Actions

Work Header

Orion's Belt

Chapter Text

Ellie slung her bag off her shoulder, allowing it to fall carelessly to the ground. It was old and worn and she didn't care whether or not it got dirty. She smiled knowing Joel would scold her for being so negligent with her own belongings.

Raising her arms above her head she stretched, groaning in pleasure as all the parts in her body aligned into place. She was tired, but knew that she would instantly feel better for coming regardless of how exhausted she felt. It had been a long week but she had survived it unscathed for the most part.

Though, she wasn't convinced she would never not feel tired again until this was all over.

"Williams." a stern voice called, not looking up from her clipboard. "You're late."

"Sorry, Maria!" she huffed, jogging over to her coach. "Just lost track of time."

"Don't make a habit of it." she scolded, a faint smile on her lips. "5 laps, stretch and then 5 more for being late. Then we'll get into some drills once you're caught up with the others."

"Yes Ma'am." Ellie mumbled, mock saluting as she jogged passed her coach and onto the running track to get started.

She was a tough lady but she was fair and just. Ellie definitely did not want to get on her bad side though, she had many stories about how ruthless she had been to those that had crossed her.

Ellie had worked hard to get where she was and had given up a lot. Her social life definitely suffered, she was okay with that though, people weren't really her thing. Every spare moment was dedicated to training so she could get good enough to make the junior varsity soccer team her first year. She considered it a stepping stone to the varsity squad and she would make sure that even during their first game she would make a good impression.

Settling into college hadn't been easy for her, it was a big change from the small high school she had arrived from. She had never been good with crowds, thankful that her home town was mostly full of old folk who didn't have much time for dealing with the shenanigans of youth, too busy working hard every day to make a living.

When she received the letter from the university she had thought about throwing it away before opening it, her nerves getting the best of her. She wasn't even sure she wanted to go to college or if it would have been a good fit for her but Joel had insisted she open it saying that the worst thing that could happen was that she would be rejected but they would try again. From the moment she got that acceptance letter, Ellie decided that she would try for Joel. He thought the world of her and she wanted to repay his kindness for everything he had done for her.

Even if that meant coming out of her comfort zone.

And that it also meant following the rules.

She wasn't a bad kid, but she always had issues following rules laid out for her. Especially if she didn't believe in them or understand them. 

The crowds were the hardest part to get used to. When everyone else was in class she could walk around the campus no problem, in fact, she really enjoyed it. It was pretty and she always found something new to look at but when classes were out, there were too many people for her to comfortably navigate and she got lost in the crowd.

She was thankful that she at least had Jesse here.

Ellie was ecstatic when she found out that he had applied to the same school and also got accepted. He had definitely made adjusting easier.

Jesse was the complete opposite of Ellie. He was confident and he was charming in the way that made him easy to befriend. Ellie was quiet and reserved, she was shy and didn't find it easy to open up but people tended to like her once they got to know her. They were a perfect pair, balancing each other out but also being competitive enough to push each other to their best.

Ellie was tired, training had been grueling as they prepared for their first game. Ellie didn't know the team but was told it was their fiercest rivals and that their coach expected the best of them, spurring them to grab the win on their home soil. 

She wasn't sure whether or not she would be selected in the starting line up, considering she was one of the newer editions to the team but she thought that she had done enough to be a potential contender. Everyone in the team was talented and everyone had their different strengths on the field, she just hoped that her strengths complemented those of the first string enough to get a spot.

She wasn't going to hold her breath though, she had been warned about how hard it would be to poach a spot from one of the other more established players.

"Yo, Ellie!" Jesse yelled, waving at her as he sauntered over.

"Hey, Jesse." Ellie grinned, lifting her bag and slinging it back over her shoulder. "Good training?"

"Man, I think the coach hates me." he breathed heavily, his chest heaving. "Ran me for miles more than the other guys. I briefly thought about quitting... but knew you'd kill me." he laughed, knocking Ellie with his shoulder as he stepped up beside her.

Ellie only rolled her eyes. "As if you'd quit, you'd lose all the girls who fawn over you, you fucking jock."

"You think I need soccer to get the girls?" he asked, mock offended. "You don't understand my charm because you're a lesbian is all." he laughed.

"Yeah, yeah."

"Plus." he began. "You're making a name for yourself too. Have you seen some of the cheerleaders checking you out? Not to mention some of the guys on the team. You're pretty popular for a nobody." he finished, wrapping his arm around her neck and ruffling her hair. "My little Ellie's growing up."

"I'm the same height as you!" she exclaimed, struggling out of her grasp before shoving him. "Not like I care." she said with a shrug. "What are we doing tonight, anyway? You down to grab some food?"

"Yeah, I'm starved. But also there's this party I've been invited to tonight at one of the frat houses. You have to go with me later." he turned to face Ellie, looking at her with a look of pleading.

"Don't you have a game tomorrow?" she asked with a cocked eyebrow.

"Yeah, I'm not going to be drinking much. You're gonna come watch me, right?" he asked, linking his arm with hers.

"As if you need to ask. You're coming to mine, right?" she asked back, bumping into him.

"If you come to this party with me, sure." he grinned.

"Jesse." she groaned. "You know I don't do parties."

"Please, Ellie." he begged. "I need you to be my wingman."

Ellie looked down and rubbed at the back of her neck. "Fine, but you owe me."

 


 

Jesse held her wrist tightly as he dragged her through the crowded house to the kitchen. Opening the fridge he grabbed her two beers out, taking the lid off each one before handing one to his friend.

"Uh, are you allowed to just take those?" she asked skeptically, slowly taking a sip of the alcoholic beverage.

She wasn't a massive fan of beer, spirits being more her thing but she would take anything at this point. She felt out of place and out of her depth as everyone moved and shoved their way around the packed place, not to mention the chorus of screams from all the drunk girls perforating her eardrums.

She hadn't expected anything less of a frat party though to be fair.

Ellie had never been like that, being the type to scream in excitement or cling to others. She also didn't think she would like to be like that or have anyone around her doing that to her. She figured it would make her anxious and nervous. Anything that made her the center of attention was already too much for her.

She was much happier sitting on the sideline, far away from anything that would get her noticed in any social setting.

It was just easier that way. 

Jesse only shrugged. "They won't miss them."

It wasn't long before Ellie lost Jesse in the crowd. She wasn't too worried about it, she knew he would be okay and they would meet up eventually. By that point, Ellie had had a few beers so was feeling more at ease and found talking to the strangers a little easier.

She was surprised that she recognized a few of them. A couple of guys from Jesse's soccer team and even a few girls from her own team were there so she didn't feel like such an outcast. 

She continued to chat with them before eventually being forced to a beer pong table despite her protests. She had heard the yelling and trash-talking in her peripheries all evening and knew it wasn't something she wanted to be involved in.

This already wasn't her scene.

She had played a few times with their highschool friends but definitely not enough to feel confident in her abilities, especially in front of a large group of people.

Fortunately, she was shoved beside Jesse. She wasn't entirely surprised that he was right in the middle of all the commotion, he always seemed to be in the middle of it all no matter what it was. Usually, it was trouble and Ellie would have to drag him out of it.

"Ellie!" he yelled, wrapping his arms tightly around her. "I missed you. Everyone, this is Ellie!"

The crowd around him cheered for her and she felt her face blush with embarrassment, making a mental note to punch him when they were away from everyone.

"Are you two next?" two football jocks at the end asked cockily. "'Cause you might as well not even try, you look shit. No one's beat us yet."

"Oh yeah?" Jesse slurred. "My mate Ellie here happens to be the best at this game. She could take you on solo."

"Jesse!" Ellie hissed, tugging at his jacket. "What are you doing?"

He shrugged with a shit-eating grin, one that made it made sense as to why he got into so many situations like this.

"Don't get me in trouble." she pleaded.

"We'll take both of you losers on before you even sink a cup!" he added, pumping his fist in the air. 

"Jesse!" Ellie hit him hard on the arm. "Are you even any good, I've never seen you play!"

"Absolutely rubbish." he laughed, filling up the cups in front of him with beer. "We're definitely going to lose."

"I'll play with you."

Ellie spun around and came face to face with a beautiful black-haired woman and she gave her a smirk as their eyes met, fearful greens against confident browns.

"Oh yeah, thanks. Ellie is rubbish." Jesse grinned back, picking up one of the ping pong balls and tossing it in his hand confidently.

"Not with you, you idiot. With her." the girl laughed, snatching the balls out of his hand and shoving him to the side of the table. 

"What do you say we make a bet?" she smirked, stepping up to the edge of the table and looking up to meet the eyes of the boys probably almost three times her size. "Or are you chicken?"

The boys took a second to look at each other, confidently smiling before laughing. "Sure, what do you have in mind?" 

"Loser strips down and does a lap around the campus," she suggest with a cocked brow.

"What!" Ellie frowned, turning towards the girl. "No, I won't."

The two boys smirked, looking Ellie up and down in a way that made her skin crawl. "You got a deal."

"Just go with it." the shorter woman whispered softly to her, looking up to meet her eyes.

Ellie opened her mouth to argue but couldn't, the look in her deep brown eye's enough to keep her fear at bay for now. She'll reconsider if they were losing.

Ellie watched as the girl confidently stepped up to the table and without a word effortlessly tossed the ball in the air, it landing cleanly in the opposing team's cup.

The two jocks stood there dumbfounded.

Ellie turned to the girl, her mouth open more than it had any right being. The mysterious woman raised her hand, waiting for Ellie to high five her. After a slightly awkward wait, she finally followed the cue and gave her a hard one before she was handed the other ball.

"Your turn." she urged.

"I'm not good at this." Ellie leaned in close to her ear and hissed through clenched teeth. 

The girl only smiled at her, stepping up behind her and taking hold of her hand. "Here, like this." she whispered as she showed Ellie the correct motion, her hand gently sliding over her skin and her thumb finally caressing her knuckles.

It was softer than it had any business being.

Ellie swallowed the lump in her throat, sure she was imagining it all. Certain she wasn't grinding her hips against her ass as she did so, pressing further into her body as she guided Ellie through the motions.

No, Ellie was sure it was just the close proximity of her and the alcohol playing tricks on her mind and she definitely wasn't feeling her breath on the back of her neck.

She allowed the girl to help her throw the ball and just like before, it landed cleanly in the cup.

She excitedly turned towards her and much like she had held out her hand for a high five.

The girl met her with an enthusiastic one before pulling her into a tight hug. "You got this, freckles."

"Whoo! Girls." Jesse cheered. "Girls! Girls! Girls!" he began a chorus of chanting and the longer it went on Ellie was sure that they were no longer even saying the word correctly.

"Go on boys, drink up." The girl smirked. "And we'll have those balls back."

"That's not fair." one of the boys grumbled, retrieving the ball and tossing it back before sculling the drink underneath.

The second one followed suit, a deep frown etched on to his face.

"You're not sore losers, are you?" Dina asked again tossing the ball without a second thought and having it land perfectly in the middle cup. 

"You're kidding, right?" the boy yelled back at her. "You've got to be cheating."

The girl only shook her head and smirked at the boys before turning her attention to Ellie. "You're up again, Freckles."

Ellie nodded, suddenly missing the feeling of the girl pressed up behind her, guiding her. She shook her head clear, she didn't even know her and mentally scolded herself for being so pathetic.

She took aim, narrowing her eyes as she tried to judge the throw. She thought she had tried really hard, but when the ball hit the rim of the cup and bounced over the back to be caught she wasn't so sure about that anymore. Feeling a little stupid she turned back to her partner and gave a small shrug.

"Ha!" the guys chorused and high fived each other before jumping into each other and bumping their chests. "She's the weak link. Let's sink them, bro."

"Sorry..." Ellie muttered lowly.

"You're acting as if you've already won the game, how about you at least get one in before you celebrate." the woman yelled back at them in response before turning to Ellie, resting her hand on her lower back. "It's okay, you'll get them next time. Watch, bet they won't even get one."

Ellie nodded, strangely feeling calmer under her gaze and turned back to the game. Her heart immediately settled as the boys missed both their shots, muttering excuses under their breaths. At least it wasn't just her missing.

"Look who fucking sucks now. " the woman smiled smugly, goading them. "For being such big talkers you're being awfully quiet now, aren't you?" 

"Yeah, yeah. Just throw the balls." the growled, motioning for the crowd to quieten down.

It hadn't been a perfect game, but it was mostly one-sided. Ellie couldn't be certain but she was sure that her partner missed some on purpose to make her feel better about how much she missed. Each time she missed it gave her a mini-stroke, but the other girl never seemed worried, just giving a small shrug and reassuring smile in response.

By the time they had sunk the last cup, the boys were all but quiet, far from the loud-mouthed ones that they had stepped up to play.

"Alright fuckers, outside and drop your pants." the black-haired woman grinned at Ellie.

For a moment she thought they were going to argue, were going to back out but as the crowd started booing and shoving them towards the door, they eventually conceded and went on their own accord, beginning to pretend that they had lost on purpose so they could take their clothes off and show off.

Anything to save their pride.

Ellie had only rolled her eyes.

If Ellie wasn't feeling buzzed before, she definitely was now. She felt drunk and elated, enjoying the crowd that had cheered for her. With the jocks outside and presumably removing their clothing due to the chorus of both cheers and laugher, the house had cleared out to watch them complete it.

She was thankful for that now that the pressure was off her.

She felt her phone buzz in her pocket, seeing a few picture media messages from Jesse that she had ignored from earlier, the latest message being from Joel. She clicked his message thread.

"I know I said I'd not bother you so much why you're settling in but it's Friday and the house feels empty without you. I think it's haunted and it was just covered up by your elephant feet. What are you doing on your first Friday night?"

Ellie snorted and leaned back against the kitchen countertop. 

"The house is not haunted, you're just getting senile and losing your mind. Would you believe I'm at some frat party?"

"Will you search on the internet and find where I can find some sage if anything to help get the smell of dirty laundry out of your room but I may need an exorcist for that. Did someone kidnap you? Send an SOS if you need me to send the police."

Ellie quickly thumbed back a response. 

"Where was this humor when I was home? TTYL, my kidnapper is coming."

She shook her head and stuffed her phone back in her pocket.

She knew Joel wouldn't cope too well without her being there so made a conscious effort to message and call when she could. They had been a constant fixture in each other's lives for years and adjusting without the other had been hard for both of them.

Ellie realized the first day after she had a tough day of classes that she couldn't go to him to just vent. Debriefing was important to her, it stopped her from keeping everything pent up but she didn't have him here to do that. She had Jessie, but it wasn't the same.

Ellie was glad she chose to stay behind in the house, enjoying the quiet moment that followed. She went to the fridge, retrieving another beer that she deemed she deserved for conquering the champions.

"You're not going to watch?" the familiar voice asked from behind her.

Ellie turned around, for a moment fearful she was going to get scolded for taking the beer from the fridge, her heart finally settling in her chest when she saw it was the same girl from before.

"Nah, couldn't really care less about seeing two meatheads undress. What about you?" she said with a small shrug, popping the cap off the beer before offering it to the girl.

She shrugged in return, taking the beer from her and brought it to her lips, keeping her eyes in Ellie's the entire time. "I've seen it all before, nothing new... Hey, do you want to head out back and get some fresh air?"

"Yeah, sure." Ellie replied, grabbing another drink and taking the top off.

Ellie waited for her to move in front of her and lead the way but to her surprise, the girl reached out and took her hand, leading her out the back of the house to the porch. She couldn't help the blush that painted her cheeks, thankful that they were heading into the night and not into a lit room. She wasn't sure she would be able to handle the embarrassment if she knew.

 They both settled on the railing, leaning on their arms as they peered out into the darkness and into the night sky.

"So, what's your name?" 

"Ellie..." she replied, bringing the bottle to her lips. "You?"

"Ellie... That's a pretty name. I'm Dina." she replied. "It's Jewish or whatever."

"It's nice." Ellie nodded slowly. "Different. I like it."

"Are you a freshman?" Dina asked, tilting her head to the side.

"Yeah, I am..." Ellie replied, turning to give her a soft smile. "This place is a lot bigger than what I expected."

"Ditto." Dina smiled, clasping her hands together and looking down at them. "So, what do you do, Ellie?"

Ellie gave a small shrug. "Biological science." she paused, realizing she probably sounded boring. "And soccer." she added, wondering if that made her sound any more interesting or worse.

"Oh, so you're a space nerd, huh?" Dina grinned, turning her head back towards the girl at her side.

"A little bit." Ellie couldn't help but blush, thinking that Dina wouldn't know what the degree was to do with. "What about you?"

"Film making with a little acting here and there." she began. "I'd like to be an actress one day, I know that's not likely though so I'd settle with making some kick-ass films."

"Why not?" Ellie asked unsure if she should press.

Dina only shrugged in response before motioning with her head towards the stars. "So, you want to go up there?"

Ellie took a deep breath and exhaled. "Yeah, I think so. One day anyways. I've just always been fascinated with it. Something out there that's bigger than we are, making us all small and insignificant."

Dina nodded. "Do you know about stars? Constellations and shit?"

"Yeah, I know a bit. My uh... My old man taught me a lot about them. I don't think he was ever interested in that stuff but he learned them to teach me."

"Could you show me?" Dina asked softly, taking a cautious step to the side to close the gap between them.

Ellie turned her head to meet her gaze before nodding. "Yeah, I can show you some."

She tilted her head back and looked at the stars, narrowing her eyes briefly as she searched for one she could easily identify in her inebriated state. It took a moment but finally she settled on one.

"That one there." she said softly, lifting her hand to point in the direction. "You see that line of three bigger stars there? That's Oriens belt... It's made of three bright stars Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. It's pretty easy to spot in the sky... but if you just go down from that one a little bit..." she continued pointing but dropped her hand lower. "You see that super bright star? That's Sirius, also known as the Dog Star."

"Why?" Dina asked with a mumble, turning her face to her.

"It's official name is Alpha Canis Majoris."

"Oh." Dina mouthed. "That makes sense, I guess."

"And that one there..." she moved her hand, pointing to the left. "That one is Gemini."

"I don't see that one at all." Dina spoke softly, turning her attention back to Ellie, losing her attention to counting the freckles on her cheek as she listened to her talk passionately about the night sky.

Ellie gave a small laugh. "Yeah... they don't really look like anything you expect them to. Hmm... Let me see. Oh! There''s Taurus too. Do you see?"

"Mhmm." Dina hummed, her eyes still fixed on Ellie.

"And uh, the largest constellation is called Hydra, it takes up 3.16 percent of the sky..." Ellie added matter of fact.

"Where's that one?" Dina asked absentmindedly.

"Oh, you can't see it. Maybe around April, I'll be able to show you..." she trailed off, realizing how forward that sounded considering she would likely never see this girl again.

Finally, Ellie turned her face towards Dina, her face turning a deep shade of red when she realized that she had been staring at her. For how long, she didn't know but even a few seconds was too much.

"You have a lot of freckles, you know?" Dina only smiled lopsidedly as she finally turned her attention away from Ellie and back to the sky.

Ellie's lips felt dry and she felt her tongue darting out to moisten them, noticing her mouth felt just as dry so she raised her beer to her lips instead of replying. What was she even meant to say to that?

She felt the shorter girl shiver beside her, each one causing her to brush her bare arms against Ellie's body. Ellie didn't hate the contact but she immediately became concerned. It was a lot colder outside than it had been when she arrived at the party earlier. Likely Dina had thought the same.

"Are you cold?" Ellie mumbled, her eye's fixing on Dina.

Dina only nodded.

Ellie slipped her jacket off her shoulders and turned to hold it out for the girl beside her. Instead of taking it from her and putting it on herself, Dina smiled softly and slipped her arm inside one sleeve followed by the next, patiently waiting as Ellie lifted it up her back until it settled right.

"Aren't you a gentleman." Dina quipped, shooting her a daring smirk.

"Yeah, well I'm not prepared to hide your body tonight when you freeze to death." she shot back, turning her attention back to the sky and away from Dina's prying eyes.

"You sure you don't want to change your career to something funnier? Maybe a comedian?" Dina replied, taking her spot back next to Ellie and following her eyes to the sky, her attention still flittering back to the taller girls face every so often.

"When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a stand-up comedian..." Ellie turned her attention back to Dina. "But I found it's much more enjoyable sitting down." she finished deadpan.

"Oh my god." Dina said with the faintest of chuckles, covering her mouth with her hand. "That was awful.

"Hey, you laughed." Ellie shrugged sheepishly.

"Alright Mitch Hedberg, definitely stick to your current career path. I wouldn't want to have to be the only one attending your shows because I felt bad for you." 

"No, you'd be attending my shows because you-actually-find-me-funny." Ellie laughed.

"Maybe. Maybe not. Imagine trying to figure that out every set when I'm sitting there deadpan. I'm an actress, remember. At least my presence would fill the room for you. Maybe I'd laugh for you out of sympathy." Dina gave a small laugh back, pulling the corner of her lip into another smirk. "So Ellie... Soccer, huh?"

Ellie closed her eyes for a moment before taking a long drink. "Mhmm."

"Any good?" Dina asked, arching her brow at her.

"Eh, I'm okay." she shrugged. "I've got a game this weekend I'm pretty nervous about."

"Is that why you're drinking tonight?" Dina asked with a small tilt of her head. "Why are you nervous?"

Ellie gave another shrug, looking down at the drink in her hand and peeling anxiously at the label. "I just want to do well."

Dina laughed and knocked her shoulder into her. "Well, if you're as terrible at soccer as you are at comedy, I'm worried for you... But I'm sure you're much better than that. Don't be so nervous. Fake it until you make it."

"Yeah." Ellie smiled. "I don't think it's that easy but I'll keep that in mind."

"Oh, Ellie. I'm never wrong." Dina said confidently. "You remember that and you'll do fine. You'll get all the touchdowns... or whatever it is you do in soccer."

Ellie rolled her eyes. "Goals. But thanks for the pep talk, Coach."

"You know, we really should have lost that game..." Dina grinned with a small shrug of her shoulders.

"What? Why?" Ellie stuttered out.

"I might have liked seeing you naked..." Dina began with a devious smirk. "That and I think it would have been funny seeing you get all embarrassed and shit."

Ellie blushed hard, certain that Dina had noticed her sudden awkwardness. She wanted to come back with something equally as witty and open ended but the words were too jumbled in her brain. Instead she just stared at her like a deer caught in the headlights.

Ellie watched as Dina turned her attention back to the sky, her lips arched into a soft smile. Her eyes lingered on the way the moon bathed her olive sky, highlighting the sharp features of her face and she was certain in that moment she hadn't seen a girl more beautiful before now. She wondered if Dina knew?

She wanted to be an actress, of course she knew that there was something attractive about her features.

Would she mind if she told her?

She shook her head. She probably heard it all the time anyway.

But still, Ellie couldn't help the butterflies in the pit of her stomach and she blamed it on the beer. Convinced she had had too much for her own good and it was just starting to make her feel sick. She thought about whether or not she should try to find Jesse and drag him home with her but she couldn't peel her away from Dina's side, something drawing her body towards her.

She was certain Dina just had that personality that captivated others. The same one Jesse had that caused people to gravitate towards them, that made it easy to become their friend and for them to be everyone else's best friend.

"Tell me more about the stars." Dina finally broke the silence, gesturing with her head upwards.

Ellie wasn't sure how long they had been out on the porch for, the people had since returned to the party and moved around them but they didn't seem to mind. Dina listened patiently as she continued to talk more about space and if she had bored her with it she didn't let on. Instead nodded slowly or asking questions when she wanted something clarified or she didn't understand. Not once did she make her feel like she was just some nerd or stupid for her interest.

"Dina!" a boy yelled behind her, rushing up to them.

Ellie watched as Dina spun around, her expression neutral as her gaze fell on his face before she gave him a welcome smile. "Hey, Joe. What's up?"

"You gotta come with me, I've got something to show you." he exclaimed as he reached for her wrist, tugging her forward. 

Dina allowed him to do so, looking over her shoulder at Ellie she offered a small apologetic smile as she was removed from her vicinity and disappeared in the crowd.

Ellie took a breath and puffed out her cheeks before exhaling deeply, leaning back against the porch railing as she finished her drink, staring into the crowd where Dina had just disappeared. She had only just met her but she already missed her company.

She mentally kicked herself as she realized she had spent the entire night talking about herself and hadn't actually asked Dina many questions but she had made it easy and quite frankly hadn't given her an opportunity to ask.

Ellie wondered if she had done that on purpose.

She shook her head clear of the thoughts, no point dwelling on someone she would likely never see again. The university campus was huge and the likely hood of them running into each other again was slim, considering they were both doing entirely different things.

Pushing forward on her feet she made a beeline for the door. She would hunt down Jesse, drag him to bed and scold him later for leaving her alone for so long.

 



"But Ellie!" Jesse exclaimed, digging his feet into the ground in protest as she continued to drag him across the campus. "We must go back!"

"And why is that?" she muttered, sobering up now and feeling the cold as it lapped at her bare skin, realizing now that she had given her jacket away and likely wouldn't get it back.

She frowned, that was her favorite jacket.

"The ladies, Ellie." he finally managed to stop her and looked her head in the eyes, gesturing with his hand to emphasize. "The. Ladies."

Ellie rolled her eyes, wrapping her arms back around his waist. "You have a game tomorrow, you can worry about the ladies then. And you need to be quiet."

Jesse closed his eyes and nodded, leaning against Ellie's side and putting more weight on her then he ought to have. "Yes, Ellie. I'll be good. You're going to come to watch me, right?"

"I've already said I'd go. Are you that drunk?" she asked with a small laugh, heaving him up the steps of the building to her dorm.

"Yeah, but you're like, my number one fan." he mumbled, dragging his feet more and leaving Ellie to wonder if he was doing it on purpose.

"Oh, you think so?"

"Mhmm." he nodded. "You'll cheer for me even if I do bad because I drank too much the night before." he slurred, his words almost inaudible.

Ellie finally reached her door, maneuvering the tired and drunk man to rest on her side as she fiddled with her keys trying to find the correct one to her room. Once she had she quickly turned it in the lock, pushing the door open with a twist of the handle. 

"Alright, Jesse. Bedtime." she groaned, lifting him up enough to toss him down on to the couch. 

"G'night, Ellie..." Jesse mumbled sleepily as he shifted on the couch, almost instantaneously snoring.

Ellie watched him settle and smiled, pulling one of her blankets off the bed to drape it over him. He was a drunken idiot but he was her drunken idiot. She knew he would regret it tomorrow, he did almost every time but he could never help himself. She would definitely tease him for it.

She changed into a pair of shorts and an old tank top before climbing under the covers and settling her head against the pillow, rolling on to her back. She stared up to the darkness of her ceiling suddenly feeling more awake than she had all night.

She couldn't stop thinking about Dina. 

Why hadn't she asked for her number?

She mentally kicked herself, finally conceding that there wasn't much she could do about it now and admitting to herself that it likely had meant nothing to the smaller girl anyhow. She was probably just being friendly, she seemed like the type to do that. That would definitely explain why she had spent so long allowing Ellie to talk about herself.

She groaned, raising her hand to her forehead as she realized just how boring she had probably been. No one wants to hear about space. Why couldn't she think of something more interesting to talk about? Next time she spoke with someone she decided she would avoid that topic completely, but then what would she talk about?

That was the only thing she knew confidently enough to talk to a stranger about. 

She sighed, rubbing at her eyes. 

"Ellie!" a sleepy Jesse murmured, snapping Ellie out of her mental anguish.

"Go to sleep, Jesse." she said sternly.

"But, Ellie." he began again. "I met a girl tonight."

Ellie snorted and couldn't help but smile as she closed her eyes. "Oh, yeah?"

"She only has the prettiest name I've ever heard." he exclaimed, raising his hand to the air, still very much in his sleepy state. 

"Okay Romeo, what's her name?" Ellie asked, her interest peaked.

"Dina."

Ellie only closed her eyes tighter, her heart sinking into her gut.

 

Chapter Text

Ellie felt miserable from the moment she woke up. Maybe it was the weather, it had decided to storm overnight and the rain was still pounding down against the roof of the dorms, or maybe it was something else she wasn't sure.

Ellie didn't hate the rain, in fact, she loved the sound of it on the tiled roof, allowing the sound of the padding water to gently lull her into a dreamy state.

It took her back to her childhood, back when she wasn't sure what the next day was going to hold for her. Back when she would lay awake, scared to fall asleep. The rain always helped calm her nerves and there was just something cathartic about it that made Ellie's heart settle in her chest in a way that nothing else had.

Finally, she sat up in her bed, glancing at her phone on the bedside table, the face reading 5 am.

She groaned and rubbed at her forehead, the dull pounding becoming excruciating now that she was sitting up. She should have figured she would have a hangover, beer always did that to her, not to mention the bloated feeling she felt in her guts.

Pulling her hand down she turned her attention to the boy on the couch who she was sure had not moved since he had passed out the night before. He snored softly and Ellie cursed him for being so easily able to fall asleep and stay asleep. She wished she could be half as carefree as he was.

Throwing her legs over the side of her bed she planted her feet flat on the floor, the coldness seeping into her bones but she welcomed it, taking some of her attention away from her head. She pulled open the draw of the bedside table and rustled around for something to take when she finally found what she was after she popped a couple of tabs and swallowed it down with the water beside her bed.

Ellie thought about laying back down and trying to force herself to go back to sleep.

Finally shaking her head she stood up. She would likely end up laying there and thinking too much if she were to do that anyways. She knew she definitely wouldn't be sleeping.

Silently she changed into some running shorts, a sports bra, a new shirt, and a sweater before sitting back on the edge of the bed and pulling her runners out from under the bed and slipping her feet into them, sloppily tying them to her feet.

She reached for her headphones, connecting them to her phone before pulling them on to her head. She immediately selected her playlist that consisted of all her favorite songs for working out to and stood, turning her neck from side to side to stretch before heading towards the door.

She glanced down once more at Jesse and thought about kicking him as she walked passed but decided today she wouldn't be that cruel. She would allow him to get a little more sleep and hopefully, he would feel somewhat rested for his game today.

With a sigh, she went back to her bedside table and grabbed the pills out and the water, and placed them beside Jesse on the floor.

She was too good to him, she decided.

Again, she briefly thought about kicking him as she passed but again decided against it, even if she did feel anger towards him that she couldn't quite place her finger on.

She shrugged as she exited her dorm, gently closing the door behind her and heading down the hall and out of the building, towards the athletics track. 

The rain pounded down around her, but she didn't care. Pulling up the hood of her sweater, she took a moment to stretch before she began jogging around the loop, bobbing her head gently to the music and thankful that she had the peace to work out without anyone else around.

It was cold but she enjoyed the feeling of the drops of rain stinging her skin as they made contact.

The longer she ran, the more she thought. The more she thought, the faster she ran.

She couldn't quite place her finger on what was making her feel the uneasiness in her stomach. She could blame it on the alcohol, but she was sure it wasn't that. Maybe she was getting sick? She couldn't be, other than tired she mostly felt fine, plus she had a game tomorrow that she couldn't afford to miss.

Her attention kept switching towards the party last night, and she would force herself to think of something else like how many laps she had run or how fast but eventually she ran out of other things to think about and conceded the thought to her mind.

The more she thought about it the more she realized she knew exactly what was making her feel so out of sorts.

Surely there was more than one person called Dina on campus and it was likely Jesse had just met the other.

She shook her head, forcing herself to run faster. Of course, that wasn't likely.

What did it matter anyway, she was just some girl that Ellie met at a frat party. 

The other woman had no ties to Ellie, just like Ellie had no ties to her. They had literally talked once and Ellie being the awkward idiot she was spent the entire night talking about herself anyways. She didn't know a single thing about her other than what she was majoring in. 

That wasn't how you made friends.

Ellie decided she didn't care, she only cared in the first place because Dina had her jacket. Maybe the fact that she had become friends with Jesse meant that she would get it back.

She really liked that jacket.

Ellie sighed finally stopping, resting her hands on her knees as she leaned over, desperately trying to catch her breath. She gasped like a fish out of water, realizing how dramatic she would have looked if anyone had shown up and was watching and becoming self-conscious. She stood straight up instead, doing her best to gulp in large breathes of air as she attempted to walk it off.

She had definitely pushed herself too far.

She pulled her phone out of her pocket as she absentmindedly began to walk laps to both catch her breath and warm down and checked the time, she had only been out for an hour and a half. She could have sworn it was longer but she was certain that had just been down to the fact that she had pushed herself so hard. 

She quickly unlocked it with her passcode before selecting her messages and clicking Jesse's name so she could view all the unopened media messages from him from the night before.

Most were pretty nondescript, typical pictures that Jesse would always send Ellie on his nights out. Selfies that were taken at such terrible angles that almost made it so no one's faces were even present and it took a while to work out who it was even a picture of.

She scrolled through them at pace with a roll of her eyes, until she reached the final one. She pulled a face, bringing the phone closer to her face as if it would make what she was seeing make more sense to her. A very drunk Jesse with his lips pressed against the cheek of a certain black-haired girl who had a smile bright enough to light up the whole room plastered on her face, her eyes closed.

And she was wearing her jacket.

That settled it, there was only one Dina.

She sighed in frustration, hitting the palm of her hand against her thigh as she turned around and headed back towards the campus.

When she finally arrived back to her dorm room, she made sure to slam her door, not even giving a second thought to anyone else who she shared a floor with. 

"Wha..." a startled Jesse jumped, falling from the couch and onto the floor underneath him.

"Whoops." Ellie said under her breath with a small smirk.

"Ugh." Jesse groaned, slowly lifting himself from the floor and back on to the couch, reaching up to rub at his head. "I feel like shit."

"Yeah, I bet." she rolled her eyes, tossing a bag of pastries at her friend hard enough to knock the wind out of him. "I got you some food from the coffee cart downstairs, thought you could use a pick me up."

Jesse looked up to Ellie, trying his best to make his lip appear to quiver. "You're an angel. What have I done in my short existence to deserve you." he mocked, digging into the bag to pull out a danish and stuffing it right into his mouth. "Oh my god... get in me." he groaned in pleasure.

"You're disgusting." Ellie shook her head as she peeled her feet out of her wet runners, and shimmied her way out of her wet hoody. 

"You uh, have something you really needed to do this morning?" he asked, his mouth full as he gestured to her wet clothes with the pastry still in his hand, causing flakes to peel off and fall on to the floor.

"Couldn't sleep so I went for a run." Ellie shrugged before turning completely to him. "Can you also please stop making a mess of my room."

Jesse laughed, a laugh so contagious that Ellie couldn't help but smile in response. 

"As if your room isn't already a mess, Ellie."

"Yeah, but you're making it even messier!" she groaned. "You'll have to clean it for me. It's the only way I'll forgive you."

"Fat chance." he scoffed, stuffing the rest of his food in his mouth. "Man." he began before waiting to swallow his food. "How much did I drink last night? My head is killing me."

"I don't know, you ditched me." Ellie shook her head. "Don't look, I'm getting changed." she hissed as she went over to her drawers to change into some dry clothes.

"Mhmm." he hummed with a nod as he turned his body away from her. "I didn't ditch you, we just got lost in the sea of people. It's what happens in the sea," he added, talking complete bullshit. "Plus, I wouldn't have met the people I did if you were being all broody around me." he teased. 

"I wasn't being broody!" Ellie frowned, struggling to pull some jeans up her thin legs. "I'll have you know I spoke to many people I didn't know. You SAW me kick those jocks ass."

"I don't think that was you, Ellie..." he grinned, reaching down and retrieving the pills and the water bottle she had placed there for him before taking them. "Pretty sure your partner carried the team."

"Yeah, well...I helped." she huffed as she finished dressing.

"Barely!" he exclaimed. "Moral support if anything. She was great though, wasn't she?"

"Who?" Ellie asked, busying herself with picking up her laundry off the floor and carelessly tossing it into her laundry basket, making a promise to herself that she would at least try and do it later. 

"Dina." he said slowly as he rose to his feet. "She fucking carried the team. Ellie, she is so cool. Like, way cool." he lifted his arms into the air and stretched.

"I bet." Ellie grumbled, folding her arms across her chest. "Anyway, you need to go."

"Huh?" he asked, dropping his arms back to his side and tilting his head with confusion. "Did I say something wrong? I mean, you're cool too, Ellie, but I don't want to sleep with you."

"Out." Ellie groaned, trying to get that mental image out of her head. "You need to go get ready for your game and I have shit I need to do. I've spent enough time babysitting you this morning."

"Okay, okay." he conceded, allowing Ellie to shove him to the door and push him out, watching as she took a defensive stance against the frame. "You're still coming to my game?"

"Yes, dork." she replied with an eye roll.

"I'll get a goal for you!" he bellowed as he began to walk down the hall. "Love you, Ellie!"

She only rolled her eyes, closing the door behind him.

Ellie in fact didn't have much to do that day, she just needed Jesse gone and to not be talking about the new girl he was pursuing. 
She still didn't care.

She paused for a moment to look out her window over the campus below her, watching as the dreary grey sky claimed any light and the rain continued to tumble down. She lost herself in a moment watching the water trickle down the windowpane before she shuffled across her room to her guitar case.

Unbuckling the hinges she swung it open, running her fingertips gingerly over the strings she took a moment to study it. Joel had made it for her, sparing no attention to detail, even etching one of her drawings of a moth into the fretboard. It really was a beautiful guitar and Ellie cherished it dearly.

Every time she played it so fondly remembered the lazy summer days where Joel would teach her to play. She was terrible at first but he was patient and understanding, even when she threw tantrums because she thought she wasn't good enough. 

She had thrown some awful ones over the years and every time Joel had allowed her her space before he would approach her and offer an alternative way to expressing her emotions rather than losing her temper.

She had no idea what kind of person she would be now if it wasn't for him, and she didn't want to know, thankful that she never had the opportunity to find out.

She didn't like thinking about life before him.

Sometimes she allowed herself to though, when she was mad with him or had misunderstood his intentions she would allow herself to remember a time before him and it wouldn't take her long to apologize.

She felt a pang of guilt wrack her body. She had noticed them drifting further and further apart for a little while now and she wasn't sure why. She knew it was her and definitely not him, but she had no idea why he was doing it. She could clearly picture the hurt in his eyes when she had rejected his offer to help her move into her dorm, or his desire to come and watch her first soccer game.

She reasoned then that it was because she might not even get any game time but she knew that wasn't completely it.

She didn't like where their relationship was heading but she didn't know how to stop it. Neither of them was good with feelings and that didn't help.

Guilt finally getting the better of her she reached for her phone and opened Joel's contact. She clicked the message icon, her thumbs hovering over the keyboard as she considered what to say.

The best thing about Joel was that she never had to think hard about what to say. Even if she told him a terrible pun, he would laugh. Maybe it was just to make her feel better but it always seemed so genuine.

"Hey, what's your house ghost's favorite type of pie? I bet it's boo-berry. Maybe you could try offering him dessert if he plays up again. Hope you're still alive and haven't joined him."

She sniggered to herself before tossing her phone back on the bed. 

Ellie turned her attention back to the guitar, lifting it gently in her hands before sitting down on her computer chair. She rested it on her knee as she reached over and flipped open one of her journals, leaning over it to read some lyrics she had penned down.

Her life was these journals.

She knew she would die if anyone read them.

Joel had given her her first one when she was fourteen. She hated it at first, thinking about how stupid it would be to write all your feelings and innermost feelings down in a book that anyone could read, scared that if anyone did read it they would realize just how fucked up she was but Joel had taught her that what she wrote in those books was private, and he would never read them unless he let her.

She also warned her to be wary of others though, that not everyone deserved that trust. She didn't need him to tell her that twice, she had had enough broken trust in her lifetime.

It took a while longer after that but eventually, she trusted him, and every so often she would jot something down. A little memory, something that made her laugh, a highlight of her day, or something that scared her. Eventually, she was writing at least one thing in it daily.

Ellie grabbed one of the pens on her desk, holding it tightly in her hand she flipped to a fresh page before drawing a quick sketch of Jesse in his soccer uniform, one foot raised and standing on a ball with a giant grin on his face. Beside it she quickly scrawled a note.

"Jesse met a girl last night. Said she had the prettiest name he had ever heard, I believed him. I think I saw the stars on her cheeks too."

She took an extra moment to underline his name about four times before she sighed, turning the pages back a few to some lyrics she had jotted down. She placed the pen in her mouth and began strumming a slow tune, humming along with the words she had written. When she finished she added some more lyrics to the bottom, going back up to the top and crossing out a word and changing it to another.

Again she put the pen back in her mouth and strummed the tune, this time singing the lyrics to herself.

She wasn't sure how long she had been working on it before there was a loud, impatient knock on the door. She shook her head clear from her daze and turned her attention to the door, her eyebrows furrowed.

She wasn't sure she wanted to open it but figured that it was the right thing to do, she didn't want to get on anyone's bad side and besides, what if it was important?

With a sigh she lifted herself from the sagging chair and set her guitar down against the desk, walking over to open the door, the girl on the other side speaking before it even opened.

"Do you have any idea what time it is? It's Saturday morning, some of us are trying to sleep..." the woman yawned, rubbing at her tired eyes before lifting them to settle on Ellie's.

Ellie crossed her arms and settled defensively against the wooden frame, her downcast eyes looking up to meet the opposing persons.

Warm brown meeting moody ocean eyes.

"Ellie?" Dina asked, tilting her head to the side in confusion before the expression was replaced with a smirk. "If I had have known it was you playing I might have enjoyed it a little more..."

"Sorry." Ellie stammered, a small brush gracing the bridge of her nose. "I didn't know I was being so loud. I'll stop. I'm sorry." she again said, clasping her hands together and giving an apologetic bow.

"No, it's okay." Dina smiled, holding her hand up. "I didn't know you played guitar."

"We've only met once, and you were drunk." Ellie moved out of the way as Dina stepped passed her, letting herself into her room.

"You were drunk too." she laughed, her eyes darting around the room. "Nice place..."

Ellie lifted her hands to her face and rubbed at the skin before shuffling in front of Dina and picking up all the items off the floor and tossing them to the corner. "If I'd have known I was going to have company, I'd have cleaned up."

"You should always be prepared for company, El." she tutted, turned around, and allowed her body to fall into her chair. "You don't know when you might bring someone home."

Her comment only made Ellie's blush spread further across her cheeks and she was sure it painted her ears. She watched silently as Dina leaned back, resting her hands behind the back of her head and placing her feet on the desk. 

Ellie wanted to be mad but she couldn't find it in herself to be. She was too caught off guard by the sudden intrusion. Caught between wanting to tell Dina to get out and begging her to stay and keep talking to her.

It was pathetic.

Dina watched her, her attention shifting between Ellie to the belongings in her room before switching back to her, studying her tall, skinny but strong frame and liking seeing her melt under her gaze.

"So what were you playing?" she asked, deciding she had enough of letting her new friend suffer in the silence.

"The guitar..." Ellie replied blankly, snapping her head up.

"Funny." Dina snorted and rolled her eyes. "On the guitar, you nerd. You've been playing it all morning while I've been trying to sleep."

"Oh. Sorry." Ellie mumbled. "Just a song."

"Just a song?" Dina arched her brow, narrowing her eyes at her and watching her squirm further. "Sounded a bit more than just a song... I listened for a bit, but I've got such a headache."

"Yeah, just a song." Ellie said with a small nod, wanting to change the subject. "Do you want anything? For your headache, I mean?"

Dina just chuckled, dropping her feet down from the desk before turning her attention to the booklet that sat atop of it. She reached out and ran her fingers across the paper, feeling the indented lines from the pen.

"You don't say much do you?" she asked, glancing over her shoulder.

Ellie just folded her arms and looked to the side, beginning to grow tired of the third degree she was getting. Who did she even think she was, letting herself into someone else's room without their permission and making herself at home?

She quietly fumed.

"What's this?"

"Nothing!" Ellie yelled, bounding over and slamming the journal shut.

If the blush hadn't indeed reached her ears, it definitely was there now. She pulled it out from under Dina, grasping it tightly to her chest knowing that she didn't want Dina to see what she had just written.

"Alright then..." Dina drawled, sucking in air between her teeth as she rose to her feet. "Yeah, I'd like something."

"What?" Ellie asked confused, tossing her journal to her bed. 

"For the headache. You offered me something." she offered as she started towards the door.

"Oh." Ellie muttered, walking over to her draw and pulling out the pills before silently shuffling over and handing them to her.

"Will you play for me sometime?" Dina asked, watching her back as she messed around in her drawer.

"No." Ellie said softly as she shook her head. "I don't play for anyone."

"For what it's worth, I thought it sounded really nice." Dina hummed before she took them, allowing her fingers to graze the back of Ellie's hand before taking the box from her. She playfully tapped it against her shoulder. "Thanks, freckles. I owe you one."

"You don't. It's okay, no worries." Ellie stumbled nervously, certain she did it on purpose, or at least she allowed them to linger for longer than they ought to have but she couldn't have been sure. Nor could she prove it if she accused her.

Dina only gave her a smile in response, tilting her head in a way that Ellie thought was cute before she turned to leave.

"Fuck." Ellie groaned as she shut her door, leaning her entire body back against it.

 


 

Ellie pulled her jacket tight around her body. While it had stopped raining, the temperature had definitely dropped and she shivered against the chilly fall night. She both hated and loved the cold. Loved that she could wear many layers, cold weather clothes being her favorite and she could simply put on another layer if she was too cold. You couldn't do that if you were warm, once you were down to shorts and a tank top that was it, unless you were happy enough walking around naked which Ellie definitely was not.

She valued comfort before fashion, perfectly happy to wear Joel's old coat's that were many sizes too big for her, or any second-hand items. They were always still nicer than anything she had owned before Joel. 

She had her own sense of style that defined her, mainly jeans paired with a hoodie and jacket or flannel shirt. It wasn't very eye-catching but that was exactly the way she liked it, happy to fly under the radar and avoid people's detection.

She jammed her hands tightly in her pockets as she stalked across the campus to the fields where Jesse would be playing his first game. 

She felt nervous for him.

She had sent him a few text messages earlier, hoping he felt okay after the previous night but he had yet to respond. She figured he had been out training and warming up with the team and she knew nothing bad would have happened but that didn't stop her thinking the worst.

Picking up the pace, she practically jogged the rest of the way, breathing heavily when she finally made it to the bleachers.

Ellie suddenly felt out of place.

The entire row of bleachers that lined the side of the field was packed full of students, faculty, and parents cheering loudly for the teams on the field below them. An entire sea of white and red, the school colors, dotted with the odd red and black of the opposing team. 

Ellie wasn't sure she had seen so many people in one place before.

She reached up, gently rubbing at her ears when the yelling got too much for her. Crowds really weren't her thing and it made her anxious being so surrounded and not really knowing where to go. There was nowhere that she could see where she could sit, all the spots were taken. Next time she would have to come earlier.

She sighed, lifting her headphones to her ears and allowing the music to take her to a space where she felt safe. When she was satisfied the chorus of yelling had been sufficiently drowned out she walked up the steps of the bleacher to the first level, standing as much to the side as she could and peered out into the crowd. Luckily for her anxiety, there was a tiny gap right at the front that she managed to squeeze in to.

She peered out to the crowd below, her eyes darting around as she tried to find Jesse. She immediately felt relieved when she saw him, taking shots at their goalies with the other center forwards. When she saw him glance towards the crowd she waved to get his attention, making sure he knew she was there.

He waved enthusiastically back, she watched as he said something to his teammates before jogging over. She stood up and leaned over the railing to greet him.

"Hey, El." he spoke with a warm smile, his voice just barely faltering as he reached out his closed fist towards her.

"Looking good out there." she grinned back, bumping her fist against his. "You sound nervous."

"I'm shitting my pants, Ellie." he laughed, albeit nervously. "There are so many people here. They really take this college sport seriously, huh?"

"Yeah." Ellie nodded, swallowing the lump in her throat. "You've got this though. You owe me a goal, remember."

He winked at her. "Only for you." he bowed before stepping away. "I'll see you after the game, yeah? We'll get a bite to eat."

"Sure, your shout though. You owe me from this morning." she smiled, waving him away.

"Can't hear you, Ellie!" he grinned, feigning innocence as he jogged back to the field.

Ellie couldn't remember a time when she had missed Jesse's soccer game. Ever since they had met he had always come to her game and she had always gone to his. Even when she was sick she would drag herself down there to cheer him on.

Jesse didn't need her to do that, his family had always been supportive of him. Even when he was a kid and only played in a social league they would still come down every week. His parents, his grandparents, sometimes his siblings. They were a close family and Ellie loved that about them.

Ellie often wondered if they thought that something was going on being her and their son, but if they did they never said anything to them.

They had been supportive of her too, often coming with Jesse to watch her play, chatting with Joel on the sideline. Joel made an effort to attend every one. And he mostly did, except for the times, he was called into work. Ellie never blamed him for that, he was a solo dad supporting his family the best way he could.

Even when he missed a game, however, he would take her out for food that night and she would have to tell him every single thing that happened for him to be satisfied that he had the entire rundown of the game. Ellie thought that those were one of the fondest memories of her childhood. She felt happy with Joel staring proudly at her. 

She tried harder with soccer after that, wanting to do anything to hear his proud tone again. Eventually, Jesse started trying harder too and they got so competitive that they fed off each other. In their free time, they would train together, goading each other to do better every time.

Jesse had been in her life almost as long as Joel had, and she would do anything for him.

The whistle blew and Ellie kept her eyes glued to the entire game, watching it intently so she could debrief with Jesse later. The team was down 1 - 2 and unfortunately, Jesse didn't start, but in the closing 20 minutes, he was subbed on the field for their injured striker. 

He immediately made an impact, passing the ball effortlessly between his teammates as if he had played with them for years to drag the ball closer to the goal. It was the 89th minute and he moved and weaved between the defenders passing and dribbling the ball and when the ball was played back to him in front of goal he struck it hard on the first touch, effortlessly curling it into the top right-hand corner of the net.

The people lining the bleachers rose to their feet and erupted into a chorus of cheers as if they had just won the game. Jesse's team crowded around him, patting him on the back and giving him as many high fives as he could return. 

Ellie grinned, happy for her best friend, and even managed a small laugh when he eventually pushed through his teammates, his eyes searching for her in the bleachers and he waved. She waved back and they reset, finishing the last few minutes of the game.

Ellie couldn't believe how much noise and support the crowd had given the team, especially considering they had only drawn, she wondered how much noise they would have created had they won the game.

It made her even more nervous about tomorrow. She had never played in front of so many people before, her school teams only ever only garnering marginal supporters. Jesse's team had of course had a few more, but that was just the way, boys soccer was just more interesting to most people. That didn't bother her any, she wasn't playing to impress anyone else, she was playing for herself because she enjoyed it and she liked not having a single thing to prove to anyone else. 

She knew she would one hundred percent feel more like shitting herself then Jesse did tonight. Even if she didn't get off the bench, she still had that many people sitting behind her, watching her, and scrutinizing her every move.

Jesse had always told her she couldn't afford to think that way on the field. She had a habit of getting too into her head, mentally scolding herself for any little mistake she made and allowing them to bring her mood down. She had worked hard to push those thoughts from her mind when she played, did her best to not focus on the crowd, and always played her best games when she did that.

Ellie waited for the crowd to file out before she moved from the bleachers, feeling calmer once there weren't so many people around her. Looking down at her phone she penned a quick message to Joel, telling him the result of Jesse's game. She knew he would be waiting for it.

"Jesse's team drew two all. He even got a goal. I'll definitely get two tomorrow, you know, 'cause I'm better than him."

She stuffed her phone back in her pocket as she waited patiently for Jesse to make his appearance from the locker room. She wasn't sure much time had passed but it felt like an eternity to her while she waited by herself. 

When Jesse finally came out, he grinned at her like an idiot and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, leading her forward.

"Did you fucking see that?" he asked, turning his face to her.

Ellie rolled her eyes, knocking him with her shoulder. "What are you talking about?"

"That game Ellie. That goal!" he exclaimed. "My goal, Ellie."

"Oh, I didn't know you got a goal, Jesse..." Ellie said plainly, doing her best to contain her grin.

"What! How could you miss that!" he yelled, pushing away from her and studying her face before he pulled a face when he saw Ellie's lips curl into a smile. "Oh, you're a piece of shit. I got that for you, you know." he finished, stepping back into her and pulling her close in the cold air.

"So you said." she hummed. "Had nothing to do with showing off, right?"

He laughed. "OF course not, Ellie. I'm offended. You're going to do the same for me tomorrow, yeah?"

"Oh yeah, I'll get like twenty." she joked.

"I'll hold you to that. Place all my money on Ellie to score twenty." he smiled as they approached the cafe he had been leading her too before his face turned serious. "Thank you for coming tonight, Ellie."

"You're such a sap, I wouldn't miss it for anything." she groaned, opening the front door for him. "Ladies first."

"Hey, I mean it. I always play better when you're there. Have to show you how it's done and everything. Give you something to replicate tomorrow."

"Oh my god, Jesse." Ellie breathed heavily through her nose. "You get one goal and you're this unbearable?"

Ellie threw herself down into a booth and looked up at him with an arched brown expectantly as he stood at the end of the table and looked down at her.

"You know I was invited to parties tonight, but I chose to spend time with you?" he smirked as he sat down opposite her. "By cheerleaders, Ellie. Cheerleaders. The least you could do is be nice to me."

"Just wait until they get to know you, they won't be inviting you anywhere then and you'll be begging me to hang out with you." she retorted, leaning against her arms on the table and studying the menu in front of her.

"Alright, funny guy. I'm ready for your analysis, tell me everything I did wrong and what I could do better." he looked up at her and smiled kindly.

Ellie tilted her head to the side and smiled back. She wasn't sure what she would do without Jesse.

Chapter Text

It was late when Ellie finally made it back to her dorm and she could feel the tired gripping her senses, it settling behind her eyes and making them droop just the faintest amount. 

She hadn't intended to spend so long having dinner with Jesse, but the more they talked the more she lost track of time, listening with her head in her hands as he excitedly told her about the weird pre-game rituals the boys liked to do and the way he felt being out on the field before finishing by complaining about how hard his classes had been the first week, knowing they would get worse.

Ellie could have complained too, but she decided to just listen. Sometimes Jesse needed to do that, vent everything out so he was ready for the next thing. Ellie always knew when that was, knowing that when Jesse went on a tangent it was best to sit back and listen. She didn't mind, it was nice not having to add something to the conversation after every sentence. She liked to just listen sometimes.

She turned the door handle and pushed her way in, greeted with the typical mess. Just as she was about to close it behind her she felt some resistance. She pushed a bit harder to get it to close, feeling the same pressure as before she finally turned around.

"Ow." Dina muttered, pulling her arm away.

"Sorry." Ellie said softly, her face showing a look of panic at hurting the girl before she furrowed her brow in confusion. "What are you doing...What are you doing here?"

"Well, hello to you." she hummed, watching as Ellie opened the door completely up and as he leaned against the doorway to give her a menacing look.

"Hey..." she mumbled back.

"Can I come in?" she asked sweetly, shooting the taller woman a smile just as sweet.

"You're not just going to let yourself in?" Ellie remarked with a roll of her eyes.

"Funny." Dina laughed.

Ellie thought about saying no but her body moved before her mind could convince it what it should say. She shook her head, shutting the door behind Dina as she stepped in, mentally cursing herself for not cleaning her room up from earlier when Dina had commented on it. She didn't want to come across as some slob to anyone, let alone to a girl that she thought was pretty.

A girl who was pretty, who was in her room.

She reached up and rubbed at her forehead, standing in silence until Dina turned around to face her.

"I just wanted to thank you for this morning, those pills really did the trick." Dina finished, giving Ellie a weak smile. "I wanted to thank you earlier, but you've been out all night. Popular much?" she smirked, resting her hands behind her back and leaning back on them.

"Just hanging out with a friend." she replied with a small shrug and a questioning stare.

Was Dina keeping tabs on her?

"A friend, or a friend-friend?" she asked, leaning forward just a little to peer at Ellie's face, watching as she looked down.

"What?" Ellie blushed, shaking her head harder. "No. No way. Just a friend."

Dina laughed at her, a hearty laugh that made the sick feeling in Ellie's stomach rise to her chest and flood her body with warmth. Still looking down, she nervoulsy began to fiddle with her fingers in front of her.

"Uh huh." Dina nodded slowly before shifting to sit down on the edge of Ellie's bed and gesturing over to the TV that sat in the corner of the room. "Does it work?"

It took a moment for Ellie to figure out what she was talking about and by the time she had too much time had passed and she felt stupid so still, she kept looking down. "Oh, yeah. Yeah, it does."

Why couldn't she just function like a normal human being?

"Can we watch something?" Dina asked, looking to the side as she ran her fingers over the unmade covers of Ellie's bed.

"It's late..." Ellie said, finally looking up to study the woman in her room. "What did you even want to watch?"

Dina shrugged. "Anything. Something you want to watch?"

"Why do you want to watch something with me?" Ellie asked skeptically. "Shouldn't you be out partying or whatever. You were pretty popular at the party the other night." she finished, folding her arms across her chest defensively and pushing the warmth back down.

Ellie watched as Dina leaned back on her hands on her bed, stretching her legs out in front of her and stared back, offering her a smile. She hadn't meant for her words to sound bitter, but the memories of her being dragged away and all the pictures Jesse had sent to her flooded back into her memory.

She had no reason to feel that way but she just couldn't help it.

If Dina noticed, she didn't react.

Dina smacked her lips. "Maybe no one I want to hang out with tonight is out." 

Ellie sighed, walking over to her laptop and pulling open the top. "I don't think I have anything that you'd like."

"How do you know what I like?" she asked back, looking Ellie up and down.

"You just don't seem like the kind of girl who would like what I like." she offered with a shrug of her shoulders.

Ellie kept her attention on her laptop, her ears burning red and just knowing that the girl behind her was staring. She tapped a few keys to unlock it before she began to scroll through her folders of downloaded movies and tv shows.

"And what type of girl do I look like to you?" Dina challenge.

Ellie closed her eyes tight and pulled a face. She took a moment to breathe before she turned around, resting her hands on the edge of the desk as she leaned back. She met Dina's soft brown gaze and gulped as she tilted her head to the side in the cute way that she had liked from the instant she saw it.

She felt like this was a trap. She knew this was a trap.

"Well?" she asked again.

She wondered if she could tell her the truth, that she looked like the kind of girl that would break someone's heart. The kind of girl that was beautiful and fierce and passionate, that would fill you to the brim with love before she drowned you with it, leaving you broken and empty as she moved on to the next victim. The kind of girl that Ellie would let do that to her.

The kind of girl who her best friend liked.

"The kind who steals other people's jackets." she finally settled on saying, folding her arms across her chest.

She watched as Dina smirked and looked to the side, away from her gaze and Ellie immediately felt like she had perfectly navigated a minefield. No good would come from being honest, anyway. It never did.

"Will you watch something with me anyway?" Dina asked softly, turning her face back to Ellie's and looking at her with a shade of vulnerability. "I can't sleep."

Ellie took a deep breath before exhaling it and finally gave a small nod. She needed her rest for tomorrow but she also didn't have it in her to kick someone out that obviously wasn't having an easy night. She knew that feeling too well and she would have killed to have someone with her back then.

"Alright..." she said after a moment's silence. "But you are not allowed to make fun of what I choose."

The vulnerability that Ellie saw was just as quick to vanish as it was replaced with a smirk and a knowing look behind her eyes. "I can't promise you that, Ellie."

Ellie shot her a look of warning before turning around and after a short pause settled on an anime she had been catching up on, an adaption of her favorite comic, Savage Starlight. When she turned around she thought Dina had opened her mouth to say something, judging by her smile she knew it was going to be something sassy, but to her surprise, Dina only closed it and smiled at her.

She felt awkward as she stood there in the middle of her room, watching as Dina shifted her body back on the bed to lean against the wall, facing the tv. She glanced around the room, quickly trying to decide where she would sit. She could sit on the computer chair or the couch but she wouldn't be able to see the tv properly. She could sit on the bed but that seemed too close right now. The floor would be fine, but uncomfortable.

Her eyes anxiously darted around the room, trying her hardest to decide quickly but failing.

Dina patted the side of the bed beside her.

Ellie only shook her head, pretending she hadn't seen the gesture and finally sat down on the floor and resting her back against the side of the bed, turning her attention to the anime as it played its intro.

There were many more exciting things in her room currently, but Ellie pretended what was on the tv was the most interesting thing she had ever seen. She was conscious of every movement she made so made an effort to keep her neck painfully still. She could feel the pressure building in the base of her neck but still, she remained stiff.

She could feel Dina shifting around on the bed behind her but she didn't dare look, worried that if she did she wouldn't be able to look away and she didn't want the other girl to think she was some kind of weird creep.

Ellie still couldn't make sense of why Dina had chosen to come to her room. Surely there were other people she would prefer to spend time with, ones that she hadn't only just met. Eventually, she convinced herself that she had just been in the right place at the right time for Dina to pounce on her. It was late and most people would have been out or asleep by now.

She nodded softly to herself, that was definitely it. No other reason made sense.

Ellie finally brought her hand up to her neck, rubbing at the back of it with her callused fingers. She needed to move or she would regret it later. She shifted on the carpet, turning her body until she could lay down beside the bed, only momentarily allowing herself to glance at Dina who was staring back at her. 

Out of Dina's view, she laid on her back and stared up at the ceiling, resting her hands on her stomach and listened to the show as it played. She couldn't concentrate anyway.

She couldn't turn her mind off. 

She was worried about tomorrow. She didn't want to let herself down, nor Joel or Jesse or anyone who was rooting for her. If she got a shot at playing and she didn't do well, surely that was it. That would be her chance gone. She was already tired now and knew she would feel worse if she didn't get to sleep soon, but she still couldn't bring herself to say that to Dina.

She was sure Dina would understand but she didn't want her to go.

As nervous as her presence made her, the comfort she received from the other girl just being there was too nice for her to want to end. The silence between them didn't feel awkward and she didn't feel the pressure to need to say anything.

She felt guilty.

Guilty that Dina was here in her room. She couldn't help but wonder if Jesse would be mad or upset with her for it, she hoped he wouldn't. They weren't even friends and Dina had invited herself in, she had only accepted because she was being a decent human being.

She knew that wouldn't fly with Jesse, he knew she had no problem kicking someone out, especially when sleep was on the cards.

She wasn't sure how long she had been laying there zoning out but when her eyes came back in to focus she was met with the deep brown of Dina's eyes. She had moved her body so she was laying on the bed and barely laying half of the side to stare down at Ellie.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked, staring down into Ellie's eyes.

"Nothing."Ellie mumbled, wanting to look away but she couldn't. 

"What's on your mind?" she asked again, appearing to peer deeper into Ellie's soul.

As Ellie stared back she thought about getting up and moving, but the woman's gaze kept her firmly stuck to the ground. 

"I'm just tired." she eventually said.

"Would you like me to go?" Dina asked, moving her hand underneath her to rest her cheek on as she continued to stare back at the girl on the floor.

"No..." Ellie whispered, confused at her own words. 

"What are you thinking about, then?"

"Tomorrow..." Ellie whispered softly. "What if I'm not good enough?"

Dina smiled a reassuring smile that made Ellie feel safe and she wondered if Dina just had that effect on people. 

"If you suck, you suck. You just try harder next time," she said with a small tilt of her head. "I think I've seen you train a few times before though and I don't think you have anything to worry about." 

"You've seen me train?" Ellie asked unsure, feeling the heat rise on her cheeks.

Dina only smiled and gave her head a soft shake before reaching down and placing her hand over the top of Ellie's. "Don't doubt yourself, okay? I believe you can do it."

Ellie allowed her eyes to close for a moment, enjoying the warmth of Dina's hand on top of hers.

When she opened them again, the room was dark, the only light coming from the tv in the corner and she was alone. She sat up confused, groggily rubbing at her eyes and searching her room for any sign of Dina but finding none. 

With a sigh, she threw herself up on the bed and buried her face in the pillow and took a deep breath. 

It smelled like her.

She smiled, allowing her eyes to close again as she inhaled the sweet smell of her perfume.

Yeah, she was fucked.

 



Ellie woke up the next morning with a tightness in her chest, her eyes snapping open and she just lay staring at the ceiling.

Her mind raced a million miles an hour with the thoughts of the night before. She wouldn't even be sure that it happened if it wasn't for the faint smell of her on her sheets and the unfamiliar pain in cheeks that came from the smile she had on her face.

She didn't even know Dina, she scolded herself.

"Fuck." She raised her hand to her forehead as she muttered.

Lifting herself from the bed, she placed her feet flat on the ground, hoping to regain some sort of composure before taking her phone in her hand and reading the unread messages.

Joel "Hey Kiddo. Gameday! I just want you to know I'm so proud of you, no matter what the result. You just do your best and call me when you get home, I want to hear all about it."

Jesse "Yo! Gameday, are you pumped?!!"

"Ellie, message me back already, you can't still be sleeping."

"Stop ignoring me. I'm hungry and need a lunch date."

Her attention flickered up to the time in the top corner of her phone and she pulled a face. It was almost 11 am. She couldn't believe that she had slept in so late, there was so much she had to do to get ready for the day and for the second week of school tomorrow.

"Sorry, Jesse! I must have been tired. Down for lunch, come collect me please?"

She put her phone down on her bed and stood to get dressed, trying to push the guilty feeling from her chest. She had no reason to feel it. Nothing had happened, Dina had just wanted some company because she couldn't sleep and there was nothing to feel guilty about there.

But Ellie had wanted to kiss her.

It wasn't her fault that Dina just had that kind of face and those kind of lips that just looked so inviting. She was sure that many people felt the same way so she shouldn't feel guilty for just sharing a popular opinion.

She wouldn't tell Jesse about it for that reason, because there was nothing to tell. Just two girls keeping each other company was all it was.

 



Ellie sat on the locker room bench, leaning forward as she laced her boots. They were new and had been a gift from Joel before she left for college. He had decided for her that the boots she had worn to hell for two years were simply too far gone to be worn for such important games. Ellie knew he had spent money on them, even though she had told him not to. Joel knew these were the boots that she had had her eye on though and nothing could convince him to get any other pair.

She found herself smiling as she sat back, looking down at her feet. She knew Joel had worked hard to save enough money for them so she would take good care of them.

Reaching up, she pulled the loose bun out of her hair before pulling her hair into a tight ponytail, making sure all her shorter hairs were tucked in neatly. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest and she quickly inhaled and exhaled as she tried to calm it. 
This was just going to be another game, she had played a hundred before it.

Except it wasn't. This was serious and people fought hard for the opportunity.

"Ladies!" Maria bellowed as she stepped into the room, her boots echoing on the concrete floor and continuing to drum around Ellie's ears. "This is it, the first game of the season." she began, looking around at all the girls as they continued to get ready. "This is where we make our mark, show other teams we aren't here to mess around."

Ellie rested her elbows on her knees and looked down at her boots, each of Maria's words becoming a new weight on her shoulders.

"I know you girls have what it takes to show these guys that. So do me a favor and show everyone else that. Now, here's the starting line up. if you're not called, you're on the bench. You may not all get game time today, but you're all equally as important to the team. If you are on the bench I want you to keep yourself warmed up, you never know when we may need you."

Ellie closed her eyes and bit the inside of her cheek, listening as Maria rattled off a list of names, starting from the Goal Keeper to the Defenders and onwards until she got to her position.

"Ellie."

She gulped, looking up from the floor and meeting Maria's eyes. She offered her a small smile in return and Ellie felt like the contents of her gut were going to expel itself from her body and on to the floor for everyone to see and laugh.

"Alright, let's get out there and warm up." Maria finished with a clap.

Ellie took a deep breath and looked up to meet Maria's hard blue eyes as she placed her hand on her shoulder. "You got this, kid. I'm giving you a shot because you deserve it." she said quietly so only Ellie could hear before tapping her clipboard against her arm. 

"Get going!" she yelled, turning for the door.

Ellie gave herself a small nod as a pep talk and followed behind the team, all the way out on to the field. She paused for a second before stepping on to the grass. She turned around, getting lost in the bright lights shining down from above her before the cheering crowd caught her attention. She took only a moment to scan it before she noticed Jesse, who was of course embarrassingly cheering and waving more than the rest. 

There weren't as many people as there had been at the boy's soccer game but there were still more than Ellie had ever had supporting one of her teams. She felt an odd sense of pride, but it still scared the shit out of her. 

She waved at Jesse before jogging over to her team to warm up.

The whistle blew and Ellie kicked the ball off the white center line, passing it back to one of the midfield before she turned and ran up the field, sitting in front of the last defender. The team passed it around a few times before the final pass reaching Ellie, she passed it off only to be hit from behind by one of the defenders in a late tackle that wasn't picked up by the ref. She turned to look at her and shook her head.

The team was playing well but their opponents were playing just as well. Every ball perfectly placed in the box was scooped out by the defender, and exactly the same was happening at the other side of the field. 

Ellie tried to get around them, darting between the bigger players and laying off the ball to move into a better position but the ball never making it back to her feet. Maybe the chemistry just wasn't there yet but Ellie was mentally kicking herself for not being able to make it work. She needed to be better.

She glanced up at the clock, the big red letters reading it was almost half time.

The ball was passed to her and she trapped it at her feet, just as she was about to turn with it she felt a sharp pain in her shoulder, the defender behind her dropping her shoulder hard into Ellie's. She stumbled forward, falling over the ball and into the muddy pitch, covering her white uniform. 

"What the fuck, ref?" Ellie growled, sitting up on her knees and holding her arms out to shrug at him. 

He took a moment but he blew her whistle, signaling she had been fouled.

She turned around and frowned at the larger girl, watching her snigger to the rest of her team before smirking at her. Ellie didn't like being bullied by people, especially those bigger than her and she felt a familiar rage in her gut. 

The team gathered around her, talking about who should take the free-kick and whether or not they should feed it in or go for goal themselves. Ellie was surprised when the captain picked her to step up and take it, after all, it had been her foul and she was confident with what she had seen at training.

"Just put it in the box, we'll do the rest." she spoke softly as she patted Ellie on the back.

Ellie was not confident.

She swallowed the lump in her throat, stepping up to the ball that had been placed on the ground before taking some measured steps back from it. She stared hard at the defender that had fouled her hard for a moment before glancing at the goal. She just had to put it in the box.

She took a second to glance towards the crowd, spotting Jesse and giving him a smile he would never see.

She was never just going to put it in the box.

She ran towards the ball, taking one long step as she pulled her leg back, swinging her boot as hard at the ball as she could before she stood there nervously watching as it traveled through the air. The goalkeeper didn't have a chance as she dove, the ball hitting the top left of the crossbar before ricocheting down hard and into the goal.

Ellie dropped her eyes and smirked at the defender who scowled back at her. There was an eruption of chaos around her as both the crowd and her team yelled and cheered before swarming her, jumping on her back and congratulating her.

She smiled wide, her cheek beginning to hurt. Ellie didn't like attention, but this was different. This felt earned and it felt deserved and she relished the feeling of being good enough at something that people cheered for her.

Finally, as a team, they jogged back to halfway and once the team had kicked off, the ref blew his whistle signaling half time.

Ellie could barely concentrate as Maria gave her half time speech. Offering tips and suggestions to help them improve before saying how happy she was with what she was seeing out there.

When Ellie jogged back on the field, she felt a new sense of confidence. The nerves her team felt earlier had dissipated and they joked as they worked their way back on the pitch which also lifted the tension Ellie had felt. She was worried she wouldn't fit in but everyone was making her feel more than welcome.

The other team kicked off and Ellie dove in after the ball, taking it away from the second person to receive it. She carried it forward, dribbling between the opposing players who were diving in to take her down. She layed the ball off only to be slammed into by one of their players in a late challenge. She stumbled but quickly regained her composure, choosing to ignore it as she pushed forward to make herself open.

Ellie felt her heart sink when they equalized, hating the way they cheered even though it was just as loud as her own team had cheered for her. They hadn't deserved the goal, it had been a silly mistake from one of her own defenders but she bit the inside of her cheek and pushed her anger down as they jeered at her to their own side of the pitch.

Ellie looked at her team around her, everyone covered in mud and fuming just as much as she was. She glanced at her captain and they both shared a small nod, they didn't want to lose this game. When the whistle blew, Ellie passed the ball off to her and moved to head up the field.

The opposition continued to make late tackles and dodgy elbows at Ellie, the ref seemingly missing it every time even though her team protested every single one. Eventually, Ellie stopped protesting. She had just been taken out and sent barreling over the sideline with the ball when she called for a sub. Ellie rolled a few times before coming to a stop, she rose with a groan to her feet and jogged back on the field. 

"Ellie," Maria called to her.

"Maria, no." she shook her head, turning to face her.

"They're going to hurt you out there if I don't sub you off." she said with a scowl. "They do this every year, we can take a draw and get them next time.

"I'm not going off, Maria." she said strongly, turning pack to the field with the ball in her hand. "We can win this game."

Maria sighed and only nodded. "You've got five minutes to prove to me I'm not being an idiot by keeping you on."

Ellie grinned and threw the ball back on to the pitch, sprinting towards the goal onto a perfect through ball only to be taken out by an arm straight to her gut and the follow-through from the second elbow hitting her square on the cheek.

She fell to her knees instantly, clutching at her stomach in pain. She clenched her hand that held her up in to the grass below her and she heaved hard trying to breathe. Everything around her began to blur at the edges and for a moment she thought she was going to pass out until she was certain she heard her name being called.

Still, on her hands and knees, she glanced over towards the bleachers, taking a while to focus on the short figure who was leaning over the railing, yelling at her encouragingly to get up.

As everyone crowded around her she felt herself smirk,  sucking in a deep breath of air and slowly rose to her feet. Shaking her head clear, she assured everyone she was fine and she could continue.

She turned her attention back to the bleachers, her attention falling back on the black-haired woman who waved at her. She wiped at her cheek before moving back into position.

She glanced up at the clock that was quickly counting down. They wouldn't have too much longer to make something work and Ellie really didn't want to lose to these guys. There was just something about losing against teams like this that didn't sit well with her.

Ellie turned to her captain. "Get me the ball and I'll get it in." she said breathlessly, giving her ribs one final rub before moving away.

She pushed forward, waiting right on the last defender for the right opportunity. She watched as they crossed the ball from right to left before back to the middle it was then she turned to move as the ball was chipped overhead for her to run on to.

She pushed her body with everything she had left, she was sore and her body screamed in agony, her lungs not wanting to take on any more air but still she pushed on. She could feel the defender coming at her and she couldn't move any faster. Her eyes fell to the ball and she knew she would only have one chance. She extended her leg as far as she could, catching the ball on her toe enough to send it hurtling forward towards goal before the defended came crashing into her and sending them both flying. She quickly turned on her back, sitting up to watch as the goalkeeper dived down for the ball and the ball just grazing the tip of her gloves before rolling into the far corner.

The ref blew the whistle and Ellie closed her eyes and fell back down, a smile on her face.

She groaned as the team dog-piled on top of her, screaming at her and shaking her. They had won and Ellie was happy she could be a part of that first and most important win.

 



Ellie wanted to go home so she didn't mess around in the locker room with the rest of the team, deciding she would shower back at her dorm. She felt elated and a sense of pride and couldn't wait to call Joel and tell him all about it knowing he would continue on her happiness. 

She took her boots off first, carefully washing all the mud from the outside of them before pulling out her shinpads and slipping on a pair of canvas shoes. She placed both those items in her bag before grabbing out a hoodie and pulling it over her dirty uniform. She lifted the hood over her head and said her goodbyes to the team.

As she was exiting the building she was met with the form of the woman she had seen earlier leaning against the metal stands of the bleachers. She smiled and looked down as she walked over to her.

She wasn't sure if it was the serotonin from the game or the confidence she felt from it but she didn't for a second hesitate about going over to see her.

"You came to watch." she smiled at her.

"Of course I did." Dina hummed. "I didn't know soccer, could be so... brutal. Are you okay?"

Ellie only laughed, subconsciously rubbing at her ribs to do something with her hands. "Yeah, it was a bit rough today. I saw you watching."

"I wasn't sure if you saw me." she smiled back, tilting her head to the side. "Did you get that last goal from me then?"

Ellie laughed and reached up to rub at the back of her neck as she looked down at the ground. "Oh yeah, I guess I did... How come you came to watch?"

Dina shrugged. "Just felt like I should come and see how good you were for myself, you know, cause of all your self-doubt last night. One of my friends actually told me about the time and place."

"Oh... Well, I'm glad you came to watch." Ellie said sincerely, finally raising her eyes to meet Dina's.

Dina smiled back at her. "I'm glad I got to see you play, too."

Ellie could only smile helplessly back at her, lifting her hand to pull her hood off her head.

"Ellie, your cheek..." she frowned, reaching up to gently caress the small split in the skin and the bruise that had already begun to form.

Ellie wanted to lean into her touch but instead made herself move away. "It's nothing." she mumbled.

Dina only frowned further, dropping her hand to her side. "Does it hurt?"

Ellie shrugged and looked down when she opened her mouth to speak she was cut off.

"Ellie! Great fucking game, man. You killed it." Jesse yelled, waving as he jogged over to her. It took him a second glance at Dina to register who he was staring at. He immediately looked down and rubbed at his neck. "Dina, I didn't know you were going to be here."

Ellie rolled her eyes,  he was more of a dork than she was.

"Oh, hey Jesse." she smiled fondly at him, turning her body towards his. 

"I didn't know you liked soccer, I would have made you come to my game." he laughed nervously.

"I didn't know I liked it either." she offered, gesturing a shrug with her hand. "Maybe I'll catch the next one if you're lucky."

Ellie couldn't see his face but knew that he would have had a stupid grin on it and she wanted to do nothing more than to wipe it off it. Reaching over with her hand, she rubbed at her arm, suddenly feeling as if she was on the outskirt of the conversation.

"Do you guys want to grab something to eat?" he asked, finally lifting his head glancing briefly at Ellie before turning his attention.

"Sure, I could eat." Dina laughed, placing a hand to her stomach. "I don't think I've recovered from Friday yet, food sounds amazing."

They both turned expectantly to Ellie.She glanced between Jesse and Dina, noticing how close they were standing to eachother, mentally willing them to stand further apart but they never budged.  She wanted to say yes, wanted to go sit next to Dina in a booth, but instead just sighed and shook her head. 

"Nah, I'm pretty wrecked." she reached up, running a hand through her hair before slumping her shoulders. 

"Come on, Ellie! You've got to eat." Jesse pressed.

Ellie chewed on the inside of her lip, her eye's meeting Dina's for longer than they ought to have before she switched to Jesse's. He was almost pleading and she almost caved, instead she chose to do him a solid. She had seen the way he looked at Dina when he arrived.

"It's okay, you two go and have a good time. I'll talk to you tomorrow, J?" she finished with a small shrug as she stepped passed them, pulling her hood back over her head.

They both turned to watch her walk away before they turned back to face eachother. 

"So, dinner?" Dina asked, stuffing her hands deep in her pockets.

"It's a date." Jesse grinned, motioning with his head for her to follow.


Ellie both internally and externally groaned on her way home, rubbing at her face and pulling at her hair in frustration. She would have liked nothing more than to know that Dina and Jesse weren't currently at dinner together but she knew too much.
She was meant to be happy after her first game but instead, she felt deflated.

Once back in her dorm, she quickly showered, staring at the brown water as it washed down the drain, wishing she could disappear as easily as it did. Back in her room she examined her bruised skin, the cut on her cheek, and the scrapes on her knees. She had played teams like that before, ones that bullied others to get a result and she was glad they were able to pull off the victory over them.

Finally dressed she flopped down on her bed, her body aching in agony now that she wasn't moving. She stretched out her legs before picking up her phone and holding it in front of her face.

She had a few messages but only one thread caught her attention. She clicked on the unknown number and read her message sent just twenty minutes ago.

"Hey, it's Dina. Jesse gave me your number... I just want you to know that I think you just made me fall in love with soccer, it's kind of hot."

She felt her heart skip a beat and she exhaled deeply, feeling as if all the air had left her lungs. She wanted to reply, her body almost forcing herself too but her mind regained control and she closed out of the message.

Instead, she opened her call log, scrolling until she saw Joel's name. She paused before she pressed it, moving the phone to her ear.

She held her breath as it rang, almost hanging up before each one before Joel finally answer.

"Hello?" he asked, his voice tired on the other end.

"Hey..." Ellie said softly.

"Ellie? Is everything okay?" he asked, his tone panicking.

"Everything's okay, Joel." she reassured him. "I just wanted to call you. I had my first game today."

She listened closely to the other line, hearing him breathe heavily before settling as he woke up more.

"I know. It's just late, I thought you'd call tomorrow and let me know how it went. Thought you would be out celebrating. I assume you won?"

"Sorry... I didn't mean to call so late, I just really wanted to talk to you. Yeah, we won. Two to one. I got a full game and both goals."

"That's amazing, Ellie." he said, a smile clearly plastered on his face. "Are you okay though, you sound tired?"

"I am tired." she admitted with a sigh. "It was just a tough game, remember that team I played against a couple of years back? When you and Jesse both got sent off the field?"

Joel chuckled. "Yeah, how could I forget? You were furious at us."

"Yeah, well. The team was like that but on steroids." she managed a breathy chuckle. "Pretty sure my ribs are bruised."

"I'm sure you gave them hell back." he spoke gruffly, sounding like he was settling back into bed.

"Joel?" Ellie asked, feeling small and insignificant as she laid there under her sheets. 

'Just tell him you miss him' she thought.

"Yeah?" he asked.

"... Nothing. Listen, I better let you go. I just wanted to update you."

"Alright, Ellie..." he hesitated. "If you ever need me, you just call, okay?"

"Alright. Bye, Joel."

She groaned, dropping her phone on the bed before curling up into a ball. She hoped tomorrow she would feel less empty.

Chapter Text

Ellie sat at her desk typing furiously away on her laptop, her fingers barely being able to keep up with her mind. She absentmindedly reached over and grabbed the coffee at her side, bringing it to her lips and taking a big gulp before setting it back down.

The past week had kicked her ass. Between her Biology and Computer Science classes, all the course work she had to complete and soccer practice, she barely had any spare time to herself to do the things she enjoyed. She allowed a quick glance over to her guitar before turning her attention back to the screen. She didn't even have time for that.

She had of course expected college to be hard, there was never any doubt in her mind about that but she hadn't expected it to be this grueling. Things she had found easy in high school were now hard and it took her longer than a moment to understand them. 

She knew that others in her class would be in the same boat she couldn't help the sinking feeling that maybe she was the only one.


Jesse had been finding it tough too, but he was picking it up easier than what she had. Following in his mother's footsteps, law was the correct route for him to follow. He was good and just, always living on the right side of moral codes and expectations. Of course, he had been raised around the terms used in law school and his mother had prepared him beforehand so he would go in with the best chance of succeeding so it made perfect sense that he already had one foot in the door.

Ellie thought that maybe she could ask Joel for some help. She knew he wouldn't know any of the answers but maybe he would be enough to take her mind off the enormous pressure she felt on her shoulders this week. She couldn't fail, she wanted to be here and she wanted everything Joel had done to get her here to matter. She knew Joel would understand if she didn't succeed, but she couldn't even consider that an option.

She hit the save icon in the corner of the screen before leaning back, reaching up to rub at her tired eyes before moving her hand to the back of her neck. She allowed a cautious glance to the time, it was almost 8 pm before she muttered under her breath and put her fingers back to the keyboard to continue typing. She had been here since her last class finished at 3 pm and the sounds the keys made under her fingertips was beginning to irritate her in a way she didn't know was possible but she needed to keep going, she was almost finished and that would be one less thing she needed to do. She was certain that what she was typing out made sense, the only thing that mattered to her was that it was out of her brain and onto the paper.

Her phone vibrated against her desk and she jumped, startled by the sound snaping her from her silence.

Ellie thought about ignoring it, finishing what she was doing, and going to bed but the thought of a distraction from the monotonous task she had been completing for hours was too tempting.

Reaching she picked it up, sitting back in her chair with her shoulders slouched she unlocked it, a faint smile tugging at the corner of her lips when she read Dina's name.

They had hung out a little bit over the week, whenever Jesse had invited her to grab something to eat, Dina had always tagged along. It was nice getting to know someone else other than Jesse, having a friend other than him and she promised herself she would not allow her feelings to get in the way of their friendship. One-sided pining for someone who didn't even like the same gender was pathetic and she wouldn't allow herself to be that girl.

They thought she hadn't noticed. The lingering glances and contact, the touches when they thought she wasn't looking. Sometimes when she asked to hang out with Jesse he had declined, saying he was busy but Jesse had never turned her down before so she knew something was up.

She didn't like it, she couldn't be mad about it, and when she saw them together she had to bite down the bile that rose to her throat but she accepted it because what else could she do? Jesse was her friend and Dina wasn't gay.

She clicked on the unread message.

Dina: "Should I be concerned that you're becoming a shut-in?"

Ellie smiled, sinking further back in her computer chair.

Ellie: "Should I be concerned that you're trying to move in on my career as a comedian?"

As she moved to place the phone back down it vibrated in her hands and she immediately pulled the screen back to her vision.

Dina: "I think I've just been hanging out with you too much, you're a bad influence."

Ellie's smile turned to a smirk, typing out a response a few times before erasing it and retyping something she thought would sound better, wittier. She felt more confident speaking with Dina through text when she didn't have the other woman's brown eyes melting her or judging her.

Ellie: "Oh, so you're saying that you don't want to hang out with me anymore?"

Dina: "Did I say that?"

Ellie: "It was heavily implied."

There was a long moment between her text and the next one she received, making her feel for a moment she had pushed the other girl too far, causing her heart to drop into her stomach. She typed out a few things to add but quickly erased them. She thought about adding a few laughing emojis so Dina knew she was joking or just finishing with a 'haha' but she couldn't bring herself to do it. She wanted to push Dina and wanted to see her response.

Dina. "You're lucky you're cute, Williams."

Ellie felt her heart skip a beat and couldn't fight back the blush that started on her cheeks and spread to the bridge of her nose. It wasn't the first time Dina had called her cute, in fact, she had said it many times in the week they had been hanging out. The truth of the matter though was the fact that Dina called everyone cute. The pancakes she ate for breakfast were cute.

The flirty nature and the kind words were just so very Dina but still, Ellie pretended that when she called her cute that she meant it, that she was the only one she said it to. Ellie wasn't used to people being touchy-feely with her, wrapping their arms around her shoulders or placing a hand to her arm but when Dina did it it just felt natural and right that she couldn't argue with it or pull it away. She couldn't reciprocate the gestures as much as she wanted to, it just wasn't her and it just didn't feel right to do that with Jesse watching. 

Dina: "Come out with me tonight?"

Ellie had intended to say no, explaining that she had far too much to get done before the end of the week. She convinced herself that she would, knowing Dina would at first argue before she stood her ground. She was strong like that, she could say no to her new friend but before she knew it she had agreed and there was a knock on the door.

She sighed, she really had intended to say no.

She rose from her chair, taking long purposeful strides to the door and opened it up, not surprised by the person on the opposite side and she grinned at her in response.

Dina was already dressed, obviously planning to go out tonight whether or not Ellie had agreed to accompany her or not. Ellie couldn't help but look her up and down, starting from her brown boots to her high waisted black jeans, a plain white t-shirt tucked into it. This was one of Ellie's favorite looks, she didn't think Dina had to dress up or wear fancy things to be attractive, she could wear a paper bag and everyone would still fawn over her. 

"So what do you think? Dina asks, pulling a pose in the doorway.

Ellie rolled her eyes and turned around, heading back into her room.

"Hey!" Dina protested, following behind her. "Tell me I look good," she whined, stamping her foot on the ground.

"I need to tell you you look good now?" she questioned, throwing her tired body back in her computer chair and swiveling it around to face her friend, again looking her up and down. "Anyone would tell you you looked good."

Dina looked down, feeling insecure under Ellie's scrutinous gaze. "But when you say it I know it's true, you're not just trying to get in my pants." she finished, strolling over to Ellie's bed and sitting on the edge of it.

"How do you know that?" Ellie pressed, her face betraying her with a small blush but she arched her scarred brow anyway.

Dina looked up and met her eye and for a moment Ellie thought she was going to say something as they flickered with a strange emotion she had never experienced before. 

"You're an ass." Dina laughed, easing the tension in the air as she tossed one of Ellie's dirty shirts from her bed towards her face. 

Ellie laughed in return as she caught it, holding it in her hand for a moment before tossing it to the corner of her room towards the laundry basket full of clothes she had yet to do. "You look good." she said softly, glancing down at her hands on her lap.

"I know." Dina grinned, leaning back on her hands. "So, are you going to get ready?"

Ellie groaned, lifting her hands above her head to stretch. "Can't we just stay in? I'm tired."

"Ellie!" Dina groaned back. "You said you would come."

"You were going to go anyways..." she shrugged, swiveling side to side in the chair. 

"Yeah, but I invited you because I wanted you to come with me. I wanna see drunk Ellie again." she exclaimed, lifting her foot off the ground and pointing it towards the taller woman. "Plus, your room smells. You really should clean it," she added offhandedly, trying to take the bite of her admission from the air.

"Drunk Ellie is never coming out again." she rolled her eyes. "Drunk Ellie does stupid stuff."

Dina laughed. "Perfect. I'll look after you and make sure you get home safely." Dina rose to her feet, taking one tentative stop followed by another until she reached out and grabbed Ellie's hand, hauling her to her feet until she was standing face to face with the taller woman. "I promise."

"You won't ditch me when we get there, right?" Ellie asked, arching her eyebrow skeptically again.

"No way." she replied, reaching down and grabbing Ellie's hand before holding it between them. "We'll be tethered together the whole time."

Ellie looked back into Dina's warm brown eyes, the contact doing something to her. She was close enough that she could just lean down and kiss her, it would be that easy and she would finally know what it would be like to kiss Dina. All the times she had wondered she would now have the answer to it.

She sighed and took a step back, untangling her fingers with the shorter woman's. Dina didn't protest, instead she took a step back to the bed and sat back down.

"Jesse is there too." she added, keeping her eyes fixed on Ellie's as she rummaged through her draws. "Someone has to keep an eye on that idiot."

She closed her eyes, pausing for a moment before she shook her head clear. Of course Jesse would be there, why would Dina invite just the two of them to hang out on a Friday night? It was fine during the week when all they would do is watch a movie or something trivial, but weekends were for going out and partying, something that Ellie didn't do.

"Close your eyes." Ellie hissed, looking over at the other woman who smirked before raising her hand to cover her eyes. "Don't peek."

Ellie turned back around, unbuttoning her jeans and peeling them off her long legs before pulling on another clean pair. She couldn't see her but she felt as if Dina was looking, she was too scared to turn around and check though as she continued to dress.

Dina sat back further on the bed, pulling her legs up so she was sitting cross-legged and allowed her fingers to shift so that she could peek between them, watching tentatively as Ellie pulled her skinny jeans up her toned thighs, covering the flesh that had been exposed just moments ago. Watched as she reached overhead to grip her shirt and pull it over her head leaving her torso exposed, showing what Dina knew to be hidden under the layers Ellie always wore, a toned and flat stomach and lean figure.

She felt bad for doing it but she just couldn't help herself. After all, they were both just woman and Dina had seen on Ellie what she had seen on herself thousands of times before in the mirror but she couldn't look away, continuing to admire her friends figure.

She felt her mind begging, pleading for her to remove her bra so she could see all of her, know what all of her looked like, convincing herself it was just because she wanted to compare their bodies but she couldn't be sure that was the entire reason. Especially because she had never been this curious about someone else's body before now.

They were the same but different. Ellie was lean, toned and fit, having just the right amount of shape for her tall body. Dina was short and thin with more exaggerated curves in all the right places.

She felt a little grateful when Ellie only pulled a clean black shirt over her head, she wasn't sure she could handle what was underneath. Dina took that moment to drop her fingers back, but she couldn't hide the knowing smirk from her lips.

Ellie finally turned around and her eyes settled on her friend. "You can look now..." she mumbled, heading over to her closet and riffling through her collection of flannel shirts, too many for any one person to have. 

"Finally." Dina fake groaned, standing from the bed and heading towards the door.

"Yeah, yeah. I can always not come." Ellie settled on one and held it in her hands as she followed Dina's lead.

"You're in too deep now." she grinned, reaching out and grabbing the flannel from Ellie. "Can I wear this?"

Ellie blushed and again intended to say no.

"Yeah, sure." she shrugged, grabbing her keys from her desk and stepping through the door waiting for Dina to follow her.

Ellie eyed her up as she slid the flannel over her arms and rolled up the sleeves, fixing the collar so it sat right on her frame before smiling at her friend.

 


 

The party was exactly what Ellie had expected, loud and annoying. Dina had gripped her hand tight, leading her through the mess of sweaty people dancing to some terrible rave song she had never heard before. By the amount of screaming and cheers, she imagined it was a popular one but she couldn't figure out why.

They arrived at the keg and Dina managed to get two, handing Ellie one as she filled the other. The smaller woman looked up to meet Ellie's eye, challenging her before raising the plastic cup to her lips and swallowing the entire contents, her eyes never leaving Ellie's.

Ellie stood there, the plastic cup tight in her hand and she watched, watched as Dina drowned the entire drink, panting softly as she finished and wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand. 

The gap between Ellie's eyebrows creased as she continued to watch her as she gestured to the cup in her hand.

"I don't really like beer..." Ellie mumbled, her eyes never leaving Dina's.

Dina smiled and Ellie heard a said like a laugh escape from her lips but she was quite sure, she couldn't hear much over the bass of the music. She could picture her laugh though, she had heard it hundreds of times so she allowed that memory to flood her ears.

The black-haired woman slid her hand over Ellie's before removing the cup from Ellie's tight grasp and bringing that cup to her mouth, chugging down the contents, keeping her eyes fixed to Ellie's. When she finished, she placed the spare cup back down before refilling her own. She leaned up on her toes, pressing her mouth so close to Ellie's ear that she could feel her lips brush against them.

"Do you want anything else to drink?" Dina yelled, trying to be louder than the music.

At least that's what Ellie thought she heard. She just nodded, knowing she wouldn't be heard and Dina dropped back to the soles of her feet, reaching behind to dig out the flask nestled in the waistband of her jeans. She placed it in Ellie's hand and grinned at her.

Ellie again nodded, unscrewing the cap and bringing it to her lips to take a swig. When Dina nudged her, she took another long one, as much as she could manage. She wasn't entirely sure what was inside, but it burnt her throat on the way down and it burnt when it settled in her stomach.

Dina laughed at her as she pulled a face and she found herself laughing with her.

She looked back at her friend, close enough again to kiss and she almost did, almost leaned down and did it, sure in her haze that she had pushed forward on her toes towards her too but nothing happened, no one closed the distance between them.

Dina refilled her cup before grabbing Ellie's hand again and leading her through the party, holding her hand tight as she stopped to enthusiastically talk to people as she passed, Ellie standing closely behind her, their hands still intertwined as she continued to sip from the flask, the contents tasting less and less harsh after every sip. 

Even if Ellie wanted to join in, which she didn't, she couldn't hear a word over the music and had no idea how they were conversing. She could see their mouths move and if she wasn't certain they were replying to each other she would be sure they weren't saying anything at all. 

When Dina intended to move on, she gave Ellie's hand a squeeze to snap her out of her daze before giving her a gentle tug to lead her along, grabbing another drink on the way. When she stopped again, she could almost feel Dina lean back into her body, never once turning around to face her or acknowledge the sensation so Ellie just let it happen, continued being that support that kept her upright as she continued to drink.

Feeling hot and sweaty Dina eventually found the couch, further away from the music than they had been all night, and pushed Ellie down before flopping too close beside her. Ellie blushed as Dina's hand settled on her thigh and she again leaned close to her ear.

"You alright?" she asked, her hand giving her thigh a squeeze as she moved to look at Ellie's face.

"Yeah." Ellie breathed, turning her head closer to Dina's ear like she had, thankful her cheeks were already red from the heat of the room.

"Having fun?" she questioned, this time not moving her lips away from her ear and resting her sweaty cheek against her.

"Yeah," Ellie repeated with a nod. "I like hanging out with you."

Ellie smiled when she felt Dina smile against her skin, her cheek a little furnace against her flesh.

"I'm sorry it's so loud in here that we can't really talk." 

"I don't mind." Ellie replied with a small shake of her head. 

"Oh yeah, you don't really like talking to people." Dina laughed and Ellie could feel her breath and the smell of alcohol lingering against her neck. "Why am I different again?"

Ellie closed her eyes, taking a deep breath intoxicated by Dina's perfume. She would recognize that scent anywhere, one that stained her sheets for an entire week. She thought about telling her that she liked her, but she knew that Dina would tell her she liked her back, as a friend because that's what Dina did. She both liked and loved everybody.

"Dina! Ellie!" Jesse yelled, throwing himself down beside Dina.

"Jesse!" Dina yelled back. "Finally. Where have you been?"

"Jesse." Ellie smiled lazily, raising the flask in her hand before taking another sip. 

Jesse leaned into Dina, pressing his arm firmly against her body. "I have been getting my ass kicked at some drinking game I don't understand. The rules didn't even make sense and I'm certain they were changing them in their favor." he laughed and Dina laughed to match him.

"Aren't you like, a lawyer? Couldn't you like lawyer them to your advantage?" Dina asked back, a skeptical look on her face.

"Well yeah, but where's the fun in that? I made new friends and I got drunk." he grinned in that contagious way that Jesse always did.

"You working on replacing me?" Ellie smiled and looked down, it might have been the alcohol but she couldn't help it.

"Only room in my life for one lesbian best friend." Jesse hollered like it was the funniest thing he said all night. 

Dina hit him on the arm and instead of shoving her back, he took her hand. 

"You want to come to get even with me?" he asked, looking into her eyes with a warm smile.

Dina turned her head and glanced at Ellie and gestured with her head to get up but was only met with a shake of her head in response.

"You go." Ellie urged, looking passed her to meet Jesse's eyes. 

"You don't want to come?" Dina asked, a hint of questioning on her face.

"Go." she replied, nudging her shoulder against her friends.

"Come on, Dina. Ellie's a big girl, if she doesn't want to come she'll make some new friends." Jesse offered with a laugh, standing and tugging at Dina's hand.

"Are you sure?" Dina asked, again searching Ellie's eyes.

"Go." she urged again, turning away from her gaze and bringing the flask to her lips. "I'll be here when you get back."

Dina pulled a face and Ellie wasn't sure what it meant but still, she rose to her feet and allowed Jesse to pull her into the crowd of people.

Ellie took a deep breath and closed her eyes, bringing the flask to her lips and attempting to swallow what was left but not quite being able to, allowing her mind to get lost in the shitty music and just for a second wondering if anyone would notice if she grabbed the aux cord and actually played some good music. She knew they would because her music definitely wasn't this.

If she concentrated hard enough she could still feel the warmth of the long-gone hand on her thigh, the skin against her cheek, and breath against her ear. She could still smell the lingering traces of beer on her breath but that could have also been from the couch she was sitting on, it was wet and most certainly had had something spilled on it either tonight or during a past party.

