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Toni isn’t really sure on what to make of Shelby Goodkind.

First the blonde came waltzing into school as the new girl in sophomore year and somehow managed to work herself to the top of the school hierarchy. She literally came out of now where and now, as they entered senior year, she managed a full plate. Student body president, honor society, treasurer of the debate club, soloist in choir and captain of the cheerleading squad which meant that Toni would be stuck seeing her more often than not.

Now that she was the first girl to join their school’s football team and the captain of the girls’ basketball team.

It starts in September, really.

The cheerleaders have this thing where before every game of Friday, they decorate the lockers of the guys on the football team and bring them their favorite meal. Toni doesn’t expect it- doesn’t want it even because it’s pretty fucking sexist if you asked her, however she finds herself confused when she approaches her locker to see it decorated, possibly the loudest of the bunch. She looks up one end of the hallway and down the other, confusion written on her face. “What the fuck.” She mumbles under her breath as she hikes her backpack on her shoulder. She didn’t sign up for this sort of crap and she wants to tear it down, until she feels another body besides her. It doesn’t take long to figure out who it was, the perfume was a clear give away. It was never strong, just a hint of it and Toni stupidly remembers the name, mostly because of Martha asking. ‘Wild Poppy’ That fake sweet southern voice played in her head- until she hears it out loud.

“Do you like it?”

Toni looks over her shoulder and sees her.

She sees stupid Shelby Goodkind with her high ponytail and cheerleading uniform, bouncing back and forth on her feet with her hands clasped together. She must read her face because she asks again. “Do you like it, your locker?” She points to it before she clasps her hand together, wringing them together. It makes Toni wonder- was she nervous.

“We picked names out of a hat.” Shelby continues. “For our personal football players and I noticed that you weren’t in there.” She explains. “Had to be a mistake on Stephine’s part. Can’t put that girl in charge of anything.” And she laughs, a bit nervously. “So, I took it upon myself to become your personal cheerleader.”

“How very Christian of you.” Toni dryly states as she fumbles with her lock.

“Aw, thank you.”

Toni is starting to sense that either one, this girl doesn’t get sarcasm or two, she just doesn’t give a shit. “You do realize that his tradition is extremely sexist.” Toni points out when she finally gets her locker open. “I’m sure that doesn’t bother you, being that your own values are- questionable.”

She expects Shelby to walk off in a huff, hell she wants Shelby to walk off in a huff. Instead, she smiles and hops to her side, leaning against the locker beside her and Toni tries to not look directly at her because she knew she’d get distracted- it’s her eyes. It’s the first thing she noticed about her when she first met her. She had never seen anything like it before- a bright gold and they had a habit of brining Toni in.

Which sucked because of the fact that Shelby was straight and not just straight but a bible thumping, conversion camp supporting, homophoic, ‘Christ can heal the gay away’, kind of straight.

Regan had helped push Toni’s feelings aside because Regan had been the best thing that happened to her, until she wasn’t. Toni did notice, the way Shelby would shift uncomfortably when she noticed them walking down the halls hand in hand. Toni tried not to notice, but she did, and she also notice how Shelby became ‘nicer’ after Regan broke up with her.

“There is nothing wrong with a little tradition.” Shelby points out sweetly with her dazzling pageant smile and those bright eyes, Toni was pretty sure they were a liquid gold, she had never seen eyes like hers. “I mean coach did have an issue with it, argued with the football coach- pretty much said the same thing you said.”

“She might not look it, but Mrs. Clayton is a hard ass.” Toni muses as she shrugs off her bag and unzips it. “Looks like she lost though?”

She watches as Shelby picks at her fingernail for a minute, and Toni cocks her head to the side. Was she- was she nervous? “I didn’t know what to bring you- food wise. I mean the only thing I could think of is what you eat every morning.” She pulls her backpack to her side and pulls out a bag of Takis and a bottle of Gatorade. “I have no idea how you run on these.” She expresses as she presents them to Toni. “I mean I could make you my mama’s homemade mac’ and cheese next time.”

Toni takes a minute and looks at the food in her hands before cautiously accepting it. “Next time?”

“Yeah, next time.” She giddily says. “I’m your personal cheerleader, remember?”

Toni eyes her carefully. “Yeah, I got that- can I ask why you picked me? I mean firstly, I’m the only girl on the team that your boyfriend-”

“Ex-boyfriend.” Shelby quickly corrects her.

“Uh-huh,” She regards her and then continues. “Ex-boyfriend is currently on and well, I am pretty sure you hate me because of you ‘values’, so I just have to ask you again, why?”

Shelby licks her lips and god, Toni hates that she notices it. “I- I don’t hate you, Toni.” She firmly tells her. “It’s just- well your lifestyle, I wasn’t raised to- God doesn’t agree with it.”

Toni chuckles and shakes her head as she slams her locker shut, causing the blonde to jump a bit. “There you go, hiding behind your religion and following a book that was written by a bunch of stale old men centuries ago.” She sighs. “Look, I don’t need you to do this. So just find someone else.” She begins to walk away and realizes that Shelby is following after her.

“Actually,” She clears her throat and Toni rolls her eyes. “Actually, there is one book that isn’t- the Book of Ruth- I.” Shelby steps into her path and Toni stops. “I just- we are in a lot of classes together and we barely know each other.” She’s playing with the hem of her skirt, eyes flicking down toward her crisp white shoes. “I just thought- here is Toni Shalifoe, literally making history as the first girl on the football team and that, I don’t know it’d be nice to get to know you.”

Now Toni begins to wonder if she somehow woke up in an alternate universe- or if she was apart of an elaborate prank. “So, you’re telling me, that you, Shelby Goodkind, preacher’s daughter, leader of the youth group wants to be friends with me? You do realize that just because your friends with a lesbian doesn’t mean that you’re not automatically homophoic.”

“I’m not,” She swallows and blinks. “Just give it a chance- please? It involves food and Marty said it was your” She stops, thinks and comes out with. “Love language?”

And Toni bursts out laughing right there, and she is sure that Shelby is lost. “Alright, fine. You can use your outdated tradition to feed me.” She pauses. “Though I’m still not joining your cult.”

Then Shelby beams her ten-watt smile and sometime inside of Toni flutters. “Great, you won’t be disappointed!” She runs her hands up and down the straps of her backpack. “So, mac and cheese next time, alright?”

Toni gives her a thumbs up.

“Great and Toni? It’s not a cult, it’s a church.” She adds. “And you’re welcome to come anytime.”

“Nah, I’m good- cause it’s a cult, like I said.” She steps past her. “Anyways, uh- thanks for the food.” And she leaves the blonde girl behind before she can say anything else.

 

 

So, this is how it goes every Friday for September.

Shelby bouncing over towards her locker with a tupper ware filled with food and a bright smile. Shelby does do most of the talking and Toni notices that it doesn’t bother her because Shelby does seem to like to talk. Toni hears it all; she hears about her brother and her sister, her mom, pageants and every once and a while her dad- but never her life before in Texas. She doesn’t talk about her old home, her old school, or her old friends and Toni finds it odd because she talks about everything else.

Part of Toni wants to ask her, but another part of her doesn’t. She doesn’t want to open the floodgates, make her think that they are friends because they’re not.

Because in the end, Shelby still is Shelby and deep down she still has hate in her which isn’t okay in book. She’s dealt with enough hate in her life, she’s been called every name in the book after all.

