The night is alive. A swarming haze of streetlights and car fumes, even the smell of wet grass among the houses to the left feels like magic, destiny, as if the environment matches the electricity coursing through my legs, guiding me to the Wesley house, guiding me to her.
The canvas sneakers were a welcome idea, treading effortlessly as I sprint my way down the pavement, the faint raindrops finding the bare skin upon my arms. I would shudder if I wasn’t so adrenalized.
Step by step by step, my pace quickens alongside my racing thoughts.
What if she has already left?
What if she is no longer going to the dance?
What if she doesn’t forgive me?
The thumping in my chest wills me to slow down, and yet my anxiety begs for an opposing reality, a reality in which I am banging down her door within minutes, spilling my thoughts to the ground around us like gasoline, lighting the match with words that shall ignite something in the pair of us, setting us both alight.
That reality is everything, and so, I don’t slow down.
When I reach that familiar building, only then do I allow myself a single moment to breathe, exhaling deeply towards the wet cement beneath.
It is likely she is in there, behind concrete walls, unaware that there is a girl standing outside, damp hair, dirty shoes, a girl who loves her dearly. And I could walk away, and she would never know. Alas, that is not in our destiny tonight.
Everyone gets a moment in their life, a moment in which their heart is thumping, their legs are shaking, a moment which defines them, will make or break them. I feel stronger now than I ever did, more myself than I ever have; a broken foundation rebuilt from the ground up, and yet I crave more, because what is winning without the trophy?
Sterling Wesley is not a trophy, but a beacon, a light so bright it burns through your eyelids, and yet you welcome it. You welcome the blurred vision that comes as a result of the exposure, you welcome the colors that dance among your pupils, you welcome all of it.
And so, without a second thought, I place my knuckles upon the door, and knock.
For a few moments, the air is silent, waiting alongside me, and its presence is almost overwhelming. The prospect of nothing and everything breathes down my neck simultaneously, disguised as wind and rain.
And then, I am met with that familiar blonde hair, those piercing eyes, that face of confusion I’ve come to know so well, as if it is engraved into my routine. I wish this wasn’t all so confusing, that her face would light up with that beacon grin when she saw me, that we weren’t just two magnets on the same pole repelling each other because we’re so damn similar. But it doesn’t always have to be like this, I tell myself, it doesn’t have to be.
Her outfit takes me by surprise, a plain gray hoodie and some navy blue sweatpants. Her hair is tied back in a simple bun, and despite the casual attire she is intoxicating. I think I love her more for it.
My mouth opens ever so slightly, exhaling a short breath as my eyes hover in her direction, never once leaving her face, as if looking long enough will make her light up. I realize, however, that this cannot and will not be if I do not make things right. If I don’t expel the thoughts and start a fire, just as I had envisioned.
I take the leap.
“I’ve not always been honest with you, and that’s on me. I was scared, no, not just scared, terrified, I was terrified Sterl. But I look at you…I look at you and I tell myself how can this be wrong? How can this be wrong when I feel so strongly about you? How can this be wrong when I’m at my happiest when I’m with you? How can it be so wrong to be so happy? Being happy is good, right? It’s good, it’s what we all strive for and…”
She places a hand upon my shoulder, and I’m reminded of why I ran all this way. Why I’m standing here in dirty sneakers and a dampened dress. I’m reminded of the life that we can have now that I am living for myself, mask off, curtains open.
“I’m sorry. I let you down. I’ve let you down before, I can’t promise I’ll never let you down again, but I promise to try. I promise that you can rely on me, depend on me, and I will do everything in my power to be there for you. I’m so sorry, I-”
I exhale deeply, her fingertips still grazing the bare skin upon my shoulder. I could die like this, and die happy.
Her hand falls to my arm slowly, offering a gentle squeeze, a silent indication that she hears me. That she can tell how apologetic I truly am. When her mouth opens to speak I wait to fall apart.
The question is not what I had expected, and yet I’m relieved that the words coming out of her mouth don’t involve ‘leave’ or ‘go away.’
“He…he won’t be escorting me tonight.”
A simple fact lingering between both parties.
“Is that so?” she smirks, and I feel the fire in my lungs spread around my ribs. It’s igniting, we’re igniting. I can feel it, I can feel it, I can feel it.
“Well, I guess now that my parents know that I’m gay I have nothing to run from anymore...only something to run to.” I smile back at her, allowing the beacon of light to envelop me, warm me in its saturated glow. How can light be contagious? It cannot, and yet, it is.
“That’s the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard, but I’ll let it slide because…you came out to your parents?”
Her expression is a picture, her eyes wider, cheeks redder, fingers grasping tighter across my skin creating faint lines of red among my own personal canvas.
“And I’d do it a thousand times over for you, but I also did it for myself too. Only now do I realize how exhausted I have been since I knew I was gay. This rigidity in my body, god, Sterl, the rigidity. I thought it was a part of me, and that everyone felt it too...this state of constant anxiety and fear. Now that I’ve told my parents who I am that stiffness is gone. It’s gone. It wasn’t just a weight on my shoulders, it was so much more, it was…it was-“
“Completely and utterly debilitating?” she finishes.
“Completely and utterly debilitating,” I repeat, sighing into the accuracy of her words, because she understands. Of course she understands.
That familiar silence creeps back in, and if I wasn't so grounded I'd swat it away with my hands, battle it with words. And yet, I feel there is but no need. The silence feels natural. As if we have reached the stage in which we are comfortable to simply be in each others presence.
“What’s…uh…what’s that in your hand?” she asks, once the silence has left us, motioning her head towards the corsage. I commend her for the simplicity of each exchange, the direct questions that slow my mind down so that we may bask in each second without my breath catching in every moment.
“Oh! I almost forgot” I laugh, awkwardly, gazing towards the pavement. “It’s for you, if you want it that is. Obviously you don’t have to be my date, I know I’ve been terrible to you and-“
Before my brain can trip over itself any longer, her lips have met mine and my body is exploding.
Wrapping my arms around her, I shudder into her touch, basking in the warm glow of Sterling Wesley’s luminescence. Clean laundry; she smells like clean laundry and her. She feels like cotton and safety. And in this moment I know, I know that I could live a thousand lives and yet never once come close to replicating this complete and utter satisfaction. I could die and be thinking of this, right here, right now. A girl kissing another girl upon a familiar doorstep. It is simple and yet the most incomprehensible act I could imagine.
When she pulls away, for the first time I feel no emptiness. And I realize suddenly that it is because for the first time, I am no longer in fear that this will be the last time. Our future may be unknown but it is bright and beautiful, vibrant. She is vibrant.
And I know that there are a thousand unsaid words willing themselves to be heard, and it shall be so, when the rain has stopped and the abruptness of the situation has slowed to a gentle thrum, I will tell her everything. I will set up home among the threads inside her mind, piecing back together all that I have cut away.
Her hand strokes the fingertips of my own, and I extend each limb attached to intertwine them with hers. I extend my other hand, before placing the corsage upon her arm.
When her eyes meet mine again, I sigh with content.
“I’d be honored to be your date, April Stevens.”
The night is alive.