She was happy that her best friend was happy. She had wanted to scold him for being out again when he had an important game tomorrow, but when she saw the way he looked at Dina she knew that no amount of shit would stop him from being here, not when she was going to be here. Ellie had already fallen into that trap tonight.

It had been an easy one to fall in to.

"Yo." a mellow male voice said, and Ellie could feel the depression in the cushion beside her.

She wasn't sure how long she had been sitting there for, but when she felt her mind begin to spin she opened her eyes, the room spinning for a moment until her eyes focused on the tangled mess of people dancing in the middle of the lounge in front of her.

"Hey." she greeted, another boy moving to sit on the coffee table in front of them, followed by a tall black-haired woman sitting on the floor and another blonde girl taking the spot beside her.

"You all good?" the one on the coffee table asked, fiddling with a joint in his hand.

"Yeah." she gave a small fake laugh. "Sorry, did you guys want to sit here?"

"S'all good." the one beside her replied, leaning back into the chair as if he was melting into it. "We're pretty fucked too. What's your name?"

"Ellie." she replied, turning to look at him.

"Nice to meet you, Ellie. I'm Dave, that there is Travis." he added, gesturing to the coffee table where he gave a wave. "That one there is Victoria." he leaned in close to her and she met him halfway. "She's a bit of a bitch so watch out and the one beside her is Cat, also a bitch." he finished with a grin.

"Hey!" both girls called in unison before the entire group laughed, Ellie feeling the pressure to join in even though she wasn't sure what she was laughing at.

"Oh, hey! You're in my soccer team right, Victoria?" Ellie asked with a smile, thankful that she knew at least one of them to a certain degree.

"Yeah! I almost didn't recognize you with your hair down. You fucking killed it last week." she yelled excitedly.

"Do you smoke?" Travis asked with an arched brow, running his tongue along the edge of the paper to seal it.

"Do you want to join?" Dave added, taking the joint from his friend and placing it to his mouth, lighting the end and inhaling a few short puffs, once it was sufficiently going he inhaled deeply, holding it in his lungs as he offered it to Ellie before exhaling, a thick cloud filling the air around them.

"Sure." Ellie muttered, taking it from him and placing it between her lips as he had.

It's not like she had anything better to do.

She had smoked before, but suddenly she felt pressure as the four people watched her.

She looked passed them, staring into the crowd again, the bass vibrating her very being as she inhaled deeply, mindful not to pull in too much smoke as to not cough and embarrass the people sharing with her. Finally, she pulled it away from her lips and passed it on, tilting her head back to exhale into the air.

"So what do you do, Ellie?" Dave asked, turning his body to face her and pulling his knee under his body.

"Biological science." she said curtly.

"Oh shit." Travis replied with a laugh. "So you're like, actually smart."

"Oh yeah! I think I've seen you in one of my computer science classes. Are you doing a double BA?" Dave asked, keeping his eyes fixed to her.

"Yeah." she smiled. "I remember you, you sit a few seats in front of me. You're funny."

"And you're too quiet!" he exclaimed. "We can change that though. Holy shit though, it's nice that someone will appreciate my craft, these guys don't get it." he shrugged, gesturing with his head towards his friends. "That shit is hard though, right? This week had killed me."

"Every week kills you." Cat retorted, passing on the blunt.

"This week has been awful." Ellie agreed, her body finally beginning to loosen up. "I had no idea what our professor was talking about today."

"Fucking same!" he laughed. "Shit, if you ever want to catch up and study just let me know. I could use the help."

Ellie smiled and nodded. "Sure. What do you guys do?" she asked, turning to face the others.

"Philosophy." Travis spoke, straightening his posture and pretending to be fancy and dignified.

"Music." Victoria smiled beside him.

"Fine arts," Cat said, meeting Ellie's eye. "You know, the fast-food worker's degree." she finished with an eye roll. 

Ellie nodded with her head towards the tattoos on Cat's bare arms. "Did you design those?"

"Yeah." she smiled, looking down at her own arm and lifting the sleeve of her shirt up further to expose more of the design before looking back up at Ellie. "They're pretty cool right?"

"Yeah, actually." she laughed, taking the blunt from Dave and having another puff before handing it to Cat, their fingers brushing together and Ellie realized she didn't hate the feeling.

"You want a tattoo?" Cat asked with an arched brow, taking note of Ellie's exposed clean skin.

"Maybe one day." Ellie admitted. "I've a couple designs I like, but I don't reckon I'm nearly as good at drawing as you. I don't think I'd want anything I've drawn on my arm forever," she said with an easy laugh.

"Maybe you could show me some time and we could work on something together," Cat spoke, raising her eyebrow suggestively at Ellie.

Ellie opened her mouth to speak but was immediately cut off.

"Cat, stop flirting with the new girl. Sorry Ellie, if she's bothering you you can tell her to fuck off, she won't mind." Victoria roared with a laugh. 

She looked back to Cat and she grinned, Ellie returned the smile before sitting back against the couch and looking in front of her, seeing her two friends dancing in the middle of the sweaty mess of people. She watched as Jesse moved like someone who had never danced in his entire life. The man had no rhythm. Ellie laughed, also laughing at herself, she wouldn't be able to do any better and she was thankful that she wasn't dragged into it.

"We should all grab lunch sometime, you seem cool Ellie." Dave said, snapping Ellie out of her fixation and the other three agreed.

"Yeah, that'll be cool." she replied, keeping her eyes fixed to her friends in front of her.

She zoned out again as the other four people began to chat aimlessly, Travis being a typical stoner bringing up something about philosophy and the other three discussing it with him. To his credit, it was his major, but way to stick it to the stereotype.

She watched as Dina moved freely, the flannel shirt she had borrowed now tied around her waist and her sleeves rolled up to her shoulders showing her bare arms, flowing along with the music and making Jesse look worse than he actually would. She watched the way her body curved and arched, the way she smiled wide and toothy as her hands roamed her own body before flying into the air. She watched as Jesse's hands reached for her, tugging her until their bodies were flush together and Ellie blinked, consciously long and unending until she finally had to open them when her world would not stop spinning. Jesse was pressed into Dina, his arms wrapped tightly around her and his lips pressed to hers.

She was at least thankful she didn't seem them come together.

Ellie thought it looked awkward, and begged that it would feel awkward but it was a long moment before they pulled away from each other, smiled and kept dancing, Jesse reaching out every so often to run his hands over her body.

Ellie wasn't sure she felt anything at all but she frowned and looked away, taking the flask beside her and bringing it to her lips, swallowing the rest of the alcohol inside and placing it back into her pocket.

When the joint came back around she gratefully took it and placed it between her lips before looking up, this time when she did her eyes met Dina's and she inhaled harshly, pulling as much into her lungs as she could before pulling it away and exhaling, losing Dina briefly in the smoke before she stole her gaze away from the shorter woman. 

"Do you guys want to take this outside?" Cat asked, standing to her feet. "It's fucking hot in here."

They all echoed the same sentiment and stood, taking a moment to steady themselves.

"Are you coming, Ellie?" Cat asked, holding out her hand to help her up.

Ellie glanced one more time at Dina who was still staring at her, slowly moving to the music with less enthusiasm than before with Jesse and thought about staying. She of course said she would be right here when they decided to come back but she couldn't do it. Couldn't be the one pathetic enough to pine over a straight girl.

"Sure." she agreed, taking her hand and allowing her to pull her up.

Cat laughed as Ellie stumbled forward, holding her as she steadied herself on her feet. "You okay?"

"I'm okay." she laughed in response, bringing her hand to her forehead. "Just been sitting down for a while. Let's go, yeah?"

Cat laughed with her, holding her hands to Ellie's biceps to help lead her out on to the porch.

"So this fucking bitch." Victoria continued, making large gestures with her hands. "Slammed into Ellie and threw her like she was a rag doll. It was gnarly, but Ellie got up!" 

Ellie laughed and shook her head. "She didn't hit me that hard..." she trailed off. "I got her good, too."

"Psh." the blonde woman exclaimed. "Sorry Ellie, but you got rolled."

"I thought we were talking me up?" Ellie groaned with a dismissive wave of her hand. "Let's go back to that."

"Oh right." Victoria flashed her a grin. "Anyways, Ellie won that game for us."

"Maybe we'll have to come to see just how good you are." Travis laughed, resting his back against the outside of the house, his tone now considerably more relaxed then it had been earlier.

"Hey, I asked you guys to come to watch last week and you refused!" Victoria complained, folding her arms across her chest.

"Hey..." a quiet voice whispered beside her, stepping into her form and wrapped her arm around her waist.

"Hey, Dina." She spoke softly albeit a little unsure as she glanced down and was met with a mess of black hair and an arm snaked around her waist, pulling her own body closer to the smaller girls.

She inhaled, smelling the beer that had stained her top from earlier she presumed, and wondered if she had spilled it on herself or if someone else had. Probably Jesse she concluded, he was always too clumsy and she could smell his cologne faintly on her.

"You having fun?" Dina asked, arching her jaw upwards to look up to Ellie.

Ellie hummed. "Yeah, I guess so."

"You guess so?" Dina spoke with a laugh. "What's up?"

"Don't worry about it." Ellie replied with a shake of her head, noticing the confused look on Dina's face before she looked away from her.

How was she meant to tell her that she felt hurt because of a kiss? That didn't even make sense to her. They weren't dating and they likely never would be, so why had it hurt so much?

"Do you want a cigarette, Ellie?" Dave asked, holding the carton out for her before turning to meet Dina's face. "Hello, new friend."

"Sure." Ellie shrugged, reaching out and retrieving one from the box with her slender fingers. "Thanks, man."

"My names Dina." she offered with a warm smile. "I've seen you guys around before. You're always getting stoned." she laughed, no malice at all behind her statement.

They all laughed in unison, the group not even bothering to deny it.

Ellie placed the cigarette between her lips before taking the lighter offered to her and inhaling as she lit the end before tossing the lighter back to Dave. She tilted her head back and exhaled, allowing her eyes to close for a moment.

She stood there, listening to both Dina and her new friends bicker back and forth about insignificant things as she blinked slowly, her vision fuzzy at the edges but not willing to concede she had consumed either too much alcohol or too much weed, it could have potentially been a combination of both of those things.

Ellie liked that about Dina. That she could immediately mold into any social situation and fit in instantly. She had never been able to make friends that easily, especially one's she had nothing in common with. Maybe Dina could teach her how she did it one day.

"You okay?" Dina asked, nudging her side.

"M'okay." Ellie mumbled, refusing to look down at her and continuing to smoke her cigarette.

Ellie tensed, feeling Dina reach behind her own body with her free hand and grab on to Ellie's, pulling her arm around her waist and instead of fighting it Ellie obliged. It's what she wanted anyway and was too tired and too drunk to argue.

"Alright then, Victoria." Cat laughed. "If we come to your game, and that's a big if, what do we get in return?" she asked, stepping closer to the short woman.

"Ellie will get you a goal." she replied, turning to face her.

"If Ellie is doing all of the hard work then shouldn't we ask her what she wants in return for us attending?" she said with an arched brow as she wrapped her arm around her friend's shoulders and turned them both to face Ellie. 

"Ellie's really good, she'll score for free so you should think of something better." Dina offered with a small laugh.

"That good huh?" Cat questioned, her eyes studying Ellie. "You guys will give her a complex if you keep talking her up."

Ellie blushed under the spell of Dina's words and she wasn't sure if it was because she was completely fucked up but the words just hit differently. She found herself absentmindedly caressing her friends hip and lower back, her hand slipping lower to the back of her thigh and caressing the material.

It wasn't right but when Dina only moved closer to her in response to her movements she slipped her hand into the back pocket of her jeans. She froze, realizing just where she had allowed her hand to slip and the situation she had put herself in but her mind only allowed her to consider it from a moment before it moved on to the conversation the girls were still having about her.

"How about if you get a goal you get to take me out on a date?" Cat offered with a tilt of her head and a devious smirk.

Ellie felt Dina tense at her side and thought about what she could reply but was immediately stopped before she could think of anything.

"You're meant to offer something that would entice her to score." Victoria laughed, hitting her friend on the arm.

"Ladies!" Dave interjected. "Maybe Ellie wants me to come to watch her soccer game, ya'll normies don't even know anything about soccer. Would you like me to come to watch?"

"None of you have to come to anyone's game." Ellie laughed and threw her head back a little before bringing the cigarette to her lips again, shaking her head in response. "I don't even know you guys."

"Um, hello. We're like friends now, we shared a joint together. That's like, best friend material right there." Travis said with mock outrage to his tone. 

The group laughed and Ellie felt Dina tighten her grip on her side, realizing her hand had slipped from her pocket and was caressing her ass, her hand moving of it's own free will. She tried to stop it but her body would not allowed it. It was the only thing she wanted to do and would deal with the consequences in the morning, probably vowing to never drink again.

Dina was fucked up too, hopefully she wouldn't remember. Hopefully she wouldn't remember either she thought as she felt her hand give a gentle squeeze.

The group continued to joke as the hours went passed and the temperature dropped, everyone seeming blissfully unaware of the contact Ellie's hand had continued to make with Dina's backside. It was easy with them all and Ellie was thankful that she had potentially made some new friends, and one that might be able to help her study.

"Do you want to go home?" Dina murmured at her side.

"Huh?" Ellie asked, turning her attention towards the girl clinging to her trying to make sense of what she said. "Oh. Are you ready to?"

"Mhmm." Dina mumbled against her arm. 

"Okay." she nodded before looking up to smile at her new friends. "Hey, we're going to head off. It was really nice meeting you all." she finished.

"Yeah, see you around, Ellie." they waved.

Dina dropped her arm from her waist and turned to head for the door of the house. 

When she pulled her hand away from Dina it immediately felt cold and she missed the feeling. She felt guilty but she wouldn't allow herself to feel it for too long, she was drunk and she would admit to the drunken mistake tomorrow. She turned, fixing her attention to Dina's back as she follows behind, keeping her firmly in her sights.

Once Dina had opened the door she turned around, reaching back to take Ellie's hand, she leads her through the house and back out the door, through the empty streets and back to the dorm, holding her hand tightly the whole way.

"I'm hungry." Ellie complained as she allowed Dina to pull her through the corridors. 

"Because you got high." Dina laughed, turning to hit her arm. "And you didn't invite me."

"You were uh... busy." Ellie replied, looking down for the first time since they had headed home, feeling the familiar ache in her chest.

Dina hummed and nodded, knowing what she meant but not wanting to address it. "Can we eat before we go to bed?"

"Do you want me to make you food?" Ellie asked with a raised brow, she was pretty drunk but she would try.

What was the worst they could do with a microwave oven?

"Yes please..." Dina mumbled, turning around to meet Ellie's eyes and continuing to walk backward, their hands outstretched in front of them. "If you wouldn't mind."

"Alright, I can do that." Ellie said, straightening her posture like she was about to save the day.

Dina pulled her keys out of her pocket and fumbled with them, trying to find the right one to unlock her door. Once she had, she shoved Ellie in, closing the door quickly behind her. 

Ellie stood there, turning around slowly to take in everything that was Dina's room. It was very different from hers, clean for one.

Instead of posters adorning the walls, her walls were plastered with photos and polaroids of who she would assume were family and friends. Fairy lights were strung around in an organized pattern. 

Ellie made a mental note to remember to clean her room next time.

"Nice place." Ellie muttered, continuing to take everything in.

"Clean, aye?" Dina teased, burying her face in the minifridge she had and pulling out a box of mini pizzas. "Can you cook these for me?"

"Can I cook them for you?" Ellie asked, taking them from her and quickly scanning the back. "Of course I can cook these for you. Easy." she grinned, fumbling with the cardboard tab to get the box open.

"Let's take a picture first!" Dina yelled, rushing over to her bedside table to grab her polaroid camera. 

"I don't do pictures." Ellie groaned, folding her arms across her chest. 

"Please." Dina begged, looking at her with pleading eyes. "For me."

Ellie rolled her eyes and stood there, Dina wrapping her arm around her waist and leaning close. When she reached the camera out in front of them she stood to her toes and pressed her lips to Ellie's cheek causing Ellie to immediately blush before hitting the shutter.

"Dina." Ellie scolded, practically falling away from her shorter friend.

She laughed, grabbing the film as it came out the bottom. Putting the camera back down she grabbed a pin and pinned the developing picture to the wall at the head of her bed.

"What if that doesn't look good? You can't just put it on the wall." Ellie exclaimed, worried that she would look terrible, she didn't consider herself photogenic.

"It'll be fine." Dina rolled her eyes and turned away, jumping up to sit on her desk and pulled out her phone. She quickly opened her music app and began playing a song before setting it down. "Plus if it sucks, I reckon it'll be my new favorite photo."

Ellie shuffled over to the microwave oven located beside Dina on the desk and opened it up, sliding the two little pizzas in before turning the dial. She checked it and then double-checked that she had selected the right time.

"This is a good song." Ellie said, looking up to meet her eye but not for too long, feeling self-conscious about all the movements she was making.

"I know, right!" Dina agreed, closing her eyes and gently swaying to the music. 

Ellie grabbed Dina's phone and turned around, resting her back against the desk before flashing the screen at Dina. "Open, please. I want to show you my favorite song by this band."

Dina nodded and unlocked it, repeating the code as she did so for Ellie to remember. "Don't forget." she smiled back. "The year I was born and day."

"Real secure." Ellie laughed as she searched through her app and found it before playing it. 

"Oh, I fucking love that song." Dina grinned. "They're such a great band. What else do you like?" she asked Ellie expectantly.

They spent the next ten minutes talking about their favorite bands and sharing their favorite songs, eventually linking their playlists to each other so they could both shift through and see if they couldn't find any songs they didn't know that they liked.

Ellie smiled like a dork, the conversation coming easy, happy that she could share her love of music with someone else. She had never met another person who's music taste so similarly mirrored her own, or loved the songs that just hit differently with her for the same reasons.

She couldn't help it, but she kept stealing glances as Dina spoke with so much enthusiasm and so passionately for the things she loved that it made her heart happy.

Maybe she was just drunk though.

When the food was ready, Ellie put it on a plate for Dina, watching as she ate and continued talking about her favorite bands and which ones she had seen live followed by which ones she wanted to see live.

"You sure you don't want any?" Dina asked, her mouth full of food as she offered the plate to Ellie.

"No, I'm okay." she smiled. 

"Just one bite." Dina insisted, holding the pizza out for Ellie.

Meeting her eye, Ellie took a bite, chewing it slowly in her mouth. "It's cold." she frowned. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Dina grinned and laughed. A laugh that made the corners of her eyes crinkle and Ellie realized that that was her favorite. 

"It's still good." Dina replied, taking another bite.

"Tell me next time." Ellie pouted. "I'd have made it better."

Dina reached out and grabbed Ellie's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze before placing it down on her thigh, pulling her hand up to hold her food with two hands and continued to happily eat it, swinging her feet like a child.

Ellie didn't say anything, the feeling of her hand on Dina's thigh didn't feel awkward or unnatural but she wasn't sure whether or not she should have pulled it away or if she had made the situation awkward by leaving it there.

Eventually, Dina made the decision for her.

"Alright." Dina finally said, jumping off the desk. "We should probably go to bed. It's late, I'm fed and I'm both drunk and tired." she grumbled, her eyelids heavy. "Tomorrow is going to suck.

Ellie nodded, a little saddened by the fact their night was finally going to end. "Same. A little high too." she admitted. "Did you have a good night?" Ellie asked, losing her voice a little towards the end.

"Yeah, it was okay. I'm glad you came tonight, Ellie." she said softly as she wiggled out of her pants, her eyes half-closed.

Ellie blushed, lifting her gaze to the ceiling to give her some privacy. She started for the door while Dina continued to undress down to her underwear, not wanting to make her feel uncomfortable, even if she had seemed perfectly comfortable to put Ellie in that position.

"Where are you going?" Dina asked as she switched on her lamp and climbed into her bed, heaving the blanket over her frame and snuggling into it.

"Uh, back to my room?" Ellie replied, confused as she turned around.

"But you're staying here tonight?" Dina asked.

Or was it more a demand? Ellie couldn't be certain.

Ellie watched as Dina opened the covers, lifting them just enough for her to make sense of her nude flesh below, the right places being covered by her underwear and she gulped. "I am?"

"Please." Dina said barely above a whisper. 

"Okay." Ellie nodded, releasing the breath she didn't know she was holding. "Okay, yeah."

"Get the light on the way to bed." Dina mumbled sleepily as she laid her head on the pillow, fixing her eyes to Ellie.

"Okay." Ellie repeated, turning off the bedroom light before heading to the side of Dina's bed, looking down at her friend who was now bathed in a gentle warm light. She stood there awkwardly, stressing about what to do.

"Take your clothes off, Ellie." Dina said breathily, never taking her eyes off Ellie's. "You can't sleep in them, they smell like weed and I'm not having my bed smell like that."

Ellie nodded, too tired to argue. At some point, she normally would have felt embarrassed but that point didn't come tonight.

Reaching down to the hem of her shirt she pulled it over her head and dropped it to the floor, glancing back at Dina who was still there watching her, her eyes moving up and down the length of her body. She didn't hate the attention, but she felt worried about being judged for her body. What if it wasn't attractive in the right way? Reaching down with trembling hands she fiddled with the button of her pants before popping them open, her eyes meeting Dina's again as she slid them down her thighs and kicked them off.

Immediately she could feel goosebumps attack her skin.

"Hurry." Dina mumbled, opening up the covers again and waiting for Ellie to slide in.

She did as she was told, resting her head on the pillow beside Dina's and feeling as the black-haired woman enveloped her in her blanket. She wasn't sure what she expected it to smell like, but her pillow smelled exactly like what she thought it would. Smelled very much like Dina. 

She held the attention of Dina's brown eyes and she questioned everything that had happened that night, what was happening now.

"You're not going to throw up are you, Williams?" she asked softly.

"No." Ellie blushed, feeling her breath hit her lips and not being able to tear her eyes away.

She had never been such good friends with a girl before.

They were just friends and maybe this was just what good friends do.

She felt Dina shift her hand and it came from the covers to reach up and tuck a stubborn strand of hair behind her ear, her fingers lingering over her cheek before tracing her jawline.

"I'm glad I met you, Ellie." Dina mumbled, reaching her hand back down under the cover to take Ellie's and entwined their fingers together. 

"Yeah." Ellie replied, uncertain what else to say in that moment, certain she didn't want to say the wrong thing to ruin it.

"Yeah." Dina repeated, closing her eyes. "There's just something about you. I don't know what it is, but I like it..." she trailed off sleepily. 

"Yeah." Ellie replied again, allowing her eyes to close along with Dina's.

She wasn't entirely sure what Dina had meant, but she knew what it would have meant if she had been the one to say it to Dina. 

She wouldn't though, not now. Not after tonight.

Chapter Text

Ellie groaned, refusing to open her eyes and shifting in her bed, noticing it felt more comfortable than it typically would. Probably because she had a raging headache and the urge to stay in bed forever. She thought if she willed it for long enough that eventually, she would fall back asleep but that never happened.

A quiet hum settled in her ears and she smiled, feeling increasingly contented as she pulled the covers tighter around her body, still refusing to open her eyes. She could still smell Dina on her pillow and she felt as he lips curled into a smile as she pictured her friends face. From the way her eyes encompassed everything that was her, to her smile that could light up any room. 

The humming continued, a little louder than before and Ellie might have been able to fall back asleep as it serenaded her if it hadn't been for the fact that at that moment she realized exactly where she was, why this bed was comfier than she remembered it ever being.

Her eyes snapped open, immediately met with all the photos that lined the wall, of people she didn't know. She blinked a few times, slowly at first before more rapidly as if the motion would have her wake up in her own room but it wouldn't. It never would because she wasn't in her own room.

She rolled over, her head settling heavily on the pillow as she found the source of the humming. Dina sat on her chair at her desk, now clad in a tank top and shorts, typing away on her laptop as she hummed a gentle song to herself. Ellie knew the song but in that moment couldn't quite place her finger on what it was, not in the state she was in.

Ellie laid there, quietly letting it bother her as she continued to watch her. She thought it would be a bit weird but she couldn't help it.

When Dina swiveled in her chair and their eyes met she could only stare back as she offered a grin in return.

"Morning, Sleepyhead." Dina teased, raising her hands above her head to stretch.

Ellie didn't fail to note the way the bottom of her shirt lifted enough to expose the olive skin on her hip, the bone barely protruding in a way that made her want to run her fingers over it.

"Morning." Ellie groaned back, bringing her hand to rub at her forehead

"I should make it a habit to have pretty girls in my bed." Dina remarked with an arched brow and a smirk plastered on her face. "How are you feeling?" 

"Like I drank too much last night." she mumbled with a blush, pulling her hand away. "How are you even a human?"

Dina's smirk widened. "Maybe you just drank more than I did."

"Bullshit. You were wasted." Ellie spat back with a frown. 

"Alright, you got me there, Detective." Dina replied, narrowing her eyes for a moment before spinning back around in her chair back to her laptop. "Did you have fun last night, Ellie?"

"Yeah..." she trailed off, remembering the portions of the night she enjoyed. 

"I didn't know you smoked?" Dina questioned, still keeping her back to Ellie.

Ellie shrugged. "I do sometimes. That a problem?"

She kept her attention on the shorter girls frame, wishing she would turn around so she could gauge the expression on her face.

"No, not at all." she replied with a small laugh and a shake of her head. "I don't know, just didn't expect it. Maybe we can get high together sometime?"

Ellie gave a small smile and looked down. "Yeah, that sounds okay."

"That cigarette though..." Dina said as she swiveled around for a second to look at her. "Maybe we could train that out of you." she finished with a teasing smile before turning back around.

"I thought you liked me for me." Ellie teased back.

"Oh, I do. Couldn't tell you why though." she shot back.

"Hey!" Ellie said with mock outrage. "I believe it was because you said I was cute."

"Did I?" Dine spoke softly and Ellie could almost hear the grin in her tone.

"I believe your exact words were it's 'lucky I'm cute'." Ellie continued pressing.

Dina smacked her lips. "Don't recall that one at all."

Ellie gripped one of the pillows and tossed it at her softly so it crashed into her back without causing her much discomfort.

"Hey!" Dina yelled, turning around and frowning. "You're an ass, you know that?" she finished, the angry exterior she was trying to put on finally melting into a laugh.

"Takes one to know one." Ellie retorted with a roll of her eyes.

Ellie sat there for a while longer, watching Dina's back as she continued to work before she sat up, with much pain and effort she mustered the strength to maneuver her body to rest her back against the wall.

The longer Ellie sat there the more she pieced together the night before. 

She reached up, running her hands over her face in embarrassment and groaned, remembering how her best friend had kissed Dina, how she had drunkenly felt up her. She wondered what Dina remembered of it all and if she should address it with her. Would an apology make her forgiven or just make it awkward, especially if she didn't even remember?

How would she even bring that up?

'Sorry for touching your butt last night, Dina but I really couldn't help it.'

She groaned again. No one told her being an adult would be so awful.

"Do you want to go get breakfast with me and Jesse?" Dina asked, still tapping away at her laptop.

Jesse.

She couldn't tell him what she had done, let alone her feelings for her. She didn't even know what her own feelings were.  

Ellie immediately felt guilty. 

The last place she should be is in the bed of the girl her best friend was interested in. She knew he wouldn't blame her for it, after all, they were friends and friends stay over at each other's houses, it was just the normal thing to do especially considering they had been drinking. But she could just have easily gone down the hall to her own room.

She didn't want to do that though, nor had she been upset when Dina had asked her to stay.

Ellie inhaled sharply. "Yeah, sure. I could murder a stack of pancakes."

 


 

"Jesse, you look like shit, man." Ellie laughed as she slid into the booth opposite him, Dina sliding in beside him.

"You can fucking talk, Ellie." he groaned, rubbing at his red eyes. 

"Yeah I can, 'cause I know I don't look half as bad as you do." she chuckled, grinning when she noticed Dina grinning at him.

"I think she's right... Ellie's at least got her looks on you." she teased.

"You're not meant to take her side." he pouted, it only lasts a few moments before he too smiled. "Did you guys enjoy the rest of your night?"

Ellie rubbed at the back of her head and looked down. "Yeah, I did."

"Ellie made some new friends." Dina smiled, nudging Jesse with her shoulder. "Soon she won't need us anymore."

"You can't replace me as your token Asian friend, Ellie. You know that, right?" he asked with an arched brow.

"One of them was Asian... and a girl." Dina replied for Ellie, turning to look at Jesse. "Doesn't her gender already have a one-up on you to Ellie?"

"Ellie, how could you!" Jesse shook his head in mock disbelief. "After everything we have been through together, you betray me for a girl? The audacity of it all." he finished, placing the back of his hand to his forehead dramatically.

Ellie folded her arms across her chest and leaned back on the chair, staring dubiously at the two before her.

"Do you have nothing to say for yourself, you traitor," he added when she didn't speak.

"I thought Dina was supposed to be the actress?" she asked, raising her scarred brow. 

"Maybe she's just rubbing off on me." he grinned, turning to face her.

"Ew, you're disgusting. Don't go rubbing off on anyone." Ellie laughed, waving her hand dismissively. 

"You know that's not what I meant." Jesse said almost too quickly, laughing with her.

"He's got a long way to go if he wants to be on my level," Dina added, laughing along with them.

"So, Ellie..." Jesse smirked. "I always knew you had a thing for Asians... my gender is the only thing that got in the way of you being in love with me, I knew it all along."

Ellie rolled her eyes. "I'm going to fucking kill you, Dina."

"Hey, it's not his fault he was born a man, Ellie." she teased, kicking her gently under the table.

"She's lucky she isn't my type." Jesse smiled, turning to face Dina.

"I wouldn't date you even if you were born a girl, Jesse." Ellie groaned.

"Oh yeah? And who is your type?" Dina asked, shifting a little as Jesse moved a little closer to her.

"You." he simply replied with a stupid grin.

Dina and Ellie both rolled their eyes.

Ellie folded her arms more over her chest, snaking her arms further around her body as she took a deep breath, studying her two friends on the other side of the table as they stared at each other, stupid smiles on their faces. 

She had seen Jesse look like that only two times before. Sometimes when he looked at her he would look at her like she was the most important thing in the world to him, and to some extent she always had been, she had been his best friend for a long time now. The other time was when he was with his first girlfriend. It had only lasted a few months at most, being the typical middle school romance where they hung out during lunch, or passed notes during class, talking on the phone most evenings but they never actually hung out outside of school.

Eventually, she just began dating someone else, one day just ignoring Jesse at lunch as middle schoolers did, and it broke his heart. 
He had been quick to move on, pining after the next girl but she had never seen him look at anyone like that since. 

Until now.

She sighed, noticing their arms shift at their sides, assuming he had just grabbed her hand and she looked away. It was obvious to her something was happening, but she was certain they thought it was well hidden.

When she glanced back they were still staring at each other, talking softly about something Ellie wasn't paying enough attention to understand. Her vision lingered long enough for Dina to turn and meet her eye, blush and look down but she wasn't sure why.

"You're going to come to my game tonight, right?" Jesse asked, leaving the question to float in the air.

Ellie opened her mouth to reply but was cut off before she did.

"Yeah, if you want me to go." Dina nodded.

She immediately shut her mouth, embarrassed that she hadn't considered the question wouldn't be for her, it had always been for her before.

"Ellie will come to keep me company, right?" Dina asked, turning to face her.

She furrowed her brow and looked down, feeling the familiar sinking feeling of hurt in her chest. "Yeah, of course."

She had wanted to say no, to go back to her dorm and crawl into bed and pretend like she didn't exist anymore. She knew that wasn't a good long term plan though, not feasible in any way to do for a long time. Eventually, she would have to get up and exist again.

Ellie looked up, feeling Dina's foot connect with her shin and she offered a smile at her which she barely returned. 

She would have to get used to it, them being together. It may take a while but it was just something she would have to do for both her friend's sake. Eventually, the feeling would go away.

Ellie sat in the dinner with them, listening as they made small talk and pushing her food around on her plate, suddenly not feeling hungry anymore.

"I'm going to go." Ellie said with a sigh, looking up to her friends.

"You can't go, you haven't even finished eating." Jesse exclaimed. "Plus, I thought we could hang out a bit before my game."

She gave a shrug, barely tilting her head to the side. "I've got a lot of work to do, Jesse. Dina will hang out with you."

Dina's eyes met Ellie's and she furrowed her brow for only a moment before she reached over and placed a hand on top of Jesse's.
"Yeah, I sort of stole Ellie away from her work last night... I'll hang out with you, though. Just so you don't get lonely." she gave a small reassuring laugh.

The auburn girl slid her plate across the table towards Jesse. "Go nuts," she said softly as she slid from the booth, stumbling a little as she caught her foot against the leg of the table.

Both Dina and Jesse laughed, causing Ellie to turn around and frown at them.

"Thanks, Ellie." Jesse grinned his mouth already full of her food. "I'll need this for tonight."

"See you, Ellie." Dina smiled offering a small wave.

 


 


Ellie remembered from last time that she would need to go early, so not long after the sky grew dark she made her way to the stadium, sneaking her way up to the top corner of the bleachers, hoping that whoever chose to sit next to her wasn't a talker.

She hadn't heard from Dina all day so assumed that she would make her way there on her own accord once she had finished hanging out with Jesse. She felt a pang of jealousy over the matter since Dina had first text her after her game last week she had consistently messaged her throughout the days. Even if Ellie didn't respond, Dina would text again as if she had. She both hated and loved it, for some reason always bringing a smile to her face.

She pulled her phone out of her pocket, clicking on a notification from her social media showing that she had friend requests and a new message. She quickly accepted the friend request before selecting the message.

"Yo, Ellie.  Do you want to catch up with us after class on Monday?"

Ellie smiled, typing her response back.

"Sure, Dave."

She didn't wait to see a response before she shoved her phone back in her pocket, tapping her foot against the bleachers as she waited, studying all the people on the field as they warmed up for the game. 

Ellie had gone straight back to her room after breakfast, working on all the homework she had to get done. Without any distractions she had finished what she needed to, meaning she would have a free day tomorrow until her game, certain it would make her feel less stressed and anxious for that night knowing she had nothing to come home to before Monday mornings classes.

"Hey, you."

Ellie looked up, meeting Dina's soft smile as she sat down beside her.

"Hey." she mumbled, keeping her eyes on the boys in front of her.

"I thought we were coming here together," she said softly, angling her body towards Ellie in a way that caused her knees to brush against her own.

"Sorry, I didn't hear from you so I wasn't sure if the plan had changed or not." she said with a small shrug, feeling a little guilty she didn't check-in.

"Oh. It's okay." Dina said, still smiling. "I figured you had already come over when you didn't answer your door. "So... Is Jesse any good?"

Ellie nodded. "Yeah, he's pretty good. He got a goal last week."

Dina arched an eyebrow. "Better than you? 'Cause I mean, you got two..." she laughed.

She rolled her eyes in return. "Don't let him hear you say that, you might bruise his precious little ego."

Dina laughed. "He already told me you're way better than him."

"Did he?" she asked in return, barely glancing at her out the corner of her eye. "What else has he told you about me?"

"Hmm... That you're quiet and brood-y all the time." she smirked, biting her lip to stifle a laugh. "That you're pretty dumb sometimes."

"Did he tell you he's a moron, too?" she huffed, folding her arms across her chest. "I don't brood all the time."

"I don't know... you're pretty quiet and in your own world a lot of the time."

"People are stupid." Ellie mumbled looking down.

"Not everyone is stupid, Ellie." Dina scolded, nudging her with her shoulder.

Ellie shook her head before turning to meet Dina's gaze. "Okay, maybe not everyone. You're okay I suppose."

"Just okay?" Dina asked in mock outrage.

"Yeah, just okay." Ellie repeated, leaning her elbows on her thighs as she turned her attention back to the boys.

"I'll have to remember that you said that." she smiled warmly. "He also said that he was happy we were becoming friends."

"And why would he say that?"

It was Dina's turn to shrug. "Reckons that maybe I'll rub off on you, considering I'm like a social butterfly and all and you're...not."

"Doubt it." Ellie snorted in response.

"I didn't think so either." Dina laughed. "Plus, I like you just the way you are. Don't change for anybody." she smiled a genuine smile, moving her attention away from Ellie to the soccer pitch. "So uh... do you think you could explain the rules to me when the game starts? Your game was the first soccer match I've seen."

"How have you gone your entire life without seeing one?" she asked with an arched brow.

Dina gave another shrug. "Don't really the sporty type, I guess. In my defense, I took martial arts instead of like, team sports so I could kick your ass, just not kick your ass at soccer... My dad's really into it but I couldn't get into it. Maybe you could teach me and I could surprise him when I'm next home."

"Alright. I'll try and teach you the rules..." Ellie reluctantly agreed.

"Thank you. That way I can understand your game better tomorrow." Dina grinned, unable to contain her excitement as her foot bounced on the ground.

"You don't have to come to my game, you know... Don't feel like you have to." Ellie said, softly, wanting to look back to meet Dina's eyes but deciding better of it.

"You don't want me to come?" Dina asked, a hint of hurt to her tone as she looked at her questionably.

"No?" Ellie said with a sigh as she sat back up. "I mean, I don't know..." she sighed, looking down at her hands before continuing. "You just don't have to if you don't want to. I don't want you to feel like you have to because you're friends or whatever with Jesse."

"You think I'm friends with you because of Jesse?" Dina asked, her tone accusatory. "You really are an idiot, Ellie."

She sighed again, continuing to fiddle with her fingers out of both nervousness and anxiety.

Dina sighed back at her. "So, what's the guy who puts the ball in the net called?" she said flatly, a hint of tenseness in her tone that she couldn't hide.

Ellie felt bad.

She knew that that wasn't the case. From what she knew of Dina was that she wouldn't ever be anyone's friend just because she was friends with their friends or pretend to be if she didn't like them. She was her own person and didn't have it in her to be that fake person to anyone, which surprised Ellie considered she wanted to follow a career in acting.

Maybe that was what was so endearing about her.

Maybe Ellie just wanted her to admit her relationship to Jesse to put her out of her misery.

When the game started, Ellie explained to Dina each player's position and what their specific role generically was. When they tried to make a play she would explain what they were trying to do. Dina listened to her enthusiastically, cheering at the right moments and booing when it called for it.

Ellie couldn't help by smile at the way she took right to being a supporter, something Ellie could never do. Liking to sit quietly and observe, celebrating to herself rather than with anyone else. She was sure that if it were anyone else she would have been embarrassed when they stood and yelled but instead she just looked at her friend fondly, taking in everything that was her.

Jesse had gotten more game time this week, being subbed on before the end of the second half when their coach didn't feel like the game was going their way. While he made an impact, there wasn't a lot he could do, the other team was all over them but miraculously they were holding them out. Every time Jesse touched the ball Dina would rise to her feet and cheer for him, Ellie didn't understand, he had literally just touched the ball at his feet and hadn't done anything worth cheering for, but still, Dina cheered every time, sometimes earning a sheepish grin from him in their direction, sometimes earning annoying stares from others in the crowd but Dina didn't care.

No matter what anyone did or said, Dina didn't care. It was if she was in her own world and Ellie admired it, wishing she could be as carefree as she was.

Jesse was subbed off before the closing stages of the game, the other team scoring not long after he did. They were too persistent in front of the goal, eventually breaking them down. The final score was 1 nil to the opposing team, their first loss of the seasons, and it hung heavy in the air, the atmosphere being nothing like it was the week before for their draw.

Ellie wondered if it would feel this way if her team lost. She hated it, a loss wasn't the end of the world. It was still early in the season and meaningly. As the crowd began to disperse, and the team approached to leave the field Dina again stood and cheered for them, earning a few smiles for her efforts and Ellie knew the sentiment would have been appreciated. Nothing hung more heavy on anyone's shoulder than the feeling immediately after a loss.

She rose to her feet, standing beside Dina and leaning against the rail, she looked at her before looking down at her friend who was struggling behind with a couple of the other guys in his team.

"Hey Jesse!" she hollered, causing him to snap his attention to her. "Good job, tonight!" she grinned, shooting him a thumbs up and smiling harder when he appeared to laugh, giving her a thumbs-up back.

Ellie ignored it but she felt it as Dina turned her attention to her, grinning from ear to ear at her.

"That was fun." Dina said with a clap as she fell back on the bleacher seat. "I am now cultured in the way of sport."

"Yeah, it was a good game." Ellie replied, folding her arms across her chest and leaning against the railings.

"Thank you for teaching me, Ellie. I'm sure all my questions were pretty frustrating." she laughed, looking up to meet her eyes.

"No, you did well to remember it all. You'll be all set for Jesse's next game and now you can give him his debrief." she smiled kindly at her.

"Oh yeah? He likes a debrief? So into himself." she joked with a small laugh.

"Mhmm." Ellie nodded. "We just both want to be better."

Dina seemed to understand and nodded. "So, there's this party Jesse and I are going to tonight... Do you want to come?" 

Ellie looked back at Dina, their eyes meeting, and for a second that look was going to be all it took to make her break but then she remembered the night before, watching Dina and Jesse kiss in the crowd and not wanting to see that again if she could help it. For as long as she could anyway, knowing that it would eventually be an inevitable part of their friendship.

"Not tonight." she replied with a small shake of her head.

"Can't suppose I can convince you?" she asked with a mischievous grin.

Ellie pushed off from the metal bars, standing in front of her friend and looking down at her. "Not a chance in hell. Parties aren't even my scene."

"Darn." she grinned, a slight pink hue gracing her cheeks. "Can't blame a girl for trying can ya?"

"Will you tell Jesse that he had a good game for me?" Ellie asked, folding her arms across her chest.

"You're not going to at least come to have something to eat with us?" Dina asked with a furrowed brow.

"I'm really tired. I still have a lot to do before tomorrow." she lied. "Let me know when you get home safe?" she added to change the subject, hating how that line rolled off her tongue.

It was too clingy, too needy but Dina only smiled again at her.

"Sure. Thank you for keeping me company tonight, Ellie."

"It's okay." she waved dismissively over her shoulder as she walked away before stuffing her hands deep in her pocket.

She replayed the entire night in her mind on the walk back to her dorm. Every time Dina turned to face her or touched her, their legs continuously brushing against each other as she leaned in to listen to Ellie discuss what was happening.

She didn't want to admit that she had for once enjoyed the company while she watched Jesse's game, but she couldn't stop thinking about it.

When she arrived back to her room she peeled off all her clothes and instead of carelessly tossing them into the corner she placed them in her laundry basket, promising herself she would do laundry on Monday and tidy up a little more.

She slid into her bed, pulling the covers over her head, she curled up and she closed her eyes ready for sleep to take her, but it never did. No matter how hard she tried she just couldn't fall asleep. Trying to convince herself it was just because she was overtired she kept trying, eventually giving up with a frustrated sigh.

She rolled on to her back and stared up to the darkness of the ceiling, her mind too tired to even pretend there was something lurking in it.

If she could just stop thinking she knew that sleep would eventually come but that was easier said than done. She tried to switch her brain off, or even trick it into thinking about something more mundane but it didn't work. It always came back to Jesse and Dina and finally just Dina. She wasn't entirely sure why she couldn't get her out of her head. She was after all just some girl she had met a week ago.

But Ellie knew that Dina wasn't just some girl.

She also knew that she wasn't the only one that thought that though. Maybe that's just what it was, that everyone just simply fell for her. She was beautiful and charming, flirty and humorous, the kind of girl you would want to take home to meet your parents and they would of course love her too.

She groaned, bringing her hand to her forehead before running her fingers through her hair and giving a rough tug. She couldn't stand being so obsessive over someone, the feeling literally making her sick. She knew to Dina she was just a girl, a friend, and definitely not a threat to any of the guys that had eyes for her. 

She jumped, her phone vibrating on her bedside table and she mentally kicked herself for allowing it to scare her. Out of all things that could have, it was the simple noise of a phone vibrating.

She briefly thought about ignoring it but quickly thought better of it. People generally only text this late if something was wrong and the thought made her stomach drop in dread.

She reached only her arm out of the covers feeling around for her phone in the darkness. After a few attempts, she found it, snatched it up in her hand and pulled it under the covers. She pressed the on button which quickly illuminated the screen, showing that it was just passed two in the morning and that she had a message.

Clicking it, she blinked as she read it slowly, allowing her eyes to adjust to the light.

Dina: ujst checking ian to let you know ki maed it home safely.

even though fyou nevper luet mle know you dmae ipt home safely, gyou hppyocrite.

Ellie couldn't help the smile that curled her lips unsure whether it was from the fact that Dina had thought of texting her or if it was how drunk she appeared to be. She knew she should have put her phone down but before she knew it she was typing a reply.

Ellie: I wasn't the one going out and getting wasted. 

Ellie placed her phone face down on her chest and closed her eyes, her heart not beating rapidly in her chest and any hope of sleep soon was now gone. She didn't have to wait long before she felt the vibration through her body.

Dina: im not even wastseed. ki onlpy had a couple drinks, i'll have you know

Ellie: Oh uh huh. Your spelling mistakes say otherwise.

Dina: i only let you tease me cauase you'rpe cute you know, toher wise yuo wouldn't teg away with it

Ellie: Go to sleep Dina, you're drunk.

Dina: yoru donv't want to talk ot me?

Ellie sighed, hitting her phone against her forehead a couple of times before pulling it back into her line of sight. She knew she shouldn't entertain her drunken friend, yet she found herself doing it anyways.

Ellie: I want to talk to you.

Dina: i want to talk fto yoou all tfhe time but sometimes i eefl likue you don't like me.

Ellie froze, staring at the screen, reading the message over and over again unsure what part of the message she should focus on. The part where Dina said she wanted to talk to her all the time or the part where Dina thought that she didn't like her. Finally, she decided that the latter was more important.

Ellie: Why do you think I don't like you?

Dina: because i like yuou Ell anud you're alwayss hfdshfdl

Ellie: I'm always what?

Ellie waited for a response, confusion creeping into her bones. First a few seconds, then minutes to what felt like hours, still there was no response. Her heart continued to pound in her chest as she considered the gravity of her words, re-reading them over and over. Perhaps she had just spelled something wrong or meant something else. She was clearly very drunk after all.

She was sure the other girl had fallen asleep and she likely would not get a response. She briefly thought about texting her again to see if she could wake her up but knew that it was more than likely futile, considering how drunk she appeared to be.
With a sigh she put her phone down, staring back into the darkness.

 


 

Ellie ran lengths of the pitch, warming up with her team, diligently going through the drills. If she was going to be selected again today she wanted to be able to play her best game. Her body was still a little tender from the week before but she did her best not to show any weakness. She would push through it anyway, just like she had during the week.

She felt angry, pushing herself through the paces faster and faster. Her mind flashing back to the morning where she had lied awake unable to sleep, waiting for a response she would never get. Finally, when she couldn't take it anymore she got up, dressing to go for a run she stepped out her door, freezing when she noticed Jesse leaving Dina's room.

The walk of shame some would call it.

It wasn't fair to assume that's what had happened, for all she knew he could have just walked her home and crashed there like Jesse had done to her a week earlier but she knew it wasn't likely. They were adults and adults didn't just have sleepovers.

What other reason would Jesse have for sneaking out so early?

And what business did Dina have texting her that late at night anyway?

When Maria barked orders, Ellie listened, being the first one to complete them. They warmed up their keepers before taking shots for real, and she smashed the ball as hard as she could, so hard that it caused her feet to hurt inside her boots.

When Maria picked her to start, she didn't feel the same elated feeling she had felt last time. Instead, she just wanted to go out there, do a good job, and go home.

She didn't want to look towards the bleachers, scared of who might be there, or who might not be there. She had effectively asked Dina not to come. She didn't think she would be able to ignore it all night, especially when the crowd began to cheer or boo respectively. Finally, she allowed herself to turn and look, to her surprise she saw her new friends from the Friday night, they waved at her and she waved back, Victoria coming up behind her and knocking Ellie with her shoulder before waving back to her friends.

Just below them in the front row sat Jesse and Dina.

She had come.

When they waved, she weakly waved back before looking down. 

Thankfully Victoria pulled her back, shoving her back to where her team continued warming up.

The game started off well. As soon as the whistle blew and the other team kicked off, their team dived in, taking the ball and passing it swiftly between themselves like they had been practicing at training. When the ball was pulled back to Ellie she lined up a shot only for it to hit the crossbar and bounce back to their defenders to be cleared.

"Shit." she muttered to herself, slapping her thigh as she turned to ready herself for the goal kick.

Ellie's team kept pressing, effectively being all over their opposition and it wasn't long until a through ball from her to her teammate put them in the lead as she slotted it home easily.

Not long after that, a ball from Ellie over to top put them through on goal again resulting in another goal. Before half time she had another shot, taking the defenders on herself and weaving through to beat them before hitting the ball with the top of her foot. It wasn't the best finish but she struck it hard enough towards the keeper that she fumbled it and the ball fell through her hands and into the goal behind her.

The second half saw three more goals - two from Ellie to make her hatrick and one from Victoria as a header from a corner which took the score to 6 - 0. When the whistle blew, the other team seemed happy it was over, thanking Ellie's team for being such good sports- the team they had played the week before hadn't been nearly as nice to play and they told them to watch out for the team they had always played the week previous.

She hadn't felt it before the match, but as she walked off the pitch she felt happy. While the team they had played hadn't been the strongest, a hatrick was a big achievement and her team congratulated her as they headed to the changing rooms.

She showered and changed with the team, shooting Joel a quick message about the game and promising to call him during the week. She opened her unread message from Jesse.

Jesse: You're the fucking best, Ellie. You gotta stop showing me up.

She smiled reading it before clicking on Dina's unread message, reading the last text from her before the new one.

Dina: You didn't tell me how great a hatrick was yesterday. Jesse was freaking out and I didn't understand. You were so good today, El.

She didn't respond to either of them, instead, she shoved her phone back in her pocket and slung her bag over her shoulder. When some of the team asked her if she wanted to grab some food with them she agreed, thankful for the distraction, and becoming overwhelmed by the feeling of willingly being included and asked to be a part of something.

Chapter Text

The next couple of months felt easier for Ellie. She settled into a routine of classes, sporting events, and friends. She found certain classes easier, especially with Dave's help, and finally felt like she was beginning to grasp the whole college thing.

Her relationship with Jesse had mostly returned to normal. Once he and Dina admitted that they were in a relationship together, in which he excited told Ellie about before Dina had, she was able to take a step back and begin a newer friendship with the girl.
While Dina would always be extra touchy and flirty with her, Ellie found it easier to joke back knowing that there wouldn't be anything between them. Sometimes she felt a tiny pang of jealousy and sometimes she thought she may have taken the flirty joking too far, especially when she found herself wishing they would push it further but she was quick to push those feelings away.

She loved Jesse and she loved Dina, sometimes she loved her more than a friend, but their friendship would always come first.

She had also come to love her new friends. Dave, Travis, and Victoria, sometimes Cat although she hadn't seen too much of her since they had originally met, the others just telling her that she was too busy with school and work to play.

Ellie felt that she was fortunate enough that Joel had given her a little money to spend while she was away but it wasn't much and it certainly wasn't enough to live as extravagantly as some of her friends did. Joel had offered to send her more but she wouldn't accept, he had already done too much for her by allowing her to attend this college in the first place.

"Earth to Ellie." Jesse laughed, waving his hand in front of her face.

She shook her head clear. "Sorry, just zoning out." she finished with a small smile.

"So, us and some guys from the team are going to head to the mountains for a few days tonight, a sort of a spur of the moment thing which is fucking rad. I know it's short notice, but you're going to come right?"

Ellie's eyes flittered between Jesse and Dina as they expectantly looked at her. They always did this, teamed up on her to make whatever decision they wanted to fall there way but there was no way it could this time.

"I can't." Ellie sighed, looking down.

"Why not?" Jesse pressed, Dina reaching out her hand and placing it on his arm. "It's gonna be hella fun. The guys are dorks but they're a good time and I think some of them are going to bring their girlfriends too so it won't just be you and Dina as the only girls."

"Jesse, I said I can't," she repeated, this time more firmly as she looked up to meet his eyes.

"If it's about money..." he began, his voice lowering. "You know I got you, I just want you to come and have fun."

Ellie blushed, unsure if it was because she was embarrassed or out of anger, balling her hands into fists as she again looked down in an attempt to hide her face. She wanted to die. She couldn't stand the way that Dina was staring at her. Was it with sympathy or pity? She wasn't sure nor did she care, it wouldn't matter anyway.

"Ellie, you know I'm good for it. My parents won't care." she added, hoping it would push her in the right direction.

"Jesse..." Dina whispered, nudging him hard with her elbow.

She was definitely sure now it was both a mixture of anger and embarrassment consuming her. She wanted to tear out of the diner, away from all their prying eyes, their sympathetic glances. She didn't need that. She wasn't poor, she just didn't have her own money to waste on unimportant trips.

It's not that she didn't want to go, she did more than anything. Passing up on a chance to hang out with her best friends was not something she easily could do but there were just more important things than a weekend away.

"Ow." Jesse muttered, rubbing where Dina had hit. "Ellie knows it's fine. Come on, Ellie."

"Jesse." Dina said louder this time with a growl. "Enough."

"No, it's okay." Ellie choked out, the embarrassment of the situation curling its fingers around her throat. "I can't go."

"Ellie, honestly it's fine." Jesse insisted. "Just come away with us."

"I don't even want to go. It sounds cold and awful." Ellie hissed, lifting herself from her chair. "I uh, have to go. I hope you guys have fun though."

"You're a fucking idiot, Jesse. Take a hint." Dina frowned, hitting his arm harder with her palm.

Ellie kept her head down as she walked out, feeling as if everyone was looking at her. They weren't, but she couldn't shake the feeling. 

Jesse had always done this to her, and when she was younger she supposed she didn't care as much. Now she knew that Joel had been the one embarrassed when she had accepted. Back then he would always insist on paying his family back, every last cent. He never told Ellie off for always accepting, but she noticed he always worked harder after she had, and only now did she realize why.

Growing up Ellie had never had anything, so when she moved in with Joel everything he had seemed more than it actually was. His house had seemed like a mansion, the land he owned and worked with his brother Tommy seemed vast and she felt rich. The more time she spent with them the more time she spent with Jesse's family the more she realized that what they had wasn't the real definition of rich, but she felt rich in other ways.

They never for a second let her feel like she wasn't important, that she wasn't loved or cherished and to her, that was more important than any amount of money could ever be. One day she wanted to repay the favor, give back everything he had given her back then, and everything he was still sacrificing for her now. 

That's why she worked so hard.

Stuffing her hands in her pockets, she walked a couple of blocks back towards campus. She wasn't sure she had ever been so humiliated. Jesse could be dense but she also felt embarrassed that Dina would view her as just some poor kid who wouldn't afford to do anything. It wasn't far from the truth but she never wanted to be viewed that way. She liked to think that her friends cared more about everything else than money but if you didn't have the money you couldn't do those fun trips that kids did.
She hoped Dina didn't think less of her.

She walked passed the window of the local coffee shop, barely giving it a second glance as she walked passed. She did a double-take, taking a few steps backward, her eyes resting on a 'help wanted' sign. She considered it for a second, whether or not she could handle having a job on top of the mountain of other stuff she had committed to.

It would be a struggle for sure but there were people who both studied and worked full time and they somehow survived. She swallowed the lump in her throat, deciding to at least ask about the role. The worst that could happen would be that they didn't want her of that the hours wouldn't suit and that would be okay. But if she did get the job than that meant that she would have some money to spend, she could actually do things with her friends, maybe she could do something nice for Dina with a little extra cash.

Or she could save what she didn't use and consider it a step towards paying back Joel.

The manager was a polite short man named Bruce, who asked Ellie a few questions such as what she was doing, what she wanted to do, and if she had any prior work experience. Ellie had never had a job interview before, she had never even had a real job other than helping Joel and Tommy, but she figured this is exactly what an interview was like. The more in-depth they got they more she realized that she wasn't the kind of person they were looking for, and she hated herself for even thinking she might have a shot.

To her surprise though, he offered her one shift a week on Friday after her classes with the opportunity to pick up more if she did well. She could start now to learn the ropes if she was free. She couldn't wipe the grin off her face as she shook his hand, thanking him profusely.

He handed her a green polo shirt with the store name on the front of it and sent her to get changed, once she had changed and stored her belongings outback he gave her a tour through the small place. Ellie had been there more than a few times before but obviously had never been passed the counter. She was surprised by how much they had stored hidden away from everyone.

She began to feel a little out of her depth and anxious, getting into her own head about how this might not have been a very good idea as he introduced her to the staff. What if she was terrible at it? The last thing she wanted to do was let anyone down.
"Ellie?" the black-haired woman questioned, moving to stand in front of her and Bruce.

"Cat?" Ellie asked back, looking up to meet her eye.

Ellie watched nervously as Cat's confused expression morphed into a grin as she folded her arms across her chest.

"You two ladies already know each other?" Bruce asked, looking back and forth between them. "That's good, I suppose. Cat will be training you, Ellie, if that's okay Cat? She'll show you the ropes."

"Yeah, I can do that." Cat smiled sweetly. "Right, Ellie?"

"Yeah, that sounds good. Thanks again, Bruce. I really appreciate the opportunity. I won't let you down." she rambled.

"Alright, good luck, Ellie." Bruce smiled kindly before heading back to his office. "Any problems you come and see me."

When Ellie turned back around to meet Cat's eye she was met with a devious smirk.

"So... what is the star soccer player doing getting a job in a coffee shop?" she asked, turning to head over to the coffee machine, motioning Ellie to follow.

"I uh, could use some extra cash." she said with a small shrug, watching and trying to take in every movement she took.

"Interesting." she mumbled, fiddling with the machine. "Watch what I do okay?"

Ellie only nodded, refusing to pull her eyes away from the girl. 

"It's really easy. You just grind the beans into this portafilter thinger, tamp it down- but not too hard, it needs to be just right. You won't get it perfect straight away but it'll come with time. And then hook it into the machine like so and give it a twist to tighten it, again, not too tight. Now, press this button to make an espresso and watch it come out. It should look like a thick caramel color, if it doesn't it's shit and it'll taste shit."

Ellie again only nodded.

Cat smiled, emptying the portafilter and wiping it out before handing it to Ellie. "Your turn."

Ellie gulped nervously, trying to remember all the steps that Cat had just done preciously. She was thankful that Cat repeated the steps for her and she followed her guidance. When it came out of the machine, it definitely did not look a single thing like what Cat had produced.

"Try it." Cat insisted. 

Ellie eyed her suspiciously and thought about saying no but who was she to argue with the girl who was training her? She brought the cup to her lip, taking a decent gulp and swallowing before the awful taste overwhelmed her tastebuds. She wanted to spit, brush her tongue with something a lot stronger than toothpaste but only managed to pull a face as cat laughed.

"Tastes like shit, right?" she grinned, covering her mouth as she continued to laugh. "Alright, try again. You'll get it perfect by the end of the day, I promise."

Cat spent the rest of the shift showing Ellie tips and tricks for getting it perfect and eventually she produced something somewhat similar to what Cat had. She didn't think she would get it perfect, nor would get it anywhere close to her's, but it was still drinkable. 

She actually had fun learning something new and hanging out with Cat, talking with her had been natural and easy. Ellie was surprised and it was nice to just be off-campus, away from everyone.

It was nearing eight and Cat ran Ellie through closing up the shop with the other girl on shift. It was somewhat therapeutic to Ellie doing some kind of labor, she liked not being able to just do nothing and think too much. She was sure she was going to like working here.

At the end of the night when they said goodbye to the other girl, the two sat at one of the empty tables, coffee's in hand, taking a moment to themselves before they finished locking up and went home for the night.

"So this is why I never see you around?" Ellie asked.

"Mhmm." Cat nodded. "I really don't want to be in a massive hole of debt when I finish my degree. You know, considering there's a possibility I may just end up working at McDonald's or something." she gave a small laugh.

Ellie smiled and looked down at the cup in her hand. "I'm sure you're really talented."

"What about you?" Cat asked with an arched brow. "What are you doing here?"

Ellie sighed. "Same reason, sort of.  Joel.. my uh, old man he is paying for me to come here but I intend to pay him back. I know he can't afford it. He'll probably kill me if he found out I have a job now." she laughed nervously, feeling more at ease when Cat laughed with her. "I just want the freedom to do what I want when I want, you know? Not being restricted because I don't have the money..."

"Yeah, I know what you mean." Cat replied with a nod. "I was the same growing up. There's heaps of stuff I couldn't do because we couldn't afford it. I stole my first artist's pencils." Cat admitted, looking up to meet Ellie's eye. "I went back and paid for it a couple of years later though!" she added, waving her hands in front of her body. "The second I had my first job. I felt too guilty."

"How noble of you." Ellie grinned.

"What can I say, I'm forever chivalrous." she said with a small roll of her eyes. "What about you?"

Ellie shrugged. "I used to steal all the time when I was younger. I did what I had to do to survive." she felt the heat burning on her cheeks so she looked down. "But Joel, he uh... he always made sure I had everything I needed. We never had much, but what we had was enough." she finished.

Cat didn't say anything, just nodded as if she understood.

"Are you sticking around for the break?" Cat said softly, resting her arm on the back of her chair and leaning back.

"Yeah." Ellie nodded, studying the girl before, wondering if she realized she looked effortlessly cool. "All my friends are heading away on some impromptu trip tonight for it, so I'm actually pretty glad for the distraction. I couldn't afford to go, anyways."

"Bummer." Cat offered with a shake of her head. "I'm sure it would have sucked anyway."

Ellie laughed and shook her head. She knew that in a way she was right, but the trip would have had some perks.

"You'll like working here." Cat spoke after a moment of silence. "Usually there's a lot of shifts to pick up, and the pay isn't bad either considering. Plus, you'll get to hang out with me sometimes."

"Oh? That's a selling point?" Ellie asked with a raised brow.

"Yeah, of course. In fact they should write that into contracts. Wait until you work a shift without me and then let's see if you're this much of a smart ass." she finished, still a smile on her face.

"I'll have to get back to you on the validity of that one." Ellie smiled back.

There was a silence that followed, Cat holding Ellie's gaze as they smiled back at each other. 

"Hey, did you uh, want to get something to eat?" Cat asked, her voice dropping a little lower, seeming unsure.

Ellie reached up and rubbed at the back of her neck, looking down as she thought for a moment before looking back up at Cat and smiling. "Yeah, that sounds great."

 


 

"Alright, so here's the deal. Tomorrow I take you down to the tattoo shop and we stencil this sketch on your arm and if you like it we tattoo it." Cat laughed, a bottle of alcohol in her hand as she sat at Ellie's desk, pencil in hand as she worked on a sketch from Ellie's.

"What, no way." Ellie shook her head. "I can't commit to that. Joel would kill me."

"Live a little." Cat muttered with an eye roll before swiveling in her chair to roll up the sleeve of her jacket. "I literally sketched these up one day and got it tattooed the next." she pointed to a few smaller ones. "I did these ones myself."

Ellie folded her arms across her chest. "I do live but I kinda think something as permanent as a tattoo should at least be thought about..."

"Boring." Cat groaned, turning back to work on her sketch. "If you're not going to get this, I might."

"That's not fair." Ellie pouted, moving to look over her shoulder. "That actually looks really cool."

"What if we stencil it on your arm and you can walk around with it while I get a tattoo and if you like it you get it, if you hate it we just wash it off?" she asked with an arched brow, handing the bottle of alcohol to her friend.

Ellie took a swig, keeping her eye's on Cat's. "You're a bad influence, you know that, right?"

She grinned in response. "Only to people I like."

Ellie blushed, hiding behind the alcohol as she took another sip before moving to sit back on her bed. She watched as Cat diligently worked on the piece of art, taking what she had sketched out and turning it into something that actually looked good. She wasn't bad at art, but she was definitely nowhere near as good as Cat was.

She pulled her phone out of her pocket, placing the bottle of alcohol down on the ground before unlocking it and reading her unread messages. One being a picture from Jesse and an apology for earlier, a selfie of him and Dina against a backdrop of white, all their friends behind them. Clearly looking like they were enjoying themselves.

The other messages being from Dina, sent earlier in the day.

Dina: "Hey Ellie, I'm sorry about Jesse. I'm sorry that you couldn't come but I hope you're okay."

"Hey, let me know that you're okay, alright?"

"Ellie?"

She sighed, pressing the power button to turn her screen black before dropping it on her bed and picking up the bottle of alcohol again, training her eyes to Cat's back.

"You know I can't afford to get a tattoo, right?" she finished, taking another sip.

Cat turned around in the chair, for a moment resting her arms on her knees as she peered at her. "That's fine, I'll be doing the tattoo anyways. I'll be practice."

Ellie looked down, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. "That's still not fair. Tattoos are expensive and it would take up so much of your time. I can't accept that." she said with a shake of her head.

Cat rose to her feet, moving to take a seat beside Ellie on the bed, sitting close enough that their arms brushed together and she didn't move away from the contact.

"How about I make you a deal then?" Cat asked, shifting so she was facing Ellie, resting her knee up on the bed.

"A deal?" Ellie asked with an arched brow, turning so she could face Cat, their knees barely brushing together. "I really don't like the sound of that."

Cat reached for the bottle of alcohol, taking it from Ellie's hand and taking a long swig before handing it back to her and waiting for her to do the same.

"I'll give you a tattoo." she said softly, her eyes keenly watching the bottle raised to Ellie's lips, waiting until she brought it down again. "And you owe me a kiss."

"What?" Ellie asked, her face immediately turning red at the idea.

"Just one." Cat offered with a small shrug, her eyes dropping to her lips. 

"Why..." Ellie stammered out, looking down and away from her gaze.

Cat shrugged again. "Just want to know what it would be like to kiss you."

Cat reached out, sliding her hand over Ellie's and waiting for her to look back up. When she finally did, she offered her a reassuring smile as she leaned in a little.

"You're taking payment upfront?" Ellie teased quietly, hoping to ease the tension a little.

When Cat didn't respond Ellie licked her lips, her mouth feeling drier than she was sure it ever had, watching as Cat leaned forward towards her. She didn't know whether or not she wanted to stay still, or lean in, or run. Either way, her body didn't move and it wasn't long until Cat's lips were inches away from her own.

It felt like an eternity feeling Cat's breath against her lips before she finally closed the gap, pressing her lips gently against Ellie's and moving them slowly. Shocked at first, Ellie kept her eyes open, watching as Cat moved her face before she closed her eyes and kissed her back. She wouldn't know if she enjoyed it if she didn't try.

As soon as she felt Ellie reciprocate the kiss Cat quickly deepened it, reaching up to grab the back of Ellie's head, pulling her lips more firmly to hers in a rough kiss. Even if Ellie had wanted to pull away sooner, Cat wouldn't have let her but to her surprise, she didn't want to. She enjoyed the feeling of Cat against her, the way she roughly kissed her and nibbled at her lip, taking charge and being the one to lay down the rules.

Cat smirked against her lips, laughing as she pulled away. Ellie could only blush in response and manage a shy smile.

"I think I'm the one that owes you something for that." the black-haired woman joked, reaching out and tugging at the front of Ellie's shirt.

Ellie looked down at her hand and swallowed the lump in her throat before looking back up at her friend. She wasn't sure why but she kind of wanted to do that again. Keeping her eyes fixed on Cat's she brought the bottle of alcohol to her lips and took another swig, longer than before, and allowed herself to feel the burning as it fell down her throat. She handed the bottle back to Cat, watching her do the same earlier as she had done to her.

"What do two kisses get me?" Ellie asked lowly, unsure if she was even ready to say it.

Cat smirked, removing the bottle from her mouth and setting it down on the ground, moving her hand back to Ellie's shirt and tugging her roughly towards her, their lips crashing awkwardly together as they met in an aggressive embrace. 
Ellie's hands tentatively reached out and rested on Cat's thigh, the feeling eliciting something in the bottom of her gut, deep within her loins. Cat smirked against her lips, taking her hands in her own and sliding them up her stomach and over her breasts, making her squeeze the mounds, moaning back against her mouth.

It was Cat who parted from the kiss, breathing heavily against Ellie's lips as she fumbled for the bottom of her shirt, effortlessly ripping it over her head and tossing it to the ground before she was back on Ellie, pushing her back on the bed and pinning the taller girl underneath her.

Ellie felt her eyes wondering, as Cat sat back on her hips and reached behind her body, unclasping her bra and peeling it from her shoulders. She held the cups to her body as she smirked down at Ellie, watching her eyes linger on that area, waiting.
She blinked slowly, waiting for Cat to move but she didn't. For a moment she briefly thought that maybe this had gone too far, that maybe she should stop but she shrugged those feelings away. Cat was beautiful and she was on top of her and she wanted help forgetting everything, if only for a short while.

It was college and people experimented in college, right?

She lifted her hands, running them up the length of Cat's thighs, digging them into her skin when she reached her hips, waiting patiently for her to reveal herself. With the same smirk she had earlier, Cat allowed the material to fall, tossing it to the side with her shirt and sitting back a little further, allowing Ellie to gaze at her bare skin.

Ellie blushed, and she blushed further when she noticed that Cat's pale skin didn't have any indication of shyness or embarrassment, she definitely had enough for both of them. 

"Is this okay?" Cat asked, looking down to meet Ellie's green eyes.

She bit the bottom of her lip and nodded.

Cat dropped her hands to Ellie's, again taking her hands and pulling them up to her breasts, holding them there until she squeezed and massaged them, allowing a soft moan to fall from her lips, hoping it would be enough to get Ellie really going and stop being so polite.

It didn't.

She rolled her eyes, leaning down to meet Ellie's lips again, roughly tugging at them between her teeth, certain she felt the taste of blood from being too rough but she didn't care, she wanted to taste the girl who had captured her attention since the first time she saw her at that party.

"Take your clothes off." Cat demanded as she rolled off her, reaching to the button on her pants to unzip them before shoving them off her legs, waiting for Ellie to do the same.

Ellie's hands shook as she did the same, feeling like it took an eternity to get out of them before Cat helped her out, reaching to the bottom of her shirt and tugging it over her head. She climbed back on top of Ellie, straddling her thigh and her knee firmly pressed against her earning a soft whimper in response which only urged her to press harder.

Cat decided she liked hearing Ellie whimper.

She leaned down, kissing, licking, and biting Ellie's neck before shifting down further to her collar bone and down her navel, allowing her hands to linger on her breasts as she traveled further. She placed a kiss to the waist of her panties, taking the time to glance up and look at Ellie who had her face buried beneath her arm.

She placed soft kisses to the inside of her thighs, starting low and working her way up, keeping her eyes trained on Ellie and waiting for her to look down at her but she never did. She nipped the skin, hoping to get a response but it only elicited a moan which she enjoyed more than she thought she would.

She smiled, noting that Ellie was just as timid in bed as she had appeared in social settings before dipping her fingers under the material and tugging them down, Ellie arching off the mattress to aid her in disposing of the material.

Cat grinned, diving back between her legs, pushing them apart a little more as she worked kisses back up her inner thighs, lingering long enough for Ellie to groan in response and shift her body closer to her.

 


 

"That was fun." Cat said with a small laugh as she breathed heavily, staring up to the ceiling.

"Yeah." Ellie laughed back, mirroring her pose, her arms draped loosely over her half-covered naked body.

Cat smirked, sitting up on her side and looking down at Ellie. "You're pretty good for someone so shy." she muttered.

"I'm not shy." Ellie groaned in response, covering her face again with her arm.

Cat laughed again, shifting and slipping her nude body over Ellie's to get off the bed, moving around the room to grab her belongings. "You really should clean your room." she remarked, pulling on her underwear that took her entirely too long to find.

Ellie sat up a little, resting back on her elbows and pulling the covers up to hide her body. "Funny, my friend said exactly the same thing... It's better than it was."

"I don't know if I believe that." she laughed, finishing getting dressed before grabbing her backpack off the floor, opening the zip, and stuffing the picture she had sketched earlier in the night.

"So uh... Do you want to get breakfast or something... Later. When it's actually morning." Ellie asked unsure, rambling as she didn't how to proceed, she had never done this before.

Cat laughed. "No way."

Ellie blushed and looked down, pulling a face of moderate dejection.

"But, if you want to see me again you can meet me at the tattoo place at 4 pm." she finished with a smirk.

The auburn girl looked back up at her. "Was this your plan all along?"

"To get you in bed? Maybe." she smirked. "To make you get a tattoo with me? Nah, I think that's just a perk now... and I mean, if you want to see me again you'll at least come to watch me get mine. I might let you take me for a drink after."

Ellie hummed before nodding. "Alright."

"Have a good night, well... morning, Ellie." Cat teased, slipping out of her bedroom.

Ellie groaned, bringing her hands up to rub at her face as she leaned back. She had never had a one night stand before, never had a girl leave her bed straight after. She wasn't sure how she should feel. She wasn't sad she was gone, but she wasn't happy either. She wasn't sure what this was.

She had only had sex with one other girl before now, her highschool girlfriend. Clearly, it hadn't worked out and she had moved far away from her, but even at their worst it definitely didn't end like this. They always cuddled in bed afterward or talked. Ellie wasn't sure she liked the talking part, or even the cuddling part too much back then, but it was better than the empty feeling she felt now after being used and left.

But she hadn't been used or left, Cat had given her a chance to see her again and she would see her at work regardless. She groaned louder, rubbing at her face, hoping it wouldn't be awkward. She was sure she had performed okay... certain Cat had enjoyed it. She had left pretty fast though...

Ellie scrunched her nose, trying not to think so much.

In defense of Cat leaving afterward, it wasn't a feeling she completely hated. She wouldn't have to make awkward small talk or cuddle a girl she hardly knew. For that, she was a little grateful. While she and Cat got along easily, she did hardly know her but there was something exciting about being with someone she barely knew. Someone who couldn't judge her too harshly for anything she said or did wrong, or any awkwardness that happened between them in the bedroom.
Ellie decided at that moment she definitely wanted to get to know her better.

Cat was confusing. Too confident for her own good and Ellie wasn't sure if she liked that or if it infuriated her. At the very least she was happy for the distraction. Glad she wasn't sitting in her dorm moping around and missing her friends, wondering what they were doing while they were away, what they were getting up to while they were alone.

Instead, she now had something else to worry about, but it was still infinitely better than moping over a straight girl.

She wasn't 100% convinced that she would go to the tattoo place in the afternoon, but she briefly allowed herself to entertain the thought of getting one. She lifted her arm above her head, turning it in front of her to show her bare skin. A tattoo would definitely be out of character for her, something she was sure would get a kick out of Joel. 

Or Jesse.

Dina even.

Who even cared what they thought, if she did it she would do it for herself anyway.

She smiled, rubbing at the skin. 

And the design was pretty cool too. 

Yeah okay, maybe she would go tomorrow.

Chapter Text

Ellie sat in a chair beside Cat, watching as the tattoo artist worked on her arm, watching with interest as the needle pierced her skin.

If it hurt Cat didn't show it.

She hated that when she showed up Cat had been waiting for her outside, the biggest knowing grin on her face as she pushed Ellie inside. She hated that she was that predictable but the hatred was quick to dissipate as she stepped into the shop, gazing at all the art on the walls and the people sitting in chairs getting their own tattoos, the buzzing vibrating in her eardrums.

Cat had rolled her eyes and pushed her down on to a couch, nudging a book of tattoos in her direction, telling her to wait and that if she wanted to look at some cool tattoos, the ones she had done were in the back of that book.

Ellie had flipped through them all, admiring them before going through them again. If she thought Cat was talented before, she definitely thought she was exceptionally talented now.

So here she was, watching with keen interest as one of the guys she worked here with gave her the small raven she wanted on her wrist.

"So, why didn't you tell me you worked here too?" Ellie questioned, arching her brow as she watched intently.

Cat laughed. "You think working in a coffee shop is enough to pay the bills? I've been an apprentice here for a little while, working under some of the guys. Frank here actually taught me a lot of the stuff I know today."

"Oh yeah, the technique your shitty ex taught you was awful. You definitely had the art side down but that set you back a bit." he countered, completely focused on what he was doing. "You're way better now, thanks to me."

"So modest." Cat remarked, sticking out her tongue. "Yes, my shitty ex. But if it wasn't for them I would never have thought about tattooing." she turned to Ellie, giving some context to her words. "They used to do shitty home jobs, thank fuck I never let 'em touch my skin. They were awful."

Ellie smiled. "How long do I have to know you before you let me tattoo your skin?"

"Never gonna happen." Cat quickly shut her down. "I have standards now. If you're not better than me, you're not touching my skin.

"Harsh." Ellie muttered, leaning a bit closer to get a better view.

"Hey, I've seen your art, that's not getting permanently inked on my skin." She smirked, the words coyly leaving her mouth.

"Oh come on! I'm pretty good." she groaned, slumping back in the chair and folding her arms across her chest.

"Okay." Cat admitted with a small nod. "You're not bad... but you could use some pointers. Maybe tonight I could come over and show you what you need to work on?" she offered with an arched brow.

"I thought you were letting me take you for a drink?" Ellie countered with her own arched brow.

"Oh? We can but after that if you're up for it." Cat remarked, looking away from her. "Does that mean you're gonna get a tattoo?"

Ellie gave a small shrug. "Maybe you can stencil it on my skin for me so I can see if I like it."

Cat turned back to her and grinned. "You got it. Frank will make sure I take good care of you."

"Nope." he laughed, wiping her skin clear of ink. "I'm staying out of whatever this is." he motioned between Cat and Ellie. "And I am done. I don't need to tell you what to do with this, do I?"

"No sir." she smiled at him, admiring the work on her arm. "This is fucking awesome, Frank. You're amazing."

"I know." he sighed, standing up and removing the gloves from his hands with a snap, disposing of them in the bin. "I'll never get sick of you telling me that though. Alright kids, have fun."

"Alright, Ellie." Cat spoke softly as she threw her legs over the side of the bed she had been sitting on. "Let's get this on you and you can decide. I know you're going to love it though."

Ellie swallowed the lump in her throat doing as Cat told her and before long she had the outline of everything on her arm. She admired it in the mirror, enjoying how it sat on her arm and the size. She turned her arm, looking in the mirror then down at her arm, weighing up her options.

She had to admit, she liked the way it looked and how often would the offer for a free tattoo come up.

"So?" Cat asked, patting the bed, already having set up everything.

Ellie turned and looked at her, sucking air deep into her lungs. "Alright."

"Are you sure?" she questioned. "I'm not forcing you to."

Ellie shook her head hard. "Fuck off. I want to get it. This is going to look awesome." she nodded to herself as she sat down in the chair.

Cat grinned, picking up the gun and readying Ellie's arm in the right place. "Alright, no going back once I start. I hope you're not a baby either..." she laughed, taking to her skin when Ellie nodded.

Ellie took a deep breath, nodding when the needed touched her skin. It didn't exactly hurt but it wasn't comfortable either. It was constant but she watched Cat move remarkably fast in her movements.

"Are you okay?" Cat asked after doing the first line, looking up to look at Ellie. "Not going to pass out on me?"

"Yeah, I'm good." she smiled back.

"Good. I didn't think you were a wuss." Cat said, nudging her leg before going back to the tattoo.

"I'm not. A needle isn't going to do anything." she said surely.

Cat looked up and gave her that same knowing smile. "Let's hear you say that in three hours."

Ellie swallowed the lump in her throat at her words, understanding the implications. Instead, she shrugged it off, she would deal with it if it happened. "So... how long have you been doing this for then? You said your ex-boyfriend got you into it?"

"Girlfriend." Cat corrected.

"What?" Ellie mumbled.

"My ex-girlfriend." Cat reiterated. "You said boyfriend, but that sack of shit was a girl."

"Oh sorry." Ellie said with a shake of her head. "I just assumed."

Cat only laughed. "It's okay. It was a few years ago now. I was always interested in it, my dad had tattoos for as long as I can remember and he always had a story for every single one. The thing was the story changed every time I asked about them." she smiled, looking down at her work. "My ex, thought it would be an easy way to make money so she got a tattoo gun off the internet and started doing her friends. Fuck they were awful, but when you're drunk enough I guess you'll put anything on your body."

"And she was okay putting that on people's bodies?" Ellie asked, trying to peer around her friend to see what she was doing.

"Of course, if she made a quick buck she didn't care. However, when people sobered up they weren't very happy. But at the same time, you paid $20 for a tattoo, what did you expect to get?" she shook her head. "In her defense though, she did let me practice on her. Mine definitely wasn't anywhere near as bad as her's though my first time, being okay at art and all. It wasn't long until people came knocking, though. So I got out of there."

"Fair enough. She sounds awful." Ellie replied, leaning back on the chair, realizing she wasn't going to be able to see much. "What did you see in her?"

"She was hot." Cat chuckled, and Ellie laughed with her.

"And me?" Ellie asked, raising her scarred brow.

"I'm not dating you." Cat smiled, looking up to meet Ellie's eye. "But you're pretty hot too."

"Mhmm... You're wrong." Ellie replied, looking up to the ceiling. "But I'm not convinced you're entirely sane so who knows."

"Shut up, I'm trying to work." Cat smirked, looking back down and focusing on her tattoo.

"Who can I complain to about the service here?" Ellie grinned, purposefully looking away from the girl working on her. "The company's a bit shit too."

"Oh really?" Cat scoffed and straightened up. "You're really trying to give shit to the girl tattooing your arm? I could slip, you know?"

"You wouldn't." Ellie pouted, turning her attention back to her and meeting her eye.

Cat gave a devious smirk. "Try me."

"I'll be good." Ellie spoke softly, like a child who had just been scolded and gave a small nod.

"Good." Cat looked down, returning to the work she was doing on her arm. "You can tease me later."

Ellie swallowed the lump in her throat, resting her head back against the chair and looking up, trying to hide the blush that crept its way on her skin. By Cat's laugh, she could tell that she had looked back up and seen but she didn't say anything so she continued to pretend she hadn't. Thinking about it would just embarrass herself further.

She really wasn't sure how long she had been sitting there for, the continuous buzzing lulling her into a daze as she stared at the ceiling. Halfway into the session she briefly thought that she was making a mistake. Looking down at Cat she thought of asking her to stop, panicking about what Joel would say or if it would affect her job prospects in the future but when she looked down to her arm at what Cat had done so far she decided it wouldn't matter.

She really liked it.

She knew Joel would love her regardless, and he definitely wouldn't hate the design she had chosen. He never had any tattoo's of his own but sometimes he would comments on other people if they were noticeably enough. He never had anything bad to say about them mostly, figuring if someone cared about it enough to get it put on their skin it must have meant a great deal to them at some point in their life, even if they regretted it now.

"Alright." Cat murmured. "I think we're all done." she finished, wiping down Ellie's skin, making sure all the smudged ink was gone and leaving the tattoo looking clean and fresh. "Get up and have a look."

Ellie rose from the chair, taking a second for her foot to wake up before dropping to the floor, stumbling a little before regaining composure. She looked back at Cat who smiled at her before stepping up to the mirror and looking at her new ink. She grinned, rotating her arm doing her best to view every inch of it. She turned her head and grinned even more at her friend.

"What do you think?" she asked, resting her head on her hands as she watched the tall woman move about the mirror.

"It's so fucking cool." Ellie exclaimed, finally peeling herself away from the mirror and turning back, her eyes still darting down to the new ink every couple of seconds. "You're so fucking talented Cat."

"Yeah, I know." she rolled her eyes, shifting to tidy up her station. "You surprised me, I one hundred percent thought you were going to pike."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ellie asked, taking a seat back down on the edge of the chair in front of her.

"Just didn't think you had it in you." she smiled, looking up to meet Ellie's eye.

"I think there's plenty of stuff about me that would surprise you." Ellie shrugged, challenging her with her gaze.

"Oh, really?" Cat challenged back, taking her arm and rubbing lotion over the raised skin before gently wrapping it up in clingfilm.

"Yeah." Ellie nodded firmly.

She stood up, now towering over Ellie as she sat in front of her, a smirk plastered on her face. She reached up and ran both her hands over Ellie's cheeks before pulling her face, bringing her lips up to meet her own in a quick deep kiss.

"Okay." Cat finally chuckled as she pulled away, leaving Ellie breathless and red face. "Alright then, you alleged mystery, I need to clean up here so meet me back here in twenty and I'll take you somewhere for a drink."

 


 

Ellie really didn't have anywhere to go so she loitered outside the shop for Cat. Taking a spot leaning against the wall, she dug her hands deep in her pockets, head bowed and her foot tapping absentmindedly against the wall as she waited.

She shook her head, thinking how insane it had been that she had just spontaneously gotten a tattoo. People generally gave these things more thought, considering all aspects it would affect their life but she was happy she did it. She loved it and the feeling of just going and doing something was exhilarating to her.

She had spent most her life overthinking every little thing, weighing up her options every time and while she knew it was never a bad thing to be overly cautious in certain situations, it felt nice to just do something for the hell of it. Maybe she would do it more often, just say yes.

How much trouble could she get in doing that?

"You ready to go?" Cat asked, appearing beside her and motioning with her head towards the far end of the street.

"After you." Ellie smiled, motioning with her hands and stepping in line with her when she turned to move away.

It didn't take long to get where Cat was leading them too, her strides long and purposeful and Ellie was thankful that her legs were just as long as hers were, sure that she would be left behind if they weren't.

Nestled down a side street sat what Ellie could only describe as a small indie bar at the end of the dead-end, tables lined the outside area, cool-looking kids perched upon them, cigarettes in their hands. Cat greeted them as she walked passed, the people appearing to know who she was. They smiled at her and Ellie smiled back, keeping her head down and her hands still in her pockets as she followed closely behind her friend.

When they approached the door, Cat pushed a few of the group of people lingering outside, pausing to whisper something into a tall, shady looking guy's ear before she turned back to Ellie and grabbed her hand, tugging her inside the bar. It was loud, a live band playing in the corner who was very heavy on the drums.

They weren't bad though, and Ellie found herself watching as Cat dragged her to the bar. She stood on the rung of the stool at the counter, using it as leverage to lean over the top and whisper something in the bartender's ear. Ellie wondered what was so secret that it had to be whispered but realized if they spoke normally, they wouldn't be able to hear each other anyways.

Whatever Cat said caused the bartender to turn to Ellie and smiling before turning away and grabbing two glasses.

Cat leaned close to Ellie's ear, her breath tickling her skin. "He thinks you're cute."

Ellie pulled a face in response, assuming she heard her correctly.

"But I told him you're mine tonight." she yelled again, pulling away to look into Ellie's eyes, her lips curling into a smile.

Ellie blushed and looked down, wanting to say something back but everything just sounding dumb in her head. She wanted to play it cool and not be a stammering idiot. Everyone here seemed so cool and they all seemed to know Cat which obviously made her cool, which Ellie wasn't entirely sure she was.

Was she the odd one out here? Would they all know?

The bartender nodded at them, his eyes lingering on Cat as he handed their drinks over. Ellie wasn't sure what it was, but Cat thrust it into her hand before grabbing her spare hand with her own one and tugging her in a different direction, past the band, and towards a garden area.

When they were out of the crowd she dropped her hand, and she closed her fist tightly, already missing the contact but she followed behind her to a bar leaner and took her position opposite her.

"Sorry, it's so loud in there. We can at least talk out here." Cat grinned at her, shrugging off her jacket before bringing her drink to her lips.

Ellie shrugged, looking down at the drink in her hand. Whatever it was, it smelt strong. "At least the bands good."

"Yeah, I think they might actually make it this year." she offered, swaying gently with the music. "Marcus, the guy playing the drums, reckons they were approached by some music exec."

"Do you just know everyone?" Ellie asked with an arched brow.

"Or does everyone know me?" Cat countered with an arched brow. "Everyone should know me if they don't."

Ellie smiled, finally bringing her drink to her lips, trying not to show that whatever it was burnt the inside of her mouth. "I'd like to get to know you."

"Okay Ellie, what do you want to know?" Cat asked, fishing in her jacket pocket and retrieving a pack of cigarettes.

"Why are you so cocky?" Ellie laughed, continuing to sip on her drink.

For a moment Cat didn't answer, fiddling with her pack of cigarettes before pulling one out and offering it to the woman opposite her. Ellie took it tentatively between her fingers, holding her eyes to Cat's she placed it in her mouth and held her hand out for a lighter. Cat only smiled, fetching her lighter from her other pocket and flicking the wheel and having the flame roar to life. She held Ellie's gaze back as she held it to the end of the cigarette, waiting for the end to catch as Ellie inhaled.

She did the same, placing one between her lips before lighting it. She exhaled, pulling it from her mouth and resting it between her fingers, her eyes still glued to Ellie's. "Do I have a reason not to be?"

Ellie shook her head, pulling the cigarette away from her mouth for a moment. "Do you always answer questions with another question?"

"Has anyone told you that you have really pretty eyes?" Cat said with a shrug, the smile creeping further on her face.

Ellie couldn't help but smile, bringing her hand to her forehead to rub at it with her thumb before bringing the cigarette back to her mouth and inhaling then exhaling deeply. "Is that all the game you have?"

"Even if it was it's more than you've got." Cat teased back, bringing her glass to her lips and finishing what was left.

"Probably." Ellie smiled back, looking down at her glass before bringing to her lips and finishing it as Cat had.

Whatever it was was awful and if Cat had intended for it to go straight to her head then it was working.

"It's okay, I'll show you how it's done." she said barely loud enough for Ellie to hear but followed it up with a wink.

"We'll see." Ellie muttered with an eye roll. "Okay, so. What are you planning to do after school? You've finished your degree, you've quit working at whatever fast food place you're going to be working at in a few months so you can fulfill that art chick cliche, what are you doing?"

"Maybe being a walking cliche would be fun?" she mused, before pulling a thinking expression. "I honestly don't know," she added with a laugh. "I haven't really thought about it. I've really just been going with the flow."

"What the fuck, Cat." Ellie laughed. "You picked a fucking degree and you don't even know where you're going with it?"

"Something art related?" she offered unhelpfully. "What are you going to do, smart guy?"

"Work for Nasa or maybe be a hacker. Let's see what side of the coin I fall on." Ellie took a deep breath before offering her a smirk. "I think it's pretty fifty fifty whether I follow the noble route or not, but I have always wanted to go to space."

"Space?" Cat laughed, waving her hand in front of her face. "Like an astronaut?"

"Yeah." Ellie nodded. "Like walk on the moon kind of shit. One small step for a man, one giant leap for Ellie and her long legs."

"So like Armageddon? Save the world kind of shit." she asked, both her eyebrows raised.

"I mean, there's a possibility I could save the world one day." she said with confidence, glancing to the side and giving a faux nonchalant shrug. "You're welcome for that when it happens, by the way."

"Oh, whatever." Cat laughed, stubbing out her cigarette in the ashtray before grabbing both their empty glasses. "I'll go get us another drink and when I get back you can tell me more about how you're going to save the world."

Ellie smiled, finishing her cigarette like Cat had and pulling out the butt. She folded her arms on the table, looking down and gently nodding to the music, making a mental note to ask Cat what their band name was. She wasn't sure whether it was the beat or lyrics but she was really digging it.

Every bar Ellie had gone to before now had only played shitty pop music that you heard on the radio, loud enough that it might as well have made her ears bleed. She understood that not everyone had the same music taste but couldn't quite understand how they couldn't listen to something even a remotely small amount better than that?

But of course, someone listened to it and that's why it was popular.

She shifted, patting the front of her jeans as she felt her phone continue to vibrate. Lifting it to her face, she read the name that appeared on the illuminated screen. She thought about sending to the voicemail but she had been ignoring everyone's texts for the past 24 hours and sincerely didn't want anyone to worry about her.

She felt a blush creep to her cheeks, unable to convince herself that that was the true reason why she was answering.

She pressed the accept button, bringing the phone to her ear.

"Dina?" she questioned, bringing her free hand up to block her other ear in an attempt to hear better.

"Ellie? Are you okay?" the black-haired woman slurred on the other end. "What is that? Why is it so loud?"

"Dina..." Ellie breathed, closing her eyes and a stupid smile coming to her face just from hearing her voice.

"You haven't been answering my texts." Dina interjected, breath heavy on the line.

"I'm okay." Ellie began as she pulled a face, trying to make sense of the call. "I've just been working. Sorry, it's loud here, I'm just out. Are you okay?"

"Oh." Dina said softly, pausing on the other end. "I'm okay. Working?"

"Yeah, I started a job yesterday," Ellie replied with a small laugh.

There was a silence, Ellie listening closely to the ragged breathing on the other end. She closed her eyes, immediately feeling guilty for making her friend worry. She hadn't intended for that to be the case, not having it in herself to reply to her messages because then she would have to admit that she felt bitter, a feeling she began to resent. Bitter for the fact that she couldn't spend time with her friends, that Jesse was able to spend time with Dina.

She hated that feeling, doing her best to choke it back and keep it buried inside but in moments like these, it threatened to escape, consuming her in a jealous rage that she found hard to subside.

She felt guilty but for the moment she allowed Cat to distract her from those feelings, making it easier to push them away. At least that was her plan originally, it had definitely changed since. She wanted to spend time with Cat. She was pretty and nice, funny, and most importantly available. She didn't make her feel like she was losing her mind.

When she was with her it felt simple and honest, easy and maybe that's what she needed most.

"Dina?" Ellie asked when the silence seemed to drag too long, only hearing the cheers from the rowdy boys on the other end. "Are you drunk?"

"I miss you. I wish you could have come." Dina breathed heavily, her tone sounding off.

"I wish I could have gone too" Ellie admitted. "I'm okay here though, you know. You don't have to worry about it. It sounds like you're having fun?" she added, trying to steer the conversation away from herself.

"Is that Ellie?" a male voice yelled on the other end. "Ellie! Hey, Ellie!"

"Hey, Jesse." Ellie smiled, hearing his excited tone and the rustle that ensued as he wrestled Dina for the phone.

"I just needed you to know I'm sorry, Dina explained that I was an idiot." he slurred, worse than Dina, clearly very drunk, his breathing harsh into the phone. "When I get back I'm going to make it up to you. Did you know you're my best friend?"

"Yeah, I know you idiot. You're mine too." she smiled, scuffing her shoe on the ground.

At that moment Cat returned, feeling her arm brush up against her shoulder as she walked passed her. Ellie smiled at her.

"Who's that?" she asked, placing Ellie's drink in front of her.

"Just Jesse and Dina being drunk." Ellie replied, looking up to meet her friend and smiling further, the dumb grin on her face bringing embarrassment to her cheeks.

"Who are you talking to?!" Jesse asked with a yell. "Ellie, are you two-timing me?"

"I have to go. Goodbye Jesse. I'll see you guys when you get back." she said with an eye roll, hearing him yell goodbye as she hung up and put her phone face down on the table.

"They sounded wasted, I could hear him yelling from over here," Cat remarked with a raised brow, slowly sipping her drink.

Ellie mimicked her with her own arched brow back, a smirk slowly creeping on to her lips. "Do you want to get on their level?"

 


 

Ellie couldn't remember how long they had stayed at the bar or how many rounds Cat had ordered for them. She remembered laughing and bringing the drink to her lips. She remembered making friends with the band that Cat seemed to know, watching in awe as they greeted and hugged her.

Her drunken mind couldn't comprehend how someone could know that many people, let alone be on first name bases with all of them but they all seemed to know Cat and all seemed to want to talk to her.

Ellie wasn't sure what she felt when they wanted Cat to go somewhere with them and she chose to stay with her, looking her in the eye every time she expressed her interest to stay.

Either way the more she drank and the longer she sat back and watched Cat interact with these people, the more she realized that she wanted her. She no longer wanted to be here, instead of thinking of all the places she would rather be with her- all involving them being alone together and having their clothes off.

She was sure Cat must have felt something similar eventually sick of staring at her across the table and appearing at her side, taking her hand and leading her out through the crowd.

Cat laughed, hugging Ellie's head to her chest as they fell through the door to her apartment. They stumbled forward, Cat letting go of Ellie to turn around and shut the door behind her. She leaned back into it to regain some composure, watching Ellie stumble around and take in the views of the apartment.

As Ellie glanced around she decided it was very Cat. The place was small having only a small kitchen, lounge and bathroom, and one bedroom from what Ellie could tell. It was tidy and the walls bare except for a few paintings on the wall and she wondered if they were Cat's own works or maybe one of her cool art friends.

"C'mere." Cat murmured, falling into Ellie and grabbing at the collar of her shirt, clumsily pulling her lips against her own.
Ellie kissed her back, tasting the alcohol and stale cigarettes on her lips and knowing she tasted exactly the same way. She dropped her hands to the waist of her jeans fumbling with the button in her drunken state and failing to pull it open. She only laughed when Cat laughed at her and attempted to help, only to fail just as much as she had.

Ellie groaned, reaching for her shirt instead and helping it over her head, feeling the dizziness hit her hard every time she closed her eyes. She found Cat's lips again, reaching her hand behind her neck to pull her more firmly against her own, using her to help her feel grounded.

"You're fun." Cat slurred, pushing her away for a moment. "Why didn't we hang out sooner?"

Ellie looked at her, her eyelids hooded and her eyes bloodshot. "Maybe you didn't realize how charming and funny I really am."
"Mhmm." Cat hummed, licking her lips. "I don't think that's it."

Ellie allowed Cat to shover her to the bedroom, falling back on the bed once the mattress hit the back of her legs. She laughed, hard and sincere, only laughing harder when Cat fell back on top of her. When she regained enough composure she rolled Cat over, leaning over her before kissing her.

"You're definitely not shy when you're drunk." she mumbled against her lips.

"I told you I'm not shy." Ellie murmured back, not allowing her to pull away any further.

She sat up, reaching for Cat's pants again and this time managing to get them open. Ungracefully shifting off the bed she tugged them off with no help at all from Cat, breathing heavily by the time she finished but she smiled triumphantly at what she had accomplished.

"You're so fucking drunk." Cat said softly as she sat up, placing a kiss to the exposed skin between Ellie's pants and shirt that had ridden up a little, holding Ellie steady as she wobbled on her feet.

"You're fucking drunk." she retorted childishly, enjoying the feeling of Cat's lips on her skin.

She looked down, watching as Cat undid her pants and dragged them down her leg. She managed to remain upright as she stepped out of them before leaning back into Cat's touch. She immediately lifted her shirt, placing another kiss to her hip, digging her thumbs into her panties and pulling them down her thighs until they dropped at her feet.

Cat looked up at Ellie and smirked, placing another kiss above her belly button, watching her shudder as she dragged a fingernail up her thigh.

 


 

Ellie laid on her back on the bed, Cat curled up against her side with her head rested on her shoulder with the sheets loosely draped over them. She stroked her upper arm, her fingertips grazing her skin in gentle up and down motions. She was tired, exhausted from what they had just done but every time her eyes drooped, they immediately snapped open. She wasn't sure why.

"Do you want to go?" Cat murmured, her lips brushing against the skin on Ellie's shoulder.

