and said softly.

"Josie, I'm not a mind reader. I thought you were okay, because you told me that you were. Like I said, I thought that you trusted me enough to come to me, to tell me that you weren't happy."

Penelope walked towards the door, brushing past Josie.

Josie turned around.

“So that’s it? After everything, you leave, and we just never speak again?”

Penelope smiled sadly.

“One day you will understand why I’m doing this. Until then, I’m really sorry.”

Then she was gone, lost in the night.

Josie dropped to her knees, tears falling freely.

Penelope was gone.

Josie was never going to see her smile again, was never going to feel her gentle touch again.

Josie felt like someone had just driven a spike through her heart.

This was worse than anything she’d ever felt before.

+++

A week passed, and Josie didn’t leave her house.

She didn’t talk to anyone.

Not even Lizzie or Hope.

She’d been ignoring all of their texts.

Her mother had called her, but Josie had just let the call ring through, and then texted her mother later that she wasn't feeling up to talking, just to avoid that particular conversation.

Ethan and Maya had both reached out to her, saying that Penelope was acting so different.

Josie broke down into tears every time she saw Penelope’s name.

Every time she thought of Penelope, the pain came rushing back.

This was worse than Connor.

She’d fallen out of love with him a while before their relationship ended, even if she hadn’t known it at the time.

But here, she’d had so many feelings, so many memories that were being ripped away from her.

This was different.

This was death by a thousand cuts.

Josie had to sleep in the spare room, because seeing the bed that Penelope and her had shared so many times hurt her too much.

Josie couldn’t step outside because she’d just think of Penelope.

The only thing she had left of Penelope were her memories, and they were everywhere.

Josie wondered if she’d ever forget Penelope’s turtle smile, or her green eyes.

Part of her hoped she did, because maybe if she didn’t have the memory of Penelope, things would be better.

Part of her hoped that she never forgot, because Penelope was a touch of heaven, and Josie so desperately needed her memory.

Some nights Josie curled in a ball and wrapped Penelope’s jacket around her.

It was the last material thing left in her house of Penelope’s.

It didn’t make anything hurt less, but Penelope had always made her feel safe.

Josie wished that wasn’t so, because if Penelope hadn’t made her feel that way, she would be hurting like this.

She fucking hated this.

It felt like being stabbed with a poisoned knife would hurt less.

+++

It was early October when Josie left the house for the first prolonged period of time.

The first person she had talked to was her mother.

Josie had called her up on a day where she felt like the walls were closing in on her, on a day when it felt like her house had become her own personal hell.

“Mum, I-I-I need you right n-now,” Josie gasped into the phone.

“Okay sweetie, deep breaths, it’s alright, just listen to my voice and focus on what you can see and feel.”

Josie let her mother talk her out of a panic attack, let her mother soothe her until she found herself sitting on the bathroom floor, phone pressed against her ear.

“Josie, what’s happening? Lizzie and Hope say you’ve been ignoring them, you haven’t called in ages, and I’m getting really worried.”

Josie sighed.

“It’s Penelope. She broke things off and she told me that she doesn’t want to see me again.”

Josie waited for her mother to process the information. She rocked back and forth, picking at the fabric of the carpet.

“What happened Josie? Tell me everything, it’s okay.”

And so, Josie did.

She told her mother about how she’d fallen in love with Penelope, how she’d pushed her away, how Penelope had left because she couldn’t stay with Josie.

Her mother told her that she needed to reach out to other people, that locking herself up wasn’t helping anyone.

Her mother told her that Josie needed to call her every day, just so that she could make sure that she was safe.

Josie had always depended on her mum for comfort.

She was just glad to hear someone telling her that everything was going to be okay.

Even if she didn’t believe it.

Eventually, she’d talked to Hope and Lizzie and they had comforted her.

They’d been gracious enough to not say ‘I told you so’.

If they had done that, Josie might have blocked them.

They were actually the ones who had convinced her to leave the house.

So, Josie had the brilliant idea of going to the bar to drown her sorrows.

She got absolutely smashed and woke up the next morning with a horrible headache.

After throwing up a couple million times, Josie checked her texts.

Josie had sent a few to Penelope.

She cringed.

Josie: you know fukc tou oenlope

Josie: you coud have at least stahe d my friend

Josie: id jusrt needed toyu in my life

Josie: you re a fudcinf bitck I hayte yoy so muc

Josie quickly deleted them, but she got the feeling that Penelope had already seen them.

Clearly, getting that drunk was a bad idea.

That didn’t stop Josie from doing it a few more times.

She’d always loved bad ideas.

If that meant waking up with awful headaches and texts to Penelope that she needed to delete, well, that was just a bad side effect.

+++

She stopped going to the bar the first time she saw Penelope again.

Josie had been halfway through her usual drinking line-up, so when she heard Penelope’s laugh, she thought for a second that she was hallucinating.

That would be new.

Usually, when she imagined Penelope, it was at home, with her hand between her legs.

Then she realized that Penelope was really here.

She turned her head to see that she was talking to a pretty girl at one of the booths.

The pretty girl was not Maya, and judging by the way her hand was on Penelope’s arm, they weren’t just friends.

Penelope was looking at her the same way she’d looked at that girl, all that time ago, in that club.

Back then, Josie had at least been able to pretend that she could do something about it.

Now, she knew that Penelope was well within her rights to do that.

They weren’t anything, Penelope could move on, find someone new.

Just because Josie was sad and alone, didn’t mean that Penelope had to be too.

Penelope turned her head, as if she felt Josie’s gaze, and their eyes met.

Josie felt that stab in the heart, mixed with the ghosts of the butterflies in her stomach.

Penelope’s lips turned into a frown.

Josie just stared, feeling weightless, like she might float into the atmosphere and burn up.

Penelope held her gaze like it was a challenge.

So much had changed since the first time that they did this.

Josie was the one to break the stare.

She left the bar, and cried in her bed, wrapped in Penelope’s jacket.

Fuck Penelope Park.

Josie wished that she’d never met her.

Really though, she wished that she'd never lost her.

+++

Josie finally realized that she couldn’t stay halfway through October.

Autumn had fallen across the city.

Every tree was red or orange, the colors reminding Josie of fire.

Usually, Autumn was her favorite time of year.

The colors, the rain, the days where she could just wear hoodies and sweatpants, all of it was amazing.

But without Penelope, this city was empty, and so was Josie’s heart.

She called her mother every day, just to let her know that she hadn’t fallen off of some bridge somewhere.

Her mother told her to stop drinking so much, to focus on her music.

Josie had tried that, but she’d ended up sobbing as she stared at her guitar, thinking of the time she’d played for Penelope.

She was drinking every other day, and having a breakdown every single day.

Usually, those two points would coincide.

That was fun.

That was what happened halfway through October.

Josie was at home, drinking even though it was the afternoon.

In the back of her mind she wondered if she was going to end up like her dad.

Alone, alcoholic, having pushed away everyone she loved, and every single chance of happiness that she’d been offered.

That sounded like a pretty shit existence.

Josie didn’t know why she was taking this so hard.

Penelope was just a girl, objectively.

There were millions just like her.

There would be someone else.

That was what Josie should know.

It wasn’t like Penelope was special.

It wasn’t like Josie had never been in love before.

It wasn’t like Josie had never been heartbroken.

But still, it was different.

Penelope had just fit into her life so easily.

Every time she saw Penelope, her whole day brightened.

Every time Penelope smiled at her, she felt warm.

Penelope had completed her so well.

They could have endless conversations about whatever they wanted, and they never got bored of each other.

Josie had spent every single night of the summer with Penelope, or at least it had felt like that.

When they had met, it felt like they had some sort of cosmic connection, like the whole universe had just been waiting for them to meet.

Like everything that had ever happened in the world had led to Josie walking into a bar and making eye contact with a beautiful woman named Penelope.

It had felt like their story would be one for the ages.

It had felt like they had had a great love, like they were meant to be.

Like maybe they were soulmates.

That was probably just Josie being delusional.

Josie had always been good at fooling herself, had always been good at pretending.

She’d pretended that she was happy all through high school.

She pretended that receiving her dad’s disappointment and hatred every day didn’t hurt.

She pretended that she could be someone, that her music could make her become the person she'd always wanted to be.

She’d done it again, pretending that her and Penelope were meant to be so much that she’d shattered the real world with the force of her illusion.

Josie stared up at the chandelier that dangled above her head.

It flickered, and another wave of tears rolled out.

All the memories of Penelope came rushing back, all the emotions too.

Love.

Pain.

Fear.

Anger.

Mostly anger.

Penelope had had her so completely, had touched every part of her life so significantly that she’d ripped a hole through Josie.

Penelope had found her way into Josie’s heart, and then she’d torn it out.

Penelope’s hands had wrapped around Josie’s hips, clutched her so tightly, that she thought she’d never fall.

Now she had fallen so far, hit the ground so hard that she didn’t know a way back up.

Penelope’s hands had found their way across all of Josie’s body, and now she still felt the ghost of her.

Josie thought that she’d known how much Penelope had impacted her life.

Josie had written so many songs about Penelope.

She imagined showing them to Penelope so many times, but she just couldn’t.

Now she never would.

Every second since she’d met her, Penelope had taken Josie’s time.

Even when they weren’t together, Penelope was on Josie’s mind, occupying her every thought.

Josie remembered them sitting on her couch, both of them drinking wine and laughing to each other.

That was one of her fondest memories.

Josie remembered Penelope’s words echoing through her mind.

Penelope had told her that Josie didn’t trust her.

That was so wrong.

Josie had trusted Penelope completely.

Josie had trusted Penelope not to break her heart, to not walk away, to stay by her side.

Penelope had walked away, had shattered Josie’s heart.

And now she was so alone, so empty.

Josie shook her head.

She couldn’t stay in London.

It had seemed to be the city of her dreams.

Maybe it still was.

But with all these memories, with all this pain, she could never move on.

She could never stop hurting like this.

So, she had to go back to America.

She had to go back home.

+++

Josie didn’t tell anyone until she’d booked the plane tickets home, until all the arrangements were made.

She told her mother first.

It was her daily check-in and she hadn’t been quite sure how to get the words out.

Her mother had been halfway through a ramble about the neighbor's cat breaking into their yard, and Josie had just blurted the words out.

“I’m moving back to America.”

Her mother was silent for a moment and then she said calmly.

“Okay. Where are you going?”

“Back to Mystic Falls. I’ve already planned out which apartment I’m going to live in.”

Her mother sighed.

“This is what you want?”

“Yes. I just…I can’t do this anymore. She’s everywhere that I go, and I don’t think I’ll ever heal if I stay.”

“Then come home. You’re my baby girl, I just want you to be happy.”

She told Lizzie and Hope next.

Josie: hey

Twinnie: are you okay

Hope<3: what’s up

Josie: I didn’t want to tell you guys this until it was official

Josie: and now it is

Josie: so

Josie: I’m moving back

Twinnie: what

Hope<3: WHAT

Hope<3: Josie, you love London, why are you leaving

Josie: I just can’t stay

Josie: everything about it reminds me of her, and it hurts too much to stay

Hope<3: are you sure this is what you want

Twinnie: Josie you can’t let this make you leave

Josie: I love this city, I do

Josie: I want to come back one day

Josie: but right now, I can’t be here

Hope<3: are you going back to LA

Josie: I’m going back to Mystic Falls

Josie: I’m going to rent an apartment, work on my music, try and get over this

Hope<3: are you sure

Josie: yes

Hope<3: then we support you

Twinnie: whatever makes you happy Josie

Twinnie: we just want you to be happy

Josie: I think moving back might be the first step towards that

+++

Next, she told Ethan and Maya.

She called them down to a café to talk.

She hadn’t really seen much of them recently, mostly because of Penelope.

Penelope lived with them; she didn’t want to make it weird.

When she told them she was moving, Maya nodded slowly.

“I thought this might happen.”

Ethan looked back and forth at the two of them.

“What? Josie, you can’t go, you barely just got here.”

Josie sighed.

“I know, but I can’t stay.”

He shook his head.

“No, Josie, you’re making a mistake, I can’t let you leave.”

“Ethan, this is my decision. I’m not happy here.”

He stood up.

“I need some air,” he said, and then stormed out of the café.

Josie sighed, and Maya reached out to take Josie’s hand.

“Don’t worry, he’ll come around.”

Josie smiled weakly.

“I know. He’s always been like this. It just sucks.”

Maya sighed.

“It’s because of Penelope, isn’t it?”

Josie grimaced.

“I don’t really want to talk about it with you. No offense, but you’re literally her best friend, and I get the feeling that you’re going to just take her side.”

Maya shrugged.

“I think she’s being an idiot. She won’t talk to me about it though. She keeps insisting that it’s fine, that she’s made the right decision, but judging by the fact that every time I’ve seen her, she has a new girl or boy by her side, she isn’t doing great.”

Josie sighed.

“I didn’t mean to hurt her. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”

“Love’s a bitch. It’s why I try to avoid it. But unfortunately for some people, you can’t escape it.”

“Penelope seems to evade it pretty easily.”

Maya frowned.

“I wouldn’t say that.”

Josie tilted her head questioningly, but Maya just waved her hand absently.

“I should go check on Ethan, make sure he hasn’t done anything too stupid. Let me know when you’re leaving and I’ll come see you off.”

With that, Maya rose and walked away.

Josie frowned, unsure of what Maya meant by that last comment.

She brushed it off.

+++

As Josie drove home that night, she looked up at the traffic lights.

“Is everything going to be okay?” She asked out loud. It felt a little stupid, but she couldn’t stop herself.

There was just silence.

Josie sighed.

“Of course, you don’t know. You’re a traffic light, what the hell could you tell me?”

She lightly pressed her head against the steering wheel.

“I must sound insane. I’m talking to a traffic light. This is pathetic.”

She looked up, and it turned green.

She pressed down on the accelerator and screamed across the crossing.

She was such a fucking mess.

All she wanted was Penelope, and instead, she was talking to herself, trying to gain some sort of hope to lead her way.

There was nothing now.

Nothing but darkness.

+++

Leaving London was hard.

Ethan had finally come around to the idea that Josie could do whatever she wanted, and was there to see her off.

He was going to be staying, and Josie suspected that most of his anger had come from the fact that they were going to be away from each other.

He hugged her tightly, and told her that she was going to be alright.

Josie nearly believed him when he said it.

Landon and MG told her that they were going to miss making music with her, but that if she ever wanted help with lyrics or anything, they would be there.

Josie hoped that she got the chance to release something with one of them.

They were great guys, and it sucked that she wasn’t going to be seeing them as much.

Maya hugged her the tightest.

As she did, she whispered in Josie’s ear

“She told me that she hopes moving helps you. She only wants the best for you.”

Josie felt tears rise to her eyes.

She didn’t need to ask who Maya was talking about.

Josie wanted to scream ‘why didn’t she come and tell me that herself’, but she didn’t.

She figured that Penelope had a reason.

She always did.

As London disappeared below her, Josie wondered if Penelope was looking at the sky thinking of her.

+++

The plane ride was long, and this time the ice cream somehow didn’t make things better.

She was so jetlagged when she got off the plane that she fell asleep in Hope’s car on the ride back home.

Lizzie and Hope had offered to drive her back to her new apartment.

Her mother would be waiting there for her.

Josie had missed her mother so much.

She had always been there for Josie.

And as much as Josie had loved having her own place away from home, she couldn’t deny that she missed feeling a hug from her mother.

When Josie stepped over the threshold, she just collapsed into her arms.

She was home.

Penelope was thousands of miles away.

She was home.

So, why did she still feel empty?

+++

That first night, Josie talked with her mother all night, telling her everything she could about London.

Telling her about the weather, about the house she lived in, about the bar she went to, about the boys, about Maya, about song writing there.

She didn’t talk about how Penelope looked in the London rain, how her skin seemed to glow.

She didn’t talk about how every part of her house had a memory connected to Penelope.

She didn’t talk about how she went to the bar to drink away her sorrows.

She didn’t talk about how the boys always gave her sad glances after Penelope left.

She didn’t talk about how Maya stopped talking about Penelope just so that she didn’t hurt Josie.

She didn’t talk about how every song she had written found its way back to Penelope.

Because saying all of that would hurt too much.

And she was here to heal, not to relive all the pain she’d gone through.

Her mother noticed, and she tried to avoid it, but eventually the saddened look in Josie’s eyes must have become too much.

“Jos, do you want to talk about her?”

Josie sighed and shook her head.

“I just can’t. I just…I love her so much mum, and I’m never going to see her again,” Josie said, tearing up as she finished her sentence.

Her mother walked over to her and enveloped her in a warm hug.

“It’s okay baby, I know. I’m here, and you’re home.”

Josie nodded and sniffled.

That would have to do for now.

+++

Slowly, Josie found a new routine.

She walked the streets of her childhood town.

She talked to her mother in person every day, and talked to Hope and Lizzie on the phone every night.

She pretended like she didn’t think of Penelope every time she saw a daffodil.

She pretended that she wasn’t bothered by the fact that her dad was living eleven blocks away.

She just kept going, kept breathing, kept trying to smile.

Halloween passed, and Josie spent the night sitting on her couch watching horror movies with her mum.

That made things a little better.

Her mum was there for her.

If Josie needed a hug, her mum would give her one.

If Josie needed to talk, her mum would listen.

If Josie just needed to be distracted from her thoughts, her mother would tell her about her day.

She started feeling some semblance of happiness.

She should have known it wouldn’t last.

Josie came home one night, with the ingredients for dinner, expecting to find her mother waiting for her in the kitchen.

She did not.

Instead, she found her mother lying on the floor of the living room.

Josie dropped the groceries and heard something shatter.

No.

Not her mum.

Chapter Text

Josie’s hands were shaking.

The buttons of her coat now had bits of hair stuck in them.

It had gotten tangled as she’d pulled it on.

Her mother had woken up a few minutes after Josie had gotten back, but the ambulance still came to get her.

Josie followed in her car.

Her mother was now in a doctor’s office, as they tried to figure out what was wrong.

After she’d gone in, Josie had been told by a grave looking doctor that the chances were that her mother had cancer.

Cancer.

Of fucking course.

Because everything had to get worse.

Josie’s phone was in her hand.

She wanted to call Hope and Lizzie, to let them known what was happening.

She should have called earlier; it had been at least an hour since Josie had got home and found her mother.

She just couldn’t bring herself to do it.

That would make it real.

Plus, Josie didn’t think she’d be able to speak without crying.

She had barely said a word since she’d gotten off the phone with the ambulance.

Her throat still felt hoarse from how much she had screamed at her mother to get up

There had been a brief moment, right before Josie had remembered to check for a pulse, when Josie had thought her mother was dead.

What would have happened if she was?

Josie was an adult; she didn’t need her mother to live.

But she still couldn’t imagine life without her.

Josie sighed and dialed Lizzie’s number.

It was only nine at night, she would still be awake.

Lizzie answered on the second ring.

“Jo? What’s up?”

Josie choked on a sob when she tried to respond.

“Jo, are you okay?”

Josie swallowed, and then finally spoke, in a voice that felt far too shaky.

“It’s mum. She collapsed, they uh,” Josie cleared her throat, “they don’t know what it is but they said it could be cancer.”

There was a moment of silence.

Josie could barely hear Lizzie breathing.

“I’m coming.”

“Lizzie, you live-”

“I don’t care. She’s my mother, and you’re my sister. I need to be there for you.”

The line went dead.

Josie swallowed again, but could not hold back the sobs.

Tears gushed out of her like a fountain.

Josie hated herself for thinking this, but she just wanted Penelope beside her, to hold her hand, to tell her it was going to be okay, to recite a Shakespeare passage.

Josie just wanted Penelope.

Josie hated herself even more for this next thought, but she wanted her dad. The dad who was present in her childhood memories. The one who had held her, who had smiled at her, the one who had cared.

Really, Josie just needed someone to be there for her right now.

It didn’t matter who.

She just needed a hand to hold, an arm around her shoulder, so that when her mother came out of that office, perhaps with the worst news, Josie could be strong.

Josie needed to be strong.

She had always been the caretaker, now she was needed more than ever.

She needed to stay calm, otherwise she was just going to shatter again, and she’d be of no help to anyone.

+++

Josie’s mother didn’t come out.

Instead, a doctor did.

He was called Dr. Williams.

He had a calming voice, and Josie tried to focus on that.

“Josie, I’m afraid we have bad news.”

Josie couldn’t stop herself from speaking.

“It’s cancer, isn’t it.”

Dr Williams didn’t even look surprised when she said it.

“Yes. Fortunately, if we start the chemo now, we should be able to prevent it from being fatal.”

Josie wanted to collapse.

Her mother might not die.

Josie might be able to keep her.

Josie wasn’t going to be left by another person.

“Can I see her?” Josie’s voice still shook, although now it was tears of relief that filled her eyes.

He nodded.

“Right this way.”

Josie’s mother looked so small in the bed.

She smiled as Josie entered.

“Hey Jos, how’re you holding up?”

Josie sobbed and launched herself at her mother, hugging her tight.

“It’s okay Josie, I’m going to be okay.”

Josie sighed, and just let herself breathe in her mother’s perfume.

“I was so scared.”

“I know baby, but it’s going to be okay. We’re going to be okay.”

Josie finally pulled away and collapsed into the chair next to her mother’s bed.

“Lizzie’s coming. I think Hope convinced her that she shouldn’t come right away, but they’re coming down to be with us.”

Josie’s mum smiled.

“It’s always good to see your sister. I’m so proud of her.”

Josie looked away.

Her mother took her hand.

“Josie, that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of you too. You’re doing amazing.”

Josie shook her head.

“I got lead on by a girl, right after I told myself no more heartbreak, I haven’t released an album yet, I’m living in an apartment in my childhood town, and I’m having a breakdown, even though I’m not the one who just got diagnosed with cancer.”

Josie’s mother squeezed her hand.

“Josie, I don’t care if you’re rich and famous, or if you have an amazing partner. One day, you’ll have everything, but right now, I just want you to be you. That’s all I want.”
Josie sighed.

“I know. It just feels like I’ve worked so hard, and I haven’t got anywhere good.” She wiped at her eyes. “This is stupid. We shouldn’t be talking about this.”

Josie's mother smiled.

“Okay, what do you want to talk about?”

Josie hated how the first thing that came to her mind was Penelope.

Her mother nodded and Josie’s face twisted into pain.

“Do you want to talk about Penelope?”

“No. I don’t want to talk about the girl who I’m still in love with, who broke my heart.”

Josie’s mum squeezed her hand again.

“You’ll find happiness one day. It might be with her, it might not, but your heart will heal, and you’ll be happy.”

Josie started crying again.

Her mother cried with her.

+++

Lizzie arrived two days later.

She crushed Josie in a hug the moment she saw her.

Josie basically hadn’t left the hospital in that time, except to find a change of clothes.

Lizzie’s hug helped more than she had thought.

Hope hugged her afterwards.

All three of them had tears in their eyes.

When Lizzie saw her mother, she had to stay outside for a few moments as Josie and Hope helped her breathe.

Eventually, Lizzie just sat by her side, crying for a little while.

Hope and Josie went for a walk.

Hope asked Josie if she was okay.

Josie told her that no, she really wasn’t.

Hope hugged her again, and Josie felt a little better.

+++

Days passed.

Josie’s mother was allowed to leave the hospital, and Josie moved in with her.

Josie wondered if Alaric knew.

If he was sober enough to pick up the phone and listen to the deranged voicemail Josie had left.

Josie’s mother was clearly trying to make the best of a bad situation.

She told Josie that everything would be fine, that Josie didn’t need to move in with her, but Josie refused to leave.

Eventually, her mother told her that at least she would get to see more of her.

Josie made sure that her mother took the pills they had prescribed.

The orange bottle made a very specific rattle noise, and Josie grew to hate it.

She hated that she felt so helpless again.

It felt like Josie had completely lost control of her life.

It was like she could do nothing to stop it crashing into even worse situations.

Every night Josie sat on her bed with her phone, Penelope’s contact on the screen.

Josie wanted to call, to let her know what had happened, to ask her if Penelope would just talk to her for a bit.

Penelope used to read her poetry; it had always made Josie feel a little better.

Josie never called.

Instead, she told Ethan what had happened.

He talked to her the whole night, about everything and anything that came into their minds.

Every time Josie talked to one of her friends, she felt a little better.

+++

Hope and Lizzie went back home, after Josie and her mother told them a million times that they didn’t need to stay.

Josie was pretty sure Hope had had to drag Lizzie out of the town.

She still missed them, still cried herself to sleep that night.

She hated that she felt so alone.

The next day, she painted the kitchen a bright neon yellow.

Her mother gently laughed at her, told her that she didn’t need to do it, but Josie just smiled and kept going.

It made her feel like she had some control, like she wasn’t completely useless.

When her mother smiled at the bright color, Josie felt like maybe it had worked.

It was a few days after the day that she painted the kitchen when Josie met Rafael.

She was out at a café, by herself, writing.

She’d had a lot of emotions recently, and she just needed to keep a record of them, for song purposes.

Josie had wanted to stay at the house, but her mother had basically shoved her out the door.

“Josie, you can’t give up your life for me. I’m not letting you make that mistake.”

Josie had been persuaded by that, so there she was.

Rafael had tapped her on the shoulder and smiled.

His smile was nice.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” Josie said back, a little unsure of why he was talking to her.

“I wondered if you’d let me buy you a drink and then maybe sit a while.”

Josie blinked.

“If not, that’s totally cool, but you’re a pretty girl, and I wanted to shoot my shot.” He made a little basketball motion and Josie laughed.

It was that fact that convinced Josie to let him sit.

He had made her laugh, that was important at this time.

They sat and talked for most of the afternoon.

Josie didn’t write anything in that time.

He made good conversation.

It was only halfway through that Josie discovered that he played for the Mystic Falls Timberwolves, and was an up and coming football player.

Most of America knew his name, and he wanted to sit with Josie.

That made Josie feel special.

Not as special as when Penelope had smiled at her, or as special as when Penelope told her that she was stunning, but special enough.

That seemed to be Josie’s consensus about Rafael.

He wasn’t Penelope, but he was enough.

So, when he asked if Josie would want to meet again tomorrow, she said yes.

+++

And so, another routine was started.

Josie would stay in for most of the morning. She would work on her songs, she would help her mother, she would text her friends.

Then, she would go out in the afternoon and meet with Rafael. Sometimes they would go for walks, sometimes they would just have coffee at the café, and sometimes she would go back to his apartment and they’d talk.

They hadn’t made anything official, there was no kissing, or sex, and Josie thought that maybe it was for the best.

Maybe this time she’d be able to stop this relationship from imploding.

Eventually, their afternoon meets stretched out to the nights, and they were having drinks.

She’d met some of his friends, and they all seemed nice, if a bit rough.

She supposed that was expected from a football team.

Hope and Lizzie asked her if it was going to become anything more than a friendship.

Josie told them she wasn’t sure.

Her mother asked her if it was going to become anything more than a friendship.

Josie told her she wasn’t sure, and she explained why.

“With Penelope, everything was exciting, and amazing, and it was the best feeling in the world. He feels so simple, so basic, I don’t know if I can just get over the feeling that Penelope gave me that quickly.”

Her mother nodded knowingly.

“Sometimes, you just need to try. Sometimes, you just have to put yourself out there, just to make things better. He might not be your future husband, but maybe that’s okay.”

Josie smiled.

Next week, Rafael asked her out on a date.

Josie said yes.

He kissed her and while Josie didn’t feel fireworks, she felt warmth, and once more, she decided that was enough.

+++

December came around and Josie had been officially with Rafael for a week.

The media was yet to find out that superstar Rafael Waithe was with a small town singer, but Josie knew they would eventually.

He had a game on that weekend, and he wanted her to come.

Josie happily obliged.

While texting Landon, she brought it up.

He had texted back

Lando: I knew him back when I went to school in the States. He was a good guy back then, if a bit reckless

Josie was surprised.

It was so funny how different lines kept crossing over.

Landon knew Rafael.

Ethan’s sister was best friends with the girl who Josie was pretty sure was her soulmate.

