“We should start heading back,” Dot sighs. “It’ll be dark before long, and it’ll do us no good to stumble around in the dark.”
“No,” Leah argues. “I’m not going back until we find Fatin.”
“Leah –” Shelby starts, but Leah cuts her off.
“The rest of you can go back then. I’ll find her myself.”
“Leah, that’s a terrible idea,” Dot says, grabbing Leah by the elbow. Leah yanks her arm free. “If you get lost, then we’ll have to come find both of you.”
“I’ll find her,” Leah snarls. “Go back if you’re so worried about the dark.”
“This is fucking insane,” Rachel interjects. “Dot is right. You’re just going to get lost –”
“I said, I’ll fucking do it,” Leah snaps. “Just go back!”
Maybe if Leah didn’t look so fucking crazy right now, Rachel would make a comment about how fucking crazy she’s being, but instead, Rachel just shakes her head and motions for everyone else to turn around.
“Don’t get your ass lost,” Rachel calls over her shoulder, and Leah chooses to ignore her. Leah’s going to fucking find Fatin if it kills her.
“Leah, seriously,” Dot says, hanging back from the rest of the retreating group for just a moment.
And they go.
Leah remembers learning the symptoms of dehydration in her health class just earlier this year. Funnily enough, it was a class she shared with Fatin, but Fatin sat in the back of the room with her phone in her hand at all times, so Leah never really paid any attention to her. Leah also, though, never really paid any attention to health class. She only had the mental space for one thing: Jeff. And by the end of the semester, Leah had turned into Fatin, sitting in the back row, phone in hand constantly. Maybe Leah only just realizes this now, and the thought doesn’t exactly thrill her.
She struggles to recall the details. She doesn’t know which symptoms should be the most concerning. She’s exhausted, and fatigue is a symptom of dehydration, right? But she’s been exhausted ever since she swam to shore after the plane fell out of the sky, pulling Jeanette with her. Leah tries not to think about how that was an entire week ago already. Leah’s more concerned about the occasional wave of dizziness that sweeps over her as she stumbles through the woods, calling out for Fatin whenever she can muster up the energy to walk and speak at the same time. She’s totally going to get lost, and then she’ll have to camp out by a tree and hope the search party comes across her in the morning.
God, why does she even care so much? It’s just Fatin, and when has Leah ever cared about Fatin before? It’s so strange how you can know of someone for years and years yet barely interact, barely know anything about them, barely care. Fatin has lived ten minutes away from Leah for at least the last ten years, probably even longer. They’ve had numerous classes together, gone on numerous field trips together, completed pointless group projects together – and even passed. And Leah knew nothing about Fatin apart from the few details Ian shared with her. They ran in completely different circles and presumably had nothing in common, but here Leah is, trekking through the woods after everyone else turned back to reach camp before sundown, desperately trying to find a girl she couldn’t care less about just a week ago.
To be fair, just a week ago, none of them were stranded on an island, either.
Leah trips over something – she doesn’t know what; maybe even her own feet. She hits the dirt hard, slides downhill a bit, but manages to catch herself on her forearms, saving herself from a potential head injury. Leah groans, pain radiating up her arms, and she drops her forehead to the earth. She’s not going to get up. Not right away. Now that she’s laying down – albeit not intentionally – she can feel every inch of her body that aches or stings or burns. There’s a whole slew of issues. Sunburn. The regular cuts and bruises that come from just existing in the wilderness. Every muscle in her body screams thanks to the hours and hours of physical labor she’s done every day for the last week when the week before, the most exercise Leah had gotten was her morning jog. And she skipped the last four mornings before her flight. She only took up running as an attempt to clear her mind, as an attempt to wipe him out of her thoughts.
It never worked, anyway.
Leah grunts, realizing her arms sting more than normal, and she rolls herself onto her back, lifts her arms above her head to inspect them. Her inner forearms are shredded, thanks to her rough landing on twigs and fuck knows what else immediately followed by sliding in the dirt.
“Fuck,” Leah hisses. It’s not even the pain that bothers her. It’s more the thought that open wounds like this – even though they’re shallow – could very easily lead to a nasty infection. And infections can lead to…blood poisoning? Maybe? Did Leah see that on one of those medical shows? Whatever. Point is, infection leads to bad shit happening, sometimes death. And Leah’s hands aren’t clean in the slightest, caked in all kinds of dirt and sand and muck. She watches blood ooze from the numerous gashes in her arms, watches beads of blood roll across her pale skin.
She needs to get up. She’s out here – alone – to find Fatin fucking Jadmani, and she’s going to do it. So out of sheer willpower, Leah gets back to her feet, even though every step is agony, even though her body wants her to stay down.
“Fatin!” she screams, unable to keep her voice from cracking. Blood rolls down to her palms, drips off the ends of her fingertips. Leah barely notices. She doesn’t know which direction she should be walking in anymore. Couldn’t even guess which way the beach might be. So Leah’s going to walk around aimlessly for the rest of the day, and then all night, until she finds something or someone – whether that’s the beach, Fatin, or someone from the rescue party.
And then she sees it, and she just knows. She hurries over to the tree, very clearly marked with a bright red X. Leah presses her bloodied fingertips against it, eyes studying it the way she might’ve studied a slide under a microscope at school. And son of a bitch, it looks like nail polish. That motherfucker. Leah spins around, eyes darting between trees, and sure enough, just up ahead, there’s another tree marked the same exact way. Leah spots every marker, follows it the entire way. She’s kind of afraid it’s going to lead her to the beach, but at least if it does, she’ll be able to wash the blood from her arms. With saltwater, which will burn like a bitch, but it’ll probably be better than nothing?
The path feels endless. Leah reaches the end of the marked trees, suddenly finding herself staring at a narrow path leading through two walls of rock that form a cliff. And if Leah were to climb to the top – if she had the energy for something like that – maybe she’d have a view of her surroundings. Fuck, she’s going to have to do it. She’s going to have to climb. But she can barely breathe now, and she falls back against the rock, slumping down, panting. She spares a glance at her arms, at the blood just beginning to dry on her skin. It almost looks like she slathered her inner forearms with red paint then threw dirt at it.
When Leah feels like she’s caught her breath again, she shouts, “Fatin!” for probably the hundredth time. “Where the fuck are you, Fatin?” Leah screams, mostly to herself. Or maybe to any deity that may be listening and willing to help. Or maybe she just can’t contain her frustration anymore. “FATIN, I SWEAR TO –”
“Hey-oh!” Fatin exclaims, holding her arms out as she appears at the end of the path. “Leah! No need to scream when I’m right – what the fuck happened to you?”
“Fatin,” Leah exhales. She manages to support her own weight without leaning into the wall, staggering straight for Fatin.
“Whoa, whoa, hey!” Fatin says, extending her arms out as a gesture to keep Leah back. “Do not touch me. I don’t need you smearing any of your muck on my jacket – is that blood?”
Leah’s too exhausted to do much more than nod. She can hardly stay on her feet. Instead, she just turns her forearms toward Fatin, doesn’t resist when Fatin grabs her by both wrists and takes a closer look.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Fatin says. “What did you do?”
“Is it just you out here?” Fatin asks. “Where are the others?”
“They went back.”
“They went – well, fuck. So Dorothy isn’t worried sick about what trouble I might’ve gotten myself into?”
Leah’s eyes narrow. Nothing about this is right. Fatin’s too relaxed – her body language, expression, and tone all suggest she doesn’t have one fucking care in the world. She smiles too easily, though it does slide when her eyes return to Leah’s arms. And not all that long ago – literally just yesterday – Fatin had smeared her blood across Leah’s face, and Leah knows they aren’t good, so nothing about this adds up. Leah’s eyes drop to Fatin’s legs. Fatin’s torn one of her pant legs off, which exposes the wound Leah had inadvertently left her with. It’s not bleeding, but there’s blood still dried on her leg.
“You not gonna talk to me, Rilke?” Fatin questions. “Because now isn’t the time to clam up. I’ve got something to show you.”
Fatin pulls Leah along by the wrists until Leah shakes her off. Leah hears it before she sees it, knows it can only be one thing: running water. Leah would cry if she could, but she’s, like, half-dehydrated and exhausted, so instead, in spite of the initial wave of relief that crashed over her, she feels nothing.
“Oh, come on,” Fatin says, shoving at Leah’s shoulder. “I thought this would get some kind of a reaction out of you. We may die of heatstroke or starvation, but at least we won’t die of dehydration alone.” Fatin pauses, dark eyes studying Leah’s face. “That’s kind of why I’m bummed that the others aren’t here to see it,” Fatin continues. “Plus, we have to, like, transport it back to camp and boil it – nothing? You’re going to say nothing?”
Leah steps past Fatin without answering her. And just like when Fatin had rubbed a handful of her blood into Leah’s face, she sheds her shirt and pants, her bra and panties, kicks her shoes aside, and she walks into the water. As far as Leah knows, Fatin watches her. The water is cool, but not in a bad way. It’s refreshing, helps to alleviate some of the pain in Leah’s body. It washes some of her exhaustion away along with the blood. When Leah’s eyes lift back over to where Fatin’s still standing, frozen, Fatin kind of looks like she wants to say something, given how her jaw’s slightly ajar.
“You should clean your leg,” Leah finally calls. She lifts her arms from the water to see the damage without the blood obscuring her view of the wounds. As she thought, it’s really not that bad. A bunch of minor, superficial cuts along her inner forearms, left behind by her impact with the ground. They’re already starting to heal. Could’ve been much worse.