"Do you want me to go?" Ellie asked, swallowing the saliva that had pooled in her mouth, ready to be kicked out of bed.

"No," Cat said honestly, turning to press her lips to her shoulder. "What kind of girl would I be if I fucked you and kicked you out?"

Ellie chuckled. "You fucked me and left yesterday."

"I had shit to do." Cat grinned. "Plus, that was a one night stand."

"Oh? And this isn't?" Ellie asked, digging her nails into her skin to elicit a response, glancing down in the hopes to meet her eye.

"Not if you don't want it to be." Cat replied, shifting her head and avoiding Ellie's gaze.

Ellie took a deep breath, turning her attention back to the ceiling and looking into the darkness. She wasn't sure what she wanted but she knew she at least wanted to keep getting to know this girl.

She honestly didn't know what to say so she did what she did best.

"You want to keep fucking me." she teased, pulling Cat tighter to her naked frame.

Cat rolled her eyes. "Or I just have needs and you're good at scratching them."

Ellie snorted, allowing her eyes to close. "We're at least having breakfast tomorrow then."

Cat said nothing, only shifted in her arms before settling more firmly against her side. Ellie held her loosely, hearing her breaths become more even as time went on, signaling she had finally fallen asleep.

As Ellie looked up to the ceiling she couldn't figure out why she couldn't sleep. Her mind kept wandering, eventually coming to the phone call from earlier and the way Dina had sounded. She didn't think she necessarily sounded sad, or that she wasn't having fun on their trip away. Maybe she just had something on her mind, or she was just worried because Ellie hadn't checked in with her.

Whatever it was Ellie could feel it nagging away at her, continually creeping into the back of her mind. They would be back tomorrow and maybe she would ask, but knowing perfectly well she wouldn't.

Chapter Text

Ellie sat back in her computer chair, neck resting uncomfortably on the back of it as she tilted her head to the ceiling. Absentmindedly she plucked at the strings of the guitar on her lap, spinning slow circles until she began to feel too dizzy.

She sighed, feeling the boredom creep into her bones. It was Saturday night and uncharacteristically she thought that she should be doing something. Jesse didn't have a game this week, so she couldn't busy herself with that. She had text Cat earlier about hanging out but had been told she was too busy, whatever that meant. She couldn't blame her though, they couldn't hang out every day and Ellie was mindful not to come off too clingy. She had text Jesse, but he and Dina were going out on a date so she didn't bother to text Dina. Her other friends were all too busy studying to even entertain the thought of leaving their rooms.

She continued to pull at the strings, thinking back to the last few days and how so much had happened. She had a job now, one that she was actually excited to go to. Of course, that had nothing to do with the girl she was sleeping with being there. 

Obviously, she had started sleeping with a girl, who after work last night had taken her home again. 

She wasn't sure what it was, or even if the relationship was anything but she didn't mind. It was just nice to feel wanted, even if it was just for that fleeting moment they were alone together. Cat wasn't a big texter, and to be honest, neither was she but when she did receive a message from her she couldn't help but smile.

Whatever it was, it was nice.

She was looking forward to seeing Dina and Jesse at her game tomorrow. She hadn't seen them since they returned from their trip away, being too busy in each other's company to hang out but and she missed them. She felt guilty for longing to see Dina, knowing it would ease the queasiness in her stomach after their call the other night but she couldn't help it. She knew Jesse would have questions for her too if he remembered.

Her phone rang and she almost fell off her chair, the sudden loud intrusion shaking her out of her restless daydream.

She muttered a few curse words before picking it off the desk, looking at the name on the front she immediately clicked accept.

"Joel?" she asked, uncertain why he would be calling her at this time. 

"Hey kiddo..." he began gruffly, his voice sounding hoarse. "Uh, your uncle Tommy and I are here..."

"Hey, Ellie!" Tommy yelled, making himself audible from wherever he was standing.

"What?" She stammered in disbelief. "What do you mean you're here? Like, here here?"

"Uh..." Joel muttered, sounding confused. "Yeah, at your school. We're a bit lost."

"What are you doing here?"Where are you?" Ellie asked, rising to her feet and placing her guitar down against the desk.

"Just get down here, Ellie. We're in some car park... There's a big tree and some statue, and a lot of shitty cars."

Ellie rolled her eyes. "There are a lot of car parks but I think I know where you are. I'll run out now if I cant find you you're on your own."

"Ellie..." Joel bellowed. "Hurry. There is a lot of youth about and they keep looking at me..."

Ellie smiled big, ending the call and stuffing her phone in her pocket, no clue what her family was doing here but grateful for the intrusion. She grabbed her keys off the desk and made for the door at a jog.

When she swung the door open to step out she collided with what felt like a solid wall, taking the air from her lungs and almost knocking her off balance until their strong arms gripped her.

"Sorry. Are you okay?" She murmured embarrassed beginning to look up. "Jesse...?"

"Sorry, Ellie." He laughed, his tone sounding off. "I didn't think you'd be so active tonight."

"What are you doing here? Are you okay?" She asked, glancing at the end of the hall needing to hurry.

"Yeah, it's all good. Just wanted to see if you want to go hang out or something." He said with a small shrug, avoiding eye contact.

"Oh, I cant. Joel's here for some reason. And Tommy." She rambled, realizing how nervous she was to see them.

"Oh, fuck yeah that's cool." He said with a small smile. "Go, I bet you can't wait to see them."

Ellie looked down, thinking for a moment before looking up at her friend. "Hey, do you maybe want to come too? I bet Joel would be excited to see you too."

"Really? I mean... you guys probably just want to hang out, you don't need me cramping your style." he trailed off, scuffing his foot into the carpet.

Ellie rolled her eyes, her second of the night and probably not the last, grabbing the front of Jesse's shirt and tugging him through the corridor. "Come on, you fucking idiot."

Jesse laughed following closely behind her when she let him go, digging his hands deep in his pockets.

Ellie set the pace, jogging out to the dorm carpark and whipped her head around furiously, trying to spot her family. When her eyes finally settled on Joel and Tommy who were hanging out by his old truck she ran over, feeling the familiar stinging behind her eyes that she had had when they left her here.

She dove into Joel's arms, resting her head firmly to his chest and hugged him tighter than she was sure she ever had in her entire life.

"Hey, kiddo." He chuckled, holding her just as tightly to his frame.

It took Ellie a moment before she felt comfortable enough to pull away from his embrace, immediately missing the comfort she retained from it. They had never hugged much in their short time together and she wasn't sure why deciding she wanted to change that realizing it was one of the few things she truly enjoyed in life.

"Joel." Jesse smiled nodding in his direction before heading over to Tommy to shake his hand. "Tommy."

"Jesse." Joel greeted him as Tommy firmly shook his hand. "Have you been taking care of my daughter?"

"Joel!" Ellie grumbled pushing away from the older man. "More like I'm the one taking care of him."

Jesse grinned sheepishly, reaching up to rub the back of his neck. "I keep Ellie in check, hasn't been in trouble once under my watch.

Ellie smirked, glancing to the side and rubbing at her arm hidden under her sleeve. She would show Joel eventually but now wasn't the time.

"What are you doing here?" Ellie asked with a shake of her head.

Joel beamed. " Your uncle Tommy finally talked me into buying a new truck." He finished by pointed to a new car parked a few spaces over.

"That's too nice for you." Ellie chuckled, shaking her head at Tommy.

"That's what I said!" Joel raised his hands in the air in defeat. "But Tommy insisted. And well, when he said that we could put the old one to good use it sold me."

"Yeah?" Ellie asked, folding her arms across her chest, watching as Jesse sauntered over to the new vehicle with Tommy to check it out. "What are you gonna do with it?"

"It's yours, kiddo." Joel beamed, holding out a set of keys in front of her.

"What?" Ellie asked furrowing her brow.

"I said it's yours."

"Joel, I can't." Ellie frowned with a shake of her head. "That's too much. Sell it."

"Ellie. She's yours." He insisted, pushing the keys towards her until she tentatively took them in her hands. " I figure this way maybe you'll be able to come home during the break... or if you just miss the place and want to come home."

"Joel..." Ellie trailed off, her lower lip quivering.

Joel pulled her into another hug, hiding his own tears in his eyes, before turning them and throwing his arm over her shoulder, hollering at the two men. "Ellie's, taking us to dinner in her new car. Y'all better buckle up."

 


 

"Oh get off, Jesse." Ellie groaned, dropping her hands to the table. "You were wasted, not me."

"Who are you going to believe? Innocent 'ol me or your demon daughter?" Jesse offered, clapping his hands together in front of him as if he were praying.

Joel snorted, his lip curling into a smirk as he leaned back against the booth chair, folding his arms across his chest. His cheeks a rosy red from the alcohol the four had consumed, barely visible under his thick and unruly beard.

"Joel!" Ellie exclaimed. "Stand up for me, it's like your job or whatever."

"I dunno, kiddo... demon daughter, he has you there..." he snickered, looking to meet the fury in her eyes.

"And you don't think Jesse was the bad influence in any situation we got in?" Ellie huffed, folding her arms in a way that matched Joel's. "He was always the instigator!"

"I have it on good authority to believe that you're a handful." Joel began. "Don't tell me that Jesse was the one who  graffitied the girl's bathroom earning you a suspension?"

"Jesse is a good kid, it's a real shame you've corrupted him." Tommy chimed in, leaning his elbows on the table and grinning at the two on the other side.

"Ask Jesse about his girlfriend." Ellie scoffed, looking away from the men in front of her.

"Ellie you nark!" Jesse yelled, sending his elbow straight into her ribs.

"Ow. You fucking jerk" she yelled back shoving him in the arm.

"Jesse with a girlfriend, I never thought I would have seen the day." Tommy joked, his eyebrows shooting upwards.

"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Jesse asked, feigning hurt. "You're all mad that I'm not dating Ellie so I could be your son in law. You can still call me son if you like."

"Just, you know..." Tommy grinned. "Think you might be the last I'd like to see Ellie with. You two get up to too much trouble."

"Wow, okay. I'll have you know I'm an excellent boyfriend. Right, Ellie?" He asked, turning to face her. "Go on Ellie, tell them." He added when she didn't respond, urging her with a nod of his head towards her family.

"How should I know? I'm not dating you." She smiled, a small shrug feeling heavy on her shoulders. "You could be fucking terrible for all I know."

"Now, now. I'm sure Jesse is a perfectly adequate boyfriend." Joel replied with a smile articulating every syllable in the last two words, arching his eyebrow at him.

"Adequate? What is this, the roast of Jesse? Let's go back to making fun of Ellie now, please." Jesse groaned his cheeks a soft shade of pink.

"He's punching too, will definitely need to do more than be adequate," Ellie added defiantly, a smile on her lips.

"How do you reckon that? I think she's the one punching." Jesse retorted, puffing out his chest in mock bravado.

"I reckon any girl you're dating would have you punching." Joel chuckled, finishing the alcohol left in his glass. "Well, I think we need to call it a night before I have too much to drink."

"You sure, old man?" Ellie asked, straightening up in the booth. "It's still early."

"I'm old, Ellie. My bones hurt. Ï have to be in bed before midnight." Joel said jokingly with a smile. We'll give you a lift to pick up the truck tomorrow, alright? Do you kids want to get a ride back with us?" he asked, raising his hands above his head in a stretch.
Jesse glanced over at Ellie and before she could speak cut her off.

"No thanks, Joel. Ellie's going to stay for a couple more drinks," he added with a curt nod.

Joel raised his bushy brow before nodding. "Alright, then. Remember I'm coming to watch you tomorrow, I don't want to see a hungover sack on the field. I'll call you in the morning, maybe we could have breakfast?"

Ellie smiled. "Yeah, I'd like that. My shout!" she quickly added.

"Oh? The mooch is going to buy me breakfast?" Joel asked, skepticism to his tone.

"You're buying me breakfast too," Tommy added, slipping out of the booth so Joel could stand. "And you know I eat a lot."

"I'll have you know I have a job," Ellie said matter of factly. "And before you complain, it won't get in the way of my studies."

Joel audibly sighed, placing his hand on the table and looking to meet her eyes. "We'll talk about it tomorrow."

After her family had hugged and said their goodbyes she slumped in the booth opposite her friend, trying to meet his eye but he only looked down, solemnly bringing his drink to his lips. She wasn't sure what to say or if she should even pry if he didn't want to talk about what was making him so sad.

"I fucking missed you guys while you were away." Ellie offered with a wave of her hand. "Had me having to make new friends and shit."

Jesse gave a small smile, finally looking up, his hand still gripped tightly on his glass. "Oh yeah? What did you get up to?"

Ellie shrugged. "Went to a bar with Cat. Got this..." she smirked, pulling her sleeve up to show off her still wrapped arm, the tattoo clearly visible underneath.

"Holy shit!" Jesse yelled, not entirely meaning to be so loud. He took her hand, using it to turn her arm to completely take in the artwork that was now on her once bare skin. "This is so fucking badass. When did you get it? I didn't even know you were interested in getting a tattoo."

"I didn't either." she laughed, finally swatting him away but leaving her sleeve rolled up. "Cat did it for me the other day, she's so fucking talented."

"Oh, so that's who you're cheating on me with." Jesse smirked, his eyebrow immediately shooting up before he lifted his drink in the air towards her direction. "See you at the bottom."

He paused, waiting for Ellie to do the same. She rolled her eyes as dramatically as she could, waiting to see if she could get away with ignoring his request but when he didn't budge she lifted her drink with a sigh, clinking the glass against his before they both brought it to their lips.

She choked on the liquid, feeling it's harsh burning as she swallowed it down.

"Fuck you, Jesse." Ellie frowned, wiping at her mouth with the back of her hand. "You can't just start that shit. It's a party game!"

He grinned, signaling to the waitress for another round. "I don't make the rules, Ellie. I just followed them. Now, you have a fucking job?"

"Yeah, I needed some money." Ellie laughed. "I have you to support."

"If this is about the other day, I'm really sorry..." 

"It's not." Ellie cut him off with a dismissive hand wave. "I just needed my own independence and this was one way to get that. It's nice having something to do too. Maybe you should try getting one."

"And ruin my lifestyle? No way." he shook his head hard. "You know, Dina gave me a real fucking big lecture on the way to the snow. The whole way."

Ellie smirked and looked down, imagining the strong-willed girl scolding her boyfriend and knowing he would just sit there and take it, no matter what she had to say. She would have done the same, her voice comforting even in her anger.

"Sounds like Dina." she breathed, closing her eyes before she opened them again and studied Jesse, taking his newly placed drink in his hands. "Where is she? I thought you guys were hanging out tonight?"

Jesse pulled a face before bringing his glass to his lips. He went to speak but instead only shook his head, again bringing his glass to his lips. Ellie watched him closely, allowing him to take his time before he answered, not sure she had ever seen him so wound up.

She brought her own glass to her lips, deciding it would be her last drink of the night. She was tired and she could feel a familiar feeling of drunkenness begin to grip her consciousness. She definitely didn't want to be hungover for her game tomorrow, especially with Joel and Tommy watching her. 

In the new silence, she wondered what had happened for Jesse and Dina to be apart, briefly considering the fact that maybe they had broken up but immediately feeling guilty. As much as she thought she had feelings for her friend, the last thing she would want was for either of them to hurt. She loved them both too much for that.

"Why the fuck are girl's so infuriating?" Jesse finally said, acting as if it was the hardest sentence that had ever left his mouth. "Just date a boy, Ellie. It's easier. At least we make sense."

The corner of Ellie's lips curled into a smile. "What did you do?"

"I didn't do anything!" Jesse exclaimed, throwing his hands into the air. "One minute everything is fine and we're getting ready to go out, the next she's fucking telling me to get out of her room."

"Okay... but what did you do?" Ellie again asked, taking a coy sip of her drink. "Even I'm not dense enough to believe you didn't do something. For starters, it's you. Secondly, we aren't some shitty 1950's stereotype that just loses their cool because of hormones and shit."

Jesse groaned into his glass. "I don't know!"

"Should I ask her myself?" Ellie grinned, pulling her phone from her pocket.

"Ellie. Don't." Jesse warned, reaching over the table to try and snatch it from her.

Ellie leaned away, smirking as she showed the phone screen to Jesse, a notification saying Dina has messaged her earlier clearly showing on the screen. "Speak of the devil."

"She couldn't decide where to go for dinner!" Jesse blurted out, his face flush red.

"What...?" Ellie asked confused, a laugh creeping through her mouth. "You're kidding, right? Are you fucking twelve?"

Jesse shrugged. "It was more than that I guess. It was a bit strained while we were away... I was drunk but she got really drunk one night, wouldn't listen to me when I tried to get her to bed, then ended up vomiting. I guess we just kind of brought that baggage home."

Ellie looked down to her glass, swirling the contents inside. "I guess trips away with loads of people can sort of do that. You don't really get a chance to just be alone. I'm sure it's nothing to worry about, you guys will be fine by tomorrow."

Jesse smiled. "Yeah, probably but shit girls are temperamental. She was fucking throwing up, like the exorcist and all she was asking was for me to go get you."

"Oh?" Ellie asked, glancing up from her glass.

"I kept telling her you didn't come and she got mad at me for that. Again. First, she was mad at me for pressuring you to go then she was mad that you didn't go. I couldn't win!" he laughed, finally realizing how silly the entire thing had been.

Ellie gulped, again looking down, anywhere by Jesse's kind eyes. "Hey, why don't you call her? She's probably feeling as stupid about the whole thing as you are."

"Look at you giving relationship advice." he grinned kicking her under the table. "I'll call her tomorrow, it's late now. Who knows, she's probably gone to some frat party."

"We could go find her if you wanted." Ellie offered with a small shrug. "You could do some ridiculously endearing declaration of love. We could probably find a boom box along the way or I could just make the sounds with my mouth."

"Oh, Ellie. How are you still so fucking single being that romantic?" 

"I uh..." she began, looking up to meet his eye. "I'm sort of seeing someone."

"Since when!" he asked, shock clearly evident on his face. "And why didn't you fucking tell me? I'm your best friend and right now I'm hurt."

"Calm down, you jackass. We're not dating or anything... It's uh Cat." Ellie said shyly, fiddling with the fingers on her hand.

"That Asian girl? Fuck me, I knew you had a thing for Asians. It must have been hard for you to keep your hands off me." he teased. "Better not fucking replace me."

"As if anyone could ever be as dramatic as you." She rolled her eyes, taking a drink from her cup.

"Did you fuck her?" Jesse asked with a grin.

Ellie spat out the liquid, choking on what she had swallowed. She beat at her chest, her face beet red, and once the little composure she had was regained she scowled at her friend.

"The fuck, Jesse!" she yelled, raising her fist at him.

He only smirked, crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned back. "Ellie, you sly dog."

"Jesse." she growled in warning.

"Top or bottom?" he grinned, now just doing his best to get a rise from his friend.

"Christ." Ellie mumbled, slipping out of the booth and storming for the door. "We are not fucking doing this."

Jesse laughed. "Hold up, I'll just get the bill."

Ellie paced outside the bar, her face pulled in to a tight scowl to the point where the crease between her forehead hurt. Obviously she was going to tell Jesse about Cat, one day. She knew he would tease her about it but that didn't mean she was ready for it. She didn't even know what Cat and she were and the last thing she wanted to do was admit to Jesse that they had slept together.

When Jesse emerged from the establishment he threw his heavy arm around Ellie's shoulders, pulling her close to his body. 

"My little Ellie is all grown up." he faked wiping away a tear, leading her body towards their campus. 

"Oh give it a rest, please. I don't ask you about sleeping with Dina." she groaned, trying to get out of his grasp.

Jesse only pulled her closer. "You want to know what it's like sleeping with Dina?"

Ellie inhaled sharply, closing her eyes. She wasn't sure how to convey the complete and utter fact that that was absolutely the last thing in the world she wanted to know about and the fact that it was even on her mind now was enough to send her spiraling.
Laying in bed at night she had already thought about what it would be like to be with Dina, she didn't want to consider the alternative where that was with someone else.

"Because that's fucking weird." Jesse added with a chuckle.

"I don't want to hear about you banging Dina." Ellie groaned, burying her face in her hands.

"Are you being safe, Ellie?" Jesse asked in a fake stern tone before leaning close to her ear and whispering. "Are you using protection, son?"

"Christ!" Ellie yelled, shoving Jesse away from her. "You're fucking dead to me."

 


 

Ellie couldn't sleep when she heard the knock on her door. She thought about ignoring it, glancing at her clock, after all, it was passed 1 am and no one had any business being at her door. She turned her head back to her ceiling, staring into the same familiar darkness that she had countless nights before. 

What a strange night.

Tommy and Joel had been the last people she expected to show up on her dreary Saturday night, but she would be lying if she didn't admit she was thankful. The feeling of being homesick was beginning to grow in the pit of her stomach and she missed every single thing she used to hate about growing up under their roof.

Being stuck in the middle of nowhere in a small town, their unwillingness to budge from their overprotective nature, Joel's cooking. She would kill for one of his overdone steaks. Hell, she would have even taken one of his lectures of being away from him for another day.

She missed their Texan accents even more now that she was surrounded by people who ever day just sounded plain, missing that bit of excitement to their tone that came with that drawl. She used to hate it, the days that they would purposefully lay it on thick. Sometimes she would pretend to not understand what they were saying just to get a rise.

That place would always be her home, she knew that but like everyone else she had to grow up and make her own way. Joel had fought so much for her to have that.

With Joel's gift, she would be able to get home a bit more easily now, promising herself she would visit more often to help where she could.

She was excited to see them again tomorrow and both nervous and ecstatic that they would finally get to see her play in college. It definitely was a different atmosphere to her high school days and she was ready to show them just how much she had improved.

They hadn't lost a game yet and she wasn't about to start now.

There was another knock, Ellie's eyes dropping to the door.

Maybe it was just someone drunk being stupid and knocking on everyone's doors?

Or maybe it was Cat? She hadn't said she was coming but she hadn't always.

She decided she could use some company, not being able to get a wink of sleep so far.

With a groan she lifted her tired body from the bed, rubbing at her eyes before she stood and pulled on a hoodie, stumbling in the dark towards the door. 

She turned the handle and pulled her door open, narrowing her eyes to get some relief as the light from the hallway pained them. Her eyes slowly adjusted and settled on the shorter girl in front of her.

"Dina?" she asked a hint of sleepiness to her tone. "What are you doing here?"

The black-haired woman looked at her with a furrowed brow before her face softened into a warm smile. "I couldn't sleep."

"So you came and woke me up?" Ellie asked with an arched brow.

"Why should you get to sleep if I can't?" Dina's smile widened as she leaned closer to peer at Ellie. "Were you even sleeping?"

"Trying to." Ellie admitted, reaching up to rub at the back of her neck. "Not really successful."

"Can I come in?" she asked hesitantly, any easiness from her tone disappearing.

Ellie thought for a moment, looking at her friend up and down. She wasn't sure it was possible, but she appeared to be more beautiful than the last time she had seen her. Had she just forgotten during their time apart? No way, she thought about her all the time.

"Sure." Ellie conceded, stepping to the side.

She followed closely behind her friend, moving to switch on the lamp to give them some light.

"See you still haven't cleaned." Dina teased, walking in and flopping down on Ellie's bed like she had many times in the past.

"Don't try to change me." Ellie retorted, dropping her body in her computer chair.

"Wouldn't dream of it." Dina replied with a smile, propping herself up on her arms as she watched her friend intently.

"Oh, you think I'm perfect then?" Ellie asked, a hint of humor to her tone as she picked up her guitar, resting it on her knee.

"I might if you serenade me." she challenged, eyes fixed firmly to hers.

Ellie thought for a moment, battling between continuing to be defiant and giving in finally, giving Dina what she had always asked for. Instead, she rested her chin on top of her arm that rested on the body of the guitar, watching the girl from afar.

"Better not, you might fall in love with me."

"Oh, Ellie..." Dina laughed about to respond before she paused and closed her eyes for a moment. 

Ellie took the silence as a cue for her to spin her chair around and propped her feet up on her desk, leaning back as far as she could in the chair and readying her guitar, playing a slow melody.

"Requests?" Ellie asked, staring up to the ceiling.

Dina hummed. "That one song you play that you know I like."

Ellie laughed. "You like all the songs I play."

"The one you know I love then."

Ellie rolled her eyes for what felt like the hundredth time this evening, readying her fingers on the fret and playing the only song that she remembered Dina had said she loved. It was a sad song that Ellie had always loved and she was uncertain if Dina would still love it if she knew the lyrics but the melody was soft and pleasant to the ears.

She continued to strum at the chords, slower than they were in the song but liking the drawn-out sound. She turned a little in her chair, watching Dina lay there with her eyes closed, lightly twitching her foot in time with the tune.

Ellie placed her hands on the strings causing the sound to immediately stop.

"Hey, keep going." Dina requested softly, opening her eyes to look back at Ellie.

Ellie smiled, turning back around and at her request continuing the song. When she finished, she played it again, still staring into the darkness.

The thing she loved about spending time with Dina was that they didn't have to talk, just sitting and being in silence was comfortable and there was no pressure to fill the void with idle chat. It was always just easy.

"You tell me if you want me to go, okay?" Dina asked, her voice barely above a sleepy whisper. "I know it's late."

Ellie didn't say anything, instead kept strumming away on the guitar, afraid that if she stopped she would have the fill the quiet with all the questions that swam around her head.

"Did you enjoy your break?" Dina finally asked, her tone laced with something Ellie couldn't quite pick up on.

"Yeah, it was okay," she replied softly, looking down at her fingers on the fretboard. 

"What did you get up to?"

"I got a job." Ellie admitted with a small shrug. "Thought it would be nice to be able to do things and having money is always good."

Dina raised her eyebrow. "A working girl, huh? That's hot."

Ellie snorted. "Yeah, I guess."

"Hang out with anybody?" Dina quickly asked, almost cutting Ellie off.

"Actually, Cat works where I got a job. We hung out a few times." Ellie tilted her head back again, blinking slowly as she looked up.

"Oh, that sounds fun. Did you two get up to much?" she asked, a harshness now to her tone as if the name had no right being on her tongue.

Did she want to talk about this with her? After all, they were friends and that's just what friends did. But the pit in her stomach churned and she knew at that moment she didn't want Dina to know. She didn't want to keep it from her but she didn't want her to know.

"Hung out at her place a couple of times. Went to the bar, that's where I was when you called that one time." she finished, it wasn't a lie but it wasn't the complete truth. She stopped playing the guitar.

"Keep going." Dina hummed, pursing her lips but didn't say anything else.

Ellie thought for a moment, still absent-mindedly strumming the strings. "Did you have a good trip?"

As she stared at the ceiling she knew she shouldn't have asked, but she just couldn't help herself.

"It was okay." Dina replied. "A bit full-on with all the soccer jocks, but it was okay... I wish you were there, El."

"Yeah." Ellie paused, sucking in air. "Jesse said you got pretty drunk."

"Did he now?" Dina replied, her tone flat but interested.

"Mhmm." she nodded to herself.

"What else did he tell you?"

Ellie shrugged. "That you asked for me."

"I wanted to see you." She admitted freely, no hesitation to her tone. 

"Why?" Ellie asked, pausing the movement of her fingers for a brief second before she continued, still looking up into the nothing.

"I don't know. I just think about you a lot and when I didn't feel well I just wanted to see you." She mumbled sleepily. "I really care about you, El. Seeing you always makes me feel better."

Ellie sighed, closing her eyes unsure what the tight feeling in her chest meant. It was painful and made her feel like she couldn't breathe. Instead of bringing it up, she decided to bury it back down.

"Are you going to come to bed?" Dina finally asked after a long pause in the conversation, the sound of the guitar the only thing killing the silence, her voice muffled by the wound of her head on the pillow.

"You're staying tonight?" Ellie asked, looking over her shoulder towards her bed.

"Yeah." Dina said softly, her voice wavering so quietly Ellie wasn't sure if she heard it or not.

"Alright." Ellie breathed, placing her guitar on the ground and resting the neck against her desk to keep it upright.

She swiveled in her chair, turning to face her friend in her bed, torn between joining her and opting to sleep on the floor but she couldn't fight it. She had this internal battle every time Dina had shared her bed in the past, what was right and what was wrong, what was normal for friends, and what wasn't but no matter what she thought every time she always got in with her. 

She would get in every time she was invited.

"Do you want me to put something on?" Ellie asked. "I can put on some stupid show or something."

"No." Dina said back her voice monotone as her eyes rested on her friend's figure.

Ellie's feet felt heavy as she slid them across the carpet, dragging her frame to the edge of her bed where Dina lay, her dark eyes watching her keenly and not even trying to hide the fact. She climbed on the small bed beside her on her side, resting her head on her hand, her face close to Dina's.

"Hold me." Dina requested, it definitely not being a question.

"Why?" Ellie asked, her voice surprisingly even for such a request.

"Because I'm sad, duh." She replied, turning away from her friend towards the wall.

Tentatively Ellie reached out and placed her hand on Dina's hip, mindful to not go too far in either direction. She could feel Dina shudder under her touch but then again she couldn't be sure she wasn't imagining it, or maybe the other girl was just cold. Her eyes fell to the back of her neck and she resisted the urge to press her lips to the exposed flesh.

Once settled the black-haired woman scooted back against her body, her back flush against Ellie's chest and instinctively she brought her legs up to wrap around Dina's body, making her the perfect big spoon.

Whatever was happening, Ellie realized that her body was the perfect fit for Dina's. She did every time she found herself in this position, never failing to fill her cheeks with warmth.

Ellie exhaled deeply, knowing her breath would hit the back of her neck but she didn't care. For how nervous she felt, this was the most at ease she had felt in a while.

She blushed, feeling Dina take her hand and pull it more around her body, forcing her to hold her tighter and finally sliding her hand over hers, entwining their fingers together.

"Why are you sad?" Ellie asked, laying painfully still, trying to fill the silence with anything but the sound of her own beating heart.

Dina shrugged in Ellie's arms, taking a long moment before she answered. "Jesse and I had a dumb fight, I guess."

"You guys will make up by tomorrow. He's a good guy, just a little dumb. He always means well." Ellie gulped, the tip of her nose just barely brushing against the back of her head, smelling the intoxicating scent of her shampoo.

"Yeah, I know." She sighed. "You're a good wingman for him, he should probably start paying you for your time. He's just infuriating sometimes."

"You're infuriating some times too." Ellie chuckled softly, her body involuntarily moving against Dina's and she could feel the girl press further into her, her butt firmly wedged into her crotch.

"You're so warm...." Dina mumbled, caressing the top of Ellie's hand with her thumb.

Ellie sighed, closing her eyes, shifting her head to rest her chin on top of Dina's head. She loved this, feeling Dina in her arms, she would do anything to have it any night but tonight was different. Tonight she felt guilty. 

Guilty that she was seeing someone and Dina was in her bed and didn't know anything about it. They weren't dating and Dina was just being Dina but the uneasiness in her gut wouldn't subside.

She didn't want to keep anything from Dina.

"I'm uh... sort of seeing someone." Ellie finally choked out, feeling Dina tense in her arms.

"Is it Cat?" Dina asked after a long silence.

"Yeah." Ellie replied, not moving her chin off the top of her head. "We're not dating or anything."

"I thought so. I'm glad for you, Ellie." Dina breathed, her grip tightening on Ellie's hand. "Is this okay? I can go if it's not."

"It's okay. We're just friends, right?" Ellie asked, feeling her chest tighten again, her heart twisting in her chest.

"Yeah. Right, okay..." Dina spoke quickly before trailing off. "Ellie?"

"Yeah?" the taller woman asked.

Dina sighed, loud enough for there not to be any question on that fact before she replied. "Nothing... goodnight."

"Goodnight Dina." Ellie sighed back, much more subtle.

Ellie wasn't sure when she fell asleep, she listened for a long time to the steady rise and fall of Dina's breathing and the pounding of her heart that was quick at first but slowed after a while. She wasn't sure when Dina fell asleep, not remembering the tell of soft breaths evenly escaping her lips.

She spent a lot of time thinking through their conversation, thinking through their entire friendship, and thinking about how different Dina was to Cat. 

She had no right comparing the two, having vastly different relationships with either of them but she just couldn't help it. They were thoughts that kept her up for a long while, unsure if the girl in her arms was sleeping or not.

When she woke up, Dina was still in her arms though she was no longer facing away from her, she had turned around in the night and her face was close to hers, her eyes closed.

Ellie studied her face, never getting sick of waking up to her friend. What was there to get sick of? She was beautiful and when she had traced the curves of her face with her eyes too many times she could always count her freckles, infinitely dusted across her cheeks.

Ellie sighed, reaching out and tucking a strand of loose hair behind Dina's ear causing her to stir when her fingertips brushed her skin.

"Are you staring at me, William's?" Dina asked, her voice hoarse with sleep.

"No." Ellie said with an eye roll, pulling her hand back to the space in front of them.

Dina opened her eyes, the sun finding depths in them that only it could bring out. She smiled back at her and Ellie swore that she was the sun.

Was it a sad smile? Ellie couldn't figure it out.

"Good cause that would be creepy, wouldn't it?" she chuckled, allowing her tired eyes to flutter closed. "Do you want to do something today? I know you've got your game and all but..."

"Do something?" Ellie questioned, a yawn escaping her lips but when she went to bring her hand up to stifle it, she found that her hand was still held tightly in Dina's.

"Yeah, just us? I miss hanging out with you." she pouted, her eyes still shut.

"Arent we hanging out now?" Ellie smiled with a shake of her head. "And we literally hang out all the time, you're so dramatic some times but I can't, Joel and my uncle Tommy are here."

"Oh." Dina spoke softly, dejection to her tone. "That's okay, another time then."

Ellie sucked in air through her teeth, her eyes flittering between Dina's lips and her closed eyes, begging for them to open so she could fall into their depths again but she never did. Instead, Ellie took note of the new crease in the middle of her brows that wasn't there before.

"Do you want to come? Meet them, I mean. We're just having breakfast, so nothing major." Ellie asked as nonchalantly as she could muster at that hour of the morning.

Dina appeared deep in thought before her eyes finally opened, searching for Ellie's green ones. "Would that be okay?

"Yeah." Ellie smiled, looking away from Dina's eyes even though she had just been begging for their gaze, it was too much for her. "He's wanted to meet you anyways. He likes to know who my friends are."

"Have you been telling stories about me?" Dina asked with a laugh, all previous sadness removed from her face, and only a light crease left between her brows.

"Only the worst ones." Ellie countered, her own laugh on her lips as she untangled herself from her friend. "I should get up, become some semblance of a human so he doesn't worry about me."

"Just a little longer?" Dina requested, reaching out and taking Ellie's hand again to keep her in place.

"Just a little longer." Ellie affirmed, her lips tugging into a smile as her head hit the pillow.

 


 

"So, you must be Dina." Joel said gruffly, extending his hand towards the girl he easily towered over. "I've heard a lot about you."

"Mr. Miller." Dina greeted, her tone dripping with the sweetness she exuded. "All good things, I hope."

Ellie rolled her eyes. "Joel, don't." she warned.

"Call me Joel, Mr. Miller is way too formal for me." he beamed. "Is she as crabby with you as she always is with me?" he asked, with a soft shake of his head but a sparkle to his eyes as his gaze fell on his daughter.

"Worse." Dina mused, her lips twitching into a smirk. "She's so broody."

"I'm not broody!" Ellie exclaimed.

"I don't think she ever grew out of being a moody fourteen year old." he whispered, leaning close to Dina. "Did she tell you about the time she..."

"JOEL." Ellie yelled, stepping up to shove him in the shoulder. "Don't you fucking dare."

"I wanna hear the story." Dina pouted, tugging on Ellie's arm.

"There is no story. I didn't exist before college, you know everything else." Ellie groaned, pushing the other two towards the cafe they were walking to. "Joel, you keep your mouth shut."

"I'll tell you another time." Joel turned to grin at Dina.

"Where's Tommy?" Ellie asked, digging her hands deep in her pocket as she quietly fumed.

"He uh, has a date... he's been talking to a girl up this way for a little while now. Used that app that the kids use these days." Joel finished a slight blush to his cheeks.

Ellie laughed, knowing that anything to do with romantic feelings was something Joel did not want to talk about.

"No way. Why didn't you tell me sooner, we could have liked gone and scoped her out!" Ellie bounced on the pavement, moving to stand in front of Joel.

"I imagine this is why he didn't want you to know, kiddo." Joel chuckled. "Now Dina, order anything you want this morning for breakfast, it's Ellie's shout."

"How kind of you, Ellie." Dina grinned, her eyes shining as she looked at her friend.

"And ah, maybe you can fill me in on just what exactly Ellie has been up to. She doesn't call me nearly as much as she should." Joel said softly, his brows furrowed as he looked at Ellie who just rolled his eyes at him.

"I'm sorry, Joel. I'll make sure she's better at that." Dina replied, shooting her a glare much like Joel had.

"I'm busy!" Ellie yelled, throwing her hands up in defeat. "I'm in college! Studying big brain stuff!"

Joel and Dina chuckled, continuing to walk and leaving Ellie behind to catch up.

 



After warming up, Ellie ran over to the edge of the pitch waving up to Joel and Tommy on the bleachers, sat beside them Dina, and to her surprise, Jesse. She figured they must have made up after they had dropped her off after breakfast, after all he had been calling her all morning as much as Dina tried to hide her phone every time she rejected his call.

Ellie waved at them too and smiled.

Just as she was about to turn away she noticed her other friends, Dave and Travis seated a few rows behind them but it was Cat who caught her attention. She scrunched her nose, deciding there were far too many people here watching her for her liking but there was nothing she could do to change that. When Cat waved, she smirked before waving back to her and jogging back over to her team.

She nudged Victoria's shoulder and let her know they were here and where to find them. Victoria smiled when she looked over her shoulder at them, telling Ellie that she hated the attention and she could only agree with her.

When they took to the field, waiting for the ref to blow the whistle so she could kick the ball off she still felt the weight of the people watching her perching precariously on her shoulders. Joel was was fine she decided, Tommy too, they would be proud of her no matter what she did. She could have kicked the ball in her own net and they still would have cheered for her. Jesse was much the same, although he would have told her when she played like shit, he still thought the world of her.

She knew Dina was the same but while she loved the fact that she came every game to support her it felt different, the pressure she felt to be as amazing as she knew the girl thought she was was greater than she had ever felt.

Then throw Cat into the mix, who had never come and watched her before and her stomach was twisting in knots.

The ref blew the whistle and Ellie immediately passed the ball off, sprinting forward as the midfielder held the ball for a moment as the defense charged forward before she chipped it over, leaving Ellie to perfectly slip through. Surging forwards she glanced up and back, positioning her body perfectly on the edge of the box for her to stick out of foot and cradle the ball down, dropping her vision she moved to surge forward only to be met with an immovable object, the opposition goalkeeper charging towards her, her gloved hands clashing hard into her chest and her shoulder dropping and colliding with her head, shoving her to the ground.

Ellie immediately heard the crowd begin to boo and the ref loudly blowing his whistle as time seemed to slow in her descent to the ground before feeling like it sped up as the back of her head bounced off the earth. 

There was a commotion around her as she lifted her head, bodies of white and red flying towards the keeper and shoving her back and being met with opposing purple blurs who came to defend their team member. The whistle blew again, more loudly as the ref charged in trying to separate the tussling girls brandishing a red card.

Ellie turned her head to the bleachers, her vision blurry on the edges but focusing on the screams of anger and disgust, watching Joel's hands gripped tightly on the rails in front of him and yelling something she couldn't quite make out. She dizzily smiled to herself thinking to herself that she was surprised he hadn't jumped over already and rushed over, knowing if he did that that it wouldn't be long until Tommy joined him, probably followed by Jesse.

And Dina?

Would Dina jump over too?

Her eyes settled on the shorter girl, flanked by the much taller men in Ellie's life, wishing she could make out her face but she was too far away. She thought if she closed her eyes and listened closely enough she was able to hear her scream between the chaos of everyone else.

She snapped out of her daze, feeling strong hands on her shoulders that were shaking her gently.

"Ellie." the voice said firmly.

Ellie opened her eyes, having them closed made her feel too dizzy anyway.  She was met with strong blue eyes gazing into her own and was thankful that her vision quickly settled down and she only saw one person.

"Are you okay?" Maria asked, holding her shoulders more firmly.

"I'm okay." she mumbled, bringing her hand to her forehead before shaking her head clear. 

The girls around her while no longer pushing and shoving each other continued to argue, pointing their fingers at each other over whose fault it was.

The keeper had long since removed her gloves and stormed off the field after being shown the red. There was no arguing there, she had been in the wrong whether intentional or not, and as much as that was clear as day she had no issue with the keeper's team defending her, that's just what teams did even if they could amidst she was wrong.

"Let's get you off the field." Maria tugged at her arm, motioning for her to get up.

Ellie shook her head again, pulling her arm away from Maria. "My family is here."

Maria glanced over to the seats where everyone was still riled up before looking back to Ellie and kneeling back down. "Tommy is your uncle, right?"

"Yeah." Ellie nodded, reaching down to tug up her socks until they sat just below her knee and if she hadn't just been hit in the head she might have asked how Maria knew that. "I have a penalty to put away." she flashed an uneasy smile.

Maria sighed. "You wouldn't listen to me even if I told you to get off the field, would you?"

Ellie took a deep breath, resting her arms around her knees as she looked around her, the chaos subsiding and the ref standing on the penalty spot ready with the ball. "Not a chance."

"Well, alright then. You better score or it'll be 50 laps after the game." Maria smiled, thrusting a water bottle at Ellie before standing to her feet and walking over to the girls who had made a circle beside them where they were talking. "She's fine."

Ellie rose to her feet, doubling over for a moment to take a deep breath before standing and trying to wipe at the dirt on her once clean shorts. She smiled to herself, remembering Joel making fun of her after every game for never being able to stay on her feet or stay clean, no matter how dry the grass was she would always find somewhere muddy to fall in to.

She glanced over to the bleachers, her eyes finding Cat briefly before immediately shooting down. Tommy and Joel had since sat down again knowing she was alright, their arms folded tightly across their chests and an unamused expression slapped firmly on their face. She felt a smile tug at her lips when Jesse mirrored them to a tee. He was exactly like them when it came to her.

Her eyes shot to Dina who was still standing, leaning over the rail as she yelled. Ellie closed her eyes trying to listen to what she was saying but could only make out her voice faintly in the crowd, by the look on her face she assumed she was cheering for her.
Ellie gave a thumbs up to her teammates before stepping over to the ref who placed the ball on the spot. Placing her hands on her hips she took a deep breath

Their replacement keeper stepped up, still easing her hands in her gloves before pulling the velcro tight around her wrist. She clapped her hands together in front of her, bouncing on the spot. Ellie took a few measures steps back from the ball and then a couple to the side. When the ref blew the whistle she looked up at the goal deciding where she was going to out it. Bounding towards the ball she leaned forward, striking it on the flat of her foot and sending it hurtling to the bottom right corner and into the back of the net.

Her team cheered behind her, closely followed by the crowd before they rushed her, surrounding and congratulating her.

She again looked back over to the bleachers, beaming as Joel beamed back. Shaking her head she looked down before jogging back to halfway to go again.

The game ended 4 - 2, Ellie slotting away another one before setting up the third and the captain scoring the fourth from a carefully placed kick outside the box.

Elie clutched at her arm, rubbing the length as it throbbed from the earlier contact. She had noticed it while she was running but now that she didn't have anything else to focus on it was becoming excruciating. She shrugged it off as she walked from the field towards the changing rooms to grab her bag wanting to go see Joel as quickly as she could to not waste her last few moments with her family.

Slinging her bag over her shoulder she said a quick goodbye to her team before jogging outside, pulling out her phone to find out where Joel and Tommy where.

She didn't make it far out of the building until a worried Dina rushed up to her catching her off guard.

Dina reached up, resting her small hands-on Ellie's shoulders as she peered up at her face. "Are you okay?"

"I'm okay, Dina." She laughed, swatting her away. "Really, its nothing. "

Dina shot her a look of skepticism as she looked her up and down, making sure what she was saying checked out.

"Kiddo." Joel drawled, stepping up beside Dina to fuss over her and check her out. "You got hit pretty hard, maybe you should get checked out?"

"I'm fine, Joel." She groaned. "Did you see my goals?" She asked quickly, wanting to change the subject.

"What a stupid question, of course, I did." He smiled, folding his arms across his chest. "I'm proud of you. I reckon you've improved so much since you've been here."

Ellie grinned at him, noticing Dina was grinning at her grinning at him which caused her to blush and finally look away. It was cliche, but she lived for any kind of praise from the man she considered her father.

"That was fucking badass, Ellie." Jesse chimed in, clapping his hand on her shoulder.

She winced, clenching her teeth at the pain, the touch sending jolting down her arm. She nervously laughing in an attempt to hide it. Maybe she got hit a bit harder than she realized.

"Do we need to talk about what that was on your arm?" Joel asked, motioning down to the material that covered it.

"What?" She asked feigning innocence, giving a small nonchalant shrug.

"You know damn well what I'm talking about." He replied gruffly. "Show it to me."

Ellie met his eye, suddenly feeling like a scolded child. With a sigh, she reached down and pulled up her sleeve showing off her healing tattoo that started at her wrist and spread up her lower arm.

"Who did it?" Joel asked, watching the material slide further up and revealing more of the painted skin.

"Cat, she's uh my friend. She's really good at these kinds of things." Ellie chuckled nervously. "At a legit establishment, of course. Real clean and professional."

Joel grabbed her wrist, studying the intricate design, a disapproving look on his face. When she looked around to Tommy he only shared with her an amused expression. Dina's face however was unreadable, that same crease back on her forehead but she said nothing, seeming interested in everything but the tattoo.

Was she mad that she didn't tell her?

Did she not like it?

Joel sighed, bringing his eyes up to meet Ellies. "Looks good, kiddo."

"You're not mad?" Ellie asked uncertainty to her tone.

"It's not something I would have chosen but you're an adult, Ellie. That means you get to make adult decisions so as long as it makes you happy and you're safe, then I'm happy." He finished with a smile. "Just don't cover your whole body in them... please."

"I won't." She chuckled. "Are you sure you cant stay a little longer?"

Joel shook his head. "Sorry, kiddo. We really need to get back, I don't trust the guy watching over things to not fuck everything up. But you'll come to visit during the next break?"

"Of course." Ellie smiled, allowing herself to be enveloped into a tight embrace by the larger man. "I don't have an excuse not to anymore."

Joel squeezed her harder, taking any snide remarks away. "Take care of yourself." He murmured, pressing his lips to the top of her head. "If you need anything, you let me know, alright?"

"Yeah yeah, old man." She laughed pushing him away. "Thanks for coming, guys." She turned and said to her friends, Dina not willing to meet her eye. "I'll see you guys later, yeah? I'm gonna walk Joel and Tommy out."

"Later, Ellie." Jesse smiled before shaking Tommy and Joel's hands. "It was nice to see you again."

"Bye." Dina gave a small wave to her family. "It was nice to meet you."

"And you too, Dina. Hopefully, we'll see you around more often." Joel replied with a nod.

They finished up their goodbyes, Tommy disappearing for a moment before finally reappearing. It was strange but Ellie felt too sad to even consider where he might have gone, the sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach taking over any thoughts. She didn't want them to go.

Ellie walked them to their car before offering another round of goodbye's before they finally left leaving her with a gaping chasm of sadness in her chest.

 


 

When she arrived back to her dorm she was met by the sight of Cat leaned up against her door frame. When she noticed her, she looked up from her phone and smiled. Stuffing it back in her pocket.

At first glance, she felt annoyed that she was there, feeling too miserable for the company but her view quickly changed. She wouldn't feel so alone with her around and maybe that was what she needed right now. She had always just wallowed in self-pity in moments like this but now it didn't have to be that way. She had people that she could rely on.

"Wondered when you would show up, I was about to leave." Cat smiled, pushing away from the door.

"Sorry, I was saying goodbye to my family." Ellie offered. "What are you doing here? I thought you were busy this weekend."

"I was." Cat smirked, stepping up yo Ellie and grabbing her hoodie to pull her close. "But I'm not right now."

"Oh." Ellie smiled, dazed as she looked back into Cat's eyes.

Cat rolled her eyes, tugging Ellie closer and pulling her into a searing kiss. "I thought we could you know, go in there and you know..." she smiled suggestively against her lips.

"Oh." Ellie replied again, smiling when she realized what Cat was insinuating. She stuffed her hand in her pockets, furiously trying to find the keys as Cat continued to kiss her.

When she finally fished them out she turned in Cats arms, placing the key into the lock, her hands shaking as Cat wrapped her arms around her waist, placing rough kisses to the back and side of her neck.

Cat laughed in her ear and she laughed along with her, the contagiousness of it turning her earlier frown into a lopsided smile. Finally hearing the lock click she turned the handle but before she could step in she noticed a figure in her periphery. Tilting her head to the side her eyes settled on figure further down the corridor their own keys in the door ready to enter.

Their eyes met and Ellie immediately felt shame rising through her figure, Dina's eyes holding hers until Cat bit down on her ear and shoved her into her room, slamming the door shut behind them.

Ellie furrowed her brows, Cat's lips roughly finding hers and pulling her then shoving her towards the bed until she fell back on it. She gulped, holding the front of Cat's shirt as the familiar pressure from her knee came between her legs as she climbed on top of her.

She wasn't sure if the heat on her cheeks was from what Cat was doing to her or from Dina catching them in the hallway. Either way, she couldn't stop thinking about Dina as Cat made her way down her neck.

Why did she look at her that way?

What even was that expression? 

Interest? No, she wasn't looking at her keenly. Disgust maybe? Ellie knew she wouldn't want to see anyone making out in the corridor, let alone Dina and Jesse but she wasn't sure she would look at them the way Dina had looked at her. Whatever it was it made Ellie's chest ache in a way that she didn't know was possible and her stomach churns in a way that made bile rise in her throat.

She swallowed it back, her thoughts swimming with countless thoughts of her friends and why she looked so utterly disgusted with her. 

"What are you doing?" Cat breathed heavily finding Ellie's lips again as she tugged at the waist of her jeans.

Ellie inhaled sharply, feeling Cat's teeth tug her lower lip and she looked up and met her lust-filled eyes. Cat was beautiful and she was here and she was willing and Ellie could have her any way she wanted. She could have her on top or underneath and it wasn't loving or soft, she didn't have to pretend that she was in love with her nor was it expected. She didn't look at her the way Dina looked at her or confuse her the way she did. 

"I want you." She whispered as she reached up, wrapping her arms around the back of Cat's neck and pulled her lips back to hers, kissing her deep and fierce.

Ellie didn't know what this was and for now, she didn't care. All that mattered was that Cat was here and on top of her and for now that was enough, that would be enough to help her forget the girl who she couldn't get off her mind.

Chapter Text


Ellie finished running the drill, Maria continuing to bark orders at the team, instructing them to go through again. She inhaled deeply before nodding and doing as she was told.

While Maria had been in a much more pleasant mood of late, she was still tough and kept the team on their toes. After all, they were in the first position having not lost a single game yet, any team below them would be coming hard and they would be stepping up regardless of where they sat on the table or their level compared to where they were at.

"Again!" Maria barked and the team groaned in protest.

But they still ran it anyways.

Either way Ellie didn't mind. The grueling trainings were a good distraction and often didn't offer her too much time to think which she preferred. For once she was enjoying being so busy. School had really ramped up, her assignments becoming increasingly harder which meant she had to spend more time studying and less time thinking and mulling over everything.

The intensity of the training was having surprising effects on her body also, now having muscles where she never had them before. Her thighs and calves becoming more toned and strong, her stomach feeling hard to the touch and even biceps from the countless push-ups Maria had them complete as a team when someone messed up.

That was one of the things she loved about being part of this team is that they did everything as a team together, no one was left behind and anyone's shortcomings were everyone else's shortcomings so they helped each other overcome it and that in turn strengthened the squad. Ellie had never been a part of a team like this before and she was growing to love every single one of them in their own way.

Ellie sighed when she glanced to the side of the field after Maria had released them for a water break. Every training she was sat there and every training she thought about going over but every time she decided not to. It was never in her to be the bigger person, especially when she had perceived that she had done nothing wrong and she sincerely wasn't sure what she had done to cause this rift that meant that she had stopped talking to her. It had only been two weeks since that night, but they had been a long two weeks without having at least her texts to keep her company.

Swallowing the lump in her throat she decided to bite the bullet and finally jogged over to where the shorter woman sat on the grass, pretending to look away from her to the boys training as she approached and Ellie pretended for now not to notice her glancing out the corner of her eye in her direction.

She could have turned around and maybe she should have.

Ellie instead offered a tired smile, still trying to catch her breath before reaching down and taking the water bottle in her hand and bringing it to her lips, gulping what was left before bringing it down to hold the empty bottle in her hand.

"I don't know about you but it sort of seems like you're avoiding me." Ellie said unsure but cutting right to the chase. "Thanks for the water by the way."

"I'm not avoiding you." Dina replied with a roll of her eyes. "And you're welcome, not that I had a choice in the matter."

Ellie smiled and looked down before turning to look where Dina was now looking, over to where Jesse was training, taking shots at goal with his team.

Maybe she should try to find common ground, something that they could both easily talk about that could get the chemistry going again. Two weeks really wasn't a long time int he grand scheme of things but it now felt like a chasm between them.

"The teams doing well now." She began with a small shrug. "Jesse's really coming into it, it's so good to see him starting now."

"Yeah, he's really loving it." Dina replied, short and proper, glancing towards Ellie out the corner of her eye again. "I'm proud of him."

"Yip." Ellie replied, sucking in air through her teeth and deciding on wanting to test the water just a little. "My teams doing well too... did you see the shit we were just going?"

"Sorry, I didn't see." Dina replied nonchalantly.

"Well, alright." Ellie said softly, pursing her lips as she scuffed her boots into the dirt pretending as if her words didn't hurt.

When there was silence, Ellie reached up to rub at the back of her neck. She thought about asking her again what was going on, maybe being more clear about what she wanted to know but decided better of it, knowing she would just get the same answer. The ball was in Dina's court and it was entirely up to her what kind of relationship she wanted to have with her, regardless of how hot and cold it all felt. There was nothing Ellie could do with not knowing what she had done wrong, no way she could make it better.

"How's your arm?" Dina asked, finally turning to look at her and gesturing to the black cast that covered her left arm.

"This?" Ellie smiled and raised her arm, turning it as if it was new and she was examining it. "I mean, of course, it hurts..." she paused, waiting for Dina to react, waiting for that familiar crease of worry but it never came so she continued. "More of a pain in the ass than anything. Who would have thought breaking a bone would be so inconvenient? I'm surprised you even noticed though..." Ellie started, turning her attention away from Dina as she looked back to Jesse to hide the smirk on her face. "Considering you definitely haven't been watching me train."

There was a silence, the wheels in Dina's head clearly turning before she spoke. " I haven't been. Jesse mentioned that he had to make you go finally get it checked out. Bit dumb walking around for a week with a broken bone don't you think?"

"Well, I didn't have you nagging me to go sooner." Ellie countered light-heartedly. "Seems like you've disappeared off the face of the planet, or as I said, avoiding me."

Dina sighed, choosing not to continue Ellie's teasing tone. "I've been busy with assignments and shit."

"Mhmm but I think... " Ellie began but when she opened her mouth to respond further she was cut off by Maria summoning her back, instead she just shrugged. "Well, I gotta go."

"Alright." Dina replied, reaching up to take the empty bottle from her hand.

"Uh... I hope school gets less busy for you or whatever it is." she sighed with a small shake of her head.

She jogged off quickly, trying to put as much distance between them as possible, a chasm as big as their friendship currently felt, and missing what Dina said in response. She was glad that she didn't hear it, happy not to know. It would have just been some snide remark about not noticing her or how she couldn't be bothered to be friends with her any longer. Just something else she thought her heart couldn't take.

Ellie trained harder, pushing herself more. When Maria told her to jog laps, she sprinted and when she was told to do sit-ups, she always did a few more. Her body aching in protest but it detracted from the emptiness she began to feel in the pit of her stomach. She couldn't quite figure out what it was, being nothing that she had felt before now.

She didn't feel like eating and most nights she found it hard to sleep, lying awake and staring at the dark ceiling. The only upside is that she was able to study more. She convinced herself that she was just exhausted and it was taking a toll on her body, maybe mentally as well. That was really the only thing that made sense. Her workload was increasing and their training had increased to three times a week now.

She would tough it out, knowing a break was coming soon and she would go back home for a week. That pulled her through, that was the light at the end of the tunnel for her. All she had to do was survive a little longer and she would be rewarded with being able to see her family again, growing to miss helping out on the land, and the long nights spent outside on the porch talking, learning about the stars.

This though, whatever it was that was happening with Dina caused her chest to ache maybe she was just busy with school and the explanation of her absence was just as simple as that. As much as Ellie worried, she felt stupid for worrying. She had never had a friend like Dina before and it was confusing, anyone else she would have been fine with them dropping her like she wasn't anything. People got busy and no one else owed anyone else anything so why would she expect Dina or anyone else for that matter to waste their time hanging out or texting her when they had more important things to do?

Before she knew it training was over and she breathed a sigh of relief, thankful it had ended before the familiar aching of getting the stitch at her side completely set in.

Jesse lingered on the end of the field, like Ellie covered in a light layer of sweat, his training finishing mere minutes before her own. She watched as Dina tried to pull him away but he only held his ground, smiling as he waved her over.

She slung her bag over her shoulder and walked over to him with a sigh. One awkward encounter was enough for one day but what was a second in the grand scheme of things.

"Yo, Jesse." She smiled and bumped his fist when offered.

"Hey man, looking good out there." He nodded. "Maria really is punishing you guys, maybe we should switch coaches for a day."

Ellie huffed. "You can say that again. At least she isn't acting like she's got a stick up her arse anymore, maybe she's finally getting some."

"Is that what happened to you?" Jesse laughed, a mischievous look in his eyes.

Ellie cringed, her eyes shooting to Dina who continued to look down at her phone uninterested.

Ellie blushed and Jesse grinned more before he spoke again. "Do you wanna catch a movie with us later? Don't know what we are gonna see yet but I'm sure there is something awful out." He asked, throwing his arm over Dina's shoulders and pulling her close.

"I'm sure Ellie has better things to do than watch terrible movies with us, babe." Dina offered, finally looking up from her phone.

"What are you talking about, Ellie loves terrible movies." Jesse countered. "She only ever watches terrible movies."

Ellie shook her head. "I've got plans actually so I can't tonight but another time? I feel like we haven't done anything in ages."

"With Cat? Ellie you little minx." Jesse teased, the corner of his lip not failing to tug upwards.

Ellie rolled her eyes and hit Jesse's arm with her cast. "Fuck off. We're just hanging out. But let's do something soon, yeah?"

"Yeah, of course. We should get going though, or you'll be late for your audition, babe." Jesse said giving Dina's shoulder a squeeze.

"Audition?" Ellie asked, her brow furrowed as her gaze settled on the olive-skinned woman.

"Did Dina not tell you?" Jesse asked, his vision slowly shooting between the two girls in confusion.

"Nah, she didn't." Ellie shrugged, doing her best not to let it bother her. "I'm sure it just slipped her mind, with how busy she's been and all."

"Oh, yeah. Dina's auditioning for the main roll in the production of 'I and you'. It's going to be really big right, babe?" Jesse asked with a nudge.

Ellie just blinked slowly at her, unsure why she wouldn't have told her about something as big as this. This was major and it was exciting and Ellie wanted to share in that excitement with her yet she hadn't been allowed, she hadn't been granted permission to know.

"I might not even get it." Dina offered with a small shrug, her eyes only briefly glancing up to meet Ellie's wavering green ones before looking down, her confusion being too much.

"Are you kidding me?" Jesse exclaimed only knocking his head against hers.

Ellie looked down, again giving her a shrug. "Well, I'm sure you don't have anything to worry about. No one else has anything on you, really. You're talented and b... well, quite frankly they'd be stupid not to pick you." she looked back up, giving a forced sad smile in place of another shrug. "You guys should get going, you don't want to be late. Goodluck, Dina."

When Dina's eyes looked up to meet Ellie's again, this time the taller woman was the one to look away, shielding the sadness captured in her eyes.

"I'll message you later, man." Jesse nodded giving a careless wave. "Say hi to Cat for us."

Ellie hit her hand against the side of her thigh as she turned and set off to the showers wanting to wash away the entire conversation they had just had. It had definitely been better not knowing. Not being certain that her friend wanted nothing much to do with her to the point where she couldn't, or wouldn't share with her such a major piece of information.

Dina may not have considered her a friend anymore but she was still a friend to Ellie.

Ellie wasn't sure at what point she had decided it would be a good idea for her to go along. She wasn't even sure that she would be allowed to watch or what the protocol was for such a thing, never stepping foot in a theatre before in her entire life. The whole place was very not her and she stuck out like a sore thumb against the pretentiousness of it all, the royal red curtains and gold trimmings, the snobby actors with their noses turned upwards and their scripts in hand.

She slinked in the door, making sure to quietly close it behind her. There was already someone reading from a script, a tall handsome boy she had seen hanging out with Dina a few times before. She found herself a seat at the back, the entire theatre being empty bar for the first few rows where sat a few official-looking professors with pen and paper and who she assumed was the students auditioning for the roles.

She scanned them but couldn't make out Dina. She wasn't sure whether or not she had made it in time to watch but she couldn't leave, if there was a chance she hadn't missed it she had to stay.

Ellie sunk back into the chair, folding her arms over her chest as she watched the auditions. It really didn't interest her one way or another but she had to admit they were good, some definitely being better than others but none enough to hold her attention for the entire audition. She couldn't have even told you how many characters were being auditioned for, everything eventually beginning to run together.

Ellie really didn't know how long she had been there for, it could have been minutes, it could have been hours but what she did know was that it dragged on, all the acting beginning to look the same as the person beforehand and she wanted to ask how the people picking the talent managed to stay awake for so long.

It wasn't until Dina's name was called that she snapped out of her daze, immediately sitting up straight and leaning forward, watching as she stood from her seat in the front and made her way up to the stage. Unlike the rest, she didn't carry a script, she didn't need it. Ellie knew she would have memorized the lines as if they were written on the back of her hand, acting was important to her.

She listened carefully to her voice as they asked her a few questions before asking her to present what she had prepared, hanging on to every word as they left her lips. She really hadn't considered before how soothing she found Dina's voice to be. How soft it could be, how gentle but also how commanding, holding everyone in the room captive.

Dina scanned the crowd before her, noticing the out of place taller woman sitting in the back, being where she shouldn't have been, noticing the way she leaned forward intently as she was about to speak. Dina turned away for a moment, when she turned back around she began to recite what she had prepared.

Ellie really wasn't sure what she had expected from seeing Dina act, but whatever expectation she had set she had exceeded it. Maybe she was biased but she couldn't think of any actress or actor that held her captivated in the same way her friend had a hold on her. The words effortlessly left her mouth, her gestures elegant and thought out and thorough and the way she moved across the stage was nothing less than elegant. When she spoke the whole place listened, not a single person whispering amongst themselves.

When she finished like the rest she gave a small bow and when she straightened she once more glanced at Ellie before turning to leave the stage. Ellie released the breath she didn't know she was holding deciding that even though she had been on stage as long as anyone before her it was too short and she should have been there for longer.

But it was over and deciding that she had worn out her welcome choosing not to get caught in the act she rose to her feet and vacated the theatre, slipping back out the door and allowing it to thud closely behind her, being long gone by the time anyone turned to look.

Between thinking about how amazing Dina was at acting, Ellie couldn't help but think that maybe their entire friendship had been a rouse. Acting was what Dina did, she was a natural so had that seeped into their friendship? Had she just been acting the entire time and that's why it was so easy to drop her?

Ellie laughed to herself and shook her head, if that was the case then she impressed. It sure felt real but that was the beauty of it, wasn't it? That someone was such a good actor that you couldn't tell when they were acting or what was sincere.

Could she be mad when it was that seamless? She wasn't sure she had any right to be but still, that didn't take away the swelling in her chest.

 


 

Cat passed the brown paper bag with the bottle of alcohol in it back over to Ellie who immediately brought it to her lips, chugging down the burning liquid. She wasn't entirely sure what it was but couldn't find enough of a fuck to care today either. She already felt stupid enough and didn't feel like having Cat laugh at her over asking what alcohol they were consuming.

"Okay, but like, if you could fuck anyone else in the world, a celebrity or musician, or even the fucking garbage man, who would you choose?" Cat continued, exaggeratingly placing one foot in front of the other as she walked along the path.

Ellie wiped her mouth with the back of her hand as she passed the bottle back to the black-haired woman, a disapproving look on her face. "Cat..."

"What? It's a perfectly legitimate question? Everyone has their pass." Cat grinned, hitting her with a wink that caused her to blush and look down.

"I'd just fuck you, I guess." Ellie offered with a shrug.

"That's not fair, you're already fucking me so I don't count. Really, there's no one?" Cat asked amused.

"No." Ellie lied. "Plus, these kinds of questions just get you in trouble. I'm not stupid."

"Kat Dennings." Cat stated matter of factly.

"What?" Ellie asked confused.

"I'd fuck Kat Dennings. She's hot." She laughed, nudging Ellie with her shoulder.

"You would be narcissistic enough to want to fuck someone with the same name as you." Ellie laughed, nudging her back. "Perfectly believable."

Cat shrugged a shrug that rolled her shoulders right back.

"I guess you could call your own name in bed and no one would be any wiser." Ellie teased.

"Hey!" Cat protested, taking Ellie by her arm. "I don't call my own name when you're doing me."

"Duh, that's because you're sleeping with me and I'm great." Ellie smirked, swiping the bottle back from her.

"Oh yeah, you think so?" Cat asked, pausing, and tugging her back by the hand until she was forced to come back and stand in front of her.

"Maybe." Ellie held her eye as she took another long swig from the bottle.

"Did your confidence just disappear?" Cat smirked back, holding on to the front of her shirt to hold her close, watching the blush dart across Ellie's cheeks.

Ellie remained frozen, watching the way Cats eyes shimmered in the dull night and the way her lips twitched at the corners into a smile just for her. She stayed there until Cat brought her lips down to meet hers in a quick kiss before she shoved her away.

"We better hurry or we won't make it to the party... Kat." She said with a smirk as she walked passed Ellie, taking the bottle back.

"Are you going to pretend I'm Kat Dennings in bed tonight? Because I am not roleplaying as anyone else." Ellie laughed, jogging to catch up.

"Maybe. You'll know depending on what name I call you." She grinned, pulling Ellie to her side.

They heard the party before they saw it, a typical frat rager organized by some jocks on the football team with egos bigger than their appendages.

Cat didn't give her the chance to pause, taking her hand as she pulled her through the crowd of obnoxiously drunk people who reeked of booze and body odor. Ellie subconsciously held her breath, doing her best not to brush up against sweaty bodies, feeling disgusted by the slick moisture when her arm accidentally did.

They came to a corner of the house where a group of people had made makeshift seats out of furniture and random crates, the air thick with the smell of weed around them.

"Ellie!" Victoria claimed, jumping from her feet to hug the taller woman.

Ellie stood there stiffly, unsure what to do. She had never been this affectionate with anyone other than the few people that had earned a special piece of her heart.

"Hey, Victoria." She nervously chuckled, feeling more at ease when she finally let her go. "You seem like you're having a good time."

"Courtesy of Travis." She grinned, flashing the well-dressed boy a smile.

"Come, sit." He motioned to the spare spot.

"Yo." Dave nodded. "Man this week's classes fucked me up, I'm glad it's the weekend."

"I fucking know, right." Ellie groaned, waiting for Cat to take a seat before taking the small amount of space beside her. "Next weeks gonna be torture."

"Can you use your arm as an excuse?" Dave asked, leaning back against the wall. "Can't type well or whatever."

"I wish." She laughed, taking the joint that had been offered to her, feeling Cat's eyes on her as she took a drag before exhaling. "I haven't got sympathy from anyone, only been called an idiot."

"They're not wrong there." Cat added, elbowing her in the ribs. "It's fucking annoying and scratchy."

"Yuck." Travis commented, pretending to gag as he stuck his finger in his mouth.

Ellie blushed and turned to face Cat, subconsciously rubbing at her tattooed arm and confirming to herself that the material that coated her arm was indeed scratchy but she didn't need to pass that detail on to her friends.

Cat turned and smiled at her putting her more at ease, that or the weed was already making her relax.

Cat rested her hand on her leg, giving her thigh a gentle squeeze as she sat there and quietly listened, finding it hard to focus with the noise going on around her.

"Hey, Ellie!" Jesse yelled from a distance behind her, barrelling through the crowd and pulling a Dina in tow.

"Jesse." Ellie grinned, moving from her seat the greet them. "Hey, Dina. Come sit down guys."

"They did as they were told, Dina taking the available seat and Jesse sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of her, leaning into her hand when she rested it on his shoulder.

"Hey Jesse, Dina." Cat smiled kindly.

"Cat." Dina said curtly. "So nice to see you."

"I thought you guys were going to see a movie?" Ellie asked, passing the bottle of alcohol over to Dina.

She looked at it, reaching out to take it, her fingers lingering against Ellie's before she pulled away as if the contact burnt her.

"There wasn't much on, like not even shit you'd enjoy. Plus, Dina heard about this party. I didn't think you guys would be here." Jesse explained, taking the bottle of liquid from his girlfriend. "I'm glad though, miss getting drunk with my little nerd. Are we getting fucked up?"

Ellie turned to look at Cat who just shrugs at her with a smile before she turned back to Jesse. "I mean, let's see where the night goes, eh?"

She definitely didn't want to commit to that, liking to stay more on the sober side than not especially when she knew she would have to end up taking care of Jesse by the end of the night. Then again, that's what he had Dina for now.

They all continued chatting, Ellie ending up on the floor next to Jesse as he excitedly told her a story related to football that no one else seemed to care about but he kept her attention, talking animatedly and with grander gestures with the more alcohol and weed he consumed.

"So like, because you have a job now did you want to get a ticket and go with me? Only if our team gets in though." Jesse asked, shaking his fist in front of him.

"Fuck yeah I do. That would be awesome." Ellie nodded excitedly, taking another sip on the bottle she was sharing. "Honestly, they made it this far I think this is the year they make it all the way. Especially after last year."

Dina squeezed Jesse's shoulder and leaned down, murmuring something in his ear and he nodded, turning back to Ellie.

"Hey, we're just gonna go get some fresh air." he grinned stupidly. "Don't leave without me, okay? We'll be back soon."

Ellie looked over, looking Dina up and down as Jesse stood, taking her hand and leading her out into the crowd. She wrapped her arms around her knees, looking down before she felt a body shift in front of her.

She looked up when Cat tapped her knees, forcing them down until she sat cross-legged and she did the same, scooting closer to her. She looked into her eyes, smiling that familiar high smile, and Ellie couldn't help but smile back.

"Do you want to play a game?" Cat asked with a suggestive waggle of her eyebrow.

"Depends. I'm not convinced any of your games would end well for me." Ellie replied with a roll of her eyes.

 


 

"I just need some air..." Ellie slurred, pushing to her feet and stumbling unsteadily.

Her friends laughed and she laughed with them before her face dropped, feeling the familiar feeling of alcohol souring in the pit of her stomach.

Are you okay?" Cat asked, rubbing the side of her leg and looking up to her.

"M'fine." Ellie nodded and with all the grace of a baby giraffe maneuvered around her friends to get out of the circle. "I'll be back soon, okay? Don't worry."

"Okay, don't be too long." Cat purred giving the hem of her shirt a gentle tug.

Ellie blinked as she pushed her way through the crowd, her eyes staying closed for increasing amounts of times when everything began to blur around her. She could feel a thin layer of sweat seep from her skin as the alcohol tickled the base of her throat.

Finally, she made it to the door and threw it open, stumbling out onto the porch in the crisp night air. She gasped for air, taking in as much of it into her lungs as she possibly could and immediately felt better when the alcohol began to settle.

She earned a few odd looks from the kids outside and she looked down, feeling the prickles of embarrassment on her skin. She hadn't intended to get this drunk, or even drunk at all but it had happened. Cat's games always ended this way but at some point, she just didn't stop raising the alcohol to her lips and she thought back, trying to pinpoint the exact moment where she stopped making that decision.

She swallowed hard, pushing back the bile and fell forward again, holding on to the rails as she descended down the stairs and onto the grass. The different feeling of the earth was almost enough to make her fall but she held it together long enough to get further away from the people and the lights and the sounds.

She stood close to the edge of the bushes, her arms wrapped around her stomach as she heaved the contents of her stomach up, expelling them from her body like a bad poison that was keeping her sick. And just when she thought it was all out she would heave again and more would leave her body.

Finally, when she was certain it was all out she stood up straight, wiping her mouth with her arm and stumbling back away from what she just did before she could be caught in the act. At least with some distance from it, she would have some plausible deniability and maybe Jesse would be her lawyer if someone tried to pin it on her.

Her stomach may have felt marginally better but the world still spun around her, fuzzy on the edges and she found herself closing one eye to ease it.

Moving unsteadily on her feet she took herself a measured distance away from where she had puked and sat down, pulling her knees up to her chest and hugging them close to her body. She only needed a moment, just one moment to just sit until she felt better, and then she would go back inside.

She swallowed hard and looked up to the sky the stars hidden beneath thick grey and purple clouds. No stars meaning she didn't have something to focus on, didn't have something to take away from the awful churning in her stomach. It was going to rain eventually but for now, she was safe, though she was certain she wouldn't go inside yet even if it started pissing down.

How did she get here?

At what point had she thought this would be a good idea?

She shook her head, clenching her fist at her side thinking how pathetic it was that she was out here throwing up when no one else was. All the other fucked up people were still inside having a good time and she had been stupid enough to have one too many drinks leaving her out in the cold on her ass.

Maybe it wasn't just school, maybe she wasn't just tired or worn down.

"Hey." she spoke softly, dropping to the spot beside her on the grass.

"Hey." Ellie replied, remaining staring off into the distance, she wouldn't be able to see her straight if she had turned to look at her anyway.

"Are you okay?" Dina asked and moved her small hand to her back.

Ellie could feel the hesitation in her hand as it rested on her lower back, rubbing gentle circles like she had countless times before but without the uncertainty she felt from the gesture now.

"Yeah." Ellie sighed and closed her eyes, resting her chin on her knees. "I'm fine."

"Are you?" Dina mumbled, her face settled on Ellie's figure.

Why was she even looking at her like that? It didn't help, having someone look at you with pity. She hated it and she wanted to demand she leave her alone but she couldn't find her voice, she couldn't find it in her to send her away and she hated it. She hated that she did this every time to her.

She wanted to ask her why she was here and talking to her when it had been so painfully obvious that this was the last thing she wanted for the past few weeks. She wanted to tell her how much that hurt, how her chest tightened with every mention of her name, or every time she laid sight on her. How every time Jesse mentioned his girlfriend she had to pretend like she hadn't been ignoring her and everything was still okay.

She wanted to ask what she did to deserve something like this.

As far as she was aware she hadn't done a single thing to warrant any of this behavior directed towards her and if she had why couldn't she just tell her so she could fix it or at least make her aware of her supposed shortcomings when it came to their friendship.

Had she been a bad friend?

"What are you thinking about?" Dina asked with a furrowed brow.

Ellie swallowed the saliva that had pooled in her mouth for it only to be replaced with more before she replied. "How awful my mouth tastes."

The black-haired woman chuckled softly and offered a small shake of her head. "As deep as always."

"So deep that you might as well just throw me in a hole in the ground." she quipped, turning her head to face Dina, her cheek now resting on her knee. 

Dina smiled and shook her head, looking down.

She had thought about all the things she had wanted to say and all the things she wanted to ask but when it came down to it, when she looked at her it always all just disappeared from her mind.

Looking at her hurt, but it felt oddly good to be this close to her again.

"What?" Dina asked cheeks stained red with the cold, or the alcohol or something more that she couldn't decipher.

"I just like when you smile." Ellie replied, blinking slowly at her friend.

Dina only rolled her eyes, one corner of her lips not failing to shift upwards into a lopsided smile. "You're drunk."

"You're beautiful." Ellie mumbled barely coherent, her eyes briefly locking with Dina's.

"What?" Dina asked, her eyebrows knitted together tightly.

Ellie opened her mouth to speak but only closed it, swallowing the saliva that had made its return. She shook her head and closed her eyes for a moment pushing the bile back down. When it didn't work she glanced with panic at Dina before raising to her feet and stumbling back over to the bushes to empty the remainder of what sat in her stomach.

She continued to dry heave, the force bringing tears to her eyes and at that moment she wasn't sure if she had ever felt more ashamed in her life but she couldn't stop, her body wouldn't allow it. She was too scared to look behind her. Too scared to find out if Dina was watching how pathetic she was in this instance because this wasn't her. She wasn't someone who did this.

But here she was, throwing up in the bushes like a stupid, drunk teenager.

At some point, she had wanted to turn around and explain to her that she didn't normally do this even though she knew perfectly well that Dina knew this wasn't her but the cliche of it all just brought the heat to her cheeks.

Ellie tensed a little when she felt the warmth of Dina's hand on her back once more, her fingers running the length of her spine and sending a shiver through her entire body that caused Dina to pull away for a moment before returning the contact.

Ellie thought about pulling her shirt off and exposing her skin to the elements just so she could feel her skin against hers again and feel the warmth the contact would leave her with. She instead just looked down ashamed at her own thoughts.

"Just get it out." Dina murmured, bringing her hand to rest on her shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze.

Ellie went to respond, raising her own hand to silence herself as she doubled over again questioning how she even had anything left to bring up. It didn't make sense and she was sure she could attempt to crunch the numbers and not turn up with an answer.

Finally when Ellie took a deep breath and didn't immediately vomit she felt safe enough to turn away from the pile that had pooled near her feet. She glanced down, seeing the splatters of the contents of her stomach on both her own and Dina's shoes.

"I got some on your shoes." she slurred, her eyebrows furrowed in frustration.

"Don't worry about it." Dina said softly not even looking down, just continuing to search Ellie's eyes to make sure she was okay.

"But your shoes." she pouted, motioning to them. "They were good shoes."

"Hey, I said it's okay." Dina said reassuringly giving her shoulder a squeeze. "They're just shoes."

"I liked those shoes." she said with a shake of her head. "I'll clean them for you. Just let me go inside and get the stuff."

"Ellie." Dina smiled squeezing her shoulder a little harder. "Can we get you home?"

Ellie nodded, closing her eyes and swaying uneasily on the spot. "They were my favorite shoes."

There was a smile and Dina looked down.

"Alright, let's get you inside." Dina breathed, shifting under Ellie's arm to make her wrap it around her shoulders to use her body for support.

Reaching around her she pulled her closer, blushing when her fingertips brushed against the unfamiliar tautness of her new muscles. Ellie didn't make it easy, becoming almost a dead weight against her small frame as she helped her inside and back over to their friends.

"Ellie?" Cat asked, rising to her feet to approach her. "Are you alright?"

"I'm fine." Ellie mumbled sleepily, wavering her hand in front of her.

"I found her outside. she should be feeling better pretty soon." Dina offered a smile when Cat turned to look at her.

"Nice, Ellie." Travis laughed. "Thought that would be me tonight but you beat me to it."

"I think she needs to go home." Dina said softly as she glanced at Jesse, readjusting Ellie's arm on her shoulders.

"I can take her." Cat offered, running her hand over Ellie's cheek to snap her out of her sleepy state. "Hey you, we need to get you home."

"Oh, okay." Dina nodded, allowing Cat to take Ellie into her arms.

After all, she was taller than she was, almost the same height as Ellie and she would have a much easier job at carting her home but Dina's hand still lingered on her back unwilling to break the contact.

"Come on, drunk girl." Cat mused, tugging her along.

Ellie's fingers protruding from her cast found Dina's arm, having enough contact for her to grasp it and she held on, her mind not being clear enough for her to register that she shouldn't.

"You can't take both girl's home, Ellie." Dave hollered, slapping his knee and joining in with the chorus of laughter.

Ellie found herself laughing along with them though she wasn't sure why. She looked up at Cat, her smile still even and spread on her face as she laughed with the rest of them before she turned back to look at Dina with a stupid grin on her face. Dina only looked at her confused before looking down at her hand on her arm.

Jesse chuckled and grabbed for Ellie's arm that lingered on Dina's, helping her along. "Come on, Ellie let's get you outta here."

Jesse and Cat helped her to her dorm, Dina lingering close behind them until they reached her door and Ellie pushed them away, fumbling with her keys in the door. Jesse laughed as he took them from her and unlocked the door, pushing it open and allowing her to stumble inside.

"You got it from here?" Jesse asked with a raised brow and if he hadn't have known and trusted Cat he would have put Ellie to bed himself.

"Yeah, she's a handful but we should be able to manage." Cat laughed with him. "Thanks again."

"No problem. Tell her to text me tomorrow, yeah? Let me know how she is." He finished, turning and wrapping his arms around his girlfriend. "Let's get to bed, I'm beat."

"Can I say goodnight to Ellie first?" Dina asked, tugging at Jesse's arm.

"Uh... probably shouldn't." Cat laughed and gestured with head to the room. "Shes uh... taken off most of her clothes already."

Dina pursed her lips.

"Yeah, I don't want to see that." Jesse chuckled. "Goodnight, Cat."

"Night guys." Cat offered with a wave, following Ellie's trail of haphazardly discarded clothing to her bed.

Cat flopped beside her, grinning as she turned to face her, her eyes traveling up and down her pale exposed flesh, only her underwear remaining. "Did you have a good night?"

Ellie groaned, lifting her body from the comforts of her sheets and gracefully draped herself across her friend, burying her face in the crook of her neck and placing drunken wet kisses against her skin.

She felt empty and decidedly wanted to feel anything but, happy to replace that feeling with anything she could get and at the moment she could her hands on Cat.

Cat laughed and pushed at her lightly. "You're drunk."

"You're drunk too." Ellie countered, feeling a little more clear-headed now that she was home as she shifted her hand between her legs.

Cat grasped her face and pulled her lips to hers allowing Ellie to fumble with her pants and smiled against her lips. "Yeah, but not nearly as drunk as you so why don't you slow down there, pal."

Ellie groaned, again burying her face in her neck, breathing in the intoxicating scent of her perfume. "I'm not that drunk and I want you to fuck me." she begged, pleaded for Cat to feel the void.

"Ellie..." Cat groaned, involuntarily moving against her hand.

"I want to fuck you, too." She growled huskily her hand fumbling their way up the woman's shirt and over top of her bra underneath to roughly knead at the flesh. "That way I know you like." Ellie breathed in her ear before taking the lobe between her teeth and nibbling it.

"Fuck, Ellie." Cat murmured shoving her off so she could shed the layers of her clothing without restriction.

Ellie laughed as she lay back, hands sprawled above her head making her easy pickings when Cat threw her leg over her hips and straddled her waist, taking her hands and pinning them tightly above her head.

Cat liked to be on top and in moments like these Ellie didn't mind at all, happy to be underneath her as long as she was getting what she wanted, as long as Cat would kiss her and touch her in the way that made her forget every thought that swam in her mind.

Ellie feigned innocence underneath her, only lightly struggling against her binds to keep up appearances. Cat only rolled her eyes, staring lustfully into her eyes.

"Do you want me to fuck you, Ellie?" She asked all breathy and alluring causing Ellies lower half to ache.

She licked her lips and nodded.

Ellie wasn't sure what was worse, the fact it was now morning and she would have to eventually get up, or the pounding in her head from a warranted hangover. Both were pretty terrible in her opinion.

She groaned and felt the naked body of someone twist beside her and she turned her head to see Cat watching her, holding on to her arm.

"Big night?" she asked with a grin, stretching under the covers.

"I'm never drinking again." She mumbled, feeling the familiar feeling of saliva in her mouth and quickly swallowing it back down.

" I'm sure you say that every time we drink." Cat laughed, sitting up to rest on her arm.

"This time I mean it." Ellie groaned, looking up to meet her eye.

"You also say that every time too." She smiled warmly, tracing her finger up and down the length of Ellie's sternum. "What are you doing today?"

Ellie took a deep breath, bringing her arms behind her head. "Probably dying in bed all day. You?"

"Well, I had hoped you want to do something with me..." Cat trailed off, biting her lower lip in the way that always made Ellie blush.

"You don't have to work?" she asked with a simple tilt of her head.

"Nah, not till later tonight." she replied, shifting her fingers to slide along Ellie's collar bone.

"That's a first." She smirked. "Do you want to spend all day in bed with me? I'm not sure I'd survive getting up..."

"I'm sure there are things we could do to pass the time." Cat offered a sultry smile on her face and just like the night before she climbed on top of Ellie, the sheet covering her falling and showing her naked torso.

 


 

The rest of the weekend went by fast, too fast Ellie decided. The Saturday Ellie had stayed in bed with Cat not doing much of anything until it was time for Jesse's game. It wasn't a particularly important game, the junior varsity playing the varsity team due to a gap in the schedule but Ellie went none the less.

When she had arrived she had sat where she always would, and when Dina appeared she had only looked at her before looking at anything else but her and taking a seat a few rows behind her.

Ellie felt anger when she realized she was wearing her jacket. The one she had allowed her to borrow and had never returned. She hadn't minded when they were friends but now it didn't sit right with her. 

Still, she was too much of a chicken to ask for it back.

She expected it, Dina not sitting with her, after all this had been occurring for a few weeks now but that didn't mean it hurt any less. She thought time would help, but so far it had only seemed to make the strained eye contact worse.

As soon as the whistle blew, Ellie knew that's Jesse's team didn't have much of a chance. She still hoped that they would pull it together, seeing odd flashes of brilliance that left the other team stumped but she wasn't surprised when they got smashed 5 - 1 and neither were they.

There was no animosity between teams as they left the field together, Dina quickly following as soon as the final whistle had blown.

Ellie was thankful her game on Sunday was an away game meaning Jesse wouldn't travel, it was too far away. That also meant she wouldn't look out into the crowd and see Dina and have to wonder if she would be there if Jesse wasn't. She liked to think she would come regardless but she knew better, reality was far more cruel.

She pulled her headphones on and her hoody up, staring out the bus window into the murky grey and purple of the sky as the rain padded her window and she laughed, laughed because she knew she was currently some cliche out of some sappy movie but she couldn't help it.

She felt sad and she didn't know how to fix it.

When she looked at her phone she had the usual texts for Joel and Jesse, wishing her luck for her game. A selfie from Cat wishing her the same. There was a decisive lack of a message from Dina, she hadn't texted her good luck in a long time and she felt empty.

The game was standard if not somewhat boring, their team going up 2 in the first 15 minutes and dominating the rest but Ellie couldn't enjoy it. She celebrated with her team but she couldn't mean the smile on her face.

The bus ride back was miserable, everyone wet and muddy, too tired from the game to share the excitement they had had earlier on the way to the game and after their triumph. Ellie still stared out the window, the rain hitting harder than it had before and she sighed, drumming her fingers against her thigh to keep her mind somewhat preoccupied.

She decided to pull out her phone, ignoring the other messages she had received. She clicked on her playlist before deciding to look into the one Dina had shared with her and she had followed. There were a few new songs she had never heard before and she immediately put them on, immediately feeling her heart sink at how sad they all were but she couldn't shut them off.

She sighed and navigated to her messages then clicked on Dina's name. She paused, thinking of what she should say or if she should say anything. She knew that was the better choice, to put her phone away but she just couldn't help it. Her thumbs began to move before her mind could even counter her body.

Maybe she just needed to reach out? Try again and make it work.

"Did you hear about the restaurant on the moon?"

She smiled to herself as she laid her phone face down on her thigh, closing her eyes as she listened to her music. It was sometime before she opened them again, realizing the sounds of the rain on the window, and the gentle motion of the bus has lulled her into a light sleep.

When it bumped her awake she immediately reached down and picked up her phone, realizing some time had passed and still nothing.

She sighed again, penning the final bit of the pun because who cares, right? Dina wasn't going to reply anyway so what were two messages in the grand scheme of things. She at least thought it was funny.

"I heard the food was good but it had no atmosphere."

Chapter Text

December came around quick for Ellie, the snow coming even faster. She was sure one moment it had only been sleeting, then the next the entire campus was covered in inches of snow that never seemed to let up. 

While Ellie could concede that there was something beautiful about it, and she enjoyed the way the chill in the air left her cheeks red and stinging or how the snowflakes settled and melted on her skin but she still hated the slowness it brought with it. How everything seemed to grind to a halt because no one could do anything. 

You couldn't just go have lunch with friends on campus or plan impromptu trips because you just simply couldn't get anywhere. It made the simplest of tasks dangerous. The only upside of the season was that Ellie was able to pick up a lot more shifts at the coffee shop. It seemed having nothing to do, the students flocked to get warm beverages, anything to take the chill out of their bodies after having to trudge through the snow to classes all day.

Today was no different, Ellie busily taking orders and making coffees for the typical horde of students that came in every day in the early afternoon either before or after their last class of the day. As much as she would complain about it, this was her favorite time as it didn't afford her time to have to make the typical small talk that would be expected from a customer interaction or time for her to regress into her own mind.

She felt she had been better at that of late, knowing when she was getting too deep in the hole to pull herself and doing something that would busy her. Whether it was school or guitar, Jesse or Cat, she understood the trigger and would reach out before she let herself stoop to the sad state she had earlier in the year.

She smiled, glancing over her shoulder when she felt Cat's hand brush against her ass as she walked passed her a small blush creeping it's way across her skin before she turned back to the customer she was serving.

The other thing that had made these busy days bearable was the fact that her girlfriend was often working them with her when their schedules allowed for it. 

She had never asked Cat to be her girlfriend, the term still foreign on her tongue, and Cat had never explicitly asked her either. In fact, the pair had never talked about it before and it was just something that had come to be after Cat had introduced her as such one day when meeting some of her art friends. Ellie didn't correct her or feel anything much towards the new title, either way, nothing had changed between them and she felt some kind of relief having some kind of label put on whatever it was and knowing where she stood in her eyes.

"Here." Cat purred, leaning over Ellie's shoulder and setting the cup down for the customer in front of her. "Have a nice day."  she finished, too close to Ellie's ear to be an accident.

She shuddered, her breath tickling her ear as she echoed the sentiment before sliding the cup further across the counter. "Have a good day."

Ellie quickly turned around and swatted at Cat, shooting her a look somewhere between want and scolding which only caused her to laugh as she went back over to the coffee machine to continue making the beverages.

Ellie served the last few of the rush before breathing a sigh of relief, glad it was all over for now. She wiped her hands on the black apron tied around her waist before she turned around and leaned back against the counter, arms folded across her chest. 

"You know, you don't make working easy when you do that." she remarked with a cocked brow.

"I'm not trying to make work easy for you." Cat grinned, turning away from her to wipe down the machine. "I'm making it easier for me."

Ellie rolled her eyes before turning back around, ignoring the laugh from the boy who was sharing the shift with them today and she ignored his remark which Cat laughed at.

"Yo, Ellie." Jesse greeted, stepping close to the counter and holding out his fist.

"Jesse." Ellie beamed, offering hers out until they met. "What's up, man?"

"Hey." Dina said softly as she stepped up beside him, deciding that reading the menu board was more interesting than making any kind of contact with Ellie's being.

Ellie didn't fail to notice the way her cheeks were painted pink from her cheekbones to the bridge of her nose, making her freckles stick out more than they normally would and the way she looked down and hid her mouth with the thick scarf around her neck.

"Hey, Dina." Ellie said kindly.

"It's fucking cold." he chuckled, pulling his jacket more firmly around his neck. "I can't wait for this shit to be over already."

"Tell me about it. I'm glad I'm in here today and not out there." she replied with a small shrug. "Do you want your usual?"

"You know me so well." Jesse cooed, stuffing his hands in his pocket to retrieve his wallet.

"Yours too, Dina?" Ellie asked, writing Jesse's order on the cup and handing it to Cat before picking up another cup ready to jot down Dina's.

"You know my order?" Dina asked with a raised brow. "I've only been here like, once."

"Vanilla latte, one sugar." she said with a small shrug. "Jesse's ordered for you enough." she quickly added when no one said anything.

Dina only rolled her eyes and looked away but not before Ellie caught the small smile threatening to break her pursed lips. 

"She's got you there." Jesse replied for her and nudged her with her elbow.

Ellie smiled back and looked down, penning the order on the cup and handing it to Cat as well, her fingers lingering on hers before she turned back to her friends.

"Oh hey, I saw you got the role you auditioned for. Congrats." Ellie said kindly, wanting this interaction to both continue and end at the same time.

"Thanks." Dina replied. "It's been tough." she offered after a short silence.

Ellie nodded. "I bet."

"She's gonna crush it." Jesse grinned, wrapping his arms tightly around her body and pulling her close. "Honestly, it's like you said Ellie, I don't reckon anyone stood a chance. The practice has been pretty brutal though, aye babe?"

"Mhmm." Dina replied with a small nod.

"You'll come watch, right? It's still a long while away but you'll come watch it with me, yeah?" Jesse asked with a waggle of his brows. "It'll be pretentious and shit and we can both be out of place but pretend like we fit in."

"Oh yeah, sure." Ellie replied. "I would love to go. If that's alright?" she asked, her eyes slowly meeting Dinas.

"Why wouldn't it be alright?" Jesse laughed, removing a few bills from his wallet and handing them over to Ellie. "You're such a fucking weirdo sometimes."

Ellie rolled her eyes much like Dina had earlier and shook her head. "It's on me."

Cat placed the cups on the counter, saying her hello's before turning back to the machine and Ellie handed them to her friends. 

"I could get used to this treatment." Jesse grinned thankfully taking it from her. "You're gonna be like my sugar momma before I know it."

"Thanks." Dina mumbled.

"We're just gonna stay for a little, hopefully, the snow stops a bit by the time we finish our drinks," Jesse remarked with a wave over his shoulder as they moved towards a free table.

"Ow." Ellie groaned, rubbing at the back of her head she turned around, looking down at the crumpled up piece of paper at her feet. "What was that for?"

Cat only looked at her, a sly smirk on her face.

"You're gonna pay for that." Ellie muttered, a look of determination in her eyes. 

"Oh yeah? What are you going to do about it?" Cat challenged, reaching out to playfully shove Ellie's shoulder. 

Ellie bit the inside of her cheek, a devious smirk capturing her lips. "Nothing."

"Nothing?" Cat whined, taking her hand and giving it a tug.

"Nothing." Ellie simply replied, pulling her hand away from Cat's contact. "Pete, can you tell Cat that I'm going to do nothing." she added, turning around towards the til to greet a young woman who had just stepped up.

"Uh, Cat. Ellie said she's going to do nothing..." he said with a small laugh. "I don't think that sounds good for you."

"I know that, Pete." she groaned, taking the cup from Ellie. "What's nothing supposed to mean?"

Ellie continued her nonchalant facade. "It means that maybe when we finish tonight you'll be going home alone."

"Sucks to be you." Pete teased, nudging Cat with his shoulder. "It's a tough life being an ass."

Cat rolled her eyes. "As if she would leave me here, alone, to fend for myself in the cold, to find my own way home."

Ellie smiled, glancing over to Dina and Jesse as they sat in the corner. He was talking animatedly about something that clearly excited him and she could tell Dina was doing her best to react as enthusiastically but it didn't quite reach her eyes. Probably something to do with something nerdy, which reminded her she needed to ask him about the Savage Starlight comic that had just come out.

She would pretend she didn't see it, but she didn't miss the way Dina would glance over in her direction before pointedly looking down and away or burying her face in her coffee cup every time Ellie offered her a sincere smile.

She wasn't sure why Dina did that. If she wanted to say something to her she could just come right over and say it, she wouldn't have cared whatever it was. Even if it was to uninvite her to the show Jesse had just invited her too, at least that would be better than the stares from across the room.

She didn't think she hated it, it made the uncomfortable silence between them somewhat bearable having some form of contact even if it meant they only had that contact from the other side of the room.

She didn't feel angry at Dina anymore for what she had done, for how she had handled their friendship. She knew that she also shared some of the blame, not being enough of an adult to even ask what she had done wrong and maybe deep down she thought it had all been her fault, maybe the way she had felt had leaked through her casual demeanor, immediately feeling guilty every time she thought back to when she had touched her ass at that party, or all the times she had held her just a little too close.

So she couldn't blame the distance she had put between them.

It had become easier hanging out with Jesse and Dina together. While they didn't share that same easy flow and most times it felt somewhat strained to reply to her short replies they were able to keep up appearances around Jesse, having him only ask Ellie once if something had happened. Obviously she had answered truthfully, no, because as far as she knew nothing had happened.

"Do you want to go have your break early and go sit with your friends, Ellie?" Cat asked sweetly as if she hadn't just pelted her.

"Oh, you're being nice to me now?" Ellie asked with an amused expression on her face.

Cat stepped up to her, gently pressing her lips on her cheeks as she reached behind her to untie her apron and pull it off. "I'll show you later how nice I can be."

Ellie smirked and returned her earlier playful shove. "I'll think about it."

She turned away, leaving a laughing Cat and Pete behind as she sauntered over to the table where Dina and Jesse sat, pulling a spare chair from another table she placed it facing backward to the table so she could sit down and rest her arms and chin on the back.

"You're allowed to hang out with us?" Jesse asked, shoving her in the shoulder.

"Boss gave me permission." she gave a tired yawn. "I'm fucking beat. This weather always makes me so tired."

"You're telling me." Jesse replied, his own yawn finding his lips. "Are you going home for Christmas, still?"

"Yeah. I think Joel would kill me if I didn't." she laughed with a casual wave of her hand. "Plus I miss them, I think more than I realized I would," she admitted honestly looking down. 

"Yeah, adjusting has been pretty hard. I'm even excited to see my asshole brothers." 

"How are you getting back?" Ellie asked with an arched brow.

"Parents have brought me a plane ticket." he said with a small shrug.

"Lame. We should have gone together." she pouted, resting her chin back on her arms. 

"They had already brought my ticket home before I even decided I would, you know mom." he pulled his face. "You're still going to come for Christmas dinner though, right? Joel's welcome too."

"Duh." Ellie grumbled. "It's tradition. You know it's impossible to get Joel to go anywhere though. Dina, you're going home too?"

"Yeah." she nodded. "I atleast have to make it for the last night of Hanukkah. Talia would personally drive here and escort me if I had tried to bail."

"Bummer." Ellie offered with a small nod. "I'm sure it'll be nice seeing your family again though."

Dina gave a small shrug in return, turning her attention back to her cup.

"Yo, you want to hit the gym with me tonight?" Jesse asked, pretending to flex his arm. "Get swol for our families before we head home."

Ellie hummed. "Can't tonight, I promised Cat I'd go to hers. Tomorrow night? I'm ready to embarrass you in front of all the jocks."

"As if." Jesse replied with a roll of his eyes. "But you're on."

"Alright, just text me when. I better get back to work." Ellie nodded, raising from her chair before returning it to where she got it. "I'll see you tomorrow. See you around, Dina. I hope you have a nice holiday."

