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say my name and everything just stops (I don't want you like a best friend)

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She’s six years old when she firsts meets Shelby Goodkind.

If memory serves her right it’s because of a pair of bullies, a fight and Shelby being an actual angel. It was a stupid fight, but Toni was a brash child, always picking fights with bigger people to prove herself- even if her foster dads told her she didn’t have to do that.

The bigger kids- they call the two men who were planning on adopting her fags and Toni may be young, but she wasn’t stupid. She knew that word was dirty and hurtful so she fights, she launches herself at the two fifth graders, scratches them, bites them and they are bigger than her. Toni was always small, too small for her age, so they easily overpower her and she is thrown onto the blacktop, hitting her head on the pavement.

At that moment she almost forgets about the fight she was currently in and decides that the sky was a beautiful pure blue with the fluffiest of white clouds. She hears the two older kids laugh, say that vile word again before she hears them walking off and she’s frustrated.

She’s frustrated because she couldn’t defend her family and she knew that going home with a bloody nose would just upset Greg and Mike. She likes them, they want to adopt her, and she doesn’t want to lose that.

“Oh! You’re bleeding!”

Again, Toni may have been young, but her breath catches when she opens her eyes to see a girl hovering over her- a real pretty girl with gold hair and green eyes- freckles scattered along her face. She looks scared, eyes full of worry. The way the afternoon sun shines around her, it makes Toni wonder if she’s not on earth anymore because while she isn’t a fan of church, she knows the stories, so- she asks and till this day, she’d remember her seven-year-old self and the first words that she ever spoke to Shelby Goodkind. “Am I dead?” She croaks and the other little girl who somehow manages to take out a mini package of tissues.

The blonde girl frowns and then leans her head down, putting her ear to Toni’s chest. Blonde hair tickles her face, making her giggle just a bit. “No,” She answers and Toni’s brow furrows. She has an accent- like Sandy Cheeks from Spongebob. “You seem pretty alive to me.”

“Oh,” Toni goes to sit up, suddenly registering it because her head starts to spin. “Cause I thought- well you look like an angel.”

This makes the blonde girl smile, she has some teeth missing- like Toni did and some pink spreads on her freckled cheeks. Toni hand’t really seen anyone this pretty or nice before, the girl scoots closer and gently brings the tissue to her nose. Toni flinches, the girls smile fades, and she asks. “Is your mom or dad here? Should I take you to them?”

Toni shifts as feels the sting of gravel in her hands yes, she’s in a lot of pain, yes, she wants to cry about it, but she’s braver than that. She had to be after all. “I uh- I don’t have parents.” She tells the blonde girl who just looks even more confused. “I have foster parents.”

“Foster parents?” She asks before getting a clean tissue from the plastic pack and still tending to her bloody nose.

She wants to tell this girl that she didn’t have to do this. Toni should put on her big girl pants, shove this girl away and deal with this on her own, like she always had. “Yeah,” Toni wonders if this girl is sheltered, that she doesn’t know what foster parents are. “My real parents aren’t around so- I have foster parents- why do you talk like that? Like the squirrel from Spongebob.” She deflects, she remembered hearing that word, deflecting, her foster parents once spoke to Toni’s therapist who told them that Toni did that a lot, deflected. She never got around to looking up that word.

The blonde girl blinks and then giggles- Toni’s stomach feels like there are millions of butterflies in it, weird. “It’s because I am from Texas, we just moved her. Me, my Mama and my Daddy and baby brother.” And she suddenly looks sad again, Toni just wants her to smile again. “I’m sorry that you don’t have your parents, that must make you very sad.”

Toni shrugs. “I’m used to it.”

One memory that Toni would never forget (and she really wish she could) was the day her mom was taken away on a stretcher. She remembered the policewoman who sat outside with her in front of the 7-11 where her mom started acting weird. She remembered the warmth of the woman’s jacket and the sorrow in her eyes as she handed her a cup of the store’s hot chocolate and how she talked to the other officer.

‘Look at her, Lou- she’s skin and bones and the scars on her skin?’

‘No, Lou, it’s not normal for a child to be that thin, she’s malnourished, look at her!’

She remembers how that Lady sat next to her as the blue and red lights that Toni would find herself running from as a teen lit up the Minnesota winter night. ‘I’m sorry, kid. Foster care, well- you’re a cute kid, I’m sure you’ll find a nice family.’

And it took three years, but she found a family in Greg and Mike. She’s calmed down a bit, her fight or flight mode on standby for now. Even with the fight that just kicked in only moments ago, but that was more out of defense. Those boys said something so cruel and vile that she had to react and if those boys didn’t hit her and shove her to the ground, then she would have her guardian angel here kneeling beside her with balled up bloody tissues beside them.

The girl is gentle as she dabs and dab as the running fountain that was her nose dries up, Toni only flinches once and then jumps a bit when she hears. “Oh, your lip- it’s getting puffy! We really need to find a grown up and-”

“Shelby!” A woman’s voice shrilly speaks out, not shrill as in mean, Toni notes, but like she’s concerned. She has the same drawl to her voice as this girl’s, Shelby, as she knows now. “Sweetheart.” Yes, definitely Shelby’s mom, blonde hair- but not the same eyes. “Oh, what happened here?”

Toni takes her in. She has a baby on her hip, shiny hair pulled back out of her face. Her voice is soft, eyes caring- yes, she’s a mom, Toni can tell. “Some mean boys hit her, Mama- big boys.” Shelby tells her mom and even though it’s out of care, Toni flinches away when she tries to touch her face.

“It’s okay, that’s just my mama.” It’s strange how easily Toni calms herself down at Shelby’s reassuring voice, how the young girl puts a hand on her shoulder and smiles as bright and pretty like a sunflower.

So, Toni lets her defenses fall again and lets this woman and her kind smile take a look at her. “What’s your name, hun?”

She looks between Shelby’s mom and then to Shelby who gives her a nod. “Toni, my names Toni.”

The woman smiles warmly and reaches out, smoothing Toni’s wild hair back. “Well Toni, I’m Jo-Beth Goodkind and this is my daughter, Shelby- seems like she has done an amazing job caring for you. Is your Mama around, maybe your Daddy?”

“Mama!” Shelby sounds a bit scandalized. “She has foster parents,” She tells her mom as if it was common knowledge and then the adult gets that look, that look of pity that Toni had come to hate over the years.

Jo-Beth gives a tight nod and then- a sad smile. She wants to get up, storm away because that was what she used to do. She’s been learning though- growth as Greg and Mike would call it. “Alright then sweetheart, where are your foster parents?”

“Greg went to get me a hot dog, I think he might have gotten distracted. Mike said he’d meet us here later so-” Toni watches how the woman stiffens, her lips pull tightly together, and she yanks her hand back. She’s confused with her reaction, Shelby seems a bit lost as well.

“Toni,” Jo-Beth begins slowly. “Toni, is Mike Greg’s brother, maybe his friend?”

And Toni almost laughs, if she didn’t catch how serious Jo-Beth sounded. She eyes her suspiciously for a moment and his about to answer when she hears Greg’s familiar voice. “Oh my god, Toni!” She turns around to see him running towards her, his shoes against the blacktop as he kneels down on her other side. “Sweetheart, what happened to you?” He is gentle when he tips her chin up to look at her face. “Did you get into another fight?”

“No,” She lies, her attention off Jo-Beth. The look on Greg’s face makes her sigh- she could never get one over on him. “Yes, but those boys deserved it.”

He snorts. “Looks like those boys won.” He balances himself on the balls of his feet and then ruffles her hair.

“Careful!” Jo-Beth cuts in. “She could have a concussion!”

Greg glances over at the blonde woman and then towards Toni. “Do you have a concussion?” He asks and then frowns when Toni shrugs her shoulders. “Alright, how many fingers am I holding up?”

Toni sees two, but gives her a wily smirk and says. “Twelve.”

“Twelve!” He exclaims dramatically, draping his arm across his forehead “Oh lord save us- she’s done for! Doomed! I tell you! She will never solve the meaning of life!”

Toni giggles, as does Shelby. She doesn’t feel as scared anymore, not with Greg acting like a goofball. However, Jo-Beth Goodkind shoots her daughter a pointed look which makes the other little girl stop laughing all together. “Mr-”

“Lockhart,” Greg sticks his hand out. “Greg Lockhart. Not to be confused with that whack a doodle Professor Lockhart from Harry Potter.” He winks at Toni and Toni giggles again, even Shelby does a bit until her mom catches her.

“This is very serious, Mr. Lockhart. She could have a serious injury.” Jo-Beth informs him and it makes Toni a bit uncomfortable. “She should be seen by a doctor.”

Greg smiles one of his charming smiles. “I know, but the deal is that I don’t want to freak her out, scare her- you can’t assume every child handles getting hurt the same way. I know Toni and I’m handling it. Thank you for helping her-” He trails off and Toni cuts in.

“It was Shelby who helped me.” She points to the blonde girl and then towards her mom. “And Miss. Jo-Beth just got here, she was just making sure that I was alright.”

Greg nods, his smile not leaving his face. “Thank you Jo-Beth.” And then points towards Shelby. “And thank you, Doctor Shelby for you quick and swift care!”

Toni turns her head to look at Shelby smiling again, that dazzling smile that still made her heart flutter. Then Greg turns around, pats his back and Toni clambers on. “Are we ready for lift off?” Greg asks, pretending to speak in a walkie talkie.

“Roger, roger!” Toni laughs and laughs as he jolts up.

“Mama!” Shelby suddenly asks. “Can Toni and I have a playdate soon?”

Greg looks over his shoulder and raises a brow. “Did you actually manage to make a friend?” He teases and Toni rolls her eyes. “Proud of you, Kiddo.” He then looks over towards Jo-Beth. “We’d be happy to schedule something, our weekends are looking pretty free.”

“Well,” Jo-Beth stalls and then puts on a smile. “I’ll have to talk to her daddy, our weekends are pretty busy being that he is the newest minister at the Christian Calvary church. But I am sure he’ll be open to talking about it.”