 

 

Friday night games are a great outlet though, for her anger. Talking someone onto the ground helps her get everything from that week out of her system. She likes being on the field, listening to the crowd roaring and she likes the fanfare after she manages to score the winning touchdown. Toni couldn’t believe that she did it until one of her teammates comes over to her and screams that they won, next thing she knows she is being surrounded by her teammates and she rips her helmet off her head and spits her mouth guard out. The lights on the field are blinding as she adjusts to the crowd who are chanting her name of all names.

She catches a face coming through the crowd of smelly high school boys, her high ponytail full of platinum blonde hair catches in the light and she gets a nose full of Wild Poppy perfume when a body collides into hers.

Shelby fucking Goodkind is hugging her and Toni doesn’t know what to make of it but basks in it because of the high she was feeling from the win, so she wraps her arms around her and hugs her back. She’s laughing in her ear and she says something about being the best personal cheerleader, but when she pulls away, noses crinkled in a laugh that vanishes quickly to be replaced by a hint of fear in her eye. The blonde girl swallows hard before she puts a mile-wide hunk of space between them. Toni wants to tell her to calm down, that she can’t catch the gay, but she doesn’t because she isn’t going to let Shelby’s deep-rooted hate bother her, not today.

 

 

She’s walking out of the stadium with Marty and Mrs. Blackburn when she starts to get an inkling of Shelby’s homelife. It’s not like Toni cares because she doesn’t, but she doesn’t like the way Shelby’s currently backed into one of the concrete beams with who she guesses is her dad, pointing a finger at her with anger twisted on his face.

And Shelby doesn’t look that that bubbly, prideful, pain in the ass that greets her every Friday morning and sits next to her in English class.

Now her whole demeanor had shrunken, and she just looks so small, gaze fixed towards the ground. She just looks so defeated and something bubbles up in Toni and maybe she has a bit of an impulse control problem, but at least she tells Martha and Mrs. Blackburn that she’d catch up with them before she turns on her heel and makes her way over towards Shelby and her preacher father.

She hears: ‘If you don’t think that I won’t send you back to that place, you’re dead wrong’

She hears: ‘They said you were fixed, cured!’

And she hears: ‘So tell me, do you like to be a disappointment? Huh, do you revel in the fact that it’s your fault, huh?’

It takes every bit of self-control to keep Toni from unleashing pure fire and brimstone on this man of god because Toni sees her, she sees those tear-filled liquid gold eyes and she sees her. “Hey, some of football players and cheerleaders are going to go get pizza- coaches are treating. You coming Shelbs?”

And just like that, the preacher stops berating his daughter. Just like that his face that was twisted in anger and disgust morphs before her very eyes, but just as Toni saw Shelby, she saw her dad and the venom that he spewed. “Well, well.” Gone is the sneering tone and replaced with that so called charming deep south draw. “If it isn’t the MVP, we haven’t gotten a chance to meet- but I’ve heard a lot about you- first female football player in the history of this high school.” He sticks his hand out and Toni makes a point to look at it- but not shake it. “Some folks here call it progressive; I find it a bit- odd.”

“Yeah, that happens.” Toni puts on a fake smile and looks over at Shelby. “The farther up north you go- the less backwards things get.” Toni’s all smiles in front of this man, but she doesn’t miss the subtle way his eye twitches. “We’re all for moving forward up north, being progressive. Boys do ballet, girls do football- it’s a win, win situation in my book.” She turns her head to Shelby. “So, pizza?” Her gaze flicks back toward Mr. Goodkind and she knows he is boiling, especially when Toni makes a point to loop her arm through Shelby’s. However, they are in public and there are eyes around them, and she knows that they have an image to maintain, “We’ll have her back safe and sound before she turns into a pumpkin, Mr. Goodkind, I swear.”

The preacher clears his throat. “Yes, yes of course. Why would I deny the squad of their captain? I could drive you girls.”

Toni begins to tug at Shelby, trying to knock some sense into her. “Nah, we’re good, Mr. Goodkind.” She nods towards Martha and Mrs. Blackburn. “It’s already taken care of.”

He stiffens, nods and claps his hands together. “Alright well, have fun girls.” And Toni tugs her again, thankfully Shelby snaps out of whatever daze she was in and smiles back. Shelby doesn’t take two steps before they hear. “And Shelby?” The blonde looks over her shoulder and at her dad yet again. “We’ll finish our conversation when you get home.”

Fear, yet again washes over the young woman and Toni’s free hand curls into a fist. She could, if she wasn’t already in so much trouble. She would if he wasn’t a powerful adult in the community, one day though she will.

When he is met with silence he says again. “Shelby? Did you hear me?”

And god is this girl conditioned, god is she brainwashed because she is so quick, much like him she puts on a mask. “Of course, daddy.”

 

When they reach the Blackburns, Martha is overjoyed to have Shelby tagging along. She practically rips Shelby away from Toni and they get a head start to the car while Mrs. Blackburn puts a gentle hand on Toni’s shoulder, stopping her. “What was that about?” She nods towards the preacher subtly as they trail a bit behind the other two girls.

Toni looks over her shoulder, eyes narrowed that the straightlaced man that was now watching her like a hawk. “I don’t know.” She shakes her head. “It just seems that our resident bible thumping family has some skeletons- I just, I don’t get a good feeling from him.”

Mrs. Blackburn gives a laugh. “You, me and a handful of people seem to be on the same page.” She then nods towards Shelby. “Thought you didn’t like. Martha said the word bigoted bitch tends to come out of your mouth on the topic of her.”

“I don’t like her, I think she’s fake, among other things.” Toni stands her ground. “Trust me, I don’t- it’s just. I think there is more to her that we don’t see and whatever that was? Between her and her dad, it can’t be good, Mrs. Blackburn.”

The older woman smiles and rubs her back. “You’re a good person, you know, that right?” and Toni shrugs. “Toni,” She states a bit firmly. “You are.”

 

 

They all push tables together to create one large one at Marcella’s Pizzeria. Everyone sits divided up, some of the cheerleaders, who had boyfriends on the football team sit together others sit next to their partnered pair, which is why once again, Toni is stuck with Shelby. Well to be fair, Martha is sitting next to Shelby and Toni sits across from her. Shelby seemed to have healed up from her dad’s freak out- key word seemed to be, her and Martha laugh while Toni scarfs down half a pie by herself.

“Toni slow down, I don’t need you barfing in my room tonight.” Martha pleads and Toni smirks.

“Okay, first of all- I have never puked in your room and two, I can handle it.” She takes another bite, cheese dangling from the slice. “I need to refuel.” She talks with a full mouth.

Shelby looks between the girls. “Oh, I didn’t know- do you two live together?”

Martha shrugs. “Toni crashes every once and a while, depending on how she is getting along with her foster family.”

“Martha,” Toni warns and Shelby leans on her hand.

“You never said you were a foster kid.” Shelby’s tone is gentle and Toni scoffs, she does not need this girl’s pity.

“You never asked, and you don’t need to know.” Toni doesn’t mean to bite, she doesn’t know why she does. She catches Martha’s eye. “What?”

But they are interrupted by a childlike giggle as small girl with long brown hair comes barreling into the restaurant, running right into Coach Clayton’s arms. A young boy follows in after her, matching her pace and they are both wearing the school colors. “We get pizza too, right?” The little girl jabbers on and Toni gives them a glance and a smile before going back to the pie in front of her. “Got to keep it away from Toni though,” The small child adds with a giggle.