"You too, Ellie." she said softly, a small smile on her lips.

Ellie pursed her lips, giving a few short nods before excusing herself from the situation.

 


 

"But babe." Cat whined, straddling Ellie on the couch, completely ignoring the movie she had asked to watch. "You're telling me that you may not even have reception while you're there and you've been mean to me all night?"

Ellie smiled, running her hands up Cat's bare thighs. "I might not have it all the time, it's spotty at best out there. It's in the middle of bum fuck nowhere, Cat."

"How will you keep me company then?" Cat pouted, sitting back on Ellie's thighs.

"You know you could like, go see your family too?" Ellie offered, digging her nails into her flesh.

A small gasp escaped Cat's lips and she looked down at her girlfriend from her height advantage. "You know that's never going to happen."

Ellie leaned up and nipped at the skin under her chin, enjoying the sound it made leaving her lips. "How about the countless other people that fawn over you, then?"

"It's not the same." she continued to grumble, closing her eyes as Ellie's hands roamed her body. "I don't want to sleep with them and well... they're not you."

"Oh?" she asked, taking the opportunity to bite down on her neck.

"Y-yeah." Cat stammered, wrapping her arms around Ellie's neck. "

"It's only just over a week. It could be worse, I could be going for the full three." Ellie offered, pulling at the front of Cat's shirt and when she pulled away enough she lifted it over her head, tossing it carelessly to the side. "You're a big girl, you'll survive."

Cat sighed, dropping her entire weight against Ellie and closing her eyes. "I'm not sleeping with you tonight." she stated matter of fact. "Maybe then you'll make an effort to make sure you have reception or come home sooner."

"I'm not sure that's how it works." Ellie chuckled, running her hands up and down Cat's back. "I'll talk to you when I can but I'll also be helping Joel out a lot."

"Oh yeah? I didn't think about that." Cat frowned, before shifting to press her lips against Ellie's. 

"You want to come get your hands dirty?" she asked with an arched brow.

Cat laughed against her lips. "No way, not a chance in hell. Not with these hands." she remarked, creeping her fingers up Ellie's toned stomach. "These hands weren't made for hard work, you know."

Ellie rolled her eyes. "You know, no one would know you were such a princess just be looking at you."

Cat smirked, sitting back on Ellie's thighs again and watched the way her eyes traveled from her face down to her bare breasts. "And if you tell anyone I'd have to kill you."

"I'm gonna tell everyone." Ellie smirked back, a devious glint in her eye.

Cat leaned back down and bit Ellie's neck hard, earning a whimper in response. "Then you have to die." she whispered, placing another hard bite.

"Enough." Ellie pleaded, shoving at her gently. "Your secret is safe with me. I ain't no snitch."

"Good." Cat grinned, pressing her forehead to Ellie's and looking into her eyes. "I'm going to miss you, though."

Ellie slid her hands over Cat's cheeks, pulling her closer and again taking her lips against her own before daring to deepen the kiss and slipping her tongue into her mouth, pushing further when she felt Cat moan into her mouth.

 


 

The trip home had been long and it took longer than it should have with the weather being so poor the last couple of days meaning everyone was being overly cautious which Ellie didn't mind, she definitely would have been if no one else was.

Before she even made it in the house an old german shepherd bounded over to her from his spot on the porch, like a puppy bouncing up and trying to lick at her face. She laughed as she crouched down, running her hands all over his body and making sure she scratched all his favorite parts.

"I missed you too, Koby." she grinned, scooping her arms under him and lifting him up where he remained licking at her face but no longer thrashing around.

She carried him to the porch, exhaling deeply as she set him down, giving him one final pat on the head. "Think you're getting fat boy."

She pushed through the always unlocked door, the dog following hot on her heels and took in the house, everything being just as she had left it. She figured nothing would have changed but it still worried her.

"Joel!" Ellie hollered, dropping her bag in the entryway and kicking her boots haphazardly off.

She sighed, sinking down into the couch, enjoying the familiar feeling of the old material sink under her weight and she ran her hand over the matrial on either side of herself. It was old and had been around just as long as she had but it still had life left in it and she would hate to see it go when it was its time. It reminded her of home. The time they had spent bonding watching 80's movies late into the night. How Joel would fall asleep and Ellie would turn the TV off and drape a blanket over his figure before heading up to bed.

Koby was quick to jump up and sat at her side, she knew he would get in trouble for it but also knew Joel had a weak spot for the two of them being partners in crime for as long as Ellie had been in Joel's life. She absentmindedly ruffled his hair as she sat back.

"Ellie, is that you?" Joel asked appearing from the top of the stairs. "You made good time." he remarked jogging his way down to the bottom. "How was the trip?"

Ellie immediately rose to her feet and took long strides over to him before stopping short, looking down with a blush on her cheeks and Joel did the same, nervously folding his arms across his chest.

She was going to hug him, she had intended to hug him but as she got closer she talked herself out of it.

"Good... It was good. The roads are pretty bad." she said with a small nod of her head. "Hopefully the weather settles down or you'll be stuck with me a while longer than I was planning."

Joel chuckled, motioning for her to following him into the kitchen. "You say that like it's a bad thing. The only thing we don't miss is your terrible jokes." he finished, pulling two beers out the fridge and handing one to Ellie.

"Funny, that's the one thing I don't miss about you." she smiled at him before popping the top off the beer and bringing it to her lips. "Where's Tommy?"

"He went into town to get us dinner. Thought we better not poison you on your first night here." he gave a small shrug but there was a warmness to his tone that Ellie missed. "We'll save that for tomorrow. He uh, won't be here after tomorrow for at least a week, he's planning on being back just beofre christmas, though. You remember that new lady friend I told you about?"

Ellie raised both her eyebrows. "No way."

"Yeah, reckons it's about time they spent some time together to get a feel for the relationship..." he trailed off, the words not coming easily to him. "Almost couldn't talk him into committing to it, reckons he was letting me down but he knows you'll be able to keep an eye on me in his absence."

"Well, shit." Ellie smiled. "About time he found someone. I was beginning to think he was a lost cause."

"Reckon he thought that too." he said softly, rubbing at his beard.

Ellie dropped the beer to the counter, keeping her hand pressed firmly against the cold glass. "How's everything been going here?"

Joel gave a shrug, bringing his drink to his lips and taking a long drink. "We're building a new barn at the moment." he began, pointedly avoiding her question. "You can help with that if you like."

"Sure." she nodded slowly. 

"Jesse home for the holidays too?" Joel asked after a short comfortable silence.

"Yeah, after Christmas lunch I'm going to head around there. You're invited too." she offered knowing he rarely would accept.

"Too much to do around here." he drawled. "But you have fun, and say hello for us. Make sure you thank them too."

"I'm not twelve, Joel. I have manners." she huffed.

"I reckon I ain't seen them yet." she scoffed back before smiling. "It's good to have you home, kiddo."

Ellie took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I missed you, Joel."

She opened her eyes when she felt two strong arms wrap tightly around her body, resting his bearded face on the top of her head. "I missed you too, Ellie." she said soothingly.

It took a moment for her to reciprocate but she quickly wrapped her arms around him, holding him just as tightly and for the first time in months she felt more at peace than she had in a long time.

Suddenly she felt another two arms around them and another head against hers and she struggled to get free only to be met with a chorus of laughter.

"Tommy, what the heck do you think you're doing!" Joel yelled, the faint hue of embarrassment on his face, barely hidden by his beard.

"I missed you both too." he hollered, his voice hoarse with laughter.

Ellie rolled her eyes and brought her beer back to her mouth. 

She missed this.

 


 

Christmas day went how it always had. With Tommy back the night before they all rose early and did their chores before returning home for breakfast. Ellie helped them but it didn't make the food taste any better. She didn't mind that the toast was burnt though or the eggs were overdone, it reminded her more of home than any perfectly cooked meal would have.

After breakfast, they continued with the work before returning early for lunch. Tommy and Joel had spent the night beforehand cooking a ham and turkey for their traditional Christmas lunch like they had every year before starting when Ellie had moved in. 

Ellie had attempted to help by preparing the potatoes and carrots then the dessert but she was certain she was more of a hindrance than anything else and definitely didn't have any faith it was going to taste good.

They all still laughed though, early into the morning before making their way to bed.

Regardless lunch was better than she ever remembered it being. Maybe she had just missed it more than she thought she had.

She decided that now was the best moment to give Joel his gift, trotting out to the truck to retrieve it from the back seat. They had decided a long time ago not to exchange gifts, considering it to not be them but Ellie had also decided that Joel had already given her gifts this year, allowing her to attend college and gifting her his old car so she only deemed it fair that she get him something too.

Knowing she was about to get told off she skulked into the house, holding the case as much behind her back as she could but knowing she couldn't hide the entire thing from view.

"What's that?" Joel asked, putting the book he was reading from his spot on his recliner down and sitting up straight.

"Don't be mad, but I kind of got you a gift." she began, trailing off like a scared child.

"Ellie." he warned, his voice stern. "We don't do gifts."

"Yeah, I know..." she said softly, shifting on her feet. "But you've done so much for me and I wanted to do something nice for you. So here." she finally finished, quickly bringing it in front of her and dropping it in Joel's lap.

He frowned at her, his eyebrows knitted more tightly together than she thought she had ever seen them before turning his attention to the case in his hands. He placed it on to the coffee table, flipping the clasps open before lifting the lid. 

"Remember when we used to go to the music store together and you would always spend way too long looking at that one guitar..." she took a deep breath, watching his expression change from anger to confusion. "Well, that one wasn't there anymore, so that sucked but that one there was the next best thing."

Joel reached out, running his fingers along the wood before gripping the neck and lifting it out, placing it on his lap. He stroked his fingers over the strings, listening intently to the sound before he placed his hands over them to stop it. He looked back up to Ellie.

"C'mere." he mumbled, holding out his arms and she immediately leaned down to give him a hug. "You didn't have to do this. This was too much."

She laughed and finally pulled away, certain she may have seen a tear rolling down his cheek but she ignored it instead of making fun of him. "It was nothing, really." she gave a shrug before turning around to her uncle and retrieving an envelope from her pocket. "And of course I didn't forget you."

He looked at the envelope skeptically, turning it over in his hands before looking at her confused.

"It's one of those fancy gift cards that you can use anywhere." she smirked before glancing at Joel. "You can use it to take your girlfriend somewhere nice."

"Joel!" Tommy hollered, raising his fist at him. "You said you wouldn't tell."

He held his hand up in defeat, grinning. "I didn't tell her everything. Just that you weren't going to be here tomorrow... Maybe you could tell her yourself. I'm going to go play my new gift." he rose to his feet, carefully carrying it out the back door to the porch.

"Don't." Tommy warned, rising to his feet and starting for his bedroom. "Thank you for the gift though, Ellie. It was very kind of you."

Ellie threw herself down on the couch, a deep smile etched on to her face as she listened to the melodies coming from outside. She retrieved her phone from her pocket, clicking to Cat's name and seeing all the not safe for work pictures she had sent last night that she had only just received.

 



Ellie arrived at Jesse's house just as it was getting dark and before she even had the chance to knock the door opened, Jesse's mother standing there beaming at her.

"Hello, Mrs. Nguyen." Ellie greeted the small older woman before her with a small bow.

"Ellie, don't be silly! You call me Robin." she replied in the typical mom fashion and reached out for Ellie's hand, pulling her into a tight embrace. "Look at you." she added when she finally released her, looking her up and down. "Are you taller?"

"I don't think so." Ellie mumbled with a nervous laugh. 

"Hmm." she pursed her lips. "You're too skinny now, maybe that's it. We'll fatten you up tonight." she laughed and Ellie blushed. "How's that old man of yours?"

"Good." she said with a small nod, allowing Robin to push her towards the living room. "He said sorry he can't make it but to say merry Christmas."

"We'll send you home with a plate for him. I bet he's missed you." she beamed, forcing her to sit down on the most expensive-looking sofa Ellie had ever seen, sure it was new. "We're so happy Jesse is home. Has he been keeping out of trouble?"

"Of course." Ellie nodded. "I only ever see him studying and training. Very diligent." she lied.

"What about girls?" she asked, whispering close to her ear.

Ellie blushed hard, again laughed nervously and opened her mouth to respond only to thankfully been cut off.

"Mother! Leave Ellie alone. The last thing she needs is you badgering her." he teased, throwing himself down beside her. 

"Oh shush." she replied, swatting at Jesse's shoulder before she leaned down and pinched his cheek. "We just love you two so much, we only want what's best."

"Don't worry Robin, you won't catch Jesse getting into trouble under my watch." she smirked, meeting Jesse's eye. 

"That's what I worry about." a male voice boomed behind them and Ellie turned around fast enough to see Jesse's father enter the room. "You two don't know how to stay out of trouble."

Ellie grinned sheepishly as he came to rest in front of her, leaning down to press a kiss to her cheek. 

"It's good to see you, Ellie. You're looking well." he beamed, resting his hand on her shoulder before taking a seat in the chair opposite them.

"You too. How's everything been going at work?" she asked sincerely as she leaned forward a little in interest.

He rubbed at the crease on his forehead. "Honestly, it's all boring old farts all day." he said with a sigh. "The last thing you kids need to hear about. Why don't you tell me about your school? How's soccer?"

Jesse turned to Ellie and smiled before turning back to fill his father in on everything that had happened since they started including how he was acing all his classes, and how well Ellie was doing- deciding to leave out the fact that she was not acing her classes, and how well they both were doing in soccer.

He listened intently, hanging on every word as he patiently waited for them to finish.

It wasn't long until the maid came and announced that dinner was ready and they excited to the living room into the dining room and if Ellie hadn't been here a thousand times before she might have been surprised by how extravagant and over the top, it seemed but she had so instead she just smiled and took a seat in her usual spot at the table.

Jesse's family was rich, there was no denying that. They had money and they had nice things that showcased that, but they weren't the typical snobby kind of rich that generally came with that. They were nice and polite, respectful of everyone's social and economical surroundings. 

They had always been accomodating to Ellie, never making her feel out of place or unwelcome and let her know that she always had a home there, no matter what. 

When they had come over to her house for dinner, they never once acted like they were better than what they had or what they had offered them, finding common ground with Joel and Tommy making them feel at ease in their own surrounding.

Ellie was thankful that she had such good role models in both her and Jesse's family growing up.

When she felt her phone vibrate in her pocket, she didn't cheek it considering it was rude to in their home as they ate dinner. It had never been a rule but she felt like it should have been.

Once dinner was over they had a drink together in the lounge, sharing stories about their year and stories from their youth before his parents excused themselves for bed. Jesse and his two older brothers stayed up after that playing games together until the early hours of the morning until they peeled themselves away, Ellie holding on to a triumphant smile having beaten all of them much to their disappointment and the amount of trash talking they all had done.

Sleepy, Ellie finally resigned herself to driving home despite protests from Jesse to stay the night. She knew she would have to be up early in the morning to help Joel and didn't want to let him down with Tommy gone.

When she got home she however glanced at the backseat of the truck, seeing her own guitar on the backseat still. Jumping out of the cab she leaned in and grabbed it out, holding the neck tightly in her hand as she trudged through the snow up to the porch of the house. She took a seat on the chair outside and placed the guitar on her lap, playing a few chords and feeling the cold air sting her fingers.

She didn't hate it though, helping keep the fact she was alone now from flooding her consciousness. Only now she began to feel that familiar sinking feeling creep into the pit of her stomach.

She brought her hands to her lips, breathing warm air on her fingers, the breath lingering in a cloud in the air as it blew away.

The holidays always had a strange way of making her feel like this. Even though she was always around people who loved her more than anything, it left her feeling more alone at the end of it. She wasn't sure when she had started feeling that way or how long it had been going on for but for as long as she could remember it had been the cavernous feeling in her chest the second everyone went to bed.

Maybe it was because everyone had their family and while she had her family too, she didn't have any blood family. As much as Joel and Tommy loved her that was one thing they couldn't give her and it was silly, silly because she didn't need someone to relate to her in that way but it was still an insecurity in the back of her mind.

Blood relations couldn't leave you, they were always tied to you in a way no one else could be. They couldn't just pretend that one day they didn't want to have you around because they would always have that connection. Joel and Tommy had never given her any reason to believe that that would ever happen, nor did she truly believe it herself but there was always a slim chance that she could fuck up enough that could happen.

It was a fucked up thought, but all she had was fucked up thoughts. Maybe if she shared it with Joel he would help ease the feeling but she knew she never would, she couldn't even begin to imagine the hurt he would feel from something like that. The last thing she would ever want to do is hurt him.

Deep down she knew the thing that scared her the most was to be alone. She had spent most of her life alone and she wasn't sure she could return to that. Certain it would kill her. She was soft now, not hard and jagged like she had been before Joel. She wouldn't last being left alone and forgotten as much as her bravado pretended she would be.

When it came down to it, she just didn't want to be alone anymore. She wanted to find that one person that when she held their hand she would just know that she wouldn't be.

She frowned as she reached into her pocket and she pulled out her phone, her numb fingers finding it hard to click on the unread messages. She had a few but only one caught her attention. She immediately clicked on it, noticing it was sent a couple of hours ago and she kicked herself for not checking it sooner though she wasn't sure she would have replied right away anyways.

Dina: "Can we talk?"

Her finger hovered over the green call button for a while as she looked out into the distance, the flurry of snow making it hard for her to see very far. 

Could they talk? She wasn't sure.

She couldn't think of a single thing for them to need to talk about now so what was the point? It wouldn't change the long-standing silence between them or the forgotten glances. Still, she found herself craving hearing the sound of her voice because even after everything she still meant a lot to her.

She pressed it, bringing the cold phone to her ear and watching her ragged breaths continue to float off into the night sky. She listened to it ring once, twice, three times. She had text that hours ago and was probably asleep now. Ellie began to feel embarrassed, knowing she would see the missed call made at one in the morning from her.

And Ellie felt stupid because who even does that? Who makes phone calls at one in the morning?

Just as she was about to end the call the ringing stopped and there was a distinct shuffling on the other end as the phone was brought up and Ellie wondered if Dina did the same, sat there wondering if she should answer.

"Ellie?" the strained voice on the other end asked barely above a whisper.

"Is everything okay?" she asked, her voice similarly small.

"Ellie..." Dina breathed before the line was wracked with a quiet sob.

"Hey, it's okay..." Ellie frowned, her eyebrows deeply furrowed as she held the phone tightly in her hand. 

Ellie listened intently as Dina quietly sobbed on the other end, her breathing heavy and ragged on the line and her heart broke unable to do anything to help her being so far away, that she couldn't just run to her room and hold her as she had before.

"Dina, listen..." Ellie whispered. "Whatever's wrong, it's going to be alright. Here, listen to me..." she finished, dropping the phone from her ear and putting it on speaker before placing it beside her.

She swallowed the lump in her throat and placed the guitar back on her lap, looking down at her fingers on the fretboard before she slowly began to strum the song she knew Dina loved like she had many times Dina had come to her unable to sleep. Her hands were shaky and cold, causing her to mess up at the start before she pushed on, doing her best to get it perfect for her.

She listened closely to the other line continuing to play. Before long her breathing began to slow and after a moment longer her breathing was shallow and even. Ellie wasn't sure whether or not she was awake, having tuckered herself out from crying or if she was just laying there in silence but judging by the familiar breaths she was sure she had now fallen asleep.

She sighed and when the song started again she swallowed the lump in her throat before licking her lips and in the quietest of voices began to sing.

"And I'll be okay, admiring from afar.
'Cause even when she's next to me,
We could not be more far apart.

She continued strumming, repeating the next few chords over and over again before finding it in herself to continue.

"And she tastes like birthday cake and storytime and fall
But to her"

She paused closing her eyes as she rested her palm along the strings to cut the music before she opened her eyes and sighed again.

"I taste of nothing at all." she breathed the air feeling thick in her lungs as she inhaled.

She looked down at her phone, the call still connected and the muffled sounds of sleep coming through the speaker. She wasn't sure what to do, wasn't sure if she should disconnect. She pursed her lips, holding the neck of the guitar tightly in her hand as she rose to her feet before grabbing her phone and quietly sneaking into the house. 

She leaned it against the wall by the door and continued to pad quietly up the stairs to her room. Gently she placed the phone down on her bed before sliding out of her clothes and climbing into bed. She placed the phone beside her head on the pillow, keeping her eyes on the timer, 47 minutes and 36 seconds so far, her ears trained to Dina's steady breathing.

Whatever the right decision was, she didn't want to hang up. If Dina woke up and needed her she would be right here. 

She allowed her eyes to close, her mind wandering to all the reasons why Dina would be so upset and not being able to understand a single one of them. She thought about calling Jesse and letting him know, surely he would understand better than she would now but obviously she had called her for a reason and if she needed Jesse, she would call him.

Eventually, sleep claimed her, calmed by the gentle snores of Dina on the other end. When she woke she was certain the call was still connected but when she heard a rustle on the other end and the sound of someone calling Dina's name it quickly ended, leaving nothing but a blank screen for Ellie to stare at.

She sighed heavily, rolling on to her back and stared at the dark ceiling, a habit that she had claimed at school that left her feeling a void in her chest always. 

From the moment she woke up, she knew the day was going to be tough but when she heard her phone ring beside her she thought for a moment that it might not be. 

Reaching over her body she grasped it in her hand before pulling the screen in front of her face. She wasn't sure what she had expected, but Cat had been the last person on her mind. 

She accepted the call and brought the phone to her ear.

"Hey, Cat..."

 


 

Ellie held the reigns of her horse tightly, her knuckles as white as the snow that blanketed the ground under its hooves. On the hill, she surveyed the land around her. Joel stepped up beside her on his horse. He pawed out the ground and snorted, thick clouds of air leaving his nostrils.

They weren't looking for another particular but thought they could take a ride before Ellie had to return to school.

"Think Callus is getting too old to carry someone as heavy as you around?" Ellie asked with an amused smirked as she maneuvered the rifle on her shoulder.

"I don't know whether you're calling my horse old or me fat." Joel breathed, keeping his eyes on the land before him.

"Both." she chuckled, digging her heels into the side of her horse, spurring him forward and she started off down the hill along the fence line.

"Shimmer isn't young either." he replied with a roll of his eyes, doing the same to keep up with Ellie.

"Excuse me, Shimmer will be forever young." she yelled over her shoulder. "Koby too. And you, I suppose."

"That's not how it works." Joel replied, smiling to himself as they began to slow again catching up to her side. "So uh... school, huh?" he asked, looking down.

"School?" she scoffed. "What? School is school."

"But like, is there anyone at school..." he trailed off, stumbling over his words.

"What? Like friends? I have friends, Joel." she laughed, shaking her head. "You know I am capable of having positive human interaction and people other than Jesse like me."

"I know!" Joel groaned, exacerbated. "I just mean... special friends... You're nineteen now and at college and well..."

"Oh my god, Joel." Ellie frowned. "Do not continue that sentence."

"I'm just saying if there was someone you could tell me about them and well... I'd just want to know that you were safe." He blushed deeper than the pink his cheeks held from the snow, purposefully keeping his face away from Ellie.

"Please don't," she begged, also turning her head away from Joel. "I'm not a child, Joel. You don't need to have the sex talk with me." 

"Alright..." he began, thinking hard as he glanced back over to Ellie. "It's just, I worry about you..."

"Joel. Christ." Ellie groaned loudly, bringing her hand up to rub at her face. 

"And I care about you." he continued. "I definitely don't need to know about you know... that stuff but is there anyone?" he said unsure before adding. "Special in your life?"

Ellie thought about it hard, wondering if she should tell him about Cat or even the fact that she wasn't interested in men. He had always joked about her and Jesse getting together and how he had been expecting to hear it every time she called, but she knew it was just that, a joke. Other than that he had never pressured that part of her life.

She always wondered if he knew and they just had some understanding that it never needed to be said because even if he knew he never said a thing. She had never talked about boys before with him, but she also had never spoken about girls either.

She thought to Dina and Jesse and how easy it must have been for them to just be together, obviously being straight being more acceptable than a homosexual relationship. Sometimes she questioned why she couldn't be normal like them, it would have made it easier for her when she was growing up to not be so confused about what she was feeling.

Thanks to Joel's acceptance of her she was now more sure of herself, confident even in her sexuality yet she still didn't feel like she could just come out and say it to him and he never pressured her.

When she thought about it though, she didn't want to talk about Cat or how she had recently become her girlfriend. She didn't want to talk about how they met or what they had been up to together. She didn't want advice on how to treat a girl or how to keep her interested. The only thing she wanted to ask was how to fix things with her friend.

She looked down, loosening the grip she held on her horse's reigns. "I uh, I had this friend, and I kind of screwed things up I think... but I really don't know what I did wrong."

"Oh." Joel replied, reaching up to scratch at his beard. "What happened?" 

"One day we were fine, the next thing they didn't want to talk to me anymore." she shrugged, keeping her eyes downcast.

"Have you tried talking to them?" he asked, extending the suggestion with a gesture of his hand.

Ellie rolled her eyes, if only it could have been that simple.

Chapter Text

Ellie was exhausted by the time she made it home, the long drive taking more of a toll on her than the copious amount of physical labor she had done on the farm with Joel. It's not that Joel had made her do it, or that it had been expected but she asked for it, and as much as he protested she always asked for me. She preferred it that way, keeping her busy and her mind off her problems.

It felt good though, doing something with her hands again, spending long days working until she was too tired to think and spending time with her family in the evening, drinking, laughing and playing guitar until they were too exhausted to continue just to do it all again in the morning.

She missed that and she missed them.

Tommy had been very tight-lipped about his trip away, refusing to share his new lady friend's name or even where he had traveled to. When she tried to get answers from Joel he had only shrugged and pretended he knew nothing. It frustrated her but eventually, she conceded that he would tell her when he was sure about the relationship, after all he couldn't hide from her teasing forever and she also hadn't told him about her relationship.

Ellie immediately made her way to the dorm, not bothering to stop along the way for anything. She felt hungry, but the overwhelming urge to crawl into her bed was greater than any hunger pains she felt.

As she stalked her way down the hall she lingered for a moment in front of Dina's door, listening for a moment to see if she could make something out, something that would tell her if Dina was back or not yet and that she was alright but there was nothing. She could knock and wait and if she answered the door she could just ask but she couldn't will herself to do it, feeling too stupid to start a conversation with someone who didn't want to talk to her.

With a sigh she continued to her room, throwing her bag and guitar off her shoulder once she was inside and falling face down on her bed, briefly considering how long it would take the pillow to suffocate her if she kept her face buried in it. Deciding that thought was too inherently dark she groaned as she turned her face towards the wall.

She laid there for what felt like hours in a dreamy state, unsure if she was awake or asleep or a strange mix of both but when she finally decided to lift herself from the mattress either way she felt like she hadn't slept in years.

She shifted her body, heading over to set up her laptop in its usual spot before hooking it up to the TV and putting on some mindless anime she had no intention of actually watching but enjoyed the background noise, the silence becoming too much for her.

She threw herself down into her computer chair and opened up her journal, jotting down her journey home and adding a quick sketch of some deer she had seen on the side of the highway and slowed down for on the off chance they were too dark across they were to dart across the road. The last thing she needed was to get into a car accident during winter in the middle of nowhere.

She continued writing, adding the strange phone call from Dina and documenting her phone call with Cat before ending with another sketch of Jesse's family, making sure to get their heights in the correct order from tallest to smallest before closing it and stuffing it back in her desk draw, content she had recorded the most important parts.

She dreaded classes starting back up after New Year, knowing she hadn't read nearly as much material as she intended to or needed to during her break, dreading how unprepared she would be when they finally resumed classes.

The only solace coming from the fact that she knew she wouldn't be the only one. There were bound to be others that wouldn't have even picked up a book during their time off, being able to pinpoint immediately that Dave would be one of them.

She took a deep breath, her mind fighting with her body on whether to actually study or go back to bed. To her bodies dismay, her mind won out and she picked up a textbook that was way heavier than it ought to have been and flipped it open, her eyes trying to make sense of the words on the paper.

She wasn't sure if any of it had sunk in by the time she finished reading the mandatory chapters but in the least, she could say that she had read it and not be lying and maybe when it came to one of the tests she would recall it.

Content with what she had achieved she found herself quickly back in her bed, this time taking the time to slide under the covers and pull them tightly around her and she buried her face in the pillow again, missing the scent that used to stain it and make it easier for her to sleep.

 


 

Ellie pulled off her apron with a sigh, holding it tightly in her fist as she stepped out from behind the counter. She regretted agreeing to cover a shift today after how exhausted she had been after her first day back on campus but the money was good as she couldn't turn her nose up at it, plus what else would she be doing if she hadn't done it? Likely nothing.

The shift was decidedly boring, nothing exciting happening here nor there with most of the campus population still being away on their winter break. She didn't even have Cat to keep her company today and wasn't entirely sure where she was either not having heard from her since she had been back.

She thought that she should be worried but at the same time, she wasn't. She knew Cat could take care of herself and when she was done with whatever it was she was doing she would finally text her back or give her a call and they would hang out. The last time they had spoken everything was fine, or so she thought but once she had thought she and Dina were okay and look where they were at now.

She said her goodbyes to the other staff casually waving over her shoulder as she shrugged on her layers. She was about to push through the door when her phone rang and she quickly found it in her pocket and placed it in her ear.

"Hey, Jesse. What's up?" She asked casually as she continued on her way out and into the cold street.

"Yo, Ellie. Wanna hang out or whatever? Dina's got her practice tonight and I'm bored." he groaned on the other end of the line.

"Yeah, sure." She nodded. "Meet you at mine? I'm just heading there now."

"It's a date." he replied, ending the call before Ellie could even respond.

She practically jogged back to her dorm, excited to see her friend even though it had only been days since they had seen each other. When she arrived at her door Jesse was already there waiting for her.

"What are you, my stalker?" she laughed with a roll of her eyes as she let him in her room.

"Don't blame me 'cause you're slow. You made me wait for ages." he grumbled, heading over to her tv and switching on her console that sat underneath. "Thought we could jam some video games or something. I believe we're tied?"

"Fuck off." Ellie laughed, shrugging out of her coat and hanging it beside the door before moving to her wardrobe to fetch something to change in to. "I was destroying you and your brothers. It's like a million to one."

"Pft." Jesse scoffed. "What happens in Jackson, stays in Jackson so we're back to even ground." he finished, throwing himself to the ground and loading up a fighting game.

"Oh, uh-huh." Ellie began, changing her work shirt while Jesse was facing away before moving to sit in her computer chair. "Must be hard both being a loser and in denial."

"You're full of it, Williams." Jesse laughed, thrusting a controller into her hands. "Want to make a bet?"

"I'm don't take kids lunch money." Ellie rolled her eyes, scrolling through the characters. "What's that saying? Like taking candy from a baby?"

"Enough talk, I'll show you how it's done." he smiled, mashing buttons as the fight began. "How was the rest of your holiday?"

"Usual shit." Ellie replied, concentrating on the game at hand. "Joel wanted me to thank you for your help the other day though, said it was nice having someone with muscles around but I knew he meant me."

"Oh yeah, totally." he laughed, sticking his tongue out in concentration.

"How was Dina's break?" she asked hesitantly, glancing at Jesse out the corner of her eye.

"Good, I think." he said with a small nod. "She's been a bit weird about it but then again she doesn't really like talking much about her family."

"Yeah?" Ellie asked, losing a round to Jesse as she lost concentration.

"Yeah, maybe I just find it a bit weird because my family is so close." he said with a small shrug, his face still focused on the screen. "Like she talks about them but not like about them, if you know what I mean. She'll tell me about her mom, or about her dad but never like her mom and dad."

"Yeah?" Ellie asked, taking the first game before sitting back with a triumphant smile, watching as Jesse dropped his controller. "Maybe she's just not ready to talk about it? Remember how long it took me to tell you about Joel and shit?"

"Yeah, I guess she just needs time." he replied, turning to face Ellie. "It's funny, she's like this open book all the time but then there are just chapters I can't seem to get to, that she tries to hide away."

Ellie shrugged and looked down. "I don't know. I guess I only really see what she allows people to see, I don't get to see her as you see her."

"Sorry. Shit's just weird I guess." Jesse sighed and gave a shrug similar to Ellie's.

"I know what will make you feel better... You wanna get high before the next game?" Ellie queried with a raised eyebrow.

Jesse smirked, a devious glint returning to his eyes. "I thought you'd never ask."

She rolled her eyes, rising to her feet before heading to her desk draw, Jesse hot on her heels as she pulled out a couple of joints, tucking the second behind her ear. She reached over and opened her window, climbing up to sit on the windowsill and watched as Jesse took a seat on her desk beside her.

She placed the joint between her lips and lit it, inhaling deeply before passing it off to Jesse. She watched patiently as he put it in his mouth before inhaling deeply, coughing as it filled his lungs.

"Holy shit that's rough." he hacked, handing the joint back to Ellie.

She laughed, bringing it back to her lips and inhaling deeply before turning her head and exhaling out the window. "Sorry, it's not the best. I got it from Cat."

"So you and Cat huh?" he asked as Ellie handed it to back to him and he nestled it back between his lips.

"Yeah, she's cool." Ellie shrugged nonchalantly and looked out the window to the campus below.

"You're going to take her to the New Years' party, right?" Jesse asked absentmindedly swinging his feet.

"I don't even know if I'm going to go, yet." Ellie replied honestly, reaching up to rub at her face. "And I don't know, Cat hasn't asked."

"Are you kidding me, Ellie? You can't have a girlfriend and not kiss her on New Years'. That's like the one day of the year that's mandatory for you to kiss your partner. It's pretty fucked if you don't." he chuckled, taking another long drag on the joint. "Why don't you ask her?"

Ellie shrugged taking the joint from him and finishing it, feeling the weed lull her into a feeling of easiness. "I guess I might."

"You want me to ask her for you?" Jesse teased. "Pass her a note at school or something for her to tick her response."

"You're a fucking asshole." Ellie mumbled but couldn't hide her smile as she shoved him. "Do you want another?"

"Nah." Jesse grinned, jumping down from the desk. "I wanna fuck you up in this game. Round two?"

 


 

Ellie sat in her chair, tapping away on the controller as she tried to beat the final opponent of the game for that particular character, getting frustrated every time he beat her. Jesse had left not too long ago claiming the weed had made him tired but then again they had been playing for hours and it was getting late so she didn't blame him.

She thought she would just go one more round before turning it off but that had been twenty minutes ago and she had no intention of turning the console off any time soon.

There was a knock on her door and she jumped, startled by the sudden intrusion. She groaned as she lifted herself from her chair to answer it surprised to find Dina standing there obviously coming straight from the theatre, still dressed in exercise leggings but a thick sweater and jacket pulled over the top of what was underneath.

"Hey, have you seen Jesse?" She asked, a thin veil of sweat covering her face. "I've been calling him but he hasn't answered."

"Oh, sorry." Ellie mumbled. " Yeah, my bad. He was here. He literally just left so he'll probably call you soon."

"Alright." Dina nodded before looking down, lingering in the doorway like she wanted to say something.

Ellie stared for a moment before looking down and playing with her fingers. "Did you want to come in?" Ellie finally asked.

Dina pursed her lips and nodded, stepping in when Ellie moved to the side.

Closing the door and following behind her Ellie draped her long limbs over her computer chair, picking up her controller off the desk before turning back to the tv and pressing the button to unpause it. When Dina hadn't moved from her doorway she glanced over her shoulder.

"We were just playing video games." She offered feeling as if she should explain Jesse's absence for him.

"Oh. Seems fun." She replied with a thin-lipped smile taking another cautious step into Ellie's room.

"You can sit down, you know?" Ellie finally said with a small laugh. "My floor is like, not lava or anything you know."

"Right, yeah." Dina nodded, moving to finally sit on her bed like she had countless times before, stretching her legs out in front of her.

Ellie continued to play her game, stealing glances out the corner of her eye to her friend who kept her attention firmly fixed on the TV. She tried to focus on her game but found it hard, deciding to blame it on the weed they had smoked earlier rather than anything else. She just couldn't get the controls to match up to what she wanted them to do.

The thick silence definitely didn't help, feeling more so after every death that Dina watched and Ellie begged that she could just manage one win but it didn't come causing her cheeks to flush red, thankful that Dina couldn't see her face.

Ellie thought about what she could say to ease the tension, chickening out before the words left her mouth every time before having enough of the silence.

"Did you have a good holiday?" She asked tactically, hoping that it was ambiguous enough that it wouldn't be obvious what she was referring to.

She was sure she saw Dina tense before she answered but she couldn't be sure only having seen her out the corner of her eye.

"Yeah. Just family can be a bit much sometimes, you know?"

Ellie nodded slowly. "Yeah, I feel that."

"You?" She asked back.

"Yeah, it was good." She replied with a small yawn.

She thought about asking what had happened but decided she didn't want to scare her away, having her in her room again was already a big step, too big a step she thought but it had happened and she knew she needed to tread carefully in response.

"Do you want to play?" she asked finally swallowing the lump in her throat

"I don't know how" Dina replied pulling a face.

"It's easy." Ellie offered a kind smile. "Here, I'll show you..." she rose to her feet and moved to sit in front of the tv, patting the spot beside her inviting her to close the distance they had created together.

She wasn't sure if she felt nervous or if she just felt sick, deciding on a combination of the two, the weed just not taking the edge off enough now and she wished that they had smoked more. It would have made this easier, made forcing a conversation seem more coherent and she could have pretended that the conversation was flowing instead of painfully forced like it was.

Dina looked down, hesitating for a second before rising to her feet and moving to sit beside Ellie, crossing her legs like she had and turning her head to face her.

Ellie kept her attention firmly fixed to the tv and exited from the game she had started to start a new one. On the character screen, she paused and turned to Dina, a blush creeping it's way up the bridge of her nose as she waited for Dina to look at the tv again. "What character do you want to use?"

Dina peered closely at the tv, a small smile appearing on her lips before she pointed to one. "The bear."

"Alright..." Ellie snorted and moved the analog stick to select it for her.

"What?" Dina asked with a pout.

"Nothing." Ellie laughed and shook her head before handing her the controller. "Square left punch, triangle right punch, x left kick and circle right kick.... but just press whatever. You'll get it eventually."

Dina gave a determined nod, sitting like a kid on Christmas in front of the tv as she smashed the buttons.

Ellie spent the next hour showing Dina how to play the game. She watched her intently as she looked down at the button before she pressed it, trying to match up what she had told her before she just began mashing buttons quickly.

She watched as her tongue dipped out the corner of her mouth in concentration and how she peered closer at the tv every time she thought she was doing well.

She watched her forehead crease and a deep line mark between her brow every time she lost or got put on the defensive, groaning loud every time she lost.

She watched her lips turn in to a smile and listened to her laugh every time she clicked to try again.

And every time Dina turned to face Ellie, she turned away pretending like she hadn't spent the entire time watching her.

Dina wasn't great but that was to be expecting never having played before but eventually got the hang of it, smiling triumphantly in her first victory. Ellie thought about making fun of the fact that it had taken literal hours but thought better of it, knowing what fights to pick.

"I reckon I can beat you now." She grinned, nudging Ellie with her shoulder.

Ellie blushed at the contact and looked down, a small smile gracing her lips before she turned to look at Dina. "I don't think so."

"You chicken?" She asked with an arched brow before following it with a chicken noise.

"Don't say I didn't warn you." Ellie replied with a dramatic sigh as she reached under the tv cabinet for her spare controller.

It was a lot more worn than the one she had been playing with, clearly older, and definitely the guest controller. Ellie thought about trading it with Dina, knowing it had a janky button but decided better of it, wanting to give her the best chance to actually beat her but knowing it was futile.

Ellie considered going easy on Dina, at first just blocking her moves and allowing her to land a couple of punches which got her excited but decided Dina had made her own bed when she challenged her and showed her how good she was at it by beating her that round followed by another perfect round afterward.

Dina stared at the screen and pouted. "Rematch, I just need a new character."

"Oh really? That's all it was?" Ellie laughed. "Alright, take your pick."

They went again, the second match going much like the first and before long Dina was beaten again much to her annoyance but Ellie was certain that Dina knew she was going to lose, stealing glances while they were playing.

"Okay. Best of four." She whined. "And I get to pick your character."

"How is that fair?" Ellie smiled with a shake of her head.

"I don't make the rules Ellie, I just follow them."

By the end of their gaming session, Ellie had won every round but Dina had come close a couple times, though she never would admit it.

Her eyes were tired now and she played down the controller, leaning back on her hands as she stared at the screen, the air enveloped in a comfortable silence completely different from the one earlier.

She had missed this, hanging out with Dina.

"So you and Jesse just played games, huh?" she asked motioning with her head towards the joint tucked behind Ellie's ear.

"Huh?" she asked, looking behind her trying to figure out what Ellie was motioning to.

"The joint." Dina smiled with a shake of her head. "Plus, you could smell your room from the corridor. You're lucky it always smells like weed out there."

"Oh." Ellie gave a sheepish laugh, grabbing it and holding it gently in her hands. "Do you want some?"

Dina looked down and Ellie could tell she was thinking, weighing up her options and for the first time, she felt stupid. Choosing to stay, to come into her room had already been progress. She had already warmed up to her from the start of the night and here she was placing an expectation in her lap.

She waited for her to say no, feeling the familiar tightness of her rejection in her chest and she looked down with her, fiddling with the joint in her fingers.

"Yeah, actually. I do." she finally spoke softly, looking up to meet Ellie's eyes.

Ellie couldn't help the smile that spread all the way to her cheeks and she blamed it on the weed but knew better, it only increasing when Dina smiled back at her and that pain in her chest from earlier was replaced with warmth again.

"Right." Ellie shook her head from her daze and rose to her feet, moving to the window and opening it again once again.

She stood there and watched as Dina rose, taking a moment to stretch her arms above her head and she couldn't help the way her eyes wandered, tracing the length of her neck and along her protruding collar bone before dropping down to the newly exposed skin between her pants and the now raised sweater.

She felt Dina's eye's meet hers and she blushed and looked away, feeling shame at being caught in the act and for allowing her eyes to wander in the first place.

Dina moved, her feet almost silent on the carpet as she glided over to the window, effortlessly throwing her leg over over the windowsill so she was sitting on the frame, one leg in and one leg out of the dorm room.

Ellie looked up and met her eye, swallowing the new lump in her throat she handed the joint to Dina, watching too intently as she placed it between her lip and studying the way it rested perfectly between them. She blinked slowly as she raised the lighter to the end of it, flicking the switch until it ignited and continued to watch as Dina inhaled, never taking her eyes off Ellie.

When she pulled away, Ellie dropped the lighter, tossing it carelessly to her desk as she watched Dina turn her head to the side and exhaling out into the cold night air.

"This is shit." she remarked, handing the joint carefully back to Ellie.

"I know, sorry." Ellie laughed, looking down for a moment as she brought it to her lips and inhaled as much as she could manage before pulling it away and resting her hands on the windowsill and releasing the smoke from her lungs and she handed the joint back.

She turned her head away from the view of the campus towards Dina, watching as she sat there precariously on the edge and being one awkward movement away from falling to the ground below but she didn't seem scared. Ellie continued to watch her stare off into the distance, bringing the joint to her lips in slow deliberate movements.

"It's pretty, huh?" Dina asked softly.

"Huh?" Ellie asked finally snapping out of her daze.

"It's snowing." she replied, motioning outside with her hand. "I love the snow."

"Oh." Ellie mumbled, turning her head to look back outside, noticing that snow had indeed begun to fall to the ground. "It's alright."

"Just alright?" Dina asked with a small laugh that almost wasn't audible.

"Yeah, until it gets in your shoes." Ellie pulled a face and shook her head.

"Maybe if you didn't always wear canvas shoes in it." she said with a roll of her eyes in the way Dina always did. "I like walking when it's like this. I like feeling the snow sting as it hits your cheeks."

"That's weird," Ellie remarked continuing to look at the scene in front of her.

"I suppose it is." Dina laughed.

Ellie smiled and looked down, relishing the sound of her laugh in her ears. She knew from the moment she had first hear it that that was the purest sound she would ever hear. It was genuine and when Dina laughed you couldn't help but smile with her. It was one of those laughs that could make even the saddest of experiences turn positive as long as she was there.

Dina turned back towards Ellie, staring at her face for a moment before her attention dropped and lingered on the tattoo on her arm.

She wasn't sure why but she wished she had been wearing something with sleeves so she could have pulled them down, stealing it away from Dina's murky brown eyes.

"What?" Ellie finally choked her, choosing to raise it behind her head to rub at her neck and pull it away from view.

Dina sighed and turned back to look out the window. "I don't think I like the tattoo." she admitted, only a slight hesitation to her tone.

"Oh." Ellie frowned and looked down, feeling as if someone had just made a tight fist around her heart.

She knew that tattoos weren't for everyone and knew that there were bound to be people who personally didn't like hers for whatever reason but she hadn't expected Dina to be one of those people.

Is that what had caused all of this? Because she had gotten a tattoo?

"But I suppose I don't have to like it." she added, glancing back to Ellie out the corner of her eye. "I was a bit bummed you didn't tell me about it. I wouldn't have tried to stop you if that's what you thought."

"What?" Ellie asked confused. "No, it wasn't anything like that. It just kind of happened."

"Yeah." Dina breathed.

Ellie sighed and brought her hands back to the window frame, gripping it so tightly her knuckles turned white and she felt thankful for the new chill in the air, helping ease the slight edge she now felt.

She felt more confused about everything than she had before. If Dina had a problem with her life choices then why couldn't she have just told her that in the first place? Maybe she should have just told Dina about it and maybe she wouldn't have gotten it and maybe this wouldn't have happened.

But she knew Dina was right, she wouldn't have told her not to get it and Ellie knew she would have gotten it anyway, maybe even in spite of it all which definitely would have made everything much worse than what it was now if that was even possible.

Why did Dina care anyway?

She didn't have to see it or touch it. In fact, she didn't even see it at all anymore to even make her angry and Ellie would have covered it around her every single time if it would have meant she could have had her friend back.

Was it the tattoo though? Or was she upset she hadn't talked about something so important with her like she had been upset about not knowing about her audition for the big production?

Ellie thought that the pieces were finally falling into place but it still didn't make sense. Nothing made sense.

"Can I ask you something?" Dina finally asked, her voice even as she continued to look at the window, the joint carelessly resting between her fingers of her hand that rested on her lap.

"Shoot." Ellie murmured, turning her attention back

"Do you remember back to that party? Back when we were standing on that porch and you were telling me about the stars?" Dina spoke softly as if she were remembering something that happened so long ago.

"Yeah." Ellie nodded. "I talked too much, sorry."

"No." Dina smiled and looked down. "I didn't just stick around with you because I didn't want to see those assholes undress. When I saw you there I thought that you were..." Dina paused, a ringtone cutting into her sentence.

Ellie internally groaned and glanced around looking for the cause of the intrusion but feeling the vibrations in her pocket as the noise continued to drone anything else out. She reached into her pocket and fetched it out, lighting up the screen and reading the name.

She glanced back up at Dina and smiled apologetically. "Sorry, it's Cat. Give me a sec." she accepted the call and brought the phone to her ear. "Hey Cat..."

Dina inhaled and closed her eyes, flicking the last bit of the joint out the window to extinguish in the snow below. With a sigh, she jumped down from her perch on the window.

"Can I call you back? Yeah sorry, I'm just in the middle of something." Ellie continued, her eyes following Dina's movements as she pleaded for her to hold on. "Yeah, yeah okay. Talk soon. Bye." she finished hanging up and stuffing her phone back into her pocket. "Sorry, what were you saying."

"I should go..." Dina mumbled, glancing to the side and anywhere but Ellie, both unable and unwilling to meet her eyes anymore. "I still need to shower."

"What were you saying?" Ellie questioned, watching her pause beside her for a moment before she steps passed her towards the door. "If this is because Cat called, I'm sorry."

"It's nothing and it's not." she said with a cold shrug. "I just need to go."

"Okay..." Ellie nodded, her jaw clenched shut tightly.

She searched herself for something to say, something that would fix it so they could go back to just moments before the call, back before she answered her and she would have sent it to voicemail so she could hear what Dina was going to say but there was nothing, there was nothing that could take them back.

"Thanks for hanging out with me, Dina." Ellie said softly as she pushed her body towards the door.

"Night Ellie." Dina murmured disappearing behind her door.

Ellie shook her head and sulked her way over to lay in her bed, staring up to the dark ceiling like she had countless nights before. She wanted to sleep, begged her body to allow her to sleep but it never came.

She wanted to understand what Dina had meant, what she was going to ask her but she was confused. She thought back to the party where they first met and replayed every moment in her head over and over and then over again but couldn't pinpoint what she had meant.

Ellie had talked too much about herself, had failed to ask her about her interests and her dreams. She had failed her in beer pong and had failed to ask for her number. She had failed to ask her to stay when she was dragged away and she had failed to be present when Jesse had taken all those photos with her.

Maybe if she had registered her interest she might have had a shot, if she had just told her that she thought she was the most beautiful woman she had ever seen she might have had a chance at being in with her but she hadn't and her advances would have been misplaced. Dina was straight she reminded herself for possible the hundredth time.

When she thought back to that night she had only failed.

So what was it about that night that had Dina so hung up on?

When her phone rang again she sighed, pulling it to the front of her face she read Cat's name on the screen and she rejected the call, something she should have done earlier, a gesture too late.

 


 

"Are you ready, Ellie?" Cat asked as she stepped up to the mirror she stood in front of, hugging her arm tightly to her chest.

"As ready as ever." Ellie frowned, looking at her reflection in the mirror.

A lot of thought had gone into picking what she would wear. After finding out the dress code that both Jesse and Cat had neglected to tell her of earlier she was adamant she wasn't going to go until Jesse convinced her that she needed to for him in the way that he always had.

She wasn't going to wear a dress, there was no changing her mind about that. Jesse had allowed her to try on some of his dress shirts but they were too big for her small frame. With the biggest grin on his face, he decided he was going to take her shopping and not without some protest Ellie agreed, knowing she wouldn't be able to do it herself.

It had been embarrassing, trying on shirts, and coming out to show them off to her friend who cheered or booed loudly, causing anyone in the immediate vicinity to look in her direction. She was certain she had never told him how much she hated him more in their long friendship combined.

Eventually, she settled on a simple pair of navy blue slacks and a white dress shirt which she rolled up at the sleeves and much to Jesse's dismay who was going full suit and tie in an effort to impress Dina chose to forgo the jacket or vest deciding simple was best. He did however manage to talk her into a pair of suspenders which she reluctantly agreed to.

Finally, they found her some appropriate dress shoes, she hated them but to appease Jesse she again agreed.

When she looked in the mirror she didn't love how she looked. She didn't hate it but she still felt like this wasn't her. It was too formal and she felt stuffy as she tugged at the collar of her shirt.

She wasn't entirely sure how to wear her hair with this look. If she should wear it up or down but decided on both up and down after not being able to settle on one, pulling half of her hair back into a little bun at the back of her head.

"Oh come on, don't be a grouch." the black-haired woman laughed as she leaned close to her ear. "I think you look so good and I can't wait to show you that later."

"I don't want to go." she sighed, turning away from her reflection. "Who even decided on a formal dress New Years party? This is college for Christs' sake."

"Hey." Cat breathed, stepping in front of her and running her hands over her shoulders. "Relax. You look great and you're going to have a good time."

Ellie blinked slowly before nodding. "Yeah... Yeah okay. You're probably right."

"Of course I'm right." Cat grinned, placing a quick peck to her lips before stepping back, taking the bottom of her dress in hand and turning around in front of her. "Now, how do I look."

"Sorry." Ellie replied with a shake of her head before smile. "You look great, Cat."

She smirked, grabbing at Ellie's shirt and pulled her in for a searing kiss. "I know I do." she continued the smile against her lips before pulling away and looking into her eyes. "I'm going to go finish getting ready. Give me ten and then we will head off."

"Alright." she nodded, moving to sit down on the edge of her couch.

She pulled her phone from her back pocket, mindlessly scrolling through social media everyone seemingly posting shots of their formal wear and she sighed. They all looked great and she couldn't help but feel decidedly average compared. Still, she kept scrolling, hoping to see a picture of Dina but no matter how far she scrolled there was nothing, she hadn't posted anything in a long time.

Finally, a message popped up and she was thankful it took her away from her mission to find something.

Jesse: "What do you think?"

Ellie clicked the attached image and when it opened she grinned, her cheeks beginning to hurt from how wide it had spread. It was just a picture taken in the mirror but it showed Jesse's full length, immaculately dressed in a full three-piece suit, black tie included but the most attractive thing was the grin on his face.

Ellie: "Holy shit. Who would have thought you clean up so nice. Very impressed and you look very handsome."

Jesse: "Why thank you, that's potentially the nicest thing you've ever said to me. Don't tell me you're getting soft now."

Ellie: "Not a chance and I'll fight you on that."

Jesse: "Pic of you?"

Ellie: "Isn't it like, bad luck to see me before the party?"

Jesse: "Pretty sure that only counts for brides and grooms and unless there's something going on that I don't know about and I'm heading to my surprise wedding to you...?
Do you think Dina will be impressed?"

Ellie sighed and looked down, her toes shifting in the dress shoes that were just a tad too big. She hated the way they felt and she hated the way they looked- well, hated the way they looked on her.

Would Dina be impressed with her too?

Ellie: "You could be wearing a garbage bag and Dina would be impressed."

Jesse: "Go to for later?"

Ellie: "I'm not taking responsibility later for putting that thought in your head so don't you dare blame me.
When are you guys heading over?"

Jesse: "Shortly. Gonna go pick Dina up in like 20 and then we will go. We'll meet up there? Bring one of Cat's fancy art pens, there will be a big book for us all to sign."

Ellie: "Yeah, mate. See you soon."

Ellie stuffed her phone back in her pocket, puffing out her cheeks as she looked to the ceiling before looking down and fiddling with her fingers. She was sure she would feel better once she was actually doing something but sitting and waiting was killing her.

She strolled over to Cat's supplies on her table, hollering that she was going to borrow a pen before jamming it into her back pocket.

She waited a few more moments, tapping her feet together before rising to her feet and striding over to the door where her vans sat. She kicked off the uncomfortable shoes not caring where they landed and slid the canvas shoes on her feet, immediately feeling more relaxed doing so.

"Ready?"

Ellie jumped and sheepishly turned around to face her girlfriend, heat rising to her cheeks as she looked down.

"Already? I thought you'd have at least make it there before ditching the shoes." she laughed, stepping against her and fixing the collar of her shirt. "You don't need them, you look so good just the way you are. Do you feel better?"

"Way better." Ellie smiled lopsided and met Cat's warm eyes.

"Let's get a picture?" Cat requested. "I'm sure Joel would love to see you all dressed up."

Ellie gulped, swallowing the lump that set in her chest. She hadn't even thought about that. This was just some party, not prom or whatever- which she most certainly had never attended. This was the closest Joel would ever have seen her to actually getting dressed up and may never get the opportunity again.

Would he think she looked good in a suit?

Would he ask her questions about Cat?

She nodded and handed her phone off to Cat. She reached her arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to her body before extending the camera in front of them and angling the camera up to make sure they got their entire outfits before snapping a picture.

They took another full length one in front of the mirror before Cat handed Ellie back her phone and she sent both of them off to Joel before following up with a text.

Ellie: "Do not, and I repeat, do not make a single joke about what I am wearing or be a sap. Just tell me I look good and move on and we will pretend this never happened."

"Ready to go?" Cat asked, watching her from across the room as she grabbed her belongings.

"Yeah." Ellie nodded, stuffing her phone into her pocket. "Yeah, let's get you to this party."

 


 

To say the place was packed was an understatement. The house was big but bodies still littered both the front and backyard. Ellie was sure she had never seen so many people dressed so well and there was not a single person that didn't live up to the occasion, all seeming to be on board with the dress code which immediately made her feel like less of a jackass for being so dressed up.

Cat took her hand, entwining their fingers as she leads them through the house to find their friends and grabbing a drink on the way.

Ellie was blown away by how amazing everyone looked, not that they didn't look amazing every day, it was just different to see them this way when she was so used to seeing them another way. She complimented them and they complimented her, each compliment bringing a new shade of red to her cheeks but she was quick to learn she could easily deflect them on to Cat by pointing out how great she looked.

No amount of compliments would make her feel less fake and out of place, knowing this kind of scene was where she didn't belong. If anyone knew where she came from they would know how much she did not fit into this kind of world.

It wasn't long until strong arms were draped around her neck and she was pulled back into a solid frame.

"Get out, Jesse." she yelled knowing exactly who it was and fighting against his grip.

"Accept my love." he laughed, pulling her tighter.

She fought harder against him and he finally let her go. She turned around, her vision starting at his shiny black shoes before lifting over his entire outfit and settling on his face, his smile wide.

"Shit, Jesse. You're looking good. If I wasn't gay." she beamed as she looked up at him.

"If you weren't gay, you'd still have to get in line." he laughed. "You're looking sharp!" he gestured with his hands. "Maybe I have a flair for this kind of thing, I think I finally made you look hot."

"Oh fuck off." she laughed, shoving his shoulder and finally catching a glimpse of the girl behind him. "Dina?"

"Ellie." she said curtly, stepping out from behind him.

Ellie blushed, feeling her eyes burning into her, looking up and down as she took in her outfit but Ellie couldn't complain, she knew she was doing exactly the same to her in return. She was only wearing a simple navy mid-thigh length dress that came in at the waist and flared out at the bottom, the collar coming in a v towards the center of her breasts and showing off just the correct amount of cleavage for Ellie to lose sight of whatever she had intended to say in response.

"Doesn't she look hot?" Jesse beamed, wrapping his arm around her thin waist and pulling her close to his body.

"Y-yeah." Ellie stammered when her eyes finally met Dina's again. "You look beautiful Dina." Unable to take it anymore she looked down after giving a nod.

"Thank you." Dina mumbled, an unmistakable plush taking hold of her cheeks. "You look so good too, Ellie."

Ellie knew it was meant sincerely and for the first time she felt that maybe she did belong, that maybe she did look good wearing something other than casual clothes. She smiled, a big smile that she couldn't help before she looked back up and noticed the way Dina still stared at her.

Ellie hid her smile in her cup as she brought it to her lips and took a long sip, sure her mouth had never felt so dry.

"Do you two want a picture?" Jesse asked as he dug in his pocket for his phone.

"No, it's okay." Ellie mumbled with a shake of her head.

"Come on. You cant get this dressed up and not get a photo, right Dina? When are you ever going to see Elie dressed up like this again?"

Dina smiled and took the phone from his hand. "You two first."

Ellie protested but realized she had no choice in the matter. Jesse draped his arm around her shoulders and held her firmly in place, staring ahead and smiling. Ellie placed her arm around him, doing her best to return the smile, and once the camera flashed she immediately stepped away.

"Good. Done. Perfect. Good shot Dina." She said quickly.

"Your turn." Jesse laughed and grabbed her hand, pulling her back towards Dina. "And smile, not like a dork. You just do you Dina, you're perfect."

Ellie rolled her eyes as she came awkwardly to stand next to Dina, stuffing her hands in her pocket feeling the same hesitation from Dina beside her. It was just as she looked down she saw the flash and she looked up with a pout only to be snapped again.

"Whoops." Jesse flashed an unapologetic grin and Ellie had known he had done it on purpose. "Another, you were looking down."

"Come on." Dina whispered to her, snaking her thin arm around her frame and resting her delicate hand on her hip and a touch that felt lighter than a feather.

Ellie swallowed and mirrored the gesture, bringing her hand to rest on Dina's hip.

She looked to the camera and waited, when the flash went she immediately released the breath she was holding but couldn't pull her hand away.

"And just one more!" "Jesse laughed. "And Ellie, you better fucking smile."

"I thought I was!" She groaned.

She felt Dina nudged her with her hip and heard as Dina laughed, turning her head as she looked down. Ellie laughed and nudged her back causing her to look back up at her, a grin on her face.

"Perfect!" Jesse smiled as there was a final flash. "How am I this good at everything."

Ellie held Dina's eye before her own inadvertently dropped to her lips before she looked down, immediately dropping her hand and putting some distance between them. She couldn't think about that tonight.

"I'm going to go get us some drinks." Jesse said finally breaking the silence as stepped back towards Dina and he placed a kiss to the top of her head. "I'll be right back. Ellie, you good?"

"I'm good." she replied, raising her drink in his direction.

He beamed at the two most important women in his lift before rushing off with another promise of being back soon.

Ellie wanted to say something profound, something that would stick with Dina for days to come but everything she thought either sounded corny or cliche. Really, there was nothing she could say that could describe how beautiful she thought she looked at this moment. And really there was nothing that could stop her thoughts switching on her, deciding she wouldn't look more beautiful with that dress off and on her floor and standing in front of her, saying that she wanted her.

She shook her head, unable to meet her eye after losing her thoughts.

"Really, Dina. You look good." Ellie only reiterated, glancing down at her arm and rolling down the sleeve to cover her tattoo. She wasn't ashamed of the tattoo, she still loved it but she didn't want Dina to look at it and hate it, hate her and ruin the moment.

"So do you, Ellie..." Dina trailed off, biting her lower lip.

Ellie stood frozen to the spot as Dina took a step closer and hesitantly reaching her hand to Ellie's wrist, her fingertips lingering on the skin between her hand and arm before she took the sleeve, rolling it back up to her elbow and folding it neatly. 

"Don't do that." she said softly, her eyes locked on hers.

Ellie blinked slowly at her but nodded.

"It's a shame you couldn't get your cast off in time." Dina said with a small smile as she took a step back away from her, putting the distance back between them.

"This?" Ellie asked with a smile, raising her arm in front of her. "I thought ladies liked this kind of thing?"

Dina folded her arms across her chest and shook her head, her smile still pleasant. "I don't know if you should announce that you're an idiot."

"Oh yeah." Ellie gave a small laugh. "I guess not. But hey, you already know that so this is still cool right?"

"Whatever helps you sleep at night." Dina laughed, bringing her hand to her cheek as she looked back at Ellie. "I personally think that would be awful to try and sleep with, though."

"You'd think right." Ellie agreed with a nod, leaning in a little to finish. "It's itchy and between you and me I think it's starting to get a smell to it."

Dina laughed and Ellie relished the sound, closing her eyes for a moment before opening them to look back into Dina's eyes, finally seeing the warmth again. She felt the corner of her lip tug and betray her again with another smile so she brought her drink again to her lips.

"That's disgusting but I'm not entirely surprised, it is you after all." she bit her lip again, reaching out and holding out her hand, the tips of her fingers just barely grazing Ellie's cup and she handed it over.

Ellie watched, swallowing the lump in her throat as Dina looked down, confused as she watched Dina rotating the cup to where Ellie had drunk from before she brought it to her lips, her eyes meeting hers over the rim as she took a big gulp.

Ellie could feel the heat rise to her cheeks but she couldn't look away. She thought maybe she had just seen it wrong and she was, in fact, turning that portion away from her but she was sure, she had seen it.

She was just taking a drink but the implication of the gesture left a familiar feeling rising between her legs.

"What are you doing?" Ellie asked softly, tilting her head to the side back when Dina passed back the cup.

"What are you doing?" she asked back, her eyebrow slightly arched as she stared back at Ellie, her eyes never leaving hers even for a second.

Ellie gulped, looking down and she thought, hard and fast, deciding she had a choice to make. It was entirely up to her whether or not she ignored what had just happened, ignored the suggestive tone in Dina's voice, and ignored the way she was looking at her or if she embraced it if she looked back at her the same way.

She rotated the plastic cup like she had, looking at the residual lipstick that Dina had left behind on the rim. She took one more glance up at Dina who was watching her closely before she raised the cup to her mouth, touching her own lips against the part where Dina's had been just moments ago and she was sure she could taste her, taste the gloss from her lips and in that moment she knew just exactly what it would be like to kiss Dina.

She pulled the cup down, holding it tightly in her hand and not failing to miss the heat on Dina's face or the way she opened her mouth to speak until Jesse appeared behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist and resting his chin on her shoulder, pushing a full cup into her hand.

"Sorry." he murmured. "Got caught up talking to one of the soccer guys." he pressed his cheek against hers, looking over at Ellie. "You been taking good care of my girl?"

Ellie felt put in her place with his words. They couldn't be any more clear.

My girl.

That's exactly what she was. She was his and she wouldn't be hers. She felt the familiar tightening in her chest and she felt sick, the bile rising to her throat and leaving a dissatisfying taste in her mouth.

She looked down, to the side, away, anywhere by at her friend and she felt the familiar pangs of guilt, unsurprised by the sudden intrusion and she mentally kicked herself for allowing herself to get so caught up in a moment that likely meant nothing. Because that's all this ever was, was nothing. It was nothing that first night they met and it was nothing when Dina decided to stop talking to her and it would continue being nothing now.

Ellie nodded, swallowing down the saliva in her mouth. "Yeah, of course." she couldn't do it, she couldn't look in his eyes and she couldn't look in hers either. "I'm going to go get another drink," she mumbled, quietly excusing herself from the situation.

She breathed a little easier the more distance she put between them, each step getting a little easier to take as she made her way to the bathroom. Of course, there was a line, there always was so she leaned against the wall, her arms folded tightly across her chest as she waited, regretting not immediately having another drink.

She wasn't sure how long she had waited in the queue before she finally reached the front. Immediately she stepped in and slammed the door closed behind her.

She gripped the sink in front of her tightly, before looking up to the mirror and hating what she saw. She tugged at the collar, it beginning to feel like a noose around her neck and she audibly groaned as slammed her palm hard against the basin.

It was stuffy and hot and decidedly not her but Dina had said she liked it.

Again she looked up, still hating what she saw.

She ran the water, splashing it on her face before rubbing at her skin in an effort to make her feel more human, to wash away the mask she knew she was wearing by even pretending that she belonged here.

There was a knock on the door and she glanced back to the mirror once more, still nothing having changed before she unlocked the door and left.

She made her way to the kitchen, finding the keg and pouring herself another cup which she sculled before doing another and downing that one too, feeling decidedly too sober for the occasion.

She poured another, gripping it tightly in her hand, and before she could down that one too a smaller hand slid over hers.

"Hey, what's going on?" Cat asked as she turned around to face her. "You kind of just disappeared."

Ellie shook her head, unable to find the words to adequately express how much she didn't want to be here and hoped that she would just understand but she didn't though.

"Just thirsty." Ellie replied with a small careless shrug.

Cat reached up and run her thumb over Ellie's cheek, searching her eyes before smiling in the way that always let her know what she was thinking and just what she wanted to do.

"Can we get out of here?" Ellie asked, meeting her gaze.

"I'm not ready to go." Cat replied with a shake of her head. "Can't we just stay for once? I want to make it until midnight."

Ellie sighed, bringing her hand to her forehead clearly annoyed at her words. "We don't always go early."

"But we do." Cat said, her tone flat as she folded her arms across her chest. "Because either you don't want to be there, or because you're too drunk."

"Or because you want to take me home." Ellie shot back, her own edge to her tone.

Cat looked at her with a steely gaze before it melted away and she smiled, placing her hand to her shoulder. "I'm going to head back to our friends. Come over soon, okay?"

Ellie closed her eyes and exhaled before nodding. "Yeah, okay. Sorry."

She waited for Cat to leave before she opened them, watching the way she disappeared into the crowd.

Cat was beautiful, and she was cool and nice and sweet, and she fixed everything, finding the words when Ellie couldn't or wouldn't. She was everything she wasn't and she didn't deserve someone so understanding.

She shook her head, following her direction in the crowd before taking her expected spot at her side.

The more time that passed the more uncomfortable Ellie felt, feeling a visible sweat drip down her temple and still she tugged at her collar, trying to loosen the noose. She wasn't sure how long she had been standing there, with her arm draped loosely around Cat's torso feeling out of place and like she didn't belong, feeling awkward and uninteresting to the people Cat conversed with but she also hadn't made an effort to join in.

Unable to take it she pressed her lips close to Cat's ear. "I'm going to head outside."

She nodded and waved her off in response.

Ellie wasn't sure who she bummed the cigarette off but before she knew it she had one and she was outside, ignoring the people standing around her talking and stared off to the distance. The cold was stinging her hand as the flurry of snow settled but she didn't care. She clenched her jaw shut tightly when she wasn't inhaling the smoke and before long the hinge of her jaw was aching.

She wanted to go but she couldn't go.

Cat had asked her to stay.

And she convinced herself that that was why she was still here with the impending implication of midnight and when midnight came she would perform her duty as Cat's girlfriend and they would finally go home.

She sighed as she pulled out her phone and wrinkled her nose when she saw the time. Who even decided that a kiss on New Years' day was so important? It was just another stupid made-up holiday.

Twenty minutes until midnight and she wouldn't have to pretend anymore. Cat would take her home, remove all of her clothes, and kiss her in all the ways that would make her forget just how awful she felt.

She finished the cigarette, smoking it right down to the butt before flicking it away and digging her hands deep in her pockets, starting on her way back inside, hoping Cat would still be in the same place as before she had left her alone the entire night.

She stalked through the crowd and had intended to continue her way towards Cat, she honestly had but strained voices caught her ear and as Cat came into her view she turned around, hearing Jesse's voice cut through the air.

"Hey, I think you've had enough." He said as he grabbed Dina's wrist and attempted to take the cup from her.

She snatched her hand away looking at him with anger. "You don't get to decide for me when I've had enough."

"Let's just go then." He sighed, and it was tired.

"You don't want to stay and kiss me at midnight?" She asked, her fiery eyes never leaving his and Ellie wasn't sure whether or not it was a sincere question or backhanded because who wouldn't want to kiss Dina?

"Not when you're like this." He replied with a small shrug, trying to come off uncaring but as Ellie watched she knew better than to take his demeanor at face value.

"When I'm like what? I told you I didn't want to talk about it Jesse, but you just kept going... Cant, you just let it go?" she questioned, her voice strained.

"Are you ever going to let me in?" He asked before sighing in defeat and rubbing at his face. "Let's not do this tonight, not here."

Dina frowned and shoved him in the shoulder. "Fuck you, Jesse." She said strongly, pushing passed him.

He sighed and looked down, looking more dejected than she was sure she had ever seen him. He turned to look at her, offered a tired smile before he raised his cup to her, and took a sip. Ellie quickly closed the gap between him, placing a rough hand on his arm and giving it a gentle reassuring squeeze.

"Are you okay?" she asked softly.

"Yeah. I told you shit was weird. I don't really know what's going on with her. I thought we were fine." he replied, flashing an uneasy smile. "Hey, I'm okay though. It's almost midnight, go find Cat!"

"But..." Ellie looked over his shoulder towards where Dina had disappeared before looking down.

"Go." he managed with a forced laugh. "I'm going to go get another drink, don't you worry about me." he finished, walking away from her with a shake of his head.

Ellie set her jaw tight and glanced at the clock, just fifteen to go until midnight. She turned back to Cat, watching as she smiled and laughed as she drank from her cup. Her happiness was so effortless Ellie wished she could understand, wished she could figure out just how to be that way, how it just came so easily to her.

Cat was beautiful and kind and good she repeated the mantra to herself but her jaw was still clenched tight.

Cat was funny and smart and her hand fit perfectly in hers- almost, with a little bit of effort maybe.

And she didn't deserve Cat but maybe one day she could deserve someone so whole and perfect and kind to her.

She tried to move her feet towards her but she couldn't, the nagging feeling in the back of her mind telling her to turn and run. She tried to reason, understand why she would run, and to where but she knew and any confusion she portrayed on that matter was ill-placed.

So when she was finally able to lift her foot she instead pivoted her body in the direction Dina had stormed off.

She pulled a face, making the decision to go after her. After all, she had been upset and she was her friend. Plus, she owed it to Jesse to make sure she was okay, that's what he would want and she would expect the same thing of him. She could find her, fix it and return to Cat before midnight.

At least that's what she kept telling herself.

The sentiment made it easier to walk away, but she allowed herself to glance over her shoulder once more at Cat, feeling the impending sense of guilt rise in her chest. She didn't deserve this but tomorrow she would apologize and hope to be forgiven. Cat was always too understanding and forgiving.

She stalked down the hallway opening the doors as she went but not finding her and as the time ticked on she became more and more worried. She had just checked a room, stepping inside to have a proper look and finding nothing but when she was just about to leave she heard a sound that caught her attention.

With a sigh, she walked over to the wardrobe door and slowly opened it.

"Dina?"

Her eyes quickly settled on the small figure sitting with her back against the wall, legs pulled up to her chest and her face buried in her knees. Ellie wanted her to look up so she would know that she was alright but she refused to acknowledge her existence. She rubbed at her tattooed arm, her cast feeling itchy against her skin unsure whether or not she should join her or leave her to feel at peace. She knew what she would prefer but she just couldn't leave her.

She sighed again, stepping into the tiny space before shutting the door behind her. She sat down against the opposing wall, nestling one long leg between Dina's so that they could both fit in the space together. She swallowed the lump in her throat, her eyes still remaining on her friend but as she sat unwillingly to return the gesture she closed her eyes and tilted her head back, resting it against the wall as she instead waited.

Ellie wasn't sure how much time had passed when the silence was finally broken.

"You shouldn't be here." Dina whispered into her knees.

"I shouldn't?" Ellie asked, her head still pointed back and her eyes on the ceiling.

"It must be almost midnight. You should be with Cat." she said with a long exhale.

Ellie shrugged. "Maybe."

"I'm sorry." Dina finally mumbled, lifting her face from her knees but wrapping her arms around her legs more tightly as if protecting her body, shielding her heart.

"What for?" Ellie asked, dropping her attention to her and for the first time since the start of the night meeting her eyes.

Dina shrugged in response. "I've ruined everything."

"How do you figure that?" she asked softly, shifting her back against the wall to sit up more straight.

She only sighed in response, shifting to rest her cheek against her knee to look away from Ellie.

Ellie looked down, fidgeting with her fingers in her hand before sliding them over her knees. "Could have picked a bigger room." she offered with a nervous laugh to ease the tension in the air.

Dina snorted in response. "I suppose it's a bit cozy. It was never meant for two."

"Think you could audition for MTV Cribs?" she asked with a smile.

"Not with you here." Dina breathed, allowing her eyes to close. "Not enough space for the camera crew."

"You want me to go?" Ellie asked with an arched brow.

"Stay." Dina requested, turning her attention back to Ellie.

"Do you want to talk about what happened?" Ellie asked, nervously rubbing her hands over her knees, realizing just how close they were in the small space.

"I just don't want to talk about that kind of shit, you know? It doesn't change anything and sometimes I just want to get fucked up and forget. Is that a crime?"

"No sir." Ellie replied with a furrowed brow.

"I asked him to be patient. I know I haven't always been the easiest to be around but I just need time to figure it all out but that just wasn't good enough." Dina dropped her arms from her legs and clenched her fists tightly at her side.

"That's Jesse for you. He cares too much and wants to fix everything. Fuck it's annoying." she laughed. "But he wouldn't be Jesse if he wasn't like that, right? That's part of the reason why you like him. He's a good guy."

"Yeah, but it's just a bit much sometimes, you know?" she asked furrowing her brows. "It's like he thinks I'm this perfect being and I'm not. Not even close."

Ellie nodded slowly, reaching up to tug at the collar of her shirt suddenly feeling hot and a little claustrophobic as if it was getting tighter around her neck. "I know. Maybe he sees your flaws and thinks you're perfect anyway?" she offered.

She had to fix it, even if they broke up Dina was never going to be hers so what was the point in allowing them to remain so angry at each other.

"I really didn't want to come here tonight." she admitted with a shake of her head.

"Neither did I." Ellie laughed again, matching her head shake. "I mean look at me."

"I know you're not comfortable but for what it's worth I think you look beautiful." Dina tilted her head to the side, swallowing whatever lump had formed in her throat. "But I also think you look equally as good in jeans and a sweater so maybe I'm biased."

Ellie couldn't help but blush, the close proximity and her eyes set on her was too much. She looked down, tugging harder at the collar of her shirt to try and get some relief from the stuffy feeling.

"Here." Dina mumbled as she dropped her legs to cross them in front of her and lean forward, taking Ellie's hand and pulling it away.

Ellie watched as Dina bit her lip, sliding her soft fingers over the skin of her neck, lingering for a moment before dropping them to the collar of her shirt and popping open the top few buttons. She tugged at the material, smoothing her hand over it to ensure it sat right.

She paused, her face close to Ellie's as their eyes met.

Ellie stared back into her eyes, finally able to see them unguarded and only at that moment it occurred to her that while she had looked at Dina's eyes before she had never been this close, never looked this long because Dina had always been the one to look away when the contact lingered for just a moment too long.

"Better?" she asked softly.

"Better." Ellie released the breath she didn't know she was holding, feeling Dina's breath against her lips and she wanted to lean forward, close the distance between them and take her lips against hers but she couldn't, or rather shouldn't.

"Good." Dina smiled and sat back against the wall, slotting her leg easily back between Ellie's.

She sat there holding Dina's gaze for what felt like hours but it could have only been minutes as the house around them ruptured with a chorus of cheering that made the four walls around them shake. It was then that it dawned on them that they had finally rung in the new year.

"Happy New year, El." Dina smiled and it was warm and sincere.

"Happy new year, Dina." Ellie smiled back.

"I'm sorry you didn't get your new years kiss." She whispered as if the sentence pained her like she hadn't taken away an important experience.

"Are you kidding me, who wouldn't want to welcome the new year sitting a closet with you?" She laughed and it was honest and open before she realized Dina was looking at her concerned. "Really. Are you sad you missed it..? The kiss I mean."

"No." Dina shook her head before her eyes dropped and settled on Ellie's cast. "Do you have a pen?"

"Uh." Ellie mumbled and lifted her hips to pull the one she had grabbed earlier out of her back pocket and placed it in Dina's expectant hand. "Sorry, it's just a silver one."

"It's perfect." Dina smiled, shaking it in her hand before pulling the cap off it. "Come here."

Ellie shuffled towards her, closing the small gap between them until they were close enough for their legs to touch. "What are you doing?" she asked unsurely.

"You're getting this off soon anyways," Dina replied, flashing a smile as she reached out and took Ellie's casted arm, flipping it over so her palm faced upwards and she laid it against her thigh.

Ellie swallowed hard, watching as Dina dipped her head and began to draw on the hard material. First small little doodles before moving onto more grand drawings. She smiled because Dina wasn't great at art and it would likely look terrible but it was Dina so it was perfect to her and she would walk around with it with pride and maybe even keep it afterward if her heart so desired.

"It does smell a little," Dina mumbled as she drew a little heart over Ellie's wrist. 

"Sorry. She replied sheepishly, watching as she wrote her own initials followed by hers in the center.

Ellie really wasn't sure how long she had been sitting there watching her mesmerized, she quite possibly could have sat there forever and been contented to watch her draw whatever came to her mind. From little music notes to stars and then a penguin. She really wasn't sure why a penguin but she didn't have the heart to question the gesture and it was keeping her distracted so who was she to ruin that for her.

Honestly, Ellie would have loved whatever Dina had done.

"Hey... do you want to get out of here and go somewhere?" Ellie finally asked when her entire cast had been covered, Dina rotating her arm to try and find more space. It uh... Just started snowing earlier and I thought maybe we could go for a walk. As much as I love being in this tiny space... It's just a little too small and my legs starting to cramp."

Dina looked up at her and smiled. "Yeah... yeah, I do."

 


 

"So when I was twelve." Dina began, bringing her hand to her mouth as she laughed. "Talia was so angry because it was my turn to light the menorah and I wasn't home yet... I hadn't planned on coming home either. She came and found me and I was so angry, like why couldn't she just light it?"

"You said shes pretty religious?" Ellie asked, her hands stuffed in her pockets as she walked beside Dina.

"Yeah." Dina nodded. "Mum and Dad, Talia too... they follow the Jewish faith pretty devotedly. It's serious for them."

"And you?" Ellie asked.

"I couldn't less care one way or another." She shook her head. "Well, I mean I do care but I don't. I don't deny my Jewish heritage and there are still some traditions I follow and I like to participate in but I couldn't be as devout as them. I could never follow all the rules."

"I think I understand. I've never been around anyone religious so I guess I only know what I've seen on tv and shit but the whole religion thing as a whole seems pretty full-on." Ellie shrugged, kicking some snow with the tip of her shoe, all caution going out the window as the wet already crept into her shoes.

She didn't dare complain though because it would be just like Dina to say 'I told you so'.

"There are so many rules. I wouldn't be able to live my life if I followed them all." Dina laughed, keeping her head down as she walked.

"What does your family think about that?" Ellie said softly, not wanting to press the matter too far when she knew it was such a sensitive topic.

Dina laughed again and it was neither happy nor sad, more sarcastic if she had to describe it. "They would rather I be a good little Jewish girl at home waiting to be married off to a good Jewish man."

"Oh." Ellie mouthed, turning to face her. "Suppose you could never take me home then." Ellie joked to try and raise a smile from her friend, though the sentence made her physically ill.

Dina smiled back but it was sad and lacked the earlier warmth before she looked away. "Not unless I want to be disowned."

"Jesse?"

Dina hummed. "They didn't love the idea of him, I thought about not telling them about him but that wouldn't have been fair... but when I told them and about his family they were open to meeting him at least so that's something, except it's all for the wrong reasons. "

"Oh." Ellie said again and looked down. "He's a good guy, though and you're not a reflection of your family. I don't think anyone could not love him though." she exhaled as she glanced to the side, away from Dina's prying eyes.

"Yeah, I suppose that's true. I guess they just want me to have someone with a secure job that could take care of me. That's all they've known and they've grown up with that idealization." Dina shrugged. "My mother... she's more devout than my father. At least he tries to understand."

Ellie smiled. "I think dads are just naturally like that." She laughed and it was honest. "But I guess I'm not really a pro on mothers."

"Did you remember her?" Dina asked, casting a cautious glance in her direction as they walked. "Sorry, I just don't think you've ever talked about her before."

She shook her head. "A little, I think... I think back and think I remember her. What she used to look like or what she used to sound like but when I really think about it, like really try to picture her I just can't."

"Oh, I'm sorry." Dina mumbled. 

"Don't be." Ellie laughed but it was subdued. 

Dina was closer to her now, walking slower but with purpose as she turned her head towards the sky, the snowflakes falling on her skin and taking a little longer to melt now that their skin was colder. Ellie kept her eyes fixed firmly to hers, wanting to reach out and white them away with her thumb, to hold her face in her hands and kiss away each and every one.

"Your father?" Dina finally asked, battling with the question in her mind. It had been easier before to ask when they were already on the topic but now they were heading into unknown territory. "You don't really talk about your family. Or Joel."

Ellie looked away and down the street in front of them. "You don't either."

"I know." Dina smiled, her arm brushing against Ellie's. 

She sighed and gave a soft shake of her head. "I never knew my real dad. He died before I was born I think. Joel he..." she swallowed the lump in her throat and looked down again. "I bounced between a lot of group homes and got into a lot of trouble when I was a kid."

"Is that how you got that scar on your eyebrow?" Dina asked and her arm brushed against hers again, leaving Ellie to wonder if it was an accident or not.

"You mean the one I got from wrestling an alligator?" she asked back, a quirk to her brow.

"Ellie, that didn't happen," she whined, turning to look at her face. "Tell me the real story."

The corner of Ellie's lips tugged up at the corner. "Maybe one day I'll tell you that story."

"That's not fair." Dina pouted, but there was a minor cheerfulness to her tone. "Promise?"

"Yeah, one day." Ellie agreed with a nod before turning to face her. 

"Will you tell me about when you were a kid? " Dina asked, the back of her hand brushing against Ellie's and she blushed and looked away. "You don't have to."

"No, it's okay." she said with a small shake of her head. "I was such a little shit. I think I probably still am to be honest. I have no idea why Joel picked someone who was such an asshole especially when he could have adopted an actual child." she admitted with a small shrug of her shoulders. "I resigned to the fact that I was going to be there forever, no one adopted older kids."

"Maybe he just saw in you what no one else could," she said sincerely.

Ellie looked down, the blush on her cheeks hidden by the pinkness from the cold that nipped at her skin. The back of Dina's hand was pressed firmly against hers now and the back of her fingers gently caressing her skin. They had held hands many times before now so why did this time make her feel so excited and hopeful?

"Funny, he said something similar," she said sarcastically with an eye-roll. "Whatever the reason he chose me. Said he had uh, heard about me and all the trouble I had been getting in to. I wasn't sure about going home with him at first and I definitely expressed that for a long time after we got home... fuck I was an asshole." she laughed, her breath thick in the air.

"You're still one now, aren't you?" Dina smirked, turning her head to look at her friend.

"You think that's funny?" Ellie asked, her own amused expression on her face. "You want me to stop?"

"No, no." Dina replied with a firm head shake. "I like hearing about you. I want to know what you were like. I just like learning about you..."

Ellie hummed. "Well, we've crossed off that I was trouble and an asshole- debatable whether or not I'm still one, we can beg to differ on that. Let's see... Oh, I did whatever I could to test Joel's patience, how he didn't send me back I don't know. I was a truly awful kid."

"I bet you were cute. I would have been your friend."

Ellie laughed and it was from the heart. "I didn't have any friends. I didn't want any friends. I didn't think I needed anyone back then, I certainly felt like I didn't need Joel and I made him remember that every day."

"Everyone needs people, Ellie." Dina whispered.

"I didn't." Ellie shook her head again, looking up and away from Dina's cautious gaze. "Everyone who was meant to love me, who I thought loved me left. I was always alone."

"Oh, Ellie." Dina said softly, her brows furrowed as her hands slipped into hers like it was the most natural thing in the world. "You're not alone now."

"No, I know." Ellie offered a weak smile, tears on the brink of escaping so she blinked them back, instead of focusing on the feeling of Dina's palm against hers and the warmth it brought her cold body. "I think I just lose sight of that sometimes. I don't want to end up alone, again." she admitted honestly.

She felt Dina squeeze her hand three times and she looked back down to her, finally meeting her gaze. 

"You're not alone, El. You've got Joel and Tommy. Jesse too. All your friends at College. Cat." she added biting her cheek and tasting the familiar metallic taste of blood but she pushed through "You've got me too. You can always come to me no matter what, okay? If you're ever feeling alone you call me, got it?"

Ellie shook her head and looked down. She wanted to agree but she couldn't. It's not like she didn't want to believe Dina but how could anyone truly mean that? 

"I promise," Dina added surely when she sensed Ellie's hesitation.

Things changed, people changed and situations changed. No one could truly promise that and mean it, it was impossible and that would never be Dina's fault. She would never hold anything like that against her.

"Are you cold?" Ellie finally asked, her hand still clasped tightly in Dina's.

Dina smiled sympathetically at her. "Yeah, it's freezing. You must be cold."

"Let's head back." Ellie smiled.

 


 

"Tell me a secret." Dina requested as she sat cross-legged on Ellie's bed, Ellie mirroring her and their knees touching between them.

They had barrelled through Ellie's door and stripped down their wet clothing. Dina leaving her dress discarded on her floor like Ellie had begged for earlier in the night and changing in to one of her oversized shirts. Before she even set foot in the door Ellie had already begun to unbutton her shirt, removing her suspenders and kicking off her shoes with her pants next to follow before Dina had pulled her on to the bed.

"I don't have any secrets." Ellie laughed, meeting Dina's eye.

"Everyone has secrets, Ellie." Dina rolled her eyes and swatted at her knee.

Ellie focused on the feeling the contact gave her, drawing from the warmth. "Not me, I'm an open book."

"Fucking bullshit. You're like the most secretive person I know." Dina exclaimed. "Just one?"

"You don't want to know." Ellie sighed, finally looking away from her.

"When I was 16 I stole my father's car..." Dina began, a subtle smirk on her lips. "My friends and I just wanted to get out of there but I scratched it... I fucking scratched it." She laughed, bringing her hand to her forehead. "I took it back immediately and waited for dad to find it in the morning. My parents were livid and confused... I never told them. He never said it but I think dad always knew." She finished finally meeting Ellie's eye. "If you tell anyone I'll have to kill you."

"What a rebel." Ellie chuckled.

"You fucker." Dina laughed as she leaned forward, shoving her hard in the shoulder.

"Ow." Ellie grumbled reaching up to rub at the spot. "What the fuck."

Dina only smiled sweetly at her. "I'm practically a criminal. Hit and run and all. I'd watch what you say around me."

"So tough." Ellie replied, resting her hands on her own knees. "Is there a bounty out for you? I'd happily throw you under the bus."

"Ellie." Dina whined. "You wouldn't."

"No, but I'd definitely hold it over you to get my own way. " she laughed. "Make you bring me food and shit or I'd go straight to the police."

Dina folded her arms across her chest and looked away as Ellie's phone lit up and she glanced to the side, reaching down to reject the call.

"Cat?" Dina asked softly.

Ellie nodded. "Yeah."

"You should answer it." Dina sighed, shifting uncomfortably on the bed.

Ellie watched her for a moment before she shook her head. When Dina failed to look back up to her she reached down and placed her hand on her bare knee, giving it a gentle squeeze.

She felt guilty but that feeling was easy to push into the back of her mind, it was easy to forget anything when Dina was around, almost too easy and she knew that that feeling was something that could easily get you in trouble but she couldn't help it.

It would be harder for her to explain herself now rather than in the morning anyway so it wasn't fair to answer the call she decided.

"When I saw you at that party when we met..." Ellie swallowed the lump in her throat, finally capturing Dina's gaze again. "When you crushed those fuckers at beer pong and then asked me to tell you about the stars... I thought you were the most beautiful girl in the world."

Dina looked at her confused for a moment before she withdrew her hand and hit her knee again. "Fuck you, you're meant to tell me a true secret! Not something to make me feel better."

"It is a true secret!" Ellie protested.

"Oh uh-huh, you're a fucking shit," Dina said sternly with an eye-roll. "At least I was honest!"

Ellie exhaled hard, closing her eyes for a moment before opening them and looking into Dina's eyes. Hoping she would just get it, praying that she would understand because she wasn't sure if Dina kept looking at her like that for much longer she would survive.

"You confuse me." Dina finally whispered, her eyes not leaving Ellies as her bottom lip rolled between her teeth.

Ellie swallowed hard, deciding whether or not to play innocent and naive to get the full picture from Dina or just accept what she had said at face value because she wasn't sure exactly what she meant and further clarification would have been preferred.

"Sorry?" Ellie finally offered when the silence became too heavy between them and Dina wouldn't look away.

The tenseness on Dina's face softened before she smiled at Ellie. She opened her mouth to speak, to clarify what she had meant but was stopped when she glanced down to Ellies now illuminated phone.

"Cat again?" She again asked with a sigh at the sudden intrusion.

Ellie again glanced to her side. "Jesse." She looked back in her direction.

"I don't want to talk to him." Dina sighed, pulling her knees to her chest and hiding her face in them.

"He probably just wants to know if you're alright," Ellie whispered. "Is it okay? If I do that I mean... "

Dina said nothing so Ellie took that as an okay. Reaching down she picked up her phone, it feeling more weighty in her hand than it had previously. She pressed accept and brought the phone to her ear.

"Jesse?" She asked weakly as if she hadn't said a word in days.

"Ellie, where are you?" He asked before quickly adding. "Is Dina with you?"

"Yeah, she's here with me." He said hoarsely.

"Fuck." Jesse breathed a big sigh of relief.

"Where are they?" Ellie heard Cat ask from behind Jesse.

"Where are you guys? We've been worried," he said softly, a weakness to his tone.

"Dina's okay." Ellie whispered reassuringly, her eyes falling over the girl in front of her.

"Ellie... Tell me where-"

"Jesse, Dina's safe." Ellie reiterated firmly.

He exhaled and Ellie could tell he rubbed at the bridge of his nose in the typical way he did when he was stressed. "Yeah... okay, yeah. Make sure she gets home safe." He quickly muttered. "Tell her to call me in the morning, please."

Ellie cringed, he sounded desperate as he pleaded her. "Yeah, I will. Go home and get some sleep, I'll make sure Dina gets home safely. Goodnight Jesse."

As she hung up the call she heard Cat questioning in the background before the phone went dead and the guilt continued to rise in her chest.

"You home safe?" Ellie smiled weakly, trying to ease the new tension a little.

Dina looked up from her knees and gave a small shrug in response. "As safe as I can be with you."

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Ellie asked mock offense to her tone.

"Nothing." Dina replied slow and deliberate in a way she knew would annoy her friend before glancing across the room to her guitar that sat on the floor. "Will you play for me?"

Ellie smiled before feigning a groan she never truly meant. "You're such a slave driver, you know?"

"You let me get away with it." She mumbled back, laying down in the warm spot Ellie had just vacated, keeping her eyes on the tall woman as she picked up her guitar and slumped down in her computer chair.

"Wonderwall?" Ellie asked with a shit-eating grin.

"One day I'll say yes and you'll regret it." Dina shot back.

"What then?" Ellie said mindlessly strumming a few chords.

"Will you sing for me?" Dina asked.

"Dina..." Ellie warned, about to deny her request like she always had but she had never seen Dina look at her this way before.

"Please."

Ellie sighed before she nodded. "Okay."

She wracked her brain for a song that she could both sing and play well while also considering ones that wouldn't seem too forward.

"I only know sad songs..." she offered sheepishly, rubbing st the back of her neck.

"That's okay," Dina replied her tone flat, and even.

She placed her hands on the fretboard and took a deep breath before she began strumming the strings playing through the intro melody a few times before she got the courage to open her mouth.

"Talking away, I don't know what I'm to say..." 

She began a little shaky, glancing towards the woman with the big eyes who stared at her from her bed. She swallowed the lump in her throat, her feet gently tapping on the ground as she glanced down at the chords.

"I'll say it anyway, today's another day to find you
Shying away, I'll be coming for your love okay..."

She continued going through the song, stealing cautious glances to Dina before returning her attention to her fingers moving up and down the board. She didn't hate the way Dina was looking at her but it made the heat easily rise to her cheeks and the nervousness pool in her gut. 

As she finished the last line she laid her hand over the strings, turning to face Dina and offering a small triumphant smile because for how shaky her hands were she hadn't messed up a single chord or forgotten the words.

"You should have sung for me when I asked before," Dina mumbled, her breath heavy as she sat up from her spot on the bed.

"Terrible, right?" Ellie joked, running her hand along the wood of the guitar before putting it down.

"No." Dina shook her head as she rose from the bed, cautiously stepping forward until she stood in front of Ellie. For once she was the one looking down at her as she placed her hands on her shoulders so delicately she wasn't sure if she would even be able to feel her touch. She shook her head again. "No. That was the most beautiful thing I've ever heard."

Ellie shook her head and looked to the side, anywhere but back into Dina's eyes. She couldn't believe her, as much as she wanted to.

"Ellie." Dina whispered, removing her hand from her shoulder to slide her palm over her cheek, turning her face back to her own.

Ellie couldn't help the involuntary pink hue on her cheeks as Dina stared into her soul. She allowed her lips to slightly part, inhaling through them to try and regain some composure from Dina standing so incredibly close to her.

What business did she have smelling so good anyways?

Whatever tint was on Ellie's face she was sure it was mirrored in Dina's skin, making her feel a little more at ease but her heart still thundered in her chest and she wondered if Dina could feel it through her hand on her cheek.

"Dina." She whispered weakly, almost inaudibly quiet.

Dina dropped her eyes and Ellie followed, knowing her eyes fell on her lips for however long they lingered there before they were back up. It was painfully slow and every second that passed Ellie ached.

Dina finally dropped her hands and Ellie shivered immediately missing the contact but in turn, she picked up her hands, entwining their fingers together and there was the perfect fit she had been craving.

"Let's go to bed." Dina mumbled.

And it was tired and lazy and lacked all the innocence it had previously but Ellie still nodded and allowed herself to be pulled to her feet and shuffled over to the bed with her.

At the side of the bed Dina turned to face her, their bodies almost flush together as she reached up running her hands over Ellie's shoulders and into her shirt, down her bare back, her breath hot and thick on Ellie's neck.

She pushed back on the shoulders of the material and Ellie shifted her arms to allow her to guide the garment from her arms and to the floor at her feet leaving her in only her bra and panties and reeling from the intimacy of it all.

Dina reached up again and wrapped her arms around her neck, locking then together she turned her head and allowed it to rest on her chest between the crook of her neck.

Ellie swallowed hard, confident that if she couldn't before Dina would definitely be able to feel the thumping of her heart now and it would give her away in an instant. She was both scared and elated by the prospect of being this close to her again, at having this prolonged contact once more.

Was terrified a better word? She wasn't sure.

When Dina gave her a gentle squeeze she shook herself from her daze, wrapping her arms around Dina's waist, leaving them to settle delicately on her lower back. She needed more contact, desperate for feeling her skin against hers and it wasn't long until her silent pleas were answered.

Dina leaned back reaching to take Ellie's wrists and placing them to the hem of her shirt before looking into her eyes, her own big and open and full, and Ellie understood.

Ellie took a deep breath and dropped her head, slowly tugging her shirt upwards, the tips of her fingers tenderly brushing against her exposed navel. It took her entire concentration to remain on the task at hand, her movements slow and deliberate, teasing every time Dina's voice hitched in her throat, her eyes shut tightly closed.

The black-haired woman raised her arms when she approached her breasts but Ellie paused, her eyes flittering up to Dina's face for reassurance and receiving a soft nod in return. She swallowed the lump in her throat as she lifted it further, her eyes fixing to the crevice between them created by her bra before finally she lifted it over her head and dropped it carelessly to the floor.

Dina dropped her arms to rest her hands on Ellie's hips and looked up at her before stepping into her form again, relishing the contact of the soft skin against her own.

Ellie again wrapped her arms around her waist, pulling her close and just knowing that when they finally separated she would miss the feeling in her bones.

She could feel Dina move against her body, move her head and brush her nose against the skin on her neck and she shivered against her, mentally cursing herself for her own body betraying her in such a way.

"I'm sorry I ruined your night, Ellie." She murmured against her skin.

"As if you think that party was my scene. Hiding in that closet with you was definitely a highlight." She smiled lazily, pressing her cheek to the top of her head, breathing in the scent of her shampoo.

Dina laughed. "Yeah, I think it was one of my highlights too. And the walk here. And right now..." she trailed off, biting her lip.

"Are you ready to go to bed?" Ellie asked, trying to cover the deep blush that graced her cheeks reminding herself that this was just Dina being Dina.

Cute, comfortable, and confident Dina. Happy to dance with strangers and rope in anyone for a conversation. 

Beautiful Dina that everyone loved and fawned over, relishing any chance to get to speak with her or place their hands anywhere on her.

She only nodded slowly, following Dina's motions as she slid into bed, waiting for Ellie to do the same before turning around and facing her, immediately she pulled the covers over their heads.

"Do you think we can stay here forever?" Dina asked after a long moment of staring into Ellie's eyes.

"Probably not." Ellie smiled back. "Eventually we would have to eat, and use the bathroom and shit."