Life was weird.

Landon didn’t mention Penelope, but when Josie sent him a song about heartbreak, he didn’t have to.

Lando: It's good. It really encompasses the feeling of heartbreak when you love someone who can't love you back.

Josie wondered who had hurt Landon.

He deserved better than that.

They both did.

+++

The football game went worse than Josie had expected.

Her mother was going in for another round of chemo, but she told Josie to go, because a friend of hers would be around.

Josie went, terrified that something was going to happen.

Rafael’s team won.

She ran down to congratulate him, and he kissed her.

They’d kissed before, but not in public.

Judging by the screams of the crowds, the media was going to have a field day.

Josie had to be helped by Rafael as she left.

Everyone was staring at her.

Everyone wanted to know everything about her, about their relationship.

Josie knew that her own fans would be going crazy, that her own tabloid readers would be obsessed.

It had happened with Connor.

And that was exactly what Josie was afraid of.

With Penelope, her love and her heartbreak were hidden.

She doubted that she’d get the same luxury with Rafael.

They had sex when they got back to his apartment.

Rafael seemed very happy, like all the pieces had connected for him.

Josie was just seeking that warmth, hoping that it would fill a hole in her heart.

It didn’t.

+++

The days went on, and Josie could barely step outside without being attacked by the paparazzi.

Rafael’s fans wanted to know if she was the right fit for him.

Josie’s fans wanted to know if she was releasing a song about him.

Every time she went on the internet, she could barely avoid an opinion about them.

Rafael assured her that everything was fine.

He’d been through this before.

They could weather this storm together.

Josie wasn’t sure.

Everyone seemed to leave her.

Hope and Lizzie bombarded her with questions.

They main thing they seemed to want to know was if she was happy.

Josie could settle for happy-ish.

She didn’t think she’d been truly happy since the last time she was in Penelope’s arms.

That was the thing wasn’t it?

Everything just came back to Penelope.

Josie wanted so badly to ask about how Penelope was doing.

To hear if she had someone new.

Josie wished that Penelope hadn’t blocked her on all social media, because she just wanted to at least know what she was doing.

Although, maybe it was a good thing.

At least this way Josie couldn’t torture herself with seeing Penelope happy.

Josie wondered if thoughts of her kept Penelope up at night.

Even after she’d just had sex with Rafael, she’d lie there and compare it to how Penelope had made her feel.

Penelope’s every touch was done specifically to make Josie feel good.

Rafael’s every touch was done specifically to make himself feel good.

Sometimes, Josie would want to talk to Rafael about her mother, about how she couldn’t sleep some nights because she was so scared, but then she’d realize that he wasn’t the one that she wanted to talk to.

She wanted to talk to Penelope.

Because Penelope would listen, and she’d know what to say to make it feel better.

She’d make some dumb joke, or she’d flirt with Josie, and Josie would smile, and everything would be better.

Rafael just couldn’t do that for her.

Josie wasn’t kidding herself.

This wasn’t love.

She couldn’t love him, and he didn’t love her.

He just liked having someone by his side, and she liked having someone fill the void.

Still, she could feel herself getting attached.

She always did this.

Even when she wasn’t in love, she got attached.

It was her big problem.

She cared far too much.

That was what made it so easy for the world to break her.

+++

Josie came into Rafael’s house one night, just wanting his company, because her mother was getting chemo again.

It was two nights before Christmas, and Josie felt a little bad that she hadn’t got him a Christmas present, but she didn’t think he was going to get her anything either.

She’d gone to a few more games, and she’d been assaulted by the paparazzi a bit more.

She’d released a love song, one that she’d written about Penelope, but she didn’t stop her fans from assuming that it was about Rafael.

The paparazzi had latched onto that idea as well.

She knew that if Penelope heard it, she’d immediately know it was about her.

The lyrics about meeting her in a bar, about all the pieces falling into place, about Josie being jealous, about how Josie was Penelope’s to keep and to lose made it far too obvious.

Rafael knew it wasn’t about him.

Josie hadn’t told him, but she knew that he knew.

So, when Josie walked into his apartment, only to find him on top of another girl, she wasn’t too surprised.

She’d known that she wasn’t enough.

She’d known that he’d end up wanting more.

She just thought that he’d have the decency to tell her first.

Instead, he just became the latest boyfriend to cheat on her.

First Connor, now him, really, she should just get the hint.

Josie left the apartment in tears.

Rafael didn’t follow her.

Instead, she got a text an hour later.

Raf<3: hey srry abt that. I forgot to break up with u. we’re ovr, don’t txt me again

Jeez, his breakup was even worse than Connor’s.

Josie sure knew how to pick them.

An asshole who cheated even though he said he loved her.

A girl who made Josie fall in love, only to shut her out.

Another asshole who cheated, and then sent a shitty breakup text.

Josie didn’t call anyone.

She just went back to her own apartment, the one that she’d been visiting infrequently due to her wanting to be there for her mother.

Josie pulled out some ice cream and curled up on the couch.

It was dark, Josie hadn’t bothered to turn the lights on.

Josie didn’t finish the ice cream.

She just ended up crying into the bucket.

The next morning, the press was still going on about Josie and Rafael’s relationship.

+++

Everything continued to go downhill from there.

Two days after Christmas, paparazzi swarmed Josie on the street.

Thousands of questions, so many asking if her and Rafael were over, if she had done something, what was up with her mother, what was happening?

Her mother was sick.

She’d been abandoned by yet another person.

Penelope was thousands of miles away, not even thinking about her.

Lizzie and Hope were also so far away.

And there were paparazzi every time she turned a corner.

Josie couldn’t handle it.

So, for what felt like the first time in ages, she snapped.

Outwardly.

Not inwardly, like she always did.

There was no curling into a ball, followed by shaking sobs.

There was just pain.

“Look, can all of you just fuck off? I don’t want to deal with your bullshit right now. I have so much going on, and literally none of you care about privacy, and I want you out of my town! Get the fuck away from me, and my mother, and stop asking me about every event that has ever happened in my life because I don’t owe you shit!”

She stormed away, feeling like a weight had been lifted.

Josie was proud of herself.

Sure, there would be repercussions later.

There would be waves of hate and waves of guilt.

Everything would snowball even more than it already had.

But Josie was proud of herself for finally saying no to someone.

For saying no to being taken advantage of.

Penelope would be so fucking proud of her.

Josie knew that for sure.

+++

Josie’s mother took a turn for the worse on the day before New Year’s.

Josie got home and she wasn’t there.

There was, however, a phone call from Doctor Williams, saying that she’d collapsed in the shopping center.

Apparently, the chemo wasn’t working how it should.

They weren’t sure what to do.

Josie didn’t know what to do.

She called Lizzie and they sobbed on the phone together for a good hour.

Lizzie wanted to come down.

Josie told her that she needed to stay and plan for her wedding.

Their mother would still be alive when that day came around.

The doctors would figure something out.

It was going to be okay.

Josie told herself that over and over.

Her mother would get better soon.

She’d get better soon.

She told her mother that over and over, a false smile on her lips, eyes full of hope that felt more like desperation.

Soon you’ll get better.

It’s going to be okay.

Josie went home and prayed, lying on the floor, tears streaming down her face as she begged anyone who would listen to please, just save her mother.

She really hoped that someone was listening.

Because she couldn’t lose her mother.

+++

Josie was alone on New Year’s.

She didn’t know what to do, so she just sat and watched the TV, waiting for the fireworks.

Mystic Falls did some pretty ones, but Josie hadn’t left her house for long since her outburst at the paparazzi.

Everyone was talking about it still.

Josie hadn’t heard a thing, but only because she had plugged her fingers in her ears and screamed.

Screamed so loud that the world was silent.

It hurt to do, but at least she wasn’t being hurt by someone else.

She could almost convince herself that she was better.

Then someone knocked on the door, ten minutes out from midnight.

Josie was immediately on edge.

What if it was a murderer, come to pray on the innocent girl alone in her house on New Year’s?

What if it was the police, come to tell her that her mother was dead?

What if it was the paparazzi, come to hound her again?

Josie didn’t move.

Whoever it was, she didn’t want to see them.

Or so she thought.

Because her phone vibrated.

Josie looked down and her heart stopped.

Penelope<3<3: please open your door.

Josie stood up and raced over to the door, opening it quicker than she ever had before in her life.

And there, on the other side, wearing her signature leather jacket, was Penelope Park.

She smiled.

“Hey Jojo.”

Chapter Text

Josie was speechless.

She felt like she couldn’t breathe.

Like the sight of the girl in from of her had burned every bit of oxygen from her lungs.

Penelope was here.

She was looking at Josie with a little bit of guilt, a little bit of worry, but a with a lot of care.

Penelope shifted, her smile drifting away, and Josie remembered that she was mad at her.

Penelope had abandoned her, and now here she was, on Josie’s doorstep, with no warning?

Josie stepped forwards and slapped Penelope in the face.

Her hand stung a little, but damn, the sound that it made was worth it.

Penelope winced and then nodded. Her hand traced over her cheek, which was turning slowly red.

“I deserved that.”

“You did.”

Penelope nodded again.

“Why are you here?” Josie asked bluntly.

Penelope sighed.

“I had to see you.”

“You seemed pretty happy cutting me out of your life back in September so I don't exactly understand why you suddenly 'had to see me'.”

Penelope frowned and looked away.

“I know. I’m sorry. I made a mistake.”

Josie laughed bitterly, folding her arms across her chest, as if that small action would somehow stop her heart from leaping out into Penelope’s arms once more.

“A mistake? Absolutely destroying me was just a mistake? Give me one reason why I shouldn’t just slam this door in your face.”

Penelope bit her lip and looked back at Josie.

“Because I just traveled across the globe to see you and try and make things better because when I saw you in that video, with you yelling at the paparazzi, I realized that I’d really fucked up, and I needed to make it up to you,” Penelope rushed out.

Josie just stared, unsure of how to respond.

Penelope sighed.

“Look, I know it’s stupid and it probably doesn’t mean anything now, and I know that I really hurt you, but I had to see you. However, if you want me out of here and as far away from you as possible, I will jump on the first plane back to London, and you’ll never have to see me again. I just,” she sighed, hands falling down to her sides uselessly, “I just really needed to see you. I needed to try to make amends.”

Josie was silent, as she tried her hardest to stop herself from immediately forgiving Penelope.

The girl she loved so much was right here, saying that she had messed up.

What did you do in this situation?

You were probably supposed to slam the door in the girl’s face.

Josie knew that she wasn’t going to be able to do that.

There was something that pulled her to Penelope, something as ever present and strong as gravity keeping the Earth anchored to the Sun.

Penelope was the Sun, bright and warm, something that would eventually consume Josie’s entire being.

Josie was the Earth, weak and so small when compared to Penelope, something that would fall into orbit no matter what.

“Your hair is shorter,” Josie commented, not quite sure what to say.

Penelope nervously reached to play with the edges of her hair, which now fell in a lob just at her shoulders.

“Yeah, I got it cut a bit after you left.”

“It’s suits you.” Josie didn’t mean to say that, but it was true, so she just let the words sit in front of them.

Penelope nodded, and once more they fell into awkward silence.

Josie eventually sighed.

“Do you have somewhere to stay?”

Penelope nodded quickly.

“If it’s a bad time I can leave. And if you want me to leave permanently, I will in a heartbeat.”

Josie shook her head.

“Stay. Please.” Her words sounded so weak, so desperate, but that was how she felt.

She felt powerless.

Everything over the past few months had drained the life out of her and she was so close to just falling into Penelope’s arms.

Josie almost hated how Penelope’s face, seeing her here, was the first thing that had brought her true joy since her mother had been diagnosed.

Penelope stepped forwards, her face barely an inch from Josie’s.

Fireworks went off in the distance.

Josie had nearly forgotten what time it was, what day it was.

Penelope smiled.

“Happy New Year’s Jojo.”

Josie was so close to kissing Penelope, to leaning in and letting the fireworks between them outshine the ones in the sky.

But she didn’t.

Because Penelope was the Sun, and Josie couldn’t afford to burn right now.

Instead, she stepped back.

“Come in.”

+++

Penelope looked like she wasn’t sure if she was in the right place.

She stood awkwardly in the living room, staring at all the furniture as if she thought it might attack her.

Josie laughed quietly.

She still looked so pretty.

“You know, the furniture isn’t going to hurt you.”

Penelope laughed.

Josie had forgotten that Penelope’s laugh was one of her favorite sounds.

“Sorry. I just feel a little out of place.”

Josie shrugged and sat down, staring at Penelope.

“How did you even know I lived here?”

Penelope sighed.

“Ethan. To his credit I had to bully him so much before he gave me your address. The only reason he did was because he was worried about you.” Penelope paused as if she had just remembered something. “He’s coming over by the way. Him and Maya. They’ll be here in a few days.”

Josie looked up, surprised.

“What?”

“They were worried about you. I’m really only here before them because I got better plane tickets. Landon wanted to come as well, but he’s just gone on tour, as you probably know.”

Josie smiled.

“He put my song on the EP. The one we collaborated on.”

Penelope nodded.

“It’s good, it’s really good. I knew that both of you would do something amazing together. You don’t happen to know who the person he’s talking about is, do you?”

Josie laughed.

“He wrote it about an imaginary person. It was meant to be about his dream person and how he couldn't wait to find them.” Josie smiled to herself. It had been really cute.

“And well, my verse was…” Josie paused awkwardly, realizing that she was about to admit to Penelope that she’d sort of written not one, but two songs about her.

“About me,” Penelope finished.

Josie bit her lip and looked down.

They had finally arrived at the elephant in the room.

Dammit.

“It’s okay, we don’t have to talk about it," Penelope said, looking down at Josie, fiddling with her hands.

Josie sighed.

“We probably should.”

Penelope sighed and sat down next to Josie on the couch.

“Look, I fucked up. I shouldn’t have cut you off. It was probably the biggest mistake I’ve ever made, because I just need you in my life.”

Josie folded her arms.

“You really hurt me; you know that?”

Penelope nodded.

“Yeah, believe me I know. And I will never be sorry enough for that, and I promise you, I’ll never do that again.”

Josie nodded, staring at the floor.

She hated how easy it was to believe Penelope.

“So, why now?”

“I wanted to come see you off at the airport, but I was pretty sure that you hated me, and I didn’t want to cause a scene, so I told Maya to give you my message. Then Ethan told me about your mum, and I wanted to call you, but I thought that you were probably better off without me, and I just didn’t want to make things worse. I saw you were with Rafael, and I thought you were happy.”

Josie looked up.

“What changed?”

“I saw the video of you yelling at those paparazzi. I know you Josie, and I could see in your eyes that something was very very wrong. I thought that you were better off without me but then I realized that breaking things off like I did only hurt you more. I just needed to see you, I just needed to do whatever I could to help you.” Penelope smiled. “I also heard your song. I knew it was about me, and I figured I should come and thank you for using me as your muse.”

“You liked it?”

Penelope laughed.

“Of course, I did. It’s you, you’re amazing.”

Josie blushed.

“How long are you staying?” Josie asked after a moment.

Penelope shrugged.

“As long as I need to.”

Josie tilted her head to the side.

“What does that mean?”

Penelope bit her lip.

Josie just waited for the answer, trying her hardest to not let her hopes rise up.

“As long as you need me, I will be by your side.”

Josie wanted to cry. Penelope was going to stay, for her.

That was a first.

Penelope sighed.

“We can’t do what we did last time again. I’m not going to risk messing this up again.”

Josie felt her heart break, just a little.

Penelope still didn’t want anything more than friends.

She didn’t know what she was expecting.

Penelope wasn’t going to fall in love with Josie just like that.

If she hadn’t loved Josie before, nothing was going to change that.

However, she wanted to be friends.

Josie wanted Penelope in whatever form she was willing to give.

Her time away from Penelope had shown her that she just needed her.

Besides, Josie could really use a friend right about now.

Josie nodded.

“Okay, friends it is.”

Penelope smiled, and then her eyes drifted to the clock.

“Should I go? It’s pretty late.”

Josie shrugged.

“I was probably going to be staying up the whole night. My mum’s at the doctors, and the only reason that I’m not with her is because she forced me to be here.”

Penelope relaxed slightly.

“So, should I stay? I don’t want to push things too far; I know this is a lot.” She fiddled with the end of her hair again.

Josie had to hide her smile. Penelope was cute when she was nervous.

Josie nodded.

“I’ve missed you. Although, if you do stay, be ready for me to breakdown and start crying about all the shit that’s been going on.”

Penelope smiled.

“Okay. I think I can handle that.”

+++

Penelope left at ten in the morning.

They didn’t talk the whole night, although, Josie did go off, as promised.

Penelope just hugged her as Josie sobbed.

It felt really fucking good to be back in Penelope’s arms.

Even if one point she just started hitting Penelope’s chest, started screaming at her for leaving, the way that Penelope just pulled her in and hugged her, telling her that she was sorry, made everything better.

Josie became very sure of one thing.

Penelope had been the archer, she had shot Josie right through the heart, and her impact still remained.

To put it less dramatically, Josie was still in love with Penelope.

This time, she was not going to let that fact ruin them.

She was going to shove that far far away, and it was never going to see the light of day again.

They would be friends, and Josie would be okay with that.

And even if she wasn’t okay with that, she got the feeling that neither of them was in a place where they should be in a relationship.

Healing first, dealing with stupidly complicated feelings second.

Around five, they both fell asleep.

When they woke, Penelope was holding Josie.

Josie was the one to leave this time.

She went and showered, dealing with everything that had just happened, thinking about the reality of the situation.

She texted Hope and Lizzie when she got out.

They texted back after Penelope had left.

Twinnie: OMG HOLY SHIT

Hope<3<3: YEAH WHAT SHE SAID

Twinnie: okay so how do we change this situation so that the two of you end up actually together this time

Josie: we don’t

Josie: nothing has changed

Josie: I’m still a mess, she doesn’t feel the same way, and I just got out of a shit relationship

Josie: it’ll end the same way

Twinnie: maybe you should get a therapist

Twinnie: seriously, they can do wonders

Josie: idk maybe

Hope<3<3: that’s josie’s way of saying ‘no but I don’t want to offend you’

Josie: don’t expose me

Hope<3<3: sorry jo lol

Twinnie: okay, well, keep us updated about everything Penelopewise

Twinnie: omg Pennywise

Hope<3<3: I knew there was a reason why I proposed to you

Josie: I hate both of you

Hope<3<3: love you too

+++

It was a few days after Penelope first arrived when her and Josie really started making strides towards being okay again.

Penelope came over, and at first, they were just sitting on Josie’s couch, watching Netflix on the TV.

Every now and then one of them would make a commentary on the over-dramatic teen drama that they had chosen, but for the most part, they stayed silent.

Then, at the end of one of the episodes, Penelope hit pause and turned to Josie.

“Hey, Josie, can I talk to you about something?” She sounded serious enough for Josie to focus on her and nod slowly.

“Yeah, of course.”

Penelope bit her lip.

“It’s about London, about our relationship and how it ended.”

Josie knew that this conversation was coming, but much like all of the other difficult conversations she’s ever had to have with Penelope, she hoped that it would stay away for as long as possible.

But they have to talk about it.

If they were ever going to heal, and get to a point when they could be friends without all of the awkwardness, they needed to talk about this.

Josie nodded again, letting Penelope know that she was okay with finally talking about this.

Penelope sighed.

“Okay, so, I need to start by saying how sorry I am for how I treated you. It was seriously messed up, and there is no excuse I could give for what I did. I shut you out, and I hurt you, and despite what I said, I knew that you were hurting and I said nothing. I was just a coward and I will be forever sorry.” She ran a hand through her hair.

Josie slowly reached out and put a tentative hand on Penelope’s leg. Not in a sexual way, more just a comforting way.

“Thank you for saying that. I have to ask though, why did you do it?”

Penelope sighed and looked away.

It took a moment for Penelope to reply, but Josie didn’t mind waiting.

“I was selfish. I liked sleeping with you, and I liked being your friend, and I thought I could keep the situation under control. When you told me you liked me, I just wanted to act as if nothing was different, because I was scared that things would change. But by ignoring everything, I messed up. I shouldn’t have kept sleeping with you, it was a bad idea.”

Josie nodded.

It made sense. It was basically what she had sort of figured out.

Even if there had been a small part of her that had hoped that maybe Penelope somehow felt the same way.

Penelope turned back to look at her, and Josie was struck by the sorrow in her eyes.

“I’m really sorry Josie,” she said, her voice breaking, and a tear shining in her eye.

Josie frowned.

“What’s wrong?”

Penelope laughed gently and shook her head, wiping the tear away before it even had a chance to fall.

“I’ve really missed you. You have no idea how much I’ve missed you.”

Josie chuckled.

“I think I might have an idea.”

Penelope looked back at her and smiled.

How Josie had missed Penelope’s smile.

It was just beautiful, and it made Josie’s heart feel like it was expanding.

Penelope’s eyes met hers, and suddenly all that Josie could think about was how they were still as stunning as the day they had first met.

Josie would honestly be okay with spending the rest of her life looking into Penelope’s shining green eyes, mapping out every single color and sparkle in them.

And for a moment, just for a moment, she thought that maybe Penelope was leaning in.

They were so close, it would be so, so, easy to just close the distance.

But she couldn’t.

They had just made up.

And Penelope hadn’t said anything about feeling the same way.

She would tell Josie, right?

Surely, she would have included that at some point.

So, logically, Josie had to assume that Penelope felt nothing for her.

This was just a moment between friends, and sure, maybe there was some leftover tension from when they were sleeping together, but that would have to go away.

Josie cleared her throat and leaned back.

“Thank you for apologizing. I feel like I should, uh, well, say that I’m over you.” Josie didn’t really know why she was lying. She just felt like the only way for them to be okay was if there weren’t any feelings between them.

Well, no feelings that were known about.

And maybe Josie didn’t have the best luck with hiding her feelings from Penelope, but third time’s the charm, right?

Penelope leaned back as well, averting her eyes, as if nervous.

She’d probably picked up on the tension as well and felt uncomfortable.

Josie just kept talking.

“Yeah, it’s been a few months, and I’ve had Rafael, even if he was a piece of shit, but I’m over you. I’m not in love with you anymore.” It sounded so strange to say those words out loud. All those lies. Especially after she'd spent the past few months crafted hundreds of speeches that she could give to Penelope, telling her about all the feelings she had.

Penelope swallowed and nodded.

“Well, that’s, um, that’s good to hear.”

Josie nodded.

“Yeah, so this time we can be friends for real.”

Penelope nodded again. After a pause she grinned, finally looking up at Josie.

“We were always friends for real. We just happened to go down on each other sometimes.”

Josie blushed.

Leave it to Penelope to defuse the strange vulnerability of the conversation with a joke about how they used to be fuck buddies.

Josie smiled.

“So, uh, do you want to watch the next episode?”

+++

From then on, things were much better, much more like how they used to be.

Without the sex.

She really had missed Penelope, and judging by the way that Penelope seemed to want to spend every waking hour with her, she felt the same.

Eventually, Ethan and Maya arrived, and Josie couldn’t be happier to see them.

Ethan hugged her tightly and told her that no matter what she needed; he would give it to her.

“Unless you want me to kill someone. I draw the line at murder.”

Maya had shoved him out of the way and had hugged Josie as well.

“My brother’s weak. If you want Rafael dead, name a time and place.”

Josie had laughed, and was very glad that she had chosen to make these friends.

She pretended not to see the glances that Maya threw Penelope, or the nod that Penelope gave her back.

They spent the rest of the week that Ethan and Maya were there just hanging out around the town.

Penelope was with them as well, and sometimes, Josie felt like she was back in London.

Paparazzi would always try and take photos, but none of her friends cared.

When they surfaced on the web, with everyone trying to come up with new theories, they convinced Josie not to listen.

Although, some theories were so outlandish that Josie had to.

Some people thought that Josie was dating all three of them at once, but none of them knew it.

Some people thought that the four of them were part of a secret society.

Seriously, Josie wanted what drugs those people took.

Some nights they just stayed in and talked.

They reminisced about days past, and they speculated about what the future would have.

One night they even got Landon on FaceTime, and they included him.

He was apparently very happy on tour, and he hoped that one day he would get to perform the song that he and Josie had done together with her.

Josie hoped for that day as well, but she wasn’t optimistic.

She had a long way to go before she was back to that standard.

The siblings had to go eventually, and Josie cried when they left.

They told Josie that they were just a call away, and that she was strong enough to do anything that she put her mind to.

They told her that she was going to be okay.

Josie nodded and smiled like she believed them.

They left.

Penelope didn’t.

Penelope put her arm around Josie’s shoulder, and pulled her into the car.

She handed Josie a packet of tissues.

“Are you okay?”

“No.”

“What do you need from me?”

“Just stay.”

Penelope nodded.

“Okay. I’ll stay.”

+++

Penelope came over every day.

It was just like with Rafael, except this time, she wasn’t settling for ‘good enough’.

Penelope was what she’d wanted all along.

Penelope would touch Josie in any way, like fingers tracing down her arm, like a tight hug, or fingers tucking hair behind her ear, and Josie would feel safe.

Josie would feel fire in her touch.

Things were a little weird between them.

Josie was still in love with her, and desperately pretending that she wasn’t.

Sometimes they’d get too close, and they’d have to pull back, lest they made a mistake.

Sometimes Josie would remember all the hurt that she’d received at Penelope’s hands and she’d have to stop herself from panicking.

And Penelope was a little different.

For one, she had stopped drinking.

Penelope told her that when they hadn’t been speaking, she’d developed a bit of a drinking problem and was now going to AA.

Josie supported her and even went as far as to clean out her house of alcohol, just to accommodate her.

Penelope was also a little bit more nervous, a bit less outgoing.

Some nights, she would go quiet and Josie would basically have to pull her out of her head.

She'd stayed over late one night, and when Josie had woken up from her nightly nightmare, Penelope woke up a few minutes later in a similar state of distress.

Josie didn’t really know what had happened over those months when they’d been apart, but she wasn’t going to push Penelope.

She could tell Josie in her own time.

So, yeah, things were still not quite right.

But they were both there, both were trying to make things better, and that was all that mattered.

+++

One day, Penelope wanted to go out into a public place with Josie.

Josie didn’t want her to come, because they paparazzi would see, and everything would get weird.

With Ethan and Maya there, it had felt different.

With only Penelope, the media wouldn't hesitate to take things the wrong way.

She could just feel herself panicking at the thought of it.

“Penelope, we should just stay inside.”

“Josie, I don’t care about the paparazzi. If they try anything, I’ll protect you.”

“I don’t care about them hurting me, I care about them thinking that we’re dating and making everything weird.”

Penelope sighed.

“Josie, I don’t care. Let them say what they want to say. I’m not leaving your side.”

“What if they make everything harder?”

Josie still remembered Connor telling her that the paparazzi was too much.

“If we just listen to each other, and if we talk loud enough, we won’t be able to hear them," Penelope told her.

Penelope was not Connor.

Penelope would stand with Josie through the storm.

That was why Josie loved her.

+++

Eventually, Josie’s mum came home.

Which meant that Penelope got to meet her.

Which meant that Josie was terrified.

This was the girl that Josie had spent so long ranting to her mother about.

And Penelope knew that Josie’s mother was basically the rock on which Josie had set most of her life.

So, this was a big thing.

Josie was going to go pick up her mum and drive her home. Then Penelope would come over and they'd have a nice dinner where Josie could pretend like all of this didn't make her want to scream and hide.

Penelope called her before Josie left.

“You okay?”

Josie sighed.

“I’m just glad that she’s coming back. I’ve had so many scares with her recently, and I just need to be by her side forever.”

“Well, I can’t wait to meet her.”

Josie just stayed silent, breathing into the phone.

Penelope chuckled lightly into the phone.

“If you don’t want me to meet her, just tell me Jojo. I can just stay at my place, and me and your mother can be parallel lines, if that’s what you need.”

Josie sighed.

“No, I want you to meet her. I’m just nervous.”

“That’s okay. I’ll do whatever I can to make that better.”