“Are you inviting me to skinny dip with you, Leah Rilke?” Fatin gasps in the most ridiculous manner ever. She touches her palm to her chest, smirks. “Because, you know, normally I’d have a drink or two first before I start getting –”
“Right.” Fatin’s joking demeanor drops, and she walks to the edge of the water, sinks her leg in just enough to wash the dried blood from her leg.
“I’m sorry about that,” Leah says. Fatin’s eyes flick over to Leah’s face, and Leah starts to make a conscious effort to keep the waterline at her neck, to keep the rest of her body submerged and away from Fatin’s prying gaze. “I shouldn’t have – I should’ve been able to control myself better, and I never should’ve pushed you.”
Fatin nods. “Yeah, but I’m not entirely blameless here, you know. Whatever happened with Jeffrey is none of my business, and I acted like a cunt, so…I’m sorry, too.”
Leah nods. She isn’t sure if this means they’re good. But when Fatin finishes washing the dried blood from her leg, she continues to sit at the edge of the water. They don’t talk for a while, don’t feel the need to. Fatin stares off absently at the waterfall, and Leah stares at Fatin. Fatin, who in spite of being stranded in the middle of nowhere, with one of her pant legs ripped off, still manages to look like she’s on an island vacation.
“You know, it’s really fucking annoying,” Leah says. Fatin finally tears her eyes away from the waterfall, the distant look on her face evaporating as her eyes seek out Leah. “How you still manage to look, like, pretty amazing considering we’ve been stranded in this hellhole for a week.”
Fatin cracks a smile, rolls her eyes. “Don’t flatter me,” she replies. “We’re good. You don’t have to try to get back into my good graces by making up compliments or whatever. I’m not going to try to get revenge.”
“I was just making an observation.”
“That it’s really annoying that this island failed to make me ugly?” Fatin teases. “That’s your observation?”
Leah shrugs. “And I’m the one person here who really knew what you looked like before all this. You know, when you could actually put more effort into your appearance, so. Just take the compliment, okay?”
Fatin snorts. “Okay, fine. If you insist.”
“As if you don’t already know that you’re hot,” Leah says, rolling her eyes. “I’m sure you hear it all the time.”
“Yeah, from douchey college bros who are just trying to smash,” Fatin replies. “That doesn’t mean anything. I know they only say it so they can get into my pants.” Fatin pauses, stares at Leah with a scrutinizing gaze for a long moment. “You aren’t trying to get into my pants, are you?”
Leah scoffs. “Please. Are you really that vain?”
“No, I’m just checking,” Fatin says. She grins, shrugs nonchalantly. “You never know. You do give off like, a weird bi art student vibe.”
“Art isn’t my thing,” Leah says. “I can’t draw for shit. I’m better with words.”
“Ah. Bi aspiring author slash future English major vibes,” Fatin corrects. “Excuse my earlier incorrect assumption.”
“Never said I was bi.”
“Didn’t have to,” Fatin dismisses. “It’s, like, all over you.” When Leah raises her eyebrows, Fatin says, “You know. The way you dress, and – forget it, but it’s a thing. Believe me. I’m good at figuring this sort of shit out.”
“And if I told you I’m straight?”
Fatin busts out laughing. “Then you’d be fucking lying, and I’d call your ass on it. Besides, you can’t tell me that there’s a single person at our school that’s completely, 100% straight. We just don’t have an environment that straight people thrive in.”
Leah laughs, hard, and Fatin seems to take some pleasure in that. “Yeah, but you go there. You don’t seem to be doing too bad.”
Fatin’s smile is thin. “The same way you don’t seem to be doing too bad, either, right? School’s all about appearances.” Fatin heaves a sigh and finally pulls her leg out of the water. “At least there’s none of that bullshit out here. One good thing about this place, huh? No need to pretend.” Fatin walks over to where Leah left her clothes and snatches them up, carries them closer to the shore. “Have fun trying to get into your jeans while you’re all wet,” Fatin says as Leah drifts closer to shore. She flashes Leah a smile then adds, “Don’t worry. I won’t peek.”
“It’s not that big a deal. I’m the one that willingly stripped.”
“Yeah, and maybe in any other context, I’d appreciate it,” Fatin replies. She’s got her back to the water, hands over her eyes for good measure.
“You can look,” Leah says. She hisses when she accidentally snaps her bra strap against her sunburned shoulder.
Fatin turns back around, drops her hands, and grins. “Not even going to try with the jeans, huh?”
“Not at all. It’s not worth the indignity.”
“You should maybe put your shirt on, though. Your shoulders are already fried.”
“If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were worried about me,” Leah says. She pulls the blue T-shirt over her head then gathers her hair in her hands, wrings it out, and ties it back.
“Nah. Just offering some friendly advice.”
Leah pauses, eyes shifting over to the trail Fatin had marked. “Should we go back?” Leah asks. “It’s going to be dark soon, and if we can’t see…”
“Maybe we should spend the night here,” Fatin agrees. “Sleeping next to a waterfall could be nice. And we can walk back right at the crack of dawn so everyone doesn’t get lost trying to find us.”
Leah bites her lower lip. “Yeah, that’s probably the way to go.”
“You know, unless you can’t handle one night alone with me.”
“Honestly?” Leah says. She tosses her jeans over into the grass where she’s intending to sleep for the night. “I’m too tired to walk back.”
“I could carry you,” Fatin jokes. “You know, maybe five steps before my legs give out. These hands play cello, but they definitely do not lift weights.”
Leah snorts and lets herself collapse to the grass next to her jeans. She lays out on her back, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes. She hears Fatin take a seat not too far to her left, but definitely not within Leah’s reach.
“How are your arms?” Fatin asks. Leah drops her hands from her face, turns her head in Fatin’s direction. “They look pretty scraped up.”
“They’re fine,” Leah mutters. “My legs and feet hurt way worse. Like, every muscle in my fucking body just aches.”
“I’d say mine too, but we both know I haven’t really done any heavy lifting around here.”
“Might break a nail,” Leah says, and her lips twist into a smile as she watches Fatin try to decipher if that was a joke or a serious dig at her.
“You’re fucking with me.”
“I know how to make jokes sometimes, Fatin.”
“I would’ve never guessed, given how the last week has gone,” Fatin replies. Her words lack any bite, and her smile is gentle, so Leah lets herself relax.
“I’ve been told my sense of humor’s sort of dry sometimes,” Leah says.
“Yeah, no fucking shit.”
They both laugh at that. When it dies down, Leah says, “So, your leg –”
“Totally fine,” Fatin dismisses before Leah even gets her sentence out. “So, you know, we can just let it go.”
“I’ll find a way to make it up to you,” Leah says.
Fatin fidgets with the massive watch strapped to her wrist, hums to herself. “Yeah, no offense, but I don’t think you’ve got anything I want.”
“Just, like, eat my fucking breakfast tomorrow,” Leah says. “You can have two meals instead of one.”
“Then listen to you bitch all day about how hungry you are?” Fatin scoffs. “Pass. Seriously. Just forget about it.”
Between the setting sun and the soothing rumble of the waterfall, Leah’s starting to have a hard time keeping her eyes open. And the grass is a nice change from the sand. Since day three, Leah’s been starting her day with an immediate trip into the ocean to rinse all the sand out of all the places it shouldn’t be. Leah doesn’t even realize she’s drifted off until her eyes pop open, and it’s dark as fuck. And then she panics, because there’s no sand beneath her, and no sound of the ocean, just –
Oh, right. Leah exhales in relief as her memory comes crashing back. Her arms itch, sort of – it’s something in between itching and prickling pain. Then Leah realizes why she woke up. It’s fucking cold. Okay, like, it’s probably 60 fucking degrees, and Leah isn’t sure if she can blame the waterfall for making it feel so cold out here, but she starts rooting around for the pair of jeans she never put back on before she fell asleep. Her eyes finally start to adjust to the darkness, to only having the moon and stars as a light source, and her hand eventually touches denim. Leah hurries to pull her pants on, but her arms are bared by her T-shirt, and she knows it’s not going to make that much of a difference. Still, better than nothing.
“You’re up,” Fatin says flatly, and Leah’s soul leaves her body for a moment.
“Jesus isn’t here, baby,” Fatin replies. Leah hears her sit up. “Just me. Besides, we might be in literal Hell, so, yeah. No Jesus.”
“I forgot you were here,” Leah admits. “Scared the hell out of me. Wait – have you been awake this whole time?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” Fatin says. “Why else?”
“Why can’t you –?”
“First it was the different environment, I think,” Fatin answers. “You know, grass instead of sand. And then it got fucking cold somewhere along the way, so yeah. Not sleeping. But you seemed like you were out. I mean, like, out.”
“You can really snore, Rilke. I kind of appreciated it, though. At least I didn’t have to wonder if you’d died in your sleep.”
“Why is it so goddamn cold?” Leah grumbles. She pulls her knees to her chest, rubbing at the uninjured parts of her arms with her hands in an attempt to warm herself.
“It’s probably not,” Fatin replies. “We’re just used to the searing heat, and all the nights on the beach have been muggy. Plus we don’t have any extra clothes to bundle up with or a fire. But it’s probably not actually that cold.”
“Great, but I’m cold.”
“You want my jacket?” Fatin offers.