Dina huffed and looked down. She tentatively reached out and touched her fingertips to the skin over Ellie's belly button. "You've been working out more."

"Mhmm." Ellie hummed. "I forgot you definitely weren't watching me train." She teased.

"I wasn't" she insisted but her argument was weak, instead she pressed her palm flush to Ellie's skin. "I do miss you, El."

"Then what happened?" Ellie breathed, feeling more confident hiding under the covers with nothing else around them. "What did I do wrong?"

"You didn't do anything wrong." Dina sighed and closed her eyes.

"It sure seems like I did." She pressed. "I'm sorry for whatever it was."

Dina finally opened her eyes and blinked at Ellie, achingly slow and Ellie wanted to know what was on her mind, to climb inside her brain for a second and figure everything else out that was going on, so she could say the right thing and not fuck it up like she always did.

"Do you ever think that this is wrong?" Dina finally asked.

"That what's wrong?" Ellie asked, confusion in her tone.

"This." She said softly motioning between them before resting her hand back to her skin.

"Oh." Ellie pursed her lips, knowing in a way it was but she had never been able to help it, still tirelessly trying to convince herself that this was just what friends did.

"I mean, you have Cat and I have Jesse." She shook her head softly. "That should be enough for me, right?"

"I don't know." Ellie stammered, reaching her hand down to rest on Dina's wrist for both hers and her own reassurance. "I couldn't tell you what's enough for you. Jesse, he's a good guy. You know he'll take care of you if that's what you mean."

Dina sighed, giving her a look of complete and utter desperation for her to say anything else, to say something that would this okay but she didn't. Ellie wouldn't. She never did and she felt guilty for pushing her into a moment such as this again.

"Ellie." Dina breathed softly, her voice tired and shaking as she reached up and placed her hand on her cheek, reaching down with her free hand to entwine their fingers together. 

She studied her eyes, feeling lost in the endless green ocean of its depths, knowing it was wrong but she just couldn't help it. 

Ellie's eye's dropped to Dina's lips unable to take the way she was looking at her any longer, slightly chapped but looking so soft and kissable. She thought she could try it, just once she reasoned, and then she would know if she would like to do it again.

She already knew the answer to that without even trying so after a long blink she darted her eyes back up to Dina's, hating the way melted under her gaze. She sighed, turning her face into the soft hand on her cheek.

This was okay, she could keep telling herself. As long as it was just the two of them here, hiding under the covers from their problems, it was okay. As long as they didn't tell anyone it was okay. 

Except it wasn't, and it never would be. She couldn't break Jesse's heart and she most certainly couldn't break Dina's and Cat, she would be fine but Ellie certainly didn't want to hurt her. So she continued to tell herself that Dina and Jesse were good together, that that was just what couples did. They fought and they broke up and they got back together. 

Rinse and repeat. 

Ellie would always have his back like he had his but that didn't make this any easier.

"It's okay." Ellie finally breathed. "We should just sleep. Right?"

"Right." Dina sighed, running her thumb over Ellie's cheek before dropping her hand.

Ellie closed her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat, ready for Dina to turn away from her and sleep but instead she pressed closer, bumping her forehead into Ellie's to get her attention and when she looked at her she had tear brimmed eyes. 

"I'm sorry." she murmured, dropping her head and curling up tightly to Ellie's chest.

Ellie closed her eyes again and wrapped her arms around her small body, pulling her close and resting her chin on the top of her head. This was okay, these moments made it all bearable regardless of whether it was wrong or not, whether this was fucked up or just what friends did. She felt better for having Dina close and as selfish as that was she wasn't convinced she could give it up.

Tomorrow she would deal with the fallout. She would apologize to Jesse, and try to make it up to Cat. She would apologize to Dina too and try and pick up the pieces.

Chapter Text

When Ellie woke up the next morning she was alone.

She wasn't surprised, in fact, she had expected it if she was being honest. That still didn't stop the empty cavernous feeling in her chest as she rolled on to her back and stared to the ceiling, inhaling the scent from the girl that had quickly ghosted.

She wondered what time she had left, glancing to the side, and no longer seeing her discarded dress on the floor. Ellie had woken up at some point in the morning before the sun filtered through the windows and she had still been here, offering her some hope that she would continue to be here if she fell asleep again.

But part of her knew and while she tried to fight off sleep, the comfort of the small girl in her arms was pulling her towards it with every lengthening blink, and eventually, she could no longer take it.

She couldn't blame her though, maybe she would have run too if she was in the same position she thought but she knew she wouldn't have.

She placed her hands behind her head, resting back on them with a sigh. She had enjoyed last night to the point where she hadn't wanted it to end, partly because she was finally able to spend time with Dina again and partly for the fact she would have to deal with the falling outs of the night before.

What was she even meant to say?

She couldn't even find the words while laying here in her bed, how was she expected to find them while in the middle of an apology or whatever it was she was going to try to muster.

With a groan she pushed herself up, feeling like she had aged many more years since midnight. Rubbing at her eyes she padded over to her mirror, staring at her body for a moment to make sure there was no physical reason she felt so drained but nothing immediately came to her vision, nothing that would have called for the feeling.

Her eyes instead fell to her newly decorated cast and she looked down, pulling it into her field of vision, smiling to herself before muttering a quick few expletives under her breath. How was she going to explain that? At least if she and Dina had have done something last night a hickey would have been easier to cover up than this.

She pursed her lips, shifting around to find some shorts and a t-shirt to switch in to before throwing on a hoodie to cover her arm. Maybe if she went for a run she could clear her head and begin to think of how to fix things.

She finally grabbed her headphones, pulling them around her neck before heading out the door. She lingered by Dina's door like she had many times before, tossing up whether she should knock like she had many times before walking out like she did every single time she thought talking to Dina would be a good idea.

She had done what she could, but it was Jesse's problem to fix she reminded herself.

Ellie ran.

And then she ran both harder and faster, pushing herself to exhaustion before she finally gave up. This morning it did not make her feel better and before long she found herself sitting on a bench in the quad, watching as the small number of students flittered around the campus, likely heading home from a raucous night out or returning home from a classic night of debauchery.

She turned up the volume on her phone, cranking the music louder through her headphones. I sad song she didn't really know by an artist she would never admit to liking and stolen from Dina's playlist but today it was just hitting differently.

She hadn't thought about it before but it crossed her mind now, should she come up with a list of resolutions for the new year? Because that's what you did, right? You wrote a list of your known flaws and you promised to fix them, promised to be better.

But did anyone actually?

Either way, she thought it would be a good place to collect her thoughts.

For starters, she needed to apologize to both Cat and Jesse, for both leaving them and making them worry. When she apologized she would also be apologizing for spending the entire morning with Dina but decided she wouldn't physically say that, knowing it would cause more issues than it would fix. Nothing had happened, anyways.

But if that was the truth why did she feel so guilty?

Secondly, she would focus more on school, knowing it would only get more hard as time went on. It was easy to just not do the required work for a class, or put it off and do it and she had a habit of doing that for hanging out with her friends or playing video games.

If she really wanted to get in go the field she wanted she needed to knuckle down. It was competitive and she would need every edge she could get to get her foot in the door and make picking her as easy as possible.

The last thing she wanted to do was leave college and have no job lined up.

She wanted to do better in soccer, deciding she had become too complacent. They hadn't lost a game and it felt like now they were just going through the motions. When it resumed they would have a run of tough games that she needed to be on good form for so she would hir the gym more often, as cliche as that had seemed for a resolution.

Ellie looked down and counted how many she had so far on her fingers, feeling as if it wasn't enough and the ones she had picked other than the first weren't that great and sort of wouldn't make her a better person.

Just as she was about to reconsider a chest was pressed up against her upper back and arms snaked loosely around her neck causing her to tense. She tugged off her headphones and looked over her shoulder, Cay immediately placing her cheek on that shoulder and coming in to view.

"Hey." Ellie mumbled, relaxing a little at the realization it wasn't someone trying to sneak up behind her and kill her.

"Hey." Cat exhaled back. "We've you been? I've been looking for you all morning."

Ellie looked down, fiddling with her fingers in her nap. "I went for a run."

Cat pressed her lips to her shoulder before shifting to sit next to her on the bench, turning her face towards her and noticing the way she just wouldn't look up.

"I'm sorry." Ellie offered, gesturing with her hand as the words felt thick and hot in her throat.

Cat gave a wry smile and placed her hand on Ellie's thigh. "Hey, it's okay. I was just worried about you."

"I just couldn't be there anymore," Ellie replied as she looked down at Cat's hand and with a sigh placed hers on top of it. "It's not okay, either. I shouldn't have just taken off."

"How's Dina?" Cat asked, a stiffness to her tone that Ellie didn't fail to pick up on.

"I don't know?" Ellie replied honestly. "Okay, I think. I hate seeing my friends fight."

"Yeah, Jesse was pretty upset." Cat hummed in response. "We were both so worried. Jesse felt better knowing Dina was with you, though."

"Oh." Ellie gave a small nod, feeling Cat's hand tense on her thigh underneath her own. "And you?"

Cat gave a coy smile in response and looked away. "I'm glad you're okay, Ellie. We should have gone when you asked."

Ellie shook her head, tightening her grip on Cat's hand. "No, you were right. I need to um... stop being so selfish, I guess. I'll be better, okay?"

Cat turned back to face her, her face immediately softening when she met Ellie's eyes. She knocked her shoulder against hers before pressing her lips to her cheek. "Enough being a sap." She finally said, entwining their fingers together. "Do you want to get breakfast with me?"

Ellie hummed. "Yeah, I'd like that."

 


 

Ellie slumped down next to Jesse on the couch of his dorm. It was at that moment she realized she didn't often come here, deciding the boy's dorm, in particular, had a musty smell and she was sure the walls had been permanently stained with the stench of lynx. She figured they didn't get the memo that unlike the ad it didn't actually attract hot women.

"How's everything going?" She asked, leaning back into his couch.

"I'm tired." He groaned rubbing at his face.

"Have you talked to Dina yet?" She asked, wringing her fingers.

"Yeah, she came by early this morning and we talked." He turned and smiled at Ellie. "She apologized and I think we're all good now."

"Oh." Ellie nodded offering him a small smile. "So you had a good talk then?"

He nodded. "Yeah. I think we were both just really stressed with school and everything happening. She promised to be more open with me and to take what I say a bit more seriously, especially when it comes to drinking."

"That's good." She replied, knocking her shoes together.

"Thank you, Ellie, for taking care of her. I was a wreck last night thinking that she was out there in the cold all by herself," he admitted, pursing his lips together.

"I told you I'd get her home safe." Ellie joked to ease the tension she was feeling a little. "Always home safe Ellie, that's what they call me."

Ellie cringed when he didn't take the bait.

"Did she talk to you about anything?" He asked, the weakness in his tone causing Ellie's heart to fracture. "Like about us?"

Ellie sighed and look down. "No." She lied, remembering every single thing they had talked about. "But I think you need to just take a step back and allow her to open up to you without any pressure."

"Yeah, I know you're right." He sighed back, resting his hands on his knees. "I just care about her a lot, you know?"

"Yeah, I know," Ellie replied, remaining to look down at the carpet on the floor, wanting nothing more than to admit that she did too but she couldn't. "Just give her time to let you know things on her own terms, it's hard when you feel pressured to talk about something."

"Thanks for being there for us." Jesse smiled at her as he reached over and rested a hang on her shoulder before his eyes settled on her cast and he opened his mouth to speak but Ellie interjected.

"How mad was Cat?" She asked, pulling her arm on to her lap and doing her best to hide the heart on the inside, covering the cast as much as she could with her other hand.

"I don't think she was mad either, Ellie." Jesse replied with a shake of his head. "She was worried about you too, said that you'd asked her to go home and she had refused so she thought you were mad. Shes really cool, you did well picking that one."

"Yeah." Ellie nodded earnestly. "She is really cool."

"And she was so nice and level headed," Jesse added, gesturing with his hand. "I would have lost my mind if it wasn't for her."

"She's pretty great, huh?" Ellie smiled, feeling guilty for how she had treated her.

"She invited me to that music gig shes putting on tonight, you're going right?" Jesse asked excitedly.

"Yeah, of course. I'm going early to help her and the other guys set up. Do you want to come help too?" she smiled, waiting for him to deny her request so she could talk him into it.

"Yeah man, I owe her."

 


 

Ellie carried in some precariously stacked boxes of equipment in her arms, followed closely by Jesse and they placed it down by the stage where Cat has requested. The black-haired woman had already scolded them for getting into a competition over who could carry the most and be the most helpful, but they hadn't stopped, choosing only to goad each other quietly rather than loud enough for anyone to hear.

Ellie would tell you she won, Jesse would have argued that he had but Cat would have just called both of them idiots.

The bar didn't look any different in the afternoon than it did in the evening, it was still dark and the only difference Ellie could ascertain was that the normally packed space only held a few small tables of people chatting over fancier drinks than what would be served when more people filtered in the late evening.

"Thanks, babe." Cat smiled, placing a lingering kiss to her cheek. "Thanks, Jesse. You've been a big help. Well, sort of... I think you've aged me just from being dorks."

"That's what you get when you hire Ellie and co moving company," Ellie smirked.

"Jesse and co." he coughed into his hand as he turned away.

Cat rolled her eyes and Ellie shoved him, still feeling the heat from Cat's breath on her cheek. "Anything else?"

"No, I don't think so." She replied, resting a hand on her shoulder as she turned around and watched the tech guys beginning to set up the equipment. "You're going to stick around until it starts, yeah? I could come to grab you if there's anything else."

"Yeah of course." Ellie nodded. "We'll just go over there and have a drink."Over time pricing though, it is a business we're running."

"Alright. See you soon." Cat grinned ignoring her joking before leaning in to give her a quick peck on the lips before rushing off.

Ellie turned to look at Jesse and the wide smirk on his face induced a heavy groan.

"Don't." She warned.

"I won't." He smirked, his hands raised in the air. "I just think its cute and all... my little Ellie, with a badass girlfriend."

She rolled her eyes. "Badass? I'm badass, what are you talking about. Did you see how many boxes I just carried?"

He ruffled her hair, laughing when she ducked away. "Oh uh-huh. You keep telling yourself that. You've done well."

"Okay you can stop now." she groaned exaggeratedly. "Like seriously, let's talk about something else."

"How did you pull someone so popular anyways? Seems like she always has an endless stream of people wanting her attention." He asked with a nod in her direction as he sat down on the barstool in the corner.

She followed his gestures her gaze falling on Cat animatedly speaking to two women, watching as one placed her hand on Cat's tattooed arm only for her to laugh and shrug it in that way that she always did when someone made an advance on her. Ellie felt like she never had to worry so she didn't often take note of the people flocking to her girlfriend's friendly aura.

"You're one to talk, you're literally with the queen of social butterflies," she replied with an eye roll.

"Yeah, but I'm charming so it makes sense." Jesse grinned, before raising his hand in front of them. "Plus, I'd beat up anyone who so much as looked at Dina the wrong way."

"Oh, you're charming, tough guy?" Ellie challenged, turning to face him. "Because if I remember correctly there was a time when..."

Ellie struggled as Jesse's hand was clamped over her mouth and she laughed against it before managing to push him away.

"Ellie, we don't talk about that." He said with a small grin, that spread further to his cheeks when Ellie smiled back.

"I'll go get us a drink," Ellie replied with a small shake of her head. "Cosmopolitan for you?"

"Beer." Jesse replied as deeply as he could before adding. "Please."

"Right." Ellie drawled lifting herself from the seat and heading towards the bar. "Very manly of you." she added offhandedly.

Ellie leaned against the bar, looking left and right for the bartender but he appeared to be distracted chatting to a group of girls down the other end as he wiped down his glasses. She thought about calling for him or heading down further that way to get his attention but instead chose to stay there for a moment to have a breather.

She was tired but she always felt tired these days.

She felt a hand fall to her waist and she turned around, being face to face with Cat and she offered her a smile as she held her dark eyes.

"Come here." she grinned, dropping her hands to Ellie's and pulling her towards the far end of the bar and into the bathrooms.

The first empty one Cat came across she pushed Ellie inside of, her hands quickly finding the back of her head and pulling her lips tightly to her own. It took a second for Ellie to register the contact but was quick to reciprocate the action.

"I've wanted to do that all day." Cat smiled against her lips before pulling away enough to look into her eyes.

"Oh yeah?" Ellie smiled dopily. "Better than your expectations?" she asked, pressing her lips against hers together and roughly tugging at her hips.

"Mhmm... Exceeded them, actually," she replied, holding on to Ellie and moving back to walk her own back against the wall, laughing when Ellie pushed hard into her and pinning her in place.

Ellie ducked her head and placed a series of soft kisses up the length of Cat's neck, starting at her jaw before finishing at the base of her neck, her thumbs looping into the band of her pants and pulling her hips closer to her own.

When Cat moaned in her ear, her lips brushing against it, it only spurred her own more, her hands fumbling over her hips, up her torso, and over her chest before coming to rest behind her neck and pulling her in for a deep kiss.

"Stop." Cat breathed, running her hands through the back of Ellie's hair.

"Oh, you want me to stop?" she challenged, tugging her lower lip between her teeth. "Because I kind of want you."

"In here?" Cat asked with a smirk and a quirked brow. "How romantic."

"What can I say, I'm a romantic." Ellie rolled her eyes, looking down to pop the button on the front of her jeans and working to tug them down her legs.

"Oh, uh-huh." Cat replied, helping Ellie out to get them down her legs before nudging them to the side. "You're lucky you're hot." she breathed, sliding her hands over her cheeks and pulling her lips back to meet her own. "And I kind of want you too."

Ellie smirked against her lips and slid her hands down the side of her thighs before pressing her knee firmly between her legs, pinning her further against the wall. "You're beautiful." she whispered, close to her ear as her hand found space between her own thigh and Cat's crotch

"Ellie..." she breathed, wrapping her arms around her neck and pulled her head to the crook of her neck, a blush gracing her pale skin. "... I really like you."

Ellie tensed for a moment, quickly brushing off her words as her teeth found the side of Cat's neck and gave it a gentle bite before placing a soft, urgent kiss over the red skin. "I like you too." she whispered back and she meant it, she honestly did like Cat. She pressed her palm harder over top of her underwear, causing her to push back against the friction.

 


 

Ellie held Cat's hand tightly as they stumbled out of the bathroom after doing their best to fix their appearance in the mirror. It hadn't been easy, Cat's neck still baring bright red marks unable to be hidden under her distinct lack of clothing but at least it would be dark in here soon and they would be better hidden. Cat had fixed Ellie's hair for her and straightened her clothes and she thanked her with a chaste kiss.

Ellie gave her hand a single squeeze before Cat pressed her lips sloppily to her cheek. "I have to go finish getting set up, you've put me behind." she scolded but there was no malice behind her tone and only kind smiles. "I'll come find you once everything is all sorted, okay?"

"Okay." Ellie smiled back lazily as she dropped her hand, watching her dart off into the quickly growing crowd before shaking her head and looking down.

As she took a few more steps towards the bar she finally looked up, her eyes meeting the big murky browns of Dina's and she paused, staring at her before Dina turned away from her. She sighed, closing the small gap between them and feeling the warmth of guilt flood her chest but she didn't know why, she had no reason to feel guilty.

"Hey." she murmured, taking a spot beside her and leaning her elbow on the wood.

"Hey." Dina replied back, her tone even and measured. "Having fun?" she asked, glancing at Ellie out of the corner of her eye.

Ellie bit the inside of her cheek hard, looking down at her hands and picking at the nail on her thumb. Why did she feel ashamed?

"Jesse invited me." Dina finally offered when Ellie didn't say anything. "He said he was waiting for you to bring back drinks but that had been a while ago." she hummed. "So I said I'd get them."

"Oh." Ellie replied, rubbing at the back of her head. "Yeah, sorry. I was just helping Cat with something."

"I bet you were." Dina replied slow and deliberate, chancing another cautious glance out the corner of her eye.

"Yeah..." she nodded, a blush betraying the bridge of her nose, thankful that it was now darker in here. "I'll um, get them. Have you ordered?"

"Yep." she said curtly, at that moment the bartender brought over a beer before grabbing a glass to make her drink.

"I couldn't even get his attention earlier. Definitely pays to be good looking." she joked, watching the way Dina's grip of the bar clenched tighter. "I'll have the same!" she yelled to the bartender who only motioned over his shoulder that he heard her. "I'll uh, bring them over when they're ready if you like?"

"You're not going to get caught up helping Cat again?" she asked, turning from the bar and folding her arms across her chest, looking Ellie up and down in the way that made her melt under her gaze.

"Uh, no?" Ellie stammered before shaking her head.

"Convincing." she replied with an eye roll before grabbing the beer off the counter and walking towards the direction of the table where Jesse sat.

Ellie sighed, dropping her head as she held on to the edge of the bar.

When the drinks were ready she paid for all three before heading back over to Jesse and Dina not failing to notice how close Dina sat to Jesse, his arm draped across the back of her chair and the way he leaned close to whisper in her ear. At least they seemed to be getting on again.

She sat down, sliding one of the drinks in her hand across to Dina who nodded in acknowledgment before bringing it to her lips. Ellie couldn't help but watch as she did so. The way her lips parted, the way her throat moved as the cold liquid slid down her throat, reminding her of the night before. She gulped and made herself look down before bringing her own drink to her lips.

She felt as if Dina's gaze was on her the whole time but when she looked up, she was disappointed that it wasn't. Hurt even? She wasn't sure. Why would she even care if Dina was looking at her?

She didn't care she decided.

"I've never heard of this place." Jesse offered, bringing his beer to his lips.

"They typically have some really good bands playing here." Ellie said when Jesse turned to face her, still keeping her eyes downcast. "Cat comes here all the time, ropes me in sometimes. She fucking knows everyone here."

"She gets cooler the more you talk about her." Jesse quipped "Right, babe?" He asked, squeezing Dina's thigh.

"Right." Dina replied before adding boredly. "Shes great."

Ellie looked up an briefly met her eye, not failing to catch her tone.

"I know right!" Jesse replied, shooting Ellie a devious smile. "What's she doing with a loser like you?"

Ellie looked up and met his eye and thought about replying sarcastically before she gave a small shrug and looked down again. "I don't know."

She felt a sharp pain in her shin and she looked up to meet Dina's eyes, anger set behind them and she frowned back, reaching down to rub at the skin.

"Dramatic much?" Jesse laughed. "Spending too much time hanging out with these hipsters I think."

"Sorry, I thought that maybe I could let you pretend you were cooler than me for a moment." Ellie rolled her eyes, bringing her drink to her lips and finishing it.

Ellie leaned back, suddenly feeling in a bad mood and folding her arms across her chest, only looking to the side as she drowned out the conversation around her.

There were another few rounds of drinks, each of them taking turns. People were beginning to show up now and it wasn't long until the place was packed. They were grateful that they were here early enough to grab a table and Ellie was happy that she had been allowed to talk them into taking one at the back rather than the front.

The first band was setting up when Cat appeared, dropping into the chair beside Ellie and smiling at her friends. "Hey, guys."

"I'm fucking pumped for this." Jesse exclaimed, raising his beer towards her.

"Oh good, I expect to see you on the dancefloor later then." she winked at him cooly before turning back to Ellie. "How much have you had to drink?"

"Uh... Maybe like four? I don't know." she replied confused with a shake of her head.

"Finish that one." she smiled softly, motioning with her head to her glass.

Ellie raised an eyebrow but obliged. "Why?"

"I need a favour." Cat said sweetly as she dropped her hand to Ellie's knee, giving it a gentle squeeze and when she only looked at her skeptically she continued. "One of the bands down to play tonight has pulled out..."

"No way." Ellie frowned shaking her head sternly. "There's not enough drinks in the world."

"Let me finish-" she began.

"Cat. No. I can't." she shook her head again, turning to look at her friends for back up.

"It's at a really important time and we can't have a gap..." she continued to Ellie stubbornly shaking her head. "Think about it, please?" she requested, trying to get her to look into her eyes.

"I'm going to go get another drink." Ellie mumbled, raising from her chair and storming over to the bar, Cat getting up to follow her.

She waited, tapping her fingers impatiently on the counter when Cat stepped up beside her.

"I wouldn't ask if I didn't think you could do it." Cat whispered close to her ear, sliding her hand over her lower back. "At least think about it." she said again, squeezing Ellie's waist with her hand before placing a soft kiss to her cheek and walking away.

Ellie shook her head to no one in particular but herself. Cat had no right even asking that of her, if she had wanted to be included in the night she would have signed up herself. Surely there was someone else that could help out.

It's not like anyone would notice if there was a gap in the music, they were all too drunk anyways. They'd probably just make their own up.

A drink was placed in front of her and with a sigh she brought it to her lips, closing her eyes.

She tensed a little, a hand sliding over her shoulders but she didn't bother to open her eyes. "I told you no, Cat."

"You didn't tell me no, though." Dina offered, dopping her hands and leaning on the counter to face Ellie.

She groaned and finally opened her eyes. "I'd tell you no too."

"Would you?" Dina asked, her head tilted to the side in the way Ellie loved.

She sighed and shook her head. She wanted to say yes but also no, both words getting stuck in her throat and she decided better of even responding at all knowing it would just ineviatbly get her in trouble.

"You should play." Dina suggested.

"And why should I do that?" she snapped back, reaching up to rub at the bridge of her nose.

"Because you're good." Dina shrugged. "And I think you'll surprise yourself."

Ellie took another long sip of her drink, turning her attention back to it. "Why did you leave this morning?"

"I had to go apologise to Jesse." she lied, remembering waking up that morning and looking away from Ellie. "For what it's worth, I'd like to hear you sing more..."

"Just go away, Dina." Ellie muttered, bringing her cup back to her lips, feeling sad when Dina had obliged.

 


 

Ellie placed the cup on the ground by the stool that would be her perch. She picked up the guitar nearby by the neck, it wasn't her guitar and it didn't feel right in her hands but it would do. With a sigh, she nodded to herself and walked over to the seat, sliding on top of it.

There was a small cheer from the crowd, mostly involving Cat and Jesse, she couldn't hear Dina and she didn't care about the rest of them. Her hands were shaking as she lifted the guitar onto her lap, taking a second to run her hand over the wood of the body she sighed before looking up at the countless people who were staring at her expectantly.

She thought about running then, leaving before she could embarrass herself but even if she had wanted to she couldn't move.

She also couldn't let Cat down.

She took a deep breath and dropped her eyes again, falling on Cat and Jesse on the table in the back and she immediately felt calmer as they cheered again. Her heart stopped when her eyes settled on Dina behind them, staring at her as if she was the most important thing in the room and she supposed at that point she was, so she tried not to let it bother her.

She hadn't really considered what she was going to play, stressing too much about actually getting up and playing for that thought to cross her mind. She cleared her throat, strummed a few strings before stopping, reaching down and grabbing her glass, swallowing half of its contents in one big gulp.

She settled back on the chair to a chorus of laughter from the crowd. Had that been funny? She hadn't intended to be funny so she swallowed the new lump in her throat. She strummed a few strings again before looking out to the crowd, back to Cat but it could have easily been Dina, she wasn't sure which was holding her attention more.

"Requests?" she asked, her voice scratchy and hoarse.

She watched as Dina rolled her eyes and the crowd yelling names of songs that were all blurred together to the point where she could barely make out a single one perforated her eardrums. None of the options seemed appealing and she sat there awkwardly waiting for something better to be suggested.

"Wonderwall!"

Ellie looked up, her eyes meeting Dina's, studying how her hands were cupped over her mouth to yell her suggestion loud enough for it to hit Ellie's ears.

Ellie smirked and looked down, looking as her fingers fell to the fretboard and began to strum the opening. It took a second for the crowd to realize and she was met with both a collective groan and cheering from different parts of the crowd.

She went through the intro once more before leaning close to the mic and began singing, the first few lines causing her voice to crack and she inwardly cringed before pulling it together and pushing through to the chorus.

She looked to Cat and Jesse, smiling when she noticed them singing along with her but her eyes didn't stay long as they shifted back to Dina and held her gaze, thankful that Cat was sitting in front of her and it would be easily assumed that she was looking at her instead.

Dina wasn't singing, but Ellie wished she would have, wished she could have seen the way her lips moved or curved like they did when she spoke or when she laughed but she never looked away, just continued staring at her with a look Ellie couldn't describe. Every time she looked down to make sure her fingers were working correctly she would look up and Dina would be staring exactly the same way.

Ellie held her gaze as she finished the last few lines, strumming out the end of the song before holding her hand over the strings to silence them. She breathed heavily as the crowd cheered and whistled and she knew her cheeks were red but she was thankful it was dark.

"Anyways..." she mumbled, reaching down for her cup again. "So there was Wonderwall."

The crowd cheered again and she brought the drink to her lips, the cool liquid helping to squash the heat she felt back for a moment before she allowed her eyes to flitter around the crowd.

"Sorry." she offered, remembering the conversation she had had with Dina the night before. "I only know sad songs." she finished, placing the glass down and readying herself again.

The crowd cheered again as she started playing before settling down and singing along with her to the covers she chose to play. It made it easier to play and sing with them singing along she decided, happy that they were mostly drowning out her own voice and she was just becoming the backing music for them.

Before she knew it, the few songs she had agreed with Cat to play had been played and she was quick to exit the stage, ducking around the back of the crowds to get away as quickly as she could from the spotlight. She decided that was the one thing she hated the most. It was perfectly okay to play and sing, but it was all the eyes she couldn't stand. Judging you and scrutinizing everything you did.

As she approached the table Cat dove into her arms, pulling her tightly into her body, clinging in a way she never had before. Ellie settled and wrapped her arms around her, hugging her back.

"You were amazing, Ellie." she beamed, letting go and taking a step back to look at her. "Holy fuck, that was so good."

Ellie rubbed at the back of her neck and looked down, embarrassed.

"Told you she was good." Jesse laughed. "But Wonderwall? Seriously?"

Ellie smirked and raised her eyes, briefly meeting Dina's in an amused expression before looking away, Cat taking her attention as she firmly pressed her lips to hers. "I have to go sort the rest of the bands but when this is done I'm going to thank you properly."

Ellie blushed furiously and Jesse whistled sharing a devious smirk with Cat. Once she had left she slumped down in the seat next to Dina and sighed, resting her hands on the table, fidgeting with them nervously, still shaking from just moments ago.

Dina slid her drink across the table in front of Ellie, keeping her eyes fixed firmly on the band to the front who were finishing setting up.

"Thanks." Ellie mumbled, bringing the glass to her lips.

"That was good." Dina mumbled, her thigh brushing against Ellie's as she shifted in her seat.

"Yeah?" Ellie asked, turning her head to look at her friend.

"I really like when you sing." she added, turning to meet her eye and offering a wry smile.

Ellie only nodded and looked down, listening intently as the band began to play but only being able to focus on Dina's thigh pressed firmly against her own.

 


 

Ellie woke in Cat's bed, alone. It wasn't a new feeling, in fact, it had been happening for a while now and she didn't think here nor there of it if she was being honest.

She couldn't pinpoint an exact time that it had started happening when she had stopped waking up with Cat in her arms but she figured it was around the time that she had started asking her more and more about Dina and their friendship.

Ellie had always answered honestly, in fact, she hadn't seen or spoken to Dina in a long time, easily falling back into their hot and cold friendship that had been decidedly colder after New Years'. Dina had immediately settled back into pretending like she hadn't existed and Ellie questioned how someone could be so callous to do that.

Occasionally when her and Jesse would fight or they would break up for what felt like the hundredth time Dina might speak to her about it, might even show up at her door but Ellie did her best to do what good friends should do and fix what was broken, deciding to keep her distance from the one person who she couldn't seem to stop thinking about.

At some point between now and then her relationship had changed with Cat. She didn't think it was bad but she didn't think it was good either. Cat would text her to hang out and they would, Ellie really enjoyed hanging out with her, or she would ask her to come over and they would spend the night together but Cat never lingered, never chose to stick around and stopped whispering sweet things into Ellie's ears.

It was mornings like this when Cat would have normally been tangled up in the sheets with her that she thought maybe she would ask what was going on but when she got up and saw that Cat had made her breakfast or had offered her a guarded smile she couldn't do it so she just kept going through the motions with her.

She liked Cat, she really did and it hurt to know that things were changing but she didn't feel the same sadness that she felt over the broken friendship.

She sighed, reaching over the bed to grab her phone of the nightstand and pulled it to her field of vision before opening social media, inwardly groaning at all the pictures of Jesse and Dina as she scrolled through her feed.

She had decided to take him home to meet her parents. Ellie thought it was some spur of the moment trip and wasn't sure what had brought it on. Maybe she had realized that she truly loved him, which was great for Jesse and she was happy for him but made her own chest ache extraordinarily so.

She was happy for Jesse to find someone, she sincerely was. It was nice to see him happy when they weren't fighting and when he was sad between breakups she would pick up the pieces with him, taking him drinking to forget his problems or talking through them with him until he realized that the fight they had had was stupid and it would be easy to fix.

If he had noticed how sad Ellie got every time, how her smiles never quite reached her eyes he never said anything, instead thanking her for always being there for them and for always being a good friend.

That was her role in the relationship, the only role she would hold, being the good friend.

She continued to scroll through the pictures, cringing at how happy they had seemed before scrolling to the next, a big one of Dina's family and the two of them together. Dina obviously had nothing to worry about, her family seemed to love him and she felt a little more at ease for her friend knowing that would be a burden off her shoulders.

Because as hurt as she felt, deep down all she wanted was for her to be happy.

With a sigh, Ellie finally placed her phone down on the bed before rolling out of it. She didn't bother putting on any clothes, choosing to remain in her bra and underwear as she slowly padded into the kitchen where Cat stood at the stove.

"Morning." she mumbled, shifting to stand behind Cat and running her hands over her naked torso, she also hadn't bothered to put clothes on either now that it was getting warmer.

"Morning." she smiled back softly, but like Ellie's smiles had become, it never quite reached her eyes.

She turned around in Ellie's arm and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead before hugging her close to her chest and running her fingers up and down the length of her back.

Ellie smirked and kissed at her neck lazily. "Do you want to do something today? Go see a movie or something after classes?" she asked between kisses.

Cat laughed softly and swatted her away. "Can't today, I'm catching up with some friends about a project."

Ellie pouted and looked down, digging her fingers in the waist of her panties and tugging them gently. Cat had been busy lately, she knew that but she still couldn't help but feel like she had been avoiding her.

"Hey." Cat breathed, placing a kiss to the top of her head before dipping her head and taking the lobe of her ear between her teeth. "How about we head back to bed and then tonight you come around and I'll make you dinner."

"Yeah, sounds good." Ellie smiled, allowing Cat to take her hand and tug her back to the bedroom.

Chapter Text

Ellie slung her bag over her shoulder, not giving her room a second glance before exiting and shutting the door behind her. The halls were quiet, most everyone already being gone for the spring break and Ellie was glad that she took the extra day to miss all the traffic.

She never thought she would be as glad to get home as she was beginning to feel more alone than she ever had in her entire life. At least when she was younger it was a conscious effort for her to be alone, to choose not to have friends but now she did have friends and those friends were choosing to spend more and more time away from her.

Not that she could blame them, they had every right to do that but she couldn't help but miss them. Jesse and Dina had been too busy to spend much time with her as of late, only really seeing either of them when they were fighting. Ellie knew that wasn't fair but she would take any contact with them and she sincerely wanted to be a good friend.

With Dina, it had been different and Ellie knew she was explicitly avoiding her for whatever reason she thought was right. She had tried to ask once just to get some kind of closure on the friendship but Dina had only shrugged her off and put more distance between them.

Ellie thought that making small talk was more awkward than not saying anything at all so while some days when she felt her loneliest she tried but there were others where she wouldn't.

Cat had decidedly distanced herself as well much to Ellie's dismay. They still text and hung out a couple of times a week but it had never been like it was before and now all it seemed was that she was some kind of booty call to her if anything. They continued to go through the motions of their strained relationship but Ellie knew there was something Cat was holding back, that she had wanted to ask but she never did, instead of leading her into the bedroom every time.

Maybe she couldn't fault any of them for pushing her away.

Maybe it was her that chased everyone away.

When she passed Dina's room, she noticed something was amiss as her door was slightly ajar. She thought about just closing it, thinking that maybe she had just accidentally left it open it, but knew that wasn't like her. Dina had always been meticulous when locking up her room, always double-checking it before they had left so knew that this wouldn't have been an accident.

If someone had broken in she would catch them and find out what they were up to for her, making sure nothing of hers had been taken.

She knocked softly.

"Hello...?" She asked unsure what to expect as she gave the door a small push to peer inside.

If anything she would make sure nothing had been taken, she had no intention of snooping through Dina's belongings and she certainly didn't want anyone else too. She would hate that invasion of privacy if it happened to her.

"Hey..." Dina's small voice replied, sounding horse and strained.

Ellie jumped a little honestly not expecting anyone to reply to her and felt her heart skip a beat. She quickly scanned the room and eventually her eyes settled on Dina who was sitting on her bed, perched between where the two walls met in the corner.

She looked at her confused, watching as she pulled her headphones off from around her ears and left them to settle around her neck.

"Hey...." Ellie replied softly. "What are you still doing here?" Ellie asked, leaning against her door frame and adjusting her shoulder as her bag begun feeling weighty on that spot. "I thought you and Jesse were heading off on your trip today?"

"Jesse and I broke up." Dina offered quickly, bringing her eyes to meet Ellie's.

Ellie froze and looked down, before she looked back up at her. Jesse hadn't told her.

She held Dina's gaze for a moment, not failing to notice the red undertones in her eyes and the splotches on her normally flawless skin and she frowned knowing she had been here by herself crying.

Maybe he just wanted to get quickly out of dodge as fast as he could, she tried to reason but knew there was no excuse for this. She felt a little guilty, being in Dina's doorway though considering, but she had become a good friend of hers too. She didn't think she could pick sides and hoped she wouldn't have to now.

She wasn't sure she had ever seen Dina this upset over one of their breakups before, certain that they always knew they were going to get back together and she felt a little pang of anger towards Jesse for both making her this upset and not warning Ellie that he left Dina here alone. Normally he would shoot her a text and she would make sure she was at least okay, regardless of how Dina chose to treat her in return.

Ellie held her gaze for as long as she could, which wasn't long at all, before she averted her eyes. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know."

"It's okay." She mumbled, but Ellie could tell from her tone that it wasn't okay. "We just need a break, I think."

There was a long pause as Ellie's eyes darted around Dina's room. She hadn't been in here for a long while, only ever catching Dina out and about or outside of her room, Dina never letting her enter.

"Well, are you okay?" She asked unsurely, she wasn't very good with these kinds of things and the distance they had put between themselves now was immeasurable, she wasn't sure if she would be able to bridge the gap.

Her eyes fell on the picture of them pinned to the wall beside Dina's bed, taken an eternity ago and she wasn't sure why the woman still had it when she was sure their friendship didn't mean as much anymore than it once did back then, or at least why she had it in such a prime location that she could see it every time she laid in bed.

She quickly looked away ashamed, feeling like she had seen something she shouldn't have when Dina shifted her body to cover it.

"I'm fine, Ellie." She said, pushing a small reassuring smile.

Ellie knew it was fake but decided not to press her on the matter. She reached up to her shoulder, gripping the strap of her backpack tightly and rubbing her thumb on the material with nervousness. She really needed to get going but couldn't bring herself to leave so she continued to linger, looking down at the carpet on her floor and wondered if Dina would find it strange if she did she didn't say anything.

"Aren't you heading home?" Dina asked with a tilt of her head as she shifted on her bed to sit more upright.

"Yeah, I am." Ellie nodded. "Don't think I would have gotten away with not going to see Joel. He would have come here." She added and laughed nervously at the end, hoping it would envoke a real smile from her friend but it didn't. "You're not just going to head home to your family?"

"Nah, don't think I could swallow them right now, to be honest... I hope you have a good spring break though, Ellie." Dina murmured, shifting to pick up the book she had in her hand earlier.

Ellie looked down, closing her eyes she exhaled deeply feeling a peculiar tightness in her chest. She wasn't sure why she did this, always putting herself in the middle of things and causing trouble for nobody but herself. When she finally looked back up her eyes settled on Dinas and she couldn't help herself.

"Do you want to come?" she asked, her eyebrows furrowing.

"What?" Dina asked, her eyebrows knitting back in return.

"Do you want to come with me?" Ellie repeated, offering more information, her cheeks suddenly feeling hot and she dug the toes of her shoe into the carpet in an earnest attempt to take her mind away from how Dina was looking at her.

"Oh Ellie, you really don't have to do that..." she trailed off with a small shake of her head. "I'll be fine here. I have a lot to catch up on anyway."

Ellie shook her head. "No really, I mean it. I don't think I'd enjoy my time away knowing you were sitting here moping about." She finished with a warm smile, meaning every word but unknowing if Dina would believe it.

"Ellie..." Dina mumbled, looking down.

"I'd like you to come... if you want to that is. It would be nice to have some company for the drive." She added, trying to sound nonchalant about the whole thing but her heart was thundering in her chest. "Don't feel like you have to though."

There was a silence and Ellie could tell Dina was considering her offer but like always was ready for rejection. Everything involving Dina had always ended in some kind of rejection and she wasn't sure why she did it to herself every time expecting the outcome to be different.

Even if she said no she could at least feel better for the fact she had done the right thing, even though she knew she wouldn't be able to stop worrying about her.

"Would that be alright?" Dina stammered. "Would Joel care? I don't want to intrude..."

Ellie cut her off by raising her hand. "Joel would love to have someone to gang up on me with. You guys are like, the perfect pair, and I'm sure he'll be happy to see you again."

"Alright..." Dina finally nodded, sounding a little weak.

"Just make sure you take my side sometimes," she added offhandedly as she smiled, surprised Dina had agreed to spend any time with her at all.

"Deal." Dina smiled back as she shifted to get up from her bed.

Ellie continued her smile unable to get it to fall from her face, glancing to the ground, her chest warm at finally getting to see her friend smile. "I'll wait out here for you to pack."

"You can come in and have a seat." Dina offered as she took a tentative step closer to Ellie at the door.

She shook her head in return, deciding they would both feel more comfortable if she didn't. "It's okay."

Ellie moved outside the door, leaning on the wall outside. It really didn't feel right being in Dina's room anymore, not when she hadn't really spoken to her in a long time. Nothing at all had changed but it felt so foreign to her that she hated it. She glanced over her shoulder occasionally and watched as the girl packed, answering her questions about what kind of clothes she would need, Ellie didn't really know as she had never really thought about it before and had just told her comfortable ones.

Her mind was racing at the thought of spending hours alone in a car with Dina. Would the conversation still come as easily now as it had before? Probably not, she decided when the one they had just had was so wonderfully strained and any time they even had a remote amount of normalness Dina was quick to shut it down.

She folded her arms and dropped her chin to her chest, closing her eyes as she considered the weight of what the offer would cause. Cat of course wouldn't be happy but she hadn't wanted to spend the break with her anyways, telling her that maybe they should have a break at the same time and see what happened and they would talk about it when they got back.

Ellie wasn't thrilled by that suggestion but she would have been lying if she said it was a surprise. It had been a long time coming and Cat choosing to not come with her had solidified that for her. If wasn't just that though, Cat always didn't want to spend any time on a farm, away from civilization and away from any hard work. Any attempts of offering for her to work on her art while Ellie worked was quickly shut down and honestly, she didn't know how she felt about that so she was glad they were spending some time apart.

It pained her in a way, but not nearly as much as the loss of her friend.

Would Jesse be mad that she was taking Dina home? Surely not, her intentions were only good and she wanted to do the right thing by her friends and maybe when he arrived back from the trip with his family he and Dina could work out their problems again.

"All done." Dina huffed, lifting the weighty bag from the ground and barely carrying it over to the door, the bottom dramatically dragging against the ground.

Ellie thought about telling her she had packed too much but through better of it as she finally pushed off from her perch against the wall, stepping close to Dina she met her eye for a moment and they both stared at each other in some sort of quiet understanding that this was going to be awkward but it didn't have to be before she reached down and took the bag out of her hand, hefting it over her other shoulder to counterweight with her own.

Dina opened her mouth to argue but instead closed it, looking down to conceal her impending embarrassment and Ellie was quite frankly shocked when she didn't respond in some manner about how she could do it herself, ready with her own argument to counter it.

Without another word, they exited the dorm and headed down to Ellie's truck.

She opened the passenger door, tossing both bags into the back seat, followed by her guitar before holding the door open for Dina and motioning for her to jump in.

Dina again met her gaze, a red hue permanently on her cheeks, and remaining silent as she climbed up into the passenger seat, brushing against Ellie as she did so and not failing to notice the way she tensed at the contact.

Ellie slammed the door shut behind her before heading to the driver's side and climbing in. She plugged in her phone to the aux cord and selected her playlist, immediately regretting it as one of the songs she had stolen from Dina's began to play. She swallowed the lump in her throat, ignoring the embarrassment that rose to her cheeks and she turned the keys to start the engine. It turned over a few times before it roared to life and they peeled out of the parking lot.

There was a long silence as they pulled on to the motorway, Ellie staring ahead as she followed the roads she knew would take her home.

She tapped her finger on the staring wheel, her free hand clenched tightly on her lap and she stared off into the endless expanse before them and mindlessly followed behind the few cars in front.

She hadn't thought her break would begin with Dina getting in her car, figuring it would be as boring as the rest. She would go home, help Joel out on the farm and then come home and repeat it the next time around.

She knew Joel would be okay with it so there wasn't a problem there but she couldn't help but continue to wonder if Jesse would be okay with it. She didn't think she would tell him though, not wanting to ruin his holiday and feeling anger at the fact he had not told her before she made the decision. They were meant to be best friends after all so she decided she would deal with the fall out when they were all back.

She continued to tap her fingers, eventually, the sound of them hitting the steering wheel drowned out the softness of the music to her ears and it was all she could focus on. The constant tap, tap, tap. It was both driving her insane and keeping her grounded at that moment, stopping her from getting lost in her thoughts.

It was Dina who finally broke the silence that they sat in.

"Thank you." She breathed, still looking out the passenger window at the dreary early spring weather.

"What for?" Ellie drawled slowly, her eyes never leaving the road before them.

"For inviting me. I really didn't want to be alone." she admitted with a small shrug, curling up further on the passenger seat and resting her forehead against the window, the rattling of the car lulling her into a dreamy state.

Ellie smacked her lips, giving a slow nod. "I wouldn't have wanted you to be alone either."

"You're a good friend, Ellie," she whispered, allowing her eyes to close.

"I'm sorry I didn't know..." Ellie replied with a shake of her head. "Jesse didn't tell me. I would have come to see if you were okay."

"No, you wouldn't have." She whispered back in response. "And that's okay."

Ellie didn't reply, instead just gave a nod. She wanted to both know and not know what happened. Every time she opened her mouth to ask she immediately closed it. It wasn't her place to pry and honestly what would it change? It had stopped being her business a long time ago.

And honestly, she couldn't help but feel a little guilty for being happy about it. After all, that was the only time she got to see her friends now.

They continued to ride in silence the whole way to Wyoming, allowing only the sound of music to flood the cab of the truck until they arrived in Jackson. Dina sat up immediately, taking in everything the small town had to offer and not wanting to miss a thing. Her eyes darting between each building made Ellie smile and she did her best to hide it by giving a small cough into her hand.

Before long they had arrived at the farm and Ellie pulled in to her usual spot, taking a moment with her hands held firmly to the steering wheel before she opened the door and slid out the seat.

She reached into the back and retrieved the bags from the back seat to Dina's protests, slinging them over her shoulders.

"I can carry my own bag, Ellie." Dina huffed as she tried to take it from her.

Ellie only shrugged, ignoring her advances. "You'll need your hands to say hello to Koby."

"Koby?" Dina asked confused but as she followed closely behind Ellie she heard a bark and her question was answered.

Down the stairs of the house came barrelling down the old german shepherd and Dina wasn't sure if he was going to stop. Ellie didn't seem convinced either.

"Koby, no." she said sternly and he slowed, looking at her sheepishly.

He didn't jump, instead he turned and rubbed his body against Dina's thighs eliciting a smile from the smaller girl who crouched down to pat him enthusiastically.

Ellie rolled her eyes and smiled back. "If you give him too much attention, he'll never leave you alone." she warned.

"Like you?" Dina teased and stuck her tongue out at her, the feeling foreign and weird before continuing to rub Koby's face and telling him what a good boy he was. "I was never allowed to have a dog, this is like heaven to me." she quickly explained.

"I'm not a dog, Dina." Ellie rolled her eyes before she chuckled and ran her hand over the dog's head. "You can have him. Come on, it's getting late and we better check-in before Joel flips."

She continued up the gravel path and up the steps of the porch, shoving open the door and stepping into the small welcoming home, Dina so close behind her she could almost feel her presence and Koby hot on her heels, stuck to her legs like glue.

"Ellie, is that you?" A gruff male voice hollered from the kitchen.

"Yeah, Joel. It's me." She yelled back, placing the bags down on the ground by the door and pulling off her coat, watching closely as Dina followed and placed hers beside her own.

"Good trip?" Joel asked as he appeared from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a tea towel.

"Yeah, I had some company so it wasn't too bad."

"Company?" He questioned with an arched brow.

Ellie stepped to the side, revealing the smaller woman who had been hiding from his view behind her.

"Dina came along with me." She smiled, before quickly adding when she saw a knowing smile on Joel's face. "You remember my friend, right?. "

Joel chuckled. " Well hello again, Dina."

"Hello, Mr. Miller." Dina smiled kindly at him.

"Please, just Joel will do. I'm sorry" he apologized. "If I had have known Ellie was bringing company I would have fixed myself up a bit." He motioned to his dirty clothes before shooting Ellie a stare.

"Get off it, you would have been wearing that anyway." she shot back

"I'm sorry Mr. Mill- Joel I mean, it really was my fault. Ellie was just being a good friend offering for me to come. " She offered, bowing her head apologetically.

"Yeah, you hear that? I was being a good human being." Ellie smiled back triumphantly.

"Yeah?" Joel snorted in disbelief. "How much did she pay you to say that?"

Dina laughed and shook her head. "If I told you it would void our contract."

"Are you two hungry?" he asked expectantly.

Ellie looked at Dina and they both nodded, Ellie, motioning towards the kitchen and allowing Dina to move ahead of her before following behind.

Her eyes quickly fell down Dina's back and lower and she blushed, digging her fingers into her palm to scold herself for doing it, immediately bringing her eyes back up.

 


 

With both bags slung over her shoulders, Ellie climbed the stairs to the bedrooms, feeling decidedly tired and full from dinner. Joel had gone all out for them so thankfully there had been enough to go around, though Ellie would have given up her food for Dina regardless and just stated she wasn't hungry.

She appeared in front of her old bedroom, glancing back at Dina before nudging the door open and stepping inside, dropping Dina's bag at the foot of her bed and her own beside it.

"This your room, Williams?" Dina asked, turning around to take it all in.

Ellie followed her eyes, the heat rising to her cheeks as they fell on all the old posters and pieces of art she had done and felt embarrassed over what younger Ellie had decided was decorating as this was very angsty teenage girl.

"Sure is..." she grumbled. "If I had have known I was having company I might have y'know... fixed all the angsty teenage stuff."

"I like it." Dina huffed. "Makes me feel like I'm sixteen again."

Ellie rolled her eyes and moved to the desk against the window beginning to clear some of the clutter off, old art and homework books, pushing them to the side before she turned to Dina. "You can set your laptop and stuff up on here so you can get your work down." she offered with a small shrug. "If anything is in your way you can just shove it on the floor or whatever. It's not important."

"Okay." Dina said slowly, studying Ellie's movements as she moved everything around and then closed the curtains.

"And if there is anything I can get you." she began, starting for the door. "Let me know, yeah? Honestly, help yourself to whatever and make yourself at home or whatever it is people say. The bathroom is just across the hall and the towels in the cupboard beside it so have a shower or whatever whenever you feel like." she rambled, feeling embarrassed when Dina smiled at her.

"Where are you staying?" Dina asked confused as she looked between Ellie and the bed.

"On the couch?" she replied with a tilt of her head noticing her hesitation. "Don't worry, you don't have to share a bed with me."

"Oh, Ellie. No. I can take the couch." Dina replied with a firm head shake. "I can't take your bed."

Ellie only held her hand up to silence her. "You think Joel would let you sleep on the couch even if I made you? You're our guest. You'd have his bed if not mine. Which would be weirder?" she finished with a tired smile. "I do have to keep my shit up here so it's not in the way though... but I'll always knock first."

"Ellie." Dina said softly as the taller woman started for the door again. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it." she replied, waving over her shoulder. "If there's anything I can get you, let me know."

Dressed in some shorts and a t-shirt Ellie flopped down on the couch with a sigh, immediately closing her eyes. She felt exhausted, both emotionally and physically and she assumed sleep would come easy to her but it wouldn't. No matter how tightly she closed her eyes she couldn't make sleep come, her mind wouldn't stop.

She sighed and stared up at the ceiling, one arm rested behind her neck for support.

The last thing she had expected was Dina to be in her home, and if she was being honest she didn't entirely know how to act. She wanted her to feel at ease and welcomed but she still felt on edge around her, knowing that she could either be hot or cold towards her depending on the day and she wasn't sure how to react when they were living in such close confines.

It wasn't just that though, as much as she tried to push the feelings away she was still living with having feelings for her which made this arrangement impossibly hard to deal with. It was easy being on campus and living down the hall from one another. They didn't actually have to see each other and interact on the regular and they could just as easily pretend that they were busy depending on what they felt.

Here she wouldn't be able to do that. She couldn't just leave her here and go off and do something, that wouldn't be fair to her or Joel or Tommy for that matter and she couldn't leave her to find her own way around, she would have to do things with her.

Ellie knew she wouldn't have a problem doing those things, as guarded as she tried to make herself when it came to Dina it always fell apart the moment she reciprocated any of the feelings Ellie held for her, it was Dina she was worried about and if they did become close again, what that would mean for Ellie moving forward who was trying to get over her silly crush. It would all just be back to square one again, not that she had made much progress.

She jumped, hearing her phone vibrate against the wooden floor at the foot of the couch. She groaned, reaching over and picking it up, pulling it into her field of vision and reading the text from the girl who was only upstairs.

Dina: Is this place haunted? I keep hearing creaks and groans.

Ellie glanced at their last text message before that one being months ago and realizing they actually hadn't spoken much other than polite small talk in a long while. She smiled and immediately responded.

Ellie: Joel will tell you that it is but I think it's just him, you know, cause he's old and creaky. Or just the house, it's pretty old too.

Dina: Joel's not that old. He's looking pretty good, actually. That grey in his beard makes him more... distinguished.

Ellie: Barf.

Dina: You're lucky he's not my type.

Ellie: Right. Forgot it's distinguished Asian boys with the intelligence and grace of potatoes.

Dina: Sure, yeah, that. I'm sure there's a compliment in there somewhere.

Ellie: Sure, somewhere.

Dina: Thanks for inviting me to stay, El. It was very nice of you.

Ellie: Nice is my middle name.
You should get some rest, it's been a long day.

Dina: Plans for tomorrow?

Ellie: I'm helping Joel with feeding the calves in the morning and then I'll come home and make you breakfast I guess. Preferences?

Dina: I can help.

Ellie: You want to help?

Dina: Yeah, I can pull my own weight.

Ellie: With those delicate acting hands of yours?

Dina: I'll have you know that these hands are far from delicate. They've done some things.

Ellie: Again. Barf.

Dina: Wake me up, I wanna come help you.

Ellie: Alright. But get some rest. It's late.

Dina. Alright. Goodnight Ellie.

Ellie: Night Dina.

 


 

It was barely 5 am when Ellie lightly knocked on Dina's door and received no response. She thought about leaving it, leaving and letting Dina sleep in but thought better of it, knowing Dina wouldn't be pleased when she woke up and realized Ellie had left without her.

Instead, she turned the handle with a sigh and stepped in, seeing her small frame curled up under the covers in bed. As she took a cautious step forward she began to toss and turn, groaning in her sleep and it took Ellie a moment to realize she was having a nightmare.

She froze, watching her struggle for a moment unsure whether or not she should wake her as she continued to fight in her sleep more vigorously. Ellie swallowed the lump in her throat and approached her, placing a gentle hand to her shoulder and shaking her. When she didn't immediately wake up she shook her a little harder until her eyes fluttered open, wide and startled.

"Ellie?" she asked confused, blinking back the remnants of sleep.

"Hey... Are you okay?" Ellie asked, her eyes darting between her wide eyes and the beads of sweat the rolled down her forehead. "You were having a bad dream."

"I'm okay." she quickly mumbled sitting up, wiping at her face with the back of her arm. "Sorry. What time is it?"

"5 am." Ellie mumbled unsure as she took a step back. "You said to wake you."

"Yeah. Yeah, sorry." she shook her head, throwing her legs off the side of the bed and standing up. She allowed herself to drop her hands into her head for a moment before shaking her head again. "Sorry, just give me a moment to get ready."

"Yeah." Ellie nodded, feeling as if she had intruded on something she shouldn't have. "Wear something older, yeah?"

"Alright," Dina mumbled, watching as Ellie quickly started for the door, wishing she could ask her to stay but she wouldn't.

She couldn't.

 


 

"So you're telling me I get to hang out with baby animals?" Dina cooed. "It's taken you this long to invite me, why?" She questioned, almost slipping beside Ellie as they trudged through the early morning light in the mud, Dina wearing some borrowed gumboots entirely too big for her and a pair of Ellie's old overalls that were entirely too long for her to the point where they were rolled up at the wrists.

She shrugged in response. "It's not like there are babies all year round. Plus, I didn't really think this is something you'd be excited to do..." she said honestly.

Dina scoffed like she had been personally offended. "Baby cows Ellie."

"Calves" she corrected.

"Calves, then... and why aren't you excited?" she exclaimed, almost bouncing excitedly beside her.

Ellie chuckled. "It's not all just patting cute baby animals, we actually have to work too. Stay close to me, okay." She replied as she stepped into the milking shed, nodding to Tommy as she stepped into the shed beside it containing all the machinery to keep the sheds going with Dina close in tow. "I don't want you getting hurt."

Dina blushed and looked down, her cheeks burning red and now she dragged her feet as she walked beside Ellie, feeling the weight of her words hanging heavily in her chest. Ellie always said that, that she never wanted her to hurt. She said it when they were having an open conversation, she said it countless times when she and Jesse were fighting, and she said it now. When Ellie was around she felt like she truly would never get hurt.

"Do you want some gloves?" Ellie asked offhandedly as she leaned down and grabbed some buckets.

"Are you wearing them?" she asked with an arched brow, trying to get a feel for what Ellie would do and not appear to be so new to this whole thing, even though she had no idea.

"Nah, I hate the feel of them." she offered with a small shrug.

"Then no." Dina immediately replied, pursing her lips.

"Are you sure?" She asked with an arched brow.

Dina nodded.

"Alright, don't say I didn't offer later." Ellie chuckled and continued to go about sorting the buckets.

Dina watched her closely as she picked up one of the few buckets and headed over to a crude-looking barrel perched upon two crates, a nozzle in the middle and a hose feeding into it, she followed the hose out the door with her eyes unable to find where it was coming from. When Ellie placed the bucket under the nozzle and turned it milk began to pour out and she assumed it had something to do with the cows that were being milked.

"It comes directly from the shed for the calves." Ellie offered when she noticed Dina looking confused by the whole thing.

"Oh." Dina mouthed a little less confused but feeling more nervous about the fact she might just end up getting in the way.

Ellie filled one bucket near to the brim before glancing over her shoulder at Dina, looking her up and down and grabbing another filling that one up too. The next two buckets she barely filled halfway.

Ellie picked up the two full buckets before nodding her head to the less full ones. "Take those two and follow me, okay. It's easier to carry two buckets than one, evens you out."

Dina wanted to protest about the fact that she too could carry the full buckets and felt offended Ellie didn't think she could but when she picked them up she realized just how heavy there were and was thankful that they had been poured smaller, not wanting to embarrass herself in front of Ellie. Maybe she would protest later when they were far away from Dina having to prove her strength.

They carried them over to another large and open shed which housed some calves, split between three different pens.

"They're so small." Dina cooed, placing the buckets down and rushing to look over the side of the gate, laughing as they all came over and tried to lick at her shirt through bars causing her to laugh as she ran her hands over the fur on their heads, her hands getting covered in saliva.

"Wait till you see the younger ones," Ellie replied placing her buckets down and lifting the feeder off the ground and hooking it on the side of the gate, the calves immediately moving to it and beginning to suckle on the teets. She noticed Dina quickly wiping her hands on her overalls and she grinned. "Told you you wanted gloves."

"It's fine." Dina replied with a roll of her eyes before she watched as Ellie climbed the gate, throwing her leg over the side before jumping to the ground, immediately being swarmed by the calves who began nibbling at her clothes and rubbing against her, her overalls becoming vastly dirtier than when she got in just moments ago.

"You want to pass me up one of those?" Ellie asked with an arched brow as she walked over to Dina and they followed.

Dina nodded, reaching down for the handle of the bucket and attempting to lift it, trying to appear as if it was less of a struggle than it was. She got it to knee height before she had to grab it with her second hand, groaning as she lifted it to her waist.

Ellie laughed, reaching over the gate and helping her lift it the rest of the way.

"Hey, I had it." Dina pouted, not failing to notice the way Ellie's bare forearms tensed, her overalls rolled all the way up to her elbows, as she brought the bucket back down on to the other side causing her to almost choke when she swallowed.

"I know you did" Ellie smirked, carrying the bucket of milk over to the feeder and pouring it in.

Dina watched as most of the calves that weren't already on the feeder went over and immediately started sucking the teets, she rested her chin on her arms on the bar of the gate and watched Ellie as she settled them all on, moving them over when needed easily.

"Let's head to the next pen," Ellie said with a nod.

She climbed back over the fence next to Dina and gave her a smile, moving to the next two pens to do the same thing. Dina watching her each and every time, watching her be so gentle but commanding with the animals was endearing and she couldn't help but smile as she watched her intently. She wasn't sure she had ever seen Ellie being so caring before, not that she didn't think she would be, it was just hard to picture sometimes when she tried to come across as aloof.

By the third, Ellie allowed Dina to climb in the pen and do what she had in the previous two, laughing as she was swarmed by the calves, shoving their heads into her body and legs for scratches and food.

One of the larger ones barrelled into her, causing her to lose her footing but Ellie was quick to react and managed to catch her in her arms, holding her close for a moment until she regained composure and they both took a step away, looking down as their faces turned red.

"Are you okay?"

"M'okay." Dina mumbled, turning her attention back to the calves.

With a nod Ellie passed the half-full buckets to her and watched as she poured them in, laughing more when Dina tried to get all the calves on the feeder and earning a groan from the shorter woman. She gave her pointers as she watched her struggle, watching her get more and more exasperated before she gave her a hand.

They headed back to the shed, doing the same with the buckets as before except this time Ellie filled up a couple of bottles with teets on the end before they headed off to more sets of sheds housing even more calves.

"Now, these ones are small!" Dina exclaimed, rushing over to the gate and looking over all the calves that were in that pen, some still laying down.

"I told you. These ones here were born yesterday and some today." Ellie said with a small nod. "So they'll take a bit longer to get sorted," she replied, climbing into the pen. "You want to put up the feeder and tip the milk in?"

Dina nodded and did what she asked, watching only a small handful of calves head over to the feeder and begin sucking.

"Hey, get in here." Ellie requested with a quirked brow. "I thought you wanted to help."

"I do!" Dina groaned, climbing one of the rungs on the gate until she could throw her legs over and jumped down. "I'm trying to be safe."

"These guys won't hurt you." Ellie laughed, handing Dina one of the bottles. "Some of these guys haven't fed yet so they don't know what to do. So we give them a little taste and put them on."

Dina looked at her confused. "Sure... So, how do we do that?"

Ellie smile and walked over to one of the smaller ones in the corner. "You don't have to be super gentle." Elle mumbled, throwing her legs over her back and trapping its head between her legs. "They're a lot more sturdy than you'd think. So if you get their head between your legs like this they can't move away, it doesn't hurt them." she reiterated. "And then if you place your fingers in their mouth like this, they will open their mouth and you can stick the bottle in. They might resist a little so hold the bottom of their mouth until they start drinking. And then..." she paused, throwing her leg off the cow and hooking her finger into its mouth, beginning to walk over to the feeder as she did so with the calf in tow. "They'll follow you and you'll be able to guide them to the feeder."

"Oh." Dina breathed. "Okay."

"It's easy." Ellie laughed, beginning to do the same with another. "Give it a go."

Ellie continued to do the job, watching as Dina struggled with the calf she had picked, it continuing slipping out from between her legs and she laughed, looking down as she did so to avoid Dina's glare. When she finally got it, and she lead the calf over to the feeder and it started to drink she excitedly pumped her fist in the air, causing Ellie to stand there with her arms folded and an amused expression on her face.

"I'm like the fucking calf master." she exclaimed, folding her arms to match Ellie's pose.

"Oh really?" she laughed.

"Did you see that? I made that calf my bitch." she smirked. "On to the next one."

Ellie rolled her eyes and walked to the gate, noticing Dina glance around. "I already got them on, calf master."

"Oh." Dina laughed, following closely behind her and once over the gate nudging her with her shoulder. "I still did one."

After they had finished feeding the calves, Ellie took Dina back home to shower noticing she was decidedly more covered in drool than she ought to have been, always wiping the drool from her hands on her overalls after each calf she helped rather than back on them as Ellie had, but also she had spent more time petting the calves than Ellie had anticipated. She didn't mind though, it took a lot longer but it was worth seeing the smile on Dina's face again. In fact, she wasn't sure she had ever seen her smile so hard.

Given a list of things to grab from town from Joel, Ellie and Dina settled into his new truck which she quickly decided was too nice for him and thought maybe she should convince him to switch back to his old one. They made the trip back into town sharing a comfortable silence before pulling in to the farm supply store.

Ellie paid for the goods before handing Dina the keys to the truck. "Drive her round the back for them to load? I just want to grab something quick."

Dina looked at her confused before she shook her head. "Ellie..." she blushed hard and looked down. "I don't know how to drive."

"What?" she asked, folding her arms across her chest, an amused expression plastered on her face which only made Dina's face worse.

"I said I don't know how to drive!" she pouted, fists clenched at her side.

"Oh." Ellie hummed, turning away to hide her smile. "Okay."

"Just okay?!" Dina asked exacerbated.

"Yeah, just okay." she grinned. "Get in the truck."

Ellie drove around the back of the store and parked up, leaving a more quiet Dina, who refused to even look at her, in the truck as they loaded the feed on and Ellie quickly ran inside. It wasn't long before she was back, tossing what she had grabbed in the back of the ute before climbing in the cab.

They said nothing as they drove through town, Dina choosing to look out the window and Ellie focusing all her attention on the road, at least that's what she would have had you believe.

Eventually, she pulled up at a small diner, before turning to face Dina. "Lunch?"

"Yeah, I'm starved." Dina groaned, hugging her stomach.

"I bet. My shout." Ellie smacked her lips as they exited the truck and headed inside, Ellie holding the door open for Dina and not failing to notice the blush that remained on her cheeks as she slinked in.

They sat in silence, Ellie absentmindedly stuffing fries in her mouth as she kept her eyes downcast. It wasn't an uncomfortable silence, just different and it afforded Ellie to think about the morning that had just been.

She had never thought about bringing anyone home before. Of course, Jesse had always been a willing hand, but she figured he didn't really count. She had of course asked Cat to come over Christmas but she had declined, saying the farm wasn't for her. Didn't want to get her hands dirty and when Ellie thought back to that she scrunched up her nose. This would always be a part of her life and she couldn't change that for anyone.

But Dina had been willing to help, had wanted to get her hands dirty and as much as she stated it was because there were baby animals, Ellie knew that that wasn't the full story. She would have done anything Ellie was going to do, likely just to prove that she could do it too but also maybe because she actually wanted to be useful.

Ellie realized quickly that she really admired that.

"You know, you did a really good job this morning." she offered hoarsely, hoping Dina would pick up the sincerity in her tone. "I mean, for never doing it before. I was impressed."

"If that's all it takes to impress you, I'm set." Dina smiled at her. "Does that mean I'm not fired?"

"I suppose I can keep you around on the books." Ellie replied with a nod, placing another fry in her mouth. "If anything to make the calves more friendly."

"I love them so much, Ellie." she gushed, a stupid smile spread across her face. "Possibly more than I've loved like, anything."

Ellie rolled her eyes. "You can do it again this afternoon then. I'll watch while you do all the work."

"I'll do it faster than you did." Dina grinned, bringing the forkful of food to her mouth.

"Oh, you think so?" she asked with a quirked brow. "Do you want to make a bet?"

"Of course I do." Dina replied, narrowing her eyes, not willing to back down. "What do I win?"

"Don't you mean what do I win? Because you know, I'm going to crush you." Ellie chuckled. "I've only been doing this for years."

"I'm a quick learner." Dina shrugged, still staring at Ellie and not noticing the way she avoided her eye. "How about, if I win you have to do something with me?"

Ellie snorted, folding her arms across her chest. "Don't I have to do that with you anyways?"

"Well, yeah but I don't want to just hang out at your home. Like, take me somewhere." Dina replied, finishing the food on her plate.

"Well, alright. And what do I get if I win?" Ellie asked with a quirk to her brow.

Dina only grinned as she slid her plate away. "You get to do something with me."

Ellie rolled her eyes and sat back in the booth, smiling as the sound of Dina's laughter hit her ears.

That afternoon when Ellie headed out to feed them again, Dina was close behind her. She hadn't even had to ask, she had been ready before she even was.

"Here, I got you something." Ellie mumbled quickly sliding into her gumboots, striding over to the back of the ute and grabbing what she had thrown in the back before jogging back and stuffing them into Dina's hands.

"What?" Dina asked confused, looking down at the brand new gumboots in her size.

Ellie gave a small shrug, turning to hide the blush on her cheeks. "I uh... just thought it would be nice to have ones that fit."

"Ellie..." Dina mumbled, looking up at her back.

Ellie waved over her shoulder. "Hurry up and get them on or we'll be late."

 


 

The sun was low in the sky when they finished, walking side by side back to the house. Ellie nervously stuffed her hands in her pockets, keeping her head low as they walked closely together. She wasn't sure why she still felt nervous around Dina, especially when she also felt so comfortable but it had always been something that sat in the pit of her stomach when she was around.

Ellie didn't hate the feeling, it just felt new after spending so long apart and seemed to be only reserved for her.

As Dina beelined for the house Ellie paused, watching her and smiling. "Where are you going?"

"Home? I thought that's where we were going...?" Dina turned around and asked confused.

"Uh uh." Ellie shook her head and pulled her keys out of her pocket, dangling them in front of them as Dina jogged over. "Someones learning how to drive."

Cockily Dina snatched the keys out of her hand, a wide grin spread across her face as she started towards Ellie's truck. "You're going to regret this."

In a way, she wasn't wrong. Ellie didn't regret it but there had been moments that she feared for her life and she wasn't sure if Dina was laughing for that fact or laughing because she was so nervous which made her all the tenser.

It had taken Dina a little while to get used to switching gears and using the clutch at the same time, stalling multiple times before they got going but eventually she had picked it up enough that they were traveling down the dirt paths between paddocks at a steady pace. Ellie earned a groan from Dina in response to her requesting that she slowed down when they pulled into the paddocks to do some loops and turns and practice their stops and starts but Dina still only had a big grin plastered on her face.

Ellie wished she could have been able to tease her for being a slow learner, or just being a poor driver but other than the speed, and some sharp turns she had actually picked it up surprisingly easy. She remembered back to when Joel had first taught her how to drive and how awful that experience had been with him freaking out the entire time, gripping the handle that hangs from the roof so tightly his knuckles turned white and she was glad she didn't do that to Dina, she didn't have to do that to Dina because she was a much better driver than she had been.

Ellie was thankful that they had both been too distracted to even consider that they hadn't really spoken in a long time, the conversation starting to come as easy as it used to, as easy as it always did the second they both let their walls begin to come down again.

They only bickered a little, Dina accusing Ellie of being a backseat driver when she tried to offer her any pointers which Ellie would argue back on causing Dina to roll her eyes which would earn her a swift reminder to keep them on the road.

By the time they pulled back up to the house, it was dark and Dina switched off the lights and cut the engine, the smile never leaving her face as she turned to face Ellie.

"Confident?" Ellie asked, shifting her head a little to glance at her.

"I think so." Dina nodded with determination. "I think I picked it up towards the end."

"Good." Ellie smiled as she opened the door and slid out. "Tomorrow you're going to be my chauffeur, that's my reward for being better at feeding the calves than you."

Dina huffed as she skipped to catch up with the taller woman. "We're still going to hang out though, right?"

Ellie smiled as she leads them into the house, the smell of a cooked meal filling her nostrils. "I might watch a movie with you tonight if you're lucky."

Dina only smiled and looked down.

After dinner they settled on the couch once Tommy and Joel headed to bed, Ellie sitting as far to one side as humanly possible but it didn't matter as Dina plopped her body right in the center, and leaning back with a sigh.

Ellie thought that that was fine, allowing Dina to set the boundaries unsure whether or not she should set her own, or if it was even possible for her to do.

"How do you sleep on this? It's so uncomfortable," she grumbled as she wiggled around trying to get comfortable, inadvertently moving closer to Ellie.

"I've sat on this couch for years, it's comfortable enough for me." she shrugged. "I hope you like 80's movies because that's all we got."

"We're hundreds of miles away from campus and you still manage to have an infinite supply of shitty 80's movies?" Dina asked with an arched brow as she turned to look at Ellie.

"Firstly don't let Joel here you say that about his movies." Ellie warned, sticking out her tongue at her in response. "Secondly, they're not shitty. You're just not cultured enough to understand them."

"Enlighten me then, because I've known you for a while now and you've failed to culture me." she argued back, folding her arms across her chest stubbornly.

"Just watch it." she mumbled, pressing play with the remote. "And then if we have time I'll let you watch my favorite movie."

"I've seen your favorite movie a hundred times!" Dina laughed, earning a stern look from Ellie as she raised her finger to her lips to silence her.

"Shush now, watch." she demanded turning her attention to the tv.

Dina didn't remain quiet though and if Ellie hadn't been so enamored by the smaller girl she would have found it annoying but instead, she found herself answering all her questions, regardless of whether or not the movie was about to answer them for her.

She couldn't help but look over at her for as much as Dina had groaned about watching the movie she sure was invested in what was happening, her eyes barely leaving the screen except when she turned to Ellie and caught her staring in which she was prompt to turn away and pretend like she hadn't.

At some point Dina had moved closer to her with the pretense that she wanted to share the blanket with her now that it was getting colder, except Ellie thought that the temperature hadn't changed much at all, still, she didn't argue and only agreed, biting the inside of her lip as Dina moved close to her side and draped the blanket over both of their legs.

They had done this countless times before, cuddling up to watch a movie Ellie had picked, Dina always complaining but watching it anyways, never wanting to pick what they watched no matter how much Ellie insisted just to stop the complaining.

Every time she never cared though, she would still continue to watch films with her no matter how annoying she was the time before.

Ellie looked down, feeling the familiar tickle of fingertips brushing against the top of her hand. She swallowed the lump in her throat looking back up to the TV and pretending like she hadn't noticed, instead making some offhand comment about how well the fight scene they were watching was choreographed and how she definitely could do it.

Dina only snorted in response, sarcastically agreeing with her.

Dina's hand continued to move, tracing gentle lines up and down her skin, and no matter how much Ellie tried to pretend she was paying complete attention to the movie she was sure her friend knew she wasn't at all, too distracted by her fingers until they gripped her hand tightly, giving three hard squeezes before she held it tightly in her own.

The black-haired woman turned to her and smiled, turning away before Ellie had the chance to catch her in the act or return the comforting gesture.

When the movie finished they sat in the darkness for a moment, the only light coming from the dark fuzziness of the tv. Ellie didn't dare move, enjoying the feeling of Dina's hand on top of hers and she wasn't sure if Dina felt the same way or if something else was bothering her.

Ellie had thought all day she had wanted to say something, but she never did and she never found the courage to ask.

Either way, Ellie couldn't stop the way her heart was pounding in her chest and the more the contact was prolonged the more she knew it would give her away.

"I better let you get some rest..." Dina finally mumbled, turning to face Ellie.

"Yeah, it's getting late." Ellie agreed with a nod. "Another early morning tomorrow, if you're up for it."

"Yeah, of course." Dina smiled. "...Ellie?"

"Yeah?" she asked, keeping her eyes down even though Dina wouldn't be able to see them anyway.

"Thank you... I know you're really making an effort to take my mind off everything, and it's working. I really like spending time with you."

"Yeah." Ellie sighed, remembering how Dina had spent months decidedly not hanging out with her and feeling a tightness in her chest. When Dina's hand was pulled away from her, she felt even more disconnected, watching as she rose from the couch and started for the stairs, leaving her alone in the darkness.

She maneuvered herself around until she was laying down, struggling to find a comfortable position and pulling the covers right up to her chin in an effort to hide away from everything.

When Ellie invited Dina to come home with her she hadn't expected everything to be so easy again but that was the problem, it was always too easy to slip back into old habits.

 


 

The next couple days followed like the first, and by the fourth day Ellie thought things may finally get back to normal and might even stay that way. Dina was acting more like Dina around her as the days went by and eventually Ellie almost forgot that they had been distant for so long, considering it only took a few days before they were laughing like old times.

She was thankful Dina was able to easily switch back to their familiar back and forth routine, the constant friendly jabs and jokes that made it so easy to converse with Dina in the first place and honestly Ellie realized she missed the witiness of it all, no one being able to match the sarcasm she gave but her.

The more time they spent together the more time Dina's contact lingered on her. At first, it was quick brushes with her hands along her arm or along her back or shoulders and then it was holding her hand and dragging her along, it lasting longer and longer and leaving Ellie screaming for more when she finally pulled away.

Eventually, it had begun to feel like New Years all over again with her and Ellie couldn't help but allow her mind to wander, to fantasize about seeing her so vulnerable again.

She knew she was falling for her again, crawling back into the hole she had dug for herself that she had been slowly clawing her way out of but she couldn't help it, deciding she would allow herself to indulge just for the time they were away and when they returned she would go back to seriously trying to get over her. Their close proximity made it too hard at present and she quickly realized she didn't want to, as selfish as that was she just couldn't persist.

She was too tired and Dina made her feel herself again, more herself than she had felt for a long time.

Dina didn't pull away either, didn't shy away from her.

She found herself looking at her more than she had in the past, more than just a cautious glance in her direction before quickly looking away because even when Dina found her staring she didn't look away straight away either, daring to meet her eye before she embarrassed herself and finally did. It wasn't much but to her it was something.

It was as if Ellie had forgotten how beautiful Dina was and could be during everyday life. Even covered in cow shit she was something to behold and she couldn't figure out why more people didn't sacrifice themselves at her feet as she had. Of the people, she knew near 100% had made mention of what they would do if Dina was there but none of them seemed to pine over her like Ellie did. At the same time, Dina never had time for any of them like Dina had for her.

She didn't know who she was trying to kid though, even if Dina and Jesse did remain broken up there were plenty more suitable people for her, most importantly so they were men, something she could never be.

She couldn't help but feel like Dina was purposefully getting her attention though, with certain movements or twists of her body. The way she would stretch and her shirt would rise up over her hips exposing bare skin until Ellie would look and she would linger in that pose before she quickly dropped the material, covering her again as she smiled and looked away. She knew it wasn't likely but she indulged her fantasies and pretended it wasn't just an accident.

Ellie had left Dina to feed the last pen of calves while she headed off to ready two of the horses. She hadn't told Dina what she was going to do, had just left her with Koby to look after her, and shot off, telling her she would be right back.

It had only just occurred to her that maybe Dina had never ridden a horse before, or even liked horses for that matter, forgetting for a moment that not everyone had grown up in the same way she had.

She forgot how fortunate she had been to have the opportunity to spend as many years as she had here, knowing most people spent their entire lives trapped in big cities, knowing nothing but concrete and tall buildings and missing out on the fresh air and open land.

Joel really had given her something to be proud of in the home they had created here.

Sheepishly she leads them by the reigns over to the pens, watching humorously as Dina still struggled with the last calf and instead of helping to decide to just enjoy the view. When Dina finally managed to sort it out, she stood up, wiping the sweat from her brow.

Ellie whistled and Dina's attention immediately snapped over to her. She smiled before walking over to the fence.

"Did that do it for you?" she joked an ounce of seriousness to her tone.

"Oh, yeah. Totally." she smiled, running her thumb against the leather reins in her hand. "A hot woman cover in cow shit? Totally does it for me."

"I knew it." Dina laughed through parted lips and climbed over the gate, landing with a thud in front of Ellie, reaching out cautiously to place her hand on the horse's nose. "Who are these guys?"

"This one is Shimmer." she began, nodding to the brown horse to her right before leaning in the other direction to the other horse, brown with white speckling through his coat. "And this one is Japan. Have you ah... ridden before?" she asked.

Dina scoffed. "Have I ridden before? I was only the middle school grand champion showjumper." she finished, unzipping her overalls and stepping out of them.

"Did you just make up all those words...?" Ellie asked skeptically as she placed Japan's reins in her hand.

"Maybe the order is off" she laughed, taking them from Ellie and rubbing the horse's neck. "But I have the ribbon to prove it! Next time I'm home I'm grabbing it and giving it to you. The perks of having rich parents."

"I suppose." Ellie shrugged, stepping up on the stirrups and throwing her leg up and over the saddle to mount Shimmer. "Don't make fun of me when I don't ride nearly as gracefully as you do then. I didn't get some rich people training."

"I'll do my best not to show you up." Dina followed her motion, sitting with her back straight on the horse below her and she continued to pet the side of its neck. "Where are we off to? Do I need to shower and change first?"

"Nope and that's a secret." Ellie smiled, turning the horse around and beginning to trot away.

"You're taking me somewhere secluded to murder me? I knew there were ulterior motives for me being here." Dina chuckled, digging her heels a little into the horse's side to catch up.

"If you don't stop being so much of a smart ass I might make it look like an accident." she shot back, turning to face her. "You said you wanted to do something, so I'm taking you to do something."

"Taking me on a horseback riding adventure? You really are a romantic." Dina teased, falling in to pace beside her. "You wanna race?"

"No way." Ellie narrowed her eyes at her before nudging Shimmer's side, causing her to surge forward and begin running off down the path. "See you later, loser." Ellie yelled, her voice almost cut off by the distance.

"Hey, you cheater!" Dina yelled back, leaning forward and coaxing Japan into a gallop to catch up.

It was about an hour's ride to the water, the sun already set high in the sky and burning down on the two girls as they slowly lead the horses down the last hill. She was thankful the weather had remained warm enough to swim, the heat sticky enough to cause their clothing to cling to their skin, and Ellie didn't fail to notice the way Dina's tank top hugged her curves or the bead of sweat that dripped down her temple.

The trip over while uneventful had been enjoyable for Ellie, with Dina showing off every second she could. When they came across a downed tree she would offer to jump it for Ellie to prove she was telling the truth, and when she had declined she still did it anyway, looking at her expectantly for praise afterward.

Ellie never gave her more than a six out of ten much to her disappointment.

She watched Dinas back, watching her swaying with the movements of the house underneath, her head gently lulling to and fro, the skin expose from her tank top glistening with sweat from the hot sun and all Ellie could think was how she wanted to kiss her shoulder and taste her salt on her lips.

She shook her head, reminding herself to stop being so depraved.

As they arrived at the water's edge, Ellie could feel her cheeks burning, realizing she had spent the whole trip over smiling and laughing with her friend, a feeling she had truly missed but she wasn't sure if it hurt because she had smiled so wide or because it was a foreign feeling to her now.

"Here we are." Ellie smiled as they rounded the corner of a small cliff, showing an expanse of water before them completely surrounded by greenery and blooming flowers, and she was surprised herself, she didn't remember it ever seeming so pretty when she was younger.

"Ellie, this place is beautiful," she replied, whipping her head around to take in everything. "And this is all yours?"

"Ours today." Ellie corrected her. "Sometimes Joel will find people down here, but he doesn't care much as long as they respect it, other than that, yeah. It's our own personal swimming hole. Jesse and I used to come here all the time as kids."

Ellie mentally kicked herself for mentioning his name, doing well to avoid it up until this point. The way Dina looked down, her eyes lingering closed for a moment too long caused a dull aching in her chest.

A moment was all it took for Dina's face to shift as she looked back up, a now amused expression on her face, and Ellie wondered if she really was just that good of an actor.

"You're holding out on me, Williams. What other secrets do you hold?" Dina asked, side-eyeing her as she slid off the horse and crept to the edge of the water.

"I told you, I don't have secrets," Ellie replied, jumping off Shimmer and leading him down to the water to drink.

"You say that, yet here we were," Dina said softly, crouching down and scooping some water with her hands. "It's so clean."

"Yeah, it's pretty undisturbed all the way down here." Ellie nodded, looking over the expanse of the pond, the gentle running of water lulling her into a sense of peace. "I used to love coming out here when I was a kid."

"Well, I'm ready to go for a swim. It's fucking hot." Dina grumbled before she stood to her feet, reaching for the bottom of her tank top and peeling it off her damp skin.

Ellie gulped, her eyes falling on Dina's newly exposed olive skin before turning away when she turned to face her.

"You coming?" Dina asked with a smile as she slid out of her shorts, leaving her standing in only her underwear. "Or are you just going to watch, perv?" she teased.

Ellie puffed out her cheeks, turning just in time for Dina to shoot her a devious smirk and Ellie was sure she could get drunk off that smile if she would hold it long enough for her too. Instead, she nodded, slowly unbuttoning her jeans and pushing them down her sticky thighs, her cheeks flushing when Dina's gaze never left her body, her own red tint to her face.

Looking to the side she discarded her t-shirt and wrapped her arms around her waist in an attempt to hide her thin body from her friend. She knew she had lost weight since she had last seen her this way, her hip bones jutting out more sharply than they had previously when she had run her hands over then last and the last thing she wanted was a lecture but to her surprise there wasn't one.

Dina bit her lip, looking at Ellie in a way the taller girl couldn't understand before she took a hesitant step forward and grabbed her hand, tugging her into the water as she backed in.

"It's fucking cold." Ellie mumbled, trying to resist her only to be more forcefully pulled towards her body.

"Don't be such a baby." Dina replied with an eye roll, dropping one of her hands to turn around before reaching back and grabbing Ellie's hand with both again. "It'll be warm once you're in."

"Still fucking freezing." Ellie groaned as they got up to thigh level, tensing more the further they waded in.

"Ellie Williams, when did you get so precious?" Dina cooed and just as she was about to turn around she felt her grip on Ellie's hands shift and two rough hands on her back, shoving her forward.

Dina fell face forward into the water, ducking under the surface as she flailed to regain composure. Finally finding the ground with her feet she stood, soaking wet and her hair dripping around her face, staring incredulously at Ellie.

"Ellie!" she yelled.

Or screamed, the taller girl wasn't sure as her laughter cut through her voice easily.

"Stop laughing at me!" she demanded, shaking the loose water off her arms.

"Perfect." Ellie grinned, making a square frame with her fingers and looking through them at Dina in the water. "Why didn't you bring your camera?"

Dina growled, lunging forward and grabbing Ellie's hand before she could pull it away, pulling her down into the water before pushing herself deeper in the water to get away from any retaliation.

Ellie rose to the surface looking like a drowned rat and glared at Dina before wading through the water towards her at pace to make her pay for what she did to her. Dina only laughed in response, moving her hands to splash her in the face with water and when Ellie dove to grab her she grabbed only water, Dina getting away too quickly.

"You have to be faster than that, Williams." she smirked, moving her arms in gentle motions to stay afloat. "I'll have you know I was once swimming champ."

"Is there anything you weren't good at?" Ellie groaned in frustration, raising her hands to the air before bringing them back hard into the water like a kid throwing the perfect tantrum.

"Hmm..." Dina replied, pretending to think. "No, I'm good at everything."

"Fuck. You've got to give me a chance to win something." Ellie grumbled, folding her arms over her chest as she stood in the water only up to her chest and no deeper.

"You're good at some things." Dina offered, swimming back to her and reaching out to take her hand. "Like you're really good at looking cute when you pout."

Ellie raised her brow trying to resist by remaining to keep her arms folded as Dina found her fingers. "I don't know if that's anything to be proud of, you know."

"I think it's something to marvel at." Dina whispered managing to pull her arms loose and took her hand in hers, coaxing her into deeper water. "Then there's the way you get this little crease between your brow when you always pout." Dina offered, trying to hold her gaze but Ellie never quite returning it. "Like, how is that not permanently wrinkled?"

"Okay, you can stop now." Ellie pouted, the crease Dina was talking about immediately finding it's way to her forehead.

"See, right there!" Dina exclaimed, taking a moment to flick her in the forehead. "You're good at guitar too."

"Anyone can be good at guitar. It's easy." Ellie huffed, reaching up to rub st the spot. "And ow, you jerk."

"Everyone can be good at the things I'm good at too, you hypocrite!" Dina laughed.

"Yeah, but you're like, really good." Ellie scoffed and looked to the side.

"Okay, fine. You want to know what you're good at that no one else is?" Dina asked with a quirked brow and when Ellie glanced back towards her she continued. "You're good at serenading me. I'm sure you'll be surprised to know that you're not the first person to sing a song for me, but you're the only one that has actually meant something to me when you sang..."

"I bet you say that to all the girls." Ellie rolled her eyes and looked away, refusing to meet her gaze.

"Hey! I mean it." she pouted back, dropping Ellie's hand to splash her with water.

Ellie blushed and instead of answering turned around and began to move out of the water, ignoring Dina's protests. She waded out and on to the sandy bank, and began the short climb up the cliff hanging over the water. When she arrived at the top she peered over the edge to Dina below, sure that this was at least 10 meters higher than it had been when she was a kid.

"Get up here." she yelled back at Dina, feeling at peace watching her swim around in the clear water.

Dina raised her hand and even though she was some distance away Ellie made out the rude gesture with her hand and she returned it before lifting her other hand and doing it with the other. She heard the black-haired woman chuckle as she swam back to the shore, Ellie losing sight of her until she appeared at her side, sitting back on the rock.

Ellie smiled, taking a spot next to her and already feeling mostly dry under the intensity of the sun.

"It's really beautiful out here." Dina smiled, looking out the expanse of the land before them, her eyes flittering to different features between glancing over at Ellie.

She blushed and looked down, looking back at her friend out of the corner of her eye. "Yeah, the views pretty good."

"So you and Cat, huh?" Dina asked looking down.

"Hmm?" Ellie asked back.

"Getting pretty serious?" She added quietly as if the sentence bothered her.

"Oh. I don't know." Ellie shrugged.

"You don't know?" Dina asked quickly with too much earnest, internally cringing.

"No... I don't know. Shes uh... taking a break from me currently. It's weird talking about this with you..." Ellie sighed. "We don't talk about these things."

"Don't we?" Dina asked in return.

"No? Ellie frowned.

"Why don't we?" She questioned.

"Because I got the feeling you didn't like her? Because you don't talk to me about this stuff about Jesse. We just don't do it."

"Oh, well. I'm sorry about Cat." Dina replied with a small shrug.

"It's okay." Ellie mumbled.

After a moment of silence, Dina sighed and closed her eyes. "Jesse said he loved me."

Ellie had always know that it was a possibility that her two friends would fall in love, but that didn't make the finality of it any less hard to take. Dating was one thing, but being in love was a whole other ball game and Ellie knew she had lost her chance, the empty feeling returning to her small frame as she felt the ground beneath her and swallow her up.

"Oh." Ellie swallowed and furrowed her brow before she turned to face her, resting her cheek on her knee. "Did you say it back?"

She wasn't sure why it would matter but she felt she had to ask, had to be sure.

Dina pursed her lips before sucking in air between her teeth. It was a long moment before she turned her head to look at Ellie but when she did she smiled, one filled with warmth and innocence, and she rose to her feet, standing at the edge of the cliff.

Ellie pushed herself up, moving to stand beside her and when Dina turned to look at her she felt the corners of her lips tug to reciprocate the smile being offered to her before she felt Dina's hand behind her back and pushing her, shoving her until she slipped from the ledge and fell cleanly to the water below.

She surfaced, pushing the hair from her face and spluttering. "What the hell!" She yelled, throwing her fist in the air in outrage.

But she couldn't stay mad, when she heard Dina's infectious laugh she couldn't help but laugh too, flailing her arms in the water around her as she gracefully tried to stay afloat.

"Get in here." Ellie hollered, pounding the water with her fist. "Now!"

"No way, it's cold." Dina yelled back, mimicking Ellie's earlier excuse.

Ellie continued to kick her feet furiously to keep afloat, staring up at the girl above her. From every angle, she looked beautiful and she wasn't sure if there would ever be a moment when she didn't look that way. It didn't help that the sun was set behind her, her olive skin bathed in its glow and stating to Ellie that she might have just been a gift from the gods, cruelly just for her to look at but never touch or own.

"Dina Cohen, you get your ass down here now." She demanded, splashing the water in front of her. "Or else."

"Or else what?" She smirked, standing and folding her arms across her chest defiantly.

"Or else... I'll uh..." Ellie stammered as she thought of something but coming up empty-handed.

"I'll come down but it'll cost you." Dina finally yelled down, peering over the ledge.

"What?" Ellie asked with a laugh. "I'm hanging out with you, isn't that enough?"

Dina hummed before she stated with a smirk. "A kiss."

"What do you want a kiss from me for?" Ellie hollered back. the unmistakable hue of red gracing her cheeks. "You want my chapped lips on your cheek? Cause that sounds awful to me."

Dina rolled her eyes, taking a few steps back and disappearing from Ellie's view.

"Hey, come back here!" Ellie demanded again.

Before she could say another word, Dina came back in to view and leaped from the cliff. "Cannonball!" she yelled, tucking her arms around her legs and curling up her knees to her chest into a tight ball.

Ellie had barely enough time to swim out of the way before Dina landed, creating a big splash in the water below before surfacing with a chuckle.

They swam around in the water a little longer, floating on their backs and when they began to drift apart they took each other hands, holding them tightly and wading around with their free hands.

They didn't talk about anything exciting and Ellie was thankful for that, choosing instead to just talk about school and she loved finally catching up on Dina's busy life.

When the sun bearing down on them became too much they both left the water together, laughing as they threw their wet bodies on the sandy beach, careful to avoid the large rocks peppered around.

"You're such a dork." Dina groaned, reaching over and shoving her arm.

Ellie grinned turning to face her, her eyes dropping and looking her up and down, her smiling quickly fading as she looked away and gulped.

"Takes one to know one." She finally retorted childishly.

"Oh, you think so?" Dina asked with an arched brow, tackling her friend to the ground and easily pinning her.

Ellie chuckled with her, pretending to struggle before giving up, Dina holding her wrists tightly and pinning her hips down with the weight of her body. She stopped laughing and gulped, looking up to meet her eyes and Dina looked back, breathing heavily.

"Dina..." Ellie whispered, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks.

It took a moment but Dina shook her head clear. "Sorry." She murmured, jumping off and quickly sitting beside her, pulling her knees up to her chest.

"It's okay..." Ellie mumbled, sitting back up. "So, what did you say?"

Dina sighed and looked out to the calm water. "I didn't say anything. I love him but I don't know if I'm in love with him."

"Oh." Ellie muttered before looking down. "Bummer."

"Bummer? Really?" Dina rolled her eyes and shoved her again before giving a laugh. "Fuck you really know how to ruin a moment."

Ellie grinned back. "What! It is a bummer."

"I suppose it is." Dina replied softly with a sigh, picking up a small rock and tossing it to the water.

They sat there for a long while longer, enjoying the sun and fresh air, enjoying each others company as they spoke about anything that came to mind. It was easy and Ellie began to fall more hopelessly in love with the arch of Dina's lips and the sound of her laugh.

Ellie finally stood, reaching out her hand towards Dina and when she only looked up at her confused Ellie finally chose to use her words. "Come on, I wanna show you something."

"Are you taking me to murder me now that I've had a good time?" Dina said with a smirk as she took her hand, allowing Ellie to pull her to her feet.

"And leave me to do all the work?" Ellie asked with a laugh, and when she attempted to drop her hand from Dina's the shorter woman only held it tighter. She swallowed the lump in her throat before finally continuing. "Not a chance."

"I see how it is, William's. Use me as free labor when I'm meant to be on vacation." She finished teasingly, her tone faltering at the end as she chuckled.

Ellie rolled her eyes in response before glancing at her. "Are you having a good time? Because you don't actually have to do any work, you know...? Don't feel like you have to."

"I'm just fucking with you." Dina snorted, giving Ellie's hand a reassuring squeeze. "I love it here. I really do. It's sort of my dream to have a place like this..." she admitted with a shrug.

"Are you still fucking with me?" Ellie asked skeptically, continuing to lead Dina around the lake and towards the trees, the branches crunching underneath their feet as they stood on them.

"No, really!" Dina exclaimed.

"Because that's a weird dream. I don't think anyone wants to end up in a place like this." Ellie replied with a shrug, remembering how awful she thought this was when she arrived here but slowly growing to love it.

"Maybe it is weird, but I think it would be nice." She whispered dreamily. Maybe a cow and some sheep, a nice veggie patch. Just living quiet and simple away from everything, away from everyone's judging eyes and shitty remarks."

"That actually sounds kind of nice." Ellie admitted, reaching up to rub the back of her neck with her free hand.

"Yeah?" Dina asked, turning to beam at her.

"Yeah." Ellie affirmed with a nod, turning to her and returning the smile. "Hey, look." she finally dropped Dina's hand and held back a couple of branches, revealing a small patch of flowers growing in the center of the clearing.

"Ellie..." Dina mumbled as she rushed forward to the center of them and sounds around, taking them all in. "This is so beautiful." She exclaimed excitedly before throwing out her arms and allowing her body to fall back, landing on the ground with a soft thud.

Ellie smiled and shook her head, wandering over to her before laying down beside her on her back, staring up to the sky before them. Nervously she rested her hands on her stomach, playing with her fingers.

"Thank you for bringing me here." Dina grinned, turning her face to Ellie. "I'm sorry, I've sort of squished a few flowers... but holy shit this place is beautiful."

Ellie shrugged, turning to look at her. It didn't matter to her, she didn't love flowers not that she had even much considered them before, and regardless, the being lying on them was more beautiful than they had been so she considered it a fair sacrifice.

"It's so peaceful here." Dina mumbled as she closed her eyes, shifting her hands to hold the diet underneath her at her sides.

"Yeah." Ellie agreed, continuing to watch her. "I'm glad you like it here, Dina."

They laid in silence, Ellie slowly beginning to feel sleepy as she listened to the sound of nature around them. The gentle babble of water, the wind in through the leaves, and the birds chirping in the trees lulling her into a dreamy state, and when she was just about to fall asleep Dina's voice cut through the sleepiness.