One thing that Josie liked about Penelope was the fact that she always knew what to do to make Josie feel comfortable.

And if she didn’t, she’d just ask Josie.

Josie smiled.

Then she laughed.

“What?” Penelope asked, the hint of a laugh in her voice.

“I just smiled, as if you were going to react, and then I realized I’m on the phone.”

“Well, keep that smile for when I come over. I expect to see it, just as beautiful as always.”

Josie blushed.

“Thanks.”

“Just saying the truth here Jojo.”

“I should get going, my mother’s going to wonder where I am.”

“Okay, can I come over at six? I’ll help you with dinner?”

“Sounds good.”

+++

Penelope showed up that night wearing her nice clothes.

That meant her clean black jeans, and her white shirt with a red ribbon.

She looked so pretty and Josie wanted to kiss her.

But she didn’t.

Because it would ruin everything, and Penelope would hate her again.

Josie couldn’t deal with another person hating her.

She already hated herself, that was enough.

Josie shook away those negative thoughts and smiled.

Penelope was holding a bouquet of flowers.

They were daises.

“They’re for your mother. I thought they might cheer her up.”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“You’re a suck up.”

“I want your mother to like me. I’m sure she’s heard plenty of terrible things about me, and I want to try and make a good impression.”

Josie sighed and looked down.

Her mother had never actually heard anything too bad about Penelope.

Josie was far too in love with her to say anything like that.

Penelope tapped Josie on the shoulder.

“Come on. It’s going to be okay.”

Josie nodded.

“I know it’s just…” she trailed off.

Penelope smiled.

“I get it. If you want to just take a moment here, it’s alright.”

Josie shook her head.

“No, I’m fine, it’s just nerves and I need to move past them.”

Penelope nodded.

“Well then, why don’t you lead me inside?”

Josie smiled and let Penelope inside.

Her mother was waiting in the living room.

Penelope looked at her with a smile and held out the flowers.

“These are for you Ms Laughlin.”

Josie’s mum gave Penelope an impressed look.

“I like you already. Not many people remember that I go by my last name, and even less bring me flowers.”

Penelope gave her a charming smile.

“What can I say? I’m extraordinary.”

Josie slapped her lightly.

“Well, your extraordinariness is needed in the kitchen.”

Penelope sighed dramatically.

“Very well.”

She turned and walked off to the kitchen. Josie was about to follow when her mother pulled her back.

“You’re still in love with her, aren’t you?”

Josie sighed.

“I know. Just don’t say anything, okay? We’re friends, and I don’t want to mess that up.”

Her mother nodded knowingly.

“Don’t push her away. I think she wants to stay.”

Josie smiled and walked into the kitchen.

Penelope turned to her with raised eyebrows.

“Did I pass the test?”

Josie beamed.

“With flying colors. Now, let’s see if your cooking can keep it up.”

+++

Josie realized that she couldn’t keep going at the same rate she had been, acting like everything was fine, or she was quite literally going to burn out, towards the end of January.

She had been scrolling through the internet, trying to find the funny theories about her, when she saw a new video.

It was an interview with Rafael.

It was titled Rafael Waithe Opens Up About Toxic Relationship With Josie Saltzman

She clicked on it, against her better judgement.

Rafael was smiling at the interviewer.

“So, tell us, you broke up with Josie, right?”

He nodded.

“Yeah, it was a real mess of a relationship. Honestly, she’s a lot to deal with. I really regret trying anything with her.”

“Why is that?”

“She’s just really emotional about everything, she always needed me to be there for her, it was honestly exhausting, because she made everything about herself. I knew that we couldn’t keep going when she released a song about someone else when she was still with me.”

“So, that wasn’t about you?”

“It was about one of her exes. I never really found out much, she’s not really good at opening up to people.”

“What do you think explains her reaction in the video where she yells at those paparazzi?”

“I think she took our breakup way harder than it needed to be taken. She was always way too attached, it made it hard to breathe. She just cared so much and it started to become a problem.”

Josie tapped away from the video, barely able to breathe.

Rafael had gone on television, and had said all that shit about her.

He’d made her the bad guy.

She scrolled though the comments, hoping for something supportive.

There was nothing.

She’s such a bitch.

She’s just a wannabe singer, honestly, she’s so trash.

She just wanted him for his popularity, I’m so glad that he got rid of her.

Josie threw her phone away, not even caring if it broke at this point.

It was one of those rare nights when she wasn’t at her mother’s place.

Josie had thought that she would be okay by herself.

That her nightmares and insecurities would be okay.

That really wasn’t true.

Her mother was probably getting her much-needed sleep right now.

Josie couldn’t interrupt that with her mess.

So, she was alone.

Josie knew that Rafael had been making everything worse than it actually had been, but there was some small part of her that believed that what he had said wasn’t too far from the truth.

She was clingy.

She got way too attached.

Honestly, why anyone stayed around her so long was unknown.

Josie was awful.

She was co-dependent, and she drained the energy out of people with all of her problems.

She pulled her legs up against her chest, and felt all the pieces that she’d tried so hard to keep together, fall to the ground.

They shattered into even smaller pieces.

She was fucked.

Josie had no idea how she could keep going like this.

Josie honestly didn’t know if she would have made it through that night if Penelope hadn’t knocked.

But she did.

Josie didn’t move.

She didn’t even hear Penelope at the door until she was basically banging on the door.

Josie stumbled over, barely unable to see.

She opened the door, and Penelope caught her as she crumbled again.

Penelope carried her inside to the couch, and Penelope held her.

Josie beat against her chest, trying to give Penelope a reason to leave, a reason to decide that Josie wasn’t worth this.

Penelope grabbed her wrists and held her tighter.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you, I’m here.”

Josie cried into Penelope’s shirt, hoping that it would make her feel better.

It did, a little bit.

Eventually, her breathing slowed and she was able to see without tears blurring her vision.

Penelope sighed and let go off Josie’s wrists so she could rub Josie’s back.

“I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but I need to say it. You need to get help. Like, serious help.”

Josie shook her head.

“No, I’m fine.”

“Josie, people who are fine don’t break down screaming and crying on the regular. People who are fine don’t have nightmares every night. People who are fine don’t act the way you’ve been acting. Trust me, I know, I get it.”

Josie sniffled.

“I just…I need to be okay, for my mum. I need to be the strong one, I need to be okay.”

Penelope sighed and brushed some hair away from her face, gently wiping at Josie’s tears as she did so.

“Josie, it’s okay to let your guard down. I know, it’s scary, and a lot of the time it feels like it means you’re going to disappoint someone, but to heal properly, you need to.”

Josie sighed, and laid her head against Penelope’s chest.

“I know. I’m just really scared.”

Penelope nodded, and moved an arm around her.

“That’s okay. You’ve got a lot of people in your life who are in this for the long haul, not just the highlights. Your sister, Hope, your mother, Ethan, Maya, Landon,” she paused and made sure to make eye contact with Josie, “you have me. And I’m not going anywhere. So, we’ll wait for you. Because you’re worth it.”

And for the first time in a long while, Josie believed it.

Believed that she was worth something.

And maybe it had to do with the fact that Penelope had stayed, that Penelope wanted to stay.

Penelope was going to stay by her side, even when Josie tried to push her away.

Penelope saw right through all the walls, all the lies, and she wanted to stay.

And for now, having one person, finally choosing to stay, one person who saw through Josie’s defenses and still wanted her, that was enough.

That was more than enough.

Chapter Text

Josie looked up at Penelope and smiled.

Or at least, she tried to.

Penelope squeezed her hand.

“It’s going to be okay Josie. You can do this.”

Josie sighed and looked around the foyer.

“What if I can’t? What if it’s too much? What if I have a breakdown in the middle of the session and I completely freak out the therapist and she gets mad at me?”

Penelope ran her thumb across the back of Josie’s hand, chuckling lightly.

Josie could feel her heart speeding up from both the touch and the laugh.

“She isn’t going to get mad at you. But, if it’s too much, and you need to leave, I’ll come in and take you home. For what it’s worth though, I think you’re selling yourself short.”

Josie smiled gratefully.

The door opened.

“Josie Saltzman?”

Josie stood up.

Her hand drifted away from Penelope’s and Josie immediately wished that she could go into the session with Penelope by her side.

She looked back at Penelope, almost ready to bolt for the door.

Penelope nodded at her and Josie turned back around.

She could do this.

Josie sat down in the chair as her therapist shut the door.

“Hi Josie, I’m Emma, I’ll be your therapist for as long as you wish to see me. I understand that you’re coming in because you felt that you needed professional help?”

Josie sighed and leaned forwards.

“Yeah. I’ve sort of been going on a downhill spiral for the past few months. There’s been a lot of hate floating around, and it’s just really hard to take.” Josie had to stop for a moment to breathe.

Emma smiled reassuringly.

“It’s okay. Take all the time you need. I’m here to listen and hopefully help.”

Josie nodded and swallowed.

“I thought that I could handle everything by myself, but I couldn’t and so I came here. I’m a bit nervous about it, but my sister said that therapy helped her, and my, um, my friend Penelope told me that I needed to get help because she was really worried about me.”

“It sounds like you have some good people in your life, people that you care about.”

Josie smiled.

“Yeah, I guess I do.”

Emma nodded.

“These sessions will hopefully provide them help you need. You can talk about anything with me, and I won’t judge you. This is a safe space.”

Josie smiled. Emma was really nice, and she had a calming voice. She could practically feel her tension easing.

Mentally, she thanked Penelope for getting her to do this.

+++

Josie started going to therapy regularly.

Every Tuesday afternoon, Penelope would drive her out and Josie would have her session with Emma.

It helped to talk about all of this with someone professional, so that Josie didn’t feel like she was burdening her with anything.

Eventually, they started looking into Josie’s self-worth problems, and how to help her with that.

There were some topics that were harder to open up on.

When they got to her father, she did what she always did, and painted the basic picture of absent disapproving father.

Didn’t mention the abuse, or the nights where Josie had crawled out of her room’s window to go to Hope’s house, just because she was so scared that her father might pick her for a tirade of anger.

Didn’t mention Lizzie hiding in Josie’s room because she’d gotten a bad mark and she knew that her dad wouldn’t like it.

Didn’t mention how half of her and Lizzie’s problems growing up had been due to basically being pit against each other for recognition from their father.

She’d never really told anyone about that, and she wasn’t about to start opening up old wounds.

Especially not when she liked to consider those wounds closed.

Especially not when he was closer to her then he had been over the past ten years.

Penelope took her out to get ice cream after every session.

As Penelope put it, it was a ‘reward for having the strength to get help’.

Josie just liked seeing Penelope smile at her across the table.

Her mother was on the mend too. It looked like the chemo was finally starting to help.

Josie was glad and she knew Penelope was too.

Penelope and her mother had actually started bonding.

It was a bit weird, but Josie supported it.

Penelope told Josie one time that seeing as her birth mother had been a bitch, it was good to talk to a mother figure who actually cared.

Josie was happy to hear that.

Her mother refused to tell her what her and Penelope talked about.

“If you want to know, ask her,” she told Josie, the one time that she tried to casually figure it out.

Josie didn’t.

Even if there was so much at Penelope she wanted to know.

One night, Maya had called her, asking about how everything was going.

Josie had filled her in, had talked about how her and Penelope were still friends, how her mother was getting better, how therapy was helping.

Maya had been excited to hear about that, had been glad that Josie was doing better, and that Penelope was okay.

Then Josie had asked, a little nervously, what Penelope had really been like in the weeks after they’d stopped talking.

“I just want to know, because, she doesn’t really talk about it, and she’s had some nightmares, and I’m just worried.”

Maya had been quiet for a moment, and then sighed.

“Look, it’s not really mine to talk about. If she doesn’t want to tell you, there isn’t much I can say.”

“Anything you can tell me would help.”

“She was drinking a lot, sleeping with basically all of London. She was a mess, honestly, I’ve never seen her that bad. She really missed you.”

Josie sighed.

“I missed her too.”

She wondered why it had all hit Penelope so badly.

Josie had loved her and had lost her. She had been heartbroken.

Penelope had just lost a friend.

She assumed that it was probably due to other factors.

She stopped thinking about it.

She didn’t want to get led down any rabbit holes that would have her overthinking everything again.

Or rabbit holes that would have her hoping for the impossible.

+++

The rumors from the media didn’t let up.

Now that Rafael had released his take on everything, everyone wanted to have their own opinion about Josie.

They thought that she was a bitch.

They thought that she was a possessive and toxic girlfriend, and that was why everyone left her.

They thought that she was on drugs.

They thought that she was actually faking everything, and that it was all a ploy for attention.

Josie hated those last people the most.

She would never pretend to be hurting this bad as a joke.

No amount of attention was worth damaging yourself.

The media didn’t know about the therapy, which Josie was thankful for.

She didn’t need them throwing around words like ‘crazy’.

Not when she was finally feeling okay about going.

Lizzie had released a statement saying that she supported Josie.

“My twin sister is a lot of things, mostly wonderful things, and she is not the villain you’re all making her out to be. I think she should be left alone.”

Josie spent an entire night on the phone to Lizzie after that.

Sometimes, she really loved her sister.

Lizzie was freaking out about the wedding, which was literally in a week.

Lizzie couldn’t wait to be married to the love of her life, but she was also obsessed with making celebrations perfect.

Lizzie had never been one to let any sort of event go without some spectacular decorations or amazing outfits.

Their sixteenth had really been something else.

Josie was the maid of honor for Lizzie, of course, something that she was very excited for.

There was however, the matter of getting a date.

She had planned to take Rafael, but now that was definitely out of the question.

She didn’t want to get into a relationship right now, not while she was working on herself, and while she was still in love with Penelope.

So, the natural option was to invite Penelope.

Josie just didn’t know how to do that without being weird.

Was there a way to casually say the sentence, ‘hey I know that I’m still in love with you, but you don't know that, and you’re trying to keep us as friends, but would you be my date to my twin sister’s wedding?’

Josie knew that she was overthinking it, but seriously, how did you do this?

In the end, Penelope asked her.

Josie was lying on the couch, with her feet in Penelope’s lap, and Penelope had struck up a conversation.

“So, your sister is getting married in two weeks? How does that feel?”

Josie laughed.

“Weird. I still think of her as my sixteen-year-old sister having a meltdown over which dress to wear with her boyfriend to the prom. Now, she’s getting married to the love of her life in the dress she’s made herself.”

Penelope smiled.

“So, am I invited?”

Josie paused.

“I mean, I could ask her to put you on the list.”

Penelope laughed.

“I hope you know I’m only going if I’m your date.”

Josie looked at her with surprise.

Penelope just smiled.

“What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t attend your sister’s wedding with you? Besides, it'll only be truly amazing if I'm there.”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“I hate you.”

Penelope poked her knee.

“No, you don’t.”

Josie sighed.

“No, I don’t.”

+++

Josie and Penelope arrived at the wedding early.

Penelope immediately stuck up conversation with Hope’s friend Davina, and so Josie left to go find the brides’ to be.

They were getting ready separately, because Lizzie had insisted that it was tradition.

Hope was fairly nervous, which was to be expected.

She was wearing a suit, which Josie had to say, she was absolutely killing.

“Is that one from Lizzie’s line?”

Hope nodded.

“I don’t think I was allowed to wear something not made by her.”

Josie laughed.

Hope stared absently at the wall, fiddling with the ring on her finger, the one that Lizzie had got her for their two-year anniversary.

Josie put her hand on Hope’s shoulder.

“Relax, it’s going to be fine. Lizzie is the love of your life, and you are going to make her your wife. It’s going to be amazing.”

Hope nodded.

“I just know I’m going to cry. My speech is emotional enough as it is, and you know that Lizzie has never been one for holding back.”

Josie smiled.

“Just know that if you cry, so will Lizzie, and so will I and so will pretty much every guest.”

Hope sighed.

Josie patted her.

“It’s going to be okay.”

Hope nodded.

“It’s going to be awesome,” she agreed with a soft smile.

Lizzie was basically the same, except there was a lot more anxious movement.

“What if Hope decides that I’m not good enough? What if I say the wrong thing and mess everything up? What if I just start crying and I can’t stop? Oh god, what if something happens to my dress? What if she thinks that I look hideous and she leaves me at the altar?”

Josie place both her hands on Lizzie’s shoulders.

“Okay. First of all, Hope has been your fiancée for ages, and your girlfriend for even longer. If she didn’t like you, she wouldn’t be marrying you. You aren’t going to say the wrong thing, because you’ve been practicing your speech since pretty much the first day you started dating. And, while you might start crying, so will she. It’s going to be okay.”

"And my dress?"

"Lizzie, it's flawless, you know that, you designed it. And nothing is going to happen to it."

Lizzie sniffled, and then straightened.

“You’re right Jo. I’m going to smash this. I’ve been waiting for this day since I was born, and I am going to make it the best damn day of my life.”

Josie beamed.

“Go get your girl Lizzie, I’ll be right there the whole time.”

+++

The ceremony was beautiful.

Josie stood beside Lizzie, and Penelope sat in the front row.

Jo walked Lizzie down the aisle, looking like she was about to cry.

Josie was glad that they hadn’t told their father anything about the wedding, because he would have made a mess of the whole affair.

Josie was holding in tears for basically the whole presentation, but they gushed out of her when Hope and Lizzie read their vows.

Hope started off.

“My mother once told me that in my life I should make art, I should use my voice, and I should go on adventures. I have managed to do all of those things. However, there was one other thing that she told me to do, and that was to have one epic love. I used to think I was never going to be able to find my one epic love. Of course, I used to hate you, so clearly I was wrong about a few things.”

Everyone laughed, but Josie could see that Lizzie was already starting to tear up.

“Once we finally started dating, I realized that you were everything I needed in a partner. You stood by my side, even when it felt like the whole world was against me. It was about one year into our relationship that I realized, it’s you and me, and if that’s my whole world, I’d be okay with that. So, Elizabeth Saltzman, that is why I am so very glad that you decided to marry me, because I get to spend the rest of my life with my one epic love.”

Lizzie openly sobbed and leaned forwards. Hope hugged her tightly.

Josie turned her eyes to Penelope, to find that she was already watching her.

Penelope smiled.

Josie thought of one line from Hope’s speech.

You stood by my side, even when it felt like the whole world was against me.

Penelope did that for her.

For a moment, Josie imagined marrying Penelope one day, and telling her that.

She shook away that thought.

Penelope and her were friends, not epic loves.

That wasn’t going to change.

Lizzie wiped away her tears and leaned back.

“I guess it’s my turn now.” She took a deep breath.

“Hope Andrea Mikaelson. When I first met you, I hated you so much. I thought you were the bane of my existence, that you had been put on Earth only to annoy me. I soon realized that was far from the truth. You were out on Earth to love me. To listen to me, to care for me, even when I didn’t want to care for myself. You encouraged me to follow my dreams, and because of you, I get to stand here in this beautiful dress that I made.”

Hope wiped away some tears.

Lizzie was not done.

“I always thought of you as my anchor, and something that kept me grounded throughout everything. One time I asked you how long you were in this for, if at any point you were going to leave. You told me, and I quote, ‘we’re in this until the bitter end, although I hope there is nothing bitter about our ending’. At the time, I thought it was cute, if a little dumb, but right now, I feel as if those words mean everything to me.

“Getting married to you means that we do indeed get to be in this until the bitter end, and I do very much hope that it is not a bitter end.”

Both of them were sobbing, but Josie was pretty sure everyone was.

Even Penelope was crying a little.

Josie looked over at her, and Penelope held her gaze as tears fell out of her eyes.

Josie thought that those words rang very true.

+++

Lizzie and Hope’s first dance was beautiful. Clearly, they’d taken some lessons since Year 10 dance classes.

They had been truly awful back then.

Josie would pay for a video of the two of them dancing while trying not to kill each other.

Eventually, everyone was dancing.

Penelope walked up to Josie and held out her hand.

“May I have this dance?” Her tone was light, but there was something in her eyes that made Josie feel her heart start to race.

Josie smiled and took Penelope’s hand.

“I hope you know what you’re doing.”

Penelope laughed.

“Oh please, my parents were rich and pompous jerks, of course I know how to waltz. The question is Miss Saltzman, do you?”

Josie shrugged as they settled in the middle of the dance floor.

“I know a bit.”

Penelope’s smile grew wider.

“Allow me to lead you.”

One of Penelope’s hands found its way to Josie’s waist, and the other took her hand.

“Now there are a few ways that you can waltz, but this is my personal favorite.”

Josie smiled.

“Then let’s dance.”

They started moving, Penelope leading Josie through the steps and making sure that she didn’t trip over her own feet, which was good, because Josie was not well known for her skills in co-ordination.

Eventually, they found a rhythm, and they swayed along to the music.

Penelope looked at Josie with something akin to awe.

It almost looked like the expression she used to wear as she hovered over Josie, as Josie moaned and quivered to Penelope’s gentle touch.

Josie looked away, feeling self-conscious.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Like what?”

Josie looked back.

There was a challenge in Penelope’s eyes, as if she was daring Josie to cross the line they’d lain in the sand.

There was also a hint of desperation, almost like she wanted Josie to cross it.

It made Josie scared.

It made those butterflies in her stomach scream to be free, because being trapped in this cycle of not being sure how far to go was terrifying.

Josie decided to play it safe, and made a joke.

“Like I’m a horrible dancer and you’re trying not to laugh at me.”

Penelope rolled her eyes, and when Josie looked away, she missed the disappointment in Penelope’s eyes.

“Oh please. If you were a terrible dancer, I’d let you know. Fortunately, for the both of us, you’re pretty good at this.”

Josie smiled and nodded, just what she’d always been taught to do, even when everything was shattering.

Just put on your pageant smile, and no one will listen to your muffled cries.

Emma told her that acting like that wasn’t healthy, but well, it would take a little longer to break that particular habit.

Besides, when it came to Penelope, nothing was more important than keeping their relationship alive.

Penelope twirled her with a grin.

“Look at us, Miss Americana, beloved of the land, and her dazzling princess.”

Josie snorted.

“That’s not the best descriptor right now.”

Penelope shrugged and they kept dancing.

Josie kept thinking about it, even after they’d left the dance floor and started making their farewells.

Maybe she was a fallen Miss Americana, a girl who had once held bright smiles, but was now running for her life in a ripped-up dress, desperately trying to free herself from the lights that blinded her.

And maybe Penelope was a princess, just not a conventional one. She held beauty and power, yes, but she also held pain and heartbreak.

The Fallen Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Princess.

What a duo.

+++

On the car trip home, Penelope wouldn’t stop looking over at Josie.

Josie asked her about it half an hour into their trip.

She had really liked seeing Penelope throw her those little glances, but she really needed to know if there was something she should be worried about.

Penelope just laughed.

“I didn’t even notice I was doing it.”

Josie smiled.

“So, what are you most worried about when we get home?” Penelope asked.

Josie sighed.

“Can we not talk about that?”

Penelope shrugged.

“I know you don’t want to, but you can’t act like the real world doesn’t exist.”

Josie shrugged, shaking her head.

“Maybe I could. Maybe I could just act like there’s nothing in the world except for you and me.”

Both of them ignored how close that was to what Hope had said in her wedding vows to Lizzie.

Penelope sighed.

“I think I’d love that. But we can’t do that.”

Josie frowned.

“I just hate how everyone thinks they have a right to comment on my life and how I choose to live it. Everyone thinks that I’m just this person without feelings, who they can just pin all their hate on, and it won’t matter.”

Penelope laughed.

“Well, they’re stupid. And you know what?”

“What?”

“If you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes.”

Josie laughed.

Leave it to Penelope to make her feeling better with a dumb saying like that.

“Did you just make that up?”

“Yep. That is one hundred percent Penelope Park genius right there.”

“I knew that you had to have some genius.”

Penelope lightly slapped Josie.

“I’ll have you know that I have lots of genius.”

Josie looked over at her softly.

She fucking loved this woman.

Penelope looked back, and for a moment seemed surprised by the love in Josie’s eyes.

Josie looked away, hoping that she hadn't revealed too much.

Penelope cleared her throat.

“Don’t distract the driver Jojo. It’s bad form.”

Josie rolled her eyes and looked back out the window.

They were silent for a moment, just listening to the soft classical music that Penelope had insisted that they put on.

Then Penelope spoke softly, almost like she wasn’t sure if she wanted Josie to hear her.

“Hey Jojo?”

Josie looked back at her.

“Yeah?”

Penelope sighed, running her hands up and down the wheel.

“I’ve been thinking about going into therapy. It really seems to be helping you, I mean, you've been a lot better recently, and I think that I’ve been putting off dealing with my problems for too long.”

Josie watched her for a moment.

Watched the way she chewed on her lip nervously, the little crease in her brow, the way her hands couldn’t stop moving.

Penelope flicked her eyes across to Josie for a moment.

“What do you think?”

Josie smiled.

“I think it would be a good idea.”

Penelope sighed, like Josie’s words had somehow made her lighter.

Josie loved the way her mouth relaxed into a little smile, the way her hands stilled, just slightly.

She liked knowing that she could make Penelope feel better, that Penelope had trusted her enough to ask her that.

Had cared enough to want her opinion.

Penelope nodded.

“Good. I think this could be a real step in the right direction.” Her eyes darted across to Josie again.

Josie just smiled and rested her head against the window.

She quickly drifted asleep, with thoughts of Penelope wafting through her dreams.

+++

Things started getting better.

Well, not better, necessarily.

People still hated Josie.

Everyone was still spreading rumors on the internet.

But Penelope was still there.

And Josie was learning, that if she just focused on that, focused on the people who she loved, and on getting better, she could handle the hate a bit easier.

She also reminded herself constantly of what Penelope had told her.

If they wanted to play their stupid games, they could.

Josie would just walk away.

Therapy kept going well.

Every now and then, Josie had bad moments though.

Emma had pushed a little too far about her father and Josie had snapped, had told her about everything her father had done, had nearly spiraled into a panic attack and had stormed out of the office.

Penelope had chased her out and held her until she calmed down.

Penelope didn’t push about what had happened and Josie didn’t tell her.

When Josie walked in again next week, she could tell that Emma was surprised, but pleased that Josie had come back.

She nearly hadn’t.

In the end, her mother had been the one to convince her.

Had told her that if she was going to move on properly, she needed to deal with all of her problems, that she could let her past haunt her any longer.

So, Josie had gone back, and had talked about her father.

It had felt so good to do.

Felt good to not hide from him anymore.

Penelope had started up therapy as well, with a different person, a nice-looking woman named Camille.

Penelope had been a little bit on edge at first, but Josie was starting to see the difference.

The way she held herself a little more confidently.

How her smiles actually seemed to reach her eyes.

How she was more open and relaxed.

Josie was proud of her, was proud of both of them.

Because they had chosen to keep moving forwards.

Recovery may be a rocky road, but Josie was determined to walk it and it seemed Penelope was as well.

February drifted on.

Josie inched closer and closer to actually having another EP to release.

There was a small but loyal group of fans who still cared about Josie, and when Josie released a single, they all rushed in, hyping her up.

The song that Josie released was about stepping into the light, and ignoring the hate that everyone threw at you.

Penelope had helped give Josie some ideas, not that Josie would ever tell her that.

Penelope would never let it go.

Everyone in Josie’s life was proud of her.

Well, almost everyone.

There was just one person left.

One person who she had thought she would never have to see again.

But, as Josie was starting to learn, when things started looking up, life would not hesitate to throw something shitty at her.

+++

Josie swung open her apartment door and walked in.

Penelope was out, actually auditioning for a role in a play that a nearby place was doing.

Josie was glad that Penelope was doing something like that.

Just because Penelope had completely uprooted her life for Josie, didn’t mean that she had to give up the things that she loved.

In fact, a bit before Lizzie and Hope’s wedding, she’d applied for a job at a nearby bookstore, and had started working there.

It wasn’t as nice as the one she’d worked at in London, but it was good enough.

So, Josie was completely alone when she walked in.

At least, she thought she was.

Then she saw the figure slouched across her couch.

Josie dropped her keys.

“Who are you?” She yelled, her heart racing, her palm suddenly feeling sticky.