Toni forgets who is in front of her and teasingly stinks her tongue out at the little girl. “I ate your chicken nuggets once and you still haven’t let it go, Flora I am shocked!”

“They were her Dino-Nuggets.” Their English teacher and the cheer coach, Mrs. Clayton points out in her kind voice. “I’m surprised she’s even looking at you.” The older woman points out before being busied by her two children.

“Coach Clayton has kids?” Shelby seemed a little dumb founded. “I’ve been on her squad for two months and in this school for three years, how come I am just finding this out.”

Toni smirks. “That’s because Mrs. Clayton isn’t a fan of suck ups.”

“She just likes to keep her private life private.” Martha pipes up, shooting Toni a glare. “And the only reason why Toni knows is because she works for the Clayton’s, even baby sat their kids a few times.”

“Well,” Shelby smiles. “Her husband must be a very handsome man, they are gorgeous.”

Toni catches Martha’s eye and smirks. “Well, Shelby you are in for a treat today because-”

Just before Toni can break the news, Mrs. Clayton’s wife walks in. To Shelby, she must think it’s another patron until Jamie Clayton speaks. “Sorry baby, they got away from me.” In her smooth accent before she wraps an arm around her wife, giving her a quick peck on the lips and Toni watches as Shelby’s face falls into one of discomfort. “Please tell me that we are not paying for all this food alone. Shalifoe over there can eat a whole Christmas dinner by herself if you let her.”

“I had two Dino-Nuggets, two!” Toni defends with a laugh. “Not the whole package.”

“Uh-huh, that’s not what Miles and Flora said.” The curly haired brunette winks before she turns her attention back on her family and Toni- well she faces Shelby again who is white as a sheet, hands curled into fists.

“What.” Toni asks. “You got a problem with that.” She nods over towards the older couple and then narrows her eyes. “Cause just two seconds ago, you were gushing about Mrs. Clayton’s gorgeous husband who is actually Mrs. Clayton’s beautiful wife.”

“Toni.” Martha’s voice is shaky.

“But now here you are, looking like a damn ghost because your coach is married to a woman. Tell me, how does that hate feel.” Toni goes on, challenging the blonde across from her.

Martha sighs. “God, Toni- stop, you sound like a sith lord. Drop it.”

But Toni ignores her best friend’s pleas. “No, Martha. I wanna hear her say it. You hate gay people.”

“I do not!” Shelby speaks up in a harsh whisper, unable to keep her eyes off the family at the end of the table. “I just don’t agree with it.” She sticks her chin up, even though she’s trembling. “Besides, won’t that damage those children.”

Toni gives a bitter laugh. “The only thing that tends to damage children is shit views, those kids have the most loving parents anyone could even ask for.”

“It’s the Lord’s word he says-” She begins, now she’s full on shaking and strange enough, Toni begins to worry. “Being gay is wrong.”

“You can’t choose it,” Toni points out. “You’re born with it, so if we go on your ‘theory’ god created the gays, just as he created everyone else.”

Tears once again fill those eyes. “It’s not- then why would he make me-” She stops, swallows past her tears and stands up. “No- no, you are wrong, it’s a choice!” And with that she slams her napkin down. “And one that is not on the righteous path!”

“You are so brainwashed and so full of hate.” Toni coolly says and with that, Shelby storms out of the restaurant leaving confused faces all around.

“Toni?” Coach Clayton speaks up. “Toni, honey, why do you insist on making my girls cry?”

Toni tries to defend herself, but the blonde woman comes charging her way in a brisk walk that makes Toni jump to her feet. “Go fix that.”

“Mrs. Clayton, you didn’t hear-” Toni tries but the other woman tightens her lips and shakes her head. “Oh no, I heard and if you only knew, you’d understand. Go talk to her, please.”

And Toni gives in, muttering a fine before she shucks her hands into her pockets and walks off after Shelby Goodkind. It’s a ‘blessing’ as the other girl would call it, because she’s curious when she remembers what Shelby said ‘then why would he make me-’ and how quickly she cut herself off before she could finish.

Toni does find her, quickly. She can’t get that far without a ride after all. Shelby is sitting on a bench, a few stores down in the strip mall. Toni takes a breath- for therapeutic reasons, and wanders over, plopping herself down next to the weeping blonde. “I’m not going to apologize.”

“I don’t expect you to.”

“Good.”

There is a beat and then. “I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that I don’t hate you, Toni.”

“Yeah,” Toni nods. “You actually do though. Sure, you’ve been nice- doing that stupid personal cheerleader and bringing me food, s’not that I don’t appreciate it, but it doesn’t cover up the fact that you do hate me, Shelby. I saw your face, when Mrs. Clayton kissed her wife, showed off her family. You fucking shuddered. I’m sorry, that’s hate.” Toni clasps her hands together and looks up at the sky. “Sure it’s learned hate, but still you can reverse it, ask questions- educate yourself.”

“I can’t do that.” Shelby shakes her head, voice trembling. “I can’t, I just can’t.”

Toni feels the rage bubbling up again, however she is good as calming it when it came to Shelby. Even if her tone is still clipped. “And why the hell not?”

Just like that, the floodgates open and she’s a mess of tears and Toni wants to reem her out of her pity party until. “Because they’ll send me back if I do, alright and I ca- I can’t go back there, I can’t.” She sobs. “I just can’t do it anymore.”

She’s hesitant, but she scoots closer to Shelby and puts a comforting hand on her back. “Back? Who- where would they send you?”

“That fucking camp.” Shelby spits and Toni is taken back, not just because this pure Christian girl in front of her cursed, but her tone was so unlike her. “It didn’t work because of course it didn’t and my dad,” She sniffles. “Do you know how lucky you are? You have no one to answer too and you have people that accept you for who you are- no one judges you, Toni. It feels like everywhere I go, everyone wants me to meet some expectation and that’s not just in cheer or pageants, but everywhere. You’re free, Toni.”

Toni has so many questions, but she starts with. “Seriously, you’re jealous of me? You put yourself in the position to be judged, the cheering- the pageants. That’s on you. My dad skipped town after I was born, and my mom is in and out of rehab like it’s fucking white castle, so you’re right, no one expects shit from me. Doesn’t feel great either. Do you know how many field trips I had to bail on because there wasn’t anyone around to sign my permission slip?” Toni realizes that she is spilling everything to this girl right now, but she wants her to know. “You know, I don’t give a fuck about the planetarium, but it would be nice to have someone there to say that I could.”

“Yeah, but,” Shelby interrupts. “You don’t-”

“But what, Shelby, are you trying to out sad me right now? It’s a losing fucking battle.”

“But you’re free, Toni!” Shelby pushes again, turning her body to face hers.

“And so are you!” Toni pushes back. “You don’t have to meet anyone’s expectations if you don’t want to, Shelby. You’re going off to some fancy college next year, won’t have to step foot into this town again if you don’t want too- you won’t have to deal with your piece of shit of a dad if you don’t want to. You are your own person, understand and I see you, Shelby- not just as some bible thumping, southern belle, beauty queen and if you can’t see that? Then I don’t know what else to tell you.”