"I really didn't want to go home." Dina breathed long and hard. "I hate being in that house following their rules... feeling like I no longer belong every time I return."

"Why do you feel that way?" Ellie asked, turning her head to face her.

Dina turned her head and when she opened her eyes they slowly settled on Ellie's forest green ones, matching surroundings.

"Do you think I'm pretty?" She asked barely above a whisper as if saying it any louder would cause Ellie to say no.

Ellie blinked at her slowly, trying to decipher the meaning behind her words.

She knew what she wanted to say but wasn't sure if it was appropriate considering their strained friendship. Of course, she thought Dina was pretty. She thought of all the things that she considered to be pretty and couldn't put a single one of them before the beauty of her friend.

The stars in the sky had nothing on Dina.

The sunrise had nothing on Dina.

The sunset had nothing on Dina.

And everything inbetween had nothing on Dina.

Everything was Dina. It had always been Dina and when she was in the room Ellie couldn't think about anything else.

As she stared at her now she thought about all the things she loved about the girl staring back at her. Her dark brown eyes that held a warmth that she couldn't even begin to decipher in depths that she could easily get lost in if she stared too long.

Her eyes shifted to her nose and she thought she had the perfect nose. She remembered some offhand comment Dina had made about being self-conscious about it but there was not a single fault she could find.

Her eyes dropped lower still, falling on her slightly parted lips and Ellie remembered all the times she had thought about kissing her, thinking that it would quite possibly be the best kiss of her life and she wasn't sure if she could handle that. The times she had been close enough to take the chance she never had, and while she convinced herself that it was because she was her friend's girlfriend, she had to admit that it was partly because if she finally found out what it was like to kiss her she wasn't sure she would be able to live with not doing it again.

She wouldn't even allow her mind to dip lower and consider her body, scared her cheeks would burn more than they already were.

Instead, she looked back up to Dina, finding that warmth in her eyes again and she decided to take the plunge.

"I think you're beautiful, Dina." She said as softly as Dina had asked, refusing to look away from her for even a second. "But I hope you know there is so much more to you than just your looks."

Would she care if she closed the gap between them, got close enough for Dina to decide whether or not she wanted to test the waters and kiss her?

She didn't, knowing she couldn't. She couldn't do that to her and she certainly couldn't do it to Jesse. They were both too important to her.

"Ellie..." Dina whispered, releasing a long drawn out breath through her lips.

Ellie sighed and lifting herself from the ground, crossing her legs in front of her body and looked down. "You wanna head back?" She began, shaking her head and regretting pulling away from the intimacy but she had to before she did something she couldn't take back. "I uh... have Joel setting up something for you tonight." Ellie smiled warmly as she turned to face her.

Dina sighed louder than Ellie had and sat up alongside of her, she glanced at her shaking her head before looking down and taking a moment before she spoke.

"Two activities in one day? You really know how to woo a girl." Dina replied, mustering everything in her to pull off the teasing tone before she rose to her feet.

Ellie watched, her eyes following the curve of her bare legs upwards before falling on her flat navel, over the mounds of her covered breasts before reaching her face and she quickly looked away when she realized Dina had been watching her.

"Its nothing special." Ellie gave a small shrug as she stood. "And Tommy is bringing his new lady friend too."

"Yeah, okay... Let's head back." Dina said quietly, offering her hand to Ellie.

 


 

When they arrived back to the farm they quickly changed into their overalls, Dina wanting to hurry to see what surprise Ellie had planned for them but Ellie was content to take her time instead of spending more time watching her interact with the animals, becoming more firm but in her own gentle way.

When they finished Koby followed closely to her side as if she had always been his favorite person in the world and Ellie mumbled that he was a traitor under her breath but adored the way she earned his trust and love.

When they arrived back at the house Ellie immediately sent Dina up for a shower, telling her only to come down wearing something nice which was more for Ellie than anything else. Once she heard the shower start and the door close she rushed out to Joel in the back yard who was stacking some wood in the fire pit and she began to help him, arranging the kindling around it.

"So... was Dina that friend you told me about last time?" He drawled, trying to busy himself with some sticks, anything to hide how interested he actually was.

Ellie thought hard for a moment before nodding. "Yeah."

"So things are working out?" He questioned, handing her the matches.

She shrugged. "It's okay."

"Dina seems like a nice girl." He added casually, glancing over to her. "Good head on her shoulders."

Ellie sighed, lighting the match and dropping it into the bundle of sticks, watching them become engulfed in flames. She could feel the heat prick her skin but still, she stayed close, losing herself to the flickering.

What was she even meant to say to that?

Yeah, Dina was great. She was beautiful and Ellie knew she was going to succeed in anything she put her mind to, even if she only ended up working in some fast food joint she was sure she would make the best burger in the world but Ellie knew that Dina was different and she was destined for greatness.

However their friendship wasn't easy and she hadn't always been good to her, leaving Ellie feeling alone and dejected in a way she hadn't before. Joel wouldn't have been happy hearing that.

But Dina hadn't been entirely to blame, Ellie could admit that now. She had been pushing her away from the beginning, both keeping her distance and allowing Dina to get close. Being too preoccupied with making sure Dina never knew her feelings for her and keeping her friends relationship together to even be her normal self anymore.

"So, have you met Tommy's missus yet?" Ellie asked to change the subject, the sound of him clearing his throat snapping her out of her daze.

"Not yet. Reckons she's some hotshot in that city you're in." He smiled knowingly. "Said he would introduce us all when the time was right."

"How mysterious." Ellie quipped, exchanging a glance with Joel. "And they met before right? Like she actually likes him? He's not catfishing her?

"That's mean, Ellie. Your Uncle Tommy scrubs up well." He chuckled. "You're going to be on your best behavior, arent you Ellie?"

"I'll have you know best behavior is my middle name." She grinned, moving over to the cooler Joel had set up to fetch a beer.

"I thought it was nice?" Dina said with a smirk as she appeared on the back porch, leaning over the rail to peer down at them.

Ellie turned to her, meeting her eye for a second before taking note of the summer dress she was wearing. She couldn't help but stand there stunned at the complete and utter beauty that she held.

Joel cleared his throat and Ellie dreamily turned to meet his gaze, an amused expression on his face before he turned away, shaking his head.

Ellie blushed and finally turned back to Dina, making a mental note not to stare for too long. "I can have two middle names, can't I?" She managed to get out though the sentiment had already passed in her long silence.

"Mhmm." Dina hummed, tilting her head with a knowing smile. "Not the names I would have picked for you. Maybe broody or full-of-it."

Joel snickered and Ellie shot him a death stare as he turned away to hide the smile on his face.

"Okay, smartass," Elie muttered, approaching the porch before reaching up to hand her a beer. "I thought we were saving the comedian career for me?"

Dina reached down and took it with a grateful smile, resting on her arms as she peered over the ledge. "Maybe we could be a comedy duo?"

"Sorry." Ellie gave a fake apologetic smile. "I only fly solo."

"Is that why I had to go to the store with you every time you wanted to go because you didn't like going by yourself?" Joel asked as he crouched down to fiddle with the barbeque.

"Joel!" Ellie groaned, whipping around to face him, Dina's snickering piercing her ears. "That's not how it was!"

"Oh? 'Cause I remember it pretty clearly." Joel smiled knowingly as he glanced up at her.

"Well, I was just doing you a favor," Ellie replied matter of fact as she grabbed another beer from the cooler and cracked it open, taking a sip. "You know, people actually pay people to take their old people out of the house, I was doing it for free. You're welcome."

"Oh yeah, sure." Joel replied casually, igniting the gas and cranking up the flame. "You sure took me out on some great trips to the store. I'm so thankful now you wouldn't let me stay in the car."

"No need to thank me, it's what I do." She grinned, throwing herself down on one of the fold-out chairs by the flame before glancing over at Dina. "Right?"

"Oh yeah, I'm meant to take your side aren't I?" Dina laughed with a shake of her head.

"You just tell the truth, Dina." Joel offered, turning to face her. "Don't let Ellie corrupt you, she already corrupted Jesse."

Ellie groaned and rubbed at her face while Joel and Dina exchanged pleased smiles.

"Are you done?" Ellie finally asked when she looked back up.

"For now." Joel smiled at her. "You Dina?"

"For now." She repeated, her eyes continuing to linger on Ellie's slumped frame. "No promises for later though."

"I like this girl." Joel remarked as he walked passed Ellie and into the house.

Ellie rolled her eyes, deciding better of responding lest it made them start back up on her again. Quietly she sipped her beer, conscious of the girl to her side that still watched her from the porch. She didn't need to look to know that she was watching her.

"Are you going to go shower?" Dina asked finally, snapping her attention away to survey the land around them. "I know you smelt worse than I did."

"Well, I wasn't." Ellie groaned, raising from her seat and stretching her aching muscles. "But now I'm self-conscious, so thank you asshole."

Dina smiled and waved her off with her hand. "Any time."

"Will you be alright?" Ellie asked as she slowly climbed the stairs, following Dina with her eyes every step.

"Yeah, I'll be okay." She replied, motioning to the beer in her hand.

"Alright, I won't be long." She said with a small nod, meeting her eye for a second before disappearing inside.

 


 

When Ellie exited the house, Dina was no longer on the porch. She skipped down the steps, jumping the last few to the ground, and looked over to Joel, Dina keenly standing beside him at the barbeque.

"You see, barbequing is a fine art." He began, lifting a piece of meat between the tongs for Dina to get a better look. "It should have a nice char but still be cooked how you would normally have it at a restaurant. You like yours rare?" He asked, glancing at her.

"Yeah." Dina nodded, watching as he placed the meat down.

"Oh good, 'cause if you had said well done I would have had to kick you off the property." He laughed, resting one of his large hands on her shoulder."

Ellie watched them with an arched brow as she grabbed a beer before she threw herself on to her chair by the fire, smiling to herself at Dina and Joel laughing together.

She wasn't sure what the warm swelling in her chest meant, or why there was a smile spread so far on her cheeks it hurt, but she couldn't look away. She decided she liked seeing the two of them together. Liked seeing Dina get along with Joel and vice versa.

Just as Joel began to explain the importance of the tight cut of meat to a very interested Dina, Ellie decided to speak up.

"Hey, old man. No one wants to hear your janky barbeque tips." She remarked, no malice behind her tone.

Joel didn't bother to turn around, instead exchanging a look with Dina. "Did you hear something?"

"Nothing at all." Dina replied, matching his grin. "Must be the wind."

"Come on." Ellie groaned, finally pouting. "Who's being childish now?"

"You better go over there before she gets worse." Joel chuckled, turning back to the meat on the barbeque.

"Yeah, god forbid." Dina returned his laugh, giving him a beaming smile before turning and heading over to Ellie, slumping down on the chair next to her. "Hey, brat." She grinned.

Ellie sipped her beer, quietly fuming. "What happened to taking my side?"

"You only said sometimes," Dina replied wagging her finger at Ellie. "Plus, you're impossibly cute when you're annoyed."

"Oh, so that's like a thing now?" Ellie asked with an unimpressed snort. "You're just going to annoy me cause you think it's cute?"

"Yeah, maybe." Dina grinned.

Ellie watched and it was sickeningly sweet in all the best ways and she eventually smiled back before looking back at the fire, continuing to sip on her beer.

"Joel's really cool." Dina finally said breaking the silence. "Now I know where you get it from."

"Is that your roundabout way if calling me cool?" Ellie asked glancing at her out the corner of her eye.

"Sure." Dina laughed. "You're cool, Ellie."

She groaned. "It doesn't mean as much when you say it like that."

Dina smirked at her, scooting her chair closer to Ellie until it was pressed right up before leaning in close. "You're cool, Ellie."

Ellie blushed and looked down, reaching up to scratch behind her ear.

She had been friends with Dina for a while now but the fact she called her cool was enough to bring the heat to her cheeks and the butterflies to her stomach.

She glanced at her, watching her effortlessly laugh at something Joel had said that she had missed and she couldn't help but think that Dina fit in so perfectly that it wasn't fair.

Maybe it would have made it easier if she hadn't gotten on so well with Joel and Tommy. If she hadn't made an effort to get to know them or entertain their interests and they hadn't enjoyed her company back or thought she was a good person.

If that had happened maybe she could push her feelings away, knowing she wasn't compatible with her future but that hadn't happened and it was so perfectly Dina to chameleon into any situation.

Sometimes it made Ellie angry but maybe she was just jealous she couldn't be more like that.

She gripped her beer tightly in her hands, turning it warmer by the second as she listened to the chatter around her, Tommy joining in now as he nervously paced around. It wouldn't be long until his girlfriend arrived and he would have to introduce her to everybody.

"Hey, you're being awfully quiet." Dina said, snapping Ellie out of her daze when she nudged her with her elbow. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah." Ellie replied with a lazy smile, her eyes remaining glued to her beer. "Just tired I guess."

"I thought you hadn't been sleeping well..." Dina trailed off, continuing when Ellie turned her head to look at her. "Bags under your eyes gives you away, they're normally not that bad."

"Oh." Ellie whispered, subconsciously rubbing at her eyes. "Yeah, sleeping sucks. My back is so sore."

"I thought you said the couch was comfortable." Dina asked, reaching out to rest a hand on Ellie's tattooed forearm.

Before Ellie could respond headlights appeared down the driveway

Both Ellie and Dina sat up in keen interest, watching as it continued up the driveway and crunching over the gravel as it got closer.

She couldn't help but smile as she watch Tommy slick back his hair, his hands shaking as he brought them back to his side and for a normal stance he sure made it look awkward.

When the car pulled up he quickly jogged over to her, even more awkwardly grabbing her door to open it as she opened it and he fumbled around before pulling it completely open.

He closed the door behind her when she stepped out, quickly pulling her into a tight hug before he grabbed her hand, leading her over to the group.

At first Ellie, couldn't make out her features in the darkness but as he brought her closer to the flames it all became clear.

"Hey, Ellie. Joel." Maria smiled giving her a small nod before offering the same gesture to Joel. Her eyes moved to Dina with question, turning to look to Tommy for guidance.

"Dina." She quickly said. "Maria, right?"

"Yes. Nice to meet you." She replied, clasping her hands in fro t of her.

Ellie closed her open mouth, it quickly turning in to a sly smirk as Tommy turned to look at her for her approval. Of course, it was Maria. If she hadn't had been hit in the head during the game she might have clicked when Maria had asked her if Tommy was her uncle she might have even remembered the conversation before now.

"Well, well, well..." Ellie began with a smirk. "Tommy you sly dog."

"Ellie, don't you start." Tommy warned, pointing her finger at her.

Ellie turned her attention back to Maria. "Are you sure you want to date this bozo? I mean, you're cool so..."

Maria chuckled, feeling a little more at ease. "Thank you for saying so Ellie, but I think your uncle is pretty cool."

Ellie laughed heartily. "Hear that Tommy? You're cool." She drawled slowly. "Come get a drink, Maria." She smiled, reaching into the cooler at her side and grabbed a beer out before holding it out to her. "You'll need it."

They continued into the night, the conversation and drinks flowing easily and Maria fitting in quickly into the back and forth. Ellie was never worried, knowing she could hold her own and knowing she was a tough lady that would keep Tommy in line if it worked out.

She loved seeing him this happy, unsure if she had ever seen him smile so much.

And while it was a shock and she would give him shit for that later, she knew Maria was a good woman and would be good for him. Maybe the relationship would have perks for her too, running fewer laps or at least an extra water break in the coming months.

She glanced over to Joel, wondering if he was lonely and if he had thought about finding someone like Tommy had. Maybe after a few more drinks, they could convince him to get on a dating app and she smiled to himself thinking how awful it would be to teach him to use the technology.

She couldn't concentrate for long periods of time on anything though, Dinas hand settled protectively on her arm constantly taking her attention away from anything around her and drawing her into the seclusion of her own mind.

She wasn't sure how long it had been there for, or how long it would continue to be there for but she didn't want it to stop.

She wondered if everyone else noticed too and if they did if they would say something, tease them over something that wasn't even true.

Dina would turn to her and smile, a smile that Ellie couldn't mistake for being anything less than truly happy before turning back to continue conversing with her family.

 


 

Ellie sat on the edge of her bed, waiting for Dina to finish in the bathroom so she could go in and brush her teeth, her clothes to change in to neatly piled beside her.

"Phew. I really reeked of smoke." Dina said as she arrived, dressed only in a towel, her face framed by her damp hair.

Ellie couldn't help but blush and look down. Dina smiled back at her as she stepped further in and Ellie really tried not to look at her legs at the bottom of her towel, she really had tried but it had been Dina who walked into her field of vision, not the other way around.

"Sorry." Ellie mumbled as she stood, reaching up to rub at the back of her head nervously.

"It's okay." Dina said softly, turning to face her and hating that she wouldn't even look in her direction. "Hey, Ellie?"

"Yeah?" Ellie asked, slowly bringing her eyes up before looking away again.

"How come you can't really look at me anymore?" she whispered, her eyes remaining on her friend as she stood there awkwardly and rubbed at her arm. "Like, you always look away."

"What do you mean?" Ellie laughed with a nervous stammer.

Dina hummed, watching as Ellie slowly lifted her gaze to meet her eye before looking away again.

"Well, I really need to go shower too." she offered, turning away from Dina. "I must really stink if you did." she finished, rushing out the bedroom door to the bathroom and shutting it behind her.

Dina sighed and looked down, turning away to get dressed before slumping down into the chair at her desk and opening her laptop to do some of her school work.

Ellie quickly stripped down, jumping in the shower and allowing the warm water to caress her aching body. She reached up and rubbed the back of her neck, tilting her head back and letting the water cascade down her chest with a sigh.

She needed to get out of there, away from Dina before she did something she would regret. It was already becoming too hard and maybe she was beginning to regret inviting Dina here. She knew it would be hard but hadn't considered it would be this hard.

She thought Dina would continue to be distant, not allowing her to be close again and resume the friendship they had had from New Years. She should have known better though, she was seemingly able to flick a switch and it was like they had never fought, Dina had never ditched her to remain loyal to her best friend.

She sighed again, resting her hand against the shower wall and leaning all her weight forward. She wasn't sure what she would tell Jesse if anything. Obviously she would have to tell him that Dina came over during the holidays, there was no way around that and she was sure Dina would also tell him when they inevitably got back together.

Jesse wouldn't care that Dina came, Ellie was certain of that. He would be happy she had taken care of Dina for him while they were fighting but briefly, she allowed herself to entertain the thought of confessing to him that she was in love with Dina. It would make everything easier if she could just be honest and lay everything out on the table.

She wasn't ready to lose either friendship though buy doing that, even though lying to herself was getting harder and harder every day. Jesse was in love with Dina, and even though she was in love with Dina too, Jesse's feelings would always have to come first.

He had always been too good to her to betray his trust in such a way. Even if it meant her own happiness would suffer in the end.

That didn't stop her mind wondering though, considering for just a second that what if it was Dina that chose her. That while she had been pining for Dina, she had been pining for her. As silly as it sounded, considering they both had somewhat of significant others regardless of the current relationship status, Dina's words always confused her, blurred the lines between fact and fiction, and just when she thought that maybe she could bury her feelings again Dina would say something stupid or ask some stupid question like if she thought she was beautiful.

Surely she knew the answer to that already?

Everyone thought Dina was beautiful. Why would it matter what she thought on that matter, regardless she thought she had made it pretty clear that she did.

She took a deep breath and exhaled, shaking her head clear before switching off the water and stepping out, drying off before slowly dressing, taking as much time as possible before she had to leave the safe confines of the bathroom.

Ellie finally came back to the room and lingered in the doorway, watching Dina's back as she worked diligently on her laptop. She always loved watching Dina concentrating on something that was important to her. For as beautiful as she was, she had smarts, determination, and drive to match. She never wanted to be average, always striving to be better than that, and making it seem effortless.

While Ellie struggled with classes and wrapping her head around things, Dina seemed to pick everything up so easily. She wished she could be more like that and she felt somewhat envious, she also appreciated that quality in Dina.

Finally, she cleared her throat to get her attention.

"I'm uh, heading to bed." she announced, resting her head against the door frame and folding her arms across her chest. "I had a good day today."

"Ellie." Dina said softly as she spun around in the chair. "Why don't you stay here tonight?"

"Not again, Dina." Ellie scoffed with a shake of her head. "You're not sleeping on the couch."

"No, I know. I mean..." she trailed off with a blush as she looked to the side. "We can both stay up here."

"Oh..." Ellie mumbled and looked down, matching Dina's blush. "No, it's okay."

"Please." Dina requested her voice breaking.

Ellie swallowed the lump in her throat and gave a small nod, stepping through the door and closing it softly behind her. Her hands lingered on the wood before she turned to face her friend, unsure of what to do and she wished she had put more clothes on other than a tank top and shorts feeling more exposed than she normally would have.

Dina wasn't wearing much more than her, just shorts and a t-shirt so she felt a little more at ease with her choice but still, the embarrassment remained.

Dina saved her work and closed her laptop, flicking the lamp beside the bed on and motioning for Ellie to switch the light off which she obliged.

Without another word Dina climbed into the bed, laying on her side and watching Ellie, waiting for her to make the move.

She swallowed again, nodding to herself that this was okay before she climbed in next to Dina, staying as close to the edge of the bed as possible and giving her the distance she had put between them for months now.

She stared up at the ceiling, holding the covers to her chest and feeling Dina's burning eyes staring at the side of her face but she didn't dare look. The bed was too small for that and their faces would be too close together if she turned her head.

Finally, Dina sighed and rolled on to her back.

"Ellie." Dina whispered, eyes looking straight up to the ceiling, their arms pressed together under the sheets.

"Yeah?" she asked reaching over to the lamp to switch it off before laying back and staring off into the darkness of the ceiling.

"I'm not very good at sleeping." she said softly, unmoving.

"Neither." she replied, taking a deep breath.

"I have bad dreams." Dina added, turning her head to face her.

"Oh." Ellie replied.

"I just thought you should know, just in case." she said surely before turning her attention back to the ceiling. "But I've never had one when I've been around you."

It was Ellie's turn to move her head to face her, staring at the only features she could make out in the darkness.

"I just can't sleep anymore." Ellie admitted freely, with a small shrug. "I'm so tired."

"I guess we're just both fucked up." Dina gave a small laugh, but it was more a wheeze to Ellie's ears. "At least we can be fucked up together."

They both instinctively reached down and held eachothers hands, entwining their fringers tightly together.

Ellie gulped, hard and loud. She wasn't sure what it meant but when Dina squeezed her hand three times she squeezed hers back three times.

Chapter Text

When Ellie woke up, she groaned, reaching out for the girl beside her but only finding an empty spot. Her eyes snapped open and it was no longer dark, in fact, there was decidedly more bright sunlight filtering through the window then there out to have been.

She sat up straight, placing her hand to her forehead as the dizziness hit and she shook her head, quickly regaining composure. Her eyes darted around the room trying to make sense of how it could be so late when she was sure it could have only been 5 am.

Joel would have woken her if she had slept in, or at least Dina would have.

Her eyes fell to the alarm clock beside the bed and she groaned. How had she slept till 9 am?

She was going to be so behind with her day and the animals would be hungry.

And where the hell was Dina.

She jumped up, already feeling annoyed and the dull thud of anger in the back of her head for being so stupid. She quickly dressed, hopping as she pulled on her pants and almost falling over causing her to curse the day.

Pulling on socks she jogged out the bedroom door and barrelled her way down the stairs. When she reached the bottom she paused, lingering when the sound of laughter hit her ears. She could hear all four of them, Joel, Tommy, Maria, and Dina chatting in the kitchen, Dina obviously telling an animated story that Ellie took a moment to listen to.

Dina was always too good at commanding a room.

She rounded the corner, her eyes settling on them.

"Hey, sleepyhead," Joel said with a small wave and a chuckle.

"Look who finally decided to grace us with her presence." Tommy laughed, his arm nestled around Maria.

"She looks like she's barely awake now." Maria chimed in, motioning to her bed hair.

Ellie's eyes settled on Dina's who only smiled back, simmering her rising anger and she stepped into the room and up to the kitchen island.

"Not you too." Ellie groaned. "Why didn't you wake me?" She asked grumpily, rubbing at her eyes.

"Heard you were sleeping like a baby." Joel placed his arm around her shoulders and pressed a kick kiss to the top of his head.

"I tried to wake you." Dina gave a small shrug and glanced to the side and Ellie had a feeling she was lying.

"Sorry. Who fed the animals for me?" She asked looking around the table.

"Dina did." Tommy grinned, toothy, and all-knowing and it was quick to bring back the anger she felt before.

Dina slid the cup in her hand over to Ellie who turned up her nose at it when she looked down and saw it was coffee, she slid it back over.

"You really shouldn't have done that..." Ellie said softly, turning to face her. "Thank you, though."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Dina grinned, bringing the cup to her lips to hide her smile.

"Yeah, sure you don't." Ellie rolled her eyes.

"Alright, back to work." Joel drawled, clapping his hands together. "Tommy, Maria, do you want to head out to the east paddocks with me?"

They agreed and were quick to leave, leaving Dina and Ellie alone in the house.

"Are you hungry?" Dina asked, her eyes staying on her friend as she kept her eyes down.

"Fucking starving." Ellie pouted, looking up at her.

"Can I make you some?" Dina asked cautiously, sensing her mood.

"You want to make me breakfast? Ellie asked with a raised brow, folding her arms on the table in front of her.

"Yeah." She smiled. "You've been good to me, let me be good to you. You're always taking care of everyone else, let me take care of you for once."

"...Alright." Ellie replied unsurely.

She took a seat on the stool, eyeing Dina suspiciously as she moved about the kitchen. She could tell she didn't know where everything was kept yet, only having Ellie make her food so far and watching where she grabbed things from.

"Did you cope okay this morning?" Ellie asked as Dina began to hum to herself, placing a pan on the stove.

Dina rolled the sleeves of her stolen plaid shirt up to her elbows and glanced over her shoulder. "I learned from the best."

"You should have woken me up." She pouted, scrunching her nose at her.

"Are you mad?" Dina asked when she turned around, resting back on the counter.

"Maybe." Ellie shrugged, exhaling deeply.

"Good, you're cute when you're mad." Dina smirked, moving to the cupboard to grab out a plate for her food.

"You're infuriating." She huffed, her arms slipping across the table and she dramatically dropped her head and rested her chin on them.

"You love me." She teased in a sing-song voice, spinning a whisk in her hand.

Ellie blushed. "You fucking wish."

Dina continued humming, shuffling around the kitchen and rifling through the pantry.

"What are you doing?" Ellie asked with an arched brow as she sat up, sliding off the chair to walk over to her.

"Will you find me the flour?" She asked with a small panicked expression.

"Its right here." She laughed, grabbing the open packet from the pantry right in front of her.

"Oh." Dina laughed and took it from her hand. "I was looking for a container."

"Oh, no. Do you think Joel would decant anything into anything else? We're poor remember." Ellie joked and Dina smiled.

"Don't pretend like you would either, El. I know your game. You can't just blame everything on Joel."

"He raised me...?" She asked as a response to her statement.

"Measuring cup too, please." Dina scoffed hard, placing the flour on the bench. "If anything I'd believe you made him worse."

Ellie rustled around loudly in the draw causing an eye roll from Dina in response before she found what she was looking for and held it out for her friend.

Dina only shook her head. "Nah, you're up now, you measure out a cup."

Ellie rolled her eyes back, any resistance she had felt before diminishing when she smiled at her and she did as she was told, opening the bag and dipping the cup in to scoop up a cup.

"What's that in there...?" Fina asked, peering over the side of the bag.

"Huh?" Ellie asked back, looking at her for a moment before following her motion, peering closer to the bag and hoping whatever inside wasn't enough to gross Dina out.

She smirked, taking a small step back before clapping her hands around the sides and forcing the air along with the flour into a cloud that hit Ellie right in the face.

She laughed and it was loud enough to fill the entire house, clutching at her sides as she doubled over.

Stunned for a moment Ellie only blinked, dusting of flour falling from her eyelashes.

"Dina what the fuck!" She groaned, but only made Dina's laughter worse when puffs of flour came from her mouth.

"Holy. Fuck." Dina managed between gasps of air, losing any composure she had regained when she looked at Ellie. "You should see your face."

"You think that was funny huh?" Ellie asked with an amused snort, the cup of flour she had scooped earlier still in her hand.

"Ellie. Don't you da-" Dina said sternly before losing it again.

"Oh?"

"I mean it." Dina choked through tears.

"Oh, okay." Ellie smirked pretending to turn away before turning back, flinging the cup of flour in Dina's direction.

Ellie burst out laughing, the flour mostly missing but hitting enough that it coated some of Dina's face and hair before falling down the front of her clothes.

She stood there her mouth wide open in disbelief, shaking her hands at her side. "Ellie!"

Ellie smirked back at her and crossed her arms. "Okay, it is pretty funny."

Dinas face quickly melted and she grinned back.

"Here." She said softly, grabbing the tea towel from the bench and stepping towards Ellie.

She lifted the towel to Ellie's face, gently wiping the flour from her cheeks and revealing her freckles again. Dina smiled as she worked to clean that cheek, looking up and meeting Ellie's eyes.

Ellie looked back at her, enjoying the close proximity as Dina brushed at her skin. She bit her lip, reaching up and sliding her hand over Dina's.

Dina tilted her head at her, her smile warm and her lips inviting.

Ellie moved her hand, reaching over to smudge the flour on Dina's cheek away, following through by tucking her now white hair behind her ear.

She swallowed her, her eyes dropping down to her lips before she shook her head

"Sorry..." Ellie whispered, immediately dropping her hand and stepping away.

"It's okay." Dina exhaled hard, taking her own step away before moving back to the bench to wipe up the mess she had made.

Ellie shook her head, feeling angry with herself before stepping up beside Dina and placing her hand on top of hers to stop her movements.

"Don't worry about that..." she whispered. "We'll clean it up later. One cup of flour?"

Dina's face softened and she smiled.

Working together they were quick to make the batter, Ellie taking a seat and watching with adoration as Dina cooked. It wasn't long until Dina placed the plate in front of her and watched Ellie tuck in.

"Holy fuck, these are amazing," Ellie said between mouthfuls as Dina sat down beside her.

She laughed and shook her head. "If you don't slow down you'll choke. And why are you surprised? I told you I'm a good cook, you're the one who served me cold pizza."

"Yeah, but like... these are so good." She exclaimed, shoving another forkful of pancakes in her mouth at speed.

"I'll make them for you whenever you want them." Dina replied with a small nod.

Ellie forced the lump of food down her throat and smiled. "My own personal chef Dina?"

"Yeah, I suppose." She smiled back. "You need to eat more."

Ellie rolled her eyes. "Yes, mom."

 


They had all settled in early for the night, draping themselves over the couch and chatting with the tv on in the background, everyone exhausted from work for the day.

Dina arrived back in the lounge, running her fingers along the lid of the piano as she crossed the room before pausing and looking at Joel and Tommy.

"Which one of you plays the piano?" She asked, switching her attention between both of them to decide which was more likely.

Joel looked at Tommy and they both smirked before turning their attention to Ellie who shook her head sternly in response.

When they ignored her she glanced at Dina before picking up her phone and pretending to be more interested in it then what anyone was saying.

"Ellie?" Dina asked the men with an arched brow.

"Yup." Joel said slowly. "Surprising, huh?"

Ellie could feel the tips of her ears burning red but still, she kept her attention on her phone, still pretending like this conversation wasn't happening.

"She didn't tell me that." Dina huffed and Ellie could tell by her tone that the cogs in her head were turning.

"Oh yeah, Ellie has real musical talent." Joel grinned. "When she puts her mind to something, she doesn't give up until she gets it. I can't even begin to describe the headaches I had from her learning that."

"It wasn't that bad!" Ellie yelled, snapping her attention up and ruining her laying low.

"Tommy?" Joel asked, requesting back up.

"Sounded like a dying cat." He laughed. "I don't think I could have moved further enough away to get away from that noise and believe me I thought about it."

"You encouraged me!" Ellie said incredulously. "You told me I was good!"

"It was our job to tell you you were good." Joel chuckled, settling his hands on his chest as he leaned back. "Are you going to play something for Dina, kid?"

"No." Ellie huffed, folding her arms and laying back as Joel had.

"And why not?" Dina asked, taking her seat back beside her. "I'm sure Maria would like to hear ol' rough around the edges Ellie play a classical music piece."

"Not happening." She groaned, looking up at Maria who had opened her mouth to speak before she cut her off. "Not. Happening."

Maria only laughed. "I was only going to say to leave you alone but I don't have to do that..." she said with an arched brow.

"Oh." Ellie drawled. "That's okay then. Continue."

"No, no. I think I'm on their side now." She grinned.

"Traitor." Ellie whispered while making eye contact before looking away and to the side.

She felt a warmth on her thigh and she turned back, seeing Dina's soft hand resting on her thigh and she followed the length of her arm all the way up to her warm eyes.

"Maybe later?" Dina offered.

Ellie couldn't help but nod along with her. "Yeah, later."

 


 

Everyone had finally gone to bed, leaving Ellie and Dina alone on the couch. Dina's hand had remained on its place on her thigh, sometimes moving to her arm but always moving back and again if any of her family noticed it, they didn't say anything.

Ellie wondered if Dina was testing the waters by doing it, seeing what she could get away with in front of her family but wasn't sure why she would do that. What did it matter to her what they would or would not pull her up on?

Either way, she pretended to ignore the feeling, instead focusing on the tv in front of them until the movie that was on finished and forced her to have to turn to look at Dina who had been looking at her for entirely too long.

"What?" Ellie finally asked as she settled her eyes on her face.

Dina sat there, legs tucked under her body and head in her hand, her elbow resting on the back of the couch watching her, a small smiling tugging at the corner of her lips.

"You're being weird." Ellie groaned, reaching over to shove at her shoulder. "What?"

"I just can't stop thinking about the fact that you play the piano." She said softly, her lip continuing to twitch at the corner.

"Oh fuck you." Ellie laughed, pushing her again.

"What?" Dina laughed back, grabbing her hand before she could pull it away. "Everyones has gone to bed now, will you play something for me?"

"Maybe I wanted to play for them but it was specifically you I didn't want to play for? Ellie offered her with a small pout.

"Oh really?" Dina asked, her eyebrow raised high on her forehead.

"What makes you think you're so special?" Ellie asked, locking her eyes on Dina's.

Dina thought for a moment before her lips twitched again. "Are you trying to say I'm not?"

Ellie blushed and looked down, looking at how Dina delicately played with her fingers as she held them in her hand. She hadn't expected her to throw her question back at her and she didn't really have a response.

After taking a moment to regain some composure she looked back up at her. "What do you want me to play?"

There was no hiding it now as Dina's face turned in to that of complete and utter happiness. "Anything. Do you know anything I listen to?"

"Why? Are you gonna sing?" Ellie teased as she stood from the couch and threw her legs over the stool in front of the piano, carefully lifting the lid and running her fingers over the keys.

"No way! I'll leave the singing to you." Dina laughed as she too stood, choosing to sit on the end of the coffee table to both get closer and a better view of Ellie. "What are you going to play for me, Casanova?"

"I think you'll like this one." Ellie smiled to herself as she readied her fingers on the keys.

She played a quick random tune first, getting herself acquainted with the keys again before heading into the intro, pulling her back straight as she pressed down on each key. She messed up once, cringing as she pushed on, and instead of getting angry and frustrated she instead smiled and persisted, feeling calm under Dina's watchful eye.

She glanced over her shoulder, watching as Dina's face slowly changed to that of recognition. She looked back down at the piano.

"We can leave the Christmas lights until January, this is our place we make the rules
There's a dazzling haze a mysterious way about you fear
Have I known you twenty seconds or twenty years

Can I go where you go
Can we always be this close, forever and ever
Take me out take me home
You're my, my..."

She froze, feeling Dina's body shift against hers on the small stool, her fingers still moving mindlessly on the keys. Slowly she turned her head and looked at her, holding her eyes that were staring adoringly at her. She looked back down again, the feeling of her arm against hers becoming too much and she played through the chorus again before she swallowed and finished.

"Lover..."

She glanced back at Dina who continued to watch her intently, and the familiar hue of red that she always got from being so close to her crept it's way over the bridge of her nose, spreading across her cheeks.

Her heart thundered in her chest, almost loud enough to drown out the sound of the piano but she pushed through, trying to focus on what her fingers were doing and not the way Dina was touching her or why she was looking at her that way.

"I'm highly suspicious that everyone who sees you wants you
I've loved you three summers now honey, I want more."

She finished softly, before going into the chorus swearing Dina was pressing even more closely to her now

"Alls well that ends well that ends up with you
Swear to be overdramatic and true to my lover
And you'll save all your dirtiest jokes for me
And every table I'll save you a seat."

She pushed the keys slightly harder, the sound coming through louder as she went into the final chorus, smiling as she looked over at Dina, feeling more confident as she sat there with her now.

When she finished, she gave a lazy smile and dropped her hands from the keys into her lap, taking in the way Dina was smiling at her as if she was the sun and she was basking in her glow.

"How are you so good at everything?" Dina mumbled, putting her hands down on the keys.

"That's you." Ellie laughed, looking down when Dina's hand again found her thigh. "And this is easy. Do you want me to show you?"

Dina nodded, giving Ellie's leg a squeeze. "I've never played before."

"It's okay, put your fingers here..." she whispered quietly, taking Dina's far hand and placing it on the keys before taking her other and doing the same, allowing her hand to linger on top of hers. "...and here."

"Like this?" Dina whispered, keeping her eyes down to concentrate on her hands.

"Yeah, like that." Ellie smiled at her before dropping her attention back to her hands.

Ellie sat there with Dina teaching her the song. It was slow and steady at first, but Dina was quick to memorize the keys and when they should be pressed. She explained what note they were regardless of the fact she knew she wouldn't remember or understand.

Dina sat closer to her, bumping her shoulder against hers as they played together and when Ellie slowly began to sing, Dina did too, laughing every time she messed up.

Ellie loved hearing her laugh and this one sounded more genuine than she possible had ever heard it before which brought a smile to her face. Her cheeks hurt but she wouldn't change the warm feeling it gave her for anything.

She glanced over to Dina, watching as her fingers landed on the keys and she threw her head back and laughed before turning back and smiling at her. She wondered if she knew how beautiful she was, or even if she knew what she did to Ellie.

There had to be some part of her that knew, right?

She couldn't stop looking at her. She couldn't stop smiling when she smiled or laughing when she laughed. She couldn't help trying to cheer her up when she was down and she would have fought anyone who hurt her.

When she felt like Dina had mastered one part, she played the next for her, Dina dropping her hand to her thigh and giving her leg a squeeze as she watched her fingers glide over the keys slow enough for her to pick up before she gave it a go herself.

Ellie swore her hand was getting higher every time but wasn't sure enough to call her out for it. She wouldn't anyways, she enjoyed the feeling too much and wouldn't risk anything that would cause it to cease.

There were so many things Ellie wanted to ask her, that she wanted to tell her and her chest was beginning to feel heavy with each and every thought that would pop into her head and she was sure this would be the night where she would talk to her but every time she laughed her resolve wained, and every time she laughed she forgot one of those things until the only thing she could think about was how much she adored her.

"I think I need a break." Dina laughed, fanning at her face. "It's so hot in here."

"Yeah." Ellie swallowed the saliva in her mouth, dropping her hands to her lap and her gaze following. "Let's go outside for a bit."

 


 

Dina dropped her gaze from the stars, her eyes falling on Ellie's face, following each curve of her side profile, wishing she could see more freckles under the dim light. Wanting so badly to reach out and brush the strand of hair that loosely hung around her face.

So she did it, she reached out a shaking hand and tucked her stray strand of auburn hair behind her ear, causing Ellie to turn to her and smile.

Ellie immediately looked down, hiding the red that painted her skin, and took a sip of her now warm beer before setting it down beside her and leaning back on her hands.

Dina continued to watch her, Ellie could feel her eyes burning into her but she was too scared to ask why she kept looking at her. Ellie knew why she stared at Dina, she was helplessly attracted to her but what reason would she have to look at her like that?

"I'm sorry." Dina finally said softly.

Ellie turned to face her, confusion creased on her forehead. "What are you sorry for?"

"Everything." She sighed, finally turning away and looking down.

"That's really vague, Dina." Ellie chuckled, albeit nervously uncertain where this conversation would take them.

Ellie wasn't sure how hard she should push it, or even if she should push it at all.

Dina played with her fingers in her lap with frustration. "For how I've pushed you away."

"You're being weird." Ellie said softly, keeping her eyes on her, worried if she looked away she would miss something, some clue as to why she was acting like this.

"I don't know how to just be your friend." Dina admitted with a small shrug as she turned to face her friend, hating how she couldn't see her eyes in the darkness.

"Dina?" Ellie asked, more confused than she had been at the start of this conversation. She couldn't place her expression or tone.

Dina laughed and it hurt Ellie's ears, it wasn't typical, normal, or happy, it was frustration and anger and indecisiveness.

It was sad and she wanted nothing more than to wrap her up in her arms and tell her that it was going to be okay, that whatever was bothering her would sort itself out so she didn't need to make herself sad over it.

Her mind shot to Jesse and she felt stupid for not realizing that of course, Dina would still be sad about it. It was raw and they still hadn't spoken since their fight.

She clenched her fist at her side, her nails digging hard into her palm but it did nothing to stop the rising heat in her chest and the familiar sting behind her eyes.

How could she have been so stupid?

Of course, Dina didn't know how to be her friend when as much as she tried to hide it was blatantly obvious that she wanted more. Maybe Dina had just been polite in not saying anything, in allowing them to be close because that's what she thought Ellie wanted.

Maybe that's why she was never there in the mornings because she felt ashamed of what she had allowed to happen the night before, taking their friendship to a level that most certainly wasn't a friendship because she knew that now, she knew friends didn't undress each other and she knew they didn't sleep together and hold hands.

Dina looked down sending Ellie's sudden hesitation and shifted her hand to lay it over top of Ellie's. "I think you're beautiful, El. I don't want to not tell you that anymore."

Ellie only shook her head, wishing she was able to tell her to stop because none of this made sense to her anymore.

"You're so talented and kind and everything you do is just so damn distracting. You fucking Wonderwall'd me for christ's sake." She continued, her voice low and hushed.

Ellie sighed, unable to stay quiet any longer. "You're beautiful too, Dina... but I think you've maybe had a bit much to drink."

She laughed again, this time the sound wrapped it's way around Ellie's heart and squeezed. "I'm not in the least bit drunk and I'm offended you think that."

"Oh." Ellie replied and looked down, choosing to look at Dina's hand on top of hers. "Sorry."

"I'm worried that my family won't like me anymore." She admitted, her eyes brimming with tears.

"What?" Ellie choked out turning to face her. "Why wouldn't they?"

"I don't think they would if I just tried being me... if I let go and actually do what I want if I tried following my heart." She shook her head and looked down, bringing her free hand up to wipe at her eyes.

"Then fuck them." Ellie gave a small nod. "If they love you they'd be happy for whatever you did."

She gave another laugh.

"They're not like Joel or Tommy, Ellie... religion is everything to them. Religion is their life, their family. I'm trying too hard to be the person they want me to be but you make it so hard Ellie."

"I'm sorry...?" Ellie furrowed her brow if she thought she had no idea what was happening before she was absolutely lost now.

"There you go, apologizing again when you did nothing wrong..." Dina glanced to the side and smiled at her but it was still sad.

"I don't know what to tell you, Dina." Ellie sighed, shifting her hand so it sat on top of Dina's. "Nothing should stop you from being yourself."

"Easier said than done." Dina shook her head and looked down.

"You can always be yourself around me, you know?" She offered in an earnest attempt to make her feel better. "If there's something you're hiding or just want to get off your chest, I won't judge you and we can keep it just between us if you want."

"I know, Ellie..." Dina sucked air deep into her lungs in an attempt to regain composure before reaching up to wipe at her cheek. "Sorry, I'm being stupid." She added, forcing a laugh.

"You don't have to pretend to be happy if you're not." Ellie said plainly, looking out at the view in front of them. "You don't have to pretend around me."

Dina sat in silence for a moment. "I know I don't. I'm really happy I'm here, Ellie. Thank you for inviting me... I think I needed this fresh air. I feel so free here."

"I'm glad you're here too, Dina." Ellie said as she turned to face her, giving her a sincere smile. "And I'm happy you feel that way."

Dina bit her lip, studying Ellie's face and at that moment chose to reach up her hand and slide it along her cheek, her fingertips gently brushing her soft skin before settling in her hairline.

She leaned in, barely resting her cheek against Ellie's and brushing her lips against her skin leaving them both feeling hot under the touches.

She didn't move straight away but eventually, she pulled away, offering a smile before looking up to the sky.

"You wanna tell me about the stars again?" She asked with a sniffle. "Can we see that one you said we couldn't before?"

Ellie grinned at her before looking up at the sky and raising her hand to point.

 


 

"Goodnight, girls." Joel said gruffly from his perch at the kitchen island reading his newspaper, glasses set low on the bridge of his nose as they reentered the house, Ellie's hand still tightly in Dina's.

"Night, Joel." They replied in unison.

Ellie paused ready to let go of Dina's hand and divert her path to the couch, resigning to another night of being uncomfortable but when she tried the black-haired woman wouldn't allow it, instead holding on to her hand and giving her a gentle tug.

"Come on." Dina whispered, low and throaty, turning her back to the taller woman and tugging her along. "Come to bed with me."

She ascended the stairs looking behind her to smile at Ellie before looking back ahead of her, taking each step slowly.

Ellie only gulped, keeping her eyes fixed to her back, down to their hands, the peeling wallpaper on the walls, anything to keep her mind off Dina's hand in her own.

It took longer than it should have but they still arrived quickly to Ellie's childhood bedroom and once they had stepped inside, Dina closed the door behind them, leaning back against the wood.

Ellie spun around, watching her keenly as she pushed herself off and took a tentative step towards her closely followed by another until they were so close together that they were almost touching.

She thought it would have been easy then to lean down and kiss her, to take her as her own if she would allow it but she knew she couldn't. Regardless of their current relationship status Dina was still Jesse's by default because that's just what the code dictated, didn't it? She wasn't sure, she had never been in this situation before.

But Dina's words still hung heavy in both her mind and heart, pulling her in different directions. She wasn't sure whether it was possible to be both so sure and unsure of what she was talking about.

Either way, she looked away when Dina held her gaze too long, certain the way she was looking at her would eventually be the death of her if she allowed it to linger any longer.

That or it would get her into trouble she couldn't put either of them in.

"Ellie..." Dina whispered, reaching up to slide her hand over her cheek, thumb dragging along her jaw and when Ellie didn't respond she pressed gently and turned her face back to her own.

Ellie blinked slowly, her eyes carving a path down the curve of her nose to her lips and she licked her own lips, certain they had never felt drier before she looked back into the depths of Dinas, falling into them like she had a serious habit of doing.

She watched as Dina tilted her head to the side a little, her own eyes traveling down her face and Ellie could sense her leaning forward, closing the marginal distance between them but instead she only rested her hands on her shoulders and dropped her head to the crook of her neck.

Ellie released the breath she didn't know she was holding in both relief and frustration and resigned to placing her arms around her friend.

Each day they spent here together her resolve was wavering. Slowly getting weaker and weaker.

"I'm so tired." Dina breathed softly.

"Do you want to go to bed?" Ellie asked back quietly, sure her voice never lifted above a whisper.

"Not yet." Dina replied. "I just want to try to be me... I don't think I can do this anymore."

Ellie slowly ran her hand up and down the arch of her back, pulling her as close as she possibly could without hurting her but it never being enough, holding her like this never felt enough, she needed more for it to finally be enough. Needing decidedly fewer layers to achieve the closeness she desired but knew that was a selfish thought she needed to push away instead she focused on working to decipher Dina's words.

"Do what?" She breathed heavily through her nose.

Dina shifted in her arms, lifting her head and her nose hit the skin on her neck, Ellie shuddering at the contact, at her hot breath on her neck before freezing, cursing her body for betraying her.

Her nose came under her jaw, nuzzling underneath and Ellie closed her eyes, swearing she could feel her lips brush against her skin, she wasn't certain but she wanted to be the truth.

She dug her fingertips into Dinas back a little harder and she pressed her cheek even harder into the side of her head, nuzzling her nose into her hair and relishing the pleasant scent of her shampoo.

Dina's hand came up again, her palm sliding over the base of her neck before ducking behind, tracing a gentle line up the bone to her hairline before she pulled her head away from her chest and looked at her, really looked at her.

Ellie held her eyes, unsure whether or not she should pull herself away and head back to the couch downstairs, unsure what all her words and her contact meant. She wanted to stick around to find out though and no longer push her away, no longer run away from her own feelings.

Dina stood on her toes and leaned closer to Ellie, closing her eyes as she bypassed her mouth and placed the side of her own lips to Ellie's cheek, drawing in the warmth it created and Ellie released the breath she was holding in anticipation.

"Not know what it's like to kiss you anymore," she said softly.

Ellie dropped her hands to Dina's hips, holding them tightly to keep both her body and mind grounded. Dina's lips pressed against her skin causing her entire body to flush red, the points of her ears burning but she loved it, craving more but being unable to ask for it.

Her mind worked tirelessly to process her words but always seeming to stumble and she would have to go back to the start.

As if her prayers were answered Dina dragged her face to the corner of Ellie's lips, placing a kiss so light it may as well have not even existed and Ellie barely stopped a whimper escaping her lips.

Dina pulled away again and she was so achingly close that Ellie decided if she pulled away she would die. She didn't care if the motion of it wouldn't kill her, the longing and frustration would.

But Dina didn't pull away, instead, she brought her hand to Ellie's cheek, keeping her eyes trained on hers, flickering with an emotion Ellie couldn't decipher, nor wanted to try at the moment for fear she would get it wrong.

She could only stare back into the deepest brown she had ever seen, falling into its depths infinitely and holding her captivated and unable to move like her prey.

They stayed like that for god knows how long, Ellie swore it felt like hours but it could have been only minutes and likely was only seconds, the waiting agonizing for her but Dina didn't make her wait any longer as she leaned up, softly pushing her lips against hers.

Ellie swallowed the lump in her throat, stunned for a moment before she closed her eyes and pressed back, only deepening the kiss when Dina began moving her lips against hers.

She felt both dizzy and elated, ready to pass out at the mere contact on her mouth because holy shit Dina was kissing her. For how much she had longed and pined, and cursed, she was finally kissing the girl she had been obsessing over.

When she felt the intrusion of her tongue she reciprocated the gesture, pouring every single minute that she had known she loved her into the kiss to show her that she could be enough, that she could make her happy, to beg her to choose her and Dina returned the kiss with just as much passion, her hands beginning to roam Ellie's body at her leisure.

They finally pulled away, chests heaving and breaths ragged, their foreheads meeting and pressed tightly together. Ellie opened her eyes and watched, waiting for Dina to open her eyes and look at her, to look up and show her that that had been okay but she didn't immediately, leaving fear to creep into the back of Ellie's mind.

What if that had solidified for her that Ellie wasn't what she wanted?

Because that solidified for Ellie that Dina was everything she wanted.

"Dina..." Ellie finally whispered, her voice cracking and betraying her emotions.

Dina finally looked up, excruciatingly slow but her eyes finally met her none the less. Elie blinked slowly, scared and uncertain, and almost ready for Dina to turn tail and run but she didn't, however, Ellie was still unsure that she wouldn't.

Dina reached up and ran her fingertips through Ellie's hair, over her scalp and tucking back any frazzled pieces of hair before pulling her lips to hers again in another desperate kiss.

"Bed." Dina whispered against her lips, her breath hitting them hot and hard before capturing them again.

Ellie could only whimper against her lips, allowing Dina to walked her back to the bed and she pulled away enough that she could lay down. She watched with cautious excitement as Dina climbed on top, straddling her waist and sitting back on her hips, sending heat straight through her body.

Dina slid her hands up Ellie's body, watching curiously as she arched into her touch before bringing her hands to rest on her shoulders and leaning down to kiss her again, she couldn't get enough of kissing her. It was soft and rough, tender, and firm and like nothing she had experienced before.

Ellie whimpered against her mouth again when Dina took her bottom lip between her teeth and tugged before being back hungrily on her. She couldn't think of anything else, her mind swimming with thoughts of only Dina, not that she wanted to think of anything else. Every contact sent shocks through her body, her lips on her mouth, her hands on her skin, and her body pressed against her hips, it was the perfect triangle of contact for Ellie to lose her mind.

They had been kissing for a long while when Dina finally pulled away, panting heavily against Ellie's skin, Ellie however didn't think it had been long enough and happily would have continued for eternity but she laid back, staring up at the girl on top of her.

The seriousness of Dina's face softened and she allowed a small laugh to escape her lips, enjoying the closeness of their bodies too much to even entertain moving away yet.

Ellie furrowed her brow, continuing to watch her. Why was she laughing?

At her?

"I've just... wanted to do that for a long time." Dina admitted freely when she saw Ellie's worried expression, feeling as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders.

"Good?" Ellie asked, swallowing down the lump in her throat but both excited for her answer and regretting asking.

"I don't want to stop kissing you, Ellie." Dina spoke quietly, lifting her hand to run over her fingers over Ellie's lower lip.

"Then don't." Ellie dared, challenging her as their eyes met.

Ellie shivered at her touch, her eyes never leaving hers, looking for anything that would show her that this was the truth and not just some cruel joke. That this wasn't Dina just acting and she was sure she had found it but there still continued to be that thread of doubt in the back of her mind.

She shook her head clear, sitting up and steadying the smaller girl with rough hands on her hips and kissed her again with fervor, with as much passion as she could muster into one single kiss that Dina happily returned before Ellie pulled away, bumping her nose against hers.

"We should get you to bed." Dina finally said, breaking the silence around them but not willing to move from the intimacy of it all.

"Right." Ellie breathed, glancing down. "Early morning tomorrow and... yeah."

They both sighed and Dina shifted her weight off Ellie, moving until she was sitting on the side of the bed and waited for Ellie to follow, looking at her when she finally rose to her feet.

Ellie wasn't sure what she should say at that moment. Tell her thank you? Tell her she was a nice kisser? She couldn't tell her the truth, that she never wanted to stop doing that but she knew she had to say something, she couldn't just leave but all she could think was how perfect Dina's lips were and how she wanted to still be kissing them.

Those thoughts were closely followed by the encroaching fear that that might be something that never happened again and she wasn't sure she could live with that, not after finally knowing how good it was.

"What are you doing?" Dina asked with a crooked smile, leaning back on her hands and watching as Ellie stood awkward in the middle of the room.

"Right." Ellie blushed and looked down, rubbing at the back of her head. "I just..." she began looking up. "... I guess I'll go to bed now." She finally stammered out, turning on her heels for the door to make a somewhat quick escape deciding she would debrief downstairs.

"Where are you going?" Dina asked, rising to her feet.

"To... bed?" Ellie replied clumsily, turning back to face her.

"Don't you want to stay with me?" Dina said softly with a tilt of her head, holding out her hand.

Ellie glanced down to the extended hand, studying her slender fingers and soft skin before she reached out her own hand and took it in hers, wondering if Dina cared that her own hands weren't soft enough, that they were too rough and calloused.

"Take your shirt off?" Dina asked but to Ellie's ears, it was only a demand.

Ellie turned her back to Dina unable to take the way she was looking at her, before pulling her shirt over her head, allowing it to fall to the floor at her feet. She looked over her shoulder at Dina expectantly for her to tell her what else to do.

Taking a deep breath Dina took a step closer to her friend and slid her hands over her hips, relishing the feeling of her hands against her bare skin before wrapping them around her waist and pulling her back against her chest. She pressed her lips gently to her shoulder before resting her warm cheek there.

"Dina..." Ellie whispered, dropping her hands to rest over the top of hers.

"Please stay." Dina mumbled against her skin, the contact enough to take any further thoughts from Ellie's mind.

She dropped her hands, for a moment only as she pulled her own shirt over her head and dropped it to the floor with Ellie's before stepping back against her and pulling her back in her arms.

Ellie blushed, sure her entire body was flushed with warmth as she allowed Dina to hold her.

She had never been held like this before by anyone. It was an odd feeling to her but she didn't hate it, in fact, she decided it was something she could entirely too easily get used to. She felt safe and warm, cherished, and wanted and that's all she ever wanted from anyone, all she ever wanted from this woman.

After a few more slow kisses to her shoulder and base of her neck, Ellie finally grabbed her hand tightly in hers before bringing it to her lips, giving her knuckles a gentle kiss.

Dina dropped her hands and Ellie already missed the contact but as she stepped beside her she took her hand again and when she climbed into bed she tugged her along with her. They said nothing as they settled down on the pillow they shared, their faces close together and their hands entwined between them staring into each other's eyes.

Ellie thought there was something entirely too intimate about the situation but quickly pushed that thought from her head when she realized kissing her had already blurred that friendship line. She watched her eyes in the dim light as they flickered between emotions and she tried to pick which they were. Adoration? Fear? Happiness? Sadness? Confusion?

She wanted to ask but couldn't find the right words for fear of ruining the moment so instead just laid silently with her.

Instead of speaking Dina again slid her hand over Ellie's cheek and scooted closer to her until their bodies touched and her nose brushed against hers before capturing her lips against her own in a deliberately slow, loving kind of way that made Ellie's chest beat harder in her chest than it ever had.

Until she tasted salt and a new wetness between them that wasn't there before. Ellie pressed her lips hard against hers before pulling away and studying the tears that had fallen from Dina's brown eyes and stained her cheeks, finding their ways down to their mouths.

"What's wrong?" She asked brow furrowed as she reached up to wipe them away with her thumb.

Dina shook her head, sobbing quietly before swallowing them back down. "I'm sorry."

"Hey, talk to me..." Ellie pleaded. "If its something I've done... I'm so sorry."

"Oh, El." Dina replied quickly, pressing her lips again to hers in an attempt to take any doubt away. "You've done nothing wrong."

"Then what is it?" She asked, feeling the familiar sting in her own eyes.

"I'm scared." Dina managed to choke out as she looked down.

"What are you scared about?" Ellie asked, leaning forward to brush her nose against Dina's in an earnest attempt to comfort her.

"I don't want them all to hate me. I don't want you to hate me anymore." She replied with a strong shake of her head. "But I don't want you to go anywhere."

"I'm not going anywhere, Dina." Ellie whispered, crashing her lips against her own. "I could never hate you. I'm not going anywhere." She repeated. "Do you understand?"

Dina gave a small nod and Ellie took her hand, bringing it up and pressing her palm flat against the skin over her heart, the most honest gesture she could muster to let her know that she was here and she was real and she wanted her.

Dina gave a pained smile, pressing her hand more firmly to her skin before taking her lips again against her own in desperation.

Chapter Text

The next morning when Ellie woke she wasn't alone. She looked down at the shorter woman held tightly in her arms, snoring contentedly against the skin on her neck

She couldn't help the smile that tugged at her lips, not wanting to shift for fear of waking Dina up even though her arm was achingly dead from resting underneath her.

She pressed her lips to the top of her head, not for any reason other than she could.

Dina had kissed her, it wasn't the other way around. There wasn't some expectation that dictated she had to kiss Ellie back because she had kissed her first so she figured she must have wanted to do it.

They weren't inebriated, hadn't had any alcohol or smoked any drugs so there would be no excuses when Dina woke up, not that Ellie had expected her to make any. She never pretended like the things that they did never happened, they just simply never talked about them.

She hoped that wouldn't be the case now, she didn't think it could be either way but there it was, the fear creeping into the back of her mind.

Their kiss, or kisses rather had cemented her feelings towards Dina. Kissing her hadn't changed that, if anything it had just made her want stronger and she was able to look upon her in a different way now that she knew. She had tasted the dizzying heights Dina and she wasn't sure she could ever give that high up.

When Dina shifted in her arms she tensed, unsure whether or not she would stay or run but when she only cuddled closer up to her she pulled her tighter to her body in response, relaxing as her face found the crook of her neck and she placed a soft kiss to the exposed skin.

"Are you watching me sleep, Williams?" Dina murmured sleepily after another kiss to Ellie's neck.

"No-" Ellie stammered, a furious blush gracing her cheeks as Dina took that moment to nip at the crook of her neck. "... we uh, need to get soon. It's already five but I just thought you could use a little more sleep."

Ellie heard Dina groan and she smiled, loosening her grip when Dina rolled away and stretched on her back, finally cracking one eye to look at Ellie out the corner of it.

Ellie's eyes shamelessly dropped when the sheet cover Dina moved with her stretch, following the trail of curves of her face down to her exposed skin in her chest and watching the way her covered breasts rose and fell with her breathes.

When she finally stole her eyes away and back to Dina's she was met with her knowing smirk so she quickly looked away at anything other than her gaze but she couldn't for long, unable to keep her eyes off the woman in her bed.

"You wanna stay in bed?" Ellie asked, propping herself up on her elbow to look down at her.

"No..." she whispered back.

Ellie wasn't convinced but when Dina held her arms up and reached for her she shifted forward, allowing her to wrap her arms around her neck and pull her close to her body and Ellie couldn't stop grinning, her cheeks aching from it.

"You sure?" Ellie asked, her voice muffled from being pressed so firmly to Dina's neck.

"You wouldn't be here." She said quietly in her ear, releasing her tight grip on Ellie and allowing her to pull up until she could look at her. "So what's the point of staying in bed?"

She smiled again, her cheeks tightening before Dina leaned up and kissed her, Ellie following her when she leaned back down.

"Sorry." Dina said when they parted, swatting her away by the shoulder. "I have bad breath."

Ellie rolled her eyes and with much dedication to the cause managed to lift herself out of the bed, already missing her contact with Dina.

With a sigh she gave a long stretch, her arms raised high above her head and she knew Dina was watching her, feeling her gaze burn her skin so she didn't turn around, instead going to riffle around her bag for some clothes to put on.

As she pulled her jeans up her leg she turned and found Dina sitting on the side of the bed, her cheeks flushed red but her gaze remained on Ellie as she changed.

She finished buttoning the front and pulled her shirt over her head, meeting Dina's hungry eyes and when she finished she sat down on the bed beside her causing Dina to get up with a sigh and begin to dress like Ellie had, choosing to watch her like Dina had to her.

When they finished, without a word they started for the door but Ellie had barely made it through when she felt Dina grasp her hand and entwine their fingers together, still saying nothing as they descended the stairs together and set out for their morning routine.

When they arrived at the shed and Tommy and Joel came into view they dropped their hands, Dina instead offering her a warm smile and bumping into her shoulder.

Ellie wasn't sure what this was but for now, she thought it might be enough.

Ellie wasn't sure if it had happened gradually or over the course of the night before but Dina seemed more at ease than she had ever seen her like a giant weight had been lifted off her shoulders or something was no longer holding her back.

Confused, she was unable to keep her eyes off her for the entirety of the time they were out, Dina always noticing but meeting her with a lazy kind of smile that made her heart thunder in her chest.

She spent entirely too much time watching Dina rather than concentrating on her work, joining in with Dina as she laughed and patted the calves, like Dina feeling as if a giant burden had been removed from her shoulders. It meant that it took entirely too long to complete their tasks but she didn't mind, the more time she got to spend with Dina the better and for the most part, she appeared to seem the same way, not complaining about how long it was taking.

They didn't talk about it, the night before being seemingly off-topic, not that Ellie had even attempted to bring it up, and she wondered if it would continue into the coming evening because of course, she would like to do it again. They had of course held hands, but Dina had always held her hand and holding hands wasn't some kind of grand gesture of love regardless. Dina wasn't confessing her undying love to her with it but she kind of wished she would.

There was more meaning in everything Dina did from the way she dragged her hand across the small of her back, or shot her a daring smirk, narrowing her eyes in a way that made a blush come to her cheeks and Ellie wondered if it had always meant this if Dina had always wanted to kiss her but she was too thick to realize? Had been too keen to push her into the arms of other people rather than accept that it might just be her.

But what if it wasn't? What if she was just vulnerable and Ellie had taken advantage of her?

She felt a pang of guilt, Jesse shooting into her mind and she didn't find it as easy to return her smiles.

When they finally arrived home for lunch, they went straight to wash up in the bathroom, Dina looking up in the mirror at her before blushing and looking down every time their eyes met with a nervous laugh.

Instead of heading to the kitchen Dina had grabbed her hand and pulled her upstairs, tugging her into the bedroom before shutting the door and gripping her face, pulling her lips to hers and walking her back against the wall.

Caught off guard Ellie whimpered into her mouth only causing Dina to push harder against her.

"I really like kissing you..." Dina whispered breathlessly between kisses.

Ellie blushed and smiled against her lips, too distracted by her mouth to think of a witty response so she said nothing, only returning the kisses.

"Lunch!" There was a yell from downstairs, Joel's gruff voice cutting through the tension.

Dina jumped, tensing and she fell against Ellie's chest before they both laughed, Ellie hugging her tightly to her body.

"You hungry?" She asked quietly, ducking her head to press her lips to her cheek.

Dina gave a small nod. "Yeah."

 


 

Ellie was sat on her bed, her back resting against the headboard as she jiggled her foot slowly in time with the music she had put on.

Dina lay on the floor, resting on her hands crossed behind her head, her leg crossed over the other one and much like Ellie her foot jostled restlessly.

The rain pounded down hard against the window and the sky had grown so dark Ellie wasn't certain what the time was anymore. Allegedly it was early afternoon but she wasn't entirely convinced.

"Maybe you should just sing." Ellie commented as she glanced over to her, Dina's humming cutting through the music.

Dina only turned to her in response, a smirk quickly spreading on her face as she moved one hand from behind her head and tapped her fingers in time with the music on her thigh but when the chorus came she opened her mouth and did her best obnoxious rendition of it.

Ellie couldn't help but grin as she watched her gesturing with her hands and emphasizing certain syllables as she belted it out.

She wasn't sure what Dina could do to make her any less endearing. Everything she did, including singing more terrible, just made her more attractive to Ellie and she couldn't help but wonder what it would take.

"How was that?" Dina asked, pumping her eyebrows up and down.

"I think we leave the singing to me, eh?" Ellie replied with a smirk as she looked away from her.

"Wow, what an ass." Dina retorted. "You love hearing me sing."

"Do I?" Ellie asked back, still refusing to meet her eyes and instead picking up her phone from beside her.

"You do. You love it when I sing." Dina said sternly, shifting from her spot on the ground.

"Mhmm." Ellie muttered, scrolling through her social media. "Hey-"

She tensed, feeling Dina's body find it's way on to her lap. She sat there still as the black-haired woman threw her leg over hers and sat back on her thighs, her hips close to her own.

"What are you doing..." Ellie mumbled, her eyes finding Dina's and searching for the answer.

Dina grabbed a fistful of her shirt and tugged her body off the wall and closer to her until their noses were almost touching. "Tell me you like hearing me sing."

Ellie laughed and shook her head softly. "Why?"

"Because." Dina pouted giving her a gentle shake.

"Because you're a baby?" Ellie teased, her lips curling into a smirk.

"Ellie..." Dina breathed her eyes darting between her eyes and her lips before she leaned forward, brushing her cheek against Ellie's.

"...Yeah?" She finally managed to stammer out once she settled into Dina's contact.

The black-haired woman pulled away and met her eyes again, hovering mere inches away from her lips. "Tell me you like it when I sing for you."

"I like it when you sing for me." Ellie whispered, her breath hitting Dina's lips and she watched as they parted.

Dina's mouth was quickly on hers and her hands found her shoulders, pushing her back against the headboard with a thud as she leaned into her chest. When she felt Dina smile against her lips she only rolled her eyes before closing them.

Ellie wasn't sure how Dina managed to do it but every kiss left her yearning for more, every bit of contact just never being quite enough and she wanted to have every part of her.

She lifted her hands, placing them on Dina's hips but as she whimpered into her mouth she thought about all the places her hands could roam if she would allow them to but instead, she kept them firmly on her hips, grasping them tightly as Dina deepened the kiss.

Dina's hands dropped to Ellie's stomach and she tensed underneath her, relaxing when Dina only kissed her slowly and more lovingly, her fingertips dancing across over the material of her shirt and feeling her taut skin underneath.

"You've been working really hard, huh?" Dina breathed heavily against her lips as she pulled away to catch her breath.

Ellie kept her hands in place, her head firmly against the wall.

"You can touch me, Ellie..." Dina whispered quietly, opening her eyes to study the girl below her and took her hands, giving them a squeeze before placing them on her thighs.

Ellie kept her eyes closed, matching her breathing. "Yeah... This place keeps you fit as well." She finished, her thumbs instinctively rubbing up and down against her inner thighs and blushing when Dina allowed a small moan to escape her lips.

Unable to take the distance anymore and with newfound confidence from Dina's words, she leaned forward and captured her lips again. She lifted her hands, sliding them over Dina's upper arms before smirking against her lips.

"Even you're getting tiny little muscles." Ellie grinned.

"Hey! I had muscles before." Dina pouted and swatted at her shoulder but was quick to break as she smiled and sat back, flexing her arm for Ellie and using her other to feel the small bulge before turning to look at her. "This doing it for you?"

"Oh yeah." She smirked back, dropping her hands back to her thighs.

"You're such a weirdo." Dina chuckled dropping her hands over the top of Ellie's and giving them a squeeze. "You're lucky I like you."

"I'm lucky am I?" Ellie retorted with a daring raise of her eyebrow.

"I can like, not kiss you if you prefer..." Dina smiled sweetly, making a move to get off her.

"No." Ellie said and it was entirely too quickly as she grabbed her hip, holding her in place.

"Good, cause I don't want to stop." Dina quickly returned to her spot on Ellie's thighs, placing her hands to her cheeks and pulling her mouth to hers kissing her quick and deep.

 


 

Dina grumbled as she trudged out into the rain, mud already thick and sticking to her gumboots. Ellie only rolled her eyes, for a moment thinking about making a remark about how cute she looked wearing her oversized raincoat but for the moment thought better of it. She had offered to let her stay in, especially because she owed her one for the other morning but of course, she had refused, not interested in being even.

"Okay, it's fucking cold." Dina groaned, rain dripping heavily off the hood of her coat.

"Well, duh." Ellie replied, taking a look back at her and smirking when she noticed her exaggerated steps.

"You should care I'm cold, Ellie." Dina retorted, taking larger steps until she was finally at Ellie's side. "And slow down, would you? You've got freakishly long legs."

"I do not have freakishly long legs." Ellie huffed, snaking her arm into Dina's as she pulled her close to her body. "They're proportionate for my height. You're just short."

"Oh uh-huh. Keep telling yourself that." Dina laughed as she held her arm tightly, forcing her to take smaller steps. "Let's just do this quickly and get back."

"You're the one that spends hours petting all the animals!"

"Don't act like you don't do that now too." Dina pouted, pausing as she tilted her head back to look at Ellie under her big hood.

"What are you doing?" Ellie asked, stopping and turning to look at her. "I thought you wanted to get this done fast?"

Dina only grinned, winding up her foot and kicking the pool of water in front of her in Ellie's direction, soaking the bottom of her pants with muddy water, the remains dripping down her coat.

"What the fuck is wrong with you." Ellie spluttered, holding her arms out to her sides as she stared at her, taking a step forward.

Dina laughed, loud and hearty as she turned, and as fast as she could in her gumboots began to run, Ellie calling after her hot on her heels.

"Get back here." Ellie hollered, quickly making ground on her with her longer legs.

It didn't take long for her to catch up, her fingers curling around the material of her coat to stop her before her arms slipped around her waist, pulling her tightly to her body as she fought against her.

"Lemme go." Dina laughed, flailing her legs when Ellie lifted her off the ground.

"Nuh! You're going in the puddle next." She chuckled deviously, continuing to hold her tightly.

"Ellie!" Dina managed to choke out between her laughs. "No! I'm sorry." she yelled, continuing to struggle against her, her elbow wedging into her ribs.

Ellie winced, dropping her and allowing her to run a measured distance away. She doubled over, catching her breath, her hands resting on her knees. Dina hadn't hurt her but she didn't need her knowing that.

She closed her eyes, realizing just how much she was going to miss this when they finally went back to college. There was something about having Dina here that made the days seem so much bearable, that made the work seem not like work anymore. No matter what they were doing they always had fun, usually at her expense but fun none the less. Dina just had that way of turning anything boring or mundane into something fun and she wished she could work out how she did that so maybe one day she could be more like her.

"Hey!" Dina yelled from a safe distance. "Are you okay?"

Ellie ignored her, choosing to stay doubled over.

She didn't want things to change when they went back, she wanted things to remain how they were here but didn't know how likely that was considering there would be so many things out of her control. They had kissed but that hadn't been some kind of commitment, they hadn't even talked about what it meant and while Ellie tried not to dwell on it too much, she couldn't help but think that maybe this was it. Maybe she was just some holiday fling and the second they got back to college everything would return to how it was before they went away together. She hoped that wasn't the case and she knew it would destroy her but there was that fear in the back of her mind that was always there when she or Dina got closer.

"Ellie! I'm not falling for it!" Dina frowned, folding her arms across her chest.

Ellie forced a smile and stood up straight, the smile quickly turning to a real one when she saw the frown on Dina's face and thought about how cute she was when she was in one of her moods. Instead of saying anything, she pushed back the hood of her coat so she could see properly and held out her arms, waiting patiently for her to get the hint.

"No way." Dina said with a firm shake of her head. "I'm not stupid and you're getting wet!"

"Then come be not stupid over here." Ellie replied, motioning with her fingers.

Dina sighed and it was loud and exaggerated but she took small tentative steps towards her friend and when she got close enough she fell against her, becoming a dead weight for her to catch. "You're wet." she complained.

"So are you." Ellie laughed, pulling her as close to her wet body as their clothes would allow and pressed her lips to the top of her head.

"Ellie." Dina whined, tilting her head back enough so that she could see her face from underneath her hood again.

Ellie hummed, instead of letting her finish what she had intended to say she leaned down and pressed her cold lips firmly against Dina's causing her to shudder in her arms, or shiver, Ellie wasn't sure which but at that moment it really didn't matter to her. Dina pressed against her, her mouth on hers was all that she cared about, hungrily lapping up the feeling and committing it to her memory. She never wanted to forget their time here.

When she pulled away she took a deep breath and laughed, the rain cascading down her face and gathering at her chin before dripping off on Dina below. If she minded she didn't say anything, instead choosing to fli[ her own hood back and when Ellie laughed and tilted her head to the sky she followed suit, matching her tone and motion.

Ellie looked back down at her and when Dina's eyes met hers and she matched her grin she knew she was in trouble.

 


 

The next couple of days were a blur for Ellie, full of sideways glances and stolen kisses but their time at her home was beginning to quickly come to an end and Ellie wasn't sure if she was ready to go back afraid she would lose any progress she had made here.

When they arrived home in the evening she had quickly showered first and dressed, ducking out while Dina had jumped in the shower. Stuffing her hands deep in her pockets she kicked at the ground as she walked, feeling more anxious than she had during her entire time here.

She wasn't sure what to do. She wanted to do something nice but didn't want to cross any of the boundaries especially considering she didn't know what those boundaries were.

She pulled her phone out of her pocket, quickly unlocking it and opening her messages and again reading the one she had received from Jesse earlier in the day.

"Hey, sorry I sort of dropped off the face of the planet. I don't know if you know but Dina and I broke up so I just needed to get away... have you heard from her? Is she okay?
I headed back to school instead of heading home to catch up with her but she's not there. Do you know where she went?

I'm so stupid, Ellie.
I can't wait for you to come back."

Shaking her head she jammed it back in her pocket. She had been tossing up whether or not to tell Dina but she knew it was likely that Jesse had also been messaging her. Dina hadn't said anything but she noticed her checking her phone before hiding it away, her brow creased every time.

Regardless she had likely already been in contact with him. It made her feel stupid for even entertaining the fact that Dina might have wanted to go on a date with her.

She paused at the front of the property and turned around, taking in everything that was the farm. Soon she would be back at college and she would really miss this place. As much as they annoyed her and got on achingly well with Dina, she would miss Joel and Tommy too.

With a shake of her head she briefly stepped out of the gate and surveyed the flowers that lined the main fence of the property, eyeing up the best looking one before gently taking it in her hand and plucking it from its bunch. She didn't take anymore, unsure she was even going to give it to her.

She sighed, slowly beginning the walk back and studying each paddock as she passed it, patting any animals that came to the fence, a habit Dina had taught her.

Eventually she made it back to the house, it was still quiet and she assumed the boys were still out so she made her way back upstairs, the flower held tightly in her hand but each step felt heavier than the last as if her body was telling her to turn back around but she couldn't.

Regardless of what would happen, she didn't want to run anymore.

The door was slightly ajar so she gave a soft knock before pushing it open, Dina turning fast and smiling causing Ellie's worried expression to soften.

"Hey, where did you get to?" She asked as she took a step forward.

"Just to get some air." She said as she glanced down to the flower in her hand before back up at Dina.

"Is that for me?" She asked quietly, taking another tentative step, sensing Ellie's hesitant mood.

"Sorry, yeah." Ellie shook her head and offered Dina a smile, extending the flower in her hand towards her. "I was just wondering if you maybe wanted to go somewhere tonight."

"Are you asking me on a date?" Dina asked, the corner of her lips tugging up into a crooked smile as she reached out and took the flower from Ellie, bringing it to her nose.

"Well, it doesn't have to be a date." Ellie replied quickly, looking down and rubbing at the back of her head. "And you don't have to say yes, I just thought-"

"Ellie, I'd like to go out with you." Dina quickly said, cutting her off before she could ramble more. "And thank you for the flower, it's beautiful."

"Really?" Ellie asked, bringing her eyes up to meet Dina's warm brown ones.

Dina hummed and arched her brow. "And just so we're clear, this is a date."

Ellie couldn't help but grin.

 


 

As they drove into town, Dina rested her hand on Ellie's thigh, giving her a gentle squeeze whenever she felt like she was getting too lost in thought.

Ellie was finding it hard to concentrate. Between taking Dina out and her phone that was burning a hole in her pocket, she was finding it hard to think about anything else. She knee Dina sensed something was wrong, she could tell by the way she kept turning to face her but she kept her eyes ahead on the road determined to get over it by the time they got to town.

When they pulled in to the parking lot, Ellie took a deep breath before turning to smile at Dina who returned the smile tenfold. Quickly she opened the car door and slid out, jogging to the other side and taking Dina's door in her hand to finish opening it for her.

"Aren't you a gentleman." Dina smirked as she jumped out of the truck with a thud, moving beside Ellie while she shut the door behind her.

"Don't you tell anyone about that." Ellie warned but was quick to smile when she felt Dina's hand grasp hers and their fingers entwine.

"Never. Wouldnt dream of ruining your tough-guy persona." Dina quipped, swinging their hands slowly between them.

"It's not a persona." Ellie pouted. "I am tough."

Dina chuckled and pressed her arm into Ellie's as she walked. "I like it when you're not tough around me."

"That's funny cause I'm always tough." She remarked as she dropped her hand, instead reaching for the door and pushing it to hold it open for her.

"Thank you." Dina mumbled as she stepped passed her, gliding her hand over her arm as she passed and looked inside.

It wasn't much, just a small-town bar and as she watched Dina look around at their surroundings she suddenly panicked that this wasn't nice enough for her. Why hadn't she thought about taking Dina somewhere nice like she deserved?

They hadn't even started their evening and she had already fucked up.

"We can go somewhere else..." Ellie murmured as she looked down, ringing her fingers in front of herself.

"No, this is perfect." Dina turned around and smiled, reaching to take her hand again and pulling her towards one of the empty booths.

Ellie allowed herself to be pushed into the seat and watched as Dina sat opposite her and immediately picked up the menu on the table. It was tatty and dirty and Ellie's eyes shot between Dina and it to see if she minded but if she did she didn't show it.

Ellie picked up her own, pretending to read through it but she already knew what she was going to get, she always got the same thing when she came here.

Her eyes darted up to Dina, watches her as her eyes scanned through the page. She hadn't meant to stare so long, she just couldn't believe she was here with her, that she had wanted to come here with her.

"Just so you know." Dina began, closing the menu and putting it down in front of her. "My favorite moments are when we are alone together and you're being decidedly less tough than if we weren't alone."

Ellie blushed, the tips of her ears turning red and only worsening when Dina laughed. She lifted her menu higher to hide her face. "I think that's my favorite too."

When the waitress came over to take their order Ellie placed the menu down and pointed. "I'll have the steak."

"How would you like that cooked, hun?" She asked in a thick southern accent that reminded Ellie entirely too much of Joel.

"Uh... Rare. And can you just not give me the salad?" She asked, for the second time in minutes her cheeks flushing red.

"Sure. Rare and no salad. And you?" She asked turning to Dina.

She smiled and her eyes met Ellies for a moment before she lifted them to the waitress. "I'll have the same."

"Alright. I'll bring your drinks right over." She said with a smile as she took their menus and left.

"The same, huh?" Ellie asked with an arched brow. "You like salad."

"But I also like fries." Dina countered, matching her raised brow. "And I'll probably still eat some of your fries too."

"Oh really?" Ellie laughed as she glanced down and away from her eyes. "I suppose that's okay."

They continued making small talk as their drinks were placed in front of them. Ellie decided she enjoyed the way Dina looked over the rim of her glass at her as she drank, she had always loved that. When their food came, they ate in comfortable silence and she laughed nervously every time she caught Dina staring at her when she wasn't paying attention.

She couldn't blame it all on Dina though, she was just as guilty of being caught staring when she shouldn't have but she just couldn't help it. There was so much she wanted to say, so much she had intended to say tonight but she just couldn't. Both her mind and her heart felt heavy and while she wanted to follow her heart and be honest for once in her life her mind wouldn't allow it, she couldn't do that to her friend. It was one thing to kiss Dina, but to admit to her that she was quite possibly in love with her was an entirely different thing and a much bigger betrayal to her friend than a kiss.

She looked down and shook her head. What was she going to do?

"Are you going to tell me what's wrong?" Dina asked with a tilt of her head. "You've been a bit quiet all day."

Ellie sighed and looked down, fiddling with her fingers that rested on the table. She didn't really know how to answer that.

"Tell me." Dina pleaded and her voice was soft as she reached out to place her hand over the top of Ellie's.

She took a deep breath, moving one hand away to dig in her pocket. She unlocked it and glanced up at Dina before looking back down and selecting her messages. Exhaling she selected Jesse's name before putting the phone down on the table and sliding it towards her.

She watched as Dina glanced at the screen before she ducked her head, knowing the decision would ruin their night but she couldn't handle the weight of it any longer and it wasn't fair to keep it from Dina.

It wasn't fair to Jesse to keep it from Dina either, she had known the right thing to do all along was pass it on and let her know that he was worried about her. As hard as it was, she knew deep down Jesse really cared about her and that Dina really cared about Jesse.

Dina's eyes flickered down to the screen for only a second before they shot back up to Ellie, a crease of worry on her forehead. With a sigh, she slid the phone back over to Ellie. "Put it away."

Ellie looked back up, her brows furrowed in confusion.

"Ellie..." Dina sighed, shaking her head. "I'm here with you."

She wasn't sure what to say, her heart beating hard in her chest with confusion. She studied her, looking for something that would tell her she was only saying that to make her feel better for the moment but finding nothing. Ellie knew all along she was being genuine but it wouldn't be here if she didn't second guess everything.

"I want to spend time with you..." Dina added to fill the silence.

"Dina..." Ellie began, matching her earlier shake of the head.

Dina placed her hand over the top of Ellie's, squeezing her hand tightly. "It's only me and you here. No one else." She whispered meeting her eye.

Ellie exhaled and gave a slow blink when she felt Dina's shoe brush against her own under the table. When she looked back into her warm eyes she couldn't help but smile back, small at first matching Dina's before spreading further and she looked down to hide the red on her cheeks.

"Yeah?" Dina asked with a grin.

"Yeah." Ellie replied. "Do you want to go for a walk?"

 


 

Ellie killed the engine and turned to look at Dina and like before getting out of the car and rushing to open up her car door, this time she had waited for her to do so rather than opening it herself.

Dina placed an arm to Ellie's as she got out, brushing it along her tattooed forearm warning a lazy smile from her friend in return.

"Okay, so if you weren't taking me to be killed earlier, you definitely are now." Dina teased, glancing at her before cautiously walking around the dark area around the truck, the only light coming from the moon in the sky.

"You're so dramatic." Ellie replied with a roll of her eyes as she moved to the bed of her truck and shifted the cover revealing a big thick blanket and a couple of pillows. She reached over the side and grabbed the small battery-powered lanterns, flicking them on for some light before placing them in the corners. "Come here." Ellie motioned with her head.

As Dina came over to her she dropped the tailgate of the truck before turning to her and smiling and motioning for her to climb in.

"Did you plan this all by yourself?" Dina asked as she took Ellie's hand, allowing her to help lift her up so she could crawl on top of the blanket.

"What, you don't think I have this in me?" Ellis teased, jumping up and shifting to sot beside her, one knee pulled to her chest.

"It's not that." Dina laughed. "I know how sweet you are."

"Then what is it?" Ellie pressed, her eyes settling on Dinas and only barely being able to make out the sparkle in them she had grown to love in the dim light.

"I just didn't realize you were such a sap." She smiled, her lips quickly turning upwards into a smirk.

Ellie shrugged and maneuvered herself around until she was laying, her hands tucked behind her head and she motioned for Dina to do the same. "I don't know why but I kinda just want to do these things with you."

Dina followed suit, shifting on her back beside Ellie. "You do?"

Ellie took a deep breath as if she was readying herself to admit to some great secret only she was privy to. "Yeah. I think I kind of want to do everything with you." She lifted her hand to the sky, pointing to a familiar set of stars. "You see that one?"

"Yeah." Dina smiled, following the length of her fingers. "That one's Orion's Belt, right? That's the one you showed me when we first met..." Dina trailed off unsurely, turning her head to study Ellie's silhouette.

"That's the first one I always try to find in the sky. You know if you ever get lost you can always use it to get your bearings. It always rises in the east and sets in the west." Her eyes darting across the sky to each constellation she could find.

"Are you planning on getting us lost?" Dina joked, her eyes still on Ellie. "Or just sending me out into the wilderness by myself?"

Ellie laughed and shook her head. "No, nothing like that. I just... if you ever need somewhere to go or someone to talk to, you know you can always come to me, yeah?"

"Because you rise in the east and set in the west?" Dina smirked, rising to lean on her elbow to look down at Ellie.

"You're an ass." Ellie huffed with a roll of her eyes.

"I'm sorry." Dina laughed, pulling at Ellie's arm so when she laid her head down on her chest she would have to put her arm around her.

Ellie rested her hand on her hip and pulled her close to her body, thankful the night was warm enough to allow them to be out. She looked down at the top of Dina's head and she felt a little silly feeling as if having her friend in her arms just felt right, feeling as if her body fit perfectly against hers.

She wondered if Dina felt the same.

"I just wanted you to know that you know where to find me if you need anything, is all."

"I know, Ellie." Dina mumbled, her hand sliding over her torso and coming to rest on her hip.

Ellie bit her lip and raised her eyes back to the sky to distract herself from the sensation. Maybe one day she would be able to survive Dina's hands being on her body but she knew that was still a while away yet.

"I don't think I'm ready to go back to college" Dina exhaled heavily, her breath feeling wet against the material of Ellie's shirt.

"I think you'd be a psycho if you were excited." Ellie chuckled, her thumb tracing a soft line up and down her side, doing her best to work up the courage to travel further.

"I never thanked you for coming to my audition." Dina said softly, lifting her head to look up at Ellie. "I was so nervous, but I felt calm with you there."

"I wanted to support you... I didn't really know how you would feel about it, considering we weren't really talking." Ellie gave a small shrug and closed her eyes. "I know it was important to you and I know if I was in the same position I'd want you there."

"You're too good to me Ellie." Dina whispered, shifting her head to Ellie's shoulder and touching her nose against her neck. "You're always there for me, even when no one else is."

"As if you didn't come to all my soccer games and practices." Ellie replied sarcastically with an eye roll.

"I didn't." Dina laughed. "You can't prove anything."

"No, I can't." She smiled, her hand braving further up her side.

"Will you come to my show?" Dina asked, her voice quiet and her breath tickling Ellie's neck.

"If you want me to?" She asked back.

"I'd feel better with you there..." she trailed off, before leaning in and pressing a light kiss to Ellie's neck.

"That's good. It would be awkward if I had to hide in the back again because I wouldn't miss it for the world." She laughed, leaning into her touch. "What are you going to do when you're a movie star?"

Dina nudged Ellie's jaw with her nose. "Maybe spend time annoying you at NASA."

"You think you'd be allowed?" She questioned, her breath hitching in her throat when Dina's lips met the skin on her jaw.

She smirked against her skin. "I dunno, you're going to be the hotshot there. Would you allow it?"

"I think I could make an exception."

"I bet." Dina drawled, smacking her lips. "You'd have to pull out your suit again."

"I don't think anyone could pay me to get back in that thing." Ellie muttered, continuing to enjoy Dina's roaming kisses.

"But how would you come to all my red carpets?" She asked, her hand sliding over her shoulder and behind her neck as she lifted herself higher to lean over her.

"I have a feeling you'd use that as an excuse but you'd let me come in whatever I wanted."

"Yeah, I would." Dina smiles, reaching down to tuck Ellie's hair neatly behind her ear, looking back into her dark eyes. "Do we have to go back?"

"You wanna stay here with me?" Ellie asked, sliding her hand up her arm and over her shoulder to her back.

"I kind of do." Dina murmured, leaning down and softly placing her lips against Ellie's, meeting her in a long, slow kiss when she reciprocated the gesture.

They stayed under the stars kissing for what felt like hours, and when the finished, Ellie hugged Dina tightly to her chest to keep her warm in contented silence.

Dina traced shapes with her finger on Ellie's shoulder, matching her slow and steady breathing but she didn't fail to notice her heart was racing. She waited for it to settle down but it didn't.

"Your hearts racing." Dina muttered, closing her eyes and listening to the pounding in her ear.

"Is it?" Ellie mumbled back, glancing to the side and willing for it to slow down like she had been trying the entire night.

"Is something wrong?"

"No... you just make me nervous I think."

"Oh..." Dina smiled, listening closely to her heart. "Still?"

Ellie only hummed in response, her heart hammering harder.

"Ellie? Can you take me home?" Dina asked quietly, shifting against her side to sit up and look down at her.

 


 

They rode back to the house in silence, a quiet anticipation surrounding them, a tension Ellie couldn't quite place her finger on. She both wanted to be around it and get away from it, unsure what it would entail but it intrigued her in a way she didn't know a particular feeling in the air could. Dina held her hand tightly as they went up the stairs to the room, only separating when Ellie moved to grab some of her belongings to change in to.

As much as she wanted to stick around, she knew she shouldn't.

When Ellie tried to leave the room Dina grabbed her hand, pulling her back and close to her body.

"Stay." she said sternly, her eyes meeting Ellie's.

Ellie looked down, the contact feeling as if it was burning her skin and she wanted to pull away, knew she should pull away because this was her best friend's girlfriend but she couldn't, her body wouldn't allow it.

Ex-girlfriend she corrected herself

Instead, she gulped and looked up, finally meeting her eyes.

Dina stared back and offered a warm smile, staring back into her eyes like she had missed the motion for eternity and drinking in the warmth and uncertainty of them.

Her eyes never leaving the depths of Ellie's ocean eyes she pulled her hands to her waist, leaving her hands to settle on her waist before she lifted her hands, sliding them over her biceps, taking in the feeling of the definition before bringing them up and sliding them over her shoulders and behind her neck. Taking one final look into her eyes she dropped her cheek to her shoulder and closed her eyes, enjoying the feeling of her body against hers once more.

"Can I tell you something?" Dina asked, her lips brushing against the material of Ellie's shirt.

"Yeah." Ellie breathed, staring at the wall behind them. "You can tell me anything."

"You know I like you, right?" Dina said softly, bringing her hand down to grab a fistful of Ellie's shirt at her shoulder.

"Of course, I like you too, Dina." Ellie replied just as soft, her hands holding loosely to her waist still.

"No." Dina sighed, pulling away enough to look back at Ellie, tears clearly visible in her eyes now.

"What's wrong?" Ellie asked, reaching up to rub her thumb over her cheek where one had escaped from the corner.

"I really like you, El." She repeated, pushing gently at her shoulders. "Don't you understand?"

Ellie furrowed her brow, trying to make sense of Dina's sarcastic laugh.

Dina reached up and ran her thumb over Ellie's bottom lip, her eyes never leaving them until she looked up to meet Ellies worried eyes before looking down with a sigh and she shook her head.

"Dina..." Ellie trailed off, sliding her fingers along the length of her jaw before bringing them to rest under her chin to tilt her head back up.

She shouldn't have, she immediately knew she shouldn't have tonight when there had been so much anticipation in the air but she couldn't help it so she did, she dipped her head low her lips lingering for the briefest moment against Dina's and her breath on her lips urging her on before she captured them with her own.

She felt Dina's hands ball up the material of her shirt as she kissed her back, daring to slip her tongue across her lower lip before inserting it into her mouth to deepen the kiss, to taste more of Dina.

If Ellie had any chance to pull away, if she still had an ounce of will left it was gone the second Dinas tongue found it's way into her mouth and she dared to kiss her back as passionately as she was kissing her, her tongue meeting hers and battling for dominance in their mouths.

Ellie couldn't remember what she thought it would be like to kiss Dina before their time here and while she wished she did, it really didn't matter, these moments continuing to exceed all of her expectations and her silly fantasies every time their lips met.

Dina pulled away for breath, matching Ellie's rugged breathing and they rested their foreheads against each other with their eyes closed.

When they finally opened them their eyes met and they laughed softly, Dina feeling the warmth radiate from Ellie heating her entire being in a way she had never felt before.

If this was what it was like being with Ellie, she didn't want to go back to anything else. She hadn't felt this way when she had kissed anyone before.

Dina brought her hands up to her cheeks, gripping them tightly and pulling her lips back to her mouth desperately as if her life depended on it. She didn't want to spend another moment not knowing what it was like to kiss her friend.

Ellie reciprocated every second of it, matching Dina's pace and rhythm but she didn't dare go any further than that, not wanting to scare her off or make her regret her decision.

She wasn't sure she could handle being a regret in the morning.

Dina pulled away again, biting her lip as she looked down at Ellie's body and wanting to feel the contact of her skin against hers like she had the last time they had shared a bed together. Tentatively she reached down to the hem of Ellie's shirt and began to lift it, revealing her pale skin in its wake. When she didn't receive any resistance and Ellie lifted her arms in response she lifted it higher, standing on her toes to pull it the entire way off before letting it carelessly fall to the floor.

She licked her lips, reaching out her hand and tracing it over the exposed skin above her hip before dragging it to the skin above her belly button and up her navel, finally bringing her palm to rest in the space between Ellies covered breasts.

This was painfully slow and she wanted nothing more than for Ellie to be naked in front of her now but she felt at peace with the aching between her legs, happy to let Ellie dictate the pace that they moved at. She had never done this before, not with a woman anyway.

Ellie pressed her lips to Dina's forehead, reaching down and grabbing her shirt to pull it off the same way she had, marveling at the view of her heaving chest as she tossed the garment to the side, as far away as she could so she wouldn't have a chance to put it back on.

She swallowed hard, tracing her hands up Dina's body much the same way she had but instead of stopping she continued upwards, sliding her hands over Dina's breasts and when Dina moaned she leaned back down to capture the sound in her mouth, deciding that it was the best thing she had ever heard.

She walked Dina back against the bed, her mouth still hard against hers as they fell back and Ellie settled her leg between hers, straddling her thigh and putting pressure where Dina needed it the most causing another whimper against her lips.

She smiled against them, allowing her hand to carelessly roam her body, enjoying the contact of her bare flesh and finding more and more inches of new skin to explore as they continued to make out.

Dina wrapped her arms tightly around Ellie's neck, pulling her closer than she ever thought was possible but it still didn't feel close enough, she still needed more.

Ellie shifted and pressed her lips to the corner of Dina's mouth, tracing a line along the length of her jaw as she put more pressure with her knee, causing Dina to barely grind against it in anticipation. She followed down the curve of her neck, biting the skin softly before placing a kiss on the skin she had marked.

Dina shifted against her body, brushing her lips against her ear as she continued her work on her neck. "Ellie..." she moaned, unable to take it any longer.

"Mhmm?" Ellie asked, placing another slow, deliberate bite to her skin, not caring if it would bruise or not.

"You're too good at that..." she breathed, stifling another moan by biting her lip.

Ellie grinned like she was drunk against her skin and bit again.

"Ellie..." Dina breathed again, her hand finding her hair and taking a tight fistful of it.

"Mhmm?"

"I want you..." she admitted with a groan, bucking her hips against Ellie's thigh. "I've never been with a girl before though..." she admitted shyly, her face already hot with heat which hid her blush.

Ellie pulled away, cupping her cheek with her hand and leaning down to take her lips against her own in a slow lingering kiss that Dina quickly melted against as if it were taking all her concerns and fears away.

"I want to make you feel good." Ellie murmured, finally lifting herself away from the girl underneath. "Is that okay?"

Dina bit her lip and nodded, feeling shy under her lustful gaze but knew she had the same intensity in her own eyes, the same blown pupils and she shivered as Ellie's lips dropped down to her collar bone.

Ellie's hands found her skin, her fingertips, and nails dragging soft marks down the exposed flesh as she made her way down her sternum to the middle of her breasts, her hand coming up to palm one, gently massaging the tissue in her hand before giving it a harder squeeze to elicit a moan from Dina.

Dina quickly lifted her hips as high as she could to arch her back, attempting to move her hands to unclasp her bra, only for Ellie to seat her hands away and smile at her. Instead, she took them and pulled them around her neck, sitting back so Dina would have to sit up.

Dina pressed her lips to Ellie's shoulder, holding her hot cheek to her skin as Ellie's rough hands found her back, sliding up and down before settling on her bra, following the material along until she found the clasp and undid it, kissing the crook of Dina's neck as she did so.

She laid Dina back down, placing another long slow kiss to her lips before sitting back and admiring her body from her view above. She reached out, running her finger along the length of the bra strap before slipping it down her shoulder, following the same movement with the other one.

Dina's entire body burnt from Ellie's touch and she wasn't sure how much longer she could take having her looking at her, especially once she had nothing covering her chest. What if Ellie decided she didn't like what she saw?

Dina decided she would risk it for her.

She moved her arms, allowing Ellie to pull the bra away from her chest and drop it off the side of the bed, turning her head away from Ellie's eyes.

Ellie's hand was quick to find her cheek, pulling her gaze back to her own before leaning back down and placing a short kiss on her lips.

"You're beautiful." She mumbled before she sat back up, her eyes holding Dinas for a moment before shifting down to her chest.