The figure rose, and Josie smelt the pungent scent of alcohol permeating the room.

“What? After all these years you don’t even recognize me?”

She recognized that slur, that stench.

Her voice broke when she called out to the figure again.

“Dad?”

He snorted.

Josie flicked on the light.

He looked horrible.

That was Josie’s first thought.

His beard had grown rampant, like a bush that hadn’t been clipped for years.

His eyes were bloodshot, and the bags under them made it look like he’d been punched.

Maybe he had been punched.

Her father was a very punchable man.

He sighed.

“So, it’s really disappointing that you’ve been back in town for so long, and you didn’t even bother to give your father a call.”

Josie’s breath hitched in her throat.

She felt eighteen again, telling her father that she was leaving to go to university.

The way he had looked at her then had made her feel so small.

Her hands were shaking.

“I did call. When mum got sick.”

He laughed, and she hated the way that the sound shredded through her.

“That incoherent babble? Not exactly a welcome message. It was more of a disapproving rant. Honestly, if anyone in this family had reason to be disappointed, it’s not you. I hear that you’ve gotten into some trouble. The media’s all over you.”

Josie shrugged, trying to remain calm.

“People say a lot of untrue things.”

“You’ve gotten broken up with a lot recently. Two boyfriends in a year? I get the feeling that you’re doing something wrong.”

Josie tried to stop her temper from rising.

She’d never been able to beat her dad in a yelling match.

“They cheated on me. Why aren’t you mad at them?”

He scoffed and waved a hand.

“Boys will be boys. You on the other hand, well, if so many boys are cheating on you, there must be something wrong with you.”

“There’s nothing wrong with me.” Josie was glad that she was able to say that sentence without her voice shaking. Once upon a time, she’d really struggled with that.

He scoffed.

“I raised you, I know you better than anyone else. I remember the day that I realized what a failure you really were.”

“Stop,” she said, her voice shaking, as she stepped backwards.

“What was her name? Allie or Annie or something like that. She was a pretty little thing. I remember that she looked so scared when I told her to get out of our house.”

“Leave me alone!” She yelled at him.

He didn’t move.

“Or what? You’ll cry at me? You couldn’t stop me when you were a kid, and you can’t stop me now.” He shook his head. “I really wonder where I went wrong with you.”

“There is nothing wrong with me!” she yelled again. “There is on the other hand, a lot wrong with you, so get the fuck out of my apartment.”

He laughed.

“You’re my daughter, I can stay as long as I want.”

“I’ll call the cops.”

“They won’t get here in time.”

Josie’s blood ran cold and she pulled out her phone.

“What does that mean?”

He shrugged.

“It means that I’m disappointed in you, and I think you need to be taught a lesson.”

Josie remembered being twelve and coming home with a bad grade and tear tracks down her face.

It hadn’t been good enough for him.

He’d slapped her across the face and told her to be better.

He hadn’t done it often enough for Josie to think it was unnatural, and he’d never done it when their mother was around.

But her and Lizzie had been hit a few times, as punishment for not living up to his expectations.

He’d gone into their rooms some nights, when he was so drunk that he could barely breathe, had ranted at them, telling them how much he hated them, how he wished that they’d never been born.

Those memories still haunted her, still made her feel so very small.

She stepped back.

“Don’t touch me.”

“I can do whatever I want.”

She took another step back and he stumbled forwards.

Josie had no idea what she was going to do next.

Luckily for her, she didn’t have to know.

The door opened, and Penelope stepped in.

Her face was split into a smile, and it looked like she was about to call out happily to Josie.

Then she saw the scene in front of her, and her expression merged into anger.

Swiftly, she moved in front of Josie.

“Get the fuck out of this house.”

Her dad sneered.

“Who are you? Her new girlfriend? I always knew she was a dyke but I didn’t think she actually get any girls to fuck-”

SMACK.

Josie gasped as Penelope’s hand made contact with her father’s face.

He recoiled, gripping his face.

Penelope grabbed him, and yanked him outside.

“Josie, call the cops.”

Josie pulled out her phone and dialed.

Penelope slammed the door and locked it.

Josie put the phone to her ear.

“Hello, my name is Josette Saltzman and Alaric Saltzman, my father, just broke into my house. He is heavily intoxicated, can you please come get him? We got him outside.”

The voice on the phone assured Josie that someone would be over shortly.

Alaric banged at the door, screaming something unintelligible at them.

+++

Penelope didn’t say anything until the cops had dragged Alaric away, basically kicking and screaming.

She had just held Josie, glaring at the door as if she was going to burn it down.

She finally let go of Josie and looked down at her.

Her face was still white, whether with shock or anger Josie wasn’t sure.

“That was your father?”

Josie shrugged, her body still shaking.

“I told you he was a jerk.”

A tear escaped Josie’s eye, and Penelope rushed her into a hug.

Josie gripped her tightly, holding onto Penelope as if she was the last solid thing on Earth, the only thing keeping her grounded.

“I hate him so much. I hate him so fucking much. Everything was good, it was so good, and now he just turned up and ruined everything.”

“Nothing’s ruined Josie, it’s okay.”

Josie looked up at Penelope, tears blurring her vision.

“Don’t leave me. I don’t want you to go, please don’t leave me.”

Penelope pulled her in tighter.

“Never. I’m not leaving you.”

Josie nodded, realizing with a start that she actually believed her.

She sighed, unable to stop the words falling out of her.

“I just hate that every time I see him, I’m a little kid again. It’s like a never-ending fight that nobody’s going to win. I can never escape him and I’ll never be the child he wants.”

Penelope pressed their foreheads together.

“Josie, listen to me. I’m never going to let him hurt you, okay? I don’t care if you think this is a never-ending fight, because together, it’s one that we can win. Do you understand?”

Josie nodded.

Another tear fell from Josie’s eye, and Penelope brushed it away.

“Good. I promise you, that bastard is never going to come near you ever again.”

Josie looked up at Penelope.

Their faces were so close.

Josie could just kiss her.

Josie really wanted to kiss her.

But she didn’t.

(One of these days, Josie was going to kiss her, regardless of the consequences.)

(Josie was terrified of that day, but also couldn’t wait for it to come.)

(Just so she could taste those lips one more time.)

Chapter Text

Josie walked past the elementary school, Penelope by her side.

The school bell rang, and Josie watched as the little kids sprinted out of the classrooms, all scrambling to find their bags.

Josie sighed.

“Do you even remember being that small?”

Penelope laughed.

“Yep. It was the best. No responsibilities, no struggles at all. The biggest problem I faced on a daily basis was the fact that Dylan was a crayon hog and he always bragged about how he knew his phone number off by heart. Show off," Penelope grumbled.

Josie laughed and nudged her.

“You seem to hold a lot of bitterness for this one child.”

Penelope nodded solemnly.

“He was a jerk. He didn’t leave the school until Year 10, and let me tell you, he was so irritating. All the girls loved him, and I was so pissed because he was literally the most irritating person I had ever met.” She turned to look at Josie.

“What about you Jojo, what do you remember from being a kid?”

Josie fiddled with her fingers as she threw her mind back.

“Well, me and Lizzie went to that exact school," she said, gesturing to the school they'd just walked by, "I remember that there was this boy who was mean to me, and Lizzie shoved him over.”

Penelope rose an eyebrow.

“Did she get in trouble?”

“Lots of trouble. I tried to argue that she had been standing up for me, but they didn’t see it like that.”

Penelope sighed.

“Did you get in trouble at all?”

Josie beamed.

“Not at all. I was an angel of a kindergartner.”

Penelope snorted.

“I bet you were a teacher’s pet all through school.”

Josie shrugged.

“I was raised in a very specific way, and that was to not cause trouble for anyone. If I did the good thing constantly, and if I didn’t get in trouble, I was basically allowed to get away with anything.”

Penelope turned to Josie, raising an eyebrow.

“So, you’re suggesting that you got away with some stuff because of your teacher’s pet role.”

Josie nodded.

“I snuck out most nights to visit Hope. I helped Lizzie cheat on most tests. I lost my virginity when I was sixteen. I was caught smoking weed in the bathroom and the teacher that found me really liked me, so she let me get off with just a warning. I think she also knew that my dad would not be happy if I came home with a detention.”

Penelope’s expression darkened slightly.

“Not that I’m just going to let those last two things slide, but do you want to talk about your dad?”

Josie sighed.

She knew that eventually they'd have to talk about it, but she just hated the way her stomach twisted when she thought about her father.

“There’s nothing I can tell that you don’t already probably know. He was an alcoholic, he was disappointed in me, he was a massive homophobe, and he was abusive.”

Penelope’s fists clenched.

"He hit you?"

"Yeah, a few times. Mostly he just liked to scare us by acting like he was going to hit us so that we'd do what he wanted. I think he liked seeing us afraid."

For a moment, Josie thought Penelope was going to punch a passing pole.

Or throw up.

“When did your mother realize what he was doing to you?” She asked, worry plain in her eyes.

Josie swallowed back some of the bile that rose to her throat and kept talking.

“We were fourteen when she started suspecting. It was only when we were fifteen that she left him. She was fighting for custody and a restraining order for a good six months. It did not exactly create a healthy home environment. It’s why Lizzie and I ended up having so many mental health issues.”

Penelope shook her head.

“I can’t believe that she didn’t notice sooner.”

Josie shrugged.

“She loved him, and she didn’t want to think that he would do something like that. Besides, he didn’t do it often enough for it to be obvious.” Josie took in a deep breath. “Then she found me standing over an unconscious Lizzie, with a bruise on my face and she knew that she had to do something.”

Penelope’s jaw was clenched, and she looked so angry that Josie just had to run her hand across Penelope’s wrist.

“It’s okay. I got out, I’m safe now. He’s going to be locked up for breaking and entering, and if he tries something like that again, I’ll be better prepared. I was just shocked because I hadn’t seen him in about six years.”

Penelope sighed and relaxed a little.

“I just wish I could do more.”

“You’re already doing enough.”

Penelope looked at her and Josie smiled, reaching out and squeezing her hand.

Then Penelope's eyes lit up and she reached into her pocket, fumbling around for a little until she pulled out a folded piece of paper.

Josie frowned.

“What is that?”

Penelope smiled and held out the paper for Josie to take.

“It’s a note. I wrote it for you.”

Josie opened the note, unsure of why Penelope had given it to her.

Dear Josie
This is for those days when I’m not here. It’s a reminder that you are loved and that you are an extraordinary person who is getting better every day. I’m so proud of you, and so is everyone else in your life. Never forget that.

Penelope

Josie looked up with shining eyes to meet Penelope’s eyes, which now showed worry again.

Except this time, it was more insecurity, like she didn't think that Josie would accept it.

She tucked her hands behind her back and shifted her feet.

“I just thought that maybe it would be a good idea. You don’t like being alone, because sometimes the bad thoughts get too loud, so I thought this might help stop that.”

Josie was speechless.

It was such a thoughtful gift, and for a moment Josie didn’t really know what to say.

Penelope was right of course, Josie didn’t like days when she was alone, and having a reminder like that would help.

It was just the fact that Penelope had thought about it, and had tried to do something to make Josie feel better.

No one she had ever dated had done that before.

Not that she was dating Penelope.

Because she wasn’t.

She shouldn't be thinking about dating Penelope.

Josie focused back on reality to see that Penelope was starting to look really nervous.

“Sorry, you don’t have to accept it. It’s a stupid idea anyways and-oh!”

Josie cut Penelope off by wrapping her arms around her and tightly hugging her.

It took a second for Penelope to respond, but she did, and she tugged Josie back just as tight.

When Josie pulled back, for a moment, her and Penelope’s faces were so very close.

For a moment, Josie thought about leaning in and kissing her here on this sidewalk covered in chalk.

Instead, she stepped back, dropping her arms to hang awkwardly at her side.

“It’s nice to have a friend like you, Penelope.”

Penelope nodded, and stepped back as well.

“It’s nice to have a friend like you too.” She flicked her head towards the way they were walking.

“Come on. Let’s get home, it’s cold here.”

They walked a little more down the sidewalk, and Penelope turned back to Josie.

“So, you lost your virginity when you were sixteen and you smoked weed on campus. Sounds like I misjudged you. You were a regular rebel child.”

Josie slapped her arm.

“Shut up.”

“I’m serious. Who’d you sleep with?”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“I’m not telling you.”

“Boy or girl?”

Josie sighed.

“Boy. I feel like if it had been a girl it would have not been as awkward.”

Penelope bobbed her head.

“I can confirm it is better the first time with a girl.”

They walked a couple more steps.

“Seriously, what was his name?”

Josie slapped her, just a little harder than last time.

“Ow!”

They both laughed, just a little.

Then, Penelope brushed her hand against Josie’s.

Josie froze for a moment, unsure if Penelope had meant to do that, or if it was just an accident.

Then Penelope reached out, and entwined their pinkies.

Josie wanted to reach out, to hold Penelope’s hand properly.

But she didn’t.

It felt too much like something that would leave her heart open for the taking.

It felt too sacred, even if it was just something dumb like holding hands.

Friends held hands.

But they had never been just friends, and Josie had never been all that brave.

She just squeezed Penelope’s pinkie and kept walking.

They didn’t talk the rest of the way home.

+++

One night, when the sky was particularly beautiful, Josie pulled Penelope up onto the roof of her mother’s house.

She made sure that her mother wasn’t there, because the last time her mother had caught her up there, she had gotten one hell of a telling off, and she did not feel like repeating that experience.

Even if she had been seventeen at the time.

“You sure this is safe Jojo?”

Josie laughed as she spread out a blanket.

“Please, I used to do this all the time when I was still living here. Mum hated it, but sometimes Lizzie or I just needed an escape. I did it more than Lizzie. I liked seeing the stars and the sunsets from up here.”

Penelope looked up at the light pink sky, littered with blue cotton candy clouds.

“It is pretty.”

Josie smiled and patted a spot on the rug next to her.

“Come on.”

Penelope rested next to her, laying her head on a pillow.

Josie opened up the picnic basket that she’d brought with her.

“I filled it with takeout from that place down the road, the one with the dumplings you like.”

Penelope snatched up a container.

“Josie, you are amazing.”

Josie beamed.

“Thank you.”

They ate mostly in silence, watching the sky darken as the sun fell behind the horizon.

Eventually, they were left in darkness, everything only lit by the streetlights, and the candle Josie had brought up.

Once upon a time, Josie would have sat up here, hugging herself tightly, trying to pretend like her mother wouldn’t be checking to see where she was soon, pretending like her father couldn’t show up at any minute, demanding that the girls come with him for the day.

Now, there was no curfew, and Josie felt safe.

If anything happened, she trusted Penelope to protect her.

And it wasn’t like Josie was completely powerless.

Penelope sighed.

"I never would have thought that we'd end up here."

Josie turned to look at here.

"Neither did I."

Penelope smiled and kept talking.

"Just a few months ago, you hated me, and I was in London, wishing that I could be by your side. And now here we are. We're getting better, and we're sitting together on your mother's roof, while she's out at the movies."

Josie giggled.

"I'm pretty okay with the way that things turned out."

Penelope nodded, her eyes shining in the moonlight with a certain recklessness that made Josie feel breathless.

“So, what now Jojo?”

Josie shrugged.

“Would you be interested in a game of Twenty Questions?”

Penelope laughed.

“What are we, twelve?”

Josie pouted.

“Come on, it’ll be fun.”

Penelope looked at Josie for a moment and sighed.

“I can’t say no to your pout. Do you practice that in the mirror, or is it just natural talent?”

Josie blushed, thankful that Penelope couldn’t see.

“Okay, do you want to go first?” Penelope asked, leaning back.

Josie nodded.

She knew this game was kind of dumb, considering that she already knew a lot about Penelope, but well, it was never too late to learn new things.

“What is your favourite childhood memory? From when you were born up until you graduated?”

Penelope whistled.

“Tough one. Can’t be anything involving my parents, those bastards sucked the life out of everything. School’s also a fairly big no-no, it sucked big time.” Penelope frowned, and then snapped her fingers.

“Got it. School play, Year 10. We did a Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I played the role of Demetrius. It was so fun. Those days we spent at the theater, performing for everyone,” Penelope sighed dreamily, lost in the memory, “I’d always known that I loved performing, and that it was what I wanted to do, but that really just solidified it.”

Josie smiled.

“I hope that I get to see you perform one day. I’m sure you’d be amazing.”

Penelope chuckled.

“I’m sure the same goes for you.”

Josie blushed.

Penelope stared at the sky thoughtfully.

“Okay, so my turn. What’s the name of the boy that you had sex with the first time?”

Josie sighed, and poked Penelope.

“You’re never going to let that go, are you?”

Penelope shook her head.

“Come on Jojo, you’ve got to answer.”

Josie groaned.

“Okay fine. His name was Jack Harper. He was a bit of a jerk, but he was always nice to me. He was my first boyfriend. My parents both hated him, and I was sort of in my teenage rebellion mindset, so I thought that made him perfect. He didn’t really care about me; in fact, he broke up with me like a week after we had sex.”

Penelope shook her head.

“No one should treat you like that.”

Josie shrugged.

“I’ve had worse. Connor and Rafael both cheated on me, and then acted like I was the bad guy. A dickhead in high school is not as bad as it could be.”

Penelope kept frowning.

“Still, you deserve so much better than that. You deserve to be taken care, to be treated like the queen that you are.”

Josie blushed, but this time, her mind was full of memories.

Penelope whispering into her neck, saying the words let me take care of you.

Josie had let her.

Josie had let Penelope treat her like a queen.

Josie wanted to scream at Penelope, 'I’ve found someone who treats me like that! It’s you, I just want you!'

But she couldn’t.

Penelope would hate her.

Josie sighed.

“I guess I’ll just have to keep searching.”

The darkness hid Penelope’s disappointed frown.

Josie leaned back.

“It’s my turn now. Tell me, what is your favorite song in the world?”

“Interesting question. Why that one?”

Josie shrugged. She wasn’t really sure herself. She’d just needed a way to change the subject.

“Someone’s favorite song tells you a lot about them. Maybe I want to see what your favorite tells me.”

Penelope nodded.

“Can I say your song? The one you wrote about me?" She asked with a cheeky grin.

Josie poked her with her toe.

“No, that’s lame. Tell me your real favorite song.”

Penelope was silent for a moment, thinking, and then finally answered quietly

“Stuck by Imagine Dragons is probably my favorite at the moment.”

Josie frowned.

“I don’t know if I’ve heard it.”

Penelope hummed.

“It’s good. It was written when the lead singer of the band was going through a separation from his wife. He sings about how he’s pretty sure that she was his one and how he’s still in love with her.”

Josie felt her breath catch in her throat.

There had to be a reason why Penelope had said that song specifically.

Josie felt hope leap in her chest.

Was it possible that Penelope had feelings for her?

Was it possible that something had changed?

It had to mean something.

Her words combined with the soft look she was sending into the sky convinced Josie that all of this meant something.

Then Josie felt something that she hadn’t around Penelope in a long while.

Fear.

Because she could remember the exact thoughts she’d had back in London.

She remembered thinking that maybe there was a chance that Penelope felt something.

And look how that had turned out.

Josie had gotten her heart shattered.

She could not open up to Penelope.

She could not allow herself to hope.

It would end in heartbreak.

Even if Penelope liked her back, look how literally every relationship she’d had in the past year had turned out.

She been cheated on and heartbroken.

She could not deal with Penelope saying that she had feelings, and then eventually realizing that Josie wasn’t good enough.

She could not.

So, Josie nodded slowly and said,

“It sounds like a nice song. I’ll have to listen to it someday. It’s your turn now.”

Penelope blinked.

“Aren’t you going to tell me what that song being my favorite means?”

Josie shook her head and laughed nervously.

“I don’t have a clue. I’m sure it means something, but I don’t know.”

Both of them knew that Josie was lying through her teeth.

Both of them were too scared to admit it.

Penelope sighed.

Josie poked her leg.

“Your turn again. Ask me another question.”

Penelope looked up at her and for a moment Josie was lost in how the shining light of the moon made her look like a goddess.

“Are you happy?”

It was Josie’s turn to blink in surprise.

“What?”

“Are you happy?”

Josie didn’t know how to answer.

Sure, she was better than she had been.

Her mother was on the mend.

She wasn’t heartbroken from Penelope or Rafael anymore.

And the therapy was really helping her deal with her problems.

So, sure, she was happy.

But those things weren’t the main reasons for it.

The main reason that she could say she was happy was Penelope.

Without Penelope, she’d be lost, fighting for herself again, except this time she’d be feeling like she really was worthless.

She wanted to tell Penelope how happy she was, how Penelope made her life brighter.

But that came too close to the line they’d set out, the line between friendship and all the complications in their past.

So, Josie just nodded.

“I’m definitely happy-ish. I think the therapy has helped, and so have you. You’ve gotten me back on my feet.”

Penelope smiled softly.

“That’s really good to hear. I’m really proud of how far you’ve come. When I came here, there was no way that you could have said those words.”

“I guess I just needed you.”

Jesus, did Josie even have a filter at this point?

Or did her mouth just blurt out the words that she’d told herself not too long ago that she shouldn’t say?

Penelope laughed and looked down.

“While I helped a little bit, this is your victory. I’m just glad to be by your side. It’s certainly the best decision that I’ve ever made, coming back to you.”

Josie was speechless.

She tried to stop herself for falling even harder for Penelope, and then she’d go and say something like that, and Josie couldn’t help herself.

And she definitely couldn’t help the little voice in head telling her that having a picnic on the roof, under a thousand stars that made Penelope's eyes shine, was a very romantic situation.

She should kiss Penelope, throw caution to the wind, finally cross the line.

But she just couldn’t.

She was too scared, too scared of Penelope reacting badly, of Penelope getting on a plane back to London, leaving Josie’s life again for good.

Or maybe she was scared that Penelope would kiss her back, was scared that they’d burn too bright, too quick, and they’d be left with nothing in the end.

So, she just smiled and said.

“I’m really glad that we’re friends now. I really messed things up by having feelings for you. I’m glad that I didn’t make that mistake this time.”

Penelope looked away, and in the faded light, Josie just missed the look of pain on her face.

She just missed the way her eyes shimmered with tears, with the hatred of how she was too late.

Josie just smiled, trying to ignore the way that she wished she could be honest with Penelope.

Wished that they could be together.

But they couldn’t.

Penelope cleared her throat.

“Thank you for the picnic Jojo. It was really nice, but I’m a bit tired, so I think I’m going to go home.”

Josie frowned.

“Oh, okay then. I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Penelope nodded, but said nothing.

Josie wondered if she’d said something wrong.

Penelope climbed down, but Josie didn’t follow.

She just sat on the roof, all alone, watching as the moon slid slowly through the sky.

Josie slowly made her way down to her room, but just kept staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out why Penelope left so suddenly.

She didn’t get to sleep for a long time that night.

+++

Penelope was distant for the next few days, and Josie could practically feel her hear filling up with terror.

She started going back over everything she had said, wondering if maybe she’d revealed her feelings somehow.

Wondering if maybe she’d told Penelope something that made her realize that Josie wasn’t what she wanted anymore.

Josie called her a few times, just to ask if Penelope wanted to come over. She mentioned being confused about why Penelope hadn’t been in touch, but tried her best to hide how scared she really was.

Penelope didn’t call her back.

Josie started freaking out majorly.

She went to her mother one afternoon, ranting about how worried she was that she’d messed up.

Her mother comforted her as best as she could, telling her that she probably hadn’t done anything wrong, that it might be that Penelope had a personal issue going on, or maybe she just had been busy.

It helped out a little, but Josie could still feel the underlying panic in her chest.

She hadn’t been this scared about Penelope since London.

Since she’d messed up there, since she'd almost lost Penelope for good.

She just needed to talk to Penelope, to find out what it was that she’d done wrong.

So, when Penelope knocked on her door one evening, Josie was overcome with relief.

“Thank god, it’s you! I thought maybe something had happened,” Josie rambled out when she opened the door.

Penelope offered her a strained smile and the fear came back.

“Unless…something did happen?”

Penelope sighed.

“Can I come in? I have something that I really need to tell you.”

Josie wordlessly stepped aside, letting Penelope into her house, feeling her fear rising up into her throat.

She shut the door and followed Penelope, waiting for whatever it was that she had to say.

Penelope swallowed and looked up.

“I’m going to tell you something, and I just need you to listen to me for a moment. Please, don’t say anything until I’m done, otherwise I don’t think I’ll be able to do it.”

Josie nodded.

“Of course,” she whispered.

Penelope looked at the ground.

She squeezed her hands into tiny fists.

She sighed.

She relaxed her hands.

She looked up at Josie.

“I’m in love with you."

Oh.

"I’ve been in love with you since July and I am so mad at myself for not telling you sooner. I was so in love with you, that I was selfish, and I told myself that it was okay that we were still sleeping together. That why I kept hurting you when you told me that you had feelings, because I didn’t want to let you go. That’s why I broke things off, because I was scared of you loving me back and I messed everything up. That’s why I came back.” She sighed and stepped forwards.

“And I know that you don’t love me anymore. I know that I’m too late. But I’m telling you because I can’t take it anymore. My heart can’t take it anymore. I love being your friend, and I love knowing that I make you happy. But I can’t do it anymore, and I’m sorry for being so selfish, but it hurts, it hurts more than I thought it would. Which is why I’m telling you.” She looked directly at Josie.

“I’m sorry for the bad timing, but I need to ask you right now. If you feel anything at all for me, please tell me. I need to know right now if there’s a chance that I’m not alone, that I’m not too late.”

Josie just stared.

Her brain could barely keep up with everything she’d just been told.

The girl that she was in love with loved her back.

She’d loved her back, before Josie had even realized that she liked her.

She’d loved her when she’d broken Josie’s heart, and she’d loved her when she put it back together.

And it should be so easy now.

All Josie had to do was open her mouth and tell Penelope that she loved her back, that Penelope wasn’t too late, that everything was fine.

But suddenly, every voice that had ever held Josie back, every creeping insecurity, every broken memory was there.

How every relationship she’d ever been in had ended in heartbreak.

How no one really wanted her.

How Penelope had shattered her heart, even when she loved her.

And she just couldn’t.

She couldn’t say those words.

She’d spent so long hiding her heart, and now she realized that she was too scared to even open herself up again.

Penelope sighed and looked down.

“I thought so. For the record, I don’t blame you. You don’t have to feel anything. It’s my fault for not telling you sooner. But I can’t stay. I need to go back. I’m really sorry Josie, but I need to take care of myself. I’ll keep in touch, I won’t do what I did last time, but I just can’t stay if every day I’m breaking my own heart.

“I know this is going to hurt, and I really can’t tell you how sorry I am, but you’re happy. And you don’t need me anymore. You’re strong enough to stand by yourself and while I would love to stand by you, that’s not what you really want.”

She brushed past Josie, heading for the door.

She stopped and looked back.

“I’ll let you know when I’m leaving. If you have anything that you need to say to me before I go, you know where to find me.” She gave Josie one last sad smile and then she was gone.

Josie couldn’t feel anything.

She just felt numb, like she was feeling every emotion at the same time and her body couldn’t handle it.

She found herself stumbling over to her couch and suddenly, she was collapsing.

Tears of shock and agony started pouring out of her eyes.

Penelope loved her.

And Josie was just going to let her go.

+++

Eventually, her phone found its way into her hand and she called Lizzie.

She could have called her mother, but for some reason, she just needed her sister right now.

“Jo, it’s been a moment! What’s up?”

Josie sniffled.

“Penelope told me that she loves me.”

“What!” Lizzie shrieked, so loudly that Josie had to move the phone away from her ear.

“Josie, are you serious? Why aren’t you having celebratory sex or something right now?”

“Because I didn’t say it back,” Josie whispered into the phone.

Lizzie was silent for a moment.

“I’m confused. Did you have a lapse in memory or something? This is Penelope we’re talking about. You’ve been in love with her for ages, why in the hell wouldn’t you say it back?”

“I don’t know,” Josie lied.

Lizzie scoffed.