“Oh,” Greg’s tone sounded weird. “Well, that is nice- you must be the Goodkinds then? All the way from Texas?” He asks and Jo-Beth nods proudly. “Welcome to Hopewell then and I guess we’ll see you soon.”

“Bye Shelby!” Toni waves from Greg’s back, beaming while Shelby waves back. She really liked the thought of having a friend. Once they were out of earshot, she tells that same thought to Greg whose pride she feels radiating off of him. “Though I bet they have one of those big houses- with like two golden retrievers and Shelby probably has one of those massive beds with fifty pillows.”

“Huh, you may be onto something.” He hums. “But I betcha that would make sleepovers pretty fun.”

“Sleepovers?” Toni can’t hide the excitement in her voice. “You think they’ll let me sleepover?”

“I don’t see why not, Shelby could sleep over at our house- and we’ll make chocolate chip pancakes in the morning with hot cocoa.” He tells her. “The Goodkinds do look the type that shop at Trader Joes, so you may be stuck eating grapefruit over there.”

Greg chuckles as Toni makes a gagging noise. “C’mon kiddo, lets go home.”

 

 

Toni loves Greg and Mike.

She loves how they take the best care of her. Greg on the phone with the doctor asking about what to do about her head, only sighing in relief when Toni tells him again that she never hit her head, just landed on her elbows while Mike frets over her, holding an icepack to her nose and asking her so kindly what possessed her to get into a fight with boys twice her age.

And she tells them, she tells them about what they said and how it made her feel. It’s why she got so angry- its why she bit one of the boys. That makes Greg suppress a laugh and Mike shoot Greg a look.

The Toni asks while Mike is examines her nose. “Why are people like that? Say mean stuff like that.”

It’s Mike that answers with a sad smile. “Because sweetheart, some people just don’t care to learn about things that they don’t quite understand. But there are people like you who understand and that’s why we want you to use this.” He points at her head. “Instead of these.” And points at her fists

Greg and Mike are the best, she truly loves them, and she wants to make them proud, so she smiles back, gives a quick nod. Words, she’ll use words from now on.

 

 

That however doesn’t last long, Toni finds out fast in life that things don’t always turn out the way she would like it too. It’s a rainy Sunday morning when she is pulled from Greg and Mike’s home by a new social worker. She screams and carries on, most importantly she fights she reverts back and she bits and claws at the woman who had to physically restrain her. She is full of snot and tears and she screams.

“I was good! I was good!”

“What did I do? I was good?”

“Why don’t you want me anymore! I was a good girl!”

Until she can’t scream anymore.

Greg is crying.

Mike retreats to the house.

It’s then, at six years old that Toni loses all faith in having a happy family.

 

 

She’s dropped off at a new home, with a garbage bag of clothes and a raggedy stuffed dog that she had since she was two. The woman is cold, the man leers and she is put into a room with another little girl.

“This is a good Christian home.” The woman tells her over dinner. “There is no cussing, no fighting, bedtime is at eight on the dot. I expect you to be clean, dress accordingly and have manners. We go to Revered Goodkind’s ten’ o clock services every Sunday.”

“Goodkind?” Toni glances up from her bland meal.

“And no interrupting adults.” The woman bites and the man shakes his head.

“I just- I know their daughter, Shelby.” Toni disobeys yet again, but she watches as the woman’s demeanor changes. She smiles- but not a sweet one like Greg or Mike would offer her. It’s conniving, calculating and she looks over at her husband. There is a churning in Toni’s gut, she doesn’t trust them.

“Go on,” The woman leans onto her hand. “How do you know Shelby?”

Toni looks over at the other little girl. She has to be ten, maybe twelve. Her hair is neatly done in a low bun, face scrubbed clean a modest dress- eye down onto her plate. “She’s my friend, we were supposed to have a playdate.”

“Oh,” The woman brightens as if she just won the lottery. “Oh, did you hear that Carl?”

The man doesn’t look away from his newspaper. “I heard June.”

“Well then,” June’s voice is sickly sweet. “We’ll just have to follow through with that play date, won’t we?”

 

 

June and Carl force her to go to church, June works the waves from her hair with a flat iron as early as seven in the morning. She pulls and pulls and Toni’s scalp throbs in pain, the other foster child, Beth is silent as she does her own hair. Beth is always quiet, doesn’t talk, does what she is told. Toni observes that she doesn’t look happy at all and she wonders how long Beth has been with them- how long Toni would be with them.

Not long, Toni decides when June puts her into this floral print dress. Not long at all if Toni had a say in it.

When the service ends, she finds Shelby- well Shelby finds her and pretty much tackles her into a hug. “I missed you!” Her cheery voice rings out and then she looks back at June and Carl. Shelby frowns and then pulls away. “Where is Mr. Lockhart? Why are you with the Samsons?”

“It didn’t work out.”

Shelby looks down towards the ground. “Oh, I’m sorry.” Her voice is small. “Greg was really nice, I liked him.” Her gaze suddenly lifts from the ground towards her parents and Toni’s foster parents. “I know it’s not the Christian way, but I don’t really like the Samsons.”

“Yeah,” Toni kicks at the grass. “They’re weird- not fun at all. June wants me to call her mom and straightened my hair this morning and Carl, he’s just weird.”

Shelby frowns and reaches out to touch Toni’s low bun. “I like your hair when it’s down.” She tells her. “I think pretty.”

Toni’s cheeks burn and she smiles at Shelby. “You do?”

“Yeah, I do.”

 

 

“Hey Bumblebee!”

Both girls look over to see Shelby’s dad coming over towards them. “So, I was talking to the Samsons and they agreed to let Toni have a playdate with you today,” He grins over towards Toni and Toni can’t help but think of him as some oversized Ken Doll. Everything about him was picture perfect. Perfect teeth, perfect smile, perfect hair- green eyes. Everything picture perfect and its- unsettling to say the least, but it’s better than Carl and June Samson. “Is that okay with you, Toni? We’re going to the zoo and we have an extra person on our pass.”

Toni had never been to the zoo before and Shelby is practically humming with excitement and Toni would love a chance to actually do something that Greg and Mike promised her, even if it was with Shelby and her family. So, she smiles and nods, she’s polite and says. “I would love that, Mr. Goodkind.”

 

 

The Goodkinds are unlike any family she’d ever met.

The whole way to the zoo they play road games, they sing along to the cd in the stereo and while Toni doesn’t really partake because ‘She’s just a little shy’ Shelby decides, a warm smile on her face. Toni decides that she does really, really like Shelby. She’s just so warm and kind, especially towards her. People like Shelby and the Goodkinds don’t really give much of their time to someone like Toni. So, she lets Mrs. Goodkind take her hair out of the tight bun that June had worked so hard, mumbling tons of ‘good lords’ and sighs of annoyance as bobby pins fall to the ground. She does her hair to match Shelby’s, two French braids and Toni tells her that she loves it.

And Toni and Shelby are giddy as they explore the zoo, they hold hands as they go from animal to animal, share a cotton candy and get their faces painted. She’s beat tired by the time the day ends, but to have that much joy? She hadn’t felt that in a long time.

Even when it doesn’t work out with the Samsons. ‘She talks back, she’s brazen, she’s rude, she cursed at me’ Shelby and the Goodkinds take her in, even if it is only for a weekend and Mr. Goodkind tells Carl Samson that he has no idea why they had so much trouble with Toni.

Toni is in earshot when she hears this, playing a game of candy land with Shelby and her mom. “Well Carl, I don’t know what to say, she’s an angel here with us. Maybe you and your wife just shouldn’t have children. If that is the case- we’ll have to talk about Beth and her placement.”

And as much as Toni disliked the Samsons, she feels that was a bit too harsh.

However as soon as that thought crosses her mind it is gone when the doorbell rings and Mr. Goodkind excitedly tells them that the pizza is here.

 

 

Family’s come and family’s go. Her placements don’t seem to last long, it’s her temper and her attitude but Shelby stays a constant in her life. She spends holidays with the Goodkinds, goes on vacations and family outings. She avoids church the best she can, until the summer when she and Shelby are both eight years old.

She’s at the country club with the Goodkinds. Shelby had sweettalked her into going, two years into this friendship and Toni finds herself always being talked into something she didn’t originally want to do by the blonde. All it would take was that smile, a flutter of her eyelashes and her voice saying her name in that southern drawl and Toni would be there. She didn’t understand it then, why Shelby had an effect on her- or she did sort of understand it, but wouldn’t fully until she was a bit older.

The thing about Toni was that she was protective, fiercely so of the people she cared out. It’s why the pool incident changed Toni’s already wavering thoughts on Dave Goodkind. She sort of liked Dave Goodkind, every time she tagged along with the family to the country club, he’d play basketball with her, call her ‘champ’. But the day they were swimming at the pool changed everything that she thought Dave Goodkind was.

The country club had been packed with stuffy women sunbathing on chair while their children played by or near the pool. Toni, in her true fashion had been showing off to Shelby, leaping from the diving board and into the deep end. Shelby would watch from the side, feet dangling in the water while she clapped and laughed. Toni knew Shelby had a fear of the deep end of the pool, but she hoped that one day she’d see that it wasn’t all that bad.

“Well look at you, Shalifoe!” Dave Goodkind’s voice booms and both girls look over at him. He is standing by Shelby, his signature charming smile on his face. “A regular water baby.” His gaze flicks down toward Shelby and his smile straightens into a thin line. “See, Bumblebee, she isn’t scared.”

Shelby’s voice wavers when she answers him. “That’s cause nothing scares Toni, daddy.”

“Water shouldn’t scare you, you need to learn it, understand it, because it could mean your survival one day.” Dave tells his eight-year-old daughter, a bit of coolness in his tone.

And it happens so fast, but Toni reacts before a pregnant Jo-Beth could scramble from her chair or other members of the club can. Shelby is screaming out of fear when he lifts her into the air and throws her into the pool yelling. “Sink or Swim, bumblebee!”