Leah finally makes an effort to spot wherever Fatin is through the darkness so she can shoot her an incredulous look, even though Fatin probably can’t see it. “You’re offering me your jacket,” Leah says slowly, “when all you’ve got under it is that, like, spaghetti strap crop top?”
Fatin shrugs. “I’d rather be cold than listen to you bitch about being cold.”
“I’m not taking your jacket. You’ve already only got one pant leg, and I have two, so keep your jacket.”
“You know,” Fatin says slowly. “We could always pull a Toni-and-Martha.”
Leah’s face contorts in utter confusion. “What’s pulling a Toni-and-Martha supposed to mean?”
“They sleep next to each other every night. You know, all up on each other, but I bet you they’re never cold.”
Well, that logic is hard to argue with. Except –
“Martha and Toni are, like, best friends. I doubt they do that just to stave off the cold.”
“Even so, they’ve got a good arrangement. I mean, we don’t have to share body heat in a totally legit survival situation. But if we don’t,” Fatin says pointedly, “we’re going to sit up the rest of the night because it’s cold, and then we’ll have to find something to talk about. And what do we have to talk about?”
“What? You don’t want to share stories about all your hookups?” Leah says.
Fatin groans. “God, no. It’s already been a week since I’ve had sex. I don’t want to think about it when I can’t go have an orgasm right away.”
Leah sighs. “Okay, fine, we’ll – we’ll pull a Toni-and-Martha or whatever. But you’re coming over here. I’m not moving.” Fatin jumps up immediately, closes the distance between them. “Whoa, wait,” Leah says, holding her hand out before Fatin can lower herself back down to the ground. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Getting behind you,” Fatin says. “Duh. Get your hand out of my way.”
“I’m taller,” Leah points out. “Therefore, I’m the big spoon.”
“You can use words like therefore, but that doesn’t mean the conclusion you’ve drawn is automatically correct,” Fatin retorts. “Now turn around.”
Leah’s teeth sink into her lower lip as Fatin hovers over her with her hands on her hips. Not that Leah has a ton of experience with the whole cuddling thing, but the last time she let someone hold her from behind was with Jeff. And Leah knows if she says that out loud to Fatin that Fatin will more likely than not cave, but the words stick in Leah’s throat. The memories still flash through her mind, though, and they hurt just as much as they have every other time Leah’s thought back, on or off island.
“Well?” Fatin prompts. “If you really can’t fathom the thought of us sharing the same space, I can go back over –”
“No, it’s fine,” Leah says. “Just – got lost in thought for a second.”
She settles back down in the grass on her side, facing the waterfall, waiting for Fatin to do something. Leah isn’t quite sure what the rustling she’s hearing is, isn’t quite sure why Fatin isn’t lying down yet, until something drops onto Leah’s side and startles the hell out of her. It’s Fatin’s jacket, and clinging to it is the scent of Fatin’s expensive fucking perfume that she’s still spraying on herself daily.
“I said –”
“Just take the fucking jacket,” Fatin says. She finally sits down behind Leah, exhaling. “I’ll be fine. Just don’t, like, elbow me in your sleep or something.”
“I’m not –”
“Use it as a blanket,” Fatin says. She grabs the jacket herself and spreads it out over Leah’s torso. And then just like that, Fatin’s arm snakes around Leah’s waist, beneath the jacket draped over Leah, resting firmly against Leah’s stomach. “You good?”
“Fine,” Leah says, and her voice sounds faint to her own ears. She clears her throat as Fatin uses her hold on Leah to pull herself forward, pressing herself against Leah’s back. She nudges Leah’s leg with her foot, and Leah instinctively lifts it before she realizes what Fatin’s doing. Fatin pushes her leg – the one missing most of its pant leg, the fucking injured one – between both of Leah’s. Leah slowly, carefully, sets her other leg down.
“I can hear you thinking,” Fatin murmurs. Fatin’s nose nuzzles against the back of Leah’s neck, and Leah’s entire body tenses. “Don’t make this fucking weird, Rilke.”
“You have to admit, it’s a little weird.”
“Honestly, I don’t even care,” Fatin mumbles. “I’m cold, you’re warm. And you’re not, like, the worst person I could be trapped huddling for warmth with.”
“Yeah? Who’d that be?”
Leah huffs. “Or Rachel.”
“Good point. But I think Rachel hates you a little more than she hates me. Somehow I don’t see Toni sharing body heat with anyone but Martha even if this place literally froze over.”
“Still, I’d rather be trapped with Toni than Rachel,” Leah mutters. “You’re right. She does hate me. But if I got to choose who to be trapped with, I’d want it to be –”
“Dot,” they say simultaneously.
“Yeah, well, you’re stuck with me,” Fatin replies. Leah can feel Fatin breathing against the back of her neck, can feel Fatin’s chest rise and fall against her back. And it’s not uncomfortable, really. It’s a little strange, but not in a bad way. At least, not until Fatin asks, “Are you gonna be mad if I stick my hand under your shirt?”
“Okay, geez,” Fatin says defensively. “I didn’t mean that in, like, a sexual way. I meant my fingers are cold and –”
“Keep your hands out of my shirt. And pants. Especially pants. And do not push your leg up any farther.”
A chuckle rumbles in Fatin’s throat. “You’re a little touchy, huh?”
“Just – don’t, okay?”
“I’m not going to,” Fatin assures her. “But I also can’t control what happens in my sleep, so.” Fatin pauses. “Are you good, though? You seem a little…” Fatin’s fingers tap against Leah’s stomach, and Leah jolts. “Tense,” Fatin finishes.
“And I’m calling bullshit. Look, we can trade spots, or I can move away if –”
“No, it’s just –” Leah cuts herself off with a sigh, but Fatin waits for her to continue. “I don’t know. I don’t do this. And I haven’t since…him.”
“Oh.” There’s a pause. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t do this either.”
“Now who’s lying?”
“I’m not lying,” Fatin insists. “I don’t cuddle. I fuck, and I get the fuck out.”
Leah’s lips part, and she tries to think of what to say to that. All she can come up with is, “Um?”
“Just stop overthinking it,” Fatin says. “Close your eyes. Get some fucking sleep. It’s a pretty long walk back, and you were bitching about your achy muscles earlier.”
“I can think of a few more things to bitch about,” Leah mutters.
“I could give you something to bitch about,” Fatin whispers, and Leah’s – still aching – muscles stay tensed until she feels more than hears Fatin’s laughter. “Oh, relax,” Fatin says. Her arm tightens around Leah’s waist, and through her shirt, Leah can feel the cool metal of that massive fucking watch on Fatin’s wrist. “I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Yeah, somehow I’m not so much worried about you hurting me than –”
“Don’t even finish that sentence,” Fatin interrupts. “Do you really think I’m that horrible?”
“You were just asking to put your hand –”
“Exactly. I asked. Geez, Leah, I’m not, like, a monster.”
And now sleeping, even with Fatin about as close as she can possibly get to Leah, sounds like a great fucking idea. Anything to end this conversation.
“I know,” Leah finally says. Fatin hums, shifts around behind Leah. “You okay?” Leah asks. “I’m not hurting your leg, am I?”
“My leg’s fine,” Fatin says. “Now stop talking. I want to sleep.”
Leah exhales. She focuses on the sound of the waterfall, hoping it’ll help lull her to sleep now that she’s not nearly as cold as before. Fatin falls asleep quickly, probably only a few minutes after she politely tells Leah to shut the fuck up. Leah knows for a fact Fatin’s out, because her arm slackens around Leah’s waist, her chest rises and falls evenly against Leah’s back with each breath Fatin takes, and Fatin exhales gently against the back of Leah’s neck consistently. And it felt less weird when Fatin was still awake, while they were still exchanging verbal jabs. Now it feels…scarily intimate.
Leah swallows hard. She knows she can very easily break Fatin’s hold on her if she wants. Hell, she could probably slip free without waking Fatin if she tried hard enough. But maybe not, actually. They all (mostly) sleep a little lighter on the island, afraid of, well, anything nature might throw at them. The tide sweeping in farther than expected or thunderstorms or predators attacking them on the beach or God knows what else. The endless possible ways they could die has them all a little on edge all the time. And since they’re not on the beach, Leah suspects that Fatin might be easier to wake than usual.
And then, with Fatin’s arm resting around Leah’s waist, Fatin’s body pressed flush against Leah’s back, it becomes almost impossible not to think about Jeff. Leah’s mind somehow always steers her right back to him, even out here, when she could literally die at any moment. She’s still thinking about Jeff fucking Galanis, about how he fucking walked out like she meant nothing to him. And yeah, she lied, but if he really loved her the way he said he did, he would’ve never left. Maybe that’s the part that hurts the most, not knowing if it was all a lie, not knowing if he really loved her or if what Fatin had said about him was true. And if Fatin is right, if Jeff was just using her because he knew she was young…well, then what the fuck is Leah supposed to do? How is she supposed to repair the wreck that he left her with? Where does she even start?
But it was too real for her. It couldn’t not be real for Jeff, right? Leah was there. She lived it. She knows it had to mean something more to him. Fatin just had to put the fucking thought in Leah’s mind, didn’t she? Fatin just had to plant the idea in Leah’s brain that maybe it wasn’t real, maybe Jeff was using her, maybe Jeff knew that Leah was lying about her age the whole time and only pretended to be grossed out when he had irrefutable proof of it, and now it won’t leave Leah alone. It gnaws at her more than Jeff's absence. No, if Jeff was just using her, they wouldn’t have gone on all those dates, wouldn’t have bothered talking for hours, late into the night. It can’t –
And Leah’s brain only stops because Fatin’s leg shifts higher up between Leah’s legs than it should, and Leah’s too shocked for her mind to spiral any further. Leah may not be about to get any sleep, but she’s also not going to lay here with Fatin’s thigh clamped between her thighs, so Leah does the only logical thing.