“Right, well, we’re going to figure out why you didn’t say it back, and then we’re going to fix this because I am not letting you break you own heart.”

“I don’t know if this can be fixed.”

Lizzie sighed.

“Okay. Quick questionnaire. Do you love her?”

“Yes, but it’s complicated.”

“How is it complicated? You love her, she loves you, just be together!”

“She hurt me. She left me. How do I know that she isn’t going to do that again?” Josie was silent for a moment and then she sighed, her voice breaking slightly, “I’m just really scared.”

Lizzie was silent for a moment and then she said

“Josie did I ever tell you how Hope and I got together?”

“Yeah, of course you did. You were sleeping together, even though you hated each other, and then one day you realized that you both had fallen in love along the way," Josie said slowly.

Lizzie laughed.

“First of all, I’m only now realizing that we are basically living the same love story except you seem to be stupider than me, but that’s not the point! The point is that we didn’t just read each other’s minds and become happy. And it wasn’t like I was confident that everything would be fine. I was literally in tears because I was so scared that Hope still hated me and that I was going to make a fool of myself.

“You have the bonus of knowing that she loves you too. All that you have to do is tell her. And I know that it’s scary to open yourself up, because your heart might get broken and all that but you need to do it, because otherwise you’re never really going to be happy. You need to take a risk sometimes.”

Josie sighed.

“I know, I’ve just never felt like this before. And we’re not exactly perfect people! What if we get too much for each other, or we just don’t work?”

“Then at least you tried. Not every decision that you make will pay off, but you need to try, otherwise you’ll never move.”

Josie bit her lip.

“I’m just so scared that I’m going to lose her. I’ve been through that before, I know what it feels like to have her breaking my heart, and I don’t think I could take it a second time.”

“Josie, you can’t stop loving because you’re scared of heartbreak. This could be everything you’ve ever wanted. She’s the one you want, and she’s telling you that she loves you. You need to take this chance now, or you’ll end up regretting it for the rest of your life.”

Josie laughed gently, trying to ignore the tears rolling down her cheeks.

“When did you become a walking motivational speaker?”

“I’m an influential woman. And ten years of therapy is also very helpful.”

Josie nodded.

Lizzie was right.

Josie was an idiot.

She was only really scared that she was going to lose Penelope.

And if she let Penelope leave now, she would.

If Penelope decided that she didn’t want Josie somewhere down the line, well, at least Josie would have gotten to love her.

She wanted to know what it was like being loved by Penelope.

She wanted to know if they could be happy.

She’d been through hell these past few months, if she could finally have the one thing that made her truly happy, then it was worth it.

“Okay.”

Lizzie let out a breath that Josie hadn't realized she was holding.

“Oh, thank god! I thought I was going to have to get mum and Hope on the phone.”

“No, you’ve convinced me. I can’t lose her; I need to tell her that I love her too.”

“Great. Now you need to start planning how you’re going to do that."

"Can't I just tell her?" Josie asked, a little confused.

“Josie, you just broke the girl’s heart by not telling her that you love her. Now, you need to fix it. And you can only do that if you create a beautiful gesture that show how sorry you are for all of the pain that the two of you have gone through. You need to show her that you’re all in for this.”

Josie nodded slowly.

“Okay, I can do that. I’m going to need time though, so I need to make sure that she doesn’t leave before I’m done.”

Lizzie laughed.

“If she's anything like you, she'll be staying here for the next month because she just can't leave you. And if she tries it, then Hope, mum, and I will have a backup plan to make sure that she stays."

“Okay, thank you. Love you.”

“Love you too Jo.”

Josie hung up and started thinking.

An idea had sprung into her mind, but she didn’t know if it would work.

It would be perfect though.

It would be everything.

Josie just needed to put in the work.

Josie sighed and looked at her ceiling.

She couldn’t let the love of her life slip through her fingers.

Not again.

Chapter Text

Josie had spent the past week doing two things.

Number 1: Texting and calling Penelope every five minutes.

Ever since Josie had realized that she couldn’t just let this relationship that they had burn before their eyes, she had been planning nonstop to make it up to Penelope.

But, if Penelope was already gone, that couldn’t happen.

So, Josie needed to get into contact with her.

Lizzie had assured her that she had a plan, but Josie needed to make it clear to Penelope that she wasn’t going to let her go.

Josie: Penelope, I need to talk to you

Josie: maybe not right now, because I have some stuff I need to get right, but soon

Josie: I know, I’m making you wait for me, and that’s shitty, considering how long you’ve already waited, but please stay

Josie: I know that you feel like you need to, but please don’t go

Josie: I don’t need you to stay stable, but I really really want you to stay, because you make me happy

Josie: don’t leave just yet, don’t leave until I’ve had the chance to show you what you really mean to me.

There had been no response from Penelope, but Josie could see that she’d read it.

Hopefully that meant that Penelope was going to give her a chance.

If not, well, she hoped that Lizzie’s plan kept her here.

There had also been many phone calls.

Josie called Penelope in the morning and at night.

The first time, it had been so hard to press the call button.

But Josie had done it, and that was enough evidence to her that she was a little bit better than she had been.

Previously, she would have just thrown her phone to the side, would have told herself that it was stupid anyways.

But she called.

Her first voicemail was nervous.

“Hey Penelope. I know you probably saw my texts, but I just wanted to call you. I know you’re avoiding me, and that I fucked up, but uh, well, I just need you to stay. Please don’t just up and leave. Just give me a couple of weeks, and I’m really sorry for making you wait and I can’t say everything, because I have a plan, but trust me okay? It’s going to be worth staying for.”

Her next voicemail was a little more confident, which was mostly due to the fact that her preparations for the plan were working.

“Hey Pen, I just wanted to call you again, just in case you picked up. But you didn’t obviously, so yeah. I’ll just have to keep calling until you do pick up. I’m not giving up. I know it seemed like I was, but trust me, losing you is the last thing I want.”

The rest of them were just casual one-sided conversations, ones for Penelope to hopefully listen to one day when they were both happier.

She also felt like she had to keep Penelope, just to show that she wasn’t giving up, not before her surprise was finished.

“Hey Pen, I hope you’re doing well. I passed by your bookstore, and I saw you working, and I nearly went in, but I figured I’d better not. I’ll see you soon though.”

“My mum asked where you were, seriously, I think she really likes you. She says that she misses your chats. I didn’t know you and my mum were so close. You’ll have to tell me about it one day.”

“Hey, today was a rough day. I just really miss you. I hope you miss me too, because if not this is going to be a mess. Sorry, just feeling down. I’ll be seeing you soon though. It’s nearly finished.”

Josie’s project was number 2 on her list.

Number 2: Create the perfect ‘I’m sorry, and also I’m in love with you’ gift for Penelope Park.

Josie hoped that it was enough.

She’d gotten the help of Landon and MG, as well as Maya and Ethan.

It was difficult, and Josie sometimes thought that she wasn’t going to get it finished.

But, whenever she had those moments, she just thought of Penelope.

She thought of how much Penelope believed in her.

She couldn’t let them both down.

She needed to do this.

+++

The day finally came.

It was the 13th of March.

Josie was fucking terrified but she went onto her social media and posted.

@JosieSaltzman: Hey guys! Just thought that I’d let you know about the new EP that I’m dropping tonight! It will have five songs, and it’s called The Selfless!

Her small fanbase exploded with excitement.

Josie received comments from haters too, but she ignored those.

She didn’t have time for hate right now.

Once she was ready, she walked over to her mother’s house.

Her mother looked up with a smile.

“Excited?”

Josie nodded quickly, fiddling with her hands.

“Yep.”

Her mother gave her a gentle smile.

“But you’re still terrified, right?”

Josie nodded again and her mother laughed.

She stood and took Josie’s shaking hands.

“It’s going to be okay. I’ve talked with this girl. I know how much she cares about you. I know that she isn’t going to walk away from you. Not if she knows how much you care for her.”

Josie sighed.

“I know. It’s just scary. I don’t think I’ve ever done such a dramatic gesture for someone that I love like this before.”

Her mother stroked her cheek.

“Jos, I don’t think you’ve ever loved anyone like this before. It’s beautiful to see you like this.”

Josie smiled.

“I feel beautiful.”

Her mother patted her cheek.

“You’re going to do great.”

+++

As Josie got ready that night, she received many excited text messages from her friends.

Twinnie: JOSIE YOU’RE GOING TO DO AMAZING!! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH AND I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!!

Hope<3: Josie, you are absolutely amazing, and you are going to get the girl and your happy ending. (And if you don’t get it today I’ll always be here to make sure that you get it one day.) ((But like, you’re going to get it today.))

Lan: Josie, I’m so excited for your EP. I’m gonna give you a shout out at my show tonight!

Ethan the loser: Dude, you’re going to do so amazing. Next time I see u, ur getting the biggest hug that you’ve ever gotten

Maya: Go tell my best friend how much you love her! You’ve got this!

Josie smiled and finished up.

She looked at herself in the mirror and took a few deep breaths.

Then she picked up her guitar and walked downstairs.

Her EP released just as Josie walked out the door.

There were five songs on it.

One was about her mother, and how much Josie had been scared by almost losing her.

One was the single that she’d released previously, about loving Penelope.

One was about Josie shaking off the haters.

The last two were about Penelope as well, but they both had very different tones.

One was about losing Penelope, about how much that had hurt.

The last song was about apologizing to the one you love, about hoping that you haven't ruined things.

It was that exact song which Josie was planning to sing to Penelope.

Josie picked up her phone and rang Penelope.

It went to voicemail, as predicted.

“Hey Pen, just thought I’d let you know that tonight’s the night. I’m going to be at the park until ten, you know the one, and if you don’t come before then, I’ll just come to your place. Just in case you don’t hear this message. Because I really need you to hear what I have to tell you. Also, um, could you please not listen to the last song on my EP, if you are considering listening to it? I’ll explain later. I’ll see you soon. I hope to see you at the park.”

Josie hung up, and finally walked into the park.

It was a smaller one, one that most people didn’t come to.

Josie loved it because of how quiet it was.

Her and Penelope had taken so many walks through it, just talking, and enjoying each other's company.

Josie and her mother had spent the afternoon decorating it.

Fairy lights were strung through the trees.

Candles were on the table.

Josie had set up a sort of makeshift spotlight, two actually.

One for her, one for Penelope.

Josie sat down at the park bench, the one she had covered in candles.

All she had to do now was wait.

She opened up her phone and started scrolling through comments.

Her fans loved the EP, as Josie had hoped.

Their favorite song was the last one.

Josie wasn’t surprised.

It was her favorite too.

It was the one that she had really put so much energy into, so much love and pain into.

She smiled.

She hoped Penelope liked it as well.

A notification popped up on her phone and Josie’s heart leapt.

Penelope<3<3: I’m coming. Please wait for me.

Josie replied immediately.

Josie: Always.

So, she waited.

+++

Penelope showed up five minutes later, looking out of breath.

She was in her leather jacket, and a white t-shirt with a little love heart on it.

Josie remembered pulling that t-shirt over Penelope’s head, remembered throwing it onto the floor as she pulled Penelope down on her.

She wondered if Penelope remembered that too.

But now was not the time for memories.

It was the time for stepping forwards.

“Hey,” Josie called out.

Penelope looked around at the decorations with wide eyes, stepping forwards slowly.

“This is beautiful. Did you do all this?”

Josie nodded.

“Everything for the most beautiful girl I know.”

Penelope’s eyes found Josie’s and Josie felt those sparks crackle through her body.

“Josie. What are you saying?”

Josie avoided the question.

“Have you listened to my EP?”

Penelope nodded, smiling faintly, confusion still lingering in her eyes.

“It’s good. It’s really good. But I didn’t listen to the last song, just like you asked. Why didn’t you want me to listen to it?”

Josie smiled and pulled the guitar over her back into her hands.

“Because I wanted the first time you heard it to be when I was singing it to you. So that you knew how much I meant what I was saying.”

Josie looked at Penelope, waiting for any disgust, any sign that Penelope wasn’t feeling the same way Josie was.

There was nothing.

Wait.

There wasn’t nothing.

There was love.

And there was hope.

Josie smiled.

“I know that I hurt you, but please don’t go.”

Penelope didn’t say anything.

She just waited for Josie to start.

And so she did.

Josie slowly started playing her guitar, strumming slowly.

Penelope’s eyes glowed in the light of the makeshift spotlight.

Josie didn’t even bother focusing on what her hands were doing.

She knew this song well enough.

She knew every bar and every note off by heart, because she’d been practicing, preparing for this moment for the past week.

All that mattered right now was Penelope, so that was all that Josie was going to focus on right now.

That, and singing from the heart, so that Penelope knew how much Josie meant her words.

Josie started singing.

I blew things out of proportion, now you're blue

Put you in jail for something you didn't do

I pinned your hands behind your back, oh

Thought I had reason to attack, but no

Penelope’s face softened as she realized what Josie was doing. One of her hands reached out, as if she wanted to touch Josie, but it fell back to her side.

Josie hoped that Penelope really knew what Josie had meant.

Josie had blown this whole situation way out of proportion.

She should have just trusted Penelope, and she should have just told her how she felt.

She shouldn’t have pushed Penelope away, not back in London, and not now.

Josie continued.

Fighting with a true love is boxing with no gloves

Chemistry 'til it blows up, 'til there's no us

Why'd I have to break what I love so much?

It's on your face, and I'm to blame, I need to say

Josie saw the surprise in Penelope’s eyes when Josie referred to her as a true love.

Josie wasn’t lying.

She believed that what her and Penelope shared was special, it was cosmic.

The way they fell so perfectly into each other’s lives.

Everything about how they connected was true.

And maybe it wasn’t entirely Josie’s fault that they’d fallen apart.

But Penelope had already said her apologies, had already made her amends for the past, for the pain.

Now it was Josie’s turn.

Hey

It's all me in my head

I'm the one who burned us down

But it's not what I meant

Sorry that I hurt you

A small smile appeared on Penelope’s face.

Josie had shared with Penelope how much she loved fire.

How she loves the way it glowed, the way that even when it died, there was still beauty left.

Josie knew that Penelope would appreciate the fire metaphors.

I don't wanna do, I don't wanna do this to you

I don't wanna lose, I don't wanna lose this with you

I need to say, hey

It's all me, just don't go

Meet me in the afterglow

Penelope stepped forwards, just to the edge of the spotlight.

Josie looked at her, asking silently if Penelope wanted her to stop.

Penelope stared and Josie could almost hear her voice.

Don’t stop.

So, Josie kept playing.

It's so excruciating to see you low

Just wanna lift you up and not let you go

This ultraviolet morning light below

Tells me this love is worth the fight, oh

For the first time since she had started, Josie looked away.

If she kept looking at Penelope, she was going to cry, and Josie didn’t think that she could deal with that level of embarrassment.

I lived like an island, punished you with silence

Went off like sirens, just crying

Why'd I have to break what I love so much?

It's on your face, don't walk away, I need to say

Josie hoped that Penelope could hear the desperation with which Josie begged her not to walk away.

Josie needed her to stay.

Josie needed her to listen.

She launched back into the chorus.

Hey

It's all me in my head

I'm the one who burned us down

But it's not what I meant

I'm sorry that I hurt you

I don't wanna do, I don't wanna do this to you

I don't wanna lose, I don't wanna lose this with you

I need to say, hey

It's all me, just don't go

Meet me in the afterglow

Josie took a deep breath as she moved into the bridge, lifting her eyes to meet Penelope’s once more.

There were tears glistening in the green light of her eyes.

Tell me that you're still mine

Tell me that we'll be just fine

Even when I lose my mind

I need to say

Tell me that it's not my fault

Tell me that I'm all you want

Even when I break your heart

Josie meant all of that.

She needed Penelope to tell Josie that she was hers.

She needed Penelope to tell her that everything was going to be fine.

She needed Penelope to tell her that this wasn’t broken.

She needed to hear Penelope tell her that Josie was all that she wanted.

Josie lifted her hands away from her guitar and slid it onto the bench behind her.

But she wasn’t done.

For the last chorus, she looked Penelope right in the eyes, stepped as close to her as the spotlight would allow, and sung to her, pouring out every bit of emotion that she'd felt for Penelope over the past year.

The hurt, the anger, the loss, but most importantly, and most strongly, the love.

I need to say, hey

It's all me in my head

I'm the one who burned us down

But it's not what I meant

Sorry that I hurt you

I don't wanna do, I don't wanna do this to you

I don't wanna lose, I don't wanna lose this with you

I need to say, hey

It's all me, just don't go

Meet me in the afterglow

Josie finished, feeling breathless, and she stepped out of the spotlight.

Penelope’s eyes were glistening.

“Did you,” Penelope cleared her throat, “Did you write that for me?”

Josie nodded.

“That’s the last song on the EP. I wrote it for you because I really felt like you needed to know how I feel right now. I need you to know that I messed up, and I pushed you away. I didn’t say what I needed you to know. And so, I’m saying it now.” She bit her lip.

“I love you.”

Penelope’s fell open, her eyes widening, for a moment looking winded, like Josie's words were completely unexpected.

Josie honestly hadn't realized that she'd been so good at hiding her love for Penelope.

There was a tense silence.

Josie’s stomach twisted.

“What did you think?” She asked, a little breathlessly.

Penelope bit her lip.

“I think that you have the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard. I think you’re amazing, and that you’re going to go so far. I think that I’ve never had anyone write a song about me that made me cry.”

Josie tried to ease her nerves with a joke.

“You got a lot of people writing you songs?”

Penelope laughed lightly.

“No. Just you. That’s enough.”

Josie stepped forwards.

“All of that is really amazing to hear, but I really just need to know one thing.”

Penelope looked at her, and Josie couldn’t read her at all.

“Do you still want this? Or am I the one who’s too late this time?”

Penelope sighed and Josie felt her heart squeeze.

“It’s too late, isn’t it?” Josie looked away, feeling tears rushing to her eyes. She’d just gone and made a fool of herself. Fuck.

Josie immediately went into apology mode.

“I’m so sorry, I know I should have just told you when you came and now, I’ve gone and hurt you and I’ve completely fucked this up and I’m so sorry.”

“Josie,” Penelope said softly.

Josie kept going.

“It’s okay! I hurt you, I get it, you thought that I didn’t feel anything for you, and I’ve been pushing you away for so long, and I made you wait for so long, and you’ve already decided that I’m not worth it and that you want to leave and I get it, and it’s okay!”

“Josie,” Penelope said, a little louder.

Josie kept going.

“I shouldn’t have done this. I should’ve just let you leave because then I’d at least get to keep our friendship and I’ve probably-”

Josie would have gone on, apologizing and apologizing for everything that she thought she had done.

She didn’t get the chance to, because Penelope cut her off.

By kissing her.

Josie felt the fireworks explode in her stomach for the first time in months.

Josie melted into the kiss, pulling Penelope towards her.

Penelope cupped her cheeks and kissed her as if she had been waiting for this moment as long as Josie had.

Penelope pulled back to gasp for breath and Josie let out a whimper at the loss of contact.

Penelope grinned and pushed some hair behind Josie’s ear.

“I think you should stop apologizing for things that really aren’t your fault Jojo.”

“Okay,” Josie said breathlessly, not quite sure what planet she was on.

Then she remembered her plan.

“Wait actually, no.”

Penelope rose an eyebrow.

“No?”

“No, I have something that I need to say, and this actually is my fault, so can I please just say it?”

Penelope nodded.

“Okay.”

Josie smiled and then sighed, gathering all the words she needed to say.

“I know that you know that I’m sorry, because that’s what the song was about, but I need to tell you specifically what I’m sorry for. I’m sorry for pushing you away, and for not telling you that I loved you when I did, because I love you, so much, and I was just scared and stupid, and I wanted to keep you. It was a bad move and I ended up just hurting both of us.”

Penelope smiled and stroked Josie’s cheek.

“It’s okay, I lied as well. I pretended that I didn’t have any feelings for you because I didn’t want to make things difficult, but the truth is that I’ve been in love with you since those three days when I pushed you away. I realized that I loved you, and I hid from you. In truth, I think I hurt you more than you hurt me, because I was too scared to love you, and that meant I kept hurting you. Really, I blamed you for not telling the truth when I shouldn’t have let things get that far. It’s my fault too.”

“I guess we both made a mess of things.”

Penelope nodded, and her expression twisted into worry.

“Look, Josie, I know that you say you love me, and that you probably want to try again, for real this time, but I just need to know that you’re sure.”

Josie laughed breathlessly.

“I wouldn’t have done this if I wasn’t sure, would I?”

Penelope smiled.

“I know, but now that I know that we have a chance, I just need to make sure that we aren’t hiding any cards. Everything needs to be on the table right now, and if you aren’t sure, I need to know.”

Josie nodded.

“I’m sure. I’ve loved you since September. I’m sure about you.”

Penelope nodded.

Josie tilted her head to the side nervously.

“Are you sure about me?”

Penelope laughed and took Josie’s hands.

“I’m very sure about you. I just need to tell you some things about me first. Just so that you know what you’re getting yourself into.”

Josie smiled and nodded.

“Okay. Tell me whatever it is that you need to. You aren’t going to scare me away.”

Penelope laughed nervously and she looked at the ground.

“I’m not all that sure about that but okay. I’m kind of a terrible person if you haven’t noticed.”

“You aren’t.”

Penelope held up a hand.

“Just,” she sighed, “can you just let me speak?” She asked softly.

Josie nodded and squeezed her hands.

“Okay, here goes. I’m not exactly the best person to be in a relationship with. Commitment scares me, I haven’t been in an actual relationship since…” she shook her head and kept going, “I don’t communicate, I get angry about the smallest things, I bottle up my emotions and I go cold, I struggle with telling people that I love them, and I absolutely hate it when I can’t control things. My parents fucked my up so completely that right now I can hear their voices in my head telling me to break your heart so that you don’t break mine. I just,” she looked up at Josie with a frown, “I just don’t know if being with me will be good for you.”

Josie knew that she’d been worried about them not being perfect, about how maybe they’d be too messed up for each other. But after hearing all of that, all she could think about was how she loved Penelope too much to even care.

“Penelope, all that stuff you just told me, is stuff that we can deal with if we try.”

“How do you know?”

“Penelope, are you really going to look me in the eyes and tell me that you haven’t seen me at my absolute worst. Go ahead. Tell me that you haven’t seen me push you away multiple times because I was scared, that I’ve never refused to communicate, that I’ve never bottled up all my emotions until they fall out of me, tell me that you haven’t seen me hyperventilating on the floor so many times because I can’t control everything.” Josie looked Penelope dead in the eyes as she spoke.

Penelope sighed.

“Josie, none of that is your fault.”

“And none of what you told me is yours.”

“I just feel like at least you’re trying to deal with your issues.”

Josie laughed.

“You do realize that you’ve been going to therapy? And if you hadn’t turned up and gently pushed me to go to therapy, if you hadn’t forced me to get up and to eat every morning, if you hadn’t protected me from every person who tried to hurt me, I would not be in the same place I am now. You became my safe space; I just want to be yours.”

“You’re already my safe space Jojo,” Penelope said with a soft smile but her voice and hands still shook.

Josie sighed.

“Look, clearly there’s something you’re not telling me. You said all cards on the table, right? Whatever it is that you’re so scared of, you can tell me.”

Penelope nodded, but her breath was shaky.

Josie reached out and caressed Penelope’s cheek.

A tear fell from her eye and Josie wiped it away.

“You once told me that you were here for the long haul, not just the highlights. I’m the same. I want all of you. I want to hear whatever you have to tell me and I will wait for you. I love you, even if I’ve burned us to the ground so many times. Everything is quiet now, and I will wait in the embers, I will wait in the afterglow until you are ready.”

Penelope chuckled and Josie wiped away another fallen tear.

“You really like that fire metaphor don’t you Jojo?”

Josie smiled.

“I love fire and I love you, it seemed fitting.”

Penelope looked up, tears in her eyes, swallowing before she spoke.

“I want to tell you, it’s just hard.”

Josie nodded.

“Take your time.”

Penelope breathed in and out slowly. When she spoke, her voice was soft, and broken from the pain of the past.

“I was engaged to this girl, Sasha. She was my everything. I thought I loved her in the way that people only do in the movies. Then, three months before we were supposed to get married, I found her in bed with another girl, someone who I had actually called my friend. Sasha told me that she’d fallen out of love with me, and that she’d only accepted to marry me because she felt obligated to do so.”

Josie felt herself tearing up.

“That’s the reason why I left Belgium. That’s the reason why I haven’t allowed anyone to get too close. I had no control over that situation, it’s why I always make sure that I’m the one to break off my flings. And then I met you.” Penelope looked up at her, eyes shining.

“Everything changed when I met you. It was like you put me under some spell, and I couldn’t think about anything other than you. We were only a few weeks into our arrangement when I realized that this was going to mess me up. I realized that there was no way that I was going to escape falling in love with you. And then I realized that you felt the same way, and I could have broken it off, but I didn’t. I didn’t because I just wanted you, because I was selfish and I thought that if I just pretended like nothing had changed, that we would be okay.

“And then you told me that you loved me, and I freaked out, because it has been a very long time since I have heard those words from someone. And I knew I felt them, but it was then that I realized that I couldn’t keep going like that. I was hurting myself and I was hurting you. It was going to turn into something toxic and I didn’t want to do that to you, so I left, and I think that was the wrong decision. I should have stayed; I should have explained everything to you.

“So, I came back, and I tried again. I knew I was in love with you, but I thought that maybe you had fallen out of love with after the way that I treated you. And then I realized that maybe I needed to leave, that maybe I would just end up hurting us both again. But now here we are. You love me, I love you, and I’m so scared of letting this happen.”

Josie nodded and wiped at Penelope face, trying to help reduce her pain in any way she could.

Josie had no idea.

She’d known that Sasha had hurt Penelope.

Had seen it in her eyes, those few times that she'd mentioned her.

But she hadn’t known that the damage had cut that deep.

Suddenly, Josie wanted to catch a plane to Belgium, find Sasha and this other girl, and punch them both in the face.

How dare they hurt Penelope like that?

Penelope was probably the most amazing person Josie had ever met, somehow who loved with her whole heart, and someone had taken that love for granted, had hurt her so badly that Penelope was scared to open up to anyone else.

Josie wondered if this was how Penelope felt about Connor and Rafael.

Josie took Penelope’s hands back and looked at her.

“I know that you’re scared, and trust me, so am I. But I am not letting you run away from me and I am certainly not going to break your heart. In fact, I’m going to help you fix it, because I love you, and I want you to be happy. If you don’t want to do this right now, I understand, and I will wait for you.”

Penelope shook her head.

“I don’t want to wait any longer to be with you."

“So, what do you want?” Josie asked with a smile, knowing exactly what Penelope’s answer would be this time.

Penelope bit her lip and stepped forwards, suddenly so close to Josie that their noses just brushed each other.

“I want to kiss you again.”

“You can do that on one condition.”

“What’s the condition?”

Josie leaned forwards.

“In the morning, it still means the same thing. It still means that you love me, and it means that you aren’t going to run away.”

Penelope smiled and nodded.

“I think I can do that.” Penelope looked up at Josie, a soft look in her eyes, one that Josie didn't think that she'd seen before.

“What?” Josie asked, returning the smile, feeling butterflies fluttering in her stomach with the anticipation of waiting for Penelope to kiss her again.

Penelope lifted her hands to gently cradle Josie’s face.

“You love me,” she said, like she still couldn’t believe it.

Josie titled her head to the side.

“It’s not exactly the worst thing in the world, is it?” Josie asked, half joking, half still a little unsure that this was real.

Penelope met her eyes.

For a moment, Josie felt the entire world stop.

Felt as if her own heartbeat had slowed, just to allow time for this moment.

“No, it’s not. I think it just might be the best thing in this world.”

And then Penelope leaned in.

The fireworks came back.

The world spun again, their hearts began to race, and there was nothing alive, nothing that lived or loved except for them.

Fire burned in both their hearts, and they held each other close, kissing each other, hoping that maybe, just maybe, this time they got it right.

If the way their hearts beat in time with each other, and the way it felt like the world was still except for them was any indication, they finally had.