She doesn’t expect much from Shelby response wise, the most being her arguing back and trying to prove her point. So, the last thing she expects was for Shelby to surge forward and kiss her. She’s dumbfounded, shocked, but that only lasts for a second after she feels Shelby weave her fingers through her hair. The way Shelby’s kissing her right now, takes her breath away- like a starved animal. It’s deep and it’s hungry and Toni wraps her arms around her waist, pulling her closer and lets everything that is Shelby invade her senses.

Toni wouldn’t lie, it was messy. Shelby tasted like pizza and cola and her salty tears, but it’s electrifying and then Shelby makes this noise, this whimper that turns her into a puddle. She doesn’t know how long they had been like this, in this embrace before Shelby is pulling away with a shaky breath- resting her forehead against Toni’s until something registers in the blonde girl who quickly pulls away and stands up quickly. She’s skittish and Toni doesn’t move, doesn’t want to scare her even more and Shelby looks between her and the pizza place before she books it back towards the restaurant. “Shelby!” Toni stands up and watches her retreat for a moment.

Her lips are still tingling from their kiss as she sits down and tries to process what happened when it hits her. Shelby’s initial panic in the first place, how she talked about a camp and it clicks, so much so that it brings her to her feet, and she feels anger boil inside of her. The camp, it had to be a conversion camp and a new fire of hate for the preacher swirls inside of her. All that shame, all that hate- if Toni had only thought about it, she would have had it figured out. She jogged back over to the restaurant, determined to find Martha, there was no way in hell Shelby was going back to her dad, no way.

 

 

Toni plans as she walks back into Marcella’s.

She looks among the adults, wondering if she should tell Shelby’s coach. Then again, their hearts would be in the right place, but Shelby- her eyes flick over to the blonde cheerleader who was sitting with her team. Their eyes meet and Shelby looks away. No, no adults for now that was, Shelby was obviously trying to figure herself out and by throwing her out of the closet? It would just already do more damage to a damaged soul.

So, she goes to Marty, well cuts Marty off as she’s leaving the bathroom with a: “You have to invite Shelby to spend the night at your house.”

Her best friend looks at her completely confused. “Wait, what? Why would I-” And Toni doesn’t like the way Marty is currently reading her.

“Just do it, okay? Insist on it, just,” Toni grabs her shoulders. “Please? And don’t, don’t ask questions, okay?”

Marty blinks, opens her mouth and then shrugs. “Okay fine, I guess. I mean what are you going to do. I guess she could have the couch…” Marty trails off in thought.

“No, it’s fine. I’ll camp out.” Toni hurriedly tells her. “Just be cool about it okay?”

So, Marty asks Shelby, tries to persuade her, but no dice. Shelby just flashes a smile and tells her she’ll take a rain check before glancing over at Toni, fear hiding behind those pearly whites.

 

 

She feels sick when Mrs. Blackburn drops Shelby off.

She feels sick when she watches her go up to the front step, towards her father who had been waiting out front. Toni watches how he grips Shelby’s forearm, and she clenches her jaw when Shelby visibly flinches.

As they drive away, Marty leans in and speaks in a hushed tone. “Now do you want to explain why you begged me to ask Shelby to spend the night.”

Toni doesn’t answer at first, just watches the blur of the trees from the backseat window. “It’s complicated.” She murmurs and leaves it at that, luckily, Marty knows when to drop something because she gives her a nod before turning back to the game on her phone.

 

 

Toni finds herself unable to sleep that night, her eyes are fixed onto Marty’s ceiling while she listens to her snore on the bed above her. She licks her teeth, fidgets with her fingers and all and all slightly annoyed because she can’t get Shelby out of her fucking head.

She should hate her, she really should after all the hate she’d spew from her mouth. She doesn’t though, she doesn’t hate her. In fact, she feels bad for her, maybe even feels something bigger for her. It was that kiss they shared earlier, so hungry and desperate. Toni had never been kissed like that before, she had never had her breath taken away from a single kiss and she wondered how long Shelby had been wanting to do that.

Okay, so maybe a part of her- way, way deep down, like the deepest part of her possible may have a crush on Shelby Goodkind and it made her growl into the darkness of the bedroom, because she could sure pick them.

Her eyes flick over to her phone. She’s still concerned about the other girl, she wanted to give her space so she could sort her shit out, at least- she grabs her phone and opens it up. Finding Shelby’s name in her contacts, all lower case, no emojis, nothing special really.

The only thing that would go back and forth between the girls was on Shelby’s end. She started all of the conversations, if you’d even call them that. She stares blankly at the bright screen for a moment before she texts:

Hey, you good?’

She holds her breath as three little dots flash up on the screen. She watches them move slightly and frowns when the stop all together. Toni waits a second and is about to text her again when her response flashes in front of her eyes.

Of course I am! Why wouldn’t I be?’

Toni bites her lip, taps the side of her phone and is about to respond with the question of what that was that happened between them when she gets a gut feeling. She didn’t know if that was Shelby and Shelby alone on the other side. If it had been Mr. Goodkind on the other end, or Mr. Goodkind reading over his daughter’s shoulders. She shudders and makes up some bullshit lie because she wondered what Mr. Goodkind would do to her if he saw it. So she says:

‘You just looked a little pale when Carson went to town on that anchovy pizza, that’s all.’  And them ‘See you Monday?’

She responds with a thumbs up and Toni puts her phone back on the nightstand above her, letting sleep take over.

 

 

Monday can’t come soon enough.

She’s worried sick at this point, Martha can tell. She chastises her for biting at the skin on her thumb, asks her what’s wrong, tries to get her to spill but Toni doesn’t. She wants to show some respect for the blonde holy roller by not outing her to Martha, even though she knew the other girl would keep her mouth shut.

So, when she spots Shelby walking into school, looking perfect and smiling up a storm she’s a bit lost. A small pack of her friends are behind her, all chit chatting about their weekend and “Fuck it.” Toni grumbles, turning back to her locker and getting her things out for class which she never makes it too.

Because when the bell does ring, she is being pulled into empty stairwell by one hell of a strong force. “What the fuck?” She whirls around to see Shelby and she softens. She again doesn’t look like the girl who walked the hallway just minutes ago, she looks so small, so scared and before Toni can even say anything, Shelby cuts her off.

“I wanted to thank you.” She begins, sighing when Toni cocks a brow. “For not saying anything in that text you sent.” She breaks eye contact and looks down at the ground. “My daddy- he was monitoring my phone.”

Toni isn’t shocked one bit, but that doesn’t stop her from feeling angry. “Did you tell him?”

It’s only when Shelby lets out a wet laugh when Toni realizes that she’s crying. “No, no I didn’t. I think he suspects something- I mean you’re not shy about who you are and ever since-” She seems to go pale and regret plays on her face. All Toni wants to do at this point is reach out and comfort her. “I’m pretty sure he has eyes in most places.” She whispers. “Watching my every move to make sure that I don’t shame the Goodkind name.”

“Not very good or kind when you literally hate on a whole group of people.” Toni points out and Shelby sniffles.

“I know, really ain’t a good name when you hate your own daughter too.” She finds her eyes again, using the back of her hand to wipe the tears away. “Toni- I,” She bites the corner of her lip, looks away for a moment and then takes a deep breath. “For the longest time I thought there was something wrong with me. I could never feel what the other girls talked about with their boyfriends, I tried so hard, I really did. Expect it wasn’t- because well, because I’m-”

“It’s okay,” Toni keeps her voice gentle, calm. “You don’t have to say it, you can say it when you’re ready.”