Shelby sinks and sinks and Toni dives under. She uses all of her strength to pull Shelby back up to the surface and once she does, Shelby is coughing, crying and Toni keeps herself calm. “Hold onto my shoulders.” She tells her as Jo Beth and Dave Goodkind argue. “You’re okay, hold onto my shoulders and kick your feet.”

She keeps her voice soft and calm, Shelby breathes in and out- pink nails digging into her shoulders as she tries to calm down. Toni has been around the block; she knew how to calm someone down- she picked it up from Mike who had once used this technique on her. “It’s okay, Shelby, just breathe- breathe and kick your feet.” After a few moments, Shelby obeys, and Toni treads the water. “See, there- you’ve got it-float on your belly and kick.”

“Just don’t let go, alright?” Shelby’s voice quivers with the question.

And Toni nods while giving her a reassuring smile. “I promise, I won’t let go.”

 

 

Toni doesn’t let go, figuratively or emotionally.

They grounded each other and in hindsight became each other’s tether. Toni would jump around from home to home, but always end up at Shelby’s house for weekend sleepovers. She would always tag along to Shelby’s pageants watching from the crowd. She found those shows humorous, especially sitting out in the crowd and watching the pageant moms act like idiots in the seats.

In return, the Goodkinds would show up to her basketball games when no one else would and they would cheer from the bleachers afterwards they would always got out for pizza. It was pizza for Toni’s games, ice cream for Shelby’s pageants and Dave Goodkind would beam proudly whenever Shelby brought home another crown.

Toni, while always proud of her friend thought that those crowns were a bit too much. However, it made Shelby happy, so Toni was happy for her.

 

 

Their dynamic begins to change in seventh grade.

They have other friends. Toni befriended Martha Blackburn after Shelby went off to Texas for a summer to stay with her grandparents and Shelby befriended Becca Gilroy.

Their twosome became a foursome and it wasn’t so bad, they all got along after all. Martha and Becca with their bright positive outlook on life. They all do everything together, movies, roller rinks, diners and mall trips. However, with the two other girls, Shelby is different. She’s not herself and it doesn’t take Toni long to pick up on that. Her accent is more dramatic, and she uses words like ‘Gee’ and quotes bible phrases. It’s- weird, and more noticeable when Becca was around.

She doesn’t really point it out because she doesn’t want to make Shelby feel like she is being called out, but she’s different now. Acts different and looks different. Toni blames puberty really; it hits her like a ton of bricks as does the realization that she isn’t into guys. Watching the first pirates of the Caribbean movie until the DVD was scratched was not for Orlando Bloom after all.

Toni begins to notice Shelby and how pretty she actually is. She picks up that her eyes bounce between a vibrate green to a brilliant gold, or how full her lips are- or how cute her dorky laugh would be. She realizes that she may be attracted to her best friend which just makes things different. Toni knows Shelby like the back of her hand and she also knows the Goodkind family well and she also knew Dave Goodkind’s take on homosexuality which in the long run, ended their friendship.

 

 

It started out as a simple day at the movies with Becca and Martha that turned into a sleepover once they were back in the Goodkind’s large home. Shelby had let her guard down once they walked into her room, throwing herself onto her large plush bed as she popped out her flipper.

Toni had known about Shelby’s missing teeth. She remembered how Shelby had cried when she realized that she’d never be normal or perfect. They were ten when Shelby had that breakdown after her mom instructed her that the flipper would have to do and Toni remembered how Shelby sniffled into her pillow while Toni rubbed her back. ‘It’s alright bee,’ She had told her. ‘I think you’re pretty just the way you are.’

“You know I’ll be fourteen next year and they still won’t let me get those freakin’ implants.” Shelby now groans as she looks at the teeth on the flipper. “What if, what if I get a boyfriend and he notice and calls me a freak or something?”

Toni scrunches up her nose at the mention of boys before she plops down on the bed beside her. “You and your first world problems” She teases, earning a playful glare from Shelby “You’re not a freak, Shel.” Toni firmly tells her. “And if anyone thinks that, they’ll need to evaluate themselves- or deal with me.”

Shelby smiles as she pops the flipper back into her mouth and the rolls onto her belly perching her head on her hands. “You promised me that you won’t get into any more fights.”

“And you promised me froyo and that didn’t happen.”

Shelby scoffs and rolls her eyes. “You’re so difficult sometimes.” Toni watches as her feet sway back and forth. “You’re lucky I love you.”

That phrase- those two words sent a shock into Toni’s system. It’s not like they haven’t said it to each other before, because there was love there, a platonic sort of love- up until Toni’s one sided crush began to bubble up. “And why are you even worrying about stupid boys?”

Shelby purses her lips and shrugs. “I dunno, guess because it’s all our friends talk about.” She pauses. “And Andrew asked me out.”

“Andrew?” Toni deadpans. “That dude from your church?” She is the one to scoff this time. “Bee, no- he’s, something is off about him.”

Toni watches Shelby’s face soften at the nickname, it was something that Toni had only been allowed to call her. “Could be your church too, Toni.” And then sighs when Toni rolls her eyes before she begins to fiddle with her necklace. “Toni, I- Toni I need a boyfriend.”

“Why?” Toni tries not to hide he annoyance in her voice. “I mean, why now?”

“Because,” She takes a deep breath. “Because maybe a boyfriend will make me start liking boys?” Toni can feel the anxiety radiating off her body. “Make me normal?”

Toni’s breath catches in her throat because, well because if Shelby was like her then maybe- “You don’t like boys?” She slowly asks.

Shelby meets her eyes for a moment, opens her mouth as if she is getting ready to say something and then turns onto her back before she pushes herself off the bed. “Hey, how about we watch a movie?”

Now while Toni is a bit annoyed of Shelby avoiding the question and changing the subject, she can’t blame her. Toni, while she came to terms about her own sexuality- still hadn’t told anyone about it, but she’s accepted it. So, she goes with it and lays back on the mountain of pillows. “Uh, you can pick tonight. I trust your judgement.”

And Shelby’s smile is worth it as she taps a finger to her lips before she turns around and grabs her copy of Pride and Prejudice, Shelby’s newest obsession. They both knew every line from the movie, Shelby promising to read the book and Keira Knightly was a sight for sore eyes, so she gets comfortable when Shelby puts the DVD into the play and bounces back to the bed and settles in under the covers. “You know one day, I want someone to say to me what Mr. Darcy says to Elizabeth at the end of the movie.” She sighs, getting all romantic and mushy, but it tugs a smile to Toni’s lips. “Wouldn’t that so beautiful?”

“Yeah,” Toni decides. “If you’re into that mushy kinda crap.” And then chuckles when Shelby playfully swats her arm.

 

That night, after they fall asleep, Toni is awoken around two in the morning with the urgent need to use the bathroom. The TV is still on, stuck on the menu for ‘Pride and Prejudice’ playing on loop and she’s on her back with a heavy weight on top of her. Toni’s sleep ridden mind begins to panic on whatever it was currently holding her down when she gets a whiff of Shelby’s expensive shampoo and the familiar scent calms her down. She slowly begins to register that the blonde girl is currently halfway on top of her, her head in the junction of her neck and shoulder and soft pink lips against her skin. Toni freezes a moment in fear with another realization that at some point in the night, Shelby had cuddled into her. This wasn’t anything new by any means, but it felt different now.

Now fully awake, Toni tries to move her left arm to again notice that it was wrapped around Shelby’s waist and a cold fear washes over her. Toni doesn’t want to move, even though she has to pee badly, but if Dave caught them like this, as innocent as it was- he’d lose his mind. Dave would always go on about the ‘homosexuals’ and pray for them to realize their sins and return to god’s righteous path and right now, she wondered if he’d label this as a sin. While Toni could leave, Shelby lived here and she couldn’t do that to her.

So, she wiggles herself out of Shelby’s grip, the blonde mumbling something in her skin that set’s Toni’s mind a blaze and of course Shelby just tightens her grip on Toni.

Toni groans as she looks up at the ceiling, it looked like she wasn’t doing two things- using the bathroom and sleeping. So instead, she just watches the loop of Elizabeth Bennet standing at the edge of the cliff, skirt billowing in the wind for the rest of the night.

 

 

The next morning, after Shelby wakes up- cheeks flushing brightly as she untangles herself and unspoken words hanging in the air, they make their way downstairs for breakfast- stopping at the break in the staircase when they spot Kyle Burns from their homeroom.

“Why is Kyle here?” Toni whispers. “It’s like 8:30 in the morning.”

Shelby hesitates before she looks over her shoulder. “Daddy’s helping him” She answers. “He calls it conversion therapy.”

Now after the pool incident when they were eight, Toni has been wary of Dave Goodkind, but this is a whole new level. She knew enough to understand how bad conversion therapy actually was, how it could leave permanent damage, but here was Dave Goodkind, administering it like some sort of expert. “Shelby,” Toni whispers again. “That’s not right, your dad’s just fucking his brain up.”

Shelby and Toni rarely fought and if they did, it was nothing serious and could be resolved quickly. This, however, would be the crack in their friendship that would be the force to crumble it. “No, he is not.” Shelby hisses, making Toni’s eyes widen in shock. “My daddy is helping him- so he won’t be alone.”

“Why would he be alone?” Toni asks and Shelby huffs.

“Because the church is his family, Toni.” Shelby explains, voice clipped. “And we don’t accept people like him. His mom and dad will disown him- he’ll have no family, so he’ll be alone.”

Toni opens her mouth to argue her point, but Jo-Beth interrupts them when she turns the corner. “Girls, c’mon, breakfast is ready.”

 

And now it’s awkward at the breakfast table, even more so when Dave walks in minutes later.

“How’d it go, hun?” Jo-Beth asks him as Dave greets her with a kiss to the forehead.