She sends her elbow into Fatin’s stomach, and Fatin wakes instantly.
“Yo, what the fuck?” Fatin shouts. Her arm pulls back, but she can’t get up, because her leg is still trapped between Leah’s.
“Yeah, what the fuck is right,” Leah retorts. “Move your fucking leg!”
“My…?” Fatin trails off, sounding more confused and indignant than anything. It takes another moment before Fatin’s leg slides back down, before Fatin manages to wrest it free of Leah’s legs. Fatin settles back behind Leah with a grunt, albeit without their legs tangled together for now. “You could’ve been a little nicer,” Fatin grumbles. “It’s not like I did that on purpose.”
“Okay, well, excuse me for being a little –”
“Turned on?” Fatin taunts. She anticipates that Leah’s going to try to elbow her again and already has her hand braced on Leah’s arm before Leah can try. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist,” Fatin laughs. “And sorry about moving in my sleep. Totally wasn’t under my control. Next time, you don’t need to elbow me. Just shake me or something. I promise I’ll wake up.”
Fatin releases her hold on Leah’s arm, and it slides back across Leah’s stomach, maybe a little farther down than Leah would prefer. But Fatin also seems to be laying farther down than before in order to keep her leg in safer territory, because Fatin’s forehead rests against the back of Leah’s neck instead of her nose like before. And reluctantly, Leah lets Fatin’s leg rest between hers again.
“Have you slept at all?” Fatin asks abruptly, startling Leah.
“No,” Leah mumbles.
“Well, what’s your deal?” Fatin asks. “I know you’re exhausted.” Fatin pauses. “Your mind doesn’t shut off, does it? You just lie awake and overanalyze shit, don’t you?”
“Why are you trying to analyze me?”
“Because if you fall asleep, I’m less likely to take another elbow to the gut,” Fatin replies. “So, what’s on your mind?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Oh, please,” Fatin scoffs. “The quicker we talk about this, the quicker we can both get some fucking rest. And I hate to break it to you, Leah, but I’m the closest thing you’ve got to a friend here,” Fatin informs. “And just recently, we hated each other for almost a solid twenty four hours, so the fact that I’m your best bet if you want to talk is –”
Leah’s hand reaches back, her palm pressing somewhere against Fatin’s mostly bare torso, and Fatin cuts herself off.
“You’re gonna complain about where my leg was then turn around and put your hand almost in my –”
“Fatin, move back.”
Fatin’s arm lifts from Leah’s waist, and she wiggles her leg free without any question. She doesn’t move very far, just shifts onto her back right behind Leah. Not a single part of Fatin’s body touches Leah, though, giving Leah a moment to breathe without feeling restricted. Leah sits up, and Fatin’s jacket that she’d been using as a blanket for her exposed arms starts to slide off her. Leah grabs the jacket and drops it somewhere behind her where Fatin should be, remembering Fatin’s wearing a crop top and has way more exposed skin than Leah currently does.
“Hey, don’t take off on me now,” Fatin says. Her tone is light, almost joking, but there’s something else there, too. Concern? Leah doesn’t plan on getting up, though. She shifts around then lies back down on her side facing Fatin. Leah rests her head against her hands, watching as Fatin turns her head to the side instead of fully rolling to face Leah. “You good?” Fatin asks.
Leah inhales sharply through her nose. Their faces are too close together. They’re basically sharing the same air, and if it bothers Fatin the way it suddenly bothers Leah, Fatin doesn’t let it show. But why would she? Fatin hasn’t shown herself to be uncomfortable being physically close to anyone. And maybe that’s one of the things Leah envies the most about Fatin: her ability to comfortably exist around anyone, her ability to truly and fully relax no matter where she is.
“You gonna say anything, or are we just gonna continue with the gay staring?” Fatin asks quietly. Leah’s eyes don’t roll until Fatin’s lips twitch into a teasing smile. “I mean, I’m cool with it. Your eyes aren’t exactly hard to look at.”
Leah smiles against her own will, and Fatin grins back at her. Fatin picks the jacket up from beside her and tosses it onto Leah’s chest.
“You need it more than me,” Leah says, trying to hand it back.
“Just keep it, will you? Just – let me do this one thing.”
“No,” Leah says. She passes the jacket back to Fatin. “It’s still cold, your crop top barely even qualifies as a shirt, and I’m the reason you woke up and had to move away, so…you keep it. I’ll be fine.”
“Don’t make me fight you over a fucking jacket,” Fatin says. She shoves the jacket back at Leah. “Take the jacket. Get some sleep.”
“I’m not going to be able to sleep,” Leah replies.
“Do not try to give that jacket to me, or I swear, I’m going to physically fight you.”
Leah scoffs. “Like you could take me.”
And they both laugh, because wasting energy in a fight over a jacket would be ridiculous. Just staying alive is so exhausting, and Leah can't fathom getting into an actual fight, over a jacket no less.
“I would win,” Fatin says. “Let’s be really clear about that.”
“We’re going to arm wrestle when we get back to the beach,” Leah says. “Because I know for a fact that I’m stronger than you.”
“You’re on, Rilke. There’s gotta be an incentive though. Like the winner has to get something.”
“When I win, I want your toothbrush.”
Fatin snorts. “Try again.”
“I want your jacket. But not this one. I want that hot pink leopard print one. You know, with the stripes on the sleeves. That one.”
Fatin hums. “Nice choice.”
“And? What about you?”
Fatin laughs. “I’ll think of something. Don’t you worry.”
Smiles linger on their faces, and right when the silence has stretched just long enough that Leah thinks Fatin might break it with another joke, Leah sits up. Fatin watches her, smile widening as Leah slides her arms into the jacket.
“Goodnight, Rilke,” Fatin says, and she starts to turn her back to Leah.
“No,” Leah says, grabbing Fatin’s arm. Fatin stops, shifts onto her back again, staring up at Leah. Leah lowers herself back to the ground on her back then motions for Fatin to move closer. “If I’m going to take your jacket, the least I can do is offer to share my body heat.”
Fatin pauses, staring at the side of Leah’s face as Leah stares up at the stars, trying not to grimace. “You know, I don’t really do the whole letting people hold me thing,” Fatin says. “But I guess I will make an exception just this one time.”
“Don’t make this fucking weird, Jadmani,” Leah teases.
“You have to admit,” Fatin chuckles, “it’s a little weird.”
Fatin settles with her head against Leah’s chest, her arm slipping beneath the unbuttoned jacket, resting against Leah’s side. Slowly, Leah’s arms encircle Fatin’s back, and Leah exhales, trying to adjust to the additional weight on her.
“It was weirder the other way,” Leah says so quietly that her voice is barely audible over the sound of the waterfall. “For me.”
“Because of him,” Fatin says.
Leah’s eyes close. “Yeah.”
“Fuck him,” Fatin says. “He knew what he was doing. He knew it’d fuck you up. And if laying like that was really that unbearable for you, you could’ve fucking told me, and I would’ve –”
“I know you would’ve.”
“Then why didn’t you say anything?” Fatin asks.
“I didn’t want to be a dick.”
“Being uncomfortable and saying so wouldn’t make you a dick. Actually, you’re kind of a dick for not saying anything.”
“I was okay until your leg moved.”
“Come on, I wasn’t even conscious.”
Leah huffs. “Please. You knew, like, deep down what was happening.”
“If I was going to make a move on you, Leah, I would just do it,” Fatin informs. “I wouldn’t try something in my sleep.”
Leah snorts. “God, you’re unbelievable.”
“No, you are. And you should’ve said something. Like, I’m actually kinda pissed. I offered to trade places. We could’ve flipped around.” Fatin pauses. “I do kind of like this better, though. You’re not a terrible pillow. Your heart’s beating a little fast, though. Nervous?”
“Shut the fuck up.”
“Just making an observation,” Fatin says. Leah can feel Fatin smirk against her chest. “No, yeah, it’s definitely beating faster.”
“I’m going to hurt you, Fatin.”
Fatin laughs. “Leah, I thought we were past all the violence. Like, we’ve had a serious friendship upgrade today. You found me all by yourself, even after getting injured in the process. You didn’t hesitate to get naked and –”
“Only to keep my clothes dry,” Leah cuts in. “Don’t think that means anything.”
“Still, you seemed very comfortable,” Fatin points out. “And we spooned until you so rudely elbowed the fuck outta me.”
“Yeah, to get you to stop pressing your leg against my pussy,” Leah snaps, and Fatin laughs so hard, she tears up. “Okay, it wasn’t that funny,” Leah says when Fatin’s body continues to shake with laughter like a whole minute later.
“Like I said,” Fatin says, grabbing Leah’s T-shirt to dab at her eyes. Leah has to force her body not to stiffen when Fatin’s fingertips graze against the side of her breast, totally unintentionally. Fatin releases her hold on Leah’s shirt, and her arm slides back to where it was before. “Serious friendship upgrade today. And now I’m using your tits as a pillow, so, my point stands.”