Dina hummed, wanting to pull her close again, anything to stop her eyes taking over over ounce of exposed skin but she couldn't do it, too invested in what Ellie was going to do to her.

Ellie shifted again placing a tender kiss to Dinas now exposed mounds before taking a nipple in her mouth, tracing soft circles with her tongue before sucking it into her mouth, smiling against her skin as her hand found the back of her hair, pulling her closer to her body. She dragged her free hand up, massaging the free one with the palm of her hand as she continued to work before switching.

When Dina bucked up against her waist she released her pressure on her breast and continued her way down, each lingering kiss warning some kind of sound from Dina's mouth that excited Ellie more than anything ever had before.

She continued her way down her navel, stopping over her belly button to glance up at Dina, taking in the fact that she had her head thrown back and her eyes closed, taking in everything that she was doing to her.

She smiled, continuing by placing her lips to her hip before sitting up and waiting for Dina to open her eyes and look back up at her.

She decided while there were many Dina's she loved, this one had to be one of her favorites. Eyes wide and full of lust, full of innocence and desire, squirming underneath her.

"The shorts have to come off." Ellie breathed, her breaths feeling heavy in her lungs.

Dina only nodded again in response and barely raised her hips off the bed, allowing Ellie to hook her thumbs into the waist and pull them down, slowing when she realized she wasn't wearing any underwear.

She raised her brow as she looked back up at Dina who hid her face underneath her hands and groaned at her.

Ellie decided she would tease her later, having much more important things at hand as she sat back and pulled her shorts off leaving her completely naked on her bed. She took a moment to appreciate her naked body, deciding she loved everything about it, taking note of every dark freckle that littered her skin and deciding later she would kiss every single one of them but for now, she had a job to get to.

She climbed back between her legs, placing a soft kiss on the top of Dina's thigh, looking up to meet her gaze and for assurance for her to continue before she parted her legs a little more, kissing along the inside of her thigh, nipping at her skin every time Dina looked away from her.

Dina couldn't take it. She couldn't take the way Ellie was looking at her any longer. She couldn't take the way she was worshipping her body like she was the most important person in the world. She needed her in all her entirety now and not when she decided that it was time. She stared back into Ellie's eyes, pleading for her to hurry but stopping short of begging for it because she had never been loved this way before.

It had always been fast and clumsy, never spending long enough on one particular place for Dina to know what she had liked or what would get her off. No one had ever loved her body the way Ellie was loving her and she couldn't take it.

Ellie smiled against her inner thigh, tasting her as she got higher to her core and realizing just how wet she had been as she moved higher, her skin becoming slicker the more she moved up.

She committed it to memory, deciding she would tease her about how worked up she had been later.

She lifted Dina's leg, easing it over her shoulder before she shot her a final glance, dipping her tongue between her folds and connecting the tip with her clit earning an immediate groan and hip arch against her face. She reached her arm around, sliding it over Dina's hips before holding her down, taking away her freedom to buck her hips.

"Ellie..." Dina breathed her head thrown back and her hands roaming down and tangling in her hair.

Ellie said nothing, just focusing on her task at hand, getting Dina off. She paid attention to every breath, every jerk of her hips to gauge what she liked, every now again glancing up at her and feeling her own wetness pool between her legs.

When Dina began to move more erratically, her grip on her head getting tighter she knew Dina was close and she took her free hand, dragging her nails achingly slow up her inner thigh before pulling away enough to place a finger at her entrance, earning a sharp gasp in response before pulling it up to her clit to coat it in her wetness.

When Dina calmed a little, she moved her finger back, barely pushing the tip into her entrance before bringing her mouth back on her, licking and sucking enthusiastically as she inserted it in deeper.

"Fuck, Ellie..." Dina groaned quietly. "I'm so close..."

Ellie grinned, pushing her finger in all the way up to her knuckle, Dina pushing against the resistance on her hips to arch towards her and Ellie relished the way she felt around her finger as she began to move it in and out slowly, curling her fingers upwards and causing Dina's breathing to get louder and more erratic.

She quickened the pace, pumping in and out and matching Dina's small thrusts, working her clit with her tongue and when she felt her tense around her she pushed forward, moving faster and hitting her clit with her tongue harder until she let out a quiet shriek and tensed before falling flat down on the bed.

Ellie withdrew her fingers and sat up, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand before crawling between her legs and dropping her hips against Dina's, causing her to whimper as she opened her eyes and they met Ellie's.

Ellie smiled at her and Dina reached for her cheeks, pulling her mouth down to her to kiss her hungrily, not caring she could taste herself on her lips and when they pulled away she looked down at her, memorizing how she looked underneath her at this moment with her cheeks rosy, her chest heaving and her heart beating rapidly against her skin.

"Don't look at me like that." Dina murmured, looking to the side and away from her, unable to take her lustful gaze any longer.

"Like what?" Ellie replied with a lazy smile, leaning down to brush her lips against the corner of Dina's, her heavy panting tickling the skin by her ear.

"...Like I'm someone worth something." she said quietly, closing her eyes.

"Dina?" Ellie asked confused, sliding her hand across her cheek to pull her eyes back to her own, staring deeply into the depths when she finally opened them. "You're worth everything."

Dina blinked slowly, the heat further rising to her cheeks and she swallowed the lump in her throat before she shoved at Ellie's shoulder, pushing her until she maneuvered her way on top and she was underneath her pinning her down by the shoulders and when she couldn't stand the way Ellie was looking up at her, hopeful and adoringly and in a way that made her heart swell in her chest, she leaned down and crashed her lips against hers immediately working her tongue into her mouth.

Ellie moaned into her mouth when Dina's knee hit between her legs and she squirmed underneath her, earning a smirk against her lips from her friend on top. When she moved, placing a kiss to her cheek, along her jaw, and down her neck she bit her lip and closed her eyes, savoring the feeling of Dina's lips bathing her with wet open mouth kisses marking her skin.

Dina's fingertips danced over the flesh on Ellie's stomach, tickling her and causing her to tense before she slipped them under the hem of her sports bra and pulling it up as she slid her palms over her breasts as it left them uncovered. She sat up and pulled it up further and when Ellie sat up enough she helped ease it over her head before she laid back down, throwing an arm over her eyes to hide the permanent blush on her cheeks but Dina only smiled, looking down and admiring her body. She placed her hands to her stomach, tracing the faint outline of the muscles present before her hands found their way back upwards and like Ellie had to her she ran her hands over her breasts, enjoying finally feeling them in her hands and not just having to rely on her creativity anymore to decide just what it would feel like.

When Ellie arched her body into her touch she gave a gentle squeeze, running her thumbs over the very tips of her nipples as gently as she could enjoying the way she moved against her touch, relishing viewing what she could do to her. When she could no longer take being slow and deliberate with her touches she leaned down, taking one in her mouth and smirking when another whimper came from Ellie's mouth.

Ellie kept her eyes shut tight wanting nothing more than to bring her legs together and writhe around, anything to stop the aching between them but Dina didn't allow it, taking charge and peppering her body with kisses and when she didn't receive the desired response from Ellie she nipped at her skin, only placing a gentle kiss when Ellie gave her what she wanted. At her hip, Dina clumsily unbuttoned her pants and she lifted her hips to help her ease them off and she was quick to make her underwear disappear next. When her mouth didn't find the one place she needed it the most, Ellie groaned impatiently opening her eyes enough to glance down at her and she stared back with an amused expression.

Ellie didn't want to beg but she would have done anything to feel her mouth or her hands back on her and luckily she didn't have to. Before she had the opportunity to protest the distinct lack of contact Dina's mouth was between her legs and she audibly whimpered, biting her lip hard to stifle anything louder escaping as Dina continued to work her. She tensed, squirming to get more away from her mouth when she felt she was close after an embarrassingly short amount of time but Dina only followed, her tongue flicking against her clit hard and just as she had inserted the tip of one of her fingers Ellie felt it coming and she could no longer hold it back. Gripping the sheets at her sides tightly in her fists she arched her back, pushing her body closer to Dina's mouth and forcing Dina's finger in further as she came, tensing hard around her digit with a low guttural moan falling from her mouth that she couldn't stop.

She collapsed back on the bed, again draping her arms over her face as she panted quietly to herself unable to take the smug expression that she knew would be on Dina's face. She wanted to explain that normally it took a little more effort than that to get her off but realized how painfully awkward that would come off and who would believe that anyway? Instead, she decided it was just the anticipation that had gotten to her and definitely not the fact that the woman she had been obsessing over had finally done to her what she had always imagined.

Dina shifted between her legs, climbing back on top of her to sit back on her hips and swatted at her arms, pulling them away from her face.

To Ellie's surprise, there was no smug expression, no smile of self-satisfaction at what she had accomplished, instead, her eyes dipped down to her lips which were parted slightly, her breaths ragged between them as she looked at her with blown pupils. Ellie took a deep breath, no longer worried about hiding the red on her cheeks, and placed her hands on Dina's thigh, sliding them up, her thumbs digging into her inner thighs until they reached the creases between her legs.

Dina leaned down over her, her knees resting on either side of Ellie's hips and she slid the back of her fingers over her warm cheek before leaning down and kissing her and Ellie wondered if she had been holding back before now, their first kiss being a prelude to how she was kissing her now like there were no defenses anymore and she was everything.

Ellie shifted her hand between Dina's leg, listening to her gasp and watching as she broke their kiss, dropping her forehead to Ellie's when her fingers pressed against her entrance.

"Ellie..." Dina breathed, their faces incredibly close as she looked into her eyes pleadingly.

She remained still, holding her fingers teasingly there as she looked back into her eyes, barely brushing her nose against hers.

"Please." Dina whispered so quietly Ellie wasn't sure she had heard it.

Either way, when Dina pressed down against her she didn't make her wait any longer, thrusting her fingers slowly into her and stopping when Dina sunk lower to meet her palm, dipping her head to groan in her ear. Ellie inhaled sharply, closing her eyes when Dina shifted her wait, lifting herself a little before dropping back on her fingers, Ellie meeting her halfway. Dina knocked her forehead back against Ellie's looking into her eyes as she moved against her, working with her rhythm.

Ellie looked back at her, working to decipher what she was saying with her eyes before she closed them but never quite getting there, the sound of her ragged breath and moans entirely too distracting to think about anything other than getting her off at this moment and if she thought she was in trouble before she had never been more mistaken, realizing she was complete and utterly lost in the girl above her.

She slid her spare hand behind Dina's neck, guiding her mouth to her own in an earnest attempt to show her how beautiful she thought she was because she couldn't say it, she wasn't brave enough to allow the words to leave her mouth too scared of rejection so she hoped the gesture was enough. Maybe there would be another chance but for now, she wanted to love her soft and slow, savoring the feeling of her lips against hers, her sweaty forehead pressing firmly against hers, the sounds she made, the feeling over her wrapped around her fingers. She knew to some extent Dina felt the same way, her body moving achingly slow against her hand, rolling into her movements with purpose as she rode out the sensation of it all, her lips quick to capture Ellie's again every time they parted.

Listening closely to her breathing, Ellie knew she was close but still she didn't move any faster, Dina only kissing her harder and more erratic as her movements became harder and more purposeful and as she dropped her lips to Ellie's ear she announced to her that she was coming, groaning as she tensed around her fingers and rode out her orgasm against her palm.

Ellie moved her hand and after a few seconds, Dina dropped against her body, breathing heavily against the skin on her neck, her heart thundering in her chest above Ellie's. She wrapped her arms around her small body and held her close, protectively because she was something important, something special to her before she kissed the top of her head.

When her breathing returned to normal, Dina shifted into the spot between Ellie's arm and her side and when she looked up at her, her face still red and sweaty, she laughed softly, her eyes crinkling at the edges in the way Ellie loved, that she knew meant she was truly happy.

"What?" Ellie asked, her throat dry and raspy but she was still unable to hide the giant grin plastered on her face.

"That fast, huh?" she smirked lazily, pressing a kiss to the corner of Ellie's lips before dropping her head to her shoulder.

"Oh, fuck off." Ellie laughed, shaking her head and bringing her free hand to cover her face.

Dina looked down, tracing gentle circles on Ellie's bare hip. "I..." she trailed off, glancing up enough to grip her hand and brought it down to hold tightly, placing a kiss to each of her knuckles before resting it on her stomach and giving it three hard squeezes.

Ellie opened her mouth to speak but instead closed it, squeezing Dina's hand back three times and holding her closer.

Chapter Text

When Ellie woke, she was quick to realize the night before hadn't just been one of her dreams. She looked down and smiled at the girl in her arms, her naked flesh pressed tightly against her own, and their legs entangled together.

She smiled, big and goofy and she just couldn't help it. Though she tried to will it away, push it down so she wouldn't seem like some desperate loser, she couldn't do it, it just seemed to come back tenfold.

She glanced at the clock beside the bed, it was still early and they didn't have to get up quite yet and for that she was thankful. She lifted her arms and stretched underneath her friend, giving a long and exaggerated yawn before bringing her hands back down to her skin.

She couldn't believe that she could do this. That she could freely allow her hands to roam Dina's skin, to trace a map to each and every one of her freckles and scars without hesitation.

Her heart swelled with elation, and excitement as well as both fear and uncertainty. She had wanted this from the moment she had seen her at the party, from the second she had looked at her with her brown eyes and knowing smile, and from what she could assume this is what Dina had wanted too. For how long, she didn't know but she figured it didn't really matter. She was here now, naked in her arms and that said a lot more than what their words ever had.

"What are you doing?" Dina mumbled sleepily, her lips pressed firmly to Ellie's skin.

"Sleeping." Ellie replied quietly, allowing her hand to move up and doe her back slowly

"Are you watching me again?" She asked without opening her eyes.

"Again?" Ellie breathed, ducking her head to press her lips to Dina's forehead. "I wasn't before either."

Dina tilted her head back further, pressing her forehead harder into Ellie's kiss. "Whatever you say, weirdo."

Ellie shifted in the small bed, maneuvering around much to Dina's protests until she was able to lay on her side, displacing Dina underneath her. She looked back up at her through sleepy brown eyes, questioning the sudden need to move her from her comfy spot on her chest. Ellie couldn't help but stare back, getting lost in her slow blinks as she tried to wake herself up. She really wouldn't mind waking up to this view for the rest of her life.

Dina smiled back up at her, lifting her arms in the air on either side of Ellie's head in a stretch before wrapping them around the back of her neck and closing her eyes. "I know we have to get up soon but can we please stay like this just a little longer?"

Ellie allowed Dina to pull her head down, her grip tightening around her neck until her lips were brought down to hers, meeting for a slow, lazy kind of kiss but she didn't mind, grateful for the chance to have her lips on hers once more. Her hand quickly found her hip, relishing the feel of her skin underneath her fingertips and she dug her nails in, enjoying the sound that escaped Dina's mouth into hers and the way her body arched to get closer to her own.

"Ellie..." she breathed, sliding her hands over her shoulders and down her back. "If you keep doing that we won't get up."

"You're the one that kissed me." Ellie smirked, quickly pecking her lips before shifting her attention to the hinge of her jaw, her hand finding it's way between her legs and gently caressing her thighs.

"You're a bad influence." Dina mewed, her breath hitching in her throat as she clung tighter to Ellie's small frame.

"I don't hear you complaining." She whispered against the skin on her neck, grazing her lips over the soft flesh.

Ellie didn't have to do much more, feeling Dina shift underneath her and opening her legs a little wider to accommodate her hand moving inwards. She smiled against her skin, thinking how crazy it was that she had Dina in her bed, naked and willing to let her touch her in the most intimate kind of way, again. She took the lobe of her ear between her teeth and gave it a firm tug, earning a tired whimper from Dina.

Dina's eyes shut tightly closed in pleasure as she allowed Ellie to explore her body with her mouth, memorizing the way her nose grazed her skin and how she placed sloppy kisses in its wake. Her lips chapped but still feeling softer than anything she had ever felt before and she couldn't help but tremble under her every touch. She cursed herself every time but it was too involuntary to be able to do anything about it and honestly, she didn't want to. She felt safe here. She felt protected underneath Ellie. She didn't feel like she had to hide any part of her, that she had to cover her body with sheets or push her prying eyes away because she knew she loved her body for what it was. It wasn't perfect and it had its own flaws. She didn't need Ellie to tell her that she thought it was perfect, the way she looked at her, touched her and the way she loved her spoke more than words ever could.

Just as if Ellie knew what she was thinking she spoke, cutting through the contented silence that filled the room as she continued to caress every inch of her body.

"You're beautiful." Ellie whispered, shifting her body to meet her lips again, her hand finding where Dina needed her the most.

 


 

They took their time completing their morning chores, Ellie completing most of the work as Dina took her time to pat and say goodbye to each individual animal she had met on her time at the farm. She only smiled and shook her head, thinking back to the time when she had first left here for college and how much time she had spent just standing at the fences watching the animals. They had always been much more pleasant to deal with than actual people to her, a lot less loud too. She understood why Dina was taking her time so she decided not to bother her but decided that if she caught her crying there was no way she wasn't going to make fun of her.

Ellie didn't think she was ready for this day, the entire trip away seeming too surreal and she was sure any second now she would wake up from this crazy dream but she never did. When Dina took her hand and gave hers a squeeze she knew that this was real and she couldn't go along any longer thinking it was just some dream. This was real and it was time to head back to college, back to civilization where there would be people and drama and consequences for their actions here.

She swallowed the saliva that had pooled in her mouth. She would have to see Cat again, and Jesse, and she was certain they would know what she had done without her even having to say it. While she wasn't explicitly dating Cat at the moment she couldn't help but feel a little guilty now, more so for the fact she wasn't sorry about the fact she had slept with Dina during their break. She was sure Cat would have done worse.

Jesse however, Ellie wasn't sure how long she could hold back the impending panic attack that was incoming when she first saw him again. The guilt she felt towards him made her feel like she was drowning. What was she supposed to say to him? Tell him she had kissed his girlfriend when they were both most vulnerable? Because even that wasn't the full truth, she had slept with her, her best friend's ex-girlfriend, an ultimate act of betrayal that she wasn't sure their friendship could survive. She wasn't ready to lose him and she definitely wasn't ready to see him hurt in the way he was going to when he found out what she had done. She never wanted to see him hurt, always doing her best to make sure he never did, she especially never wanted to be the one to hurt him. She would have done anything for him.

But she wasn't sure she could give up this.

He said he loved her, but she loved her too.

When they finished feeding the animals and Dina had said her goodbyes, Dina held her hand tightly as they walked back to the house. Ellie wasn't sure why it felt weird today, both comforting and not. Maybe it was the fact that Jesse was beginning to creep into the back of her mind and maybe it was the fact that it felt like some weird goodbye even though she was right there, holding her hand tighter than she ever had before.

They approached the house, the hood of her truck popped open and as they moved closer they spied Joel under the hood, tinkering with something inside. Dina didn't drop her hand, instead turned to her and smiled as they moved to stand next to him.

"Morning girls." he drawled, lifting his head and grabbing the rag to wipe his hands on. "Just thought I'd check and make sure everything was in order before you headed off today."

"Everything looking all good, Joel?" Dina asked, only now dropping his hand to move beside him, peering under the hood with him and examining the engine.

"Yeah, the connection to the battery is a bit loose so I'll tighten that, and then I'll just top up the water and give her an oil change so you won't have to worry about that for a while." he replied with a small nod before turning to glance at Ellie with a raised brow.

"I can help with that if you like, Joel." Dina smiled, crouching down to his tool kit and examing the organized chaos within. Quickly spotting the spanner she picked it up, leaning over the engine to tighten the bolt on the battery.

"Sure..." Joel said slowly, pulling a face of that reek of being impressed as he watched, his arms folded. "Where did you learn how to do that?"

"My dad and our neighbor Eugene used to work on their project cars all the time when I was younger. My mother used to hate it but he used to let me help." she chuckled, finishing the task before standing up and wiping the grease on her hands on her pants. "He taught me everything I know."

"I'm impressed." Joel nodded, checking that she had done it correctly. "You want to help with the rest too?"

"Sure. I might be a little rusty, but I'll give it a go." she said with a nod back at him as she shimmied out the top half of her overalls before tying the arms around her waist.

When Dina turned to smile at Ellie she arched her brow at her in return.

"You're a mechanic now too?" Ellie huffed. "You can't even drive!"

"Couldn't drive." Dina correct, posing with the tool in her hand. "Someone taught me how to do that, remember."

"You still need a license to drive, Dina."

"Yeah, but I feel comfortable enough to go get that now. You'll see, I'll have it by the end of the school year. Maybe I'll even take you for a drive." She grinned, turning away from her before looking over her shoulder. "If you're lucky."

"I'd be so lucky." She replied sarcastically, her eyes settling on Joel who had his arms folded and was watching them bicker.

When their eyes met he only held his hands up, smiled as he shook his head, and turned back to the car with Dina.

Ellie rolled her eyes. "I'll go finish packing up our stuff, you two grease monkeys have fun."

After they had showered and dressed in clean clothes, Ellie carried their bags down the stairs to no protests from Dina this time. In fact, she laid her hand on her arm and pressed her lips to her cheek in thanks, smirking knowingly as she moved in front of her to exit the house as if she knew Ellie's eyes were going to travel down her body.

She was right.

Their goodbyes were quick, Ellie not wanting to linger as the familiar stinging behind her eyes settled in and she knew she wouldn't live it down if she cried.

Dina has crouched down and was petting Koby furiously to give them their space, the dog rolling over on his back to make sure she got all the right places.

She had watched as Dina gave Joel a handshake and by the look on his face, it had been a firm one which seemed to catch him off guard as their eyes met and they both smiled. He didn't stop there though, he pulled her into a hug and she laughed, wrapping her arms around his large frame, hugging him back just as enthusiastically.

"It was good to have you, Dina, come back any time." He said low and deep as she pulled away.

Dina's face flushed and she gave a small nod of her head. "Thank you so much for having me. I love it here."

"Definitely more useful than Jesse." He chuckled. "Ellie, you make sure you bring Dina back one day."

"Joel." Ellie warned, tossing their bags carelessly into the back seat before jogging around and opening Dina's car door. "Get in before he never lets you leave."

"Bye, Joel." Dina said with a smile, as she headed for the car. "See you soon."

"See you, Dina."

Ellie watched Dina closely as she stepped into the truck, meeting her eye before she closed the door for her, continuing to hold her gaze through the glass window. Were her eyes always that mesmerizing?

"Ellie."

She turned to Joel, snapping her out of her daze.

"Come here." He said quietly, motioning her towards him.

She looked down, feeling like she was about to be told off even though she had done nothing wrong. Slowly she shuffled her feet over and took her time bringing her eyes up to meet his.

His eyes flicked over to the girl in the truck before back at Ellie. "Are you and Dina... you know?"

"Joel." She groaned, bringing her hand to her forehead.

"I just care about you, kiddo." He said softly, his eyes softening when he noticed her red cheeks.

"I don't know. We're just friends." She shrugged.

"Y'all seem like you're a bit more than just friends..." he said awkwardly, reaching up to rub at the back of his neck.

"Do we have to do this?" She asked with a groan, toeing at the dirt on the ground as she thought about what else she could do to avoid looking him in the eye.

"Look, I just wanted to say that Dina, she seems really nice... and good for you and uh, she seems like she cares about you a lot so whatever it is..." He paused, motioning from the car to Ellie and back. "Whatever that's going on between you two, I just want you to know that I approve... that I'm happy for you. I think you've done well."

"Joel..." Ellie whispered, finally looking up to meet his teary eyes.

"I'll shut up now." He mumbled, wrapping his arms tightly around hers and forcing her into his chest. "I'm gonna miss you, kiddo."

"You better not cry." She warned sternly, resting her head against his chest and allowing herself to enjoy the feeling for a moment before fighting him and pushing him away, her own tears welling in her eyes. She looked down, pretending to rub at her cheek before moving her hand to her eyes. "I'm going to miss you too."

"You better get going before it gets too late." He choked, forcing his voice to become gruffer at the end as he cleared his throat. "I love you."

"Joel, yuck." She grumbled, turning around before waving over her shoulder. "I love you, too. I'll text you when we get home."

"Bye." He laughed as he raised his hand to wave goodbye, watching her as she climbed into the truck, only heading back into the house when she had peeled out of the driveway and disappeared in the distance.

 


 

Their trip home was decidedly different from their trip there. They didn't ride in silence, instead, Dina reached over and either held Ellie's hand or rested her hand on her thigh. When she didn't have her hand there she was fiddling with the music, singing along to whatever song she chose to put on. They had argued over the music choices and of course, Ellie had lost but she didn't mind. She would pretend to dislike some of Dina's music taste but she didn't really, she just liked to get a rise out of her. She was sure Dina had caught on but she still argued back anyways, always ending in a laugh or a sarcastic roll of the eyes.

That's how it started anyway.

Ellie wasn't sure if it happened gradually or over the course of the trip but from the halfway mark, after they had stopped for some food and to use the bathroom, Dina's hand was no longer on her and she no longer sang. Slowly becoming quieter as her attention turned from Ellie to the view out the window.

She wasn't sure what she had done wrong, racking her brain over everything that had happened during the day but coming up blank and she was fine just a moment ago, she was sure of that but was she really?

She gripped the steering wheel tightly, her jaw set so tightly she thought she might break a tooth and she promised herself she would keep her eyes on the road but she couldn't even do that, her eyes continuing to glance to the side to see if Dina had moved or had started acknowledging her presence again.

She hadn't.

She huffed and glanced over, trying to evoke some kind of reaction but still nothing.

She stole her eyes back to the road, fear, and uncertainty creeping its way into her body, starting at her toes and slowly rising up her body, uncomfortably drowning her until she felt like she couldn't breathe at all.

She wanted to ask and she wracked her brain for just what she could say to bring back the Dina from earlier but nothing sounded right and the last thing she wanted to do was make whatever this was worse.

Ellie sighed.

"Hey... why couldn't the astronaut focus?" She asked, turning to look at Dina, and when she said nothing she decided to finish anyway, hoping it would be enough to bring her back. "He kept spacing out."

She kept watching her expectantly for a second, waiting for something, anything but she didn't even flinch. Pursing her lips she looked back to the road again.

"Alright, then..." she murmured, beginning to feel a twinge of anger in her gut as she started to tap away on the steering wheel.

There was a sigh and Dina shifted in the seat, turning her body more to look easier out the window. "Sorry."

"Right." Ellie muttered back, shifting her attention to the stereo and finally switching it back on and turning up the volume to drown out the uncomfortable silence.

 


 

Ellie pulled into the parking lot, taking her usual spot before she killed the engine. She gripped the steering wheel harder for a moment longer, so hard her knuckles turned white before she dropped them into her lap, staring ahead at the brick wall of the dorm.

When she felt a warmth on her arm she turned to see Dina's hand there, slowly following the path of her arm up to her face, a crease of worry heavily set between her brow and she wasn't sure what it meant because Ellie had done nothing to warrant such a look, she hadn't been the one sitting there in silence for the rest of their trip back so why was she looking at her like that?

Ellie swallowed and forced a smile. "We're back."

"Ellie..." Dina began, her voice was so quiet and unsure that it pained Ellie to hear and she wasn't sure if she wanted her to continue.

She wasn't sure she was ready for what was coming so before Dina could finish she opened the car door. "I'll grab our bags out."

She slipped out the driver's seat, avoiding Dina's eyes as she quickly grabbed the bags, dropping them to the ground at her feet until she had pulled everything out.

Dina took more time than she had before she took got out of the truck, closing the door delicately behind her and she stopped in front of Ellie and watched as she piled all the bags on her back and shoulders like a pack mule. She thought about arguing and helping her but decided better of it knowing she would have insisted anyway.

They started the walk to the dorms, Ellie walking unnaturally quick and Dina doing her best to catch up.

"Ellie." She finally said, this time more sternly as she reached out and placed her hand on her arm again.

Ellie took a deep breath and slowed her pace but kept walking keeping her eyes cast ahead as they walked through the halls. She wanted to look at her and come undone, to beg her for this not to be it, to scream at her that she couldn't go back to the way things were before they went away but her pride wouldn't let her so she just remained quiet. Her last defense to absorb some of the blow. 

Dina kept her hand there, gripping her arm tightly as they came to her door room and she stopped to watch Ellie as she dropped her bag in front of her door.

"We can't tell him." Dina said, her eyes firmly on her feet on the ground. "You know we can't tell him, right?"

"I can't lie to him." Ellie replied, swallowing the lump in her throat as she too looked down, unable to meet her eyes if she were to look up.

"I know, Ellie... I can't lie to him either. I just mean not now. I'll tell him but please give me time to."

"We need to talk." Ellie finally managed to choke out, going against everything her mind told her not to do.

"I know..." Dina replied softly, taking a tentative step closer to her and reaching her arm out to take her hand, pausing just before she did. "I just-"

"Dina!"

Both their eyes snapped to the door at the end of the hall and Dina jumped back, creating a little distance between them as Jesse barreled through and jogged at a quick pace towards them, a giant bouquet of flowers in his hand.

Dina looked up at Ellie apologetically before turning to face him, immediately being swept up in his arms in a tight embrace that she slowly reciprocated before he put her back down on his feet.

Of course he bought her an entire bouquet when she had only given her one flower. Why hadn't she done more she had the chance? It was like some sick metaphor to her for everything he could give her that she couldn't.

"I'm so sorry." He began, shaking his head.

"Jesse, can we-" Dina began, her voice quiet and unsure.   

"Let me finish." He interjected holding his hand up, his attention being only on Dina and seemingly ignoring Ellie behind her. "I'm so sorry for how I reacted. It was so stupid of me. I can wait. I'll wait for you."

Ellie sighed and looked down, she couldn't take it anymore. She turned around without a word, unwilling to listen to any more of his apologies, and promises to be better for her. She started for her own room, shuffling her feet slowly down the corridor before letting herself into her room.

Dina glanced over her shoulder, wanting to call out to Ellie, to stop whatever it was Jesse was saying and get her attention but it was too late, before the words had left her mouth Ellie had disappeared.

With a groan, Ellie pressed her back firmly against the door.

Jesse was in love with her and Jesse would wait for her to feel the same way about him. He would wait for as long as it took.

Jesse was handsome and had a good head on his shoulders. He was kind and smart and would one day have a good job.

Dina's family loved him and one day he would be able to take care of her and give her the life and the family she never could give her.

She remembered his drunken ramblings of three kids and the white picket fence, perfect he had said because one day Dina wanted to have a family too.

She tossed her bag carelessly to the floor, giving no thought to the contents inside. She immediately threw herself face down on her bed and groaned loud with frustration into the pillow. She didn't know it was possible for your heart to break that quick. One second it was whole and full of love, the next it had been shattered by silence and promises of being better by someone who wasn't her, and Dina had listened.

She honestly didn't know what she was thinking, she couldn't do that to Jesse. He was going to hate her when he found out what she had done. Once he figured out just how much she had betrayed him when she was his best friend. The one person who was meant to be in his corner but the second he wasn't around she let her emotions get the better of her.

With a sigh, she finally rose to her feet. She glanced briefly at her guitar but felt too sad to play. She then thought of her sketchbook but for the same reason, it didn't call to her. She looked around her room at the mess and it felt like another fucked up metaphor for her life and she hated it, feeling the sudden urge to trash it more. Wanting to slide her hands along her desk and throw everything else on the floor. Wanting to throw her body onto her floor and have the tantrum that had been building for months. To throw the fit her body wanted her to so she could finally release all her pent up emotions but instead, she swallowed them back down, promising she would never allow herself to be that stupid again.

She bent down and picked up a few items off her floor, beginning to tidy her room and organize her belongings.

 


 

Cat had called her first.

A few days after they had arrived home she was surprised when she received the call even before any other communication with her, especially since they hadn't had any contact in two weeks. Ellie had to admit she was a little thankful for it, she had a shift coming up with her the next day and she was beginning to dread how that was going to go. Cat had asked to come over and while at first hesitant, she had eventually agreed.

When Ellie opened the door for her she felt a wave of relief wash over her, Cat was still Cat so there was still some normalcy to her life in that degree. She was quick to hug her and pull her into an embrace but while comforting, it didn't hold the same merit as it did before Dina had held her and for the first time she felt ruined and she felt angry about it.

"Did you have a good break?" Cat asked coyly as she pressed a quick kiss to her cheek before stepping passed her, allowing her hand to linger on her shoulder as she did so.

"Yeah, just went to the farm." she gave a small nod as she shut the door behind them.

"Holy shit, your room is like, clean." she exclaimed, turning around to face her and eye her suspiciously. "Who are you and where's the real Ellie?"

"Hah, very funny Cat." Ellie replied with a roll of her eyes as she took a seat on her bed. "I am allowed to have a clean room, you know."

"Are you okay?" Cat asked, taking a seat beside her, close enough for their hips to touch.

"Yeah. How was your break?" Ellie asked quickly to change the subject.

"Good. I missed you." she smiled, reaching out to place a hand on Ellie's thigh. "It was a bit weird not having you around."

Ellie swallowed, feeling the guilt creep in. "I missed you too."

And it wasn't a lie, not entirely. She hadn't really thought about Cat while she was away, only in brief passing when she felt guilty for what she was doing. But now she was back home and she was alone and had time to think, she had missed Cat. She wasn't sure in what way yet, but she knew she had missed her to some degree and that was something she would have to figure out.

"Things have been a bit weird, huh?" she said, her hand remaining in limbo on Ellie's leg but she gave it a small squeeze.

"Tell me about it." she smiled and turned to face her, tilting her head to the side in understanding.

"Ellie..." Cat breathed, leaning closer to her and pausing inches away from her lips. "I'm sorry about what I said before you went away."

Ellie closed her eyes and exhaled against her lips, the feeling of Cat's breath against her own feeling intoxicating to her senses, reminding her of the times Dina spent on top of her, close to her lips but not allowing her to lean up and close the distance. When Cat finally closed the distance and kissed her, she allowed her eyes to remain closed and thought that maybe she could enjoy it and if it came down to it, she could keep her eyes closed and picture Dina but as she kissed her back she realized that it didn't feel right, her lips felt nothing like Dina's and she kissed her nothing like Dina kissed her.

She tried to push the feeling away, store it in a file in the back of her mind but it wouldn't budge and each second Cat's lip's remained against hers the guilt made her feel sick until she couldn't take it anymore.

"Cat..." she said quietly, taking her shoulders in her hands and pushing her away enough for their lips to part.

"Sorry." Cat mumbled, opening her eyes to look at her. "I just thought..."

Ellie sighed and looked away from her. "It's not that... It's just... I dunno. I just need some time I think."

"Do you want me to go?" Cat asked, confusion clearly visible on her face.

"No, you don't have to go. Can we just like, hang out, or something?" Ellie asked, fiddling with her hand on her lap.

"Alright." Cat grinned and wrapped her arms around Ellie's shoulders, pulling her into a tight hug. "But I'm picking what we watch because I cannot sit through one of your cartoons today."

 


 

Ellie stared at her phone screen intently as if willing a message to pop up but it never did. She thought if she wished hard enough that maybe those vibes would be enough to make Dina reply to her text messages but it would never be enough.

She should have known that by now.

With a sigh, she clicked her name and scrolled through all her unanswered pleas to not be ignored and cringed both internally and externally.

As she got higher on the message thread she stumbled across the ones from the farm when Dina would message her while she was in her bed upstairs and they were trying to sleep or from across the room when Joel and Tommy were on one of their tangents. She couldn't help but smile as she remembered the one Dina would quickly type something on her phone and smile as she looked up, waiting for Ellie to pull out her phone and read it.

With a groan, she tossed her phone on the bed. She couldn't keep trying like this, it wasn't healthy.

She had fucked their friendship but allowing the gestures to get the better of her common sense. For reading too much into her words.

Ellie reluctantly rose to her feet and found her body mindlessly going to her bedroom door before her mind could argue that it definitely wasn't a good idea. With her head hung low she exited and found her way down the hallway and infront of her door, hovering stationary for what felt like hours.

Some students passed and gave her a funny look, but she only looked down embarrassed, trying to talk herself into knocking. It would be easy if she could do it, it would mean she didn't sit around waiting for a response that she probably wasn't going to get, and seeing her would definitely help ease her aching heart.

She missed her.

She missed talking with her and laughing with her. She missed kissing her and holding her and telling her how beautiful she thought she was but most of all she just missed being her friend.

With a sigh, she lifted her knuckles to her door and knocked, quietly at first before hitting her fist more securely at it. She wasn't sure if she would even answer let alone not slam the door in her face but she couldn't take it anymore. The wait was excruciating and she had almost given up and returned to her room but before she managed to lift her feet there was a click and the sound of a handle turning and when the door swung open, there was Dina standing in front of her.

Her eyes were puffy and her cheeks splotched red and Ellie's heart broke when her eyes settled on hers.

"Dina?" She asked, taking a tentative step forward.

When the black-haired woman didn't flinch or run away she closed the gap, enveloping her in her arms and pulling her head tightly to her chest, holding her as she began to sob. She didn't know what else to do or if she should say anything so she just held her, the sobs wracking her body causing her own body to feel her pain deep in her chest.

Dina gripped her shirt, balling it tightly in her fist, her face finding purchase in the crook of Ellie's neck and she wanted to yell at her, scream at her for being so considerate and available and here but she couldn't do it so she just continued to cry, her tears wetting the front of her shirt but she didn't care, instead just pulling her closer in response.

When she still clung to her but was no longer crying, Ellie dared to shift against her, pushing her back a little so she could close the door behind them and away from the curious eyes and whispers. There was no resistance from Dina who took the measured step back, seemingly happy to go anywhere as long as she could remain pressed up against Ellie.

"Do you want to talk about it...?" Ellie asked unsurely, all her earlier anger over being ignored melting away.

Dina only shook her head, tugging further on Ellie's shirt in response.

Ellie hummed and sucked a deep breath into her lungs, her chest rising and causing Dina's head to shift and finally she pulled back and looked up at her. When their eyes met she wasn't sure what it was or what caused it but she felt sad and her eyebrows furrowed as she stared into the depths of Dina's brown eyes and tried to figure out just what had upset her so much. She could guess, but she really didn't feel like second-guessing everything for once.

"Do you want me to go...?" she asked, her voice small and strained as she struggled to get the sentence out. "Because I don't want to go."

"Ellie..." Dina breathed as she looked down before quickly inhaling to stifle another sob.

"Can you tell me what happened?" she whispered.

Ellie dropped her arms from around Dina, placing her hands on her shoulders instead to steady her and look her up and down to make sure other than tears she was at least outwardly okay. She appeared okay and Ellie felt moderately comforted by that at the very least but she still wanted to know what was going on.

"You shouldn't be here, Ellie." Dina inhaled and exhaled slowly.

"Why?" she asked confused, tilting her head to the side and failing to hide any hurt behind her eyes.

Dina only shook her head in response to her question. "You shouldn't be here but you're the only person I want here and I just can't help it."

"What do you want me to do?" Ellie whispered, completely perplexed by her previous words and needing the clarification on what exactly she wanted her to do or be.

"I'm so tired." she looked down, reaching up to wipe at the tears that welled in her eyes. 

"Do you want to go to bed?"

Dina bit her lip but nodded, reaching out her hand hesitantly to take Ellie's in her own and holding it so tightly that she may as well have broken her bones but she never complained. She turned away from her, leading her over to her small bed but it was no smaller than what they had been used to on the farm. Dropping her hand, she pushed back the covers before sliding inside, hiding her entire body under the covers.

Ellie stood there in silence, watching her small frame hidden underneath the covers and for a second thought about whether or not she should. She knew she could, and would quite happily but neither of those amounted to if she should or not.

She exhaled, tugging at the corner of the blanket and lifted it enough for her to climb in behind Dina, pressing her body tightly against the back of hers reasoning that she didn't have a choice, the bed was simply too small for there to be any space between them but she wouldn't have left any anyway.

She inhaled deeply, Dina's familiar scent filling her nostrils and immediately making her feel at peace with the world. She rested her hand on her hip, hesitantly at first but when she didn't draw away from her touch she gripped her a little more firmly.

Ellie could tell that Dina was thinking, without even seeing her face she could tell that the wheels in her head were turning. While Ellie wanted to ask, wanted to know what was going on in her head she decided to let her have the solitude of silence, she would surely talk to her when she was ready.

It took a little longer than Ellie had anticipated but eventually Dina shifted, turning around to face her and she was once again mesmerized by her beauty. Only she could make a puffy crying face look that good and she wanted to lean in and take her lips against her own but she had the common sense to know that now wasn't the time nor did she feel the same confidence she felt at the farm.

Dina only looked up at her, nervously biting her lower lip and studying her eyes, clearly searching for something so Ellie didn't look away. Instead, she blindly reached between them and took Dina's hand, giving her three hard squeezes in the same comforting way she used to do for her and hoped it would hold the same merit.

"I missed you." Dina finally said, finding the strength in her body to squeeze Ellie's hand back.

"Then why have you been ignoring me?" Ellie asked, refusing to look away from her stare.

Dina sighed and was the first to break eye contact. "My family aren't very happy with me."

"What?" Ellie furrowed her brows, staring at her questioningly. "What happened?"

Dina gave a small shrug, the tears welling behind her eyes making their presence known again as she looked back up. "They want me to go home and see them this weekend."

"It'll be good to see them, won't it?" Ellie pressed, reaching up to wipe under her eye with her thumb. "Please don't cry."

"They're threatening to withdraw my college tuition." She sobbed, dropping Ellie's hand to pull her own up and hide her face. "They don't think this place has been good for me."

"Are you serious?" Ellie asked with a shake of her head. "You're doing amazing here. You have the lead role and your professors love your film work. You're so fucking talented, why would they think this place isn't good for you?"

Dina shook her head, her sobs becoming more violent.

"Hey..." Ellie whispered, reaching up and pulling Dina's hands from her face before smoothing her palm and fingers over her skin to wipe away all the wetness from her skin. "Please don't cry, Dina. We'll figure something out."

Dina turned her eyes to Ellie's, her lower lip trembling as she continued to wipe the tears that fell away. Ellie wanted to kiss her, to kiss away all the saltiness from her face, from her lips, to make her mouth taste anything but of the tears that were falling from her face but she knew it wasn't right. Jesse still didn't know and until then she knew she couldn't do it.

She continued to do what she could to comfort her, keeping the tears from falling too far down her face until they stopped and Dina only remained staring at her.

"I want to kiss you..." Dina trailed off, her eyes dropping to Ellie's lips before flickering straight back up again.

Ellie hummed, understanding she felt the same as she did. "I want to kiss you too."

"I miss kissing you." She sighed, reaching out to hold on to the front of her shirt as if the contact would be enough. "Do you think you could stay tonight... and just talk to me?"

Ellie pursed her lips before offering a nod. "What do you want to talk about?"

"Anything." She swallowed, allowing Ellie to further wipe more tears from her face and enjoying the lingering contact. "I just want to hear you talk."

Ellie took a moment to think. She didn't really have much to talk about, especially with her considering they had just spent two weeks together. She thought about the most boring thing she could, and while it was the most exciting thing to her, she had to admit it wasn't very exciting to anyone uninterested in it.

She quietly began telling Dina about the interesting things she had learned in her classes, dropping in little facts that she thought she might find interesting, watching intently as Dina closed her eyes and kept them closed, only nodding or smiling in response as she listened.

When she ran out of things to talk about with her classes she moved on to her professors and stupid stuff the other students did and when that failed she moved on to talking about stars and space.

"For my sixteenth birthday, Joel, he uh... he took me to the Wyoming Museum of Science and History." Ellie began, unsure if she should share a story so personal or not but she never wanted to hide anything from Dina.

"I wish I could have met sixteen-year-old Ellie." Dina sighed dreamily.

"No, you don't. I told you, she was an ass." Ellie shook her head. "I knew he had no interest in any of that but he made an effort to learn so he could show me around." Ellie smiled and looked down, remembering the day fondly.

Dina took a deep breath, cracking one eye open enough to look at Ellie. "Sounds like Joel... and like something you'd do."

"Maybe..." Ellie huffed and feigned ignorance before she cracked a smile. "Don't tell him, but one day I was looking for something and found a space book for Dummies. I think he would die if he knew I knew."

"Do you think maybe he will let me borrow it?" Dina mumbled quietly, reaching out her hand and laying her palm flat over Ellie's chest, listening to her rapidly beating heart through the contact.

"Why do you need that when you have a me?" Ellie offered, tentatively reaching her hand up to Dina's and curling her fingers around her wrist.

"I want to surprise you with something you don't know one day." Dina blinked slowly, lazily as she looked up to meet Ellie's sparkling eyes. "Tell me more about the museum."

The corner of Ellie's lips curled into a smile and she gave another shake of her head. "There was everything there that I loved, I think that's why he chose that one. We went through all the Dinosaurs first, Joel reckoned he knew a lot about them because he watched Jurassic Park but he was pretty clueless." she chuckled. "He bought me one of those adventurer hats and we spent the morning taking pictures with the dinosaurs we could sneak them on to. We only almost got caught a few times."

"You sound like you were a bad influence." Dina smiled, watching the way Ellie's face lit up as she spoke about it. "But I want to see a picture of you with that hat on."

"Maybe Joel was the bad influence?" she suggested, giving Dina's wrist a quick squeeze and ignoring her request for pictures, hoping she would forget it was ever mentioned.

"Nope." Dina murmured. "If I know anything about you, it's that you're a terrible influence."

"Okay." Ellie conceded with a quiet laugh. "So once we were done with the dinosaurs, and Joel let me go back to my favorite ones for another look I thought we were done, we had spent hours doing that but then he takes me to the next part and holy shit, I had never seen anything so cool. I remember finally turning around and Joel was just standing there grinning at me. It was the biggest space display I had ever seen."

"I wish I could have seen your face too." Dina said as she closed her eyes, her lips turning up into a small smile as she pictured a younger Ellie being in that room.

"I think... I think that was the first time that I realized that I loved Joel. He invested so much time in getting me to open up, to give me everything I needed and I gave him so much grief. I always went out of my way to be so stubborn and cause him problems but I think that day I realized that he was never going to give up on me. I was always so scared to be alone, that he was going to leave me when it got too tough that I didn't stop to consider that maybe he wouldn't."

"I wish I could have been there for you then, Ellie..." Dina whispered sleepily, a deep line creasing her forehead as she furrowed her brow.

Ellie swallowed the saliva that had pooled in her mouth and looked down, sliding her hand further up Dina's arm until her hand was over the top of hers. "Yeah, well... I was okay. I figured it out eventually, I guess. We're both not as emotionally stunted now as we could have been." she laughed to herself, pausing for a moment before she continued. "You uh, got to try on some helmets and they had a replica of a space shuttle that you could climb in to... It was small, but he climbed in with me. I think I must have had the biggest grin on my face, I remember my cheeks hurting so bad and I was so happy, that was enough for me. But he handed me a tape deck with a tape already inside..."

"What was it?" Dina slowly managed to get out, the throws of sleep already beginning to claim her.

"It was a tape of the first space shuttle being launched." Ellie smiled, grasping Dina's hand in her own and bringing her knuckles to her lips before dropping it back down to its spot on her chest. "I don't think... I've had lots of happy moments with Joel, but I think that one was one of my favorites, y'know? That was such a ridiculously cool surprise but as cliche as it sounds, the best part was being there with him. Seeing him smile and laugh was enough for me. I don't know if he ever knew how much that meant to me. I hope he knows. Fuck, knowing he had always listened to me when I rambled on about space and dinosaurs... fuck, it really got to me. He's an ass like that." she laughed again, and it was breathy and rugged as she reached up with her free hand to rub at her own watering eyes, glad Dina had her own eyes closed. Maybe one day Ellie would tell him and make sure he knew.

It didn't matter though, Dina's face had softened and her breathing had evened out and Ellie knew Dina had finally fallen asleep.

She exhaled the breath she didn't know she had been holding, feeling pleased with herself for being able to relax her enough to put her asleep although she didn't know whether or not that was a compliment or not. She chose to decide it was and while she didn't understand it herself maybe she had some kind of a calming voice that was at least soothing to her ears.

She watched her, looking over her face to make sure she was finally at peace and when she was content that she was, she smiled as she lifted her hand, tucking all the wet, loose strands of hair off her face and behind her ear. She studied her face, it wasn't as red now but the remnants of her tears before remained in the form of a red nose and rosy cheeks. She watched her, coming to a silent understanding that she wasn't sure she would ever find anyone more beautiful than she would so to distract herself she began to count the freckles on her cheeks, losing count every time her eyes flickered down to her lips so she would start again.

Ellie wasn't sure whether or not she should have left. Dina had asked her to stay but obviously things had been weird since they returned and just like before she didn't know where she stood. They hadn't even told Jesse yet but right now she couldn't seem to care. Hidden under the blankets away from the world had the same feeling as being hundreds of miles away at the farm, it was just them and nothing else. With that feeling welling in her chest, she leaned forward, pressing her lips to Dina's forehead and lingered for a moment, memorizing the way it felt to do so before she pulled away.

She felt alone and sad and this was just what she needed to take that feeling away.

Ellie closed her eyes deciding she would just rest them for a moment and when she was absolutely certain Dina wouldn't wake up she would head back to her own room and give her the space she obviously needed from her.

However, when she opened her eyes again Dina was no longer there. She fought with the blanket, ripping the covers off her head and immediately sat up, the pressure rushing to her head and making her feel dizzy. It was no longer night now and bright sunlight was streaming through the windows leaving her blinded for a moment before her eyes adjusted.

Taking a deep breath in an attempt to catch it she whipped her head around trying to locate Dina in the small room but she wasn't there. She wasn't sure whether or not it was a good thing or not. Maybe she had scared Dina away by being here when she woke up or maybe Dina just had a class or practice to get to that she didn't want to wake her up for.

Her chest ached and she reached out to rub it with her palm. She looked to the side of Dina's wall, at the photo of them together, Dina's lips pressed tightly to her cheek and her heart ached more. She wished she could go back to then, at least to that security of having her as a friend, but if she really thought about it she didn't really. Now she had known what it was like to be with Dina she didn't want anything or anyone else.

She rose to her feet, turning around and quickly making the bed before wasting no time exiting Dina's room and heading towards her own. It didn't feel right being there without her, not knowing why she had woken up alone.

 


 

Ellie stood out back, mindlessly cleaning down the shelves. It had been a quiet day for the amount of staff on but no one took the opportunity to head home, everyone deciding they needed the money more than a day off. It had been slow and she hated it but at the same time, it was nice not to have to constantly talk to strangers or fulfill orders. The only downside was that it afforded her too much time to think and when she had too much time to think she always found herself reminiscing about the past and certain things she was no longer allowed to entertain, not when their circumstances were so up in the air.

She was thankful that she and Cat were okay, happy that they could keep working together and not have it be awkward. They had spent a lot of time talking and both seemingly ignoring the topic of their breaks which Ellie both found herself happy about and stressed out over. She knew why she was avoiding the topic, but why was Cat avoiding the topic?

She had tried to bring it up, getting closer and closer every time to breaking down and admitting what she had done while she was away but every time she got there she found herself stopping because when she looked at Cat she realized that she didn't want to hurt her and what would knowing change? Nothing other than to wound her. So she swallowed the guilt down, feeling it attack her sense of character every time because this wasn't her but she also wasn't someone that hurt her friends so she really wasn't certain who she was anymore after all.

Regardless of whether one day she would be able to admit to her or not, Cat always seemed to stop her. Always just repeating that they weren't together and whatever happened while they were away wasn't important. At first, Ellie couldn't make sense of it, wondering if Cat already knew what had happened, or could at least guess what had happened. It probably wouldn't have been hard to figure out if she had seen her or Dina together but she knew that wasn't the case, she hadn't seen Dina since just they had returned and that was almost a week ago so there was no way Cat would have seen them together. The only option that was left was that something had happened with Cat while she was away, maybe she too cheated.

But it wasn't really cheating, was it? Maybe that's why Cat had chosen that moment to take a break from her, in the event that something like that might have happened. It's not like she could be mad at her if she had, she wasn't innocent either but something about it still left an uneasy feeling in her gut.

Either way, it was nice just being friends with Cat again, hanging out like they used to before they got together. She was cool and when Ellie talked she listened and when Cat talked Ellie listened and while she couldn't always comprehend what she was saying or trying to convey she tried and did her best to help. It was nice having a friend who wasn't just Jesse.

"Hey, Ellie? Jesse's here to see you." Cat said breaking her out of her daze and gesturing over her shoulder towards the counter, worry clearly evident in her eyes.

"Why?" Ellie asked too quickly, her heart sinking into her stomach as it did anytime she saw his name show up on her phone or heard his name and the shame she felt hit her like a ton of bricks because of course, he was here. She had only been ignoring him since she had returned from home and she had of course taken his girlfriend.

Ex-girlfriend, she corrected herself again as if it made what she did any less messed up.

"I dunno." She shrugged. "He seems annoyed or something."

Not here, she thought as she rose to her feet.

Ellie swallowed the lump in her throat, untying the apron from around her waist and placing it down on the bench slowly. With as much dread as her tiny body could muster and engulf her with, she slowly walked from out back to the front, making it around to the front of the counter before Jesse noticed her and she could immediately tell from his eyes that he knew.

"Jesse?" she asked, taking small tentative steps towards him in case she needed to quickly make space between them and run for it because that's exactly what she would do in his position, she would try to kick his ass.

"Ellie!" he exclaimed, rushing for her and she took a hesitant step back before she was engulfed in his strong arms.

She took a deep breath, begging her fast-beating heart to still and not give away her relief for the fact that he had only hugged her instead of maiming her. Closing her eyes she reached up and wrapped her arms tightly around him, holding him tightly to her frame like it was the last time she might be allowed to do it and for all, she knew it might have been. She took a deep breath and for all the time they had spent apart, he still smelt like him and he still held her as he had always held her and nothing had changed. As far as he knew anyway.

Finally, he let her go, stepping back to look her up and down before he smiled. "You look good. You've put on a bit of weight in Wyoming." he laughed, taking a jab at her side with his fingers.

She swallowed, hard and loud as her mind flashed back to all the meals Dina had made her, laughing in the kitchen together as they made a mess when Ellie attempted to help. She remembered all the meals Dina had forced her to eat and she wondered now if it was only because she thought she was too skinny.

Was that all it was?

She shook her head, deciding she needed to stop dwelling on the last few weeks and what it all meant if it meant anything at all.

"Very funny." she replied, motioning to the table beside them and they both took a seat. "What are you doing here?"

"Aren't I allowed to visit my best friend?" he grinned, leaning back on the chair.

"Of course." Ellie laughed nervously, fidgeting with her fingers on the table. "Yeah, of course, you are." she repeated.

"Are you okay?" he asked with concern evident in his tone. "What's up?"

"Nothing." she shook her head. "Sorry, I'm just tired. Being away and coming back, it's been tough to get back into the swing of things."

"Tell me about it." he huffed, blowing his loose-hanging fringe from his forehead. "It's good to be back though, family is fucking stressful. Especially on vacation. Thank you, by the way." he finished with his typical Jesse grin.

"What for?" Ellie asked, glancing up from the table to her friend.

"Dina said you wouldn't let her be alone here and she went back home with you. Thank you for taking care of her, Ellie." He smiled, reaching out to place his hand on top of hers, giving it a soft pat before he pulled away.

"Oh." Ellie replied and she felt sick, looking back down to the table she swallowed the bile that rose to the back of her throat and spilled into her mouth. "Don't mention it."

"So, did she get down and dirty?" he laughed as he arched his brow.

Ellie choked on her saliva, patting at her chest as her cheeks turned red. "She helped out a lot." she quickly said. "Joel and Tommy loved her. Though she spent a lot of time just patting all the animals."

"Sounds a bit like her." he grinned, choosing to ignore the sudden change in Ellie's disposition. "Maybe next time I can take her home too and we can all hang out."

"Yeah, maybe." Ellie bit her cheek, hard enough to cause it to bleed, and swallowed down the metallic taste. "I'm sure she would like that. Your house is amazing."

"It's nothing on her house, though. You should see it." Jesse chuckled and moved to rest his arm on the back of his chair. "Her parents are lovely though, I think our parents would get along really well. Her sister was definitely hard work, though."

So, are you and Dina... y'know, all good then?" she asked, glancing up enough to see his expression, feeling her heart shatter every second it took before he replied.

He shrugged. "I think we will be. She at least listened to what I had to say which is more than I deserved after what I said to her."

"That's good." Ellie replied, nodding slowly as she looked back down. "I'm happy for you, Jesse." she finished quietly and she wanted it to be a lie but she couldn't mean it. She sincerely wanted him to be happy and get everything he wanted, even if it meant she would lose what she did.

If Dina was working things out with Jesse she could have at least told her. After everything given her that courtesy but she obviously still hadn't told him and if she wasn't going to tell him she was going to have to. She couldn't go on lying to him know the longer they left it the worse the fall out was going to be but Dina had asked for time, she had hoped her weekend away at her parents would be enough of a break for her to be able to finally do it but nothing had happened yet. She needed to talk to her but it was hard when she wouldn't reply and never seemed to be home.

"Hey, do you wanna hang out when you finish here? I miss my buddy."

"I can't." Ellie lied and she glanced over to the counter at Cat who had begun to serve the customers who had just walked in. "Cat and I are doing something after work. Another time?"

"Yeah, of course." he smiled, tapping his knuckles on the table as he rose to his feet. "I'll text you, okay?"

Ellie only nodded, watching his back as he left. When he exited she dropped her forehead on to the table with a thud and groaned loudly. She wasn't sure if she was pleased that he didn't know yet or if she was angry but decided it was a weird mix of the two. She had agreed to let Dina be the one to tell him and as hurt and hopeless as she felt now, she didn't want to ruin that for her if she thought they could mend whatever it was they would have leftover once she did but she knew the longer it was left and the longer they pretended to be normal, the more awful it was going to be for all of them.

She couldn't look him in the eye now, how was she meant to look at him weeks down the track when he still didn't know? It wasn't fair to him and it certainly wasn't fair to her but nothing about this situation had ever been fair.

Ellie knew the fact that she hadn't heard from Dina wasn't a good sign, in fact, the second she invited Jesse into her room when they arrived back she knew there wasn't much of a chance for them but it still made her angry to think that after everything they had been through she was so quick to give Jesse another chance like what happened in Wyoming had meant nothing at all. Maybe it hadn't to her but it certainly did to Ellie and she wasn't sure how she could just push it all away so easily.

Maybe Ellie's fears had been correct and she really was just pretending the entire time they were away.

She didn't want to think it was true but what else could make this distance so easy for someone when they had been so close only days ago?

Chapter Text

Ellie couldn't sleep.

She tried, she really did but night upon night she spent tossing and turning under the sheets or on top of the sheets, sometimes on the floor but it wouldn't come. Sometimes she would doze off, just for a little while but would immediately snap to attention, feeling worse than before she had closed her eyes.

She pretended not to know why because if she admitted she knew she would have to explain it to people when they asked and there wasn't a single day that went by that someone didn't ask if she was getting enough rest. In reality, she knew exactly why sleep was now eluding her and she hated that she couldn't do anything to fix it on her own. She wasn't strong enough for that.

When class had finished for the day she made her way back to her dorm like she always did, avoiding all eye contact, keeping her head down, and taking long purposeful steps to her destination until she was safely behind the four walls of her room. She exhaled deeply as she shut the door behind her, taking a second to lean against it in an effort to regain her composure before she pushed away. She quickly looked around her room, trying to decide what to do before her mind started to think. She couldn't clean anymore, her room was already spotless and for a second she cursed herself. She had thought if she got all her belongings in order, it, in turn, would bring some sense of order to herself but it hadn't. It didn't fix anything.

Every time she entered she had an urge to trash it. To pull all her clothes from the draws, rip her bed apart and tear up all her journals, scattering the contents over the floor just to get some kind of release but she couldn't bring herself to do it. She entertained the thought often, wondering if actually would make her feel better or worse to do but she could never settle on which. At least if she did it would give her something to do but she already knew cleaning didn't give her the same release as it gave others.

With a sigh, she wandered over to her mirror, taking a long while to talk herself into looking up in to it. She didn't like the way she looked anymore, not that she was ever that fond of it in the first place, she had accepted that it was her and didn't make too much of an effort to stare at herself too often but now she felt like a shell of her former self.

Finally, she tore her eyes up and forced herself to look. She exhaled heavily through her nose, staring at her reflection like it was a stranger. She reached up and rubbed at her pale, gaunt cheeks before lifting her arms from her side and dropping them heavily back. She sighed and pulled a face, bringing her hands up again to tug at her cheeks and pulled another face. She stared into her own eyes, deciding she didn't like what was staring back at her. The bags under her eyes were dark and she knew why people bugged her about it now, but what was she going to do? It's not like she didn't try to sleep.

Before she knew it she had spent too much time thinking and it circled back to her again. She wondered if Dina was still having trouble sleeping too or if having Jesse there with her fixed it like she said she had. Maybe all she needed was someone there with her and it didn't matter who. Maybe that's all it was and she had just been one of those people that couldn't be alone, that needed to have someone around them all the time to be happy no matter who it was or what they had to do to get them there. It would have made sense but even when she came up with all these scenarios in her head she couldn't really believe any one of them, not because they were unbelievable but because she didn't want that to be the case when it was all said and done.

She wondered if she could lay with her again without it meaning anything. If they came to a mutual understanding that they both just needed some sleep but knew that was a stupid idea to entertain. Dina was probably sleeping like a baby at night without a concern in the world. She held all the cards after all and she made the decisions, so what would she have to lose sleep over.

Ellie clenched her fists at her side, turning her face away and closing her eyes. She shook her head hard and stepped away, grabbing her jacket that was draped over the back of her chair and pulling it on. Heading for the door she stepped outside, stuffing her hands deep into her pockets but she didn't get very far down the hall before a presence caught her attention and she looked up. She was certain the same deer caught in the headlights look Dina had on her face mirrored her own but she was quick to bite the inside of her lip and drop her eyebrows, doing her best to convey nothing but indifference.

Taking a deep breath she kept on moving forward towards her, desperate to put some distance between them once she was off the campus but she couldn't help but notice how tired she looked so she looked down, anywhere but into her eyes because she wasn't sure she couldn't handle it. Everything was easier with distance between them, she didn't have to worry about running into her or putting her in awkward situations where she passed her in the hall. If she didn't have to see her she didn't have to worry about the way her body would betray her, or her voice would crack if she said her name. She didn't have to worry about slipping up and telling her she wanted to be with her.

If she never saw her she didn't have to worry about any of that.

Balling her hands even tighter into fists she kept her head down as she passed her, knowing she was watching her. Confused she wanted to look up but knew she shouldn't, it would only get her in trouble and she didn't want to do that anymore but still, Dina didn't enter her room, just pivoting as Ellie passed.

"Ellie..." she breathed and it was quiet but just loud enough for both of them to hear.

Ellie paused, closing her eyes and keeping her head bowed. She loved the sound of her name on Dina's lips, it now sounding sweeter than anything else had but she couldn't do it. She couldn't turn around and she couldn't look back. She was making progress. Even if it didn't outwardly appear so, she wanted to heal, and going back to the pain of it all was never going to help.

That and she didn't want the pain of being left alone again in the morning.

With a shake of her head, with the intention to knock her voice from it she pushed on towards the doors, her lips firmly pressed together so her name wouldn't escape from her lips.

When she stepped out into the cool night air, she wasn't really sure where she was going all she knew was that she had to get out of there and as far away as possible before she went back and did something stupid. She walked around the quad, exhaling loudly through her mouth as she did a few laps, looking up to their dorm windows every so often and wondering if she was looking down at her.

She quickly scolded herself and left the campus, wandering aimlessly for a while before heading to where she knew Cat was.

When she stepped in, it was relatively quiet and she quickly looked around, trying to spot her behind the counter but Cat saw her before she did and quickly waved her over. When she saw her smile, she couldn't help but smile, feeling a little less on edge in her presence and Ellie loved that about her, how calm she made her feel when she began to feel manic.

"Hey, you." Cat grinned, and it was easy and full. "I didn't know you were going to stop by."

Ellie shrugged, suddenly feeling stupid for coming. "I didn't know either."

"Wanna take a break with me?" she asked, tilting her head from right to left to stretch her neck. "Do you want a drink?"

Ellie hummed and nodded. "Yes, to both."

Cat motioned with her head towards the stage as she grabbed two glasses and began to pour their drinks. "He's pretty good, huh?"

She followed Cat's motions towards the stage, the slow strumming of a guitar filling her head now that she was able to drown out her own thinking. He sang a sad, quiet song that made Ellie's heartache but she couldn't stop listening, enthralled by the presence he had on stage even though it was just him and one low light. It was a weekend day, so the bar was fairly quiet but the few people sitting on tables in front of him were clearly enjoying his music.

"That could be you." Cat pressed as she appeared beside Ellie, handing her one of the glasses. "Come on, let's go."

She looked down as Cat grabbed her hand with her now free one, it feeling unnaturally cold from holding her glass but she didn't mind, it only reflected the numbness she felt at the moment. She didn't squeeze her hand, nor hold it too tightly but rather loosely allowed it to sit in hers and let her lead her along to a seat outside. She dropped her hand, the contact leaving her with no warmth for her to miss and she switched her glass from her other hand to that one before bringing it to her lips and taking a long sip.

"Fuck, is this just straight whiskey?" Ellie asked, the alcohol burning her throat as she swallowed.

"You looked like you needed it." Cat remarked, arching an eyebrow at her.

Ellie couldn't argue, instead taking another sip of her drink and ignoring her knowing gaze.

You want to get up there again?" Cat asked, pulling a pack of cigarettes from her pocket, and placing one between her lips before holding them out for Ellie.

Ellie smiled and reached over, plucking the one from between her lips and nestling it between her own before reaching down and grabbing the lighter Cat had placed on the table and lighting the end, exhaling the smoke deeply into her lungs as if it was her first cigarette in an eternity. "Why would I do that when you can get talent like that?"

Cat only smirked at her, pulling out another and replacing the one Ellie had stolen, taking the lighter back from her and lighting it, exhaling the smoke before she spoke. "You think he's better than you."

Ellie nodded, resting the cigarette between her fingers as she took another sip of her drink. "I know he's better than me."

"I think you're wrong." Cat sucked in air between her teeth before taking another drag of her cigarette. "What I think is that you're just scared to show the world just how good you actually are."

Ellie rolled her eyes, ignoring the way Cat smiled at her and took her own drag of her cigarette, hiding behind the smoke as she exhaled. "Well, now I think you're wrong so I think we're even now."

"What would it take to get you up there?" Cat asked, waving her hand dismissively in the air. "Me to get up there with you?"

"And what would you do up there?" she laughed and shook her head, resting her hands down on the table as she met Cat's determined brown eyes.

"I dunno." Cat shrugged, her now longer black hair falling over her shoulder. "Play the tambourine or some shit."

They both looked at each other before they burst into laughter, shook their heads, and lifted their drinks to their lips.

Ellie looked up, stealing a glance at Cat, watching as she stared towards the stage inside, softly swaying to the music. Cat was still as beautiful as ever, if not more beautiful than the last time Ellie had seen her before they went away and Ellie wished that something switch would just flick inside her and she would find her the most beautiful girl in the world but as she stared, nothing happened and she felt guilty. She didn't want to stop looking though, sure any moment it might happen if she gave it enough time and before she released, Cat was looking back at her as if she understood or something along those lines and Ellie's stomach twisted into knots.

"Um hey..." Ellie began, turning to look over her shoulder at the stage. "What about if I practice a little more and then one day I think about getting up there and playing-" she paused, considering her words as Cat stared back at her. "For you?"

Cat grinned big and wide and any ounce of knowing and concern seemed to have melted away. "I'll take it."

It wasn't much, but it was something.

 


 

When Ellie stumbled back through her dorm room door, it was late which was just the way she wanted it. The later the better because the later it was the less likely it was that anyone was awake. She clumsily pushed her way inside and waved the door closed with an unsteady hand. She glanced at her bed and thought about throwing herself face down on it but knew it would only make the spinning feeling in her head when she closed her eyes worse and it wasn't like she would sleep anyways.

She thought about how Cat had said she thought she was a talented musician before falling down on her chair and taking her guitar out of its case, resting it on her knee. She smiled and shook her head, leaning back in the chair as she strummed her fingers awkwardly over the chords, creating an awful chorus of sound. She cringed, holding her hands over the strings to cause it to cease before she sat up straight, setting the guitar properly on her lap and closing her eyes to settle her stomach before opening them with a new sense of resolve. She placed her fingers to the correct keys before strumming the chord and slowly to the next, taking her time until she found the rhythm she knew well.

She closed her eyes, playing the familiar tune, and finding comfort as it hit her ears, lulling her into a sense of safety within her own mind. When she finally had the tune down she opened her mouth and began to sing.

"Needless to say, I'm odds and ends
But I'll be stumbling away, slowly learning that life is okay
Say after me,
It's no better to be safe than sorry."

She was about to open her mouth and begin the chorus when there was a bump in the direction of her door and her head quickly snapped up, catching sight of the small body in her doorway. She panicked, her heart catching in her throat as she froze, unsure what she should do and she cursed herself for not making sure her door was closed and locked properly.

"Ellie..." her soft voice whispered as they slowly approached and dropped forward on their knees in front of her.

Ellie looked down at her, catching her reflection in Dina's eyes and still being unable to move but when she reached up and rested a shaking hand on her thigh she felt a little more at ease and she hoped she would never take the contact away.

She both wanted to scream at her to leave and beg her to stay, nothing coming out as she was stuck between the two and she wondered if Dina knew, if she would understand the inner turmoil she was going through and if she was going through her own.

"What are you doing here, Dina?" Ellie finally asked, shaking her head to snap out of her daze but still unable to look away from her eyes.

"I was waiting for you to get home safe... and I heard you playing." Dina began, her voice weak as if she was losing it. "You look tired."

Dina lifted her hand and it was tentative and unsure, pausing for a moment every so often as it began its ascent towards Ellie's face. When she didn't flinch away, she swallowed, cupping her cheek in her hand.

Ellie hadn't forgotten what it was like to be touched by Dina, unsure she could ever forget how soft her touch was. The touch was all it took for her to forget all her resolve and she leaned into her touch, closing her eyes as the warmth engulfed her body and for the first time in a long time she didn't feel so numb and when her thumb stroked across her cheekbone her breath caught in her throat.

"Why don't you go to bed?" Dina asked, sitting back on her legs.

Ellie frowned, the removal of the contact she was enjoying causing her to open her eye and deepen the crease between her brows. "Why are you still awake?" She finally managed to ask back when Dina waited expectantly for her to say something.

"I can't sleep..." she sighed and looked down.

"I can't sleep either." Ellie admitted with a shrug, placing her guitar down on the ground to rest against her desk before leaning back on her chair, reaching up to rub at her tired face.

"I know." Dina hummed. "I have something for you."

Ellie looked at her confused, not immediately seeing anything that she could have brought. There was nothing in her hands.

Dina rose to her feet before reaching into her pocket and pulling out a packet, holding it out for Ellie to examine.

"Stars?" Ellie studied it for a moment before looking up at her confused. "I don't get it."

"Glow in the dark, stars." Dina smiled at her as if she knew something that she didn't. "And you don't have to get it for now but just give me a hand, will you?"

Ellie nodded reluctantly, watching as Dina tilted her head towards her ceiling and turned around as if she was looking for something. She stopped when her eyes fell on the point over Ellie's bed and she looked back down and gave her another sad smile.

Dina motioned for her to move from her chair and Ellie followed her orders. She grabbed it and easily carried it over to her bed, placing it on top before giving it a gentle shake and pouting, realizing how unsteady it was.

"What are you doing?" Ellie murmured, fiddling with her hands in front of her.

Dina only looked over her shoulder, keeping her hands firmly on the chair to keep it in place. "Come hold this."

"You'll fall." Ellie replied, shaking her head.

"Ellie. Please." Dina pleaded.

Ellie closed her eyes and sighed, hearing her voice so small and strained breaking her heart more than it ought to have. When she opened then she again gave a small nod, making the few steps to Dina's side and placing her hands on the chair.

Dina climbed on the bed, giving the chair another test shake which caused Ellie to hold it tighter and more steady in response before she placed her foot up on it, jumping off her foot on the ground to test her weight on it. It wasn't very steady but she wanted to do it.

"Be careful..." Ellie breathed quietly, meeting Dina's eye for a second. Dina pushed off on the bed again and brought both her feet up, holding the back for balance as she wobbled precariously.

"You're gonna fall." Ellie stated, doing her best to hold the chair as still as she could on the uneven surface with the new weight of Dina.

The black-haired woman looked at her defiantly before looking up at the ceiling and slowly, with much effort and very little grace, straightened her legs until she could just barely touch the ceiling.

When she accustomed herself to balancing at this height, she reached back into her pockets and pulled out the packet of stars, pulling one of the larger ones and peeling back the sticky tape on the other side before sticking it to the ceiling.

She smiled as she looked back down at Ellie, the corners of her lips threatening to droop when she noticed that she didn't share her same enthusiasm for her accomplishment.

She shook her head stubbornly and looked back up, placing another large one a measured distance from the first, closely followed by a third. This time she only smiled to herself as she looked down at the back, jiggling her hand to toss around the different sizes in the bag to locate the one she wanted. Delicately pulling them out, she too began to place them in a pattern she had clearly memorized.

Ellie's arms were beginning to ache from the intensity she was having to hold the chair to cause Dina not to wobble and fall but she couldn't stop, she wouldn't let her fall and she knew deep down she meant that in more ways than just holding a chair.

She should have been paying attention to what Dina was doing but she couldn't, instead, she only watched the way her hands moved so delicately and how her tongue poked out the corner of her mouth while she concentrated on whatever it was she was doing.

She didn't really consider the fact that someone could be so beautiful from this angle but here Dina was proving everything wrong again. With a sigh she shook and dropped her head, her eyes following the curves of Dina's body, remembering them as if she was still touching them with her own hands.

Her eyes finally came to eye level, in line with her butt and she stared for a moment too long before she caught herself and snapped her attention back up, her cheeks flushed and the heat coursing through her body.

"Okay..." Dina finally spoke, cranking her head back to admire her work. "I think I'm done."

Dina placed her hands to the back of the chair again, moving to place her foot back on Ellie's bed but as she did so she lost her balance, her eyes shooting open wide as she began to topple.

Ellie was quick to act and she let go of the chair, that could get broken for all she cared, but she didn't want Dina to get hurt. Holding out her arms she caught Dina as she fell into her, her arms wrapping around her neck and she cushioned her into her body, her lower half still on the bed and holding most of her weight.

She swallowed hard, bringing her hands up to her upper back, and pulled her into her frame in a tight embrace. She didn't need to do that, she had already saved her from falling but maybe she needed that to stop herself falling.

Or maybe it would only make her fall further.

Ellie thought about ending the contact, putting some distance back between them but when Dina's face found home against her neck and her arms locked behind it, it just made it that more impossible.

"I told you you'd fall." Ellie finally managed to choke out when her contact burnt just a little too much.

Ellie didn't hear it but she could feel with wind leave Dina's mouth as she snorted through her nose.

Dina broke the contact, removing her arms and pushing away from Ellie, her face lingering close to hers and their eyes meeting painfully close for a second before she pulled back, jumping off the bed and removing the chair. "Thank you."

"So...?" Ellie asked vaguely, glancing up at the ceiling before down at Dina.

"Get in bed." Dina rolled her eyes before instructing her.

"What? Why?" She asked her face flushing red with a million thoughts of why Dina would ask that of her, only wanting one to be the truth.

"Just do it, please?" She pleaded again, lingering at the side of Ellie's bed until she began to move.

Ellie sighed and decided to again comply with her request. She tentatively climbed on her bed, not bothering to get under the covers and laid on her back, resting her hands awkwardly on her stomach when she realized she didn't know what to do with them. When Dina didn't move, she turned her head to look at her.

Dina smiled at her, a mixture of both happiness and sadness as she shuffled over to the bedroom light switch and switched it off, engulfing the room in darkness.

Ellie kept her eyes fixed firmly on her as she came back over, slower this time as she found her way in the dark.

"Move over." Dina requested and when Ellie shuffled towards the wall more she flopped beside her on her back, looking up to the ceiling.

Ellie kept her eyes on Dina, studying what lines of her face she could make out in the darkness and when she turned to face her she wanted to smile at her but she couldn't, her heart simply hurt too much.

"What are you doing..." Dina whispered, the corner of her lips barely curling up into a smile before she raised her hand to point at the ceiling, her head following it. "Look up."

Ellie swallowed and slowly turned her head, her eyes immediately watering when she saw the display on the ceiling.

"Is that..." she trailed off, her voice failing her.

"Orion's belt." She smiled, big this time and full before turning her head back to Ellie's, watching the way her face cycled through a mix of emotion. "Yep."

"How did you..." she again paused, feeling her throat tighten as she studied the stars closely, following the line of each one as they scattered across her ceiling.

"I know what it looks like like the back of my hand by now." She spoke softly, her eyes continuing to flutter between each of Ellie's features. "Do you like it?"

"I love it." She whispered, wishing she could turn to the woman beside her and change one word, tell her that she loved her.

Dina reached over, taking Ellie's hand in her own and shifted it between them, entwining their fingers and giving three tight squeezes. "I hope when you can't sleep you can look up to it and it'll help you."

There was a silence as Ellie struggled to find the words to express to Dina just how much this gesture meant to her. She couldn't think of a single moment when someone had cared enough to be this concerned about her and do something about it.

It took her back to the countless nights they had laid under the stars together and she felt more at ease than she had since they had returned from their break. No matter what happened she just couldn't seem to forget. It's like the world didn't want her to, throwing everything at her to make sure she never did.

"Dina?" Ellie said softly, her name on her lips already feeling too familiar again.

"Yeah?" She asked, keeping her eyes cast to the ceiling.

"You know I really like you too, right?" Ellie said quietly, only loud enough for them to hear it.

"I know." she whispered back just as quietly.

"I just wanted you to know because I never said it before." Ellie admitted, still keeping her eyes fixed on her face. "I just needed to make sure you knew."

Dina's hand again tightened on her own and for how beautiful the gesture was she wished the light was on so she could see her face again, see the expression and have a better idea of just what she was thinking. It was all out in the open now, no hiding behind the fact that she hadn't ever said anything about liking her more than a friend. She knew it wouldn't make it easier for Dina and maybe that was the point, considering she couldn't make the decision herself to choose her and she couldn't express that she wanted her not to choose Jesse.

The longer she stared the more she couldn't help the smile that tugged at the corner of her lips. It felt too good having Dina again next to her leaving her almost feeling normal again after everything and it was too easy to pretend in these moments that everything was okay again and they weren't keeping a big secret from someone they cared about.

"I'm going away tomorrow." Dina finally spoke as she opened her eyes, turning her head enough to look at Ellie. "I won't be here to make sure you stay out of trouble."

"What are you talking about?" Ellie replied, scrunching her nose.

"I won't be around to make sure you're sleeping, so I thought that when you go to bed instead of lying awake and looking up at the blank ceiling, you can at least stare at the stars and know I'll be looking up at them too and well, maybe... maybe you'll actually be able to sleep." Dina took a deep breath, reaching up to rub at her eyes as they watered. "It's like you said, you could always use it to find your bearings and I want you to know that when you see them I'm thinking about you too."

"Dina..." Ellie swallowed, rolling on to her side to really look at her in the pale light from the lights outside her window. "You don't think about me that often..." she mumbled, her own words wounding her.

"I think about you all the time." Dina quickly replied to squash back any doubts that she knew Ellie was having before rolling on her own side to match her pose. "You know, I just shouldn't think about you as much as I do."

"Why?" Ellie asked, looking down and playing with the fingers on Dina's hand.

"You know why, Ellie." she said weakly as if the words were catching in her own throat. "But I can't seem to stop."

"Why are you telling me this?" Ellie shook her head, stealing her attention away from Dina's hand back to her face.

"I don't know." Dina sighed, exhaling hard through her nose as she made the decision to move closer to her friend, slipping her free hand over her cheek and rubbing her thumb over the soft skin in the way she knew Ellie liked. "I just sort of want you to know that because... Because I might not be able to always say it."

"I don't want you to stop saying it though." Ellie whispered, feeling scared the second the words left her mouth as she realized how intimate the conversation had quickly become and how desperate for her attention she must have been coming across but she couldn't help herself.

"I know." Dina closed her eyes, her expression pained in a way that hurt Ellie to see but she still moved closer, pressing her forehead firmly to hers.

"Then don't stop." she challenged, shifting her head until their lips were only inches apart.

"Ellie..." Dina breathed and just when Ellie thought she was going to close the distance that she couldn't herself she pushed her hand against her chest, holding her the measured distance apart so that their lips couldn't meet. "I want you to try and get some sleep, okay?"

Ellie closed her eyes and only nodded, falling on to her back again, and instead of Dina following suit, she looked for her approval before sneaking her body in against her side and resting her head on her chest. Ellie pulled her arm around her, holding her close to her body and opened her eyes, keeping them fixed to the ceiling, staring so long that the stars quickly blurred and were no longer star-shaped but looked more like the real thing.

Dina laced their fingers together, holding her hand tighter than she thought she ever had.

Ellie wasn't sure what to think anymore.

She tried staying away from Dina and that didn't work. She tried being with Dina and that didn't work either. So what was she meant to do? Every look from Dina, every word and every touch caused her to come undone and lose any resolve that she had gained in her absence. She wasn't sure how she was meant to get over her crush when she unraveled every time. She both wanted to tell her all the thoughts in her head and she wanted to keep them all guarded against her so she couldn't have any ammo next time she came around but even that didn't work, she always seemed to know what was on her mind. She couldn't even keep the fact that she wasn't sleeping a secret from her and she hadn't even spoken to her about it or barely seen her but she must have seen her at some point to come to that observation. Regardless of her reluctance to share too much, maybe she really had been thinking about her as much as she said she was. Why else would she go to as much of an effort just to make sure she was okay when she was no longer down the hall from her? There had to be something more to the gesture that she couldn't quite put her finger on. She wished she could curse her for doing something so sweet that made her fall more in love with her.

Was all this worth getting her heart broken every day over?

 


 

Ellie wasn't surprised when she ended up at Cat's party at the bar on Friday night the week after her encounter with Dina. After all, she had promised her she would attend, and even when she thought about pulling out the idea of getting drunk appealed to her more than it ever had before.

And more importantly, she hadn't seen hide nor hair of Dina since she had returned from visiting her parents. She had caught sight of her one morning when she was entering her room and she had only shaken her head at her before she disappeared into her room, the feeling of complete and utter sadness enveloping her senses that day and she wasn't sure why but she didn't get the opportunity to ask why. Ellie had only sent one text that had been ignored, quickly getting the hint. The stars on her ceiling both gave her comfort and ripped it out from under her. She couldn't stop thinking about her every night when she lay on her bed staring up at them, but she also couldn't bring herself to tear them down especially if it was her last link to her.

When she arrived at the counter she ordered a whiskey neat and when it was placed in front of her she brought it to her lips and immediately downed it as if she was drowning her problems but as she placed the glass back down she could see them at the bottom of it so she ordered another. When she quickly downed that one and still nothing had changed she ordered a third, this time deciding to nurse this one for a little longer.

With a sigh she turned around, leaning against the counter for support as she watched the band play and she remembered when she had been tricked up on stage. It had been a rush and she was glad she had swallowed her shyness down long enough to do it but it was something she never wanted to repeat but then she quickly remembered the promise she had made to Cat and her mouth went dry. She wasn't the kind of girl who liked the spotlight and maybe she could talk her into a solo show with just the two of them instead of a whole bar.

She sipped her drink, watching with narrow eyes as all the people on their feet on the floor danced and sang along to the music. She wanted to enjoy it, she always loved live music when the band was good but her heart just wasn't in the right place so she listened silently and sipped her drink, ordering a new one when she had finished.

She smiled, perking up a little when Cat came into her view and when Cat hugged her, she hugged her back.

"Hey, you." Cat smiled, looking at her through narrowed eyes. "I was hoping you'd make it."

"I said I would, didn't I?" she rolled her eyes, resting her arm back on the bar. "Just don't ask me to get up there and sing today and I'll stick around."

"Wouldn't dream of doing that to you." Cat grinned, taking a spot beside her. "We're still going to hang out afterwards, right?"

"Yeah, of course." Ellie nodded. "Got the show we're going to watch all lined up for you."

"Oh yay." Cat laughed sarcastically. "Can't wait. I'll let you decide this-"

Ellie had intended to listen, she really had but the second her eyes caught sight of Jesse she could no longer make sense of what she was saying. She gulped, suddenly feeling small in her surroundings and when Dina stepped out from behind him and he draped his arm over her shoulder she suddenly felt like throwing up. She tensed her hand at her side, it suddenly feeling more clammy than it ever had before and she lifted her hand to tug at the collar of her shirt.

"Are you okay?" Cat asked, placing a hand on Ellie's arm.

"Sorry." Ellie shook her head hard. "What were you saying?"

Cat turned her head to where Ellie was staring and smiled. "Oh, Jesse is here." she waved, attracting his attention and calling him over.

"What is he doing here?" Ellie asked. "This isn't exactly his scene."

"Oh, I invited him. He said he had a really good time last time." Cat grinned, nudging her with her hip. "And I thought you might like a friend here so you're not standing all alone here and broody."

Ellie hummed and greeted Jesse and Dina when Cat did, trying to stay on the outskirts of the conversation by quietly sipping her drink. While Dina refused to look her in the eye, choosing to look at anything but her, Ellie for once held her gaze on her, trying to catch her eye and get a glimpse of anything she was feeling but Dina wouldn't even grant her that.

It made Ellie angry, seeing her here and beautiful and doing everything to avoid looking at her but she couldn't express that. As much as she wanted to yell at her, scream at her and shake her to get her to come to her senses but she couldn't do a single thing but pray she would look up.

But then she was both confused and angry as the Dina in front of her now was different one to the Dina at the farm and she couldn't figure out if it was because of her or if it was because the Dina there and the Dina here were two different people. She had been so carefree and happy, her smile wide and her head always thrown back as she laughed there but here she was quiet and reserved, only speaking when she was spoken to and offering nothing of value to the conversation at hand. Her eyes looked her up and down, sizing her up and how she now stood so unconfidently with her head low.

Ellie hated seeing her like that, preferring to see the woman she had grown to love as carefree as she was before, not this shell of a person who was standing in front of her now.

Maybe it was all her and she did this to Dina.

As quickly as the thoughts all rushed to her head they were quick to go, the alcohol she had consumed earlier making it hard to focus on any one point for an extended period of time. She wanted to piece it together, to even be so bold as to just ask her but her mouth wasn't connecting correctly with her brain, and when she thought she was saying something she really had said nothing at all.

Jesse and Dina were quick to excuse themselves followed by Cat soon after and Ellie was thankful for it, finishing her drink and quickly finding another.

The familiar buzz of being drunk was beginning to overwhelm her senses even further but she didn't care. Every time she brought the glass to her lips she would catch a glimpse of Jesse or Dina over the rim and she couldn't help but watch them from afar. They didn't do anything untoward that would make her feel so vehemently jealous but she couldn't help the cruel monster that was making it's home in her chest.

She had a taste of Dina and she wanted more, not whatever they had become now and certainly not having to watch her with someone else.

But even if it wasn't Jesse she was with, it could have just as easily been anyone else.

Ellie gripped the glass tighter, biting back the heat that lingered in her chest, urging the coolness of the glass to cool her temper down but it didn't help and she hated that part of her that was beginning to rear its ugly head.

Ellie met Dina's eyes when she finally looked up from her table with Jesse and stared at her. The fact that she was now holding her gaze did nothing to squash the anger bubbling below the surface. In fact, she was sure she was making it worse as she looked at her with big doe eyes when Jesse's head was turned.

She downed the rest of her drink, pushing away from the bar and heading to the door for some air. Once outside she leaned against the wall and took a deep breath of the crisp air before she closed her eyes. She didn't want to feel the same anger she felt when she was younger, remember the way it consumed her body, and nothing anyone could do or say would take it away. Joel had spent too long teaching her to control it for her to lose it all now. She wasn't sure how long she had been there for when she felt a presence beside her and she opened her eyes. As if all her thoughts had manifested into the image before her, Dina stood there, her curious eyes watching her.

"You're drinking too much." she said softly and for only the second time this evening, her eyes met Ellie's.

"So, you and Jesse, huh?" Ellie asked, crossing her arms defensively across her chest doing her best not to look at Dina's face, knowing her tough demeanor would instantly crack the second she did.

"Ellie..." Dina trailed off and looked down, rubbing her forearm nervously. "You don't understand."

She snorted and pursed her lips. "So do I just forget everything that happened? Because that might be easy for you but I can't just forget."

"I didn't lie to you, Ellie." Dina said softly, her fists now clenched at her side. "I meant everything I said."

"Then why are you doing this?" She asked, her voice faltering and betraying her when her eyes settled on Dina's tired face.

"Because I can't be with you!" Dina screamed in frustration, throwing her arm to the side, tears welling behind her brown eyes.

"Why not?" Ellie challenged when she saw her walls faltering as her own had and she reached out to grab her wrist.

Dina snatched her hand away, causing Ellie's arm to fall roughly at her side watching as her green eyes conveyed nothing but hurt.

"You expect me to give up everything for you?" Dina yelled through tears, her only aim now being to hurt her feelings deciding it would be easier for her that way. "I would lose everything."

"Jesse?" Ellie asked with a laugh, shaking her head.

"You're so clueless, Ellie. You just don't get it." she growled frustrated.

"Then make me get it." Ellie finally screamed back, losing her temper and being unable to keep her voice low any longer.

"It's not that simple." she yelled back but when she opened her mouth to continue, she closed it, watching as Ellie panted heavily.

"This is fucking bullshit." Ellie muttered, bringing her hand up to rub at the bridge of her nose.

"Do you honestly think I want to hurt you? Do you think this doesn't kill me? It's either this or I never fucking get to see you again." Dina growled, taking a step towards her and shoving her so hard in the shoulder that she stumbled back.

"You sure are fooling me." Ellie said quietly as she caught her footing and crossed her arms over her chest, rolling her eyes and looking to the side.

"Wow." Dina laughed and it was humorless and cruel. "You honestly think that little of me? Ellie, I want you to understand one thing-"

"You know what, I'm sick of doing this every time. Leave me the fuck alone, Dina." Ellie growled, low and even through clenched teeth as she glared at her.

As soon as the words left Ellie's mouth she wished she could have taken them back. The look on Dina's face changed from that of anger to sadness or whatever could be deemed a lower feeling than that, Ellie wasn't sure but she didn't like it nor had she ever seen that kind of pain on Dina's face before. When Dina took a step away from her she took a tentative step forward and reached out for her arm, hoping the contact would be enough to convey that she didn't mean it. That it would be enough to make her forget.

"Dina..." she mumbled softly.

"Don't fucking touch me, Ellie." she whispered only backing away further before turning around and running.

Ellie wasn't sure where she was going but she figured it was as far away from her as she could get on two legs.

She never thought that anything she did or said would cause another human being to run from her but here she was, having that effect on the one person she wanted near and it hurt more than she could have imagined.

Chapter Text

Ellie exhaled deeply, wiping the sweat from her brow with the back of her arm. She reached down and grabbed her bottle from her bag, taking a deep breath before she brought it to her lips and chugged what was left.

The weather was heating up more and making being out in the sun more unbearable, especially for someone so pale who would rather be cold than too hot. She knew that people appreciated the change but she was definitely someone who didn't, especially because it meant she would have to show more skin to get cool. She was already wearing the shortest soccer shorts she could bring herself to wear, and as she panted she rolled up her sleeves, showing even paler upper arm skin if that was even possible. The time on the farm had been kind to her though, giving her usually exposed skin a slightly olive complexion by her pale standards.

She whipped her head around, looking for any sign of the raven-haired girl who had haunted her dreams since they returned from their break together but she wasn't there. She was never there anymore. Even when she normally would have been there pretending not to be watching her train she would still be there off to the side also watching Jesse, but now there was no sign of her. Jesse's team hadn't been training today so maybe that was the common denominator that was missing, explaining why she wasn't out today.

She tried not to let that fact upset her but she couldn't help it. Even though she knew deep down that wasn't indeed a certain fact and that wasn't the reason, she spun it in her head until it was her fault. If blaming yourself could be made into a career, she would have ample skill to succeed.

Ellie looked down, pinching the bridge of her nose. She was tired. Both tired of school and tired of looking for a girl who had used her and quickly ditched her the second the better opportunity was back but her heart still wouldn't allow her to stop. It's like it wanted her to suffer, not allowing her to forget a single thing about her or a single thing that happened between them. She kept over-analyzing everything, wondering if there was something she could do to change the outcome of it all, or if there was something she could have said. Every time though she wished that she had never put Dina in the position to kiss her, or at least never gave in to her emotions and kissed her back. That way she would still have plausible deniability of her feelings and she wouldn't feel as discarded as she did now.

Maybe she wasn't enough and hadn't given Dina enough of a reason to stick around. Maybe she wasn't a good kisser or a good lover to her.

Why wasn't she good enough?

"Williams!" Maria hollered from the middle of the pitch, beckoning her back over.

Ellie allowed her one more quick glance around just to make sure she hadn't missed her even though she was certain in the first place she hadn't but she still wasn't there and with a sigh she jogged back over, resigning to the fact that she likely wouldn't be there again.

"Ellie!"

She looked back over her shoulder, her name being called stealing her attention away from Maria, and for what felt like the millionth time since she returned from spring break, her heart dropped, this time so far in her gut that she wasn't sure it would ever come back up again. Her eyes took a moment to focus, her heart beating so fast that it made that task difficult but eventually they settled on Jesse as he stormed over, his feet looking as if they would cause earthquakes every time they stamped on the ground.

Ellie swallowed the lump in her throat and walked over to meet him in the middle. She had thought this conversation was going to happen many times now, in fact, every time Jesse contacted her now, or she saw him she thought that that was going to be the day that she lost him but now she was confident that this was it, Jesse had never yelled her name in such a way before and she could feel the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck stand erect.

"Jesse..." she began when she was close enough, trailing off as she looked away from his angry expression. "I wanted to tell you."

She wasn't sure she had ever seen him look that way before. He was too laid back to ever let much affect him, everything was always like water off a ducks back and he quickly forgave and forgot. She knew this would be different.

"Are you fucking kidding me, Ellie?" Jesse said through clenched teeth, his voice strained as he tried to contain the volume and his fists clenched tightly at his side. "How could you?"

"I didn't mean for it to happen, Jesse." She said softly with a shake of her head, taking a tentative step towards him. "You have to believe that. I didn't want to hurt you."

"You fucked my girlfriend, Ellie. What the fuck is wrong with you?" He yelled, pushing his palm into her shoulder and shoving her back.

"Back off, Jesse." She growled back, regaining her composure and steadying her feet on the ground suddenly feeling anger for the fact he was shoving her around, bringing memories back from when Dina had done it. "I didn't fuck your girlfriend, you weren't even together."

"What the fuck does it even matter?" He laughed but there was nothing jovial about it, the edge to it causing Ellie to immediately look down. "I thought you were my friend."

"I'm so sorry, Jesse..." Ellie replied with another shake of her head, hoping he would just understand. "It's all my fault. Dina she..."

"Of course it's your fucking fault." He spoke harshly using a tone so harsh Ellie thought wasn't even possible for him as he shoved her again, taking a step closing to her when she stumbled back. "Do you even care about me? About her?"

Ellie glanced around quickly, taking note of the people who's attention had turned towards them now. She could see the people watching, whispering about them, some moving closer as they sensed the tension and she hated it. She wasn't the kind of person to want to be the center of attention, especially over something like this.

"Of course I do, Jesse. You're my best friend and I..." Ellie paused, looking back up into Jesse's eyes. "I really care about her, too..."

"Fuck." Jesse groaned, shoving Ellie for the third time as if the gesture would take all the pain he felt for her away.

This time Ellie lifted her arm and pushed against his, shoving it away from her body. "Stop fucking pushing me, Jesse." she snapped, beginning to feel angrier about this whole confrontation, for how he decided to do it here and not in private.

"Or what?" He asked, this time bringing both his hands up to push at her shoulders with more force than before. "You've already fucked my girlfriend, what else could you possibly do to me?"

"I said don't fucking push me, Jesse." she yelled back, placing both hands to his chest and shoving him back like she had, putting all her anger and sadness into the gesture. "If you want to hit me then just do it because I'm not fucking talking about this here anymore."

Jesse clenched his fist at his side, glancing down to his side at it and for a second Ellie thought he was considering it and wondered if he would do it, if he would actually hit her. She knew Jesse would never hit a girl, he just had that respect instilled in his bones but she wasn't just some girl and he knew that. She could handle herself. They had tussled many times when they were younger, earning many bruises and black eyes but they had never actually hit each other and she wondered if deep down he remembered that.

He snarled, scrunching his nose as he did so in a menacing kind of way. "It wouldn't be worth it to hit you. You're nothing, Ellie. You're nothing to me, and you're certainly nothing to her."

That was enough to cause something to snap in her. Ellie had spent her entire life teetering on the edge because of feeling that she wasn't something, that she would never amount to anything and she would remain being a nobody to everyone for the rest of her life. Joel had saved her from that feeling, slowly pulling her away from the edge and back to relative safety but there was always that cliff waiting for her in the back of her mind, waiting for the right moment to push her back towards it. She knew he didn't mean it, just something said to wound her, to drag her down to how he was feeling but little did he know she was already there.

"Fuck you." she growled, charging forward and wrapping her arms around his body she tackled him to the ground.

He groaned when his back made contact with the earth, the back of his head slamming into the dirt and she bounced off him, quickly losing her holding and rolling on the dry grass, scraping up her exposed knees and elbows from the force. They both quickly rose to their feet and just as they were about to come together again they were separated by an arm placed between their bodies.

"Enough." Maria frowned pushing Ellie back before pushing Jesse back to create space between them. "Are you two going to calm down or will I need to call campus security?"

Ellie glared at him and he met her stare back tenfold before her face softened and she looked down, the stinging in her grazes pulling her attention away from the tense situation at hand. She wanted to hate him, wanted to yell, and curse him for being so clueless but she couldn't do that, not when she had been stupid enough to believe everything Dina had said to her on the farm. It couldn't have been true when this was their situation now, when the moment it wasn't just them she was a nobody to her again.

Jesse shook his head as he exhaled deeply. "Sorry." he glanced at Ellie before turning to Maria. "Sorry. We're cool."

"Ellie?" Maria asked, turning to face her with that same stern expression she always wore when she was coaching but this time there was a gleam of something behind her eye, a hint of concern and worry.

"Yeah, we're cool." she finally repeated, dropping her gaze to the ground. "Sorry."

"Alright. Ellie, you're done. Go cool off. And you, get out of my sight. I don't want to see you around here again." Maria replied with a shake of her head, folding her arms and remaining still until the two of them walked off.