“It went as well as it could go, there is this place down south he can go to for now. I have to make the arrangements.” Dave explains as he sits down in front of his grapefruit. “He’ll be better in no time.”

Toni listens silently as she picks at her eggs, eyes flicking up to catch Shelby’s. “So, Bumblebee, we should start making arrangements. For your baptism in the summer, everyone at church is already buzzing about it.”

Toni holds back her eyeroll, she somehow managed to avoid church things with the Goodkinds, but she realized that she’d be expected to go to Shelby’s baptism. “You know Toni, we could get you done the same time.” He turns the conversation towards her. “I mean you and Shelby are joined at the hip, after all.”

Of course, that is the last thing she wants, being in some pool in a white dress in front of a bunch of bigoted white people. “No thanks, Mr. Goodkind.” She puts on a fake smile. “I think I’ll just watch Shelby get dunked. Besides, I’m pretty sure I was washed of my original sin as a baby.”

“Right, your grandparents were catholic.” Dave hums. “Well, if you change your mind. We could wash that religion off you- get you started on a new path.”

To be honest, Toni really didn’t have a religion, she had thought that it was honestly a cult, a way to brainwash the masses. “Again, thanks but no thanks.” What comes out next is purely because of her bad brainwash control. “I can’t support a god that doesn’t love all of his children. Gay or not gay.”

Jo-Beth drops her coffee mug, Dave’s grapefruit spoon clatters to the floor and Shelby’s eyes go wide in horror and it just eggs Toni on. “I mean, you said he creates all of us in his image, right? You also said god doesn’t make mistakes. So, god does gay and isn’t his first golden rule is to love everyone?”

Dave clears his throat. “Well, that’s different, Toni, being gay is a sin. It’s why we pray for people like Kyle.”

“It’s not though, there are things in that book- things that were written in to make people think that homosexuality was wrong when it’s not. It’s love and love is beautiful.” Toni tries to argue her point but Dave Goodkind doesn’t budge.

Instead, his good guy act falters and he straightens in his chair. “Are you trying to tell us something, Toni?” He asks and Toni finds herself glaring at the older man. “Here is the thing, you’re young, you don’t quite understand the consequences of being gay. It’s why people your age shouldn’t decide on it, because you really don’t know do you?” His smile makes her stomach churn. “But enough of that, am I right? How about we get the ATVs out and make a day of it- we can also practice some lay ups for your game tomorrow?”

But Toni shakes her head. “Nah, I think I’ll head home. I’m not feeling too well.”

“Toni,” Shelby speaks for the first time and Toni shakes her head as she gets up.

“I’ll see you Monday, Shelby, thank you for breakfast, Mrs. Goodkind.”

 

 

They drift apart after that.

Weekend sleepovers are now just Toni and Martha and honestly, Toni loves the Blackburns and she feels comfortable around them- enough so that she can come out and be herself. Martha and the rest of the Blackburns celebrate her rather than criticize her.

She still sees Shelby at school, now as Andrew’s arm candy.

Toni watches as Shelby turns into someone that she doesn’t know. She starts a school youth group that had the tendency to attack the school’s GSA club which starts an all-out silent war until the principal has to step between the two clubs and threaten to shut both down if the harassment doesn’t stop.

Turns out the bible fellowship if the one to be shut down, much to all of it’s member’s annoyance because they don’t stop.

And Shelby. Toni doesn’t hate Shelby per say, she just doesn’t understand her anymore. She remembers being 13 and realizing that she had a crush on her best friend and she buries that crush way deep down. Because this Shelby, the one that stands outside the school looking perfect and judging others with her new church friends isn’t the Shelby that she knew. People change, people grow apart, and Toni was no stranger to that. It’s why she didn’t let it affect her, because as soon as she would let it, she’d fall apart.

She just stands by and watches as her boyfriend verbally attacks Toni and it only gets worse in high school when Toni starts dating Regan.

Toni knows Regan isn’t her tether, though she hopes she can be. She’s happy with Regan and she’s only sixteen but she’s in love and there is something about your first love that makes Toni feel so at peace- even with the deep-down knowledge that Regan isn’t her first- that belongs to someone else.

Of course, the school knows about it, the captain of the girls’ basketball team dating the clarinet player and most of her classmates could care less- most being the key word.

It starts with Toni walking with Regan toward her car hand in hand. Normally not a big deal, everyone does it, holds hands with the person they love. However, to the members of the Bible Fellowship, it isn’t.

She spots Shelby and her crew a few parking spaces away. Tonight, was supposed to be her and Regan’s night at the movies, but it turns into so much more.

Andrew is the first to see them and Shelby does nothing to hold him back. Becca does though, Toni can hear her pleading with him, pleading with Shelby to get him to stop throwing slurs at them both.

While her friendship with Shelby dissolved, Becca still checked in to see how Toni was doing. Whether a call or a text, the curly haired brunette didn’t judge, not the way Shelby did. She’d even hang out with her and Martha, reminiscing about the days they were friends, much to Shelby’s annoyance.

“Andrew,” She hears Becca. “Andrew stop! you’re going to get in trouble- Shelby, tell him-”

“Just keep walking, Toni.” Regan whispers into her ear. “It’s not worth it, keep walking.”

And Toni would have, if she didn’t hear Andrew’s heavy footfalls behind them and then. “Hey! I was talking to you- didn’t you hear me?” He hollers and Toni spins. “You should be ashamed of yourself, walking around like that- acting like what you are is okay. It’s disgusting and deplorable.”

Toni scoffs. “Wow, deplorable. Didn’t know you had such an extensive vocabulary. Or did you just learn that from your mom’s word of the day calendar?”

It’s not her best, but it pisses off Andrew. His jaw tightens and he spits out. “Watch your mouth, fucking dyke.”

The thing about Toni was that she was a powder keg about to explode at any given moment and this was one of those moments. She barely registers her fist going into Andrew’s nose or the fact that her scrawny self managed to knock him down, but she does. She hears Shelby and Regan both screaming and Becca standing between them both. Then she feels hands on her arms, someone is trying to pull her off and it just makes her fight more, she elbows the person behind her until she hears Shelby yell Regan’s name. Toni turns her head to see blood pouring from Regan’s nose and she is about to go over to her when Andrew flips them, his meaty hands going to her throat. She claws at his hands, regretting her short fingernails and it’s only when she starts to go dizzy when she sees a flash of blonde hair and Andrew is off of her coughing and gagging. However, her eyes are now burning, and she still can’t breathe, and someone is touching her again.

“It’s okay- Toni, hey. It’s me, it’s Becca.”

She tries to open her eyes but lets out a painful scream and she tries to rub them but someone else is holding her hands down. “Stop, it’s just going to make it worse.”

Now she registers Shelby’s voice and next Regan’s who is once again yelling at Shelby. “Make what worse?” Toni chokes out and Regan answers.

“She pepper sprayed Andrew to get him off you, but you got caught in the cross hairs.” Regan explains nasally and Toni’s heart breaks because she knows that is only because of her.

“Shelby!” Andrew’s voice calls out somewhere beside her. “Shelby, I can’t see!” He angrily growls. “What the fuck is wrong with you? Why would you do that.”

“You were killing her!” Shelby’s voice is rising. “What the hell is wrong with you?”

Andrew screams again in pain and frustration. “What, now you’re sticking up for that carpet muncher?”

If Toni wasn’t temporarily blinded, she’d charge at him again, however from what she hears, Shelby handles it gracefully. “You know what, Andrew, have fun being alone in the parking lot. Becca and I will find our own way home.”

She hears the clatter of keys and then Regan’s sigh. “Hey, listen, I can drive you both home.”

“Regan,” Toni warns but it’s obvious that she doesn’t care.

“We just have to stop at the mini mart, get some water for her eyes.” Regan adds as she helps Toni up.

 

Of course it’s Shelby who she sees first.

Toni is sitting on the curb outside of the 7-11. She’s kneeling beside her, holding her head back as she flushes out her eyes with a bottle of Poland Springs. Her skin around her eyes burn as her vision slowly comes back and moves her hands up to rub them again but Shelby stops her. “God, Toni, no. I told you that touching it would make it worse.”

Toni thinks it’s comical, having Shelby take care of her while Regan is no where to be seen. “Yeah, like you fuckin’ care.”

There is a moment of silence and Shelby gently tilt’s Toni’s head back again, giving her a warning before she squirts more water into her eyes. “I do care, Toni. You know that.” She firmly says. “You’re just to stubborn to see that.”

She doesn’t even want to dignify that statement whatsoever because Toni knows she doesn’t, but Toni also knows how to push Shelby’s buttons. She’s become an expert at it. “Does it bother you, this whole time you where friends with someone that you hate? I mean, you used to cuddle up with me.”

There is a relieving coolness against her cheek and now Shelby is knelt in front of her, with a milk-soaked paper towel to her skin. “I don’t hate you, Toni.”

“Yeah, you do though. I’ve seen your face when I’m with Regan, I’m sorry, that’s hate, and you know it is.” Toni points out. “Once you figured out I was gay, you dropped me.”

Shelby sighs, clearly tired of Toni’s shit. “Toni that wasn’t hate it was-” She presses a little harder into her skin which makes Toni wince a bit. “And if I recall it correctly, you were the one who dropped me.”

Toni tries to call back on the memory and while it’s true that they both fizzled out on their own accord, it was still easy to place the blame. “And you promised me,” Shelby continues. “When we were eight, you promised that you won’t let go.”

Now Toni was a bit confused. “What are you talking about, when we were in the pool? Shelby that was-” At eight years old, 16 now, Toni just realized the power behind those words. It wasn’t just because she almost drowned, back then Shelby was asking her to never let go of her. “Shit, Bee, I-” The nickname that she hadn’t uttered in years easily comes out and Shelby is just as taken back from it was Toni was after she said it. “Does it really matter though, Shelby, I am everything that your family hates and it’s not something that can be cured.”

“I know that, Toni.” Shelby tells her. “You don’t think that I know that? I didn’t talk to my dad for weeks after he tried to get me to convince you to come over so he could convert you back to normal, because who you are is your normal, I know that now.”