Leah exhales heavily. “I can’t – I don’t even know what to say to you right now.”
“You could try thank you, Fatin, for the jacket and for keeping me warm with your body.”
“I’m not saying that.”
“Didn’t think you would, but it was worth a shot.”
“We’re not going to sleep, are we?”
“It’s not looking like it,” Fatin agrees. Leah tenses as Fatin shifts around, flinging a leg across Leah’s. “But if you’ve got nothing else to say, I’m going to try to scrape together maybe an hour of sleep. You know, unless you elbow me again.”
“I’m sorry, okay? It was just a gut reaction to suddenly having your thigh, like grinding against me.”
“Hmm, yeah, okay.”
Leah sighs. “Whatever, Fatin.”
“You’re just giving up?” Fatin questions. “Not even going to argue with me?”
“It’s not worth it.”
“Oh, baby, I am so worth it.”
“That’s not – you know that’s not what I said. The argument isn’t worth the energy.”
“Yet here we are. Arguing about how we aren’t going to argue.”
Well. She has a point.
“Go to sleep, Fatin.”
Fatin hums, taps her fingers against Leah’s side in a way that makes Leah’s body involuntarily stiffen again. “God, you need to relax, girl,” Fatin says. Fatin’s nails gently scrape against Leah’s side, just once. “You’re so fucking tense.”
“You can’t just lie still, can you?”
“Is it making you nervous?” Fatin teases, dropping her voice lower. She continues tapping her fingers against Leah’s side. “And don’t lie. I can hear when your heart picks up.”
“I’m not fucking nervous,” Leah grumbles. “I’d just rather not be this close to you, but it’s fucking cold, so I don’t really have a choice if I don’t want to shiver all night.”
Fatin pulls back, and before Leah can protest, she says, “Let’s try this another way. Come on.”
“We couldn’t just stick to one position?”
“Honey, one position’s no fun. It definitely doesn’t get the job done.”
“I didn’t mean –” Leah doesn’t bother to finish her sentence when Fatin starts to laugh. “Alright,” Leah says loudly, “so what are we doing then?”
“We’re swapping,” Fatin informs. “So get over here. You can use my tits as a pillow instead. Oh, and I’m putting my arms under the jacket, so get used to the idea right now.” Fatin must sense Leah’s reluctance, because she says, “Oh, come on. It’s not gay if it’s for survival.”
“It’s not actually cold enough for anything bad to happen to us.”
“It’s not gay if it’s preventing the mild inconvenience of shivering all night,” Fatin amends. Leah’s eyes roll, but she finally moves closer, lowers herself down slowly. Fatin waits, and as promised, she slides her arms beneath the jacket – but thankfully not beneath Leah’s shirt – and rests her hands against Leah’s back. Leah’s ear presses against the center of Fatin’s chest, against warm, bare skin, while her cheek rests on the sequined (rainbow) crop top. “Comfortable?” Fatin asks.
“No. Not at all.”
“What’s the problem now?”
“Your fucking crop top is itchy.”
“I mean, that’s a problem I can easily solve, if you want.”
“No. I’m totally good.”
Leah hears a laugh rumble in Fatin’s throat, then Fatin inhales deeply, and Leah thinks Fatin might try to sleep again. Fatin’s heart, frankly, does not beat faster than what Leah supposes is normal. Fatin breathes evenly, and the strong beat of her heart coupled with the steady rising and falling of her chest might just be enough to lull Leah to sleep. But she still can’t. A memory rises, probably triggered by their current position. Leah doesn’t even remember much, just remembers resting her head on Jeff’s chest as they watched some mindless show on TV in their hotel room. Leah remembers them laughing together at whatever that fucking show was, remembers dozing off and waking up in the same spot to find that Jeff had dozed off, too. And it’s such a pointless, small memory, but it still fucking stings, and if Fatin falls asleep right now, Leah’s going to be trapped, tortured by her brain’s fucked up trip down memory lane.
“Fatin,” Leah says.
“Hmm?” It’s nothing more than a hum low in Fatin’s throat, something Leah feels against her face more than she hears, letting Leah know Fatin’s close to sleep.
“Have you ever been in love?”
Fatin exhales heavily, seems to pull back toward full consciousness. “Now you wanna ask the deep questions?” Fatin mumbles. Her hands shift lower on Leah’s back, almost resting against her belt. “When I was just about to fall asleep?”
There’s a slight pause. “No,” Fatin admits. “I haven’t been in love.”
“I’m young,” Fatin says defensively. “I still have time. If we ever get off this fucking island. But yeah. I don’t really do relationships.”
Fatin scoffs. “Because then my attention would be on something other than my cello, and where would that get me? I might squander away all my potential if I carry a real relationship. So I fuck guys. I don’t get to know them, and I sure as hell don’t fall in love with them.”
Leah’s eyebrows pull together. “So…what? You just don’t have the time?”
“Or the energy. Besides, it’d just be a distraction. And maybe I’m not too thrilled with the possibility that I’ll, like, really love someone just to have them fuck me over.”
“Yeah, it’s not great,” Leah mutters.
“He fucking loved you,” Fatin says, and Leah’s eyes widen. She swallows hard, resists the urge to lift her head and look Fatin in the eye. “Sorry for snooping in your shit, but no guy who’s just in it for the sex writes things like that in his own book and gives it to you. And frankly, that’s a lot more fucked up than if he was just in it for the sex.”
“I loved him.”
“Trust me. I know. But that’s – actually, just forget it.”
“No,” Leah says quietly. “Just say it.”
“It’s his fucking fault, Leah. You’re a fucking teenage girl. Of course you’d fall for him. It’s his responsibility as a fucking grown ass adult not to do anything fucked up. You know, like date you and fuck you then pretend like he didn’t know you were so young when he walks away. It’s all so fucked up. And it’s all his fault.”
Tears prick at Leah’s eyes, but she holds it in, because goddamn it, she’s not going to cry against Fatin’s bare skin, and she’s definitely not crying into the sequined crop top. God, she doesn’t want to cry around Fatin at all.
“You’re still up, right?” Fatin questions. “Like, I’m not talking to myself, am I?”
“I’m up,” Leah says.
Fatin’s arms tighten around Leah. “You’ll be okay,” Fatin states.
“I – thank you?”
“I just mean, like…he hasn’t ruined you. And if you think he has, you’re wrong.”
“That’s actually kind of sweet? Coming from you.”
“If you tell anyone, I’ll deny that I said it.”
“Who am I gonna tell? You’re the only friend I’ve got out here.”
“True story,” Fatin says. “But don’t worry. Someone worthy of you will come along eventually. Unless we never make it back to actual society, then I can’t make any promises. Our options are sort of limited out here.”
Leah smiles. “If we’re stuck here for the rest of our lives, we’ll all have to just get with each other or be lonely until we die.”
“I wouldn’t mind it,” Fatin says.
“Yeah?” Leah snorts. “Who’re you choosing as your island-wife?”
“You go first.”
“No,” Leah says. “I’ll be lonely until I die.”
“You’re that afraid of the gay, huh? Maybe you really aren’t bi.”
“I just don’t like my options,” Leah defends. “Shelby’s hot, but the bible banging isn’t a good look on her. Toni’s too hot-headed. Rachel hates me, and I’d be too afraid of Rachel to go for Nora. I’d never convince Martha to choose me over Toni. So my only real options would be Dot or you, and Dot has been very adamant that she’s not a lesbian.”
“Even though her wardrobe is, like, all cargo pants,” Fatin says. “I know. I couldn’t believe it either. So I guess it sounds like it’s you and me, baby.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Just admit it. If we all had to marry each other, you’d choose me.”
Leah sighs. “Yeah. Sure. I guess.”
“Don’t worry. I’d totally choose you, too,” Fatin assures her.
“Even over Dot?”
Fatin pauses. “I mean, I could be married to you both at the same time. You two can be sister wives.”
Leah laughs. “We need to get off this fucking island.”
“You’re telling me. I’m here planning a last resort island marriage for myself when I should be thinking about how we’re going to be rescued any day now.”
“And just so we’re clear, if we’re trapped here forever, I’m not marrying you out of love. It would 100% be out of sheer desperation and a total lack of options.”
“God, I love them desperate,” Fatin says. “As long as I get to have orgasms again, I don’t really care if it’s out of love or not.”
Fatin laughs. “Don’t worry, we totally aren’t there yet. But if a month goes by and we aren’t rescued…I’m gonna propose. And you better fucking say yes.”
Leah laughs until she’s out of breath. “You’re the worst.”
“Yeah, well, I got you to laugh, didn’t I?”
Leah’s laughter dies down. Jesus, she can’t escape him. She can joke about getting married to her friends out of desperation and sheer lack of options, and somehow, her brain still steers her right back to him.
“Marrying you would be quite an upgrade,” Leah says. “Humor wasn’t really Jeff’s thing.”
“Oh, I know. I read a good chunk of that book out of boredom, and that man’s not funny at all.” Fatin pauses. “And was that an almost-compliment? Did you just call me funny? Did you just say I’d be an upgrade from your child-fucker?”
Leah winces. “I’m kinda regretting it now.”
“Oh my God. As soon as we all decide to get together out of desperation and crushing loneliness, I’m going to propose to you. Or, you know, if a month goes by and we’re not saved, I’ll do it then. Whichever happens first.”
“If it’s all about the orgasms, there’s no reason to propose,” Leah says. “Island-marriage implies other things, like living in the same shitty structure together and sleeping next to each other every night and hunting for food together.”