Chapter Text

They kissed in that park for some time.

Long enough, that eventually they realized that it was very cold, and very dark, and that a park was probably not a good place to be.

They packed up the lights and the candles.

Penelope commented that she was impressed by how much effort Josie had put into their meeting.

Josie just blushed.

Penelope kissed her again.

Josie knew that the smart move was to go home by herself.

To let Penelope go back to her house, and then they could talk again the next morning.

But Josie didn’t want to let Penelope go.

Josie didn’t want to say goodbye.

Penelope seemed to understand what Josie was feeling, and she pulled her close.

“Do you want to come back to mine, or do you want me to go to yours?”

Josie smiled.

“Can we go to yours? We always hang out at my house, and I’d really like to see where you live.”

Penelope smiled and kissed Josie’s nose.

“I think that can be arranged.”

Penelope held the basket full of lights with one hand, and gave her other hand to Josie.

“Come on gorgeous, let’s go home.”

The walk back was quiet, both of them just enjoying the peace of the starlit night.

Josie had been to Penelope’s a few times, but not much.

Even back in London, that had been one sort of unspoken rule.

They always hung out at Josie’s house.

That had mostly been due to the fact that Josie didn’t have two roommates and thin walls, but still, Josie had always felt like that rule was created so Penelope could keep her guard up.

This was a sign, if a small one, that things would be different this time.

They pulled off their shoes and socks and Josie looked around Penelope’s house for the first time.

Penelope’s house smelled like her, and it looked exactly how it should.

The bookcase was basically overflowing, and there were prints of paintings on the walls.

In a white vase, there were some daffodils.

Josie’s eyes feel to a painting of sunflowers.

“I love that.”

Penelope squeezed Josie’s hand.

“I put it up because it reminded me of you.”

Josie turned her head to face Penelope.

Penelope nodded.

“I remembered that you told me that your favorite flower was sunflowers, so when I saw it, I just knew that I needed to have it, so that when you are away from me, the memory of you is close.”

Josie blushed.

“You’re such a romantic.”

“I try my best.”

Josie rolled her eyes, but softly kissed Penelope.

Penelope smiled into the kiss and pulled Josie closer.

When they pulled apart Penelope asked,

“Would you like a drink? I don’t have any alcohol, obviously, but I could make you some tea?”

Josie nodded.

“Yes, please.”

Penelope stumbled into the kitchen, both of them barefoot and smiling.

This was a new beginning, and Josie intended to celebrate it well.

Penelope found the tea and before she started making it, she pulled out her phone and started playing a song.

Josie blushed as she realized what song it was.

“You’re really going to play that now?”

Penelope hummed and nodded.

“I want to hear the studio version. I also need to hear it again, because I think I want it on loop for the rest of my life,” She threw Josie a quick grin, “Also, your voice is beautiful.”

Josie rolled her eyes and threw herself onto the couch.

Penelope eventually brought the tea down for both of them, and sat next to Josie.

When Penelope looked at her, Josie could see the doubt, the nervousness about whether or not she’d made the right decision, but also the love, the knowledge that Josie loved her too.

Josie clinked their glasses together.

“To new beginning, to new love, and to finally letting the universe pull us together.”

Penelope smiled.

“I’ll drink to that.”

+++

They drank their tea, and just talked about the past year.

They didn’t talk about anything too deep, but now they could touch on their feelings for each other and not feel like they were ruining anything, like they were stepping too far.

Josie discovered that Penelope had seen the video of her yelling at the paparazzi and had immediately booked a ticket because she had realized that breaking Josie’s heart had done nothing good.

Penelope found out that when Josie was with Rafael, she had compared him to her the whole time.

Josie found out that after she had left London, Penelope had taken many walks down Cornelia Street, just so that she could remember Josie.

Josie found out that Penelope had worried Maya so much with her drinking that she’d basically been banned from leaving the house.

Penelope found out that Josie had constantly wished for Penelope to come back, and had gushed about her to her mother.

Josie found out that even though Penelope had been with half of London in her efforts to get over Josie, none of them had made Penelope anything close to what she’d felt for Josie.

Josie found out that her mother had told Penelope not to give up on Josie, because she knew that sooner or later, they were going to be epic.

Josie found out that Lizzie’s plan had involved getting Maya and Ethan to convince Penelope to stay.

Josie didn’t know when Lizzie had become so close with the two of them, but she was glad that Penelope had stayed.

Once the tea was finished, both of them realized that they didn’t feel too much like talking anymore, so they started kissing on Penelope’s couch.

Josie had really missed the feeling of Penelope’s lips on hers, had missed the feeling of Penelope’s exposed skin under her hands, had missed the way Penelope moaned and gasped when Josie kissed along her jawline.

Josie had missed how Penelope had kissed her neck, the way her hands glided across her stomach, the way that Penelope would grin whenever Josie made a noise.

She had missed having Penelope like this, and knowing that Penelope loved her, knowing that she got to keep Penelope made it all the sweeter.

At some point, as Penelope was straddling Josie’s hips, Josie tugged at Penelope’s shirt, silently asking her to take it off.

Penelope pulled back and bit her lip.

“I think we should stop.”

Josie pouted.

“Why though? We’re just getting started.” Josie leaned in and started kissing along Penelope’s jaw, hoping that would entice her.

Penelope sighed.

“Josie.”

“Hmm?” Josie hummed innocently, moving to nibble at some skin.

Penelope moaned, and Josie took that as her cue to move her hands back under Penelope’s shirt.

Penelope chuckled, and suddenly Josie’s hands were pinned behind her back, and she was lying down on the couch.

“As much as I do enjoy you and having sex with you, I think it’s a bit early for that.”

Josie pouted again. She knew that Penelope was probably right, but still, she didn’t want to give up that easily.

“I think we’ve waited long enough. Besides, the position I’m in right now isn’t exactly turning me off.”

Penelope rolled her eyes.

“We have time my darling. Tonight, I would like to just hold my girlfriend, and know that she loves me enough to write me multiple songs.”

Josie rose an eyebrow.

“Girlfriend?”

Penelope’s cheeks flushed and she moved her hands away from where they had been holding Josie down to fiddle nervously.

“Well, I mean, if you want to be my girlfriend that is. If you don’t want that, that’s fine, but I just thought that-”

Josie reached up and cut Penelope off with a kiss.

She pulled back and used her newly free hands to cup Penelope’s cheeks.

“Penelope Park, I would love to be your girlfriend. Right now, that sounds pretty great.”

Penelope let out a shaky breath smiled.

“Cool.”

Josie played with a strand of Penelope’s hair.

“I know that we shouldn’t have sex right now, but would we be allowed to sleep in the same bed?”

Penelope nodded.

“I think I could manage that.”

+++

Penelope’s bed was big enough for the both of them.

More importantly, it was comfortable, it smelled like Penelope, and it had Penelope in it, and that was all Josie needed.

At first it was a little awkward, with neither of them quite knowing what to do.

Penelope was the one who made the first move.

She pulled Josie towards her, and wrapped her arms around her waist.

“Come here. I said I wanted to hold you.”

Josie smiled and moved so that she could nuzzle her head into Penelope’s neck.

“I think I really like you.”

Penelope chuckled, and Josie felt the vibrations of it through her whole body.

“I mean, I’d hope so. You did tell me that you loved me a little while ago.”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“Jerk.”

“Mm, but you like me. In fact, you really like me.”

“I could pull away right now, I could go sleep on the other side of the bed.”

Penelope grinned.

“Yeah, but you aren’t going to.”

“Why not?”

“Because you like me.”

Josie gave Penelope a little shove and Penelope just laughed.

They were quiet for a little bit after that, and Josie decided to focus on Penelope’s breathing. It was nice and rhythmic, and it calmed Josie down.

She really loved Penelope.

Loved how safe Penelope made her feel.

Loved how Penelope’s arms felt like home.

Penelope kissed Josie’s neck lightly and Josie smiled.

She then began running a trail of kisses across Josie’s face, kissing her nose, and her cheeks, and her forehead.

Josie giggled.

“I’m trying to sleep and if you keep doing that, there is no way that I’m going to able to.”

“Maybe I don’t want you to sleep.”

“Well, there are other things we could be doing, but someone decided that we probably shouldn’t, so I think you might just have to let me sleep.”

Penelope sighed.

“Alright, fine, but I have one request.”

“What is it?”

“Sing to me.”

Josie moved her head to look at Penelope.

She couldn’t see much in the darkness of the room, but she could make out Penelope’s smile.

“What, do you need me to serenade you twice in one night?”

“I like your singing. It makes me feel calm.”

Josie smiled.

“Okay, what do you want me to sing to you?”

Penelope thought for a moment.

“This is going to sound dumb, but can you sing The Safety Dance to me? But like, the Sleeping at Last version.”

Josie nodded.

“Okay.”

She softly sang, watching Penelope close her eyes and nestle into Josie.

Josie put one arm around Penelope as she sang, making sure that Penelope felt comfortable.

Penelope was asleep by the end of the song, if her slow and steady breathing was any indication.

Josie smiled and closed her own eyes.

She had done it.

She had gotten that girl of her dreams.

That night, she fell asleep holding the girl that she loved, smiling as thoughts of her kisses comforted her.

+++

Josie thought that everything would be fine.

But when she awoke that night, sweating and hyperventilating, she realized that maybe her demons would stay with her a little longer.

Everything was dark and spinning, and she could barely think clearly.

Josie took a few moments to realize where she was.

The only reason that she remembered was because Penelope was holding her as she woke.

“Josie? Can you hear me?”

Josie gasped, struggling to breathe. It felt like the weight of everything in her nightmare had followed her to the real world, and now was sitting squarely on her chest.

Josie couldn’t remember the specific moments in her dream just yet, but there were flashes of emotions and images.

Penelope walking away from her.

Her mother lying in a hospital bed, her eyes glassy.

Police sirens blaring.

A thousand voices screaming at Josie.

Then just one voice, a man, telling her that she was alone, that no one was going to help her this time.

Josie felt the pain, felt the fear, the desperation of her dream, and for a moment she stopped breathing completely.

Penelope squeezed her hand.

“Josie, please, come back to me. It’s okay, I’ve got you, you’re safe now.”

Josie rocked back and forth, trying to focus on breathing, trying to focus on her surroundings.

Penelope had turned on a light, and Josie could see the room.

Josie could see the cupboard, and the painting of London, and the daffodils by the window, and the toy turtle sitting on the bedside table.

She could hear Penelope’s quiet assurances that Josie was safe, could hear her own hurried panting, could hear her blood rushing in her ears.

She could feel Penelope rubbing small circles into her back, could feel the warmth of the bed, could feel the small pajamas that Penelope had given her riding up again.

She could smell Penelope’s perfume, could smell the scented candle that she had by her window.

She could taste the salt of her tears.

Josie swallowed, and found that she was a little more grounded.

She leaned back into Penelope, letting the girl who she loved hold her.

Penelope rubbed her back.

“Josie?” She sounded so worried and Josie nearly couldn’t believe that she was loved by someone who cared this much about her.

Her nightmare came back, clearer now, and Josie burrowed closer to Penelope, as if her touch could take away the thoughts that were stabbing at her heart.

“Josie, love, please say something.”

“Stay.”

Penelope nodded, holding Josie tighter.

“I’m not going anywhere. I’m not letting go of you, not until you want me to.”

Josie nodded and balled Penelope’s shirt in her hands.

It was probably going to be soaked with Josie’s tears.

Josie hoped that Penelope didn’t mind.

Judging by the fact that she was pulling Josie closer to her, she didn’t.

Eventually, Josie stopped crying and found her grip on breathing.

They were now lying down, and Penelope had started playing with Josie’s hair.

Josie was just squeezing her eyes shut, trying to escape all the pain that she felt.

Penelope was the first to break the silence.

“Do you feel better now?”

Josie nodded.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Josie sighed and pulled away from Penelope slightly.

“I don’t have to. It’s sort of stupid.”

Penelope caressed Josie’s cheek gently.

“Josie, never tell me that your feelings are stupid again, okay? If it caused you to have that reaction, it matters to me.”

Josie was silent for a moment, trying to process everything.

Penelope tucked some of Josie’s hair behind her ear.

“That being said, if you don’t want to talk about it, I’m not going to force you to do that.”

Josie shook her head.

“I do want to talk about it, because I know that it’s not healthy to bottle up your feelings, but I just need a second.”

Penelope nodded.

“Take your time, I’ll wait.”

Josie closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths.

Then she opened her eyes, glad that she was met with Penelope’s soft smile, the one that Josie had never seen directed at anyone but her.

It made her feel special.

“Can you maybe ask me some questions? So that I don’t just start rambling and crying?”

Penelope nodded and interlaced their fingers.

“Okay, just tell me if you want to stop.”

Josie nodded and waited.

“So, what was that?”

“It’s a recurring nightmare that I’ve been having recently.”

“Since when?”

Josie sighed.

“I’ve been having it for ages. I stopped having it for a while, and when my mum got diagnosed, they started up again.”

“What happens in it?”

“I lose the people who love me. Either they walk away, or they die, and at the end, I’m left alone.” Josie didn’t mention the last part.

She didn’t want to, not just yet.

Penelope squeezed her hand.

“Which people?”

Josie shrugged.

“It changes every time, but usually mum dies of cancer, Lizzie or Hope or both get into an accident and I don’t get there in time to say goodbye.” Josie swallowed. “And you walk away. Every time it’s a different thing that you say. Sometimes I’m not good enough for you, sometimes I’m too difficult, sometimes it’s the paparazzi and the rumors, sometimes you’ve cheated on me.”

Penelope made a little noise and Josie looked away.

She wondered if maybe telling Penelope that was too much, if maybe they’d finally crossed the line.

Deep down, she knew that it wasn't, but the aftermath of her nightmare was causing all sorts of doubts to start swimming around in her mind.

Penelope pulled Josie’s chin up to face her.

Josie tried to look away, but Penelope kept a firm grip on her, not tight enough to hurt, but enough to show that she wanted Josie to look at her.

“Josie. I know that no matter what I say, you’re still going to feel those things, but I am going to make it my mission to try and make those little voices as quiet as possible. Do you understand?”

Josie nodded.

“Good. Then, believe me when I tell you this. I love you so much, you are right for me, so don’t worry about being good enough, because Josie, after I saw you, I don’t think I could look at anyone else. I wouldn't want to look at anyone else. I would never cheat on you because seriously, no one compares to you. You aren’t too difficult, because everyone has their own issues. Believe me, I of all people understand that, and I would never walk away from you because of that. And the paparazzi? The rumors? I don’t care about them; I care about you.”

Josie was crying again, and Penelope wiped her tears away with her thumbs.

“Hey, it’s okay,” she said softly.

Josie laughed.

“These are happy tears. I just didn’t think I’d ever have someone in my life like you.”

“Well, you deserve it.”

Josie nodded.

Penelope searched her face.

“I feel like there was more that you wanted to tell me.”

Josie's breath caught in her throat.

“It’s okay, I don’t want to worry you.”

“Hey, what did I just say?” Penelope asked softly.

Josie sighed.

“At the end of the nightmare, when everyone is gone, I’m just alone in my house, and it’s completely empty. This part only started happening a few weeks ago.” Josie looked at Penelope, begging her to put the pieces together.

Penelope frowned.

“Wait, a few weeks ago, isn’t that when your…” she trailed off, understanding blooming in her eyes.

“Your dad shows up at the end?” She asked, that protective anger coming into her eyes.

Josie nodded, feeling tears springing up.

“At the end, he turns up at my house, and he tells me that I’m all alone and that no one’s going to save me this time.”

Penelope growled in the back of her throat, and had this not been such a sombre moment, Josie would have been very turned on.

“If he ever comes near you again, I’m going to kill him. That man doesn’t deserve to have helped create such an amazing woman.”

Josie smiled.

“It’s okay, I applied for a restraining order. My mum has had one on him for years, but it’s always good to make sure. Even if he is in jail right now.”

Penelope nodded and ran her thumb across the back of Josie’s knuckles.

“Thank you for sharing that with me.”

Josie shrugged.

“You make me feel safe, telling you these things makes me feel better.”

Penelope smiled and touched their foreheads together.

“Hey I have a question,” Josie said, a thought popping into her head.

Penelope laughed softly.

“Okay, what is it?”

“Back in the beginning, I was giving you hints that I wanted to sleep with you for so long. We were sort of flirting for so long. Why did it take you so long to do anything about it?”

Penelope sighed, smiling softly.

“I remember. It was because I just knew I was going to fall in love with you, and I was scared of that happening. Your smile, your laugh, talking to you about everything and nothing, it all made me feel things that I hadn’t felt in a long time, and I was scared of it.”

Josie smiled.

“So, if you were so scared, why did you sleep with me?”

Penelope chuckled.

“Because you were really hot, I felt drawn to you, and because I’ve always loved doing things that I know are probably bad ideas.”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“Well, at the time, it was a bad idea, for both of us, but I guess it turned out alright in the end.”

Penelope nodded.

“Definitely.”

Josie made the next move and pressed their lips together gently, feeling the shaking of her body finally fading away.

Penelope deepened the kiss, and slid her hand down, placing it on Josie’s exposed stomach.

Josie shivered.

“What, are you cold?” Penelope teased.

“No, that just tickles a little.”

Penelope’s eyes lit up and Josie barely had time to curse herself for giving that knowledge to Penelope, because now both of Penelope’s hands were tickling her sides.

Josie squirmed, trying to get out her grip, now laughing as Penelope attacked her relentlessly.

“Pen, let me go, oh my god,” Josie gasped out in between laughs.

Penelope grinned.

“Never. I told you Jo, you’re stuck with me, and that means I get to tickle you.”

Josie struggled a bit more, but she enjoyed it.

She couldn’t remember the last time that she laughed so much with someone that she’d been dating.

She couldn’t even remember the last time that she’d been in bed with someone she had dated without them having sex.

That probably said something about the type of relationships she’d been having.

Penelope was different.

Penelope cared about who she was as a person, not as an object that she could use for sex.

Eventually, Penelope let up, and rolled back onto her side.

“Okay, as fun as that was, it’s 2am, and I think we both need sleep. We can finish that later.”

Josie smiled and cuddled into Penelope; whose arms fell around her without hesitation.

They fit perfectly together, like they were made for each other to hold.

+++

That morning, Josie didn’t wake up alone.

She woke up, with Penelope still holding her.

Josie smiled.

Last night hadn’t been a dream.

Penelope had chosen her, and had chosen to stay the night.

Penelope had chosen to love her in the daylight as well.

She turned around and found that Penelope was smiling at her, very clearly awake.

“Have you been watching me sleep?” Josie asked.

Penelope shrugged.

“Maybe. It’s romantic.”

“It’s kind of creepy.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, next time I will stare at the wall instead of you.”

Josie pushed herself up onto her elbow.

“Why didn’t you go start getting ready if you’re already awake?”

Penelope smiled.

“I thought that maybe you might want to wake up with me next to you. You always seemed to like those mornings best.”

Josie nodded, smiling at the memory of those mornings past.

“I did.”

Penelope pushed herself up onto her elbow as well.

“Well then, get ready for plenty more of those mornings.”

Josie smiled.

“I might be able to get used to that.”

+++

They both got ready and headed into the kitchen.

Josie made them pancakes and Penelope made them tea.

Josie smiled as Penelope kissed her head before sitting down.

“Thank you for staying.”

Penelope shrugged.

“I’m in this for the long haul Jojo. I love you, which means that I’m staying.”

Josie nodded.

“And I love you, which means that I’m staying as well. I’m here for you as well.”

Penelope nodded, and Josie could see in her eyes how much those words meant.

“Exactly. We love each other, and that’s what matters. Not the haters, not the fears we have, not the people who have left us. What matters is us, standing here, choosing to stay, despite all the reasons to leave.”

Josie smiled.

“Because we both found a much better reason to stay.”

Penelope rose her cup of tea.

“I’ll drink to that.”

Josie laughed.

They were silent for a little while, just enjoying each other’s company, and the soft sunlight coming in through the window.

Josie looked over at Penelope, jut drinking in her appearance. She was wearing a cropped white t-shirt and black jeans. Josie had never really gotten to fully appreciate Penelope in the mornings, but god, she looked like an angel.

Penelope looked at Josie and smiled.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“You’re beautiful.”

Penelope laughed. Josie wanted to record that sound, just so she could listen to it whenever she wanted to.

“You’re beautiful too Jojo.”

Josie looked down at herself. She was just wearing a t-shirt of Penelope’s that was way too small and tracksuit pants.

“I look like a mess.”

Penelope snorted.

“As if that makes you any less beautiful.”

Josie looked back up at Penelope, and hated herself a little for being so surprised at the fact that Penelope meant it.

Her exes had thrown around words like ‘beautiful’ or more likely, ‘crazy hot’, but it had always felt like an afterthought, like they were just saying to check their 'good boyfriend' box.

When Penelope looked at her, Josie could almost believe that she was perfect. Could almost see herself as someone who was worth something.

She could get used to it.

Could get used to being loved by someone who cared, someone who would put her first.

Penelope laughed again.

“You here with me Jo? Or do I need to board a spaceship to bring you back to Earth?”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“You’re so dramatic.”

“Only for the girl that I love.” Penelope tilted her head to the side. “You looked very deep in thought though. Anything you want to share?”

Josie shrugged.

“I’ve just never felt like this. Like I’m not a burden to my partner, like I’m actually worth something.”

Penelope’s expression twisted. Josie saw her jaw clench for a moment, and when she reached her hand across to touch Penelope’s under the table, her hand was balled into a fist.

“Hey, it’s okay.”

“It’s not. Like I’ve always said, you deserve better than that. I only hope that I’ll be able to give you that.”

Josie stood up and walked over to Penelope’s side. She reached out and took Penelope’s hands.

“You are what I want, and like I just said, you make me happy. We’ll be alright.”

Penelope smiled at her and then lightly shook her head.

“What did I do to deserve you?”

“You made me smile," Josie replied.

Penelope rested her head on Josie’s.

Josie leaned in and kissed her softly.

When she pulled back, she laughed.

“You know, I always thought that love would be this burning red thing that consumes my entire being. That I’d love so hard that it hurt me.”

Penelope tilted her head to the side.

“I have to say that on my side there was a lot of that.”

Josie laughed.

“Same here. But right now, this isn’t burning red. It’s golden.”

Penelope smiled.

“You just might be right my love.” She pulled Josie’s hand up to her lips and kissed it.

“Now, we should head out to see your mother. I’m sure that she’ll want to hear everything.”

Josie grinned as she thought of the way her mother’s face would light up when she heard that all had gone well.

Penelope stepped back and held out her hand to Josie.

“Shall we?”

Josie took her hand with a smile.

“I’ll follow you wherever.”

Penelope grinned and they both headed out into the world, to greet the new day, together, finally.

Chapter Text

A month passed in Josie’s new world and she had to say, it was the happiest that she had ever been.

If Penelope Park had been an amazing friend, and a beautiful lover, she was the most perfect girlfriend in the world.

She held Josie’s hand all the time, which made Josie very happy, because she loved touching Penelope and just knowing that they were each other’s.

She kissed Josie a lot, and not just on the lips. Sometimes it was on the cheek, or the nose, or the forehead, or when Penelope was trying to be especially romantic, her hand.

That wasn’t to say that Josie didn’t love being kissed on the lips. Those kisses were still extraordinary.

Their conversations were still prefect. Neither of them ever ran out of things to say.

Even if they were just talking about the weather, or the cute dog Josie saw that morning, or even if they were just telling dumb jokes back and forth, Josie just loved talking to Penelope.

When Josie told Lizzie and Hope about their relationship, they had freaked out.

Josie had gotten about a million messages, asking her about every single detail of their relationship.

Penelope had laughed at Josie, until her own phone had nearly buzzed off the table.

Josie hadn’t been aware that it was possible to deliver an effectively terrifying shovel talk via text, but judging by the way Penelope’s eyes widened, and she refused to show Josie what Lizzie had said, her sister had found a way.

Her mother had been similarly excited.

She’d just beamed at the two of them, who were sitting in the kitchen holding hands.

They hadn’t even said anything, but she had known.

“A mother always knows dear,” she had been told later.

At some point, Josie’s mother had dragged Penelope to another room, probably just to make sure that neither Josie or Penelope was going to get hurt.

Her mum really liked Penelope.

Penelope emerged with a smile and she kissed Josie’s forehead.

“What was that for?”

Penelope shrugged.

“I just love you. You’re my home.”

Josie had seriously been contemplating proposing on the spot when Penelope had said that, but she figured that might have been a little too soon.

And also, she didn’t want her mother to have a heart attack.

+++

They made it through a full month taking it slow.

The closest they got to sleeping together was heavy make out sessions in bed, and Josie was seriously impressed that they’d both been able to pull themselves away.

Josie was glad though.

It was nice to take things slow.

Even if they had said ‘I love you’ already, and Penelope had already met Josie’s family, and they had technically already had sex.

Josie had brought up the fact that she’d never met Penelope’s parents once, but Penelope’s face had hardened.

“You don’t want to meet them, trust me. They are very conservative, and they were not very loving growing up. I haven’t spoken to them in over two years. They don’t deserve to get to know you.”

Josie understood that.

If she’d had the choice, Penelope would have never met her father.

It was the exact one-month anniversary of them getting together for real when they finally crossed the line that they’d set out for themselves.

Penelope took Josie out to dinner at a nice restaurant.

On the way home, Josie looked up at the stars and Penelope tried to point out constellations, even though it was very clear that Penelope had no idea what she was talking about.

Josie had shoved her playfully, both of them just enjoying each other’s company.

They’d gotten home, and Penelope had kissed Josie in the living room.

Josie had been the one to slide her hands under Penelope’s shirt first.

Penelope was the one to deepen the kiss.

Penelope backed her up to the counter, and Josie felt her hands wrap around her waist.

Josie pulled back, panting slightly, and looked down at Penelope.

“Do you want to take this somewhere a little more comfortable?” Josie knew that Penelope could see the look in her eyes.

Penelope brushed her fingers across the skin of Josie’s waist.

“Are you sure about this?”

Josie nodded.

“I’m sure about this. I’m sure about you. I love you,” Josie told her.

Penelope’s eyes softened and started to shine with unshed tears.

Josie smiled and added,

“And I want to be able to touch you again, to feel you touch me again.”

Penelope laughed and let Josie wipe away the few tears that had fallen.

She tilted her head to the side with a smirk.

“Well, when you put it like that…” she leaned in and recaptured Josie’s lips.

They somehow found their way into Josie’s room, and then clothes were being pulled off.

Josie’s shirt hit the floor, followed by Penelope’s.

Penelope grinned as she ran her hands across the newly exposed skin.

Josie let herself be pushed down onto the bed.

Penelope kissed along Josie’s collarbone, and Josie moaned.

Penelope lifted her head.

“I’ve missed hearing you make that sound.”

Josie laughed breathlessly.

“Well, if you keep going, you can hear me make it again.”

Penelope chuckled and kissed Josie’s pulse point.

“Someone’s needy today.”

“It’s been a little while since we’ve done this. It’s safe to say that I’ve missed it.”

Penelope grinned and moved down to kiss just above Josie’s belly button.

“Then I’ll have to make this extra special.”

Penelope took her time with Josie.

She spread kisses across every inch of her body, and Josie wanted to groan with frustration as Penelope kept dodging the place where she needed her the most.

When she finally slid Josie’s pants off, Josie actually gasped with relief.

Penelope laughed.

“Don’t worry Jojo, you’ll be seeing stars soon enough.”

That sentence alone was nearly enough to make Josie come right there and then.

When Penelope finally went low on her, Josie gripped the sheets, moaning as she remembered why she had loved this part of London so much.

Knowing that Penelope loved her back, knowing that this was real, that they were real, made it so much more special.

As Josie came down from her climax, Penelope shifted up beside her.

“I’d almost forgotten how much you loved it when I went low on you.”

Josie laughed.

She could barely breathe, and her legs felt like jelly.

Penelope really did things to her that no one else could.