Toni can’t help the disgusted click that comes out of her mouth. “You mean before or after you said you felt sorry for me and that you’d pray for me.”

“You know that’s my parents talking.” Shelby tries to explain but Toni doesn’t take it.

“Then form your own fucking opinion Shelby! It’s not that fucking hard!” Toni almost shouts. “Be your own fucking person, god!”

She turns back to look at Shelby, her jaw is set and she reaches out to grab her arm. “You know my parents, you know I can’t do that.”

Toni easily recalls the conversation they had at their final sleepover, how Shelby expressed her concern about getting a boyfriend and how Shelby was concerned that she wasn’t attracted to boys and that’s when a spark of realization hits her. “If it’s not hate that you feel when you look at me and Regan, what is it then.” She pauses. “Are you jealous?”

Shelby gets a pass from answering when Regan and Becca emerge from the store. “She’s all patched up,” Becca chirps. “How is this one?”

“Peachy.” Toni bites. “Can we just go home?”

 

Regan drops her off at Marty’s because ‘I just wanna be alone right now.’

And Marty and Bernice almost lose their mind when they take in a bruised Toni. She is hounded with questions and tries to answer them without being a snitch. Bernice doesn’t buy any of it, however she doesn’t push her. She just finishes cleaning up her face and sends her to bed, Marty already at work blowing up the air mattress.

“You wanna talk about it?” Marty asks. “Looks like that hurts.” She points to her red eyes and skin and Toni shrugs.

“Shelby’s ass of a boyfriend attacked me and our resident Jesus freak thought it would be an acceptable idea to pepper spray him once he got carried away. Problem was he was on top of me and I got sprayed too so,” She gestures to her face. “This happened.”

Marty jumps up on her bed, clearly intrigued. “Wait, Shelby defended you- see, I told you she still cared.”

“She doesn’t, Marty. She only did it so meathead wouldn’t get locked up for first degree murder.” She grumbles as she lifts up the blanket to get comfortable in the bed.

A positive smile plays on Marty’s lips and while her positivity could be a problem sometimes, Toni wished she could have some of it. “That’s where you’re wrong. You and Shelby have always had a connection, I think that she still cares.”

Toni doesn’t agree or disagree, instead she gives a grunt before she turns on her side to go to sleep, not wanting to talk about it anymore.

 

 

Regan breaks up with her a few weeks after the parking lot Toni’s doesn’t take it well. Regan says she’s loves her but can’t handle her and just like Shelby, Regan drops her- doesn’t even give it a chance.

And Toni does what she does best, she destroys things and runs.

She’s on the bed of an abandoned truck, looking up at the night sky and wallowing in her grief when her phone goes off. She double takes at the name, on the screen, sniffles so it doesn’t sound like she’s crying and then answers. “What do you want, Shelby.”

The blonde on the other end sobs something out and Toni sits straight up, if Andrew did anything, anything at all- didn’t matter if her bruises from the last fight were fading- fuck, she does still care about her. “Shelby slow down, I can’t understand you.”

“It’s Becca,” Shelby chokes out. “She’s in the hospital and she’s in bad shape and I-”

Toni forgets about her own drama and gets herself in gear, all and all, Becca was still a friend. “I’ll be right there, alright? Hang tight.”

 

 

Toni hates hospitals.

They remind her of her childhood and her mom, she hates the way they smell, the buzz from the lights unnerves her. Hospitals means bad news in Toni’s book, but she goes for Becca, for Shelby.

And Becca, sweet and brave Becca looks so small in the hospital bed. She doesn’t even look human with all the plastic tubes coming out of her. Marty is the one that asked Mrs. Gilroy what happened, and Toni can’t handle looking at her after she finds out.

“I had no idea that she felt this way and the accusations against her stepbrother,” The older woman sighs and shakes her head. “I don’t know why she’d say something like that- or even do what she did. Doesn’t she realize that what she tried is a sin, she wouldn’t get into heaven, how could she do this to me?”

Toni can’t handle the narcissism that comes from these people. Here Becca Gilroy was, in a hospital bed, clinging onto life and all her mother could wail about was herself. Toni doesn’t have the energy in her to say anything to her, so she just turns on her heel and leaves.

 

 

She finds a bench in the courtyard of the hospital and throws herself down. She doesn’t have anymore tears to shed, she’s probably dehydrated or exhausted, maybe both. She, however, barely registers the blonde head sitting down beside her until she speaks. “She’ll be okay, right? They found her in time, so she’ll be okay.”

Toni turns to look at Shelby, her hair was a frazzled mess, and she was in a pair of joggers and a Hopewell Lake t shirt. “I don’t know.” Toni answers, voice hoarse from her night of screaming at the sky and crying. “I hope she’s alright.” She takes a breath. “Did you know about her stepbrother?”

Shelby shakes her head and then sniffles. “No, I- I knew something happened, but she wouldn’t tell me. She was just spending the night a lot.”

“Shit.” Toni sighs as she runs her hands through her hair. “And her mom isn’t going to do anything about it?”

“Her mom doesn’t believe her.” Shelby dryly states. “It’s why she did it, she left a note. I- why would Mrs. Gilroy try to make it about her back there.”

Toni shrugs. “Because that’s what people like her do, Shelby. They take someone else’s trauma and make it about themselves. It’s a common narcissistic trait.” Toni wants to throw in that Shelby’s parents are the same way but doesn’t. There had been enough excitement for one day. “She’ll probably have to talk to a social worker, maybe the cops- I dunno, it won’t get far and her stepbrother will get away with it. That’s how things like this work.”

“That’s really optimistic.” Shelby grumbles and catches Toni’s eye. “Don’t you have any hope?”

“Hope for what?” Toni dryly asks. “Hope for a normal life, hope that my mom will magically be better and take me back, hope that Becca’s shit head of a stepbrother gets thrown in jail? No, Shelby. You might see this world as glitter and unicorn shit, but it’s not. In situations like these, there is no hope. What I do know is that Becca will be physically fine, but emotionally,” Toni scoffs. “I don’t know how she’ll be. You know her parents won’t get her the correct help that she needs.”

“They’re talking about sending her away.” Shelby softly states. “But, but how is being around strangers supposed to help?”

“It’s not.” Toni states the obvious. “It’s why, when she gets back you need to be there for her.”

She doesn’t know how long the silence between them stays, but it’s broken when Shelby asks. “Where are you sleeping tonight?”

“I dunno, haven’t thought about it.” Toni doesn’t really have the need to sleep. “Besides, don’t think I can now.”

Shelby nods. “Yeah, I don’t think I could either.” A pause. “So, you’re not staying at Regan’s?”

Toni can’t help the bitter laugh that escapes her lips. “Nah, she broke up with me.”

She makes the mistake when she looks at Shelby and that stupid look of pity on her face. “Oh, I’m really sorry about that?”

There was that spark of fire and it came back raging through Toni like a wildfire, Shelby was her only outlet right now. “Are you really? Thought you’d be celebrating.”

“Christ, Toni!”

“And she breaks a commandment too?”

Shelby sighs in annoyance. “I already told you that I don’t hate you and I didn’t hate seeing you with Regan!” She doesn’t shout at her, she can’t she more hisses at her. “I was- shit, I was jealous of Regan.” She admits and then buries her face in her hands, as if she was ashamed of what she just admitted.

“Why though, you have Andrew. There was no reason for you to be jealous.” Toni frowns.

“It’s not- Toni, I--” She moves her hands from her face. “Do you have any idea what it is like to be me? What it’s like to be with someone who I don’t want to be with? Or be someone that I’m not and be judged all the damn time?” She lets out a shaky breath. “You and Regan just, seeing you two together it just made me realize that I made a huge mistake.”

Toni rolls her eyes. “Oh no, fuck that- you are not giving yourself a pity party while your friend is up in a hospital room fighting for her life and besides, you’re the one who puts yourself in those situations. You did that to yourself and those mistakes, where on you. You didn’t have to date Andrew, no one forced you too.”

“That wasn’t my mistake Toni, my mistake was letting you slip away. I was jealous because Regan became your person and I wanted to be that person.” Shelby confesses. “I wanted to be the person holding you hand.”

The look in her eye is intense and Toni starts to wonder if she woke up in the Twilight Zone. She blinks, her mouth drops open and Shelby just waits for her response, or so she thought. “Shelby, I’m confu-”

She doesn’t even get to finish her sentence or process her thoughts because the next thing she knows, Shelby’s hands are on her face, Toni’s eyes go wide in shock before she is met with a smack of a kiss and while Toni would call herself smooth, she has no fucking idea what to do with her hands until she does, she settles them on her waist, pulls her closer as she kisses her back. She doesn’t know if it’s grief or guilt on Shelby’s side- but Toni does feel bad when her sleep deprived brain registers that she is kissing this person she has had the longest crush on only hours after she had been broken up with.

Before either of them could even deepen the kiss, Shelby pulls away- hands still on her face until she quickly moves them away as if she had just been burnt. Toni licks her lips and opens her eyes to see Shelby staring at her with terrified eyes. “Shelby.” She hoarsely says but the girl already jumps up from her spot, touching her fingers to her lips while her chest rises and falls with shortened breath. “Shelby, breathe, it’s okay- you’re okay.”

Toni goes to stand up, to reach out and steady her, to tell her without telling her that she’s here, she understands, but Shelby ends up shaking her head before she darts away, and Toni closes her eyes and falls back to the bench. “Fuck.”

 

 

The Gilroy’s keep their word and send Becca to ‘heal’ at a resort.

Toni knows it’s bullshit and then there is Shelby who is ignoring her since their kiss in the courtyard of the hospital. Toni had no idea about Shelby’s stealth skills and how good she was of ducking away and turning down the hallway when she saw Toni coming her way. Toni would of course give her time to figure her shit out, but there are times when they’re in class and Toni feels her eyes on her. It would take Toni to turn around in her seat to catch her and Shelby would look away with a pink tinge to her face. She had no idea what the fuck was going on in her head, but again- she lets it go and she doesn’t want to be a part of Shelby’s drama of figuring herself out.