“You’re right. We could fuck right now if we wanted to, no island-marriage necessary.”
“We’re not going to.”
“Right. I know that.”
“I wasn’t going to,” Fatin says indignantly. “Sheesh.”
“You were thinking about it.”
“No, I was thinking about my last orgasm.”
“Gross. I’m, like, right here,” Leah chuckles.
“We were on the topic. What did you expect?”
They both laugh tiredly, and the silence that settles over them isn’t uncomfortable. Leah continues to listen to Fatin breathe, listens to the steady thumping of her heart. It’s still not too fast. How the fuck does she stay so calm? Even when they’re talking about orgasms – which means Fatin is definitely thinking about sex – Fatin’s heart still beats normally.
“You better?” Fatin asks.
“Whenever Jeffrey comes up…I don’t know, I feel like it fucks you up all over again.”
“You sure you’re okay?”
Leah hesitates. “Yeah.”
“Is that a lie?” Fatin presses. “I can’t see your face, so I can’t tell if you’re lying to me.”
“Nothing is okay, Fatin. Not – not what happened with Jeff. Not our plane falling out of the fucking sky. Not us huddling for warmth because I didn’t find you in time to make it back to camp before dark. Nothing’s okay, and you can’t even say it will be, because you can’t be sure we’re going to be rescued before we resort to marrying each other.”
Fatin inhales deeply. “You’re right. Nothing’s okay.”
“And this night won’t fucking end,” Leah complains. “When is it going to be morning?”
Fatin pulls her arm free of the jacket and holds her wrist up to her face. “Well, it’s just past three,” Fatin informs. Her arm returns, palm presses against Leah’s lower back in a way that Leah almost finds soothing. “So it’s a few more hours until sunrise at least.” Fatin pauses. “We should really get some sleep. Unless you’re going to lie here and think about that motherfucker until dawn. Then I’ll stay up, and we can plan our island wedding instead.”
“Yeah, hard pass.”
“I’ll stay up til you fall asleep,” Fatin offers. “So start trying because I’m fucking tired.”
“Unless you aren’t comfortable like this.”
“If your hand gets cold, feel free to stick it in my pants.”
“Sorry not sorry. Okay, for real though, go to sleep.”
“Oh my God,” Dot says. Both Leah and Fatin jolt awake, and Leah immediately lifts her head off Fatin’s chest, squinting against the sunlight. Fatin groans loudly, removing her arms from around Leah to press her hands against her eyes. “I’m sorry,” Dot says, “but I have to ask. Were you two out here banging all night long? Is that why you didn’t come back?”
“What? No! Definitely not,” Leah exclaims at the exact same moment that Fatin snorts, “Man, I fucking wish.”
“It was cold,” Leah says, shooting a glare at Fatin. “And we wouldn’t have made it back to camp before dark by the time I found Fatin. We didn’t have many options left.”
Dot’s eyebrows raise. Before she can say anything, the rest of the girls stumble into the clearing, and Leah scrambles to get to her feet and get away from Fatin. The last thing she needs is everyone thinking that they stayed out here to bang all night.
“Shit,” Rachel says, looking mildly impressed while her eyes study Leah. “You actually found her.”
“I said I would,” Leah replies. She points over her shoulder. “And Fatin found water.”
That works like a charm. Everyone except Dot and Fatin goes rushing toward the water, and in some cases – like Toni immediately launching herself off the cliff without any hesitation – straight into the water.
“Well,” Dot says slowly, looking both Leah and Fatin over. “Nice job. You found Fatin on your own, and Fatin found water. That’s something to be insanely proud of.”
Dot’s staring at Leah for far too long, and Leah only just realizes she’s still wearing Fatin’s jacket, and she definitely didn’t have it with her when they’d all been searching for Fatin yesterday. Leah hurries to slide out of it, offers it to Fatin, and to her surprise, Fatin actually takes it back and puts it right on.
“Whoa,” Dot says. She walks closer, grabs Leah’s arm. Leah looks down in confusion until her eyes land on the healing cuts – and bruises that she didn’t notice yesterday – scattered along her forearms. “Did Fatin do that to you?” Dot asks.
“No,” Leah says. She pulls her arm free. “I fell. Before I found her. No big deal.”
“Dorothy,” Fatin gasps. “You really think I attacked her?”
“I don’t know, man. You two had some beef before you disappeared into the wilderness,” Dot points out. “And those cuts could’ve been from your fucking claws for all I know.” Dot mimes scratching at Fatin, letting out a playful growl, and Fatin grins and rolls her eyes, shoving at Dot’s shoulder.
“Yeah, well, we sorted it out,” Leah mumbles.
“Obviously. You were all up on each other like you’d spent all night –”
“Dot!” Martha shouts. “You gotta get in here!”
“You should go,” Leah says before Dot remembers to finish her sentence. “We’ll have to start bottling it to take back with us soon. You should have some fun before we get back to work, right?”
Dot stares at Leah for a long moment, like she’s trying to read her. “Yeah, okay,” Dot says. Her eyes shift over to Fatin, but Fatin just shrugs. Dot hands Leah her backpack. “You can get started then. And eat breakfast while you’re at it. You’ve got to be starving.”
It takes forever to drag everyone out of the water. No one’s eager to get back to their reality, but once Leah and Fatin finish filling all the available containers Dot had brought with water, there are no more excuses not to return to the beach. Fatin leads the way back to camp, pointing out all her trail markers while Dot gushes over how brilliant she is.
“I’m just following your example,” Fatin replies.
“Get a room!” Toni shouts from the back of the group, and Martha giggles while Rachel wolf-whistles.
“Shut up, you guys,” Fatin says over her shoulder. She pushes at Dot’s shoulder. “Dorothy and I aren’t going to be lesbian lovers until she’s ready.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not a lesbian,” Dot says.
“And I am majorly devastated about that,” Fatin insists, touching her hand to her chest. Dot rolls her eyes, shakes her head, mutters something about Fatin needing to get laid so she can stop hitting on her. They finally reach camp after what feels like the longest walk ever to Leah, and right as everyone else finishes settling back in, Fatin announces, “So, we’ve got some entertainment planned for you all.”
“What?” Rachel says flatly. “This better not be some stupid shit like that shelter building competition, because if it is, I’m out.”
“No, it’s not,” Fatin assures her. “Don’t worry, none of you have to do anything. Except for Leah.”
“What?” Leah says.
“Oh, you’ve already forgotten,” Fatin says. She holds her hand up. “It’s time to arm wrestle, baby.”
“What the fuck happened out there between you two?” Toni asks.
“I thought that was a joke,” Leah admits.
“Nope. We’re going to prove once and for all which one of us is stronger. If Leah wins, she said she wants my favorite hot pink leopard print jacket.”
“Yeah, but you never told me what you want if you win,” Leah says. “Even though I know you won’t.”
“Ooh, so you were out there trash talking each other all night,” Toni guesses. She nudges Martha’s leg. “This should be good.”
Fatin shrugs. “I’m not going to ask you to sacrifice any of your belongings if I win,” Fatin says. “I want you to kiss me.”
And that gets everyone riled up very quickly. Leah’s protests are drowned out by the sounds of everyone laughing or jeering. Even Nora snaps her journal shut and joins in on the excitement.
“You should’ve asked for something better than the jacket!” Rachel shouts.
“I was told I couldn’t have the toothbrush,” Leah replies. Her eyes shift around from person to person – except for Fatin – and Leah’s nerves start to get to her.
“This is going to be really fucking good,” Toni says, getting to her feet and dragging Martha up with her. “Come on. I can’t wait to see who wins this thing.”
“This is so stupid,” Shelby says weakly, but her voice is quickly drowned out by everyone else as they gather around to witness the arm wrestling match. Leah and Fatin each plant an elbow on Fatin’s suitcase. Everyone else forms a circle around them, and even though Dot’s shaking her head at them, she isn’t exactly telling them to knock it off.
“Maybe we should place bets,” Rachel suggests. “My money – well, if I had money – is on Leah.”
“Same,” Toni and Martha say together.
“You guys have no faith in me,” Fatin huffs.
“I’d put my money on you, Fatin,” Dot tell hers.
“Yeah, me too,” Nora agrees.
“Now you guys are just pitying me,” Fatin scoffs. Shelby doesn’t voice an opinion, just stands with her arms crossed over her chest, frowning. Leah finally grasps onto Fatin’s hand as Fatin grins at her.
“You ready to go down, Rilke?” Fatin taunts. “I mean, like lose this arm wrestling match. Not like, go down on –”
“Yeah, I understood,” Leah cuts in. “Let’s do this.”
“Alright,” Rachel says. “First person to push the other’s hand down to the suitcase loses. Your other hand has to stay by your side, so no cheating. And just a reminder, if Leah wins, she gets Fatin’s prized jacket, but if Fatin wins, we all win. You can start on three. One. Two. Three!”
Leah presses against Fatin’s hand with every ounce of strength she’s got in her body, which really isn’t much given that all she’s eaten is a handful of granola that Dot had in her backpack when she found them. Leah expected to win big and win fast, but Fatin’s arm shifts only a little at first, and then it doesn’t budge, and it only gets worse from there. Fatin’s grin widens, and her eyes lock on Leah’s face as Leah stares in disbelief at their clasped hands.
And Jesus Christ, Leah’s losing.