Ellie kept her eyes down, rubbing at the back of her sore neck as she headed over towards her gear, Jesse silent at her side. She quickly tossed all her gear in her bag then slung it over her shoulder before looking at Jesse who had stopped beside her. He motioned to the bleachers with his head and she nodded and followed him, taking a seat beside him when he sat down. There was a silence as they sat there and Ellie thought that while it wasn't entirely uncomfortable it certainly didn't feel right and she hated that their friendship had come to this.

Was this going to be the end of it?

"Jesse... look, I need you to understand..." she began when she couldn't take the silence anymore before being cut off him.

"I love her, Ellie." he interjected, turning his solemn face to look at her.

"I know..." she trailed off, leaning forward with her arms on her knees, her hands clasped tightly together. "I know you do."

"Do you..." he trailed off, looking down at the ground as if the words pained him to say, as if he didn't want to know the answer. "... Do you love her, I mean?"

Ellie gripped her own hands tighter, ringing her fingers as she felt the tears well behind her eyes.

She thought back to the first time they had met when Dina had appeared beside her at the beer pong table. How her hand felt over hers when she held it, and what she felt when her body pressed up against her own. Back then at that moment, it felt like only the two of them were there, Dina making her forget about all the rest until they had won and they had all cheered for them, for Dina because she had carried them and because she was the most beautiful girl in the room.

She remembered the feeling of Dina stepping beside her, catching her eyes staring at her rather than what she had been talking to her about but she had still listened, still had taken in what she was saying regardless of her lack of attention on that subject and Ellie felt sure she had never felt that comfortable with someone before that moment, not that fast, not when she had barely known them. She couldn't forget the way her eyes glistened under the light of the moon and the stars, the way her freckles stood out on her olive skin, or the way she smiled at her and she knew she had never seen a smile that bright, had never had someone's smile make her heart thump louder in her chest in that way.

Dina had left her then, with a narrowing of her eyes and one of her smiles and while Ellie didn't know exactly what it was she felt, she knew that she didn't want to spend another moment not knowing her.

She had taken her jacket with her that night and that was her tie to her.

But that had changed the second they arrived back to her dorm that night, she wouldn't ever forget the moment Jesse had told her he met a girl and the second her name spilled from his lips. The way her heart sunk was unforgettable and the numbness that washed over her was something she hadn't experienced since she had been a child.

Ellie thought of their friendship and how she couldn't bring herself to ignore the stares or the touches, even if at the time they were innocent. She couldn't ignore it but she pushed it away because her best friend like her and eventually they would date at her insistence as she pushed them closer and closer together because maybe for Jesse she could ignore it.

She had to watch on the sideline as they flirted, as they kissed and touched and she had to ignore it, pretending like it didn't bother her when deep down she was dying. She had to pretend like the fact that Dina was now ignoring her was fine and she couldn't care less but every time she came back and they fell into old habits only for her to leave again, it killed her a little more inside.

And now after their time at the farm, after Dina had called her beautiful, had kissed her, had touched her and made her feel like she was someone important she knew she was in love with her. What she felt like might have been true earlier, she knew for certain now.

She was in love with Dina.

But she loved Jesse too.

Jesse who had been there for her entire adult life. Who had always been there in her corner when she needed someone to fight for her, even if it didn't involve him, who would fight anyone for her. The one who had been there for her for every milestone with Joel, who had helped her regain some normal people skills when she wanted nothing to do with anyone. When he had persued a friendship with her despite how she had pushed him away, still he came back every time until her walls fell down and she let him in.

When it came down to it, he had always been there for her.

Ellie looked down at the ground, looking at the tears that had marked the dry dirt at her feet and she sniffed, reaching up to rub at her eyes and hoping Jesse hadn't noticed. She didn't want to do it but there was only one thing she could do.

"It was a mistake." she began, swallowing down the bile from her words that threatened to escape. "I made a mistake and you shouldn't hold it against Dina. If you want to be mad at anyone, you should be mad at me and if I could take it back I would." she swallowed again, the lies tasting like copper on her tongue. "I wanted to tell you... I was going to tell you."

"Ellie... What happened?" he asked, turning his face back to hers as he leaned forward to match her pose. "I don't understand."

"Dina she's... beautiful and funny and I was stupid and lonely. Cat and I had just broken up." she shrugged trying to get the awful feeling that overcame her body to leave it, but at least feeling slightly better for the fact that most of that sentence was the truth. "I think Dina was just being a good friend and I took advantage of her. I'm so sorry, Jesse."

"I told her I loved her, Ellie and she didn't say anything back." Jesse said barely above a whisper before taking a deep breath. "I was such an ass but I love her Ellie and I don't know if she loves me anymore."

Ellie sighed, continuing to stare hard at the ground. "She did tell me that she does love you, Jesse." She bit her cheek, deciding whether or not she should continue because she wouldn't be able to take it back once it left her mouth. "If you mean it, if you really love her, don't give up... You deserve it and she deserves someone kind like you."

"I'm sorry, Ellie..." Jesse shook her head as he continued to watch her, making a note of the way her face contorted in angst but not being able to comprehend why. "Are you okay?"

Ellie quickly wiped at her eyes again, swallowing back any sobs that tried to escape her body, and when she finally felt as if she had regained some kind of composure she turned to face him before bringing her arms up to examine the scapes from their earlier scuffle. "I'm okay, barely a scratch."

"No." Jesse said sternly. "Are you okay? With everything?"

"I'm okay, Jesse." she lied as she looked down, unable to look into his eyes. "Are you okay?"

"I'm okay." he repeated and Ellie wasn't entirely sure if it was a lie as well. "I was really mad. I still am really mad at you but I'm sorry for what I said before. I didn't mean it."

"Are you and Dina okay, then?" she asked, stretching her legs out in front of her, anything to take his attention away from her face.

"I dunno but I want to try." he said with a small nod, before reaching up to rub at the back of his head. "Ow. Lucky I've got a thick skull, huh?" he chuckled and it was quiet and almost distant but it was there.

"Yeah, and very few brain cells." Ellie added, her laugh sounding more like a ragged breath but she forced a smile as she looked up at him.

"You're looking good out there." Jesse nodded with his head towards her team who were still practicing, a quiet sadness resigned behind his eyes.

 


 

Ellie wasn't sure how many nights she spent laying awake. It was easy to lose count when they all went the same, always ending with her staring blankly up to the stars on her ceiling, always the same dull headache consuming all senses.

It was an odd feeling seeing them, bringing an odd mix of comfort and resentment but she couldn't bring herself to rip them down.

On the nights that she could look past everything that had happened while sleep wasn't easy, it still came easier than the nights she couldn't forget.

She wondered if Dina felt the same way or if she wasn't plagued as much as her because there wasn't some grand declaration on her ceiling.

Ellie peered harder at the stars, her vision slowly losing focus and she thought about what would happen if she just was able to take one of them down. Would it change the meaning or would it continue to haunt her? She wasn't sure why she always had a debate over such things knowing she couldn't touch it, not when Dina had put it up for her.

She felt angry, every night she lied awake she could feel the anger taking her more and more but she wasn't sure how to stop it. There were days when she felt her anger and hurt were justified and days where she felt like it wasn't. After all, Dina didn't have to choose her and she couldn't make someone be in love with her or even just love her and want to be around her if they didn't want to be.

Sometimes she wished she could though or maybe more fairly wished that she didn't have to be in love with her anymore so Jesse wouldn't get hurt if her other wish came true.

When she thought about the two of them in the same thought she felt bitter. Bitter in her mind and her body and bitter in her mouth, the thoughts always leaving a bad taste in her mouth. Sometimes due to her biting her cheek so hard it bled and others because she felt so sick the bile that rose up her throat threatened to escape, spilling into her mouth.

It had been a long time that she felt so fixated on something she felt sick but no amount of reasoning with herself would make it go away.

She feared running into them in the hallways, scared of what she might see or they might say to her but more so what she would do. Would she yell at them or burst into tears? She wasn't entirely sure, feeling like more of a wreck than she ever had.

She felt so lost and numb that she didn't know what she was doing anymore. She continued to go through the motions but it never felt the same as it did before, doing the bare minimum to get by.

Even soccer felt like a chore these days and while she still followed Maria's every order she didn't actually want to. It felt more like a distraction now rather than something she once enjoyed and she could tell her enthusiasm on the pitch was faltering due to it.

If the team noticed, they didn't say anything but she knew Maria did and every day she expected a phone call from Tommy or Joel to ask how she was doing but was thankful it never came. Maria checked up on her but Ellie never told her the truth, also knowing she didn't believe her, continuing to keep a watchful eye on her.

"Hey." Cat murmured, draping her arm over Ellie's bare stomach, moving closer to her side.

"Hey." Ellie muttered back dryly.

"Are you alright?" She asked, yawning as she shifted to sit up on her side, her tired eyes opening enough to peer at her.

"M'okay." Ellie said with a small nod, eyes remaining fixed to the ceiling.

"Look... I know that we agreed to not make a big deal out of this or anything, but if I'm going to stay over I at least need to be able to get some sleep." Cat said, her voice soft and teasing as she clumsily pressed her face in the crook of Ellie's neck.

"I'm sorry." Ellie sighed, exhaling deeply as she tried to focus on the feeling of Cat's lips against her skin but still, it was only those stars on her ceiling. "I just can't sleep."

"Not tired?" She asked, shifting her lips up to the hinge of her jaw then the corner of her lips before leaning up to look down at her, blocking her view of the ceiling.

"Just thinking too much." She admitted, blinking slowly as she stared at her face, her vision coming back into focus and feeling pinned underneath Cat's gaze.

"You want me to help with that?" Cat purred, dropping her lips to the front of her throat, placing a wet kiss to her pulsing jugular before dragging her mouth downwards to her collar bone.

Ellie didn't have much of a chance to protest as Cat's hand snuck under the sheets and between her legs, not that she wanted to. It had become a habit that she didn't seem to hate, though it brought along the guilt every time she let it happen but for a moment it at least brought some relief from the constant thinking.

But then there were nights like tonight when Cat would be on top, doing what she could to make Ellie unwind and forget but all she could do was stare at the stars on the ceiling and think about someone else touching her in a way that was decidedly different than Cat was until she couldn't take it anymore and flipped them so she didn't have to stare anymore. Didn't have to think about her anymore.

Cat had been trying to help her and she didn't deserve whatever this was but she couldn't bring herself to stop, the loneliness enough to drive her into her arms every time.

It wasn't fair, she knew that but she didn't have the strength to stop.

 


 

Ellie wasn't sure what it was but for the first time in a long time she felt so nervous she could throw up.

After tying her boots she sat back on the bench, gripping the side tightly with her hands as her foot twitched on the ground. She looked around at the rest of her team as they dressed and got ready, laughing and joking with each other but she couldn't join in. She didn't feel happy, she didn't even feel like she should be here today.

It was an important game, their first one of a two-game leg after reaching the last eight of the cup competition. They had to do well, especially to make the next game easier and it would mean they would go into the next leg feeling more at ease and not having to worry about playing catch up.

Ellie should have been ready but she wasn't.

She couldn't get everything that had happened out of her head and she didn't know if when she stepped out there if Dina or Jesse would be in the stands or if she would even want them to be. She wasn't sure how she would feel with them watching her.

She took a deep breath and held the bench tighter, her heart beating fast in her chest and when Maria came in to give them a pep talk she couldn't make out a single word of it no matter how hard she tried to listen.

As they stepped out on the pitch, the ground didn't feel so steady under her feet. She stamped her foot on the earth wondering why it felt so soft but when she looked up no one else seemed concerned so she shrugged it off, jogging on to the field.

She shook her head, memories of telling Jesse it had been a mistake flooding her senses. Dina on top of her and underneath, pressing searing kisses to her mouth came next and no amount of willing would take them away.

Lying to Jesse about how she felt might have been more of a mistake than she realized.

Ellie raised her arm to shield her eyes from the lights, had they always been that bright?

She scanned the bleachers, everyone a blurry mess but she could still make out the most important people. Jesse, Cat.

No Dina.

She breathed a short sigh of relief but that was quick to disappear as she settled on Jesse again. Was he even looking at her? She wasn't sure but her skin felt like it was burning and no amount of shaking her limbs gave her any relief.

They went through the warm-up drills and Ellie couldn't land a single shot on target that wasn't straight to the keeper. When she looked at Maria she didn't look back at her but she was shaking her head and she knew that was directed at her.

Was she going to bench her?

She wanted to go over there but her feet wouldn't carry her. She wanted to tell Maria that she should start, that she had been playing well for the rest of the season but she didn't really believe today that she should start. She knew she would have been angry if she wasn't picked through.

Despite her worries, she was picked to start and she internally struggled with that decision until the whistle blew and she no longer had time to debate whether or not she should as Maria to bench her.

The team took their spots on the field and when the opposition kicked the ball off she was sluggish to get going, missing an easy interception that almost lead to an opposing goal.

She bowed her head, the one thing you should never do in a game. It had been ingrained in her from a young age, no matter what happens, no matter what the score is you keep your head up and keep doing your best until the final whistle because you never know what's going to happen.

With a new resolve, she lifted her head just in time for the ball to be passed through to her feet and she ran towards goal, weaving passed the first two players, giving her a little more confidence but just as she was about to feed the ball out to the winger, a defender swooped in and easily took the ball from at her feet.

She hadn't seen or heard them coming.

She turned in time to see them easily string together passes and she should have been on the front foot after them to win the ball back but by the time she went to move they were already too far away to give chase.

She hit her palm against her thigh, cursing herself for lacking her usual awareness and again stole a glance towards the bleachers, feeling as if everyone's eyes were on her.

Did they want her off the field too?

She shook her head again, the game had just started, it was too early yet.

When the ball was passed out to the opposition wing she ran to go win it back, she had to do something to get things back on track for her team but as she made it to them and stuck out her leg to intercept the ball the winger pulled it back, causing her to dive in and overshoot, leaving them to easily dribble around her and push on down the line.

She felt stupid for diving in even though she felt certain she had it and quickly found herself barrelling down the line after them as fast as she could and making up ground being just a tad bit faster. She moved to pass them and cut them off but as she made the move to they shifted in front of her, causing Ellie to knock into her back and shove her forward into the ground.

Had she done it on purpose? She didn't think so but couldn't be certain. Either way, the whistle blew and it was loud in her ears signaling she had fouled her.

Ellie couldn't argue, instead, she only shook her head again, looking over to the sideline and tried to decipher Maria's expression. It was obvious she was angry she had given away a needless free-kick so close to the box but she couldn't read much else.

As her team members moved towards the box to make their wall they patted her on the back and told her not to worry about it but she wished they wouldn't.

Ellie stood the measured ten meters from the free-kick taker in the hopes to block the ball but as they made contact with the ball and it effortlessly sailed over her head she turned in time to watch it land top corner and there was nothing the goalie could have done.

The whistle blew again and the cheers from the opposition supporters made her heart sink.

As she moved back to her own half to kick off she glanced to the bleachers again but this time saw something she hadn't seen earlier.

Dina was now sat beside Jesse and she was looking at her, staring right at her, and the burning she felt earlier was tenfold. She wasn't sure why she was surprised, she had been glancing to the bleachers the entire time she had been on the field expecting to see her.

Ellie felt angry though and even she could admit it felt a little misguided. She had wanted to see Dina here and she also felt angry she wasn't. If Dina came it meant that maybe their friendship at least was somewhat salvageable even though she pretended she didn't want it to be for Jesse's sake. Yet when she showed up she also felt anger because what made her think she could just show up here when she had wanted nothing to do with her?

They kicked off and Ellie did her best to keep her mind focused on the game but she couldn't help her eyes from wandering.

While she encouraged Jesse initially to pursue what made him happy deep down she had hoped it wouldn't work. She still felt sick over that fact, it was a cruel thing to wish for your best friend but in return his happiness made her feel miserable. She hadn't seen them together since so there was a part of her that hoped they hadn't worked it out but there they were, taunting her with their relationship.

She shook her head and pressed forward, happy when the half time whistle blew and she sulked off, unable to look her team in the eye although they only tried to comfort her and make her feel better about her mistakes. They certainly didn't mean it that way but she could only take it as patronizing and it didn't help put her in a better mood.

Maria spoke, some searing speech about how they could come back from this but Ellie still couldn't listen, her eyes darting to Dina and Jesse and doing nothing to fix the heat rising in her chest.

The ref blew his whistle and the team went to take the field but Ellie paused, feeling a hand on her shoulder she turned around and met Maria's eyes. She couldn't hold them for long, feeling the worry that was held deeply in them.

"What's going on out there?" She asked, her voice even as she gave Ellie's shoulder a squeeze.

"Nothing, Coach." Ellie shook her head, folding her arms across her chest.

"Doesn't look like nothing, you're getting wrecked out there. Is this about the other day?" She questioned, her voice low as she attempted to get Ellie to look at her.

Ellie wondered if Maria would tell Tommy and if Tommy would tell Joel what had happened, she didn't think she would but the worry was always in the back of her mind. The last thing she wanted to do was explain this to him.

"No." Ellie said flatly, shrugging her shoulders to drop Maria's hand from it.

"Then get out there and get your head in the game, the team needs you." Maria said with authority, pushing at Ellie's shoulders to get her going towards the field.

The weight of her words and expectations did nothing to stop the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

Ellie tried her best but could do nothing to get into the game. When she had the ball, she lost it the second she was put under pressure. Her passes were skewed and never to the right place. If she had a shot it was always way off target and every time she messed up she would glance and see them all looking at her, judging her.

The team pulled together and managed to get one back, and Ellie decided that after today she would take a draw any day, her usual desire to win no matter what diminished.

Feeling a little better that they were now tied, she jogged back to receive the ball in her half from the defender and as she went to turn, the opposing striker zipped passed her, knocking her in the shoulder and causing her to fall forward as she took the ball, weaving through the defenders and slotting the ball home in the corner.

Ellie could only watch it happen and for the second time that evening, they capitalized on her mistakes. She watched as her team bowed and shook their heads and she felt angry for putting them in that position, wishing she could yell at them to keep their heads up and lead them to get the win but she couldn't do it.

The ref blew the whistle and she hit her palm hard against the ground in anger before she pushed herself to her feet, feeling more like a burden to her team than she ever had before.

Maria called for a sub and even though she shouldn't have been surprised she was when her number was called. She glanced around at everyone, at the bleachers, anyone, and for a moment thought about being defiant because she could pull it together and get the win for them but decided to head off, knowing she had done enough to hinder the team today.

When she crossed the sideline, the new striker heading on slapped her hand but it was an empty gesture. She wanted to take her boots off, throw them as far as she could and run. Too many people had seen how awful she had performed and she could hear their hushed whispers from the stands.

"Whatever is going on with you you need to sort it out." Maria said sternly as she firmly pressed the balled up bib into Ellie's hands.

Ellie scrunched her nose, pulling the fluro clothing over her head as she stepped passed her, mumbling under her breath. "I told you it's nothing."

"You're not being part of the team, playing like you're part of the team." Maria retorted, her lips pressed firmly into a straight line.

"I had one bad game is all, it's nothing." Ellie spoke coldly as she reached into her bag and pulled out her hoody, angrily pulling it on before she turned to face Maria.

"Cut the attitude, Williams, you're on the bench until you can prove to me your head is in it again" Maria replied, folding her arms across her chest as she turned back to monitor the game at hand. "Go sit down."

Ellie opened her mouth to argue before she decided it would be better to not say a thing. Better to be benched than kicked off the team.

She threw her body down on the seats, angrily crossing her arms and pulling her hood up on her head, peeking out from underneath it. She knew she would look like a brat but she just couldn't help it. At least sitting she wouldn't be able to see Jesse and Dina without turning around and she most definitely wasn't going to do that.

Ellie watched her team continue to struggle, the panic from earlier in the game continuing once she had been subbed off but they looked a little more put together without her messing it up in the middle. They did their best but when the final whistle blew they had to accept the defeat and they would have a battle on their hands in the next leg.

They all came off the field, heads lowered and Ellie wished she could say something that would make it better but her mouth was too dry and she was sure if she said anything she might cry, already blinking back the tears from her watering eyes so she kept her head as low as she could.

Maria instructed them back to the changing rooms, the entire team finding it tough to listen to the opposing team and supporters cheers. Ellie followed a measured distance behind them all, the weight of their loss hanging heavily on her shoulders and knowing it was her fault.

She threw herself into the corner, as far away from another person as possible as they all sat down, the air so thick with disappointment you could cut through it with a knife.

Maria stood in the middle of the room, turning briefly to look at every single one of the players. "Lift your heads up." She ordered, briefly lingering on Ellie before she continued. "We all knew this day would come eventually, you can't win every time."

There was a collective swallow as everyone looked up at their coach, silently agreeing.

"And to be fair, the fact that it's happened so late in the season hasn't made it any easier, if it had have happened months ago we would have gotten this chat out of the way and it wouldn't have felt so momentous." She continued, her voice getting more stern as she continued. "Teams lose. They pick themselves up and do better next time. You have another shot at beating this team, so what are you going to do? Are you going to take it?"

There was a silence as they all looked around at each other, Ellie choosing to keep her eyes cast down, feeling as if this was in a way directed at her.

"I said are you going to take it?" Maria yelled, spinning to look at them all.

"Yes, Coach!" They yelled back in unison, the atmosphere suddenly shifting.

"That's what I thought. Shower, get changed, go reflect on this loss and be ready to train one hundred and ten percent next week. We aren't going down without a fight." She finished, stopping to look at Ellie who still failed to look up. She shook her head and left.

The chatter started up after that, though not the usual cheerful banter it was still optimistic. With a sigh Ellie reached down and unlaced her boots, working to slip them off her feet.

When it suddenly went silent she looked up, the team all paused and looking at her.

"Hey, I asked if you were okay?" Victoria asked, tilting her head to the side.

Ellie swallowed the lump in her throat and bowed her head again. "I'm sorry, guys..."

Victoria laughed, closing the distance beside her and taking a seat, draping her arm over her shoulder. "Are you serious? We're a team, Ellie. We win together and we lose together."

"Victoria's right." Nora, the captain commented, stepping forward to rest her hand on Ellie's shoulder. "No one here is blaming you for the loss today so we don't want you blaming yourself."

The rest of the team affirmed the sentiment, most coming up to pat her back or squeeze her shoulder as Nora had. Victoria reached down and gave her knee a gentle squeeze before she got up to finish changing.

Ellie wasn't sure what to feel. It was nice to hear that they didn't blame her and while she wanted to wallow in self-deprecation, both theirs and Maria's words stuck with her.

Maybe the hand that had been dealt to her wasn't fair and maybe a few of the situations she had even created for herself but she didn't have to sit there and take it. She could pick herself up and move on.

She wasn't sure she could do it yet but suddenly the option was there in the back of her mind.

"Do you wanna grab some food with us tonight, Ellie?" Nora asked, slinging her bag over her shoulder.

Ellie considered her offer, looking down at the ground for a moment before she looked back up at them. She had always said no, it was just easier that way and a loss certainly didn't make the offer any more tempting.

"Sure." She said with a nod and the answer surprised herself.

The team beamed at her and motioned for her to follow. Quickly she changed her pants, slipping on her converse before following after them.

She had to admit it felt nice to leave as a group, surrounded by a group of people that had her back. She felt a smile tug at the corner of her lips as they chattered around her, including her in their conversations and making her feeling important. Victoria getting close enough to her to wrap her arms around her shoulders and pull her close and while Ellie normally would have shrugged the gesture off, now it felt nice to belong somewhere when she felt so lost.

Chapter Text

When she arrived back to her room and opened the door, she quickly tossed her bag down thankful to be done with her morning classes. She looked around at the cleanliness and for a moment thought she had wandered into the wrong room before she realized that she had just cleaned because she was still trying to get her shit together. She sat down at her desk, picking up her journal and flipping through the pages and realizing that the more time that passed, the more angrier and numb she had become. The pictures and poems went from happy and hopeful, sketches of Dina on the farm with the animals, or standing still looking out over the land to dull landscapes, sketched effortlessly and without heart with poems of sadness and regret. However, the most recent pages were more hopeful and while she didn't feel comfortable enough to start writing again, the last few pages were filled with sketches of her friends hanging out on the grass or kicking a ball around, even just sketches of them laughing.

She smiled, closing the journal and placing it down, her hand lingering on the cover for a moment before she dropped it in her lap.

She closed her eyes, thinking of them all and then of Cat. At first, when Cat came around she kissed her but it wasn't the same. She didn't want it to be or expect it to be but she still couldn't help but compare them every time and she wondered if Dina felt the same way when she kissed Jesse or if she felt the same way she did when he kissed her. The thought made her angry and so she just kissed Cat harder in an effort to make them disappear, her touches becoming rough and more urgent until she had Cat pinned underneath her and she came undone under her advances. She liked hearing Cat in her ear when she did for a moment making her feel like she wasn't such a fuck up, that she could make someone feel loved and wanted without wilting them and making them run away.

She wondered if Cat realized it wasn't like it was before but if she did she didn't say anything and Ellie didn't care to bring it up. She wanted to be able to love Cat and she did but not in the way she thought she needed to. She wondered if it had been like Dina had said, that she loved her but she wasn't in love with her. She could keep trying but she wasn't sure she would ever be able to get there.

Regardless of it all, Cat had been there for her as a friend more than anything and expected nothing from her in return. They continued to be close and sleep together but there was never the expectation that they were anything more than friends. She was only concerned with helping her be better, by picking her up and making sure she was doing everything she was meant to achieve that. Ellie tried to do the same for her and while she wasn't sure she was too much help considering Cat of all people had their shit together, she still was there when she needed her to be. Whether it was just listening to her complain, which she rarely did, or needing an outlet in other ways which she offered herself to be, she was there. She didn't ever want Cat to feel like she was being used by her so she made a conscious effort to make sure she knew that she did in fact cherish her and while no boundaries had been set or talks of feelings had been had, that the relationship was still meaningful to her.

With a sigh, she crossed her arms behind her head and leaned back in her chair, staring up at the dull ceiling above her desk.

Ellie didn't know if she had ever been more bored in her life. She had school to keep her busy, and in her free time she trained, played guitar, or drew but even during those she had a sense of emptiness she wasn't sure how to fill. She knew she needed that though, the monotonousness of a routine that would afford her time to get everything together and be a better person but it didn't stop the feeling of boredom that crept its way into the back of her mind. She wanted more but she knew she would only get that by working hard.

She missed Jesse.

While they appeared to be on good terms after their confrontation, she hadn't really heard much from him, not that she had been able to reply to many of his messages. She would have been lying if she said she hadn't expected as much, but what she didn't expect was how she couldn't bring herself to forget everything. While she had obviously hurt him and betrayed his trust, as much as she hated to admit it, he had hurt her with his words too and she didn't find it as easy to ignore her feelings as she thought she would. She had spent too much time working on not dwelling on that though and maybe that's why she found it hard to connect with him.

She missed Dina too, though she tried not to think about her anymore too. It just took her to a place she no longer wanted to be, though sometimes when she played guitar she opened her door a little and wondered if she ever listened. She hoped she did and that it brought her as much comfort as it did herself when she played the songs she used to play for her.

With a dramatic sigh, she heaved herself to her feet and grabbed her bag as she headed out the door, quickly making her way to the quad to have lunch with her friends.

 


 

Ellie toyed with the ball at her feet, rolling it under her sole a few times before dragging it back and juggling it effortlessly, switching between her right and left foot before she kicked it a little harder over to Nora for her to continue keeping it up.

She watched as her friends joked as they kicked the ball to each other, smiling and laughing like their days were the most carefree of their lives.

Ellie couldn't help but smile when she hung out with them. It wasn't easy to say what was on her kind around them yet, or offer up conversation as easily as it was for them but they still made her feel included, asking her questions or checking in on her when she was quiet for too long.

She liked that she didn't have to talk too much, they had just accepted that she was pretty quiet but she was doing her best to open up a bit more every week, and to see herself making progress was enough for her right now.

"So, Ellie." Victoria began, letting the ball bounce once before lobbing it back to Ellie to begin juggling again. "Do you think you're gonna start this weekend?

Ellie thought for a moment before taking a deep breath and kicking the ball back to her before she closed her eyes. "I dunno. I don't think I'm ready."

She closed her eyes, remembering the game she had lost for them and how selfish and bratty she had been that day, deciding that was not the person she wanted to be. She had spent a lot of time reflecting on that day, and everything that had happened leading up to it.

She had asked Maria to keep her on the bench.

The last couple of games she started going on in the final ten minutes and played well. Maria wanted her to start but she wasn't ready yet.

"Fair enough." Nora commented, her voice even and drawn out. "We think you're ready though."

By the time Ellie had opened her eyes, it was too late, the soccer ball hitting her square in the head before she had time to react. There was a chorus of laughter, Victoria holding her sides as she doubled over before falling to the ground.

Ellie looked around at them, all laughing at her expense, and for once she didn't feel anger or resentment. Her cheeks flushed red and before she knew it she was laughing with them, reaching up to her head to rub at the spot the ball collided with.

"Did that knock some sense into you?" Abby asked from her spot on the ground, her muscley legs splayed out in front of her as she leaned back on her hands and watched the three of them goof off.

Ellie only rolled her eyes at her, out of them all she was the one who continued to be the toughest on her since that game. Pushing her to keep going when she wanted to give up and taking her to the gym when she felt lost and had nothing to keep her mind preoccupied. They had a quiet rivalry but Ellie liked her, being mostly quiet and reserved like herself.

"Do you guys really think so?" Ellie asked, picking up the ball off the ground and tossing it in Abby's direction.

She caught it easily, throwing it back with more force than Ellie could ever dream of mustering and she pretended that the air had been knocked from her lungs, earning a smirk from the blonde woman.

"Well, duh." Victoria chuckled, throwing her shoulder into Ellie's. "For someone so aware on the pitch, you really are clueless sometimes."

"Hey, that's not fair." Ellie whined going and throwing herself down beside Abby, splaying her legs out in front of her in an effort to cool down. "I think Maria wants me to like, talk to her or something and I dunno..." she lied, poorly but it was enough to be passable.

"You literally yarn with Maria all the time. That woman definitely has a soft spot for you." Nora laughed, taking a seat beside Ellie, laughing as she brought her hand to cover her mouth. "I don't know if I've ever met someone that could both like someone so much and punish them so much at the same time. You're always running laps."

"Maria knows Ellie likes running, so it's not really much of a punishment. Think it's more to clear her mind if anything." Abby added, offering a shrug. "Just like how she makes me do pushups and Victoria extra dribbling drills, rather than laps."

"I guess I never really considered that." Nora nodded slowly, offering a small shrug of her shoulders. "I didn't really notice that we all don't do as much running as Ellie."

Abby smirked, lifting her arm and flexing it in front of them. "And no one does as many pushups as I do."

Ellie snorted and rolled her eyes. "I've seen bigger guns than that..."

"Where?" Abby glared, arching her brows high on her forehead. "Because I don't-"

She laughed, shaking her head hard before beaming at the blonde. "I'm just fucking with you Abby, I have literally never seen a single person with bigger muscles than you. Boys included."

Abby smiled triumphantly, moving to lean back on her hands again. "That's what I thought."

"You both are idiots." Victoria scolded before walking over to Abby who sat beside her gear and picking up her backpack, slinging it over her shoulder. " But come on Ellie, I wanna go get some lunch, and then I'll walk you to your class. I gotta see Dave about something."

 


 

It was late when Ellie pulled the strap of her bag over her shoulder, shifting the weight before exiting her door room. Like she did every she exited the dorm she briefly paused outside Dina's room, listening intently to see if she could hear anything inside. She wasn't sure why she did this, often only hearing the muffled voices of whatever she was watching but she figured that maybe just once she might be able to hear her voice again. She didn't know what that would accomplish, or even why she wanted to hear it now but it didn't stop her doing it every time.

With a sigh she shook her head, continuing out into the late afternoon and heading across campus. There weren't many people for her to run into so she kept her head down, walking briskly as the sun continued to fade more in the sky, and by the time she reached her destination, it had almost disappeared completely, replaced by the artificial lights of the turf that had just been switched on and were still warming up.

"You're late." Maria commented, not bothering to look up as she riffled around in the pack she had carried over, pulling out cones and balls.

"Sorry." Ellie mumbled, pulling her headphones off of her ears and stuffing them away inside her bag.

Without another word, she sat down beside Maria and took her boots from her bag, quickly sliding her feet into them and lacing them up before standing up and doing a few quick stretches.

"I want four laps and then we'll get into it." Maria finally spoke again, her voice even and calm as she pulled her own boots from her bag.

Ellie nodded and followed her instructions, starting on her first lap of the fields.

Maria had been training with Ellie for a few weeks now, beginning when Ellie had approached her to apologize for how she had acted and for how she had lost the game for the team. Maria had quickly echoed the same sentiment as the team had and explained that losing was just part of the game and they couldn't win forever, it just wasn't sustainable and everyone had their bad games. She had also explained how to better go about those bad games and while Ellie at the time hadn't wanted a lecture, she had quickly taken it on board.

Maria had known it wasn't just a bad game though and when she had asked, Ellie had quickly broken down and while she didn't explain everything that had happened she didn't have to, Maria knowing enough to understand. She had decided from that point that they would meet three times a week and they would do extra training, to keep her busy and her mind occupied on something other than the things that were making her sad. She hadn't really given Ellie a choice but she wouldn't have said no anyway.

She pressed on, running harder and doing her best to regulate her breathing.

Ellie liked having someone to talk to that wasn't involved in her friendship circle or her love life. It was nice having the outer perspective from someone who wasn't a kid who was trying to sort out their own life. Ellie wasn't sure if Maria would have done this if she wasn't dating Tommy but she liked to think she would, she was just that kind of person that while appearing standoffish at first, definitely had a heart of gold. Her main concern was that Maria would tell Tommy and Tommy would tell Joel but she had promised her that she wasn't going to do that, that whatever she said to her could be said to her in confidence though she recommended opening up to Joel a little more.

At first Ellie didn't like that idea, she had never wanted to burden him with her problems. He had enough on his plate and being busy with the farm was enough stress but it only took a few days for her to take Maria's advice and call him. While she didn't explain what had happened with Jesse and Dina, she did express how she had been feeling since she had returned. It was a little awkward at first talking about it and she wasn't sure who made the conversation more painful, her or Joel but they eventually got into a weird rhythm where one would talk and the other would listen before switching and before long it didn't feel as awkward anymore.

Now he didn't wait for her to call, calling her at the same time every Friday, not waiting for her to have time to contact him, to see how she was doing and sometimes extra during the week. She hadn't considered he had been afraid to call her before, not wanting to get in the way of living her life but she was glad they had talked passed that and he now had no qualms about calling her whenever he wanted to, or just because he missed her.

While Joel had obviously worked it out as he never seemed to ask about her after their initial conversations, eventually she felt comfortable enough to explain to him that she and Dina were no longer talking but when he asked why she couldn't offer an answer for that because she didn't even know herself. He didn't press the matter but she could tell he was confused.

She was too.

Puffing after completing her laps, she rested her hands on her knees, bending over to catch her breath before wiping the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand.

"How are you doing?" Maria asked, trying her best to appear nonchalant but Ellie didn't miss the way her downcast eyes kept darting up to her.

Ellie smacked her lips and thought for a moment about teasing her but thought better of it today, she gave her enough of a hard time as it was.

"I'm good." Ellie said slowly, catching the ball when Maria tossed it at her. "Remember that test I took a couple of weeks ago? I got a 92 on that."

Though she tried hard not to, Maria couldn't help it and a weird sort of half-smile half frown spread across her cheeks.

"Well, how about that." She said softly once she had her normal thin-lipped expression on her face. "And you were worried about it."

"Yeah, well..." Ellie said shyly, kicking at the ground. "Thanks, Maria." She finally managed to spit out, reaching to rub at the back of her neck. "I wouldn't have been able to pull it together without you.

"Don't mention it." Maria replied with a small shake of her head. "Now, you know the drill. Get going."

Ellie smiled and at her request and ran through the dribbling drill she had set up to work on her footwork.

Ellie felt angry about a lot of things. Her life hadn't always been fair or easy and she had spent a lot of time beating herself up over that but she didn't want to do that anymore. It had been hard at first for her to accept that she was in control of things and her feelings regarding everything that happened. She couldn't change anything that had happened in her life, but she didn't have to let it bring her down.

Maria had a lot to do with that. She had spent time teaching her more healthy ways to deal with things, like putting her efforts into something she enjoyed doing like guitar, or soccer and now she was stronger than she had ever been.

It was hard sometimes, but it was easier to bring herself out of the hole than it was before.

When they finally finished their training session, Ellie sat down on the grass and pulled off her boots before stuffing them into her bag. She took a moment to breathe and looked out at the grounds around her. She missed heading out on to the pitch at the start of a game with her team and she missed playing with them like she had before everything had happened. She tilted her head back and looked to the stars in the sky, thankful that it was a clear night.

As much as being away from home made her heart hurt, she had come to love this place, in a different but good way.

"So..." Maria began pointedly. "Did you have a think about what I spoke to you about?"

"Which thing?" Ellie smiled lopsided, playing stupid even though she knew exactly what Ellie was talking about.

Maria only rolled her eyes at her, zipping up her bag and hoisting the gear over her shoulder. Ellie stood to her feet, taking the bag of balls from her and shouldering it, evening out the weight by placing her own bag on the opposite side.

"I've thought about it but it's just a lot to consider... I'm comfortable here." Ellie said with a small shrug, looking again to the sky as if looking for guidance. "I know it'll be a huge help but I can't decide yet."

"You just need to think about what's right for you, Ellie." Maria said softly, watching as the younger woman looked down to the ground as they walked. "I'm trying, but I don't know if you'll get the same offer here."

"I know..." Ellie replied with a huge sigh, waiting for Maria to open the boot of her car and tossing the balls in when she did so. "I'll keep thinking, okay?"

"Alright." Maria drawled, resting her hand on her shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze. "I want you to think about the game this weekend too and what you want to do."

"I will." Ellie promised.

"Do you want a ride back to the dorms?"

"Nah." She smiled reassuringly. "I'll see you later."

"Night Ellie."

Ellie pulled her phone out of her pocket, flicking through her unread messages from her soccer group chat, smiling as she read some of the sarcastic remarks.

She clicked on the unread ones for Cat, thumbing a quick reply asking if they were still meeting up. She was quick to respond and when Ellie approached her dorm, Cat was waiting for her outside.

"About time." She muttered, rising to her feet with a stretch. "It's fucking cold."

"Well hello to you, too." Ellie smiled as she leaned in and pressed her lips to her cheek, smiling as she stepped away to lead her inside and out of the cold of the night.

"Maria hard on you tonight?" Cat asked coyly, motioning with her head to the mud on Ellie's legs.

Ellie looked down and laughed. "Yeah well, when isn't she hard on me? I'll have to go have a quick shower."

Cat nudged her shoulder with her own. "You'd be having a shower regardless, smelly."

"What? I don't smell!" Ellie groaned, shoving her back.

"Whatever you say." Cat smirked, leaning her head on Ellie's shoulder for a moment as they walked. "I don't mind that you smell, but others might..."

"I don't smell." Ellie huffed, digging into her pockets to find her keys. When she didn't find them she dropped her bag on the ground and crouched down, rifling through the contents while Cat watched with an amused expression.

Ellie grinned when she finally found them, looking up at Cat from the ground who gave her a pat on the head. When Cat's eyes moved down the hall, Ellie followed her gaze and swallowed hard, her mouth immediately feeling dry and she was certain her body broke out into a cold sweat.

Dina watched them cautiously as they both stared at her as she made her way to her room, the clothes in her arms she quickly bundled up more tightly and tucked them under her arm.

Ellie held her breath, her eyes darting up and down her frame if trying to find something there but she didn't know what she was looking for. Her hair was pulled back more tightly than it usually would have been but other than that from the distance she could see she looked exactly like Dina.

Beautiful confident Dina.

But there it was, when she offered a smile back it wasn't typical Dina at all. Thin lipped and strained but she could tell it was well-meaning.

Maybe she was reading too much into it though and seeing something she wanted to see that wasn't in fact there

When her eyes locked with Ellie's own, one side of her lips curled up a little more than the other and she waved her hand quickly in front of her when Cat waved at her before she opened her door and pressed inside.

Cat nudged Ellie with her foot, snapping her out of her daze and she turned her head up to look at her, she only looked back in a knowing sort of way Ellie couldn't decipher.

"Are you going to let me in?"

"Sorry." Ellie replied, shaking her head and quickly standing up, keys in hand to open the door. "Let me just grab my stuff, I'll go quickly shower, and then we can go, okay?"

"Mhmm." Cat mumbled, throwing her body down on Ellie's bed. "So..." Cat said slowly and drawn out as she lifted her body to rest on her elbows, watching as Ellie's shuffled around to grab her shower gear. "How is Dina?"

Ellie froze for a moment before continuing to search for the right clothes. While she had tidied everything, she never put anything in the same place twice, cursing herself for not pulling that portion of her life together as well.

"I'm sure she's good." Ellie replied, speaking a little too fast to sound natural.

"She looks like she's doing well." Cat smirked, laying back down on the bed and staring at the stars on Ellie's ceiling. "You better hurry and go shower, your shout for dinner."

Thankful to be given an out of the conversation, Ellie quickly left the room releasing the breath she was holding as she did so.

What did Cat mean?

Ellie closed her eyes as she allowed the scolding hot water to cascade down her back, reaching up to rub at her aching shoulders. Maybe she had been pushing herself too hard but it had been working. She hadn't spent as much time dwelling on the things she couldn't change, instead, focus on the things she could. Working to earn a little money, working harder to improve her grades, and pushing herself to be better at soccer so she didn't have to go through feeling like a failure again.

But she hadn't seen Dina in as many weeks and she wasn't sure if it was because she was avoiding her or if Dina was avoiding her or if either option was better than the other. Either way, she didn't think seeing her would make her feel this way, both undone and still perfectly kept together. She was still as beautiful and alluring as ever but she didn't feel compelled to throw herself at her feet and beg to be let in again. She wasn't sure what had changed but she wasn't worried. Maybe she had just had enough of being everyone's doormat, of trying to do what was always right by everyone but herself.

She still felt a sadness though but didn't constantly hope that Dina would come back to her. She couldn't do that anymore.

She couldn't stop thinking about what Cat had meant. Dina looked beautiful but she didn't think she looked exceptionally good. Tired if she had to pick a word, or exhausted even but definitely not just good. Why would Cat even point that out though? Especially when she had never taken much of an interest in her before, in fact, she had barely talked about her at all with Ellie and there she was waving to her like they were friends. Did something happen that she wasn't aware of?

Ellie shook her head and then shook it again for good measure. She couldn't allow herself to worry about things like that again, to think so much about things that likely were taken out of context anyway.

She turned the water off and dried herself before quickly dressing and heading back to her room, deciding that whatever it was that Cat was talking about might go better for her if she didn't give her too much time to dwell on it. When she arrived back in her room, Cat was still there laying on her bed and after Ellie gave a quick glance up to the ceiling she realized she had been focusing on the stars she never had paid attention to before now. She gulped, pressing further into the room and dropping her clothes into her laundry hamper.

"You ready to go get some food?" Ellie asked, taking a tentative step towards the side of her bed. "I don't know about you but I'm starved. I could probably eat a horse or something." she continued to ramble, inwardly cursing herself to stop because she didn't even know what she had to be so nervous about. Nothing had happened. "Or an elephant, or..."

"I get it, you're hungry." Cat replied and sat up, throwing her legs over the side of the bed and smiling at her. "I hope you did some extra shifts this week because I'm starving too."

Ellie chuckled, reaching up to rub at the back of her head as she looked down sheepishly. "Yeah, well. Maybe I'll just order something small to accommodate your appetite."

"That's a lie and you know it." she replied, standing to her feet and linking her arm with Ellie's to lead her out the room. "You literally eat like... like a pig lately."

"Hey!" Ellie protested, locking her door behind them as they started off down the hallway, stopping herself before she offered more than a glance at the direction of Dina's room. "First you call me smelly, and now I eat like a pig?"

"What's your point?" Cat laughed, pulling herself closer to Ellie's side.

"I've been exercising a lot!" Ellie protested. "So I need more sustenance than normal. You know... To keep up these appearances that you love so much." she finished, flexing her free arm.

Cat only hummed, giving her a knowing smirk. "If you say so, little piglet."

 


 

Ellie had eaten entirely too much food but she didn't feel self-conscious about that fact around Cat. In fact, the only downfall had been that she now felt tired and that she would one hundred percent be happy to go home to sleep. Cat had only laughed at her as she petted the small pouch that had become present on her stomach and insisted that they at least go for a little bit considering they were Ellie's friends that were having drinks and they could leave when she was ready after making an appearance.

After they had knocked on the door and it had opened, Ellie was quickly pulled inside and she tugged Cat along with her into the tiny dorm room where her friends were scattered around wherever they would fit.

"Ellie! Holy shit, we didn't think you were going to make it." Nora exclaimed, tugging her to take a seat beside her and another girl in their team Jacqueline, as she dropped to the floor.

"I said I would didn't I?" Ellie retorted with a roll of her eyes, a smile plastered on her face as she turned to smile at each of them.

She wasn't sure she had ever attended any kind of drinks where anyone was as happy to see her as everyone here was. She tried to hide the smile from creeping it's way up her face but she couldn't help it. She watched as Cat was tugged and forced to sit with Victoria on the bed and they quickly got into a heated discussion that Ellie couldn't hear but she smiled anyway because Cat was smiling when she turned to check in on her. Ellie quickly rediscovered her love for seeing Cat smile over the last couple of weeks, regardless of whatever they ended up being she decided that she didn't want to stop trying to make her smile.

When Cat only smiled more at her, her lips twitching upwards dangerously close to a devious smirk, Ellie blushed and looked down.

A glass was pushed into Ellie's hands and when she focused on the contents the smell of stale beer immediately assaulted her nostrils and for a second made her stomach churn but she bit back the meal she had eaten and brought the cup to her lips, taking a long gulp of the warm liquid to fit in. She hated the taste in her mouth, constantly swallowing to get it to vacate but it never entirely worked and soon the circle of people around her were laughing at her facial expression. With her cheeks turning red she quickly took another drink to try and appear inconspicuous before Abby leaned over and swiped the cup from her hand and after rolling her eyes at her dramatically, she swallowed the rest of the liquid.

"Can you guys get her something y'know, softer." Abby replied, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and giving Ellie a daring smirk that she knew would make her blood boil.

"I was fine with beer, Abby." Ellie glared back at her, folding her arms defensively across her chest.

"Didn't look fine to me." She challenged, mocking her by making the same mouth movements as she had when she was trying to get the taste from her mouth.

Ellie pouted and looked from Abby up to Cat and Victoria who just gave her an amused expression, followed by the same from everyone else in the room. Her eyes found Abby's and for a second she thought she was going to crack first as the corner of her lips twitched a little but she still held onto her tight-lipped expression. She briefly considered what she could say to destroy the bigger woman's cool demeanor but instead just chuckled, earning a confused expression from her.

"You're right, that beer was trash." she smirked, gesturing with her hand with the now empty cup in it. "Why don't you get me something you think I'll drink, Abby?"

"You're asking me to get you a drink?" Abby asked back incredulously, narrowing her eyes at Ellie.

"That's what I said, didn't I?" she said back matter of fact, staring just as intensely.

They both stared at each other, losing sight of everyone around them, and just before Ellie was about to crack, Abby did first, her lips finally pulling into a small smile.

"Finally growing some balls, huh?" she chuckled, rising to her feet to grab one of the premixed cans of drink from the table and handing it over to Ellie before taking her seat. "That should be a little more to your liking."

"Thanks." Ellie muttered, though the smile on her face gave her away.

Ellie cracked open the drink and brought it to her lips. It was warm as well, and while sweet was definitely more palatable than the beer and she was thankful that they had cared enough to notice that she was struggling to get through it, despite how they had laughed at her. Ellie had learned quickly from hanging out with them that being laughed at wasn't always a bad thing depending on the circumstances. Just like earlier, they had laughed at her but there was no ill will behind it or ulterior motives, only friends joking around with friends when they did something silly.

In moments like these, she realized she missed being like this with Jesse but while they were quick to make her forget, she hoped one day that that was a friendship she would be able to mend. For now, this was enough.

 


 

In the dressing room, she had felt nervous, her hands shaking as she tied her laces and pulled up her socks. When the team joked with her however she felt comfortable enough to joke back but before she knew it her hands had stopped shaking and were instead clenched with determination at her side. Ellie liked to think she had decided before that tonight was the night she would put everything that had happened to the side and step up for her team but knew it was only in the moment that she in fact had.

She hadn't planned on her full come back to be against the very team she had handed the win to but she figured what better way to show everyone that she was better and she would continue to be better. At first, she thought about not doing it instead waiting for the next game but she didn't want to be that person anymore, always waiting for the next time instead of just taking on the moment head-on when it happened. She had spent too long letting everything pass her by instead of being strong enough to speak up and say what she really wanted and right now all she wanted was to prove that she could do it.

When they stepped out on the pitch Ellie didn't speak to Maria but instead offered her a small nod and Maria smiled back, returning the gesture before she pulled her team into give them a talk and hand out their positions.

Ellie didn't look to the bleachers. Maria had taught her not to focus on who was there or who wasn't, all that mattered was the team and herself and what she was going to do to help them get over the line. Anytime she found herself wanting to look to see if Jesse or even Dina had bothered to come she dug her nails hard into her palm to snap herself out of it, she was better than that now.

When Maria announced the squad they all gave her a supportive pat on the back and some words of encouragement and she promised to help them get the win.

When the whistle blew and the ball was passed back to her she paused for a moment, looking up at everyone around her as they seemed to move in slow motion and the opposition came barrelling towards her. Briefly, she panicked because maybe she couldn't do this and she was in over her head. Had they given her too much pseudo confidence and she in fact wasn't ready at all to get back on the pitch?

As the opposition player came towards her, sticking out their leg to take the ball from her she snapped out of her daze, hearing everyone around her calling her name and she pulled back the ball from her and when she flew passed her she pushed forward, carving down the middle before passing the ball off to the wing. Still, she kept running, and just as she was about to pass the last defender the ball was played through and slotted just behind, leaving the defender to trip over their own feet and Ellie to carry the ball closer towards goal with no one else in front of her.

As the approached the keeper at a measured pace, she looked up at her and for a moment thought that she appeared bigger than the goal itself but as she took a deep breath she was quickly brought back down to reality and everything was brought back into perspective. She lifted her head, her eyes darting to the corner of the goal and as the keeper rushed forward she chipped the ball over her head. She dived in the wrong direction and could do nothing to reach the ball as it came down on the line and rolled into the goal.

Ellie wasn't sure she had ever seen a goal scored as fast or had ever heard her name yelled as loud as at that moment. When her team jumped on her back she was pulled back to reality and she laughed as she tumbled to the ground with them, allowing them to cross her physical boundaries but she didn't care, she realized she cared about every single person in her team. It was Abby who pulled her out from underneath them all and after she had steadied her on her feet she smiled, offering her hand up for Ellie to high five it before she clapped her on the back as they jogged back to halfway.

Ellie glanced over to the sideline and at Maria who stood with her trademark stern expression and her arms folded across her chest but as Ellie nodded at her she winked back and gave a small smile before she began yelling at them to do it again.

They were tied now from the last game, one goal or more would see them progress to the next round and if the score stayed this way then they would have a penalty shoot-out to see who would go through. While Ellie was confident they would win that too, she wanted to win comfortably. As the game progressed Ellie was sure that the team that they were facing didn't expect them to come out as strong as they did, or they expected her to play as poorly as she did the first game, banked on it even but that was their mistake.

Ellie had had many good games in her life and as many average ones but today as her team pressed forward relentlessly as they had practiced together and she had practiced on her own with Maria she knew this was one of the best games she had ever played. She wasn't sure if it had anything to do with the confidence she now found off the field or her extra training but whatever it was, with everyone backing her now she believed in herself now more than she had before and she proved that to everyone who said they believe in her.

In the first twenty minutes, Ellie had scored two more goals, taking her match total to three and she had no intention of slowing down. When she passed the ball off to the rest of her team they always found her again in space and she was easily able to get around their advances and when they threw their bodies into their tackles or shot out a loose limb to catch her she was a step ahead and easily able to avoid it as she pressed forward. As the half was coming to an end she found herself in the box once more going one on one with the keeper and instead of aiming it carefully, she only smashed it as hard as she could passed them, closing her eyes as the familiar sound of the net clunking rang in her ears and the cheers echoed around her.

She smiled and turned to jog back to her side of the field with her team at her side and briefly she thought about looking to the bleachers again to see if they were there, if they could see her now and how well she was doing but she stopped herself, content enough with the people who were around her on the field.

The opposition had kicked off and they had already taken the ball back from them but before anything meaningful could happen the ref blew the whistle for half time and the teams left the field.

Ellie happily chugged water and listened as Maria gave her half time talk. Ever the hard woman, she shared what she thought the team could do better and they all took it on board, graciously listening to anything she had to say to them. When the ref blew the whistle to take the field again, Ellie felt her strong hand on her shoulder.

"You look like you're enjoying yourself out there again." Maria said quietly, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze.

"I am." Ellie nodded before taking a deep breath. "Thank you, Maria. I honestly don't know what-" she grinned, shaking her head.

"Get back on the field, Williams." Maria demanded, giving her back a nudge to send her on her way.

The final forty-five minutes were more dominant than the first, the opposition seemingly giving up when Ellie easily put two more goals passed them. After that her team spent the last of the time trying to string together new things they had learned at training, using the game as practice like they typically wouldn't have been able to in tighter games. Ellie switched positions, slotting back into midfield and allowing Nora to push into hers and the rest of the midfielders and even the wing-backs to push higher and try some more of the plays they had only practiced.

Ellie could hear Abby barking orders from her spot behind her in defense and she listened to each of her instructions, recovering the ball effortlessly so she didn't have to and passing back to her when needed to work it back forward again. She wasn't sure she had played in such a cohesive team and she relished the feeling of everyone being on the same page.

By the time the whistle blew, the score was 8 - 0 and unlike last time they left the field with their head held high, knowing they had easily made it into the next round. They shook hands with the opposing team and wished them luck and when they went back to the changing rooms the atmosphere was decidedly different from the last time.

When the team offered for her to grab some food with them she had agreed without question, in fact, they wouldn't have even had to ask, she would have followed regardless, inviting herself if she had to. She joked with them as they left the room, laughing and smiling like she wasn't sure she had in a long time, not since things were okay with Jesse and Dina.

"Ellie... hey."

Ellie's eyes snapped up, and she gulped back the lump that had formed in her throat as her eyes fell upon him.

"Jesse..." she breathed quietly. "Hey."

"You were amazing out there, Ellie." He replied with a fierce nod as he took a step towards her.

"Thank you." She said softly, a small smile tugging at her lips but she could only look down nervously.

"I uh..." he mumbled, reaching up to rub at the back of his head before gesturing with his hand between them. "Why haven't you been messaging me back?"

"I'm sorry." She muttered back, continuing to look down, anywhere but into his eyes. "I thought you'd be busy with, you know... And I've been dealing with some stuff."

"I'll always have time for you." he shook his head confused. "I could have helped, you know?" He pressed, taking a tentative step back. "I miss my friend."

"Jesse... I miss you too, so much..." she said with a small shake of her own head, her voice strained. "But I-"

"Ellie!" Cat yelled, waving as she jogged over to her. "Are you ready to go?" She asked before turning to Jesse. "Hey Jesse, how are you?"

"Im good, Cat." He smiled at her. "How's everything?"

"Good. Hey, they're gonna leave without us." She smiled, nudging Ellie's hip with her own.

"Alright." Ellie replied, smiling as she looked at her. "Hey, we gotta go. I'll text you, okay?"

"Okay, Ellie." He said softly, forcing a smile at her. "See you around."

As they turned away, Cat hooked her arm around Ellie's neck, pulling her close as she pressed her lips to the top of her head and cooed over how well she played.

Jesse only watched, the sinking feeling in his chest feeling more apparent than it ever had. He couldn't help but feel both happy that Ellie was doing well and sad that she had shut him out.

Chapter Text

Ellie stared at the books on her desk, tapping her pen mindlessly on the pages and the dull thudding taking her someplace distant. She wasn't sure how long she had been staring for but her vision was blurry and she didn't do a single thing to correct it.

They were only halfway through the week and she was already dying of boredom. There were only so many times she could do the same thing over and over to keep herself entertained. Cat tried her best, and when Cat was bored she did her best to entertain her but there was only so much anyone could do on weeks like these. Briefly she thought about closing all of her books and turning on her PlayStation but she knew she had to study and she most certainly would be scolded if she did anything but.

Maria said she needed her to raise her grades so she felt obliged to do her best to do so but she'd be damned if she didn't struggle with it every single day. Even though there were days she thought about wiping all her textbooks into the trash can beside her she couldn't bring herself to do it, Maria had helped her too much to let her down now. She was on the right track now though and seeing the progress was enough to continue to urge her forward. It felt good knowing she wasn't going to fuck her education up and waste all of Joel's money and belief in her. While she had never intended to do poorly at school and was doing adequately before, it felt nice to be aiming for something other than just being average. It was nice not to feel like some nobody among exceptional talents.

"Babe?"

Ellie blinked once, shaking her head before she spun around on her chair to the woman who laid on her bed. "Sorry."

"You wouldn't be you if you weren't spacing out." Cat smiled warmly before she flopped on her back, holding her phone in front of her face as she mindlessly scrolled through it. "Is your work really that boring?"

"So boring." She groaned, rubbing at her face as she turned back to the books on her desk. "I honestly didn't believe I would find something that bored me so much in something that's so interesting to me but here we are."

Cat laughed, dropping her phone down to her chest as she turned to look at Ellie. "How about an open mic night to liven things up?"

"Are you serious?" Ellie laughed. "You couldn't pay me enough to get back up there again yet."

"Can't blame a girl for trying." she grinned, shifting to sit on the side of the bed before narrowing her eyes at Ellie. "Maybe I could start a payment plan now just in case?"

Ellie spun back around to arch her brow at her. "I have to study."

"Take a break. C'mere." Cat purred, holding out her arms.

Ellie looked at her, really looked at her, and thought about saying no. She really did have a lot of work to do and if it didn't sink in soon she was definitely going to be in trouble but Cat had been trying. She appreciated the effort she was putting in, considering she knew how much of a pain she must be right now. She didn't mean to be and she certainly didn't want to be a bother to anyone but Cat always seemed to know when something was up with her and she utterly failed at hiding it every time. This time had been no exception, Cat quickly worked out that something wasn't right but she never pried. Just asked and moved on if Ellie didn't feel like sharing. Maybe that's why she liked her so much, they both respected each other's boundaries and didn't dare cross them.

She took a deep breath and tilted her head to the side, Cat looked tired and she wondered if that was because of her.

She hadn't been sleeping well, pretending that she didn't know exactly when the last night she had a good sleep was but she knew exactly when but when asked she only shrugged, knowing Cat shared the same dark bags under her eyes. When she didn't sleep, Cat didn't sleep, spending countless nights lying awake with her and she wasn't sure what made her feel more guilty.

Despite looking tired though, she had been doing better. She was making more of an effort with Cat and their friends both at school and at work and when Cat was busy she spent more time studying, getting together with Dave, and for the first time since she started college, she felt as if it all was coming easily to her. She didn't struggle to piece together the equations or to recall certain things from the books or her lessons and for that she was thankful because for a while there she was feeling so out of her depth she didn't know she was going to make the cut and worrying about that made her constantly feel stressed and sick. Now she was certain she could do it, even if she had to work a little harder than others.

When studying wasn't enough to curb her boredom, she spent the rest of her time training for soccer. Whether it was running, hitting the gym, or attending actual training with her team or solo with Maria she was most thankful for that as it exhausted her to the point where she didn't think so much anymore and she wished she had realized how good of an outlet it was sooner. It only took Maria to point that out to her.

As if the gods had noticed her apprehension before she could even open her mouth her phone rang, making her jump and she shot Cat an apologetic smile as she grabbed it from its spot beside her books. Her heart however sank when she saw the name on the screen. Swallowing the lump in her throat she pressed the accept button, bringing her phone to her ear.

"Hey, Jesse." She said softly, holding Cat's gaze for a second before she spun away back to her desk.

"Hey, Ellie." He said back, his voice friendly on the other end. "What are you up to?"

"Just studying." She replied, shivering when she felt Cat's hand drag across her shoulders. "Cat's here too." She quickly added.

"Studying, huh? He laughed and it felt a little awkward but they were both trying. "Do you think you could take a break from studying and hang out with me? You know I don't have training today so I'm 100% free."

Ellie thought for a moment, both panicking about hanging out with Jesse alone again and being pleased that he still wanted to see her. Cat pressing her lip's to her shoulder didn't make it any easier, either.

"Jesse, I don't know..." she trailed off, her breath hitching in her throat and she couldn't pin it on any particular thing. It could have been her own apprehension or could have just as easily been Cat's hands roaming her body.

"Please, Ellie?" He begged, his voice strained on the line.

"Yeah... yeah okay. What did you have in mind?" She said, a smile pulling at the corner of her lips.

"I was just about to head to the gym, did you wanna come with and then we can just chill or whatever after? I uh... miss hanging out with you."

"I miss hanging out with you too, Jesse." Ellie said with a shake of her head, quickly replaying everything that had happened in her head. "That sounds good. I'll meet you there?"

"Yep, sounds good."

"See you in a bit." Ellie affirmed. "Bye."

She hit the disconnect button and placed her phone face down on the desk, closing her eyes as Cat's lips found the base of her neck and sucked at her skin softly. She leaned further back in her chair when Cat's arms dropped over her shoulders.

"What are you doing?" Ellie asked, reaching up and sliding her hands over Cat's forearms.

"Nothing." She murmured back, taking her earlobe between her teeth and tugging it hard enough for Ellie to tilt her head in that direction.

"Doesn't feel like nothing." Ellie replied, slipping out of Cat's grasp and spinning around in the chair to face her. "And I said I'd go catch up with Jesse."

Cat only smirked, climbing on Ellie's lap and wrapping her arms around her neck to hold herself in place. "You have a bit of time." She whispered, leaning in and pressing her lips against Ellie's in a slow, searing kiss.

"Here?" Ellie asked as she blushed, her cheeks quickly turning red as she kissed Cat back with as much enthusiasm, sliding her hands up her bare thighs.

"Mhmm." Cat hummed, pulling away to press her forehead to Ellie's, her breath heavy against her lips. "You've been making me wait all morning and I need it."

Ellie smiled against her lips, her fingers finding their way to the waist of her underwear.

Some days were easier than others. Cat would do or say something that made her smile and her heart felt like it was truly mending and it didn't hurt so much anymore.

She wasn't sure if Cat loved her, which didn't bother her as much as she thought something like that would. After all, she didn't know how much she could love her either.

"Ellie." Cat said with urgency to get her attention as she reached down and took Ellie's hand.

Ellie snapped out of her daze, leaning in to make contact with her jaw as she allowed Cat to push her hand between her legs before she pulped her hand away and hooked it back around her neck.

 


 

"You're late." Jesse smirked and it wasn't as bright as normal but at least it was still present.

"Sorry." Ellie blushed, reaching to the hem of her hoodie to tug it over her head. "I uh, couldn't find any of my gym gear."

"Yeah, yeah." He waved his hand dismissively, one corner of his lips still turned knowingly upwards. "How have you been?"

Ellie watched him as he sat there on the bench, wiping at the back of his neck with his towel. He still looked like Jesse and while a little reserved he still acted like him. Maybe things would be okay.

"I've been good. Schools been kicking my ass and soccer's getting tougher." She finally replied, stretching her legs on the mat in front of him.

"Yeah, Coach has been really hard on us because we aren't doing as well as you girls are. We don't mind though, we're not sexist assholes and ugh, don't get me started on my classes. I really regret following in my father's footsteps." He finished with a laugh, standing up and motioning with his head to the treadmill. "Wanna have a race?"

Ellie couldn't help but smirk, noticing the devious glint in his eyes. "I wouldn't call running against you a race..."

"Oh, you think so?" He replied, nudging her shoulder with his own as they headed towards the machine. "Cause I bet you dinner I'm gonna leave you in the dirt."

"Oh you're so on." she muttered with a roll of her eyes, knowing he didn't stand a chance.

They quickly started the machines and after a small warm-up, they settled on the number that they would be running on and Ellie knew that she had him and was certain he knew too but he was too competitive and proud to back down. They had been running for 15 minutes at that pace, Jesse refusing to back down as the sweat glistened on his face as his breathing became more ragged and uneven but he pushed forward, slipping further back on the belt. While Ellie felt on the inside as he did on the outside and could feel the steady trickle of sweat dripping down her temple she worked to control her breathing so she could keep pressing forward, knowing that was one of his weaknesses but still she was surprised he was still going.

She wasn't sure how much more she had left in her so she decided to up the anty, and when Jesse looked over at her she stared back at him before pressing the button on the treadmill until it went a whole point faster.

Jesse shook his head and stole his eyes back to the wall in front of him and for only a second Ellie thought her goading had failed until he shook his head again and did the same, unable to say no to the challenge.

Ellie grinned and while his finger was still on the button she pushed it again, watching the internal struggle as he battled on whether or not to do it too.

There was a loud groan as he continued to sprint before he quickly placed his hands to the side rails and jumped off, resting his feet on the sides as the belt continued to whirl around.

Ellie smiled triumphantly, turning her head back to the wall in front of her and continued to run, pushing herself as far as she could for the next few minutes while Jesse turned off the machine and panted heavily behind her, trying to catch his breath.

Finally she switched the machine off and when she stepped off, her legs feeling like jelly, she rested her hands on her knees, doubled over like Jesse as she tried to catch her breath with him.

"Show off." He managed to get out between pants.

Ellie only smiled and shook her head at him, unable to speak a full sentence yet.

When they both had regained some composure they went over to the weights machine and started working out together.

"You've gotten stronger." Jesse commented as he spotted Ellie. "And faster."

She tried to breathe steadily as she lifted the bar up and down to her chest, repeating the motion until her arms felt weak and Jesse helped her left it back up to rest.

"I've been working out a lot and I've had a lot of time to work on that stuff." She commented as she sat up, wiping her forehead with the back of her arm.

"You been okay?" He asked cautiously, taking the same spot she had been previously as she stood to stand behind the bar him.

"Mhmm. Just been keeping myself busy." She said mindlessly, watching as Jesse did his reps. "You?"

Ellie eyed him cautiously, not entirely sure how to feel about everything. He still looked like Jesse, though appeared to be a little more guarded with his words as they weren't coming as easily as they once were. She wondered if it was because of what she did with Dina or if it was something else. Her chest ached when she considered the fact that maybe this was what their friendship was now, it wasn't bad but it just wasn't what it used to be. She however found solace in the fact that conversation still came relatively easy but it was still disheartening that there were things that were being kept hidden.

She couldn't blame him for that though, she hadn't been entirely honest with him either.

Would things be any different if she hadn't invited Dina back to the farm? Or would they still be awkwardly continuing to gravitate towards each other, constantly blurring the boundaries of friendship until she wouldn't even know what they were anymore? She didn't know what fate would be worse. Knowing every part of Dina and losing it had hurt more than anything had before, but continuing their back and forth might have killed her.

"Same. Cat keeping you busy too?" He asked, bringing the bar back for a rest.

"We've both been working a lot." She replied, skirting around his question, her mind still swimming with what if's.

"You guys official again yet?" He smiled as she sat up, rubbing his face with his towel.

"Jesse..." Ellie mumbled as she folded her arms and looked to the side. She sighed. "We're just like, hanging out." She offered, in an attempt to let him into her life again.

Maybe that's all it would take, she would have to open up a little bit for him to open up too and pull it all back to normalcy. She wasn't sure if she was ready to hear about Dina again yet, more so Dina and Jesse together but for now, if he brought it up she would have to bite it back down because she did still want to have a relationship with him, whatever that meant now.

"Cool. I like Cat." He said with a small nod. "We should go to that bar again sometime soon."

"Yeah, we can do that." Ellie smiled, heading over to her belongings and pulling her hoody quickly back on. "She's working behind the bar there now too."

Jesse chuckled. "How many jobs does she have, now? Man, how does she manage? I don't even think I could have one."

Ellie shrugged. "I have no idea. I definitely couldn't do it but she seems to manage okay. She's serious about not being in debt for the rest of her life after school."

"She's a tough girl and obviously very smart. Has a good head on her shoulders." Jesse commented as he pulled on his own hoodie, stuffing his hands into his pocket. "How about some food?"

"Yeah, okay." Ellie smiled at him.

 


 

She wasn't sure at what point they had decided to end up at the bar that day, but as soon as Jesse found out Cat was working that night they made their way there.

Ellie didn't mind, figuring a drink would help make the conversation come a little easier, not that it was needed, to her surprise after the initial awkward small talk things had seemed to slowly fall back in place and it felt like she had her best friend back again. She still felt a little guarded around him and she figured she likely would for a while but for now this would be enough.

Having Cat around made it a little easier too, and she took the tension out of any silences when she could.

Before she knew it though they had had more than just one drink.

"I'm going to have to cut you two off soon." Cat remarked but there was no malice behind her tone, as she beamed at the two of them.

Jesse snorted before he laughed. "You won't do that to us. I just told Ellie that I liked you earlier, don't make me change my mind."

"As if you would." Cat tutted, wagging a finger at them before she slid another round of drinks over. "You're lucky I think one of you is cute. I'll let you fight over who." She finished with a wink, tapping her knuckles on the table before she left to go serve another patron down the other end of the bar.

"She's nice but I think she meant that I was cute, which isn't very good for you." Jesse said as he flashed a smile, ungracefully turning on the barstool he was sitting on to face Ellie.

"So nice." Ellie slurred, looking down at her drink that rested in her hand. "I think it's me though, pal. You've got your own girl."

"Let's agree to disagree." He said with defiance, raising his glass to his lips and taking a long swig. "And when she comes back I'll ask her."

"You're such a dork." Ellie said with a roll of her eyes, taking another sip from her drink that she didn't need.

There was a comfortable silence as they both sipped their drinks. Ellie felt thankful at that moment that it hadn't been awkward and briefly wondered why. Why had Jesse decided to reach out now? Was there a reason or had he truly missed her as she had missed him? She didn't want to think there was an ulterior motive behind his actions but she couldn't help but think that he had come running back to her because he had broken up with Dina again. Her heart hurt as it pounded in her chest and all she could think about was how everything was going to repeat itself again.

But she couldn't do that. She couldn't allow that to happen.

"How are you doing, Ellie?" He asked, his voice even and soft as he stared down at the glass in his hand.

"Huh?" She mumbled, furrowing her brow as she turned to look at him. "I told you before I'm doing good."

He exhaled through his nose in disbelief. "Yeah, but how are you really doing?"

"Jesse." She grumbled, bringing her hand up to rub the bridge of her nose. "I'm okay... I'm better." She admitted. "It was a bit rough for a while but I'm doing okay now. I missed you and Di-... you a lot."

Jesse hummed and nodded and Ellie got the impression there was something on his mind but he didn't say it and she wasn't sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Ellie continued to look at the liquid in her glass, glancing up at Cat momentarily to see her throw her head back and laugh at something the guy she was serving was saying. Quickly her eyes shot back down, watching the swirling liquid. She had questions she was too afraid to ask. Questions that if she asked would make her realize that she still thought about her too often and she was doing her best to forget. She was getting better and she couldn't bring herself down anymore.

But she still wanted to know.

She felt a heavy hand on her shoulder and turned her head to face Jesse, a sympathetic smile on his face as he gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

"You wanna ask about her?" He asked, keeping his voice low as their eyes met.

Ellie sighed and she wanted to shake her head but instead, she slowly nodded.

"She's okay, Ellie." He said plainly, not offering anything else.

Ellie looked away for a moment before her eyes came back and opened her mouth to speak, but she instantly closed it. What would opening old wounds do, anyways?

Knowing she was okay would have to be enough. It was good that that was all she knew, now she wouldn't lay awake staring at those stars wondering how she was, wondering if she was still thinking about her.

"Are you going to go to her show?" Jesse asked, turning to look over his shoulder to glance at Cat who was still bantering with the same customer.

Ellie inhaled through her mouth, sucking the air deep into her lungs before sealing her mouth shut to hold it there as she considered the fact that she could maybe go watch.

Would she even still want her there?

She allowed her mind flicker back to when she had asked her to attend, to when she had said she would have felt more at ease having her there and wondered if that was ever the truth. Even if it was, would she still feel the same way now?

"Ellie?"

She finally exhaled through her nose and gave a soft shake of her head. "I don't think do."

Again Jesse looked like he was going to say something but instead bit it back bringing his drink to his lips and taking a long sip. When he put it back down he turned back to her and smiled.

"Alright, so there's this guy on my soccer team that's weirdly into you." He laughed, slapping his palm down on the counter of the bar.

"What?" Ellie spluttered, her face turning red and snapping her out of her internal downwards spiral.

"What's going on here?" Cat asked, raising her brow as she looked back and forth between the two of them.

"I was just telling Ellie here that you have a bit of competition." He laughed, lifting his hand to slap Ellie on the back.

Cat's lips curled into a smile as her eyes settled on Ellie, her face still red as she furiously shook her head. "Oh really?

"I've told him she's gay but he's certain she just hasn't met the right man yet to change her mind and he's certain that's him. I'm surprised he hasn't spoken to you yet." he hollered, slapping his knee hard.

"Can you imagine if he did talk to her?" Cat laughed along with him, resting her hands on the counter for support. "I hope I'm around when it finally does happen."

"He's just as awkward as her too." Jesse added, reaching up to wipe a tear from the corner of his eye, grinning at Cat.

"Hey!" Ellie exclaimed, bringing her hands to her cheeks to cool down her skin. "I'm sitting right here."

Cat reached over and lightly pinched her cheek, smiling adoringly at her. "Might just have to keep you on a short leash from now on, you're attracting too much attention."

"No one wants me." Ellie groaned, downing the rest of her drink before sliding her glass towards Cat. "And if they did, I'd quickly set them straight."

Cat only rolled her eyes and went to refill her glass. "I mean for starters, clearly I want you."

"You're not entirely sane." Ellie countered.

"And I can't even count on one hand the number of people who have made a move on you in the last month alone! How many times have I had to save you from those awkward encounters in here, huh?" Cat exclaimed earning little more than a shake of her head from Ellie. "Also, have you seen the way her soccer team fawns over her now?" She added, only to fuel the fire.

"Damn, how much have I missed?" Jesse smiled but Ellie could tell there was a hint of sadness behind it. "Look at you being a hot commodity."

"I'm not!" Ellie huffed. "You guys don't know what you're talking about."

"Jesse can you please explain to Ellie why she's so wrong?"

"Hey, I'm glad that everyone is seeing what I always knew was in there." Jesse said softly, pushing his hand into her shoulder. "Look at you."

"Ellie's been working on herself." Cat said proudly, resting her head in her hands as she looked at her.

"Yeah?" Jesse asked, glancing over at Cat when Ellie didn't elaborate.

"Cat." Ellie warned, shooting her a glare.

Cat raised her hands in the air in defeat, smiling at Ellie as she did so. "What? Aren't I allowed to be proud of you?" She teased.

Ellie groaned and shooed her away with her hands. "Don't you have like, work to do?"

"Rude." Cat replied feigning mock hurt as she turned away. "Fair though." She finished with a laugh and she walked away from them.

"Sounds like you're doing really well, Ellie." Jesse commented with a smile. "I'm so happy for you."

There was a moment of silence and Ellie rubbed at her lower lip with her thumb nervously, glancing up from her glass to Jesse periodically. She couldn't stop thinking about things slipping back into poor habits again, she didn't want to be that person anymore. She was sure Jesse didn't do it on purpose, but if he wasn't made aware of it he wouldn't have a chance to fix it.

Every time she went to speak though, she lost her voice.

She knew Jesse noticed and instead of trying to pry it out of her, he was giving her time to put it all together.

Finally she sighed before setting her eyes firmly on him. "I started feeling really shit because you didn't have time for me anymore... which is fine because we're all busy, but the only time you did have time for me was when you and Dina were on a break. That wasn't fair."

Jesse gave a slow nod, lifting his glass to his lips before staring off into the distance. "I know."

"You know?" She asked, furrowing her brow.

"At first I was really mad that you were ignoring me but I've had a lot of time to think and reflect on everything Ellie, and how I treated you wasn't very fair. I was caught up in it all and I can't change that but I'm sorry and I promise to be better."

"Oh..." Ellie mumbled, looking back down.

She had been ready for a fight and to stand up for herself. She hadn't banked on the fact that Jesse had already thought about it and was trying to change. His actions from before not giving away that he thought he was doing anything wrong, but he was smart. Of course, when he thought about it he would have figured it out.

Jesse lifted his empty glass to get Cat's attention for another before he turned to Ellie. "How about we order some food, go sit in a booth and talk it out. I don't want to go another day not having you as my friend anymore."

 


 

"I'm so sorry, Jesse. I promise I'll never hurt you again." Ellie slurred, a frown set deep on her face as she rested her head on Jesse's shoulder, nursing her drink in her hand.

"I was so mad at you, El." He grumbled, wrapping his arm around her. "But I'm not mad anymore. I understand and I never should have been mad at you in the first place. I was so dumb."

Ellie reached up and rubbed with her fist at her eyes. "You had every right, Jesse. You're my best friend." She quickly dropped her hands when she noticed him staring, instead poking him in the chest to get her point across further.

"No, you're my best friend." He argued, only pulling her tighter to his bigger frame. "I should have known, I should have paid more attention to what was happening around me."

Ellie closed her eyes, her head sinking to his chest as he held her close. Her brain was moving at a million miles an hour and she couldn't quite make out what he was saying. She tried to commit it to her memory so she could make sense of it later but she knew she likely wouldn't remember in the morning.

"What?" She finally managed to choke out.

"Your feelings are important to me, okay?" Jesse said sternly, pushing her back to look into his eyes. "You know that, right? You know you can always be honest with me."

"Your feelings are important to me too, you sap." She said with a laugh, shoving him further away.

"You promise you'll never lie to me again, right?" He asked, holding her shoulders tight and shifting to look into her eyes.

"What are you talking about?" She asked, blinking slowly at him as her vision began to blur at the edges and she wished she could make sense, could form a coherent thought to piece together what he was saying.

"I love you, Ellie." He slurred, pulling her in for another hug.

And just like that she had forgotten, holding him just as tightly to her own body. "I love you too, Jesse."

"Alright you two, I need you out of my bar. You're wasted." Cat said sternly though a smile was still present on her face as she tossed her towel over her shoulder and folded her arms. "And quite frankly, this whole heart to heart business is making me feel sick." She finished, pushing a fake gag from her mouth.

"Cat's so cool." Jesse commented in what was meant to be a whisper but was clearly loud enough for anyone to hear as he beamed at her.

"You're kicking me out?" Ellie asked with mock outrage, pointing clumsily to herself.

"Yep. You need to go home." She replied, moving from behind the bar to the front where she stood in front of the two friends.

"Are you still going to come over?" She asked slowly, her eyes holding Cat's as she asked, reaching out to grab her hand.

"Yeah, but it won't be till much later. Jesse, will you make sure she gets home okay?" Cat asked, taking Ellie's hand and bringing it to her lips to press a kiss to her knuckles.

"Yes sir." He replied straight-faced, bringing his hand to his head to salute her. "Come on you."

"Ellie, you get Jesse home safe too, I don't know who I'm more worried about." She said with a roll of her eyes.

"Yes sir." Ellie repeated, saluting like Jesse had before turning to him and they both burst into laughter.

Ellie finally rose to her feet and pressed a sloppy kiss to Cat's cheek. "See you later. Have a good night. Thank you for being you." She grinned, making finger guns at her as she backed her way towards the door.

"You guys are fucking dorks." Cat only muttered as she smiled and shook her head.

"Bye Cat!" Jesse yelled as he followed Ellie out of the bar. "You're my favorite."

They clung to each other tightly as they made their way back to the dorms, and as they passed Dina's door she attempted to stop but Jesse kept moving forward towards her room.

"Aren't you going to stay with Dina?" Ellie asked confused as she fumbled in her jacket for her keys.

"Huh?" Jesse asked confused, his eyes closed as he leaned against her. "Dina doesn't live on campus anymore."

"What?" Ellie asked back confused, shoving him into her room and towards the couch. "Where is she?"

Jesse laughed, turning his body to face the back of her couch as he curled up. "You should go to her show, Ellie."

"Jesse." Ellie groaned, bringing her hand to her forehead as she flopped on her bed. "Jesse?" She repeated but still there was only silence.

Ellie sighed and she stared up to her ceiling for the millionth time, the stars glowing and swirling in her vision but she didn't dare close her eyes, getting lost in them as they slowly turned.

One day she might feel strong enough to take them down, but for now, after every day she made progress she didn't feel the same anger towards them anymore. Maybe she should have taken her own advice when she explained their meaning to Dina back then.

Where had she gone? And why hadn't she told her?

She clenched her fists at her side, the familiar heat of anger swirling in her gut and she wasn't even sure why. Dina didn't owe her anything as much as she thought she did sometimes so why did she feel like she owed her an explanation? Maybe she was only worried.

Why did she feel like she had to leave? Had she scared her away? Pursued her so much that she had enough and had needed to put some distance between them?

Her gut switched from anger to embarrassment and now she felt sick, biting back the bile that rose up to her throat and settled in the back of her mouth. Had she been too keen? She hadn't really considered it before, but now the thought made her sick.

But Dina had said that she liked her too.

She shook her head clear, the same two questions constantly popping into her mind. Where was Dina and why did she have to go?

"Hey." Cat mumbled, climbing under the blanket with Ellie and sliding her fingertips over her toned stomach, feeling each groove.

Ellie took a deep breath, turning her head to watch Cat. She hadn't realized she had been laying there that long.

"Hey." Ellie breathed softly, laying still as Cat nestled into her side.

"Couldn't sleep?" Cat asked, pressing her face firmly into the crook of her neck.

"I've been trying." Ellie sighed, turning her face into her to rest her chin on top of her head.

"Sorry I can't help take your mind off everything tonight." Cat breathed against her, her lips finding her skin and pressing a light kiss.

"It's okay." Ellie said quietly, wrapping her arm around her and pulling her close, pressing her own lips to the top of Cat's head. "You know you don't need to worry so much about me, yeah?"

"I know." Cat smiled and Ellie felt it against her skin where her lips touched.

"Are you okay?" Ellie asked, suddenly feeling guilty that it had been a long time since she asked that.

"I'm just tired." Cat muttered, her fingertips continuing to trace shapes along her skin.

"Something on your mind?" Ellie questioned, sensing a sudden tenseness to her tone.

Cat sighed. "No. Honestly, I'm just tired. Its been a long week already."

"Do you want me to take your shift at the Cafe tomorrow so you can sleep in?" Ellie asked, shifting to face her in the bed, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. "My classes aren't until a bit later so..."

"Ellie.." Cat smiled, reaching between them to hold onto the front of her shirt. "You're too sweet, you know that? But how about instead you just come by for my break and have a coffee with me?"

Ellie pretended to think, laughing when Cat shook her gently. "I think I can do that." She finally replied, leaning forward to capture Cat's lips with her own. "Get some sleep okay."

"Mhmm." Cat hummed, pressing her lips more firmly to Ellie's. "You get some sleep." She managed to get out between kisses.

There was an audible groan and a pillow from the couch thrown at them. "You guys are nauseating and unless you want me to throw up please stop." Jesse mumbled, his face pressed firmly into the couch.

They both laughed, Ellie pressing her lips firmly to Cat's forehead. "You heard him, get to sleep."

Chapter Text

"What are we doing, Ellie?"

The words echoed around Ellie's empty head, bouncing off the walls and refusing to leave. She listened to the words leave Cat's mouth and she froze, her eyes going wide as her mind finally left her, leaving her with the final thought that this was it, this was how it was going to all end because nothing good ever came from that sentence, the only one worse being 'we need to talk' and she was sure that was coming next. She saw into her future and saw a great discomfort, squirming at the impending doom that she was certain was now coming.

"Ellie?" Cat asked, reaching her hand to rest on her shoulder.

Ellie shook her head, blinking a few times until her mind didn't feel as foggy anymore before she turned to face the black-haired woman at her side. "Huh?"

"What are we doing tonight?" She repeated a look of concern spread over her face.

"Oh. Um..." Ellie paused, trying to rack her brain for anything but again it failed her.

She felt relief wash over her when Cat only laughed, giving her shoulder a squeeze before dropping her hand. Ellie watched as she skirted around her apartment, tidying up the small lounge around her. Her heart finally began to calm and she questioned just how long it would take for it to completely give out if that train of thought had continued. She wasn't sure why she had been so on edge lately, maybe it was the subtle clues Cat had been dropping that she knew something was up but she wasn't entirely sure that that had been happening either or if it was just the guilt beginning to consume her.

She had done nothing wrong though, she hadn't been with Cat when it happened, so why did she feel increasingly guilty for something that had happened so long ago?

"Jesse text me earlier, said they're hanging out later tonight if you wanted to go?" Cat hummed, tossing a pillow back on the couch before looking at her handy work.

"Oh yeah, that sounds good." Ellie nodded, realizing she would agree to anything right now as long as the conversation continued to steer further and further away from 'needing to talk'.

"Are you okay?" Cat asked, raising a brow at her. "Something on your mind?"

"No." Ellie said, too quickly for it to be nothing which obviously piqued Cat's interest.

She knew Cat had picked up on it but instead of saying anything she only nodded.

"Alright, let's go to work." she said with a small shrug.

Ellie took a deep breath, taking Cat's hand when it was offered to her and giving it a gentle squeeze as she rose to her feet, following behind her as she lead her out of the apartment. Cat was always close to her these days, holding her hand or pressing a reassuring limb firmly against her own. She didn't think it was an overtly sexual thing, in fact, she knew it was more a gesture of being close friends than anything else but the fact it had changed still confused her. She didn't mind holding Cat's hand or even being close to her, what bothered her was that she couldn't figure out why it was happening, why everything was changing now.

Of course, Cat was allowed to do those things. They weren't dating, but they weren't not dating either. Ellie didn't know many people that were doing what they were doing for as long as they were without making it official or at least having a discussion about what exactly it was and meant. They had some unspoken rules and boundaries that neither of them crossed, but for some reason, they just never talked about what it was or what it meant to them. She was okay with that though, dreading that conversation when it finally happened because she didn't know what she was going to say. Would it finally bring things to an end? Did she even want that?

She watched Cat's back as she continued to drag her along, from her skinny frame to her long black hair and the way she turned back to her and smiled. Ellie did love Cat, she was certain of that. She was protective of her and she wouldn't let anything bad happen to her. She knew that as a fact but she also knew that if anyone was going to hurt Cat that it was going to be her. Not because she wanted to, but because one day she might be forced to admit that she didn't feel the same way that she did, not yet anyway and she couldn't be certain she ever would. She knew what being in love felt like now and she knew what being with Cat felt like and they just didn't match up.

If Jesse was her best friend, Cat was a close second.

She smiled as she looked down, remembering that Jesse and Cat were now hanging out. At first, she felt a little jealous when she found out that they were catching up without her but now she thought it was pretty cool. It was nice that they could all see each other and joke around without it being weird or awkward and she was thankful that they got along so well. It made life easier, being able to find more time for both of them.

"You're being weird." Cat teased, turning around but continuing to walk backward as she held her hand gently.

"What?" Ellie mumbled catching her eye as she was tugged along.

"You're just being... strange." she added when Ellie only looked at her confused. "Are you up to something?"

"No way!" Ellie replied with a firm head shake, pulling back on Cat's arm as a sign of reassurance.

"If you're sure." Cat eyed her suspiciously but turned back around and slowed until she was beside her again.

Ellie looked down between them, down to their hands when she felt Cat give her hand a reassuring squeeze. She waited and when nothing happened she imagined the ghost of two more squeezes, surprising herself by feeling a smile tug at the corner of her lips. She was quick to wipe it off, wrinkling her nose in disgust. Cat never squeezed her hand more than once but sometimes she wished she would just so she could know that feeling with someone else. She felt stupid, not even knowing what it meant, because, after all, it could have been just something Dina did and likely did with everyone else but she liked to think it was just for her, still had hope that it was just for her.

Sometimes it made it easier.

Since Dina moved off campus, she didn't see her around much anymore and she wasn't sure if it was because she wasn't around as much or if it was because she wasn't actively looking for her in everything she did. Occasionally she would see her on her way to classes or rehearsals but she never saw her looking in her direction. She found it hard to both stare for as long as she could see her and pretend like she couldn't see her at all. The days that she saw her were tough and she wondered if Dina felt the same way, if she was earnestly trying to stay out of her way to make it easier. Ellie liked to think that was the truth, at least that way Dina had cared about her feelings and was still thinking of her as much as she was thinking of her.

It was getting cooler now and Ellie missed the days when Dina would be barely wearing anything at all, showing off her tanned skin in the blistering heat. It was still warm but now she only wore big coats, hiding away her figure from Ellie's prying eyes. She hated that she still had these wants but she couldn't push them away and they left her feeling like an asshole every time. That's what people did though, isn't it? They thought about people naked or in a sexual manner, it was only part of human conditioning. She recalled a fact she learned in high school about boys thinking about sex more times in a day than anything else and used that to explain it away, but it still always left a sour taste in her mouth when she caught herself doing it.

Dina still wore her jacket too.

The times she didn't wear it were more scarce than the times she did and Ellie hated that she looked so good in something that was rightfully hers, that had been stolen from her and never returned. Stolen was a stretch when she had willingly given it to her. But most of all she hated how much better Dina looked in it than she ever had. She wondered if Dina knew how much it irked her seeing her in it, or even if she still even remembered it was hers but she couldn't settle on any single answer. She honestly didn't know and she thought the not knowing was worse than anything.

Most of all though, Ellie just felt angry and confused. Things were good and everything was finally going well for her to the point where she felt settled and in a content rhythm. Her friends were good and kind and Cat kept her company most nights but she still found herself wanting more, even though she knew that that would be enough for her if this was it. She could live comfortably in the routine she had set for herself and be content with it all but she couldn't continue to convince herself this was enough anymore.

She still had so many questions that were never answered. She had wanted to ask many times where Dina went but she never came up in conversation anymore and she wondered if it was on purpose or something that just happened over time. Jesse didn't bring her up and he didn't speak to her about their relationship. While she felt relief over not having to hear about the sordid details of their romance, she just wished he would give her something, anything that would appease her hunger to know. She knew they were still together, they had to be. At times she would see them together walking to classes or Dina would attend his training and she was always at his games.

Did Dina still attend hers too? She wasn't sure anymore, she had been too scared to look out into the stands to find out despite how curiosity almost got the better of her every time. She couldn't let herself slip and risk another downwards spiral.

Ellie would see him smile and if she glanced over fast enough when he looked down at his phone she would see Dina's name at the top of his messages. She wasn't mad about it, or angry that they still were together but she was becoming increasingly agitated that he never spoke to her about it which only confused her even more because she didn't want to know about it. He never scolded her for looking at his phone, instead only smiling and tucking it away.

By all accounts, he and Dina had been doing well. Jesse, while constantly concerned about Ellie had been more happy and carefree than she had seen him in a long time. He was doing well with school and soccer and had time for her that he hadn't had before when they were dating but that could have easily been him trying to be better like he had promised. She sometimes felt sick when they weren't hanging out, a little jealous like she had been when she found out he and Cat had been hanging out and he couldn't reply to her quickly, leaving her feeling left out because she knew that he was with Dina.

She wasn't sure whether she was jealous of the fact that she couldn't spend time with him, or if she was jealous because he was getting to spend time with Dina. It could have easily been a mix of the two but even she could concede that one was more likely than the other.

Ellie mindlessly served the customers at work, going through the motions of her day, not even remembering arriving or starting her shift. The sound of Cat's laughter behind her filled her ears and she smiled as she spun around, watching as she joked around with the other girl on shift. She knew there was little more beautiful than when Cat was happy and laughing so unashamedly with conviction and when she looked at her that way that she did, Ellie couldn't help but smile wider with her.

"Should we go meet up with Jesse from mine tonight?" Cat asked, breaking her out of her trance when she turned to look at her.

 


 

Ellie quickly tossed her bag to the side, jogging over to her team. The day had been long and weird and it left her with a feeling of melancholy that she couldn't shake. She was looking forward to working out, knowing that it would finally allow her brain to switch off even if it was only for a little while.

"Hey guys." she mumbled, flicking the ball off to the side of the group at Abby who quickly ducked out of the way before shooting her a scowl.

They all greeted her back in unison and she almost missed Abby picking up the ball and throwing it at her with pace, but she just managed to throw her body out of the way in time before shooting her an incredulous look. They all laughed and Ellie was quick to join in before they passed the ball around between them, talking about insignificant things like what they were going to get up to on the weekend or who liked who now. She couldn't help but join in teasing Abby when it came out from Nora that she liked a boy in Jesse's soccer team.

"I can set you up you know?" Ellie smirked, kicking the ball at pace towards her. "Can get Jesse to put in a good word."

"Oh, you can fuck right off, Williams." Abby groaned, kicking it back twice as hard at her. "And I don't need your help anyways, even if I was interested."

"I don't know, it kind of seems like you need some help." Nora joked, stretching on the spot beside her. "You can't even talk to him without falling apart."

The team giggled and an uncharacteristic blush graced Abby's cheeks which she quickly snarled away. Ellie looked around at them all as they continued to tease her, she was thankful that they all gelled together so well and she got along with them. She decided she would cut Abby some slack but get the gossip from Jesse later about a potential match up.

When Maria came she quickly barked orders at them all, sending them on a long run around campus and Ellie pushed herself further to set the pace, making everyone keep up with her and spurring them on when they fell behind. It was twenty minutes later before they appeared back in front of her, puffing hard as they tried to catch their breathes. They spent the new few moments stretching and Ellie had never been more pleased to have training than tonight, and judging by the start of it, Maria was going to make it a strenuous one.

She never minded working hard, especially when it would benefit her team. They were in the semi-finals of the competition, having only tied in the first game, one win would see them through to the finals. Maria would never admit it to the team, but during their last training, which had also become a catch-up that she looked forward to, she had confided that she had never gotten this far in the competition before and she was nervous both for herself and the team.

Ellie had opened up so much to Maria, it felt nice that she was opening up to her too.

She could sense before that that Maria had been on edge and she wondered if it was something to do with Tommy, finding the courage to finally ask her if they were okay and once she was assured that they were, Maria had told her everything. Ellie knew she never would have worked it out herself, even she could admit she was a little bit dense at times.

Ellie would never admit how close she was to driving back home and kicking Tommy's ass if he had screwed it up. Maria was too good for him, and she would have made him fix anything he had messed up.

She had assured Maria that day that she would do anything to help her get the victory, but those words put a new weight on her shoulders. Bearing it wasn't entirely uncomfortable, she felt pride for the fact that Maria had trusted her with that information and she knew from that moment she would help the team as much as she could, just as Maria had been helping her.

While Maria was easily obeyed, when she saw the girls slacking Ellie was on their asses about, spurring them to do better. While everyone was easy to get going and tended to listen, she had the most trouble with Abby who struggled more with being told what to do. She figured her own way to get her going though, and all she had to do was tease her to get her blood boiling and wanting to do whatever she could to best her.

Ellie didn't mind that, she loved the added competition that it brought and it just made them all hungrier to do better.

She thought training was over too soon but by the time Maria finally called it, everyone was exhausted. They were too tired to chat amongst themselves as they changed their shoes and put on their sweatshirts, only the sounds of their ragged breaths filling the silence of the cold night air. Ellie threw the rest of her belongings in her bag and said her goodbyes to her team and Maria before jogging off.

Holding the straps of her bag she made her way down the dark streets, taking her time as she looked up to the sky. It was dark and clouds blanketed the sky, hiding the stars behind them and she thought it was somewhat ominous but decided to shrug it off. When the rain began to dance around her, she didn't care or quicken her pace. It was cold but it felt nice as if it was washing away all the sinful thoughts from the day and she could start over fresh when she got to Cat's apartment.

She looked up as she walked, closing her eyes and allowing the water to sting her already cold skin. Before long she was soaked from head to toe, the water weighing her clothes and body down.

She knocked on the door at Cat's waiting patiently on the other side for her to answer and when she did, she only grinned sheepishly as she watched Cat fold her arms and look her up and down judgingly.

"What happened to you?" Cat asked, her stern face quickly turning to that of an amused one.

"Um, it's raining obviously." she unhelpfully offered, glancing down at herself.

"For god's sake, Ellie." Cat chuckled, stepping to the side and letting her in. "Can't you use like, an umbrella or something? You're such a child."

"I don't control the weather, Cat." she replied with a laugh of her own, dropping her bag and quickly shrugging out of her coat, followed by pulling her wet hoodie over her head.

Cat hummed, stepping up to her and helping her get the garment over her head. When it dropped to the floor, Ellie looked at her appreciatively and Cat reaching up to slide her hand over her cheek before pressing her lips to her forehead.

"Why don't you go have a shower to warm up?" Cat offered, stepping out of the embrace Ellie tried to pull her into. "Just because you're cold doesn't mean I need to be cold too."

"Isn't that how it works?" Ellie asked, raising her eyebrow suggestively.

"Fuck off." Cat laughed, heading to the kitchen. "Go."

Ellie rolled her eyes and while she felt like arguing, she decided to do as she was told and made her way to the bathroom. She paused in front of the mirror for a second, glancing at her face. It had definitely filled out and her bags were not so prominent anymore. She knew that Jesse and Cat had been making a conscious effort to get her eating more and because she didn't feel as sick as she had been feeling before she welcomed it, refusing to let them catch on to that fact. She didn't want to lose the free meals that she had gained from it, they were often delicious and much better than she would have provided for herself.

She pulled a few faces, stretching her skin in different directions and sticking out her tongue before stepping away with a sigh and switching on the water. She undressed why it heated up, peeling the sticky clothing from her skin and carelessly dropping it to the ground at her feet. She climbed into the tub, stepping under the water and letting it warm her from top to bottom and easing her aching muscles. The water washed away all the dirt and grime from the day, leaving her feeling clean from the day's activities as if she was now a blank slate. She washed and dried herself, wearing the towel around her body as she walked from the bathroom to Cat's room, earning a mischievous glance in her direction from the black-haired woman.

Ellie shifted some clothes around her room, searching for some of her own to put on, and once she found what she needed she pulled them on, quickly dressing before heading out to the kitchen to help Cat with dinner.

"Smells good." She pressed a sloppy kiss to Cat's cheek as she stirred the pot on the stove.

"It's nothing special." Cat laughed, waving at her over her shoulder to swat her away. "Why don't you go take a seat, you've had a long day."

"If you're sure." Ellie grinned, placing another quick kiss on her cheek before she backed off without much of an argument.

Ellie plopped down, draping her gangly limbs over the couch as she laid back, watching Cat at work in the kitchen.

When she was younger she often