So, she works on herself, mainly scrounging money together to pay for the rear window of Regan’s car that she smashed in, it takes a good month and it helps that Shelby is still avoiding her because every time Toni sees her all she can think about is the feeling of her lips, soft and firm against hers. It’s the first day of February when she approaches Regan at her locker with a wad of cash. She clears her throat to get the other girls attention who closes her locker and gives her a smile which Toni finds odd because if it happened to be the other way around, Toni would be out for blood. Regan, however, was good like that, forgiving- a trait that Toni tried again and again to work on for herself.”

“Hey,” Toni nervously drawls out. “I uh, look- I am so fucking sorry about the car and my freak out.” She begins and then pushes the wad of cash into her hands. “I took some extra shifts at Benny’s and shoveled some driveways- managed to get enough to make up for it. I know you already got it fixed but,” She shucks her hands into her pockets. “I’m trying to do better, you know?” and then she takes in the way Regan is looking at her. “And this isn’t me trying to get back together, because I get it- but I just wanted to prove that I’m not a total piece of shit.”

Regan eyes the wad of crumbled bills and then surprises Toni by pulling her into a hug. “Toni, I am so proud of you.”

Toni stiffens, she is the type of person that needs a warning before an embrace. She should be used to it from Marty’s bear hugs, but this was her ex currently hugging her. “It’s no big deal, really.”

“Yes, it is,” Regan pulls away, still gripping her shoulders and then something catches her eye, Toni turns around to see Shelby Goodkind herself looked over at them from her group of bible fellowship friends. “Is this because of a certain blonde girl?”

Toni gapes and then feels a blush rising in her cheeks. “I don’t know wha--”

Regan gives her a knowing look. “C’mon, Toni. I’ve seen the way she looks at you, and I always knew even when we were together that there was something between the two of you. You’d always talk about her and then back in December when you got into that fight with Andrew, I figured out. It took me a while, but my gaydar was blaring when I watched her handle you. She could deal with your fire and lately, she hasn’t been able to keep her eyes off you.” She chuckles. “And right now, if she could physically turn green, she would be as green as Kermit the frog.”

Toni begins to panic, so Shelby wasn’t as subtle as she thought. “Please don’t say anything,” Toni jumbles out and Regan gives her a smirk. “I’m serious, she’s trying to work through some shit.”

“So, something did happen?” Regan teases and then gives her shoulders a squeeze. “But don’t worry, Toni. I won’t say a thing,” She zips her lips and gives her a wink. “And thank you again for the money.”

Toni watches as she walks away for a moment before looking over her shoulder at Shelby again. Their eyes meet for a brief second before the bell rings and the students disperse to their classrooms. Toni is about to do the same, but the tight grip on her arms stops her.

What the fuck has been up with people grabbing her lately.

It isn’t just anyone, however it’s the last person she expects.

Shelby Goodkind is currently gripping her arm tightly with that same intense look in her eye. The hallway is almost empty, a few stragglers are left behind. “What were you and Regan talking about.”

Toni snorts and rolls her eyes. “Are you serious right now? You’ve been avoiding me for a month now and you’re only talking to me now after you saw me talking to Regan?” She tries to pull her arm from her grasp with no prevail. “What do you want, Shelby?”

“I want to know what you and Regan were talking about.” She demands in a clipped tone and it makes Toni chuckle. “I’m serious, Toni.”

“And I’m serious when I say it’s none of your business.” Toni growls, matching her tone.

She indemnity regrets it when she notices the look of fear of Shelby’s face and then Shelby’s shaky voice asks. “You told her, didn’t you- about us? About what happened at the hospital.”

Toni can’t help the frustration she feels when Shelby accuses her of spilling. How many years did they know each other, and Shelby would actually believe that Toni would say something? Did she hate her that much? “No, fuck- Shelby, I would never do that to you.”

Shelby clicks her tongue. “Oh, because you’re ashamed? I spill my heart out to you and now you’re ashamed?”

A bitter laugh leaves Toni’s lips before she can stop it. “That’s rich, being that you’re the one with the shame. You ran away before I could even say anything. Look, I’m not gonna lecture you on how or why or how fast you should figure things out for yourself, but all your hateful church shit is not going to help you figure out who you are. I’ve known you my whole life Shelby and I know that you are struggling, and I wish I could help you, but I feel like seeing me just makes things worse for you.” Shelby finally loosens her grip and Toni slides her arm away from her hands. “But I see you, Shelby and I support you.”

She goes to walk away when Shelby asks. “What where you going to say, back in the courtyard, before I left, what did you want to tell me?”

Toni grips the straps of her backpack and looks down at her scuffed-up shoes. “That your feelings aren’t one sided.” The late bell rings and Toni sighs. “But right now, I’m going to continue to keep my distance- because it just seems that I make things worse.”

Walking away from her that afternoon was one of the hardest thing Toni had ever done and she tries to ignore the way her eyes burn with the tears she was fighting back.

 

 

Months pass, and summer comes along.

Becca comes back from her ‘retreat’ and still has sadness in her eyes. Toni obviously figured the ‘help’ she was given wasn’t professional in the least, but she’s like Shelby, she masks it and spends a lot of time bouncing between Shelby’s house and Martha’s where Toni is currently staying.

She keeps her questions about Shelby to herself and lets Becca talk, smiling when her and Martha share a laugh.

One August night, Becca and Martha barrel into the living room where Toni sat with a can of coke and a bag of Takis. “Get up.” Becca commands as she floats over, pulling her snack from her hands.

“What the fuck?” Toni growls, mouth full of chips while Martha pulls her to her feet.

“We’re seniors, Toni.” Martha states as if it was something that Toni wasn’t aware of.

She tries to take her bag of chips back from Becca, but it gets plucked out of her hands by another force, standing by the spunky brunette was a blonde who she hadn’t spoken to since February. Shelby Goodkind was standing in Martha’s living room in a pale-yellow button-down sundress, her blonde hair flowing freely down past her shoulders. She looks happy, carefree almost and Toni notices the absence of a certain cross necklace that had been Shelby’s signature since she was fourteen. Shelby smirks as she holds the purple bag up in the air. Toni hated that the blonde was taller than her, even when they were kids she would use her height as a power play. “Why are you here?” Toni asks and there is no malice in her voice which seems to shock the other two girls in the room.

“Because we are going to a party.” Shelby states again like it was common knowledge. “And you’re coming.”

Toni scoffs and shakes her head. “Oh no, nope- I don’t do parties.”

“Please,” Marty begs. “C’mon Toni, we need to start this year out with a bang! And look,” She gestures towards Becca and Shelby. “We’re all back together again, like the old days.”

“Fine,” Toni groans, catching Shelby’s eye who sends her a bright smile. “I’ll go.”

“Not in that though,” Becca points at her outfit.

“What the hell is wrong with what I am wearing?” Toni doesn’t seem to see an issue with her band t-shirt and basketball shorts.”

“So much.” Shelby. “C’mon,” She gives the bag of junk food to Marty and grabs her wrist, gently compared to the last time she did. “I can help you with finding a suitable outfit.”

As Toni is dragged to the bedroom she shared with Marty, she tosses the other two girls a confused look from over her shoulder and narrows her eyes when Becca and Marty both give her a thumbs up.

 

 

Shelby closes the door behind them and opens the closet as she begins to riffle through it. Toni figured that Shelby would know by now that Toni doesn’t own much when it comes to clothes, but it doesn’t stop the blond from looking- or Toni feeling awkward.

“So, uh--” Toni rubs her arm. “I haven’t seen you in a while, how’s things been going?”

Shelby hums when as she pushes through the hangers. “Good actually, real good.”

“You don’t have your cross on.” Toni points out. “I noticed it when,”

“When you were checkin’ me out?” Shelby turns around, Toni gaping at her boldness.

“I wasn’t--”

“You were though, it’s okay.” Was she, is she flirting with her?  She pulls out a short sleeve black button up. “I always thought you looked good in button ups. You wore this- I think for home coming?” She steps forward and holds it against Toni’s frame. “Still looks like it fits, now maybe some blue jeans and--”

“Shelby, seriously- are you on something right now?” Toni doesn’t know if that was the right question to ask, but she had no idea why Shelby would be acting so happy right now. “Did something happen?”

Shelby pushes the shirt into Toni’s hands and takes a seat on the edge of Martha’s bed. “I um, so my parents are getting a divorce. My dad, the man of god himself was having an affair with his sectary and my mom caught them. This all happened back in March and she- well she threw him out. So, I haven’t spoken a word to my dad in five months, and,” She smooths out her dress. “And I took your advice, figured myself out, did some soul searching and it turns out that I am one hundred percent gay.” She laughs, Toni pretty much stumbles on her on two feet. “And I’m okay with it, my mom is okay with it.”

“Wait you told your mom?” Toni interrupts, eyes almost bugging out of her skull. “Fuck, how’d she take it?”

“Well, I’m still here, right?” Shelby points out. “She uh, she cried at first and then she told me that she knew, that she always knew.” Shelby pauses and licks her lips. “And then she told me some things, that I should tell you and I know I should, but,” She sighs. “I,”

Toni crosses the room and shakes her head. “Hey, you just tell me when you are ready, okay?”

“It’s not that, it’s the fact that you’ll hate my mom, maybe even me even though I had no parts in it. But I know you, Toni. I know how your mind works and I know your passion and your fire- it’s what I like about you.”

“Okay, then how about you tell me tomorrow, huh? We should enjoy the first party of our senior year, right?” She gives her a reassuring smile and reaches out to lace her fingers with hers, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. “And I promise you, I won’t get upset with you.”

“You say that now—”

Toni squeezes her hand again. “I promise, you know I’m good for those.”