Shelby licks her lips and Toni can’t help the way her mind flashes back for a moment to Friday night. “It’s not that I don’t want to say it, its just-” She swallows and shakes her head. “I liked kissing you, Toni.”

Her knees almost buckle at that confession, one reason being that she expected this conversation to be her pretty much telling her to stay the hell away from her. She must take her silence as something else though because nods her head, fidgeting with her cross.

“I liked it a lot.” She breathes.

Toni gives her a sincere smile and a nod. “Shelby, it’s cool.” She nods again, doing her best to convince this girl. “I liked it too.”

The late bell rings, startling the two of them just a bit and they go quite for a moment as they hear someone running up the steps, once the door slams close, Shelby speaks. “I just, I don’t know what to do.”

Toni wets her lips. “You’re struggling, I can see that.” She affirms and Shelby nods. “Look, Shelby- just figure yourself out, alright. It’s gonna take a helluva long time to get all of that hate and shit cleansed from your system and I dunno-” She shrugs. “Maybe this?” She gestures between them. “Could be worth the wait.”

For the first time, Toni see’s Shelby’s true smile and not the pageant one she tosses at people. She thinks it’s the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. “I’d like that.”

 

 

They become friends in a sense while Shelby slowly comes to terms with who she is. She asks questions when she can, like the moment when Toni knew or how she came out. She asked how people took it and all Toni could do was shrug because the only people that mattered were Marty and Mrs. Blackburn. It didn’t really help at all, but she tried, and they talked a lot now. It was Shelby who mentioned that her first crush was Taylor Swift and Toni who had been laughing that even her sexuality was questionable. It was like this now, friendly full of jokes. The occasional lingering gaze, a light touch here or there with Shelby reaching out to twirl some of Toni’s dark hair around her finger. To the untrained eye, they pass as friends. Martha’s even shocked, commenting about how strange it is that they are getting along now. “It’s just so weird.” He best friend comments one night as Toni texted Shelby. “You both getting along now, it’s weird.” Toni glances up when she hears Martha shift. “You hated her, with good reason.”

Toni drops her phone on her chest and gives her a shrug. “People can change.” She quickly grabs her phone when a new text comes in. “If they work hard towards it, they can change.”

“Sooo, you’re telling me that Shelby is no longer a raging homophoic bitch?” Martha asks, more so pries because, to quote her from earlier. ‘I’ve never seen you smile like that, are you sure you didn’t hit your head at the last game?’

Toni knew what she wanted to say, that she hadn’t seen her smile like that since Regan, but she wouldn’t because pointing that out would just start an argument and the were both too tired for that.

 

 

Shit hits the fan in November, well near the end of November when the football season ends. Toni isn’t sure what happens exactly. What she does know is that they get caught and Toni has no idea when or how, but they get caught. It must have been someone from Shelby’s bible club. It had been the last game of the season and a bitter chill was in the air and they had been out on the field between halftime when Shelby came up behind her, a friendly smile as she brushes her hand along the small of Toni’s back. “You are doing great out there.” Shelby gushes and then suddenly frowns.

Toni blinks in confusion. “What, is there something on my face.”

“No, your hair is a hot mess.” Shelby points out, teasing tone as she drops her pom-poms. “Lemme fix it.”

Toni noticed that this was something Shelby liked doing, playing with her hair. Toni really didn’t mind; it was actually pretty soothing but right here. “Shelb, you sure?” She mutters as Shelby stands up on the bench. “Your dad is right there.”

Shelby just smiles at her and gives her a shrug before she mutters. “Didn’t know that doing another girls hair was a gay gesture.” She murmurs close to her ear which makes goose bumps prickle on her skin. “Hell, if it is then I have a lot of friends at slumber parties that I’ll need some answers from.”

Toni gives a breath of a laugh as Shelby begins to work at her hair, using her fingers in lieu of a brush. “I was kicked out of a slumber party once.” Toni muses, eyes closed. “I was nine, had a tantrum about something stupid and was forced to leave. I’m sure yours were awesome back in your big house in Texas, betcha had one of those huge ass beds with like fifty pillows.”

Shelby hums in response. “I had a few, like a said- expect no one was allowed in my bed. House rule.”

“Right, cause your dad feared you’d be turned to the darkside.” Toni jokes.

“No, because it was my bed and I wasn’t a fan sharing it- but like I’m sure now, Dave up there would have a big ‘ol tantrum.” She pauses as she secures the hair tie and jumps down, putting a hand on Toni’s shoulder. “I wouldn’t mind sharing though, if it was you.”

And Toni’s face goes beet red. “You know your killing me right now?”

Shelby beams. “I know,” She chirps. “Good luck out there!”

“I’m proud of you, you know that, right?” Toni adds in a whisper. “You’ve come pretty far in a month.”

She nods as she picks up her pom-poms. “Well, that therapist Mrs. Clayton referred me to is really helping, we’re coming up with a plan- to tell my parents.” Toni doesn’t miss the way Shelby’s gaze drops to her lips for a moment. “There is still so much to unravel.”

Toni smiles fondly. “I’ll be there if you need me, when the time comes.”

“I know,” Shelby picks at the handles. “Now get out there and kick some ass!”

Toni gives a low laugh as she puts her helmet back on. “You say your prayers with that mouth?” And laughs again as Shelby playfully gives her a push. “Take that as a yes.”

 

 

It’s a complete miracle that they won the game, it was nice to end on a high note. The cheerleaders swarm the field again and Shelby is hugging her again, her eyes sparkling under the stadium lights and Toni has to hold every ounce of herself back from kissing her right there, even more so when she gives her that dazzling smile.

They all go to Carson’s for the after party to escape the adults and just to experience their senior year in full. Toni is sitting on the counter of the kitchen in the large house, talking to some of her teammates about the upcoming basketball season as she drinks some toxic mixture of all the alcohol in the house. She finds Shelby among some of her friends on the dance floor and she lifts her cup to her lips and their eyes lock. Shelby smiles her way and winks at her.

No one around her seems to catch it, well no on expect Carson who gives her knowing look only saying something once everyone goes off somewhere else. “Now as the only two gay teammates, you need to tell me what the hell that is about.” He nods towards Shelby. “I though she was pure anti-gay until I’ve caught her actually undressing you with her eyes a few times at practices and games.” He dips his cup into the punch bowel and hops up on the counter. “And then there is the way you both literally eye fuck each other. So, does Shelby Goodkind bat for the other team?”

Toni scoffs and puts down her cup. “We’re not going there, Carson.”

“Aw c’mon, Toni. I have been invested in this since she was declared your cheerleader in September. I thought to myself that this would end two ways, either one of them would kill the other or they’d end up fucking. Which Tom told me would be impossible since Shelby is the holy roller, but the repressed ones always surprise you.”

“You’ve talked about this with your boyfriend?” Toni asks and shakes her head when Carson nods. “I don’t know why I even ask.”

“So…” Carson pries. “What is going on between you and Shelby?”

Toni gives an annoyed sigh and jumps off the counter. “None of your damn business.”

They both get quiet as Shelby approaches the two of them. “Hey!” Carson greets. “If it isn’t my favorite barbie doll.” He chuckles and sends Toni a wink. “Can I offer you a cup of our finest punch?”

Shelby smirks. “You mean that toxic waste that you and Toni so lovingly crafted? I’m surprised that you both aren’t on the floor right now.”