She can’t lose. She’ll never fucking live it down. She strains harder, gripping onto the edge of the suitcase with her free hand, but once Fatin’s got Leah’s arm bending back, it’s hard to stop it. Leah holds out maybe an entire minute before Fatin slams Leah’s hand down to the suitcase. Fatin jumps to her feet, throwing her arms in the air, as everyone – except Shelby – goes absolutely insane. Fatin flings herself into Dot’s arms, screaming victoriously, as if maybe she didn’t actually expect to win.
“Oh my fucking God, I can’t believe that just happened,” Toni laughs. She shoves at Rachel’s arm. “I did not see that coming. Fatin really pulled that shit off.”
“I guess we’re lucky we didn’t have any money to put on this,” Rachel says in disdain. “Leah would’ve let us down big time.”
“Yeah, but now we get to witness Rilke try to handle kissing Fatin,” Toni reminds her. “That should be fucking hilarious.”
Fatin continues celebrating her win with Dot and an impressed Nora while Martha asks Leah, “How did you lose that?”
Fatin answers for Leah. “I guess I just wanted it more,” she says. She holds her arms out. “I think it’s time to pay up, Leah,” Fatin says, punctuating the end of her sentence with a wink.
“You can’t be serious,” Leah says.
“Oh, I think she’s pretty fucking serious,” Rachel says. She motions toward Fatin. “Go on, then. We’re all dying to see this.”
“You’re all terrible,” Leah says, “for taking any pleasure in this.”
“We’re bored as fuck,” Dot replies. “We’ll take any kind of entertainment we can get.”
“And just a reminder: I think we all have some idea of just exactly where Fatin’s mouth has been,” Toni snickers.
Fatin’s jaw falls open. “Do not slut shame me,” she says.
“Oh, I’m not,” Toni promises. “I just thought Leah could use the reminder.”
“You know, you don’t actually have to kiss me,” Fatin says to Leah. “I was just being a dick.”
“Yeah, but if she backs out now, it makes her look like a pussy,” Rachel calls.
“Guys, maybe we should all just calm down,” Shelby interjects. “We shouldn’t be peer pressuring Leah to do something she doesn’t want to do. Especially not something like…this.”
That sets off another round of bickering, with Nora agreeing that it’s not right to force Leah to kiss Fatin, while Toni argues that Leah accepted the terms of the deal and now it’s too late for her to back out. And while everyone’s preoccupied with shouting over each other, Leah closes the short gap between her and Fatin, takes Fatin’s face in her hands, and kisses her. The strangest thing, at first, is the fact that Leah has to lean down. Even stranger, Fatin goes completely still. Though Fatin should’ve seen it coming, it still seems to catch her off guard.
The group’s chatter dies out instantly when they finally realize what’s happening. After a few seconds, Fatin snaps out of her initial shock long enough to actually kiss Leah back, her hands landing at Leah’s waist, fingers grasping at Leah’s shirt. And someone – probably Toni or Rachel, Leah can’t tell – whistles. It’s easy for Leah to tune them out, though, with the sound of blood rushing in her ears and her heart hammering in her throat. She doesn’t jerk away from Fatin until Fatin’s tongue glides into her mouth maybe ten seconds in, and then that’s more than enough for Leah.
There’s more cheering, and Dot starts slow clapping, a smirk on her face. Shelby shakes her head and heads off toward the ocean. Leah lets her hands slip from Fatin’s face, fall to her sides. She kind of doesn’t know what to do now that it’s over. Fatin’s got this sort of dazed look on her face, but she also looks mildly impressed.
“At least someone’s getting some action around here,” Toni quips. “Of fucking course it’d be Fatin.”
“You guys are something else,” Rachel says. And with that, everything starts to go back to normal. Dot gets them all on track for the day, handing out jobs, and Shelby returns from her brief trip to the water, but she can’t look Leah or Fatin in the eye for the rest of the day. Shit, Leah’s more than happy to be given the shitty job of collecting and chopping firewood, because at least it keeps her away from both Fatin and Toni, who won’t seem to let everyone forget about the morning’s spectacle. And Leah gets to hit things with an axe, and that’s exactly the kind of thing she needs to do today.
It nags at her for hours. That fucking kiss. It just – it won’t leave Leah alone. Her brain won’t shove it away and forget about it, the same way Jeff keeps coming back to haunt her. Except instead of obsessing over Jeff, Leah’s mind won’t stop replaying that fucking ten second kiss. Fatin’s the first person she’s kissed since Jeff, and that feels significant. Sure, Leah messed around with other guys after him, trying and failing to wipe him from her brain, but she never let guys – or anyone, really – kiss her. And now –
“Got a minute?”
Leah jumps with the axe in mid-swing, and it goes falling to the sand. “Jesus,” Leah exclaims. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
Fatin smiles thinly. “Sorry. But still. Can we talk?”
Leah’s eyes fall on Fatin’s outfit for the day. She’s wearing the fucking hot pink leopard print jacket, and she’s put her huge hoops in her ears. “About what?” Leah asks. She picks the axe back up, splits apart a hunk of wood before Fatin can answer.
“Leah. Come on. You know what.”
“Then what about it?”
“I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” Fatin says. “I shouldn’t have made that the condition of the deal, and I really shouldn’t have done that in front of everyone else. I mean, say what you will about Shelby being a prude or whatever, but she kinda had a point about the peer pressure thing.”
“It’s cool,” Leah says.
“Yeah? Because your tone suggests it’s totally not cool.”
Leah pauses, resting the axe against her shoulder as she turns to face Fatin. “No, what wasn’t cool was putting your tongue in my mouth. Way too far, Fatin.”
Fatin cracks a smile. “Okay, then I’m sorry about that.”
Leah nods wearily. She takes another swing, grunting when she doesn’t fully split the wood in two. She yanks the axe free, stumbling a bit. God, her muscles still fucking ache, and – and Fatin is still lingering behind her.
“Got something else to say?” Leah questions. “Or were you just going to watch me struggle for the next couple hours?”
Fatin holds her hand out. “Let me finish that,” she says. “You sorta look like you’re in pain.”
“Dude. I’m offering you a way out,” Fatin says. “So give me the fucking axe and go lie down.”
Leah exhales sharply but hands the axe over. “Don’t break a nail.”
“Don’t break a nail,” Fatin sneers. “Don’t worry. I won’t.”
“And don’t accidentally cut off a finger or something,” Leah adds. “I don’t know if we have a way to deal with an injury like that.”
“I think I can handle it, Leah, but I appreciate the concern.” Fatin waves her hand. “Now go.”
Fatin dumps all the firewood onto the sand next to the dying fire then plops down with a heavy sigh. “That shit was hard,” she informs the group. “And I’m never doing it again.”
“Oh, no,” Toni taunts, “did you break a sweat in Gucci?”
“Fuck you, Shalifoe,” Fatin replies as Martha hides her smile with her hand.
“I mean, if I get desperate enough –”
“Yeah, that wasn’t an actual offer,” Fatin interrupts. “Even I’m not that desperate. Yet.”
“Yeah, besides, you don’t need me,” Toni dismisses. “You’ve got Leah.”
“Toni. Leave her alone,” Shelby chastises.
“Shouldn’t you be doing your bible study or something?” Toni retorts, and as an argument starts up between them, Leah drops her book onto the pile of firewood.
“Might burn better,” she mutters.
“Leah,” Fatin says sharply. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” Leah says. She shrugs. “No point in keeping it, right?”
Rachel gives Leah a funny look, but she picks up the book. She holds it over the fire, studying Leah’s face to gauge her reaction, then Rachel lets it drop when nothing changes. Leah watches it burn for a few moments before walking off and finding a spot to watch the sun go down.
“Maybe you should go talk to her,” Dot says.
Her eyes are locked on Fatin, but still, Fatin looks around at the group before pointing to herself and saying, “Me?”
“I mean, yeah,” Dot says. “You two knew each other from before all this.”
“And you swapped spit, like, eight hours ago,” Toni adds. She claps Fatin on the shoulder. “So you’re up.”
If they think they’re being quiet, they’re wrong. Leah can hear them all without much difficulty. She’s not that far away, and voices travel. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Fatin push herself to her feet and brush sand off her ass before she starts to walk over.
“So they sent you to check on me, huh?” Leah asks once Fatin’s within earshot.
“Apparently I’m the best person to handle it. Who would’ve guessed?” Fatin jokes. She takes a seat in the sand a few feet to Leah’s right. “I mean, I did find water. I guess I’ve proven I’m not entirely useless in all survival situations.”
Leah’s eyes finally land on Fatin’s face. “You’re not useless,” Leah mutters. Her eyes shift past Fatin, over to where everyone else is gathered around the fire. They’ve gone back to normal yet again, and as far as Leah can tell, no one’s overly interested in whatever conversation Leah’s about to have with Fatin.
“I think you would’ve begged to differ two days ago,” Fatin points out.
“No offense,” Leah says, “but what are you doing over here, Fatin? I mean, I know they sent you after me, but for what?”
Fatin shrugs. “They’re all pretty freaked out by the book burning thing. I mean, that’s a major step for you.”
Leah grunts. “It’s not that big a deal.”
“It’s a huge deal.”
“Only because you’re all trying to make it a big deal.”
Leah stares out at the horizon, chewing on the inside of her cheek. In her peripheral vision, she can see Fatin studying her. Leah’s mouth opens as she plans to call Fatin out for staring, but Fatin’s gaze shifts toward the sky a moment later, and Leah snaps her jaw shut.