 

 

Toni ends up wearing the outfit that Shelby put together for her. The black button up that paired well with a pair of dark blue jeans and a newish pair of black high tops. The house party is on the richer part of town, a gated community where all the houses looked the same. The house was in a cul-de-sac, a large man-made lake behind it. The house has an inground pool, a hot tub and a two-story deck. It belonged to some new girl Fatin Jademani, Toni only caught her in passing, drunkenly welcoming them both the party. From what Toni gathered, it was Fatin’s payback to her parents for making her move to ‘bum fuck nowhere’

Most of the students in their year is there, music is blasting, and Toni pushes Shelby against a wall when two beefy looking guys haul in a keg of beer. “Do you know who they are?” Toni shouts over the music and Shelby answers her with a laugh and a shake of her head.

Martha goes off with Becca to talk to some guys in the corner while Toni pours herself and Shelby a drink, she sips some of the foam from the top of the first cup, being sure not to overfill it before handing it over to Shelby and then getting her own. The beer makes Shelby cringe at the first sip, making Toni crinkle her nose in laughter.

And god do they enjoy themselves, Shelby proves to be a boss when it comes to beer pong and she just seems so light, like actual fucking sunshine and after night falls and the living room is lit up with fairy lights, Shelby’s on the dance floor with Becca and Martha, Toni standing by the keg talking to a few of her classmates. Her eyes occasionally find Shelby and the eye contact is so intense that it makes her look away.

“That your girl?”

The new voice in her ear makes her jump and she turns to see the hostess of the party standing next to her. “I heard that she was the resident bible freak, doesn’t look like one in that dress- fuck, you two up for a threesome?”

Toni outwardly laughs at the new girl’s bravado. “Wow, you are really something?”

“I am horny like- ninety-five percent of the time and well, I know a good time when I see it. Not to mention you both are insanely hot.” She sticks her hand out. “Fatin Jademani, the shame of the Jademani name and you are Toni Shalifoe.”

“You know my name?” Toni asks a bit dumb founded and Fatin laughs.

“Yes, Toni your reputation precedes you. Captain of the girls’ basketball team, hot lesbian with anger issues, but is obviously a big ol’ softy when it comes to Shelby Goodkind, pastor’s daughter and ex-president and member of the bible fellowship.”

Toni blinks and then looks around. “How do you-”

“I have my sources.” Fatin simply states and then nods back over to the blonde. “And I’m still waiting for an answer to my threesome question. I swear that I won’t fuck up your relationship.”

“Oh,” Toni clears her throat. “Oh, Shelby and I aren’t together.”

Fatin gawks at her. “I’m sorry what? I mean there is something there though, like- fuck. I mean, you can cut that sexual tension with a knife.”

Toni licks her lips when she looks over at Shelby again and swallows hard. “What makes you say that.”

“Uhh, because you are totally eye fucking each other right now. I mean if you want to make it official, the pool house it open.” Fatin adds with a wink, only getting quite when Shelby approaches them. There is a sheen of sweat gathered on her collar bone and if Toni could be so bold to think it, a hint of jealousy in her eye. “Speak of the devil.”

“Come dance with me, Toni.” Shelby coos whilst taking her hands, giving her a pleading look as a Sam Hunt song plays. She has to send a glare Fatin’s way, but her new friend just sends her a side smirk as she swings her legs from the countertop. “I love this song,” She muses as she pulls Toni close and Toni realizes the last time they had been this close was the night she kissed her.

This time though, she knows exactly where to put her hands. They settle on the flare of her hips and Shelby moves flush against her, singing the lyrics into her ear. Since when the fuck did a country song could turn her on? Toni guessed there would be a first time for everything, especially coming from Shelby’s mouth. ‘Body like a back road, drivin' with my eyes closed, I know every curve like the back of my hand’

Toni shudders as Shelby’s lips move against the shell of her ear, Toni forgot how much of a beautiful voice she had and then Shelby fucking laughs as Toni now wraps her arms around her waist, Shelby’s arms coming up to lope around her neck. “Of course you would know this song, such a dork.”

The song ends, a new one comes on and Toni recognizes it as a Taylor Swift song because of Marty’s obsessive need to listen to the blonde singer.

The way they are moving against each other, it makes Toni think about pulling her into a dark corner and-

But Shelby beats her to it, she pulls away just a bit and Toni gulps at the sight of her eye, pupils fully blown and Toni doesn’t expect what happened next, but in the end she’s so proud of her- as scary as it could be for her. Because Shelby takes the lead and leans in, kissing her softly, slowly and so unlike the first kiss they shared, mainly because it wasn’t rushed on pure instinct, but a moment of passion and they are not alone, but in a crowded room.

She pulls away when that realization hits her, but Shelby’s looking back at her- eyes fluttering open and the look in her eye, not even Regan matched that look. Was it longing, maybe all those years of pining or maybe even love, but a deeper kind of love and Toni’s hands tremble while her heart beats out of her chest. “Are you sure?”

And she answers her by cupping her face and pulling her into another kiss, a brief one that has Shelby pulling away with a steady smile, her nose brushing against Toni’s. “I’m sure.”

Shelby giggles as she takes Toni’s wrist and they make their way through the crowd until they find an empty bathroom in the large house. For a moment she wonders if she is dreaming all of this up, making out with Shelby Goodkind. Her lips are addicting, even when Toni breaks away to drag her lips along Shelby’s sun kissed skin, she finds herself wanting to go back to them. It’s like heaven feeling Shelby’s hand’s inch under her shirt, touching and exploring the warm skin along her abdomen. Toni’s breath catches when she feels Shelby’s thumbs brush against the underside of her bra. “You’re so pretty, it’s almost unfair.” Shelby breathes, her Texan drawl more pronounced.

“What makes it almost unfair?” Toni asks, earning a shiver from the blonde when she gently nips at the exposed skin of her shoulder.

Shelby hums deep in her throat. “Well, it would be completely unfair if we just kept dancin’ around each other- but now I finally get to touch you.”

Toni is thankful Shelby’s arms that are currently holding her up, because her knees buckle just a tad and she has no idea how far they’d get tonight, but this right now could be enough.

Until there is commotion outside of the bathroom and sirens fill their ears. Shelby’s eyes snap open and Toni pulls away, smirking proudly at the blooming mark on the other girl’s neck. “You obviously never had to outrun the cops before?” Toni asks and chuckles when Shelby shakes her head. “C’mon.”

There is running and movement outside of bathroom along with the shouts about the cops being there. Toni easily slides the window of the bathroom open and slips out, her two feet landing on the deck before she reaches out to help Shelby out. It’s not long before they’re spotted by an older cop who demands them to stop and Shelby almost does until Toni is the one to tug on her this time. The pair are hand in hand as they take off, the other man following after them only for a few minutes until he is winded. They keep running into the wooded area until Shelby stops, having to catch her breath. A few more of their classmates pass by them, drunk and whooping as they run.

“I take it that this is something you do often?” Shelby asks, hand on her chest as she catches her breath- a playful smile on her face.

Toni shrugs. “Ah, you know- it’s one of my many skills.” She purrs as she steps closer. Toni’s hands are on her waist again, their foreheads touching and she’s about to kiss her when.

“Hey lovebirds!” Becca is running towards them. “As proud as I am of you both, we don’t have time for it- they’re right on our tail.”

Toni looks over at Becca. “Where’s Marty?”

“Right here,” Marty pants as she comes around the other side of the tree.

Toni sighs. “Okay, fine- I know a place we can lay low until they give up.”’

 

 

Toni leads them to an abandoned minimart she found a while back while she was jumping homes. It wasn’t a place she took people to, since it was her spot where she could come and climb onto the roof to look at the blanket of stars above her.

“I swear she’s half squirrel” Becca murmurs to Shelby and Marty who share a laugh as Toni climbs to the roof to unhook the ladder. “Or cat, I mean- dear god. Look at her go.”

“Or something is right,” Shelby agrees. “Toni be careful!”

“I’m always careful!” Toni shoots back as she pulls herself onto an old air conditioning unite.

“Infamous last words.” Marty hums. “Last time she let that phrase out, was when she scaled the shelves at the food store. Left her on crutches for two weeks.”

“Why did she scale the shelves at the food store?” Toni hears Shelby asks, voice filled with confusion.

“Do you need a why for her when the word ‘food’ in in a sentence?” Martha asks and Toni scoffs when she hears the other girls vocalize their understanding.

However, she pulls herself onto the flat roof effortlessly, happy to see her the large Rubbermaid container with her duffle bag full of blankets still on top and then lets the ladder down for the other girls who climb up. Toni unfolds the first blanket and lays it out as Martha mutters a small wow. “I thought the truck was your best kept secret, looks like I was wrong.”

“Yeah well, gotta have someplace to yourself. Cat’s out of the bag now so,” Toni plops herself down onto the blanket. “Go head and use it for whatever.” But suddenly smiles when Shelby sits next to her, snuggling up beside her, putting her head on her shoulder. Toni catches the way that Martha and Becca look at them and she almost feels their pride.

The two girls stay and talk for an hour or so until the cost is clear. Once Becca and Martha leave, Toni lays back onto the scratchy blanket, a calm settling upon her when Shelby lays her head against her chest. “I missed this,” Shelby happily sighs as she twirls a strand of Toni’s dark hair around her fingers.

“You wanna expand on that?” Toni teases, almost feeling the other girl’s eyeroll before kissing the top of her blonde head. “Do you miss running from the cops, kicking ass at beer pong, Taylor Swift.”

“No, you ass.” Shelby mocks, making Toni snort out a laugh. “I missed you, being around you, spending time with you. I mean, last time we were in this position—”

“Was at our last sleepover and you conked out during Pride and Prejudice? You do realize that almost every lesbian’s first crush was Keira Knightly, right? I mean she was totally the siren song to all sapphics.” Toni explains with a grin as she looks up at the starry night.

There is a pause and then Shelby asks in an unsure voice. “What’s does sapphic mean?”