Caron shrugs. “What can I say, us queers have quite the tolerance for alcohol.” He scoops a cup and offers it out to Shelby and passes. “Though, soda is in the garage if you want it. Toni could show you the way. The girl raids the fridge every time she’s over.”

Toni punches his arm lightly and steps towards Shelby. “C’mon, before he forces you to try a jello shot.”

 

 

The garage is empty, and Toni is taken aback when Shelby takes advantage of the fact that they are alone and is quick to press Toni against the wall when the door swings closed behind them. “Shelby?”

“I- I know we said that we would take this slow.” The blonde girl begins. “But my god- Toni, you have no idea how much I wanted to kiss you on that field.” Her body is pressed up against hers, warm breath fanning across her face.

“Are you sure?” Toni asks, voice just above a whisper.

“I can’t stop thinking about the first time we kissed.” Her accent that Toni was starting to love was low, husky and sent shivers down her spine. “I’m sure.”

It’s Shelby again who kisses her, Toni had made a promise to herself that this- whatever this was? She’d let Shelby take the lead. This kiss was nothing like the first time they kissed, not rough or desperate. This time, Shelby takes her time- slow, languid, tentative. It’s nice and Toni is shocked when she feels the other girls tongue flick against her lips, that had been the last thing she expected, but she gladly welcomed it.

Toni’s hands find her waist and she turns them around, pinning Shelby against the wall as the blonde grew a bit bold by snaking her hands up Toni’s jersey. Toni can’t help the moan that escapes her lips when Shelby breaks away, peppering her jaw and sucking at her pulse point. She really didn’t plan on getting hot and heavy tonight with Shelby fucking Goodkind.

She doesn’t even realize the shift, that her thigh is now between Shelby’s legs until she feels pressure on it. Her eyes go wide when she realizes what exactly was going on. “Fuck,” Toni breathes. Sure, Toni had done more that just fucking dry humping but seeing Shelby like this? She was sure it’d kill her. She presses against her, giving her all the pressure she could and kisses her again.

When Toni lips finds a spot on Shelby’s neck, the other girl cries out as something snaps inside of her. Shelby is even more beautiful like this as her nails dig into her shoulder and she breathes out her name. Her body shakes and shudders, Toni wraps her arms around her steadying her as she rides it out.

Shelby is breathless and leans in, giving Toni another kiss, hands gently cupping her face. Toni looks at her in awe, her pupils blown, kiss swollen lips and her face flushed. “That- I’ve,” She pants. “Never done that before.”

Toni suddenly feels a sense of guilt. “Oh god, you mean that was your first-” Of course a church going girl of god would never. She blushes. “Shelby, I’m,”

However, Shelby hushes her with another kiss, gentle sweet and she smiles against her lips. “No, silly. I have done that.” Her brows wiggle and Toni scoffs. “Jets and a hot tub,” She smiles coyly as Toni mutters ‘Jesus fucking Christ’. Shelby runs her hands down Toni’s torso. “Just not with anyone else and I’m real glad it was with you.”

“Yeah?” Toni pulls her closer if that was even possible. “Well, then I guess we’re good then?”

Shelby giggles and presses her forehead against hers. “Yeah,” Toni smiles softly when she nuzzled her nose against hers. “We’re good.” She goes silent for a moment. “What about you though?”

For now, Toni can put off the pleasant burn in her lower abdomen. “I’ll be fine,” She assures her. “Really, Shelby. Seeing you was enough for me.”

Her eyes sparkle and she is about to say something when the door flies open and they jump apart. Toni doesn’t know who the girl is that came down the two steps and walked toward the fridge, but the way Shelby visibly pales, she has a good feeling that she does.

 

 

It’s a little past midnight when Toni finds herself looking blankly at her phone and all the texts that Shelby didn’t respond to. She was nervous, scared, worried and she wished that she’d just answer her back. Shelby left in a rush, promising she’d explain later and now- nothing, nada, and she wonders if the girl that caught them saw something and told. She knew if they were found out then Shelby…

Toni sits up and groans in frustration, causing Marty to look over at her from her bed.

“I know you’re not telling me something.” Marty whispers while the rest of the house sleeps. “What is going on between you and Shelby?”

“It’s nothing.”

“It’s something.” Marty points out. “I’ve never seen you this worried about someone before.”

Toni sighs deeply and looks up at the ceiling. “It’s not my place, Marty.”

She hears her bestfriend groan in annoyance and then. “Wait- is that?” There is a shuffle in the bed that Marty occupies. “Wh- why is Shelby Goodkind walking towards my house?”

“What?” Toni scrambles off the twin mattress on the ground and moves quickly towards the bed. “Shelby?” She whispers loudly into the night.

It’s too dark to see her face, but she speaks out. “I- I didn’t know where else to go.” Her voice is shaking, and she sobs. “I- you gave me this address b-before”

Toni looks to Marty who nods towards the door. “Go ahead, I’ll go get my mom.” And Toni rushes off the bed and sprints out of the room then Marty calls out. “She’ll be right there, Shelby.”

Toni swings the front door open and rushes towards Shelby. Her arms are around her in a moment and Shelby collapses in Toni’s arms. They crumble onto the ground as Toni soothes her, running her hand through her hair and letting her sob into her shoulder. She’s in nothing but her cheer uniform, no coat, nothing and the air is freezing. It’s Mrs. Blackburn that startles them just a bit when she comes out and drapes a blanket over Shelby. “Get her inside.” She gently requests. “She’ll freeze.”

Toni helps Shelby to her feet and her heart breaks with how she clings to her and when they get into the warmth of the house, Toni sees that the damage is not only emotional, but physical. Those lovely pink lips are split and a fresh bruise blooms on her cheek. She doesn’t even pick up on the hand shaped one that is forming on her wrist.

“Should we call the police?” She hears Marty whisper and Toni looks fearfully over at Bernice who shakes her head. “Mom, look at her.”

“Marty, help me with some tea, alright?” Bernice mutters and ushers her daughter into the kitchen as Toni helps Shelby onto the couch.

Toni licks her lips as she pulls away from Shelby who looks up at her with fearful red rimmed eyes. She tilts her chin as carefully as she can and gets a good look at her. She looks terrible and Toni is so angry, so fucking angry that she could kill if she was allowed. “Your dad did this to you?”

Shelby sniffles and nods her head. “Yeah, he uh- he found out.” She confirms and pulls the blanket around her tighter. “And he,” She blinks, more tears spilled out. “My mom just stood there and watched.” She bitterly spits out. “I, Toni- I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

Toni nods and lets the other girl snuggle into her. “We have to clean that up though,” Toni croaks out. “Your lip.”

Thankfully Mrs. Blackburn is ahead of the game and comes out of the kitchen with a first aid kit and tells Toni to get some clothes for her to borrow. She hates how she has to rip herself form Shelby who looks so scared so broken and when she finally gets into the safety of Marty’s room, she comes close to punching a hole in the wall. She clenches her fist, her jaw and she take a few breathes to calm herself down before she gathers up a pair of joggers and a hoodie and comes back into the living room with them, hands them over to Shelby. Who gives her a small thank you, asks where the bathroom is and Toni really doesn’t want to leave her alone, until Mrs. Blackburn commands them to get to bed and then follows Shelby towards the bathroom.