When she finally caught her breath, Josie moved on top of Penelope, and kissed down her neck.

Penelope hummed.

“You sure that you’re not too tired Jojo?”

Josie nipped at Penelope’s neck and got a laugh in response.

“You sure that you want to tease the person who’s on top of you right now?” Josie asked with a raised eyebrow.

Penelope grinned.

“Not really, because I know there are many much more enjoyable things that you could be doing.”

Josie kissed Penelope softly.

“Don’t you forget it.”

Josie didn’t take as long as Penelope had with her.

While Penelope liked seeing Josie squirm, liked seeing the way she tried to hold herself back from begging Penelope to fuck her, Josie found that she preferred the way Penelope gasped and moaned as Josie touched her.

So, Josie pulled Penelope’s jeans off, and slid her fingers underneath Penelope’s panties.

Penelope moaned and Josie grinned.

Penelope was very hot when she was on top of Josie, when she was being all dominant, but Josie really liked the way she looked when the control was taken from her hands.

When Josie finished, she kissed Penelope slowly.

She pulled back and Penelope looked at her like she had place every star in the sky.

“You’re amazing.”

Josie blushed.

“You’re pretty great too.”

Penelope smiled and kissed Josie again.

They fell asleep holding each other.

+++

The months passed so quickly.

The days got warmer, and Penelope traded her jeans and leather jacket for way too short shorts and crop tops that showed enough stomach to make Josie drool.

Josie’s mother was doing better than ever, and it had gotten to the point where Josie wasn’t even worried about her having a relapse.

Josie’s EP was getting attention, and Josie had done a few performances.

It was great to perform her original songs for people who actually wanted to hear them.

It was even better hearing the words being sung back to her.

Penelope went to every concert.

Josie had even booked a few concerts that were a little less local.

Penelope told her that it was only a matter of time before she was the top artist in the world.

Josie just laughed.

Penelope wasn’t doing too badly either.

She had scored a role in a production of Romeo and Juliet as Mercutio.

Josie couldn’t wait to see her girlfriend performing.

Penelope was also doing great with therapy and staying sober. Josie was honestly so proud of her.

When Josie got a text from Landon, saying that he was going to be coming by, along with Ethan and MG, because they were planning on debuting a song that they’d written together in the US, Josie knew that she had to see them.

Landon had convinced Josie to do their song together, which was going to be the first time she had ever performed it live, so she was pretty excited for that.

She was also excited to see her friends, and she knew Penelope was too.

These guys had been people she had loved for ages.

They had all been so supportive of Josie and Penelope getting together.

Josie suspected that Landon and MG were glad that they wouldn’t have to listen to Josie ominously talking about the girl she loved who didn’t love her back.

When they met up, all they could do was talk about how excited they were to be where they were.

They had all come a fairly far way from where they had been last summer.

Landon was actually starting to become a fairly well-known artist, Ethan had landed a song in the top ten recently, and MG had released and EP with his friend Kaleb that had been very well received.

Josie was so proud of them, as they were of her.

They loved her EP, and when Josie told them that she had confessed her feelings to Penelope through the last song on the album, they had wanted to hear the entire story.

Josie didn’t tell them everything, but she told them enough for them to be satisfied.

That led to them claiming to be the reason Josie and Penelope had fell in love.

“No seriously, if I hadn’t asked Josie to go get drinks, and if I hadn’t texted you guys to tell Penelope to go talk to Josie, none of this would have happened,” Ethan explained.

Landon nodded.

“Yeah, seriously, we were the masterminds behind all of this.”

MG grinned.

“You really should be thanking us. We deserve a present or something.”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“If I recall correctly, you were all very high the first night I met Penelope.”

Landon scoffed.

“Please, that summer, I was high like every night.”

Josie rolled her eyes and laughed.

“It showed.”

He gasped in mock offense and Penelope laughed.

“She’s got you there Lan.”

Ethan shook his head.

“Josie, does Penelope know that you went home and stalked her on Insta?”

Josie went red and MG laughed.

“How the hell do you know that I did that?” Josie asked.

Ethan shrugged.

“Hope told me. We’re bros.”

Josie sighed.

MG looked at Landon.

“Did you know about that?”

Landon shook his head, trying to fight off laughter.

“No, and honestly I feel a little betrayed that Ethan didn’t tell me.”

Ethan just shrugged.

“I was withholding that information for a later date. Like right now.”

Josie sighed again, hoping that she didn’t look as embarrassed as she felt.

Penelope laid her arm around Josie’s shoulder.

“That’s so cute. You were totally in love with me from the first time we met.”

Josie rolled her eyes, but couldn’t hide her love from shining through the annoyance.

“Of course, I was. You were sort of amazing.”

Penelope laughed.

“You’re so cute.”

Ethan groaned.

“Ugh, now they’re going to be gross again. Landon, make out with me, just so we can compete.”

Landon rolled his eyes, but Josie caught the way that he snuck a glance at Ethan.

Judging by the glance that MG threw her, she wasn’t the only one who noticed.

She’d give that a year before it developed properly.

Then Penelope kissed her forehead, and thoughts about anything other than her amazing girlfriend were gone completely.

+++

Josie went out to more concerts.

Josie’s mother was pronounced clear of cancer.

Penelope performed in her play, and Josie came to see every night.

Josie’s mum came as well and told Penelope that she was amazing.

Josie had to agree.

Her girlfriend was a brilliant actor, and one day, the whole world was going to see that.

Not to mention, Penelope reciting Shakespeare in that costume was ridiculously hot.

Josie passed October, the month that last year she had spent in pain, and Penelope helped her through all of it.

Josie suspected that Penelope was similarly affected.

Luckily, therapy seemed to be helping her enough that it wasn’t a major problem.

Penelope had been much more open about her issues recently.

She had told Josie more about her parents and how they had treated her.

She had told Josie about how the way she had been raised had affected her self-worth, how she’d developed a lot of unhealthy mindsets and coping mechanisms.

She had even shared stories from her past relationship, the one that had broken her.

It bothered Josie that someone had had Penelope’s heart and had chosen to treat it that poorly.

She’d also shared her side of things from when they were in their friends with benefits relationship.

Had revealed why she’d done the things she had.

Had spent so many afternoons crying in Josie’s arms, apologizing for everything.

And Josie forgave her for everything.

There was a little system they had devised to help the feelings of the other.

One kiss, because they knew the other had had a long day.

Two kisses, because it was going to be alright.

Three kisses, because they had waited their whole life to be loved like this.

Whenever Josie did that for Penelope, or vice versa, it usually improved their mood a lot.

Josie was just glad that she could help the woman she loved in at least some way, and was also glad that she’d finally found someone who cared about her as a person.

+++

Christmas arrived, and so did Hope and Lizzie.

Josie was so glad that she was in a very different place to where she had been last year.

Last year she had been panicking over her mother’s health, begging every deity or supernatural force that she could think of for her mother to be okay.

Last year, Rafael had broken up with her, two days before Christmas, and Josie had spent the holiday basically alone.

Now, she had a healthy mother, her sister and her best friend, both of whom were happily married, and Josie had herself a loving girlfriend.

Not to mention, Josie had found out that Rafael had been exposed for cheating on various women, and for doing drugs.

That gave her a kick of satisfaction.

Josie spent the morning of Christmas with everyone, giving each other presents.

Lizzie gave her some really pretty high fashion stuff that she had gotten from her designer friends.

Hope gave her a painting that she had made herself, of Josie singing at one of her concerts.

Her mother gave her a new guitar, which Josie spent the rest of the morning fiddling with.

Penelope gave Josie a bracelet that read “The course of true love never did run smooth”, which was a quote from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Josie still remembered telling Penelope that that play was her favorite of Shakespeare’s on the first day they had met.

She was just a little surprised that Penelope remembered that too.

Although, Josie should probably stop being surprised by Penelope being amazing.

Josie got Penelope a bracelet that read “Meet me in the afterglow”.

Penelope had kissed Josie and told her that it was perfect.

That night, Hope and Lizzie went out looking at the pretty Christmas lights in the rich side of town, so Penelope took Josie out on a date.

They had hot chocolate in the town square, surrounded by pretty fairy lights, and Penelope tried to sing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” to Josie. She did very well, and Josie had to admit that she loved Penelope’s singing voice.

It was just so beautiful, which wasn’t surprising, because Josie was pretty sure that everything about Penelope was beautiful.

At the end of the night, they cuddled on the couch and watched bad Netflix Christmas movies.

Or, at least they tried to.

It basically just turned into them making out and then having sex.

Josie fell asleep in Penelope’s arms, and as she did, she was pretty sure that the best gift she had gotten this year was Penelope’s love.

+++

Penelope took Josie out to the dock by the lake to watch the fireworks on New Year’s.

As Josie sat on a picnic blanket, eating her favorite meal and laughing with Penelope, she could barely believe how much had changed.

She been crying, alone in her house, because it felt like her whole life was falling apart.

And then Penelope had knocked on her door, and everything had changed.

Penelope had enchanted her and had changed her life for the better, and Josie was pretty sure that she had done the same for Penelope.

Penelope entwined their fingers and laid her head on Josie’s shoulder.

“Hey Jojo.”

Josie smiled and kissed her on the nose.

“Hey Pen.”

“What’re you thinking about?”

“You. And us. Just about how much everything has changed since last year.”

Penelope laughed.

“I remember that. You slapped me.”

Josie scoffed.

“You kind of deserved it.”

Penelope shrugged.

“I did. But I like to think I made up for it.”

Josie smiled and leaned in to kiss Penelope softly.

They pulled apart, and Josie whispered,

“I think you’ve more than made up for it.”

The fireworks exploded in the distance and Penelope smiled, lifted their joined hands up to kiss Josie’s.

“Happy New Year Josie.”

Josie kissed Penelope’s forehead.

“Happy New Year Penelope.”

+++

It was the middle of winter, but somehow, Penelope convinced Josie to go to the town’s pool.

It was an outdoor pool, but it was one of the warmer days.

Penelope was just convinced that they had to go swimming together, because she hadn’t gone swimming in ages.

Josie did remember loving the pool when she was growing up.

So many summer days had been spent with Lizzie wearing the skimpiest bikini possible in order to attract all of the guys.

Hope and Josie had just chilled in the pool, glad to be somewhere not boiling hot.

Although, now that Josie thought about it, Hope’s eyes had kept straying to Lizzie.

One of these days Josie needed to figure out exactly when Hope started liking Lizzie.

When they got there, Josie immediately regretted her decision.

She knew that it would be freezing, and she wasn’t sure if reliving childhood joy was worth getting hypothermia.

But Penelope beamed at her and dragged her to the pool, and well, Josie could never say no to her.

Penelope walked outside and grinned.

Josie wrapped her arms around herself and tried to pretend that she wasn’t shivering.

Penelope just laughed.

“And here I thought you were a winter girl.”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“When I’m inside, wrapped in a rug, reading a book and drinking tea.”

Penelope shook her head and sighed.

“You’re missing out Jojo. Swimming in winter is the best.”

“Yeah, the best way to get sick.”

Penelope shook her head and held out her hand to Josie.

“Jump in with me.”

“Are you crazy? No, I’m going to slowly wade in and let each part of my body acclimatize before I go in fully.”

Penelope laughed.

“Josie, you’ll be here for hours if you try that. Jump in with me, and you get used to it all at once. Plus, it gives you a real shot of adrenaline to the heart.”

Josie could’ve argued, but Penelope looked so earnest and excited, so Josie just sighed and stepped forwards, taking Penelope’s hands.

“Fine. I’m with you, even if it makes me blue and hypothermic.”

“That’s the spirit,” Penelope told her, and promptly leapt in, dragging Josie after her.

The water hit Josie and for a moment she was pretty sure that she lost all feeling in her body.

She resurfaced, gasping and shaking even more violently.

Penelope was also shaking but her eyes were wide with joy.

“See, it’s not that bad!”

“Pen, I can’t feel my everything.”

“Yeah, you probably won’t be able to for a little bit. I could warm you up though, if you’re asking.” Penelope swam closer to her, wiggling her eyebrows.

Josie shoved her back.

“Hilarious. As much as I’m sure it’d be so fun to get arrested for public indecency, I’d like to not do that.”

They stayed in the pool for a little while longer, bickering and splashing each other, before climbing out.

It was sort of fun, even if Josie was freezing.

Not that she would ever admit that to Penelope.

Josie made a point of calling out how much Penelope was shaking when the air hit her damp skin.

Penelope just shook her hair at Josie like she was a dog.

Both of them had runny noses and tiredness the next week, and Josie’s mother brought them soup, shaking her head the whole time.

“Ah, to be young, stupid, and in love.”

+++

Their one-year anniversary approached quickly, and Josie was a little nervous.

This was a big step for them.

But Penelope had told Josie that she was going to be planning something for it, so Josie was also excited.

Penelope had been doing so much better recently.

Therapy had really helped her, as had having a solid support system.

Josie was pretty sure that her mother was looking for ways to adopt Penelope.

Either that, or Josie was going to start getting bugged about marrying Penelope.

In the past, getting asked about marriage had freaked out Josie, but with Penelope, it didn’t seem that scary.

Josie really could see herself living her life with Penelope.

Josie would love to call Penelope her wife.

Just, not yet.

Penelope woke up with Josie on the morning of their anniversary.

They spent a good hour just worshiping each other’s bodies, making the other feel as loved as possible.

Josie had been having sex with Penelope as a real couple for nearly a year now, but seriously, it was still so amazing.

Josie cooked them pancakes, and after eating them, they danced around the kitchen.

Penelope put on a playlist of romantic slow songs and they spun around, stopping every now and then to kiss the other.

It was the perfect morning.

Then they spent the whole day together, just walking through the town.

Penelope told Josie about how she had auditioned for a role in The Sound of Music.

Josie told Penelope about her new album that she was working on.

Then, at night, Penelope took Josie into the car, and they drove off through the city.

Penelope didn’t tell Josie where they were going, but Josie was excited.

Eventually, they came up in front of an unfamiliar apartment.

Josie frowned.

“Penelope, what are we doing here?”

Penelope turned to her.

“Do you trust me?”

Josie laughed.

“Of course, I do Pen.”

Penelope nodded and opened the door.

Josie got out and followed her up to the steps.

“Pen, seriously, what is happening?” Josie asked with a laugh.

Penelope turned around on the top step.

“Okay. Josie Saltzman, I love you so much. Today marks one year since the release of your EP, on which you wrote me a song and you confessed your feelings to me. Today marks one year since I let you in, and since I let you stay. You know all of this.” Penelope cleared her throat, and Josie noticed that her eyes were glistening.

“But let me tell you what you don’t know. You don’t know that in October, I made a decision. It wasn’t even a specific moment; I just remember thinking about how much I loved you. And that decision led to a lot of little choices, and don’t worry, I asked your mother and Lizzie and Hope, and pretty much everyone we know about this, because I wanted to be sure that this was the right move. All of that led me, here, to this doorstep, with you.”

Josie blinked, feeling her own eyes watering.

“Penelope, what are you trying to say?”

Penelope took a deep breath.

“I’m saying that I want to move in with you, properly, not just us staying over at each other's place. And I want to do it here.”

Josie’s mouth dropped open.

Penelope continued.

“Look, I know that your apartment is lovely, and if you want to stay there, that is fine, but I always planned to live somewhere better than the place I have here, so, I found this place. It’s big, it’s nice, it’s sort of amazing, and there is one thing that I love the most about it.”

Josie waited for Penelope to explain.

Penelope rose her hand and pointed to the street sign.

Josie turned around and gasped.

Cornelia Street.

“I-”

“You told me once, that after I left, you couldn’t walk Cornelia Street without feeling sad about losing me. Now I’m back, and I want to try again, because I don’t know about you, but it was a pretty nice street.”

Josie turned back to Penelope, who was looking at her with a little bit of trepidation in her eyes.

“What do you think?”

Josie smiled and kissed Penelope softly.

“I think it’s amazing. Let’s see inside.”

+++

Josie, of course, loved the apartment, and they started the moving process immediately.

What Penelope wanted to do first was paint the walls.

Josie agreed.

They both agreed on the color blue, and so they spent a whole day painting the walls of their new home and then promptly getting into a paint fight.

Josie ruined one of her nice shirts, but she didn’t even care, because Penelope’s laugh was worth any number of ruined shirts.

After that, they reminisced about all the exes, fights, and low points they had gone through to get here.

It made Josie feel proud.

She had never thought she was going to get here, and now here she was.

She wished that she could go back to version of herself that had spent days crying because she was never going to have Penelope Park, so that she could tell her that it was okay, that one day, she’d be laughing because her and Penelope were having a paint fight in their new kitchen.

Once they'd moved in, Hope and Lizzie came down to see the apartment.

Hope thought it was amazing.

Lizzie pulled Josie to the side at one point.

"Jo, I'm going to be real with you right now. This girl, she's amazing. She only had to check in with us about a few things, because she basically knew everything that you'd want."

Josie smiled.

"She's pretty perfect, isn't she?"

"I've never seen you this happy Jo. It looks really good on you."

Josie looked over at Penelope, who was telling Hope about the pain fight they'd had earlier.

"I've never felt this happy. I just love her so much."

+++

Christmas passed again.

Josie got Penelope tickets to go see a show of West Side Story.

Penelope got Josie a dog.

Josie had always wanted a dog, but her dad had always hated the idea when she was growing up, so she’d never been able to.

They’d had some disagreement over what to call him. Josie wanted to call him something like Harry or Ron, from Harry Potter, obviously. Penelope wanted a Shakespearean name.

They didn’t settle on either in the end.

His name was given to him on a quiet day in the house.

Josie was working on some stuff for her album, and Penelope was just reading.

The two of them were very attached to candles, so they’d gotten many to sit around the windows.

Neither of them had been paying attention to the dog, as both were engrossed in their separate activities.

Then, he’d jumped up, and knocked over three candles in one go.

Penelope, who was sitting on the couch, just to the left of the window, was the first to notice.

“Shit!” She yelled, jumping up as the couch started smouldering.

Josie came running from the other room, eyes wide as she took in the scene before her.

They ended up throwing water on the couch, but it still had a large burn patch.

Once the crisis had been averted, Penelope turned to the dog.

“You really are a troublemaker. Little Pyromaniac you are.”

Josie chuckled as a thought occurred to her.

“We should call him that. Or Pyro for short.”

Penelope looked at the dog.

“Pyro? Do you like that name?”

He wagged his tail back and forth.

Penelope looked at Josie.

“I’m going to take that as a yes.”

And so, their dog became known as Pyro, to the amusement of everyone in their lives.

So many jokes were made about how Josie would end up with a dog that was a pyromaniac.

They also made sure to move the candles far out of his reach, lest the couch get another burn spot.

+++

Josie released her new album, titled Legacies of Love on her and Penelope’s second year anniversary.

It was mostly about her and Penelope’s relationship, but it also featured songs about the strong love of family.

Landon and Ethan both featured on it.

They had finally gotten together, after what was apparently a lot of meddling from Maya and MG.

For this anniversary, Penelope got Josie tickets to go to London.

Josie had loved it there the first time around, and had only left because she loved Penelope more than she loved the city.

Hopefully, in going back, they could reclaim the good memories.

Josie was still happy in Penelope’s arms.

Even though they had their fair share of bad days, of dreary Monday’s, where they wanted to do nothing other than crawl under the covers of their bed and hide, they stuck it out together.

They did everything hand in hand, and were so much happier for it.

+++

They went to London in June, just like Josie had that first time around.

It was still as beautiful as the day she had left.

Perhaps even more beautiful because she got to share it with Penelope.

All of their friends met them at the airport.

Maya basically crushed Penelope with a hug, and Josie let the two of them properly reunite.

She got tackled by Ethan and grinned as she hugged him back.

“It’s good to see you again Jo,” he told her with a smile.

She laughed.

“It’s been less than a year since I last saw you.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Still been too long.”

Landon walked up to her next, and hugged her a lot more gently than Ethan did.

“Sorry about my boyfriend, he’s very enthusiastic.”

Josie smiled.

“I know. I had to put up with his dumb ass all through college.”

“Hey, I was a brilliant guy back then.”

MG walked up to Josie and hugged her tightly.

“Josie, I seriously need to go over to the States more, because seeing you once a year is not nearly enough."

Maya laughed as she approached them, her arm slung around Penelope’s shoulder.

“You guys really just abandoned your friend like that."

As soon as she said that, all three boys rushed at Penelope and hugged her.

Josie looked over at Penelope, looking so at home and so happy amongst her friends.

It was then that she decided that one day they were going to move back here. Because as much as she loved Mystic Falls, there was something about this city and it’s people that made it special.

When they finally pulled away, Ethan gestured to the baggage claim.

“Come on, let’s go get your stuff.”

Even though Maya had offered to let Josie and Penelope stay at her place, Penelope had insisted on getting an apartment.

Josie suspected that that was due to her wanting to do things with Josie that required having the place to themselves.

Josie was not opposed to that in the slightest.

They spent their first few days in London walking around the city, enjoying the old sights.

They walked down Cornelia Street again, and Penelope brushed away Josie’s tears, before kissing her in front of her old place.

They passed the bookshop where Penelope used to work, and ate lunch in the café where they’d decided to be friends with benefits.

Maya took them to the bar where they’d first met, and they reminisced about the good old days as Penelope slaughtered Landon at pool.

They went to the club where Josie had gotten jealous of that girl, and Penelope kissed her on the dance floor, just to remind Josie who she had chosen.

Everything was just as they’d left it, it felt like, but both Josie and Penelope were very different people.

Josie and Penelope both agreed that that was a good thing.

+++

One night, Penelope pulled Josie out to take a walk along the Thames.

She was strangely quiet, and Josie was unsure of what that meant.

Eventually, they came across a park bench and Penelope pulled Josie to sit down.

They sat in silence for a while, and then Penelope turned to Josie with a small smile on her face.

“Do you remember this place?”

Josie nodded.

“This is where you took me when we went on that tour of London. I remember you almost kissed me, and I remember being very disappointed.”

Penelope laughed.

“Well, that shall have to be remedied,” she said, and leaned in to kiss Josie.

They kissed on that bench for some time.

When they pulled apart, Penelope looked at Josie with a twinkle in her eye.

“Come on. There’s one more place that I need to take you.”

Josie followed Penelope, ready for whatever was next.

Or at least, she thought she was.

When Penelope pulled her into a clearing surrounded by fairy lights, with music playing softly from a speaker, Josie felt her eyes well up with tears.

“Did you set this up by yourself?”

Penelope shrugged.

“I can’t take all the credit. Maya and all the boys helped.”

Josie played with Penelope’s fingers.

“Well, this is very romantic.”

Penelope smiled.

“That was the idea Jojo.”

Josie laughed.

Penelope stepped back, releasing Josie’s hands.

“You know, I think I’ve loved you ever since I saw you in that bar.”

Josie rose an eyebrow.

“Really?”

“Yep. I think I saw you, and my heart just immediately knew that it belonged to you. When I talked to you, I realized immediately how easy it would be to love you.”

Josie laughed.

“I don’t think we’ve exactly had an easy run of it.”

Penelope laughed and shook her head.

“No, we haven’t, but that’s okay. We’re here now, and we’re standing tall. Without all of the pain that we had to go through, we wouldn’t be the people we are today, and I think that it was worth it if I get to call myself yours.”

“I agree. Being yours is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

“Maybe the track we traveled here wasn’t easy, but I know that traveling it with you sure did make it so much sweeter.”

Josie smiled and stepped forwards, taking Penelope’s hands again.

“I wouldn’t want anyone else by my side.”

Penelope nodded and looked away for a moment, as if she was building the courage to speak. Josie wondered what she could possibly have to say next.

“I wouldn’t want anyone else either. I don’t want anyone else but you by my side for the rest of my life. You complete me. I used to have to go through my days as nothing but a character, acting out what I thought happiness was. I met you, and everything became real. You are the love I never thought that I deserved, and you stayed by me, despite the ups and downs of everything.”

Penelope looked directly at Josie, and Josie felt the fire burn in her chest a little brighter.

Even after all this time, Penelope could still make her feel like that.

“I love you so much, and that is why,” Penelope paused, and then slowly got down on one knee.

Josie’s heart felt like it was about to explode.

Holy shit.

HOLY SHIT.

Penelope cleared her throat and looked up at Josie with sparkling eyes.

“That is why I want to ask you to be with me forever, if you’ll have me.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a ring.

“Josie Saltzman, I was made to be yours, so,” Penelope smiled up, her eyes full of hope and love, “will you marry me?”

It was never a question that Josie needed to think about.

She had always known the answer deep in her soul.

Ever since Penelope had first kissed her, since the very first hello, Josie had known that Penelope was her future, her always.

So, there was only one thing left to do now.

Only one thing left to say.

“Yes! Penelope, a thousand times yes!” Josie pulled Penelope to her feet and kissed her with all of the love her body was filling with.

Josie felt like soaring.

She felt like she was shining so brightly right now that the stars in the sky could just retire.

Like all the light that had ever existed in the world was right here, in this moment.

Because this moment was one for the ages.

Penelope pulled back, and Josie wiped the tears from her cheeks.

Josie held out her hand, and Penelope slid the ring on, before leaning in for another kiss.

She didn’t even bother looking at the ring.

She knew it was beautiful and perfect, because Penelope had picked it, but seriously, Josie would marry her with paper rings if it meant that Josie got to call Penelope her wife.

It was another step towards forever.

It was the happy ending Josie had always dreamed of.

And it was finally going to be hers.

Chapter Text

Josie kept her hands entwined with Penelope all the way home.

She couldn’t stop smiling and laughing, and every now and then, she would just start crying.

Penelope was going to be her wife.

Josie was going to be able to look at the love of her life, and say that she was married to her.

Josie looked at the streets, lit by the stars and the streetlamps, looked at the cars rushing past, and the other people walking down these streets.

The last time she had left this city, she had been heartbroken.

Now she would leave it engaged to the same girl who broke her heart.

Because that girl had come back to her, and had fixed it.

Had admitted that she was wrong, had told Josie that she was sorry, and had spent every moment since making up for it.

Josie turned to smile at Penelope again.

Penelope smiled back.

“So, how long have you been planning this exactly?” Josie asked, laughing as she did.

Penelope swung their entwined hands back and forth, before twirling Josie around.

“Since the first Christmas we spent together.”

Josie stopped to look at Penelope with surprise.

“Wait, really?”

Penelope stopped by Josie and nodded.

“When I saw the bracelet you got me, when I saw your smile as everyone opened your presents, I just knew that I had to marry you. Maybe not then, but I knew that I was going to do it. So, I started planning it then. I knew that I wanted to do it here. I think that was the first thing I decided on.”

Josie leaned in and kissed Penelope.

She couldn’t wait to do that for the rest of her life.

“So, I’m guessing that everyone knows that you planned to do this?”

Penelope laughed and nodded.

“I told Maya first. She helped me with some little things. Then I asked your mum for her blessing, just after out two-year anniversary. She said yes, and so she started helping me. Then I asked Lizzie, because I know that she’s your sister, and I wanted her to know, and then she told Hope, and fair warning, but I’m pretty sure she wants to take the reins on wedding planning.”

Josie smiled.

“I’ll help her, but I think if she was mostly in charge, I’d be okay with that.”

Penelope nudged Josie.

“You should let them know. They knew it was going to be tonight, and they’re probably on the edge of their seats waiting to find out how it went.”

Josie scoffed.

“Like I’d ever say no.”

Penelope smiled.

“Still, you should tell them.”

Josie nodded, and then pulled Penelope closer to her.

“I’ll tell them in the morning. I want to spend this night with you and only you knowing.”

Penelope laughed.

“If you want to deal with a million calls from everyone we know, be my guest.”

Josie shoved her lightly.

“I’m trying to be romantic.”

Penelope kissed her nose.

“Don’t worry love, it’s working.”

Josie tugged on Penelope’s hand and pulled her onwards.

They were silent for a moment and then Penelope spoke.

“Still, if my orgasm gets interrupted by your sister calling us, I will be very put out.”

“Keep it up and you won’t get an orgasm at all.”