Toni can’t contain her laughter when she realizes that she’ll have to be the one to explain all the terminology to Shelby. “Well, I mean you’re a total sapphic.” She admits and Shelby tilts her head up to look at her. “It’s a good thing, don’t worry about it. We’ll just have to have a crash course in all things queer.”

“Not tonight though, right? I think the shit beer is getting to my head.” Shelby groans and Toni shakes her head.

“Nah, not tonight. Tonight’s just about us.” Toni confirms, smiling when Shelby kisses her softly.

“Are you still into astronomy?” Shelby quietly asks and Toni feels her cheeks heat up before she nods her head. “Good, you wanna tell me a story?”

 

 

They fall asleep that night on top of the roof, under the stars and they wake up the next morning with the sun and they go to the nearest diner for breakfast and Shelby is a little off when the waitress hands her a plate full of bacon and eggs. A pang of worry hits Toni because she wonders if Shelby regrets last night. “You alright?” Toni asks as she puts sugar into her coffee. “You seem a little cagey.”

“I’m alright,” She smiles dreamily. “More then alright, it’s just- I promised you I’d tell you about what my mom told me and I’m scared that it’ll make you regret giving me a second chance.”

“Shelby, I promised—”

“I know,” She breathes, cutting her off. “I know you did, but this has to do with Greg and Mike.”

Toni shifts, mouth falling open and she promptly shuts it. “You mean the first couple that fostered me? What about them?”

Shelby licks her lips as she fiddles with the rings on her fingers. “It was more than just fostering, didn’t they want to adopt you?” Shelby asks her and Toni nods her head.

“They talked about it, problem was that my mom wasn’t willing to sign over her rights.” She taps the side of her coffee cup. “She always thought she’d get her shit together, so they couldn’t adopt me- not really.”

“Yeah, but you could have stayed with them, if it wasn’t for my dad.” Shelby’s words scramble out quickly. “The first day we met on the playground, my mom realized that Greg was gay and while she had a problem with his life choices, she saw that you were well loved. My dad though,” Shelby’s gaze flicks up, meeting Toni’s eyes and checking for any signs of distress. “He had a problem with it.”

Toni has no idea why she feels so calm, she should be angry, furious even. All of her fury would come out if Dave Goodkind walked into the diner at the moment, but Shelby doesn’t deserve it, they were both kids after all. “So, your dad was the reason why I was taken out of a perfectly good home.”

“Toni I’m so sorry,” Shelby reaches forward, fingers inching forward to lace theirs together, she hesitates and then in a small voice says. “I get it if you’re upset with me.”

“Bee,” Toni gently says, causing Shelby to look at her in shock. “I’m not angry at you,” She lets out a breath of a laugh. “I kinda knew, well much later in life after your dad was spewing all the homophoic shit around town.” She smiles softly and laces their hands together. “Shelby, you had nothing to do that what happened with Greg and Mike. You were just a kid, you couldn’t have stopped it.”

“Yeah but, that was probably the best family you had, and my family took that from you. You have a right to be pissed.” Shelby clarifies. “Why are you so calm about this- it’s honestly a little unnerving.”

“Why, because my vibe is normally going ape shit?” She asks with a smirk and Shelby gives her a half of a smile. “And yeah, I am pissed- at your dad mostly, a little bit at your mom, but not at you. Shelby, it took a lot of guts for not only telling me that, but also everything that happened last night. I trust you and what we have going on between us? You have no idea how long I’ve wanted it.” She gives her hand a small squeeze. “I don’t think I have it in me to get upset and ruin something that could be good.”

The smile that crosses Shelby’s lips makes her heart swell and she reaches out with her free hand and cups Toni’s cheek. The action soothes her, nuzzling into her hand, eyes fluttering shut when she feels her thumb caressing her cheekbone. Nothing about Shelby surprises her anymore and she more than proud when the blonde leans over and kisses her across the table.

 

 

Shelby had this way of always taking Toni’s breath away.

They last few weeks of summer go by in a whirlwind, but Toni enjoys them. Whether it is swimming at the quarry and getting handsy while pressing Shelby against a warm slab of stone. It’s that white bikini, Toni decides, it does something to her. She lets Shelby touch her, explore her and learn her, just as Toni learns Shelby and what sounds she makes when she is close to falling apart.

Toni even decides to be the bigger person, taking Jo-Beth’s offer up for dinner. Mrs. Goodkind herself had bore witness to Toni walking Shelby home, hand snugly fit with hers. Toni could tell it was hard for the older woman, to turn her brain off to every so called value that she once held dear. ‘I just want to see Shelby happy,’ She tells her while Toni scrapes off the grill. ‘And you make her so happy,’ A huff of air. ‘And she makes you happy, that’s all I want, for you both to be happy.’

It’s nice seeing Spencer and Melody again, even if Melody hardly remembers her. Spencer does and he hops around her, Melody trailing behind buzzing with questions. It’s afterwards with both of her siblings out like a light while the tail end of Moana is on the screen, her mom already asleep when Shelby drags Toni up to her room.

Toni laughs at the fact that nothing has changed really, new posters were up- some new crowns proudly on display to which Shelby informs her that she is doing one last pageant, now as an outwardly gay woman.

Though it’s when Toni changes into her sleeping shorts and tank top when she gets a good laugh. She’s curled up in Shelby’s side, Shelby flicking through the movie options on her firestick until she comes across ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ Toni’s gaze flicks up towards Shelby, a coy grin on her lips. “You are such a dweeb.”

“I believe the correct term is sapphic?” Shelby corrects as she presses play, laughing when Toni rolls her eyes. “I mean it’s pretty obvious isn’t it?”

“What?” Toni asks, blinking in confusion.

“I’ve always had a thing for spunky brunettes with pretty brown eyes.”

 

 

Shelby has one last trick up her sleeve for the last day before school starts.

Toni’s just thrilled to go to Olive Garden.

She’s a simple woman after all, it didn’t take much to catch her fancy and a never-ending pasta bowl was just calling her name.

She’s already rambling on about the bread sticks, what kind of spaghetti she was planning on ordering when she stops in her tracks.

Toni knew they were meeting two other people, she just sort of assumed it would be Marty and Becca. Instead, she is greeted with the kind and aged faces of Greg and Mike. Both men stand up, tears in Greg’s eyes and a bunch streaming down Mikes face. She lets go of Shelby’s hand and launches herself at the two older men and letting them embrace her in a long, warm hug that only a set of loving parents could give. She barely registers the little boy in a booster seat beside them that she learned was their son Hudson from a surrogate.

She just stares at Shelby in awe as the two men talk about how Shelby reached out to them a while back and explained to them what happened. The blonde woman beside her also showed off her persuasive power and spoke to Toni’s social worker, explaining the real situation that happened all those years ago with the truth coming from Jo-Beth Goodkind. They tell her that they never took her room apart up until now because they also tell her that they want to foster her again until she ages out and even when she ages out, she can stay with them as long as she wants.

“Because face it, we’re a family and we’d like to be your family too.” Greg tells her, his kind eyes just a little wrinkled with crow’s feet. “We know you bounce around between Marty’s and now Shelby’s, but if you ever need a place to call your own, we’d like to be that for you.”

And of course Toni says yes, her own eyes spilling years’ worth of pent up tears.

 

 

Shelby helps with the set up of Toni’s room during the weekend after their first week of school for which they proudly walked the halls hand in hand, sneaking a kiss before class, the student body of Hopewell Lake high knew that the pageant queen and the basketball player were together and didn’t think twice about it.

Though that night, after the furniture was put together, they lay together in Toni’s new full-sized bed. Shelby already sound asleep as the credits to another movie roll on screen- or so Toni thought.

You see, Toni was a tough woman, she had a reputation to uphold after all because no one took a can of pepper spray to the face like Toni Shalifoe, but it doesn’t stop her form saying it, because she remembers what a younger Shelby once said to her about hearing someone say the same words that Mr. Darcy from the movie spoke to Elizabeth Bennet.

And it’s corny and sappy, and so embarrassing that Toni knew that monologue by heart, it’s embarrassing to the point where Toni can only say it to a ‘sleeping’ Shelby Goodkind.

They are currently mirroring the position that they were in all those years ago, Shelby’s head tucked under Toni’s chin, while their legs are tangled together when she says it.

“You have bewitched me body and soul and I love, I love, I love you.” Because Toni does love Shelby, more than she’s ever loved anyone before.

She almost dies in embarrassment when Shelby’s eyes flutter open. However, the serene smile on her face calms her down- and now Shelby’s the one who is crying. “You mean it?”

“Yeah.”

A kiss and then. “I love you too.”

That last year of high school is full of love and memories, long nights of studying and waking up to Shelby and sometimes a wandering toddler who squeezes himself between them, sometimes in the winter in footy pajamas and a tattered blue blanket. He calls Shelby ‘Bee’ as well and Toni ‘Sissy’ and plants a sloppy kiss on both of their cheeks before Shelby scoops him into her arms and Toni can’t help but crave that for her own future. There are morning with chocolate chip pancakes with hot chocolate at Greg and Mike’s followed by a pot roast and a light conversation at dinner with Jo-Beth Goodkind and Shelby’s siblings.

All in between lunches and movie days with Martha and shopping with Becca. It’s normal and perfect and Toni can’t help but to figure that she deserves it after all of the hardship that she had been through.

 

 

And Toni uses that same speech from the movie years later after high school during their junior year of college. They managed to get into the same school. Toni studying pediatric physically therapy while Shelby studies psychology. They have a small apartment together off campus, surround themselves with more friends and visit Shelby’s mom and Toni’s foster dads as much as possible.

Then when Toni gets down on one knee on Christmas and asks her to marry her with. “I never wish to be parted with you from this day on.” Shelby doesn’t miss a beat with her tear filled yes while she peppers her face with kisses.

A part of six year old Toni Shalifoe did know that day at the playground would be the day she would meet her soulmate, though she figured she’d save that tidbit of information for their wedding day.