Marty is in a pure shock and Toni is silent, she’s angry, she wants him to pay for what he did to her. What he had been doing to her. She’ll plan it though; she just wants blood right now and Toni doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life behind bars. However, she is pulled from her thoughts when she sees Shelby standing at the doorframe, looking at Toni and the mattress is small, but she lifts the quilt and Shelby rushes over and climbs in. They only take a moment to get comfortable, Shelby settles herself into Toni’s side, her head settling on her chest. Toni wraps her arms around her, wishing that the circumstances were different. By now, she figured Shelby was out of tears as she shivered against her. Toni knew the feeling all to well, being so full of anxiety and fear that your body had to release it other ways. “If you need space-” Toni begins and she feels Shelby shake her head.

“I just want you to hold me right now,” She whispers against her skin. “If that’s okay.”

Toni nods. “Yeah, of course it is.”

Shelby falls into a restless sleep after a few minutes and Toni stays awake, running her fingers through Shelby’s damp hair and feeling the other girl breath against her. She catches a few more marks on Shelby’s spray tanned skin and she tries to not stare at them, because the more she does, the angrier she gets. Mostly because what can she do about it, she has seen the front of Mr. Goodkind’s church, he had most of the cops in this town in his pocket- and who would want to go to them in the first place.

“So what’s your plan?” Toni turns at the sound of Marty’s voice. “You gonna pull your- what did that girl from summer camp call it- Aries rage out and burn down the church he runs?”

Toni’s eyes flick down to Shelby who was still sound asleep. “I’m not going to burn the church down, Marty.” She mutters and then shrugs. “I have something in mind.” She catches the way Marty’s eyes light up. “And it’s not arson, so stop.”

Marty props herself up on her shoulder, studying the blonde that was currently glued to Toni’s side. “So, what is this exactly are you two like- together?”

“I- it’s complicated.” Toni quickly answers, mainly because she has no idea what the hell this is, and she doesn’t want to label it. And she wonders if Shelby would even want to label it after last night.

“Well, if she and you are you know, together. I’m happy for you and I won’t say anything until she’s ready.” Marty promises and before Toni can thank her, Shelby speaks up.

Her voice is a bit horse, muffled from her lips pressed against Toni’s neck. “Doesn’t matter.” She tells them. “By now, David probably let the whole congregation know. His daughter, the dyke.”

“Shelby,” Toni murmurs gently and Shelby shakes her head.

“No, no, Toni- It’s okay, I’m just so done running from it.” She winces a bit when she shifts her head, but then smiles up at Toni’s worried eyes. “It’s just a headache.” Shelby tells her. “And I’m not ashamed of any of it, of you.”

“I’m going to take that as my cue.” Marty throws her covers off. “I’ll go help my mom with breakfast.”

Toni smiles thankfully at Martha who closes the door behind her with a wink. “Besides the headache, how are you feeling?”

“Physically or Mentally?” Shelby asks.

“Both, I mean if you’re ready to talk about it.”

Shelby nods her head. “Physically, in a little bit of pain. He never hit me before last night, you know- just played a lot of mind games.” She begins. “Guess that’s why I’m a bit fucked up, so many years of hating who I am and repressing it- god I was so awful to you, your friends.” She looks so small right now. “I was so awful to her.” She breaks off and takes a deep breath. “The girl that caught us last night, she’s in the bible fellowship program and called her mom who called my dad. As soon as I got in the house he started screaming, called me a whore, disgraceful, told me I’d burn in hell for this. Even called me a monster. It’s only when I talked back this time is when he raised his hand to me.”

“What did you say to him?” Toni asks, smoothing back Shelby’s natural waves.

“I asked him that if god hated gay people, then why did he make them? I asked him if I was so beautifully and fearfully made in his image, then why I am unnatural. Then when he couldn’t answer with his normal ‘it’s a choice’ bullshit excuses, I brought up that it felt like I wasn’t the only one repressing something. That’s when he lost it and told me I had two options, I could leave and continue with my sinful desires or go back to Our Lady of Sorrows and purge myself to become clean.” She takes a deep breath. “That camp, that place is actual torture, and I knew that he can’t force me so- I picked the quote on quote, sinful desires. So, he ripped the cross off my neck and told me to leave and never come back, that I was no longer his daughter.” There is a beat and then she looks up at her gold eyes looking a shade lighter in the sun’s morning rays. “Toni, I like you a lot and I’ll admit that I am so scared that I’ll hurt you.”

“Shelby, I already told you that-”

Shelby shakes her head. “There was someone before you, a girl- she was my best friend back in Texas, Becca. We told each other everything, and I didn’t realize that I loved her more than just a friend until it was too late. I was showing off my pageant dresses, she was sitting on my bedroom floor eating old Halloween candy and drinking a diet coke. I kissed her that night, read it all wrong and kissed her and my dad caught the tail end of it.” She swallows. “I blamed it all on her, told my father all these lies- said that she was the one that kissed me.”

Fresh tears spring from her eyes as she continues. “She fully accepted me, she told me that she’d support me and god. I should have been the one signing her death certificate. I unleashed all of my hate on her, turned everything that my dad said to me on her- Toni, she was a victim of sexual assault and I told her it was her fault” She shudders, using the sleave of the hoodie to wipe her tears. “She took her own life, she did that and we ran as far away as we could because our little community? Well, they saw that the Goodkinds were ugly, so we left.” She goes on. “I didn’t- I don’t want to hurt you and I am so, so scared that I will. Maybe I am a monster.”

Toni is a mixture of emotions. Shelby never dove into her past like that and it was a lot to take in, a lot to process. “Hey,” She finally speaks, thumb dragging along her cheek. “Shelby, hey- look at me, please?” Her eyes flick up and Toni meets them. “Yeah, your past is pretty fucked up- and I am so sorry for your friend and what you’ve been through. You can make it up though, you’re starting to heal and that’s a step in the right direction and it’s going to take a long time, but I’ll be there for you the whole way, I promise.” She smiles. “And you won’t hurt me, Shel, I trust you.”

Shelby scootches up a bit, kisses her lightly and says. “What did I do to deserve that?”

“Because you’re here and you’re honest with me, that’s all I need.”

“And food?”

“And food.”

 

 

Toni thinks that Bernice Blackburn is the most compassionate woman that she had ever met. She allows Shelby to stay with them, joking that her home has become a halfway house for lost girls. By December, things are calmer. Shelby denounces her dad but gives her mom and siblings her new number- just in case Judith got her shit together and left him.

“I don’t think that’ll happen.” Shelby says as they walk home from her therapy appointment hand in hand. “But it might, it’s silly to think that, but there is always hope.”

It’s bitter cold outside as they walk, her cheeks pink from the nip in the air. Toni decides she likes the real Shelby, gone is the spray tan, gel tips and big hair. Now she’s completely natural and she is so much more beautiful now. “I think they’re scared you know,” Shelby points out. “To leave. I just feel for Melody and Spencer.” She nods. “Leaving them was the hardest.”

“You talked to Melody earlier, right?” Toni points out. “On the phone before school”

Shelby gives a small smile. “Yeah, she just really, really, really wanted to meet my star athlete of a girlfriend.”

Toni gives her hand a squeeze. “Really, am I that much of a legend in the Goodkind house.”

“I think our names are cursed in that godforsaken house, but Melody and Spencer- I don’t know how they see past the bullshit.” Shelby shrugs.