“You don’t have to babysit me,” Leah says instead.
“I’m not. I’m watching the sunset with you. Or is that not allowed?” Fatin questions. Leah starts to get up, and Fatin grasps onto her arm, stopping her. “Where are you going?”
“It’s getting cold,” Leah says. She motions toward where her small pile of belongings is, over by the fire. “I’m gonna grab my cardigan. Like I said. I don’t need a babysitter.”
Fatin shakes her head, doesn’t release her hold on Leah’s arm. Leah sits back down mostly out of confusion as Fatin unzips the pink leopard print jacket and slides out of it.
“Just take it,” Fatin says, holding the jacket out. “And don’t argue with me, please.”
Leah stares at Fatin for a long time before she takes the jacket and says, “You know, you can wear more than just a bra under your jacket. It won’t kill you.”
“And cover all this up?” Fatin says, motioning to her mostly bared torso. She grins widely. “Well, that’d just be a shame – for the rest of you, of course. I know you all need something nice to look at in your spare time.”
Leah’s eyes roll dramatically, but her body shakes with silent laughter as she jams her arms into the sleeves of the jacket. “You’re insufferable,” Leah says, but she’s still sort of laughing, so it comes out sounding less harsh than she’d intended.
“But I’m also right.”
“Hey!” Dot calls, cupping her hands around her mouth. Both Leah and Fatin look over before Dot says, “Put out the fire whenever you come back, okay?”
“You got it, Dorothy!” Fatin shouts.
“The sun’s not even down, and they’re going to bed already?” Leah asks.
“Long day,” Fatin replies. “You know, they had to come looking for us this morning. Martha said it took hours before they found us.”
Leah winces. “Guess we slept later than we thought.”
Fatin shrugs. “They started looking at the crack of dawn because you know that’s how early Dot fucking gets up. It’s not my fault they didn’t notice that I marked a trail leading all the way to the water.”
Leah looks back over at the rest of the group as they prepare to turn in for the night. “I mean, I’m sort of surprised they came looking at all,” Leah admits.
“Please,” Fatin snorts. “Like Dorothy would ever leave me stranded in the wilderness.”
Leah hums in agreement, and she looks up at the sky like she’s trying to analyze it. Fatin, again, is staring at Leah. “You’re staring,” Leah finally says.
“I sure am.”
“I’m trying to figure you out.”
Their eyes lock before Leah knows what she intends to say. Fatin smiles gently, doesn’t offer up any elaboration on that statement. And as Leah’s heart starts to pound a little harder in her chest, she thinks she could take this in one of two directions: she could tell Fatin sincerely to fuck off, or she could crack a joke.
“Don’t you think that’s a little gay?” Leah says.
“Says the girl who kissed me earlier.”
Leah laughs, which surprises herself while also drawing a wide grin out of Fatin. “Because I lost a bet,” Leah points out.
“That doesn’t make it any less gay.” Before Leah can respond, Fatin adds, “You really think the tongue was too much, huh? Felt like the right move to me.”
Leah laughs again, shakes her head. “No. Totally not the right move.”
“No, I could tell. You were into it.”
“What gave it away?” Leah says sarcastically. “The way I immediately pulled away from you the second you put your tongue in my mouth?”
Fatin shoves at Leah’s leg. “Shut the fuck up. There were no terms saying how you had to kiss me. You could’ve just planted a quick one on me and left it at that.” Fatin smirks. “But that was, like, a real kiss, Rilke. Or it could’ve been, if you wouldn’t have ruined it right as it got good.”
Leah rolls her eyes, teeth sinking into her lower lip. Fatin’s teasing her. Maybe. Her tone suggests it’s a joke, but the expression on Fatin’s face is harder to read. Leah inhales, knowing Fatin’s watching her every move, trying to figure her out or whatever. And now that Leah has symbolically burned her personally annotated Jeffrey Galanis book, maybe it’s time to try to take a real step forward. And maybe she’ll fail, but it’ll be a step nonetheless. And who knows? Maybe it’ll even be worth it.
“What’re you thinking about?” Fatin finally asks when the silence stretches on too long. “I mean, I know you burned the book, but if he’s still on your mind –”
“No,” Leah interrupts gently. “It’s not him.”
“Then why are you suddenly getting all, like, introspective? And yeah, maybe I learned the word introspective from reading my horoscope, but let’s not get into that, okay?”
Leah cracks a smile then pushes herself to her feet, offering Fatin her hands.
“We going somewhere?” Fatin asks. She takes Leah’s hands anyway, lets Leah haul her up before receiving an answer to her question.
“No,” Leah says. She drops Fatin’s hands but lingers in Fatin’s personal space, and Fatin raises an eyebrow at her, holding her ground. “I’m gonna try something right now,” Leah declares, and before she even finishes her sentence, amusement shines on Fatin’s face. “And I can’t promise that it’s gonna go okay.”
Fatin nods, like maybe she knows what’s coming. There isn’t much of a gap left between them for Leah to close, and Fatin shifts up before Leah has to lean down. And somehow, in spite of the slight chill in the air, Fatin’s skin is still warm beneath Leah’s palms. Maybe Leah holds onto Fatin’s shoulders to keep herself upright, especially when Fatin’s hands land at her hips. With no prying eyes, without the feeling that they’re putting on a show, Leah can relax. And if Fatin didn’t want to kiss her back, Leah knows for a fact that she wouldn’t.
This time, at least, Fatin doesn’t lead with her tongue. Doesn’t even try it until Leah does first, and Leah’s rewarded with the low moan that rumbles in Fatin’s throat, with the way Fatin’s fingers press harder against her hips. And Leah thinks she could stay like this forever – or however long they spend on this fucking island – until someone coughs and it startles her enough to cause her to pull back, tightening her grip on Fatin’s shoulders. Fatin’s lips twist into a smirk at the slightly terrified expression on Leah’s face, but as Leah realizes they haven’t been caught and aren’t being heckled by the six other girls on the island with them, she calms down.
“Okay, now get your hands off of me,” Fatin grumbles, knocking Leah’s arms aside. “They’re fucking cold.”
Leah doesn’t know how Fatin can seem so chill, so collected, when Leah feels like her heart might stop at any moment. But Fatin just goes right back to normal, like nothing out of the ordinary happened, like nothing major might’ve just shifted between them.
“If you wouldn’t have given me your jacket, you wouldn’t have to feel my cold hands on your shoulders,” Leah replies breathlessly.
“Yeah, but that still doesn’t mean you should put your icy-ass hands on my bare skin –” Fatin lets out a shriek and scrambles away from Leah as she presses her palms to Fatin’s stomach. She just ends up falling back to the sand, Leah landing atop her. Smiles linger on their faces as they unabashedly stare at each other, and Fatin’s eyes are softer than Leah thinks she’s ever seen them before. Then Fatin’s hands slide up the back of Leah’s shirt, and Leah’s the one shrieking now and scrambling to get away from Fatin, but Fatin gets a handful of the jacket and yanks Leah back to the sand.
“Hey! I never thought I’d have to say this, but no murdering and/or banging on the beach!” Dot yells. Leah chokes, and Fatin laughs, holding onto the jacket to keep Leah from fleeing the scene.
“We aren’t – we aren’t doing either of those things, thank you very much!” Leah splutters.
“Well, whatever you’re doing, keep it the fuck down over there! Some of us are trying to sleep!” Toni shouts. Leah and Fatin take one look at each other and dissolve into giggles, Leah’s forehead falling against Fatin’s shoulder. They stay like that, laying in the sand, leaning into each other, for a long while, and the silence between them isn’t unwelcome. The sky’s gone dark except for the stars and the moon, but Leah’s too busy staring at Fatin to notice.
“So,” Fatin says, tugging on the jacket at Leah’s waist, “do I have to propose first or can we fuck now?”
Leah shoves at Fatin’s side, takes a little pleasure out of the sharp hiss Fatin lets out at Leah’s cold hands pressing against her skin again. “We’re not fucking,” Leah says.
Fatin pouts. “Like…ever or just not anytime soon or what?”
Fatin pauses then grins. “Can we arm wrestle for it? If I win, we fuck, and if I lose, we talk about it again in two days?”
Fatin laughs, and Leah just hopes it’s dark enough that Fatin doesn’t notice the way her face heats up. But then their eyes lock, and Fatin’s laughter fizzles out, expression molds into something a little more serious. Besides, Leah only looks slightly annoyed, can’t quite fight off a smile.
“I’ll give you some time to think about it,” Fatin says. “We could be here awhile. You’ll change your mind before long. I know you can’t resist this.”
Leah snorts, tries to shove at Fatin again, but Fatin grabs her by the wrist, causing Leah to collapse into her instead. Fatin doesn’t seem to mind as Leah drops her head to her chest, exhaling.
“You know, we can’t stay here all night,” Fatin murmurs. “Or they’re all really going to think we’re fucking – and fucking only a few feet away from them all, at that. Besides, I’m pretty sure Dorothy’s suspicious anyway.”
“Well, it’s none of their business,” Leah replies. She gets to her feet, brushes sand off herself, and helps pull Fatin up. “But we’re on water duty together from now on. Make sure you tell Dot that in the morning.”
Fatin laughs, locks her arm around Leah’s neck as they stroll back over to join the rest of the group for the night. “Yeah, see, I knew you’d change your mind.”