“Well, in that case I shall remain silent for the rest of the night.”

Josie rolled her eyes and smiled and she leant into Penelope, just enjoying her warmth.

+++

Luckily for both of them, everyone waited until the morning to call.

Knowing them, they were all on a group chat, and had all decided that Josie and Penelope would want to ‘celebrate’ their new engagement that night.

For that reason, Josie hoped that her mother was not on the aforementioned group chat.

When Josie woke up, she ignored all the texts and went straight to Instagram.

She posted a picture of her ring, with the caption So glad that I’m your lover for the rest of my life<3.

Then she called Lizzie back.

She picked up on the first ring.

“Josie! I’m assuming you and Penelope are done having celebratory sex, so please, tell me everything!”

Josie laughed.

“It’s perfect. Everything about it was perfect. I’m so glad that I get to call her my fiancée.”

Lizzie chuckled.

“She asked me if she could marry you. She said that she wanted to let me know what she was doing because she knows how much you love me, and she wanted me to be a part of this.”

Josie laughed.

“She told me something similar. For the record, you definitely get to be wedding planner. And my maid of honor, if you want to.”

Lizzie squealed, and Josie could feel the suffocating hug that she would have been enveloped in, had Lizzie actually been there.

“Yes Jo! Oh my god!” Josie heard her clear her throat. “I would be honored to be your maid of honor.”

Josie giggled.

“Good. And tell Hope that she’s a bridesmaid.” Josie looked up as she heard Penelope walk into the kitchen.

“Alright, Penelope’s here. Do you want to talk to her?”

Lizzie scoffed.

“Of course. But I’ll call her myself. You need to talk to mum.”

Josie nodded.

“I will. I love you Liz.”

“Love you too Jo.”

Lizzie hung up and Josie turned to Penelope.

“Hey,” Penelope said with a smile, wrapping her arms around Josie.

“Hey,” Josie replied, leaning in to kiss Penelope.

Penelope Park, her fiancée, her soon to be wife.

Josie couldn’t fucking believe it.

Penelope’s phone started ringing and she groaned.

“Alright, I guess I’d better go talk to your sister.”

“That’s your soon to be sister in law.”

Penelope smiled.

“Can’t wait.”

Penelope picked up the phone, and Josie could hear Lizzie screaming through the speaker.

Josie shook her head with a laugh, and called her mum.

“Josie! How’d it go?”

Josie laughed.

“It went great mum. I love her so much and now I get to be married to her.”

Her mother laughed.

“Josie, I’m so happy for you. She’s the one.”

“I hear that you’ve known about this for a while.”

Her mother scoffed.

“Jos, I’ve known that you two were going to be married from the first day I met her. No one looks at someone who isn’t their soulmate like that.”

Josie smiled, and then a thought occurred to her.

“Did you look at dad like that?”

Her mother sighed.

“Josie, your dad and I were complicated, okay sweetie? I can tell you; Penelope wouldn’t do something like that to you. I can tell you now, you’re going to be okay.”

Josie nodded.

“I know. I just wish he cared enough about me to be there for even one of his girl’s weddings.”

“He doesn’t deserve a girl like you or a girl like Lizzie.”

“Do you want to walk me down the aisle?” Josie blurted out.

There was a pause, and when her mother spoke next, Josie could hear the tears in her voice.

“I would love to honey.”

“Great.” Josie sighed. “I love you so much mum.” She could feel tears of her own pricking at her eyes.

“I love you too Josie.”

Josie put down the phone to see that Penelope was watching her.

Wordlessly, Penelope walked over and hugged her.

“It’s okay, I’ve got you.”

Josie sniffled and started crying into Penelope’s shoulder.

She loved how well Penelope knew her.

“I just hate him so much.”

“I know. I promise. I won’t be like him. If I have to spend all the time in the world showing that to you I will, I-”

Josie cut Penelope off with a searing kiss, holding her close, so close that she felt her own tears mingling with the new ones springing from Penelope’s eyes.

Josie pulled back, keeping her hands firmly on Penelope’s face.

“No. You could never do to me what he did. You are not him. And you aren’t your parents either. You aren’t cold, and you aren’t harsh. You are amazing, and you love me so much. I trust you with my heart, and I know that you will keep it safe. Okay, so don’t feel like you need to prove yourself to me.” Josie wiped the tears from Penelope’s cheeks, and felt Penelope do the same for her.

Penelope nodded.

“Okay.”

Josie took a quiet breath and then said softly.

“And I’m not Sasha. I said yes because I love you, because I want to spend the rest of my life with you, not because of pity, okay? So, don’t be afraid of that. Because I will never leave you. You are all that I want for the rest of my life.”

Penelope sniffled and smiled.

“Thank you. And I know, I know you aren’t her, but-”

“But some wounds are really deep,” Josie finished.

Penelope smiled and nodded, tears running down her face.

Josie laughed.

“We shouldn’t be crying right now. We should be happy, we just got engaged.”

Penelope nodded.

“Mm, especially when there are so many other things that we could be doing instead,” Penelope said, leaning close to Josie’s ear.

Josie laughed.

“I think we did enough of that last night. You can wait a little more for the next round.”

Penelope laughed.

“I was talking about drinking tea and going to celebrate with our friends. Get your mind out of the gutter Miss Saltzman.”

Josie grinned.

“On that topic, we should decide who is taking whose last name.”

Penelope hummed.

“Hmm, which sounds better? Josie Park or Penelope Saltzman?”

Josie walked over to the kettle to start making their tea.

“We could always hyphenate if we can’t come to a decision.”

“True. But, let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s just enjoy the happiness we have now.”

+++

After plenty of celebration with Ethan, Maya, Landon, and all of their friends, Josie and Penelope found themselves on a plane home.

At the airport, Lizzie, Hope, and Josie’s mother were all there.

They were all hugged enthusiastically by both Josie and Penelope.

Josie was surprised that she didn’t stain permanent ribcage damage from Lizzie’s hug.

Lizzie and Hope let them go eventually, and on the car ride home, Josie’s mother asked for every detail about London.

They didn’t share every single thing, but there was enough to occupy the whole drive home.

When they got home, Josie and Penelope danced around the kitchen.

Both of them were barefoot, and they were surrounded by the fairy lights that they kept up constantly.

Penelope claimed that it would be good practice for their wedding.

Josie knew that Penelope just wanted to hold her.

She didn’t mind.

Josie wanted to hold Penelope as well.

They fell asleep that night knowing that one day they would wake up on their wedding day, and one day everything would finally be perfect.

+++

It took a little bit of time to get to that day.

Josie was surprised that they managed to wait that long, that at no point they had just decided to elope, to run off into the forest and live as hermits, but happily married hermits.

She was pretty sure that they only reason why they hadn’t was Lizzie.

Lizzie kept Josie on track, made sure that their wedding was everything that they both wanted.

Lizzie went dress shopping with Josie, and went suit shopping with Penelope.

Josie couldn’t wait to see what Penelope looked like in a suit.

It would most likely be stupidly hot.

Penelope was working with Lizzie, as she apparently was a very good organizer of events.

Penelope told Josie that it was because of her ‘annoyingly pretentious upbringing’.

Josie just loved seeing her fiancée and her twin working together.

Lizzie was a force of nature, and Josie was so glad that that was her sister.

Hope was also dragged along, mostly to stop Lizzie from going power crazy, but her main job became keeping Josie company when Penelope and Lizzie were in their bridezilla mindsets.

Josie was glad that she got to spend time with Hope.

She had really missed her best friend.

Her mother tried to help, but Josie insisted that she needn’t bother, because everything would be handled.

She eventually decided that she would be of no help, and she just hung out with Hope and Josie.

It felt a little bit like high school.

Just Hope, Josie, and her mother, hanging out in Mystic Falls.

The good thing was though, that they’d left all the pain of high school behind.

Hope was doing much better, she wasn’t the sad loner, and her art no longer showed the pain of her heart.

Josie’s mother wasn’t dealing with trying to get out of a marriage to an abusive dick.

Josie wasn’t dealing with all the teen angst that came from having a jerk father, and from not knowing where to go for comfort.

Now they were all happy, or at least as happy as they could get.

Josie wasn’t going to pretend that everything was fine.

She had bad days.

She still had nightmares.

There were still many nights where she woke up shaking, because she thought that she had lost the people she loved, or because she could swear that her father was right there.

Penelope held her hand through it all.

+++

Josie knew that Penelope still had her issues. Of course, she knew. Getting engaged wasn’t a magic fix all for problems.

Penelope still refused to communicate sometimes, would shut off and go cold.

Usually, Josie was able to just coax a gap open, and would make sure that Penelope let her stay.

Sometimes, it was harder than others to do that.

For instance, three months before their wedding, Josie woke up in the middle of the night completely alone.

She frowned.

Penelope never usually got up during the night.

Even if she’d had a nightmare, which only occurred occasionally, she’d usually just lie there catching her breath until Josie woke up.

So, that meant that something was wrong.

Josie got out of bed quickly, not even bothering to pull the sheets back over the bed.

Her heart started racing, as thoughts of all that could have gone wrong raced through her brain.

Surely, it was fine, but what if it wasn’t?

What if Penelope was gone?

She walked into the living room, and her fears were put to rest.

Penelope was sitting in the middle of the room, curled up in a ball on the couch.

Just as she’d relaxed, she realized that she could hear Penelope crying, could hear her gasping sobs.

“Penelope?” she whispered into the dark room.

Penelope lifted her head up, and Josie heard a little strangled gasp.

She heard Penelope try to form words, saw her pull into herself just a little more, and Josie reached for the lights.

Penelope gasped as the room fell into light, and so did Josie, as she saw the state that Penelope was in.

Her eyes were red, and her body was shaking so violently that Josie thought she might never stop.

“Hey, Pen, what happened?” she asked, rushing over.

Instinctively, she checked for any signs of alcohol or drugs. She couldn’t see or smell anything, so, she just moved to calm Penelope down.

“Pen, hey look at me.” She reached out for Penelope, and for a moment, Penelope leaned towards her. Then, she was pulling away, shaking her head.

“No, no, no.”

“Pen, it’s okay, I’m here. I’m not going to hurt you. Just breathe for me, it’s alright.”

It took a little while, but eventually, Penelope started trying to catch her breath, and then, when she was finally calmed down, she pulled back into herself.

“Pen, what’s wrong?”

“It’s stupid,” Penelope replied tonelessly.

Josie almost laughed at that.

“Pen, what do we say about expressing emotions?”

Penelope just stayed silent, staring at the ground.

Josie frowned, moving just a little bit closer.

“Is it about me, did I do something?”

Penelope’s head shot up at that, shaking emphatically.

“No, of course not. You’re perfect.”

Josie smiled sadly.

“But something is bothering you.”

Penelope sighed, looking down again.

“I just don’t want to think about it, because I don’t want to start crying again. And really, I should be over this. I should be, but my brain just won’t shut up and I’m really scared.”

“Why?”

Penelope leaned back against the couch, looking up at the ceiling.

She slowly let out a breath and then spoke.

“Do you know how many months there are until the wedding?”

Josie tilted her head to the side.

“Three, but what does that have to--oh.” Josie suddenly realized what was wrong.

Sasha.

Three months before their wedding, Sasha had cheated on Penelope.

Josie reached out to wipe away some of the tears that were falling down Penelope’s cheeks.

“Yeah. And it’s stupid, because you would never do that to me, you’re a better person than her, and I’m a different person than I was back then, and so much is different, but it feels like my brain is just screaming at me, constantly telling me that there’s no way that I’m going to be able to have a good thing and keep it.” Penelope shifted closer to Josie, and let her envelop her in a hug.

Josie rested her head on top of Penelope’s.

“It’s okay. Brains can be stupid, and trauma is painful. I get it. Believe me, I get it. You just have to talk to me, and to trust that I’ll be here.”

Penelope nodded.

“I know, and I do. I was just so scared when I woke up, and I couldn’t stop seeing her, and I just needed to get up and walk.” She smiled at Josie, “Thanks for pulling me back down to earth. I needed it.”

“That’s what I’m here for, and that’s what I intend to do as long as you’ll let me. Just always come back to me.”

“Always. I’ll always come back to you.”

+++

It was the thirteenth of January when Josie woke up next to Penelope, knowing that today was the day.

Penelope rolled over and smiled.

“Hey fiancée. You nervous?”

Josie laughed.

“Very. You have no idea how many times I have practiced my vows over and over again.”

Penelope grinned and kissed Josie’s hand.

“I bet it’s not as much as me. Believe me, I want everything to be perfect for you as well.”

Josie nodded.

“I love you. So so much.”

Penelope kissed her forehead.

“I love you so so much too. And today I get to show you just how much.”

Josie nodded and pulled herself up.

“We should probably start getting ready.”

“Or we could stay in bed a bit longer. We could have our last sex as a non-married couple.”

Josie laughed.

“Pre-marital sex? I can’t believe that we’re heathens.”

“And we’re both girls. We’re the worst kind of heathens.”

Josie rolled her eyes and clambered out of bed.

“Come on Pen, you need to get up.”

“But Jojo, this bed is so comfy and warm. You should come back and warm me up even more.”

“Pen.”

“Baby, it’s cold outside,” Penelope sang softly.

Josie slapped her lightly.

“Get up. There can be plenty of warming up later tonight.”

Penelope hummed.

“You promise?”

Josie rolled her eyes again.

“Pinkie promise.”

Penelope held out her hand, and Josie shook her pinkie, holding in the urge to laugh.

Penelope nodded and pulled herself out.

“Well, I dibs the first shower.”

Josie sighed as Penelope pushed past her.

“You’re lucky I love you.”

“So lucky.”

+++

The wedding ceremony was to be held in a garden.

There was a really nice one, just a little way away from where Josie and Lizzie had gone to school as kids.

The pavilion was already set up, and it shone white in the daylight.

Josie was to get ready with Lizzie and Hope, and Penelope was to get ready with Maya and Landon.

There had been some dispute over that, but Penelope’s argument was that Landon was basically her brother, and that he and Maya were probably the only people who would be able to calm her down if she panicked.

Besides Josie of course.

Josie’s dress was beautiful.

Lizzie had designed it herself.

They had gone shopping, but Josie had realized halfway through that the only dress she wanted to wear was one that Lizzie made for her.

Lizzie had cried when Josie had tried it on the first time, and was crying again now.

“Lizzie, it’s alright,” Josie told her.

Lizzie sniffled.

“I just can’t believe that my baby sister is going to be getting married. You’re all grown up now.”

“Lizzie, there’s literally three minutes between us.”

“I know, but I’m still the older sibling.”

Josie sighed.

“I know. I can’t really believe it either.”

Lizzie nodded and wiped away some of her tears.

“This is your big day Jo. Are you ready?”

Josie nodded.

“I’ve been ready for this day for ages. I’ve spent three summers knowing her and loving her, but I want them all.”

Lizzie smiled and turned to Hope.

“Your turn now.”

Hope laughed, but Josie could see that she was tearing up as well.

“Is the legendary Hope Mikaelson crying?”

Hope sniffled and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

“Nope, it’s allergies.”

Josie just stared at her.

Hope blinked back a few more tears.

“Maybe I’m emotional about this. Don’t make it a big deal.”

Josie laughed.

“I’ve come a long way from when we first met, haven’t I?”

Hope laughed.

“Yeah, you really have. I’m so proud of you Jo.”

Josie stepped into a hug with Hope, trying not to cry and ruin her makeup.

Lizzie wrapped her arms around the both of them, and Josie buried her head into Hope’s shoulder.

“I love you guys,’ she mumbled out.

They laughed.

“Love you too,” Hope and Lizzie murmured.

Josie pulled back and wiped away the tears gathering.

Hope cleared her throat.

“That’s enough of that. It’s time to go make that girl your wife.”

+++

Josie linked arms with her mother as she waited for the moment in which she would walk into the ceremony.

Her mother smiled.

“You ready?”

Josie laughed nervously.

The butterflies in her stomach were going crazy.

“Everyone keeps asking me that.”

“It’s okay. It’s a big step.”

“But I’m ready for it. I want to be with Penelope.”

Her mother nodded.

“I know. I can’t believe that both of my baby girls found someone who made them happy. I’m so proud of you two.”

Josie nodded.

“I’m proud of us as well.”

“That’s all that matters really.”

The music started playing and Josie took a deep breath.

“It’s time.”

Her mother squeezed her hand.

“Let’s go baby.”

Josie walked around the corner and into the pavilion.

The music playing was the bridal march, because Lizzie had insisted that it was tradition.

Josie looked up through teary eyes and saw her.

She saw the love of her life, her actual soulmate, and she fell in love with her all over again.

Yeah, she was making the right decision.

Penelope looked so good in a suit.

Josie walked down the aisle and met Penelope.

Penelope smiled, and Josie could see that her eyes were shining just as much as Josie’s.

Their eyes met and Josie was reminded of that first night.

Of a pair of strangers looking at each other from across a bar.

How much had changed since then.

“Hey fiancée,” Penelope greeted. Josie knew that she wanted to get as many uses out of that word as she could.

Josie smiled.

“Hey fiancée. Ready to get married?”

Penelope smiled.

“Always.”

They turned to the priest.

Josie mostly tuned him out so that she could look at and focus on Penelope.

She looked so beautiful.

She caught Penelope sneaking glances at her as well, and couldn’t help but feel like a high schooler with a crush.

Then, they reached the time for them to read out the vows.

Penelope went first, as they had agreed, because Penelope thought that if Josie went first, she’d cry too much, and she wouldn’t be able to say her own.

Josie disagreed, but let Penelope go first anyways.

“Josie Saltzman. When I met you, I felt like a nobody. I felt like no one cared about who I was, I felt like I was never going to find someone who loved me, and I didn’t think that I deserved to find someone who loved me. You changed everything for me. When I saw you for the first time, I knew that you were going to steal my heart. Even if we danced around each other for a while, the first time I kissed you felt like nothing I had ever experienced.

“I was stupid at first. I didn’t realize what I had, and I didn’t let you in. I walked away from you, because I didn’t think that I had a reason to stay. I was wrong. The only reason I ever needed was that you existed, that you loved me. And that was why I came back to you, because I knew that you were all I needed, all I would ever want. I thought I’d lost you, but you proved me wrong, you let me in, you helped me accept love that I didn’t think I was worth, and you showed me that yes, I was worth it.

“The past years that I have spent loving you have been the best of my life. I never want to be apart from you. And so, I asked you to marry me. And you said yes, and now, I’m about to be the happiest woman on earth, because I get to love you every day. I get to wake up and see your smile, your eyes, hear your voice, hear the beautiful words that you craft, feel your love, see the way you care, and I get to know that I’m yours, and that you are mine.”

Josie was crying.

She could feel her hands shaking.

She just wanted to kiss Penelope, to hold her, to love her, no matter what.

Josie wiped away her tears and smiled.

“I have no idea how I’m going to follow that,” she joked and the crowd laughed.

She looked at Hope and Lizzie and they smiled at her, nodding as if to tell her that she could do this.

She looked at her mother, who smiled, tears streaming down her cheeks.

She turned to look finally at Penelope, the love of her life.

Penelope nodded and mouthed ‘you’ve got this’.

Josie smiled thankfully and took a deep breath.

She could do this.

She had written so many songs about Penelope, had sung so many in public, or just to Penelope.

All she had to do was focus on the words, focus on Penelope.

She could do this.

“Penelope Park. The love of my life, the woman who I think might actually be my soulmate. I came to London because I was looking for something new, because I wanted to change my life. Suffice to say, you have changed my life so much. I met you, and I convinced myself that I wasn’t going to fall in love with you. I was very wrong, because well, look at you. You’re amazing, how could I not fall in love with you?

“As you mentioned, things didn’t go as they should have the first time around. I got scared, and I lied and I hid, and you did too. We made a mess of things and we both ended up getting hurt. It seemed that no matter how many times I fell in love, no one stayed. Then you knocked on my door on New Year’s, and you told me that you had come back for me, and I thought maybe you might be the one person to stay.

“And stay you did. Through every dark moment, through every time that I wanted to give up, you were the one who convinced me that I was strong enough to keep going. So, I did. I realized that you were the one person I could depend on, that I needed you in my life. You stood by my side when it felt like the world was against me. So, I wrote a song to say that I was sorry for shutting you out, for forcing us to break each other’s hearts. And you came back to me, you stayed in my heart. Since then, everything has been better. You have helped me love myself, you have helped me accept help, you have helped me become a better person.

“I said yes to your proposal, because I love you and because I never want to be apart from you. My heart has been borrowed by people who did awful things to it, and yours has been beaten blue with heartbreak. We found each other, and fixed our broken hearts. I swear that I will always be true to you, if a little overdramatic at times. I swear that I will keep loving you and your turtle smile, your shining green eyes, your laugh, your battered heart, your caring arms, your amazing mind, and just, you. Every part of me is yours and every part of you is mine. I love you so much.”

Josie was surprised that she was able to get through the whole speech without just dissolving into sobs.

Penelope had been right.

Her eyes were gushing like a waterfall, and Josie instinctively wiped her tears away.

Penelope laughed.

“Thanks.”

“Anything for you.”

The priest cleared his throat.

“And now,” he turned to Penelope.

“Do you, Penelope Park, take Josette Saltzman to be your lawfully wedded wife, until death does you part?”

Penelope nodded.

“I do.”

“Josette Saltzman, do you take Penelope Park to be your lawfully wedded wife, until death does you part?”

“I do.”

The priest nodded.

“I now pronounce you wife and wife; you may now kiss the bride.”

Josie and Penelope didn’t need to be told twice.

+++

Josie and Penelope’s first dance was to a song on Josie’s album, the one that she had released on their anniversary.

Josie had wanted to dance to Afterglow, but Lizzie had told her that it wasn’t a very good slow dancing song.

Josie disagreed, but the song they danced to instead was also very good.

It was called Enchanted, and Josie had written it about how meeting Penelope had changed her life.

They danced gracefully, holding each other close, knowing that they would never have to let go.

Later, Josie danced with her mother as Penelope danced with Lizzie, and Josie felt a little bit sad that Penelope’s family didn’t come.

They hadn’t been invited, obviously, Penelope didn’t want them here, but Josie still felt sad for these people she had never met.

They didn’t get the chance to know and love the amazing person their child had turned into.

It didn’t matter though.

Penelope had her own family, and it was one that was much stronger than any of her own blood.

Josie danced with Maya, who laughed as they reminisced about how Penelope and Josie had tried to hide the fact that they were sleeping together from everyone.

At the time, Josie had thought they were subtle.

As it turned out, literally everyone knew.

She danced with Ethan, and they talked about college, about all the dumb stuff they’d done back then.

She danced with Landon, and they talked about Penelope’s past, and how he was so glad that she’d found someone like Josie.

She danced with Hope, and Hope teased her for stealing a line from her vows to Lizzie. Josie just laughed, remembering a time when she hadn’t known if she would ever get to love Penelope.

Lizzie gave a speech, in which she embarrassed Josie greatly, but it was okay, because Maya embarrassed Penelope just as much in her speech.

The two of them just held each other and laughed, cringing at the awful stories.

At some point during the lunch, Penelope turned to Josie and smiled.

“What?” Josie asked.

“You’re my wife.”

Josie grinned back.

“And you’re my wife.”

Penelope laughed.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to get tired of that.”

Josie smiled and took Penelope’s hand under table, squeezing it softly.

“Good, because you get to say it for the rest of our lives.”

Penelope squeezed her hand back.

“I’m okay with that.”

Penelope rested her head on Josie’s shoulder and Josie smiled.

"Mrs Josie Park-Saltzman. You know, it really does have a ring to it," Penelope told her.

"Mrs Penelope Park-Saltzman. I'm glad that you listened to me," Josie replied.

Penelope just laughed.

They were quiet for a moment.

Then Penelope turned to Josie.

“You know, at some point, I think we should go back to London, for real.”

Josie smiled and nodded.

“I think you’re right. After all, it was your home, and the first place I ever really connected to.”

Penelope nodded.

“But there’s no rush. We have all the time in the world my dear.”

+++
That night, the newlyweds went home.

To the house where they’d painted the walls, where they’d made love so many times, where they’d spent the past two years.

It was their place, the place where they made the calls.

The Christmas lights were still up, because Josie thought they looked so pretty and Penelope had long since forgotten how to say no to Josie.

They walked inside, and slowly undressed each other, reveling in the knowledge that this was their life now.

They were married.

Josie would go on to write even more songs about Penelope, would sing to entire stadiums about how much she loved her.

They would scream back to her, and Josie would feel like the whole world was watching her.

She felt like that now, even though Penelope was the only one in the room.

She supposed that made sense.

Penelope was her whole world.

Penelope pushed her against the bed and kissed along her neck.

“You looked so pretty today Jojo. I’m so lucky to be yours.”

Josie laughed as Penelope moved down to her chest.

“Says you. Seriously, it should be illegal to look that good in a suit.”

Penelope kissed her belly button, and then rose back up to look at Josie.

“I shall make a point of wearing suits more often if this is how you feel about me in them.”

“Please do. But first, I think there’s something you should be doing.”

Penelope nodded.

“Our first marital sex. I’m so proud of us.”

Josie rolled her eyes.

“You’re such an idiot.”

“But you love me.”

“Don’t you forget it. Now, if you don’t touch me already, I might have to do it myself.”

Penelope’s eyes darkened, and she kissed Josie soundly, her fingers gliding down Josie’s body.

Josie broke the kiss to moan as Penelope finally touched her right where she needed.

Penelope watched Josie as she gasped and moaned.

Penelope’s touch had never been gentler.

Josie remembered once hating when Penelope did this.

She loved it so much now.

She felt so loved this way.

Josie came down from her high and rolled them over, kissing all over Penelope’s face.

They had done this so many times.

So many times, had they touched each other, so many times had they sent the other into heaven, and yet every time it still felt special.

Josie supposed that was because it was with each other.

It didn’t matter what they were doing, because if they were with each other, they would probably enjoy it.

+++

At 2am Penelope woke Josie up to dance with her in the kitchen.

Josie couldn’t say no to her either, so she let Penelope lead her.

Penelope convinced Josie to sing the music for them, and Josie happily obliged.

She started with songs that Penelope knew, and then moved into one that she had been working on, one that would be released soon.

We could leave the Christmas lights up 'til January

Penelope chuckled and muttered something about how they really needed to take those down. Josie smiled and kept singing.

This is our place, we make the rules

And there's a dazzling haze, a mysterious way about you, dear

Have I known you twenty seconds or twenty years?

“It’s been three years, actually.”

Josie rolled her eyes and kept singing.

Can I go where you go?

Can we always be this close forever and ever?

And ah, take me out, and take me home

You're my, my, my, my lover

Penelope’s eyes softened and she kissed Josie softly.

When she pulled back, she motioned with her eyes for Josie to keep going.

We could let our friends crash in the living room

This is our place, we make the call

And I'm highly suspicious that everyone who sees you wants you

I've loved you three summers now, honey, but I want 'em all

“I want them all too.”

“I know love.”

Can I go where you go?

Can we always be this close forever and ever?

And ah, take me out, and take me home (forever and ever)

You're my, my, my, my lover

Josie stepped back a little and started spinning them around.

Ladies and gentlemen, will you please stand?

With every guitar string scar on my hand

I take this magnetic force of a girl to be my lover

My heart's been borrowed and yours has been blue

Penelope’s eyes lit up in recognition, but she said nothing.

All's well that ends well to end up with you

Swear to be overdramatic and true to my lover

And you'll save all your dirtiest jokes for me

And at every table, I'll save you a seat, lover

Penelope pulled Josie back in, and when she started singing the final chorus, Penelope joined in, both of their voices matching in perfect harmony.

They were perfect together.

A little bruised.

And sure, maybe they got a little lost on the way to each other, but they were found, and that’s all that matters in the end.

All that matters is that at the end of the day, they were together, and ready to face whatever came next.

Can I go where you go?

Can we always be this close forever and ever?

And ah, take me out, and take me home (forever and ever)

You're my, my, my, my

Oh, you're my, my, my, my

Darling, you're my, my, my, my lover