Toni stops walking and tugs on Shelby’s hand, making the blonde girl stop in their tracks. “Because they are your siblings and they love you. Baby, I don’t think they care that you’re a lesbian. Sure, they are growing up under your dad’s thumb, but I do think that there is hope for them.”

“I hope so too,” Shelby hums as she leans in to give her a quick kiss. “They would love you.”

Toni’s heart flutters and she chases Shelby’s lips, lacing their hands together. So many people took notice on how Toni mellowed out in the past months, Shelby had something to do with that, a big part of it actually. She was like a lovesick puppy around Shelby and god only knows the last time she had been this happy with her life. They talked about the future, what colleges they hoped to be accepted to. Toni had thought that she would be doomed to spend the rest of her life in this town, Shelby made her realize that she wouldn’t.

And god was Shelby cheesy, but in the best way possible. She had planned their first date with the help of Martha, insisting the whole way that Toni would wear a blindfold until they got there. She could hear Shelby’s laughter fill her ears as she pulled it off only to gape at the sign for the planetarium. It was the first time Shelby openly kissed her in public, the first of many. She was showing pride in herself, the shame was gone and they walked down the hallway in school hand in hand, a proud smile on her face the whole time. The whole school knew they were dating and just as Toni predicted, didn’t seem to care one bit.

 

 

Christmas had been right around the corner, Shelby had been in the living room with Martha sitting by the Christmas tree doing homework when Toni comes out of the kitchen, Shelby’s old bible in her hand and she asks.

Shelby raises a brow when she notices the white book in her hand and Toni waves her off before she can even ask. “So, remember back in September, you mentioned something about some lady named Ruth.” Toni points out before she plops herself down in Shelby’s lap. “So, I’m like 95% sure that Ruth and Naomi were a little something more- if you get me.” Shelby shifts, blinks and looks at her in confusions. “Now I’m not trying to be blasphemous or something disrespectful. But hear me out because I’ve been at this book for ages and on the depths of the internet trying to figure this shit out. It says that Ruth cleaved to Noami, right? Well, I did some digging on the meaning of cleave and there are some implications.”

“Lesbianism in the holy bible.” Martha jokes. “Who would know. Is like, cleave going to become your code word now? Cause I am aware that there has been some cleaving.”

Shelby chuckles, swatting Martha’s leg playfully before she leans over Toni’s shoulder and looks at all of her notes. “While I think that is amazing and awesome, what are you doing exactly? What’s with the new interest of finding gay in an old book.”

“First of all, proud of you because you wouldn’t be saying this a few months ago, second of all- I’m trying to prove a point.” Toni tells her. “I have a meeting with your dad and I’m getting my notes together.”

“You’re meeting with my dad? Why?”

Toni rubs her lips together. “Like I said, I am trying to prove a point. I am trying to prove that god doesn’t say anything about homosexuality. This whole man shall not lay with man is shit according to some scholars. Apparently, it was man shall not lay with a boy- and well, we all can piece together why the catholic priests would have a problem with that.” Toni muses. “And why they’d want that changed.”

“Toni.” Shelby hums

“Trust me, babe, this will knock him down a peg or two.”

“Toni,”

“Maybe throw him from his damn pedestal.”

“Babe,”

“Question his own actions, denounce all he knows- or he’ll just kick me out.”

“Toni, you don’t have to do this.” Shelby wraps an arm around her waist. “I appreciate the gesture though, but you don’t have to prove anything. It’s a losing battle.”

Toni drops the book in her lap and leans her head on hers. “But I worked so hard.” She complains. “I mean I read the freaking bible.”

Shelby giggles and nuzzles into her neck. “Duly noted,” She presses her lips to the column of her neck. “Could reward you for that later.”

Toni tips her head back. “Really, might take you up on that offer.”

“Oh my god,” Martha grumbles as she gathers her books. “You both are disgustingly adorable, and I love you both so much, but I am not up for catching you in the act tonight. I’ll be in my room, have fun with- you know.”

 

 

She does go through with it, seeing Shelby’s dad. The church is always open after all. She walks into his office, well not walks in because she’s not subjecting herself to him but stands at his open door and clears her throat, getting his attention.

He really is a vile looking man, even worse up close, she swallows back her hate when he looks up at her. “Can I help you?” He is all fake southern charm, just as Shelby once been. “Have you come to seek forgiveness.”

Toni humors him. “Forgiveness for what, exactly?”

“Your sinful nature.” He answers coolly and Toni shakes her head. “You can come in, sit down.”

She shakes her head. “Nah, I’m good and I didn’t come begging for forgiveness or for you to ‘fix’ me because, well to be honest. Being a raging homosexual is a natural as the sun in the sky and I’m cool with that.” Toni can tell she’s pissing him off, just by the way his jaw clicks. “Now,” She takes out a folder from her backpack, steps into the office just a bit and flings it on his desk. “I have been at your bible for weeks now, read it front to back and found some inconsistencies. I’m not going to discuss it with you here and now because who has time for that, but it’s all in there.”

She watches him open the folder in curiosity. “What’s this about then?”

“I can here to tell you that your daughter is doing just fine without. Shelby is making so much progress and she’s her true self right now. God you inflected so much damage onto her, that her therapist said that she’ll have to be in therapy for a long time, but Shelby’s alright with it. She’s facing the demons that you instilled in her and she’s coming out stronger every day.” She gives off a breathy laugh and smirks. “Shelby is one of the most beautiful, kindest people I have ever met, and you know what she’s going to pursue in school, social working. She wants to help kids like her, and I think that’s amazing. Mr. Goodkind, I love your daughter and I’m going to tell her that I love her, but I wanted you to know first.”

Toni doesn’t flinch when Dave stands up from his chair, she just stares him down. “Wouldn’t be smart, going after me, you and I both know that. I’m not scared of you, neither is she. We actually feel sorry for you.” She steps back and fixes her backpack, leaving right now, while he was this distraught would be for the best. “Just wanted you to know that, have a Merry Christmas, Mr. Goodkind.”

And she feels lighter as she walks out of that church.

 

Toni plans just that, tells Shelby that she loves her on Christmas Eve, however Shelby beats her to it. They sit on Marty’s front porch after Toni gives her the gift she scrounged for. She thanked god for Etsy and Martha’s knowledge of gemstones. Her eyes sparkle as she takes out the raw turquoise stone that was secured on either side with a thin gold chain. “Marty said once that turquoise was supposed to promote healing and you’ve come so far, but a little reminder would help.” She smiles when Shelby kisses her. “You also used to constantly fidget with your old necklace so.” She points our when they break apart.

“I only fidgeted with it when you were around,” Shelby confesses. “You made me nervous in the best way possible.” She moves her blonde waves aside and motions for Toni to help her put it on. “Since we are confessing, I have one more thing to tell you. I didn’t get stuck being your personal cheerleader, back in September, I personally asked for you.”

“You did?” Toni chuckles and Shelby nods.

“Well, I did have a major crush on you” She reminds her with a gleam in her eye as Toni smirks.

“Still have that crush on me?” Toni flirts, eyes going wide when Shelby shakes her head.

“No,” She laughs softly and cups her face. “No, now? Well now I’m in love with you.”

Toni isn’t a crier, never really has been. Now her eyes sting with happy tears, of course Shelby would beat her to it, but that is what she loved about her. Her leaps and bounds of growth. “I love you too.” She whispers before melting into Shelby’s kiss.

She was right, this had turned out